Monday, October 29, 2012

Law Firm Blog Writing: Defense or Offense

Most of us at Law Blog Writers, LLC are based in the Washington, D.C. area.  At the moment we are hunkered down like most in the area as Hurricane Sandy storms through.  In the past few days we have been making preparations for possible extended power outages and other ramifications of the supposedly one of a kind weather event.

Not to be too cheesy, but as we were planning for the storm it became clear that there was an analogy to be made with the storm preparations and the value of law firm blogging.  Actually, there were two analogies to be made.  On one hand, the blog writing IS like preparing for the storm.  On the other hand, law firm blog writing IS NOT like preparing for the storm. That is because the content creation is both an offensive SEO strategy and, at times, defensive.

The defensive component of the blogging effort relates to maintaining one's current position of SEO strength.  Depending on your firm's current position, you may already be performing well on SEO measures.  You may have several first page rankings and get steady calls from potential clients who find you online.  However, some firms may be headed for a tailspin on that front without taking steps to preserve their solid positioning online.  That is particularly true now because more and more firms are switching marketing time and resources over to online efforts.  In other words, online competition is steadily increasing in all geographic locations and practice areas.  Not coincidentally, this is occurring at the same time that a larger percentage of potential clients are turning online to find legal help.  Law firm blog writing is increasingly becoming a mandatory tool to keep pace with others.

On the other hand, if you have competitors who are performing better on the most important searches, then there is really only one main way to play offense: add more relevant, properly tailored, content.  That is where blog writing comes in.  If you are not satisfied with the total number of calls you are receiving from online efforts, then your focus must shift to legal blog writing.  It's the main sword in the SEO shield.

The bottom line is that legal content writing, particularly on websites and blogs, is both the pinnacle offensive and defensive weapon for search engine optimization efforts.  Whether you want to ensure your competitors don't overtake you in the future or to mount an aggressive approach to draw in more clients, it is vital to switch resources over to steady, experienced legal blog writing.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three Common Social Media Mistakes & Their Application to Law Firm Blogs

A post at SiteProNews recently listed three basic business "social media mistakes."  We want to delve into these "mistakes" as they relate to law firm blogs.  The three problems outlined in the SPN post were:

1) Thinking social media is "free"
2) Failing to respond to customers
3) Talking business all the time 

The post was a general one, directed at basic SEO matters for all businesses.  But a few underlying principles for law firm content writing and online marketing are relevant.

First, the idea of "free" social media usage is huge.  Of course, it does not cost anything to open a Facebook account, start on Twitter, or even use most blogging programs.  But the assumption that social media marketing is "free" often translates into the tool being utterly neglected.  Having a Facebook account or a blog means nothing if it is not used often and well.  On many occasions that means putting actual resources (time, money, or both) to actually make sure it works.   On some occasions that might mean having a staff member dedicated solely to these efforts.  Far too many business (including law firms) simply toss these online marketing details to someone who already has a plate-full of other tasks.  But to actually ensure things are done consistently and correctly--which is the only way social media actually works--is to have certain folks (either internally or externally) who are focused solely on social media details on your behalf.

Second, responding to customers in a online legal marketing sense means paying attention to timely issues and real question areas.  Of course when potential clients actually reach out, it is absolutely essential that a system be in place for them to be responded to in a timely manner.  But responding to customers also means being cognizant of their actual interests when creating law blog posts.  That might mean realizing what questions you get asked time and time again.  It also might mean writing in a manner that is easily accessible to the potential client.  That doesn't always means entirely "dumbed down" content. But it does mean explaining some basic legal concepts that someone who did not go to law school might never have heard.

Finally, the "all business" concept comes into play in both the topic selection process and the writing style of law firm blogs.  One big mistake that firms make is pigeon-holing themselves far too much.  Obviously, every firm and attorney has their niche, but it is a mistake to think that every single blog posts must talk only about that tiny niche in one tiny part of the country.  For example, if you help clients with short sales in a town in Nevada, every single post does not necessarily have to be about short sales in Nevada.  New, interesting topics on Nevada short sales are certainly important, but it is entirely reasonable to also have posts on foreclosures generally, an interesting case in another state, scams regarding short sales happening elsewhere, or other issues that are a bit more tangential. 

Not being "all business" for law firm blogging also means talking conversationally and having flexibility in topics.  The SEO details can be worked out regardless of the underlying topic.  The main goal should be creating posts that might be interesting to a wide range of potential clients, not simply spewing out article after article on one very small concept area.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Overlooked Benefit: Social Media to Keep Clients

New Clients. New Clients. New Clients.

The answer to the basic questions about why firms focus on search engine optimization and law firm blogs is all about those two words: New.  Clients.  

As law blog managers and legal content writers, most of our discussion with attorneys revolves around this basic issue.  More individuals than ever find their lawyer online, and so attorneys must position themselves so that those searchers might consider them when making a choice about who retain.  That is simple enough.  Search engine optimization is all about being seen--and blogs are the key to that SEO effort.

But it is a mistake to end the discussion there.  Not only can blogs be a powerful tool to attract new clients, but they play a role in client retention.   

When evaluating whether to commit the time and/or resources to a legal blog, it is critical to also weigh the value of these tools for client retention.  Focusing on repeat business is not something that only matters in the world of mass consumer goods.  It is a concern for lawyers just as it is for Apple and McDonalds.  

Blogging plays a critical role in keeping up the relationship with former and current clients.  You may have a monthly newsletter or occasional email blasts, but nothing compares with an online spot where those clients can touch in frequently to see what is going on in the firm or be reminded of some interesting facet of the law as it related to your part of the country.  It is difficult to quantify this value, but it is undeniable that it exists.  

To be fair, some of this hinges on your firm's exact practice area.  Some fields naturally involve more repeat customer/client retention issues.  For example, while an injury attorney might constantly be looking for the next plaintiff, small business attorneys hope to build longer relationships with existing clients.  The potential retention benefit of legal blogging (and all social media generally) would most obviously be present in practice areas where repeat is common.  

Yet, even in traditional injury cases, former clients are known to keep some tabs on their firm.  Ensuring they have some place to go to keep that contact via the blog and other social media channels is important.  Even though a surprisingly large number of community members admit to finding their lawyer online, referrals still exists.  Presenting a steady, quality online storefront/interactive space for the firm (via blogs and social networking tools) is important to funneling in those referrals.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Finding a Lawyer Online--The Percentage is Growing

It's old hat to make claims about the importance of law firms having a strong online presence.  It's akin to suggesting that "social networking is changing the way people interact."  We all know it. It's cliche.  Move along.

But the clear reality is that the importance for law firms of having a strong online presence is growing every single day.  For example, in a new post from Business.com on marketing tips for lawyers, the editor-in-chief of Lawyers.com highlighted one staggering fact:

Three out of every Four people who actually hired an attorney within the last year went online to find the attorney.

Let that sink in.  75% of all new clients found their attorney online.  We all knew that online legal searches were soaring, but few thought we had reached this level so soon.  It is likely that previous investigations into the issue understated the case, because they counted people who hired attorneys in the past.  This new analysis of those looking for attorneys only in the last twelve month makes the reality clear: those looking for an attorney for the first time are going online.

The trends will no doubt continue in that direction, as the younger generation is programmed to look for everything online--there is simply no thought to do anything else.

Legal Blogs & Content
The Business.com blog goes on to suggest common sense techniques to capitalize on this reality. The biggest mistake is a failure to be active online.

But how does one actually become "active" online?  Isn't a website enough?  Of course not.

The website is just a home base--everything grows from that.  At the end of the day the main way to be "active" is to publish new content--FAQs, comments on case law, summaries of interesting news stories, and more.  This naturally leads to the creation of a blog.  The post notes that "It should be updated at least once a week, if not more.  A blog allows attorneys to demonstrate their expertise and discuss legal issues that consumers face.  The more content that is created, the more there is for Google to index."

Besides helping with SEO, the legal content creation is essentially a "non-sleazy" way to market online.  That is because it is all about marketing via education.  Blog posts, new website content, frequently asked questions, short books, and similar helpful material is the most logical way to get your name out there while actually providing a service that paints the firm in a good light.

The story concludes with the basic idea behind law firm blogs and value of new content: "If people see that a lawyer is consistently providing helpful information that people can put to use in their daily lives, that lawyer will have a following of loyal clients."