Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quoth the Lawyer...

One of our legal blog writers, Rich Gallena, was looking up law-related quotes for a recent writing project. He noted how challenging it was to find material that was not some under-handed (or over-handed) insult to our profession. It may seem like an impossibility to reverse some negative public impressions about lawyers. But we can improve it...one helpful blog post at at time.

We thought you might be interested in some of the quotes not used...


“We are bound by the law, so that we may be free.” 
― Cicero

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” ―Aristotle

“It's because even a good man can't always be right, that we need ... rules.” 
― John Irving, The Cider House Rules

“Man is guaranteed only those rights which he can defend.”
― Jack McCoy

“Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.” 
― HonorĂ© de Balzac

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”
― Winston Churchill

“The minute you read something that you can't understand, you can almost be sure that it 
was drawn up by a lawyer. ” 
― Will Rogers

“The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.” 
― Aristotle

“Law is made by the winner to preserve victory over the loser.” 
― Toba Beta, Betelgeuse Incident

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Three Key Issues: Legal Blogging & Professional Responsibility

Some attorneys are afraid of jumping with both feet into the world of law firm blogging. A concern is the need to be careful with online writing and publication because of ethical rules, including strict advertising limits for law firms.

Law school professional responsibility classes are chalk full of lessons discussing times gone by when even the most basic advertising was not allowed. Lawyers have to be careful what they say to draw in clients--it is a lesson drilled into all attorneys.

But it is a brave new world. And the truth is that reports of mass problems caused by law firm blogs are greatly exaggerated. So long as a few very basic rules are followed, there is little to fear from adding content to blogs on a consistent basis as part of your reputation-building and SEO strategy.

The few cases where attorney blogs cause problems are in these three main problem areas:

(1) Defamation
Never make false, harmful, unprofessional statements against another.  In short, do not commit online defamation that may harm another's reputation unnecessarily. That does not mean you should avoid all controversial issues or not discuss any individual in a negative light. Instead, just be professional about it all, and avoid rants against individuals that you may dislike--particularly judges, opposing counsel, or clients. Though, even when lawsuits are filed claiming defamation as a result of law firm blog posts, they are frequently tossed out.

(2) Client Confidentiality
Never reveal client confidences in a blog post. This should be a no-brainer, but in the heat of describing a case that was just finished or using a personal example, you may accidentally forget. As always, avoid saying anything that is not part of the public record. You can certainly discuss your own cases, but do so tactfully. In a recent case out of Virginia (not exactly a liberal Bar), an attorney won an appeal vindicating his ability to discuss his own cases on his own law firm blog as part of his First Amendment Rights

(3) Disclaimers
Consider adding clear disclaimers. In the same Virginia case, a public admonishment was upheld for the attorney's failure to indicate that the blog was advertising and that his discussion of past case results did not automatically guarantee similar results in future cases. It is always a good idea to make this point clear at all times. Similarly, when referencing public bodies or organizations it is helpful to make clear that the attorney is not affiliated with them. For example, there have been a few cases with attorneys working on social security disability or unemployment matters being challenged for appearing as if they were official representatives of the state.

The bottom line: Keep these three main issues in mind and there is no need to worry about regarding the intersection of legal blog writing and professional rules of responsibility.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Data - Law Firm Blogs Bring in Money

Have you taken a look at this month's ABA Journal magazine?

If so you may have caught a small blurb in the popular "Hearsay" section that summarized some components of an annual blog usage report from Lex Blog Inc. The findings are clear: legal blog writing is up and it works.   Specifically, 80% of the top 200 law firms in the country are engaged online with a legal blog.

This is a marked increase from recent years.  And it is little wonder why more are turning to these services.  According to the same report, the average Am Law 200 firm with a blog increased annual revenue by $1 million when compared to counterparts without a blog.

This is a truly startling statistic.

Think about it.  For the mega-firm that blog is essentially a throw-away marketing piece--just one more way to be seen online.  These large firms are usually only reaching out to a select group of potential clients and usually have much more calls coming in than necessary.  Yet, even for this group, legal blogging was shown to impact the bottom line.

For medium-sized firms or solo practitioners, the potential upside is even larger.  There is simply no way to have a serious online marketing plan without incorporating a legal blog filled with original content.

Photo Credit: peasap via Compfight cc

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Givers v. Takers - Law Blogs & Becoming a "Giver"

One of the most "celebrated" business/development/success books released in the last year is Give and Take from Wharton School Professor Adam Grant.

The entire text is worth a read, but the premise is straightforward.  There are three general types of personal and business relationship styles: giving, matching, and taking.

***Takers view every relationship through the lens of self-interest (How much can I make from you?).
***Matchers view every relationship through a fairness lens (How can I give you exactly as much as you are giving me?).
***Givers view every relationship though the altruism lens (How can I help you?).

Naturally, the book hedges by explaining that these are very general parameters and there are many nuances to consider.  Takers are not purely selfish and givers are not pushovers.  However, research general show that everyone has a tendency to fit into one of these models most of the time.

The underlying theme of the book is that, in the long-run, Givers are the most successful. I do not want to attempt a full scale summary of the argument here (read the whole book for that).  But a persuasive case is made that not "charging"for every benefit one provides to others ultimately leads to substantial return in the end.

Consider this is view of your law practice marketing.  Some fear that using novel approaches, like a law firm blog, to share detailed, helpful information with potential clients is "giving away" the knowledge at no cost.  For example, if you work on estate planning, is it harmful to create a detailed blog the provides information on the specific legal requirements for a will or explains how to set up a trust?  Will potential clients simply use the information on their own and not retain your services?

Professor Scott would argue precisely to the contrary.  Giving away helpful information is exactly what one should be doing while cultivating a "giving" persona to gain respect, attention, and appreciation in the community.

Blogs = Giving

In fact, in the book Scott points directly to blogs as a sign of giving.  When discussing a venture capital firm, the book examines one very successful investor who created a blog against partner wishes.  The partners wondered "Why give away trade secrets?"  The answer: the investor wanted to help entrepreneurs.  What better way than by sharing information about the process?

In the end, the blog remains a smashing success.  The same principles apply to law firm blogs.  View your blog as tool to give back to your community--whatever that community might be, from injury victims to small business owners.  Sure, there are SEO factors in a blog, but they will work themselves out almost naturally.  Take the big picture view of the blog as an outreach tool for those you hope to serve.

Photo Credit: travelmeasia via Compfight cc

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Discontent Over SEO "Guidance" From Google

How does anyone know what to do to rank well in Google searches?

Most people who work on that task give a version of this answer: We engage in appropriate tactics, optimization, and content creation based on guidelines set forth by Google.

But what are those guidelines?  For starters, take a look at Google's "Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide."  If you don't have time to delve into this tome (honestly, who does), then the summary version is this: (1) Use common sense keyword terms as headlines/titles on your website pages; (2) Add helpful, interesting, unique, informative content to your website.  Ta Da.  That's about it.

Of course, there are a million other detail questions that one might ask about all of this.  To help with the detail questions, Google's head of  search spam, Matt Cutts, frequently releases short video clips that explain different concepts.  For example, here is one from late last month that talks about what counts as duplicate content.  In particular,  the question concerned any penalties for things like "Terms and Conditions" and similar content that appears verbatim on many different pages.  Will that trigger a penalty?  Here is Cutts' answer:


In short: don't worry about a duplicate content penalty for this boilerplate text stuff.

But perhaps even more interesting than Cutts' answer is the response it spurred in comments sections of one of the most popular search engine marketing community website: SearchEngineLand.  Take a look at the comments on this post:

Josh 
In other news, Panda is now useless. Who /really/ follows his LITERAL advice anymore?

Etienne 
One day it's black, one day it's white.....it is always difficult to know what's going to hurt your SEO efforts and rankings, so as a rule of thumb I'd always advise clients to avoid duplicate content.
It is very easy for google to come up with statements saying something is safe, but as we all know the rules and algorithms could change tomorrow, so better stay safe!

Thomas
I honestly don't listen to him that much anymore. The discrepancies between what Matt and Google says and the reality in the SERP has become way too big

I think this is what his job is. Manipulating the answers into a 
myth. Find the duplicate and then think if its gonna hurt you or not!

The takeaway: The most sophisticated marketing and SEO folks in the business are frequently dismissive the advice provided by those directly from Google.  This is a product of Google's somewhat generic, mundane advice and the complex reality.  For law firms and law firm blog writing, it is another reminder that there are few silver bullets.  Because most don't know exactly what does and what does not work, sticking with the basics is always the best strategy.  Add good legal content consistently.  Add to the Internet, and you'll do well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"Call to Action" Paragraph -- You Don't Really Need Them

If you search Google for tips on writing a legal blog you will undoubtedly find a huge list of articles, blogs, and entire websites devoted to the subject.

But a quick word of warning: identify WHEN the advice was written.  The online marketing world has changed significantly over the past few years.  Reading about "best practices" from three years ago may not only lead you down a useless path, it could be a harmful one--with Google penalties.

The most obvious pieces of advice that were doled out consistently in the past but are dangerous today relate to search engine optimization.  If you read an article three years ago about SEO for lawyers, ignore it.  All of it.  Sure, some may still be relevant, but a lot of it won't be..and there is too much good, new advice out there to tread on old stuff.

For example, you undoubtedly were told in the past (and may still be told) about the need to use a lot of "long-tail" keyword phrases (i.e. Florida injury attorney") with a link from the post to your website.  This is no longer true.  It doesn't really work, looks spammy, and is not necessary.

Call to Action
Similarly, there are endless articles out there about the importance of "call to action" paragraphs at the end of blog posts.  This is supposed to represent the "big sell" -- turning the reader into a calling potential client.

In some respects, this makes sense.  Entire sales books have been written specifically about closing the deal--giving the prospect a concrete task.

But is important not to confuse each individual blog post as a sales call.  A post is not (or shouldn't be) just a 500 word version of a sales pitch.  Going in with that mentality is the surest way to produce a low-value piece of content.

Instead, view the post as exactly what it should be: a way to provide some information that is interesting or informative, without pretense.

Sure, it may not hurt to have one sentence after the post indicating the firm's location/services.  But nothing more is needed.  And there really is not a need to incorporate the "call to action" in the post itself.

As always, just remember the basics:

* Write useful content
* Make that content readable and easy to digest
* Write consistently so that readers have a reason to come back

Monday, July 1, 2013

SCOTUSblog on Legal Marketing

This week saw publication of perhaps the most widely shared piece in recent memory on legal marketing.  There is little wonder why it is so popular--it comes from wildly successful online legal blog guru Tom Goldstein--the creator of SCOTUSblog.

If you do not follow SCOTUSblog, you must.

Last week represented one of the high water marks for the widely respected site, as it was ground zero for all those looking for information on the U.S. Supreme Court's breaking decisions in the most high-profile cases of the term--gay marriage, Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, and more.  It was even more popular last year around this time when half the country was waiting with bated breath to see if the Court would uphold the Affordable Care Act (Spoiler: It did).

Goldstein on Legal Marketing & Law Firm Blogs
Goldstein's tips are not geared only to online marketing, even though he is best known for his work on SCOTUSblog.  But his thoughts are worthwhile for firms of all sizes, particularly small and medium firms who are engaged in the seemingly endless battle to attract clients with personal injury cases, criminal issues, bankruptcy matters, estate planning needs, and other common community legal dilemmas.

If you are interested, you can listen to Goldstein's entire podcast at the ABA Journal HERE.

But for those who only have time for the Cliff Notes version it is this:

*** Blog about what it interesting, not only what you or your firm are doing.  Do not make it only about marketing.
*** If possible, be specific. Don't have a general practice blog that covers every topic under the sun.
*** Don't dwell on "common" selling points of your firm--just focus on building a relationships with a potential client.  Believe it or not potential clients don't care all that much about where you went to school, your awards, or even past cases.  They care about you as a person and their ability to build a relationship of incredible trust with you.

Translation for legal content writers and law firm copywriting...

Write informative, interesting content on a specific issue with the potential client in mind.  Do not dwell on every minor detail of SEO--just add to the useful things to the Internet consistently.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Narrow Your Practice Areas -- At Least On Your Blog

It's too late.  I can't compete.  Why bother.

Many medium to small firms--particularly in big, competitive markets--tend to feel overwhelmed about competing for online attention space.  After all, there are only a few names that can show up on the first page of Google for "New York injury lawyer," so why would a smaller operation even pretend to fight for that space against the juggernauts who have endless marketing budgets?

Is this a logical line of thought?  Not really.

That is for three reasons: (1) Blogging is about much more than search rankings; (2) Even still, the competition is sometimes not as strong as you think; (3) Niche blogging makes it possible to make a dent no matter what the situation.

It is the third point that we want to discuss here...the need to narrow the scope a bit.

A recent post from Solo Practice University (a general legal practice advice website) touched on the problem of trying to dabble in too many practice areas at once.  The main point of the post was that it is difficult to develop tailored experience and true mastery of any area of the law if one takes any case no matter what the area.  Bankruptcy, criminal defense, estate planning, and family law comprise vastly different knowledge bases and skill sets.  Just because lawyers, unlike doctors, usually do not formally specialize and are able to take on any case does not mean that it is in your best interest to do so.  Clients are not presented with the appearance of vast experience when many different practice areas are marketed.

Niche Blogging
Others may have opinions on the merits of tailoring one's practice to an area or two.  What we care about is legal content writing purposes, and in that regard the idea of narrowing the focus is very important.

Sure, it may be tough to compete with established firms on the most general keywords/practice areas in the largest markets.  However, the more narrow you address your online marketing efforts, the less robust the competition.    In other words even if you are a solo practitioner or a small practice that takes on a wide range of cases, it is best NOT to have a general legal blog that touches on every area under the sun.  Instead, focus the blog on one practice area and hammer it home.  In that way, over the months and years the blog will include content with laser precision and depth on a given subject.

Bouncing around with random blog posts between bankruptcy, criminal defense, injury, and family law is a scatter-shot approach that is less likely to make a dent in any of those areas.  But picking just one area for you blog (even if you are still taking many different types of cases) is a far more prudent use of marketing time and money.

It is not surprising to see the most successful law firm content writing efforts include very narrow blows (i.e. Smithville bike accident legal news) or for firms to have several blogs, each devoted to different areas.

Not a Straightjacket
To be clear, we are not advocating a blog that only talks about a single thing: i.e. bike accident examples in one town.  The actual topics can have a very wide scope, but the one unifying theme should be narrow.  A bike accident blog, for example, may include discussion of many things: cases, accidents in the news, issues of bike paths, new bike sharing programs, general legal cases affecting tort law (with reference to biking injuries), bike safety programs, new bike helmet designs, the list goes on...

You do not need to settle one single type of post or style of posting, but one general theme should at least be touched upon in each addition.  Niche blogging as a legal copywriting tool is not about limiting yourself but focusing yourself.  It is more than a semantic difference.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Google Announces Change: Quality Legal Content Trumps Links

Most law firms put resources into their legal blog for search engine optimization (SEO) reasons.  They want to perform well on "organic searches" (i.e. rank well), and so they follow the advice of everyone and add content to a blog.  We have frequently discussed how SEO is definitely not everything (or even the most important thing) when it comes to legal blogging.  But, it is undeniable that SEO concerns must play into blog writing and formatting. 

Anyway, on the SEO front, an article from Search Engine Land today points to a quiet, but potentially profound, change in Google's "Rankings" advice page.  The article has screenshots of the old version of the instructions and the new version.

Essentially, the Google team changed:
From the old version...
 
In general, webmasters can increase the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high quality sites that link to their page.

To what is is now...

In general, webmasters can increase the rank of their sites by creating high quality sites that users will want to use and share.

What does this mean for legal copywriting?

Well, since it just happened, there has yet to be may concrete examinations of what, if anything, this wording change signifies.  The logical guess, though, is that this was simply another reminder by the Google team that what matters, above all else, is quality content--in conjunction with the latest algorithm changes over the last few years. 

Linking is still a form of using/sharing, so the wording is not to say that links are irrelevant.  However, that change does seem to suggest that the utility of the content should be the focus of webmasters attention, instead any number of schemes to increase links regardless of the quality of the content.

For legal blog writing and web copy purposes, this likely means a need to pay closer attention to quality and depth of the writing.  Hiring just any legal copywriter--or those without legal training--is likely a big mistake.  Quality matters just as much as quantity. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Law Blog Post Keyword Stuffing - Don't Do It

Many attorneys and marketing professionals working at law firms are often a few generations behind when it comes to tailoring blog posts for search engine optimization purposes.  The SEO landscape changes very rapidly as search engines (mostly Google) adapt, grow, and expand available services.  Many of the tried and true principles of SEO just a few years ago (even months ago) are simply no longer applicable.

Unsurprisingly though, it usually takes a long time for firms to recognize these changes and implement them effectively.  This lag time can be quite harmful, particularly if the practices in question are not only ineffective but harmful for SEO purposes.  Firms that are agile enough to make template changes quickly have a huge leg-up on competitors.

Keywords
One of the more obvious examples of this is keywords.  In the "glory days" of basic SEO, keywords were everything.  Search engines looked for search terms, and so long as they were present in large numbers, a website could expect to perform well on those searches.  Naturally, this led to a surge of "keyword stuffing" -- placing these words everywhere, sacrificing readability, and even adding them in hidden places that were actually not seen by the surfers but caught by the search engine crawlers.

On the blog writing front, this keyword-obsession meant that blog posts were written wholly to jam in as many of these phrases as possible.  Unfortunately, this focus on keywords was prioritized over everything else--including readability and usefulness for readers.

Despite these problems, in the old days that exaggerated keyword approach might have worked to boost search performance.

Today...not so much.

As Google unrolls more and more changes and sophistication to its process, the times of shoving in as many long-tail keyword phrases as possible are not helpful.  In fact, keyword stuffing can come with significant penalties

Natural, Natural, Natural.

Instead, the best approach for legal content writing is simply to provide interesting, accurate, readable content that is not "forced" in any way.  A few keywords will naturally be included so long as the topics are relevant. But no longer do you need to fit in geographic area + practice area + attorney/lawyer a dozen times a post.

As we adapt to the changes in search engine performance, our legal copywriters and content creators urge everyone to shed the old misconceptions about the need to stray from natural, quality, useful content for SEO purposes.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Penguins, Pandas, and Content...Oh My

If you are like most attorneys, you barely have time to handle all the obligations of actually practicing law, let alone engage in nuanced study of different marketing techniques designed to grow your business.

In general, when it comes to online marketing you probably appreciate that Google rankings matter and strive to have a functional website.

Those with more in-depth interest in search engine optimization may have even heard of the Google "updates" which hit over the last two years.  These updates are given animal names--most recently Penguin and Panda.  If you have an SEO "guy" or work with a large website building company, your web contact may have mentioned these updates as an explanation for one change or another.

But beyond that, you probably aren't 100% sure what these animal updates actually means.

Many of the changes are technical, but the bottom line is this: content matters more than ever.  For law firms, that means more legal blog posts, adding pages to your website, more engagement with social media channels, and dissemination of useful and interesting white pages on relevant subjects.  In short: Google wants you to add quality to the Internet.  By doing so, you will be rewarded.

Google Updates, Content, & Social Media
A recent Search Engine Land article offers a helpful overview of these updates.  The story explores how with the more recent Google changes, improving one's SEO centers clearly on interesting, informative, original content.  Adding helpful material to the web and then engaging effectively with it (on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitters, and more) is the single best strategy to improve online visibility.

All of this is common knowledge at this point, and SEO professionals are shifting all of their strategies to meet these new demands. Before all of these changes, most SEO was "tweaking" -- changing "tags," inserting keywords, and similar basic details geared toward optimization.

Today, those tweaks alone are clearly ineffective. As the article summarizes: "Technical SEO is important, but will only get you so far -- your SEO efforts need the catalysts this is content marketing."

However, there is one big problem: It is a lot harder to do than the old techniques.  Content marketing is not something that can be done behind the scenes by some tech guys.  It takes time, work, writing ability, creativity, and familiarity with relevant subject matters.  That is why most marketing companies working with attorneys or lawyers themselves hire legal content writers to help.

Be sure to take a look at the whole article to get a better idea of how all of this comes together in the typical SEO plan.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lawyers & Social Media - An Update

If you are a devoted reader of the ABA Journal that arrives in your mailbox every month--and who isn't--then you may catch their continued analysis of social media trends.

This month the team that puts the journal together excerpted from its annual "Legal Technology Survey Report."  The report, as the name implies, culls survey data from firms of different sizes regarding their social media use.  Helpfully, it includes comparisons of answers to the same questions over the last few years, allowing readers to see the trends.

Those trends are usually even more helpful than the raw figures as it allows readers to see what more of their colleagues (and competitors) are doing.  It is logical to extrapolate that those areas receiving more attention over the years are growing in popularity for one reason: they actually help to bring in clients.

So what does the data show this year?

You have to go to the ABA Store and purchase the full report, but the snippet in the Journal provides a few helpful insights.

For starters, legal blog writing is...wait for it....growing.  The survey asks firms if they have a blog.  The break-down over the years is:

2011 - 14.8% of firms had a blog
2012 - 21.5% of firms had a blog
2013 - 26.9% of firms had a blog

That trend is similar to what we would expect as lawyer-writers who work with attorneys on this work.  As those numbers bear out, even though attorneys continue to hear a lot of chatter about blogging, it is still a minority who have taken advantage of it.  This is actually an opportunity, because it represents a way to get in on a marketing strategy that is still "new", relatively speaking.

It is little surprise why blogging is steadily gaining adherents.  It works.  The ABA survey also asked firms about whether or not they know for sure that they have gotten clients via various social media channels.  The outcome:

Blogging - 39% receives clients directly, another 26% might have but were not sure if the client came directly from the blog

Facebook - 19% received clients directly, 21% were not sure, 59% did not

Twitter - 6% received clients directly; 18% were not sure, 75% did not.

This is not to say that Facebook and Twitter are necessarily less useful, but it is certainly a testament to the fact that blogging is far and away the central tool for sharing the firm's original perspective and crafting a brand when compared to the more short-form, snapshot social media channels.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Beware of "Free Articles" Feature on Wordpress

Let's face it: keeping a thoughtfully updated legal blog takes work.  A lot of work.  That is one of the main reasons why we are in business.  Exploring the web to discover hot topics or unique issues to discuss in a blog post takes time by itself.  Writing up a post analyzing the issues and providing helpful content for readers takes even more time.

The fact that it is hard--or at least time-consuming--is one key reason that so few law firms do it well.  It also presents an opportunity for firms to take a competitive advantage.  Adding new content to the web is obviously the key part of search engine optimization, but it is also critical for conversion--turning those browsers into calling clients.

Many attorneys do not realize that they are losing potential clients by maintaining a stale blog.  When a searcher arrives on the site and sees a blog that has not been updated in months (or years!), they get the message that the attorney is not active and engaged on the web.  They may even wonder if the firm is still running at all.  Web searchers these days are keenly aware of the fact that business websites can be a graveyard---lingering long after the business itself is gone.  To ensure your online storefront looks active, it is imperative to have good content added to a blog on a regular schedule.

But wait....

Not just "any" content is acceptable.  Poor quality content or copied content may actually be worse than no content at all. The rush to keep a blog active may lead some firms to take the easy way out--either writing very short pieces of little value or adding full articles to their blog that were first published elsewhere.

"Free" Articles?

In fact, if you've been to your Wordpress blog editing page lately, you may see a box in the top right-hand corner of the screen entitled "Free Articles for Your Site."  Below will be a list of 3-4 articles with some connection, often tenuous, to the theme of your site.  With just a click of a button you can have that article pasted for free onto your site.  While this may seem like the fool-proof, easy solution to keep you blog active, make no mistake: It Is Too Good To Be True.

For one thing, copied content has no SEO value and may actually come with a search engine penalty.  Original legal content is what matters, not that which is copied verbatim for those who actually created the material.

Second, in most cases those recommended articles are from others who may even be competitors.  While it'd be nice if the authors of the "free" articles were interested in helping out your business out of their own generosity, the truth is that they want you to copy their content for THEIR benefit, not yours.  By copying the article, you are spreading their message and increasing their online influence. They may even come with advertisements.

The bottom line: Do not fall for the "free articles' ruse on Wordpress.  You need original content created by you and your firm or for your firm.

That does not mean that it is bad form to read or comment upon topics discussed by other attorneys---even competitors.  But it is critical that the commentary be original--not regurgitation of content written elsewhere.

There are no shortcuts in this game.  But that is actually a good thing, because it means there is an opening to stand out.  Many of your competitors are likely not yet fully investing in this original content concept, and so by jumping in now, you can get a head start that will filter more potential clients your way.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Google SEO Chief: Updates Coming In the Summer

Search Engine Land recently posted a story discussing the video from Google "search spam" leader going through some questions about what the next few months might hold for SEO purposes.

As our legal content writers have discussed in the past, SEO is not everything.  When it comes to all online marketing, including legal blog writing, there is much more to consider than merely saying the "right" words in the "right" way to maximize search engine optimization.

But arguing that SEO isn't everything does not mean that legal bloggers for law firms do not need to consider at all the SEO.  They do.  It simply must be balanced.  And the good news is that as Google (and other search engines) clarify and refine their search engine algorithms, they are striving to make the more technical or abnormal details less relevant.  In other words, they are working to make basic, common sense writing and content-adding the ideal.

The Search Engine Land story summarizes most of the main point on their post, and it's worth reviewing for those who enjoy delving into the more specifics of the issues.  This includes expansion of the "Panda" and "Penguin" updates, rejection of extreme "link networks," and an attack on "paid links."

The summary lesson, however, was clear: "The purpose of all these changes is to reduce the number of webmasters doing black hat spam tactics from showing up, while giving smaller businesses that are more white hat the chances to rank better."

This is good news for all small to medium size law firms who are working diligently to improve their online presence while adding interesting material to the web.  By commenting on cases, explaining legal developments, and identifying how basic legal principles may apply to news events, even the smallest law firms can thrive in the new and improved world of SEO.

The full video can be found below:


Monday, May 6, 2013

New ABA Opinion on Judge's Social Media Use

Social media continues to penetrate the legal world even deeper.  In fact, more and more judges are getting in on the action, requiring expansion of ethics and professional responsibility rules.  Some jurists, a la Posner, have been fully immersed in social networking for years.  But more and more are now taking the plunge.

In late February, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 462 - Judge's Use of Electronic Social Networking Media.

The opinion notes "Social interactions of all kinds, including ESM [Electronic Social Media], can be beneficial to judges to prevent them from being thought of as isolated or out of touch." (Take note attorneys who still do not have a legal blog).

The points of caution are two-fold in the opinion: (1) Judges need to avoid anything that undermines (in truth or appearance) impartiality, independence, or integrity; (2) Judges must assume that all material produced online will be public (even beyond a circle of friends or contacts).

You know things are getting serious when judge's finally take the leap.  Takeaway: If you are an attorney who is still not investing in social media efforts, you're quickly getting left in antiquity.

Blogging & Social Media Rules for Attorneys
Of course attorneys have been immersed in the social media world for longer than most judges.  And as advocates for individual clients and perspectives, it is easier to envision a crucial role for legal blogs for barristers as compared to neutral judges.

Much has already been written about the intersection of professional responsibility rules and lawyer use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and more.  The truth, however, is that considering the huge role that online material and commentary plays for most firms, there have not been a mountain of problems.  Some attorneys are cautious by nature, but it is an exaggeration to believe that one has to handle online contact as if one was walking through a minefield.

Instead, the basic ethical rules can be met by following common sense protocols of honesty and fairness.

* Don't lie about anyone or anything.
* Don't go overboard with emotion in any post
* Don't accuse others of criminal activity.
* Don't engage in personal attacks.
* Don't pretend to represent any entity or governmental body.
* Don't guarantee any results for prospective clients.
* Don't violate any confidentiality agreements.

That is kind of it.  As a quick glance verifies, these rules should permeate all legal careers--both online and offline.

The social media landscape is still somewhat new in the grand scheme of the legal profession.  But those worried about investing more fully in resources like social media sites and legal blog writing should not hold off because of misconceptions about ethical and professional responsibility limits.  So long as common sense decency and honesty is following in the production of all material with the firm's name attached, things should be fine.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Linking From Your Firm Blog to Main Website - Guidance from Google

SEO "Best Practices" seem to change on a monthly basis. In January you are told to use keyword phrases in a certain way; by February, that way is out-dated. In April there is one approach for using links in a blog; by May that approach is considered counter-productive.


All of this can be baffling for an attorney working on marketing efforts. And it is the bane of existence for those who specialize in search engine optimization for law firms.

 The rapid change in many of the small SEO details actually makes it more important to simply stick with the big-picture ideas that have long been the most important part of converting searchers into clients online. That begins and ends with solid original content. That is why hiring legal content writers is perhaps the single best marketing investment for attorneys. They will produce a tangible product that can be used indefinitely and that is at the crux of attracting clients in the manner that is coming to dominate the market.

Of course, it still is not as simple as deciding to focus marketing efforts on legal content. There are still SEO details that must be factored into content like blog posts. For example: Links. How many should you use? Can you link to your own stuff? Should you have a separate separate site to help with cross-linking? Will that cross-linking be considered spam?

Google Provides Guidance - More of the "Goldilocks" Principle

Fortunately, this week Google officials provided some helpful advice on that one specific issue which has a bearing on legal blogging.

In a new video, the head of Google's search team answered the question: "Does linking two sites together violate quality guidelines?"  This is a pretty fundamental question for law firm blogs.  Many of them, including those created by Justia, LEXblog, and others, create "off-site" blogs.  That means that the blog is separate website, with its own URL.  The idea is that content added to the blog can then be linked back to the main firm website for SEO benefit.

This was standard practice as short as a few months ago, but concerns were raised recently about whether or not this practice would be looked down upon as Google continues its updates to require more unique content.

In answering the question the Google official explained that cross-linking was not per se a bad move.  Instead, he noted that it must be done moderately--following the Goldilocks Principle.  In fact, he noted that it makes complete sense for various sites to be linked together, especially if those sites have related, but different concepts/content.  In other words, it is logical for a lawyer to have a firm website, where basic information about the firm, its attorneys, its practice, contact information is found ON TOP OF a separate blog site where the firm provides more timely content about legal developments, news, etc.  Linking from one to the other is helpful, and will not result in penalties if done reasonably.

Instead, the Google search chief noted that problems only arise when there are a large number of sites--50, 100, 200--that are less related and continually link together.  That looks like a "linking scheme" which will violate the companies guidelines and result in penalties.

What does it mean for your legal blog?

Essentially, this explanation of Google guidelines is an affirmation of the merit of some basic law blog writing principles.  Most notably, separating the blog is still helpful.  Adding common sense links, occasionally, between the blog to the main site has merit.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Should I Hire Legal Content Writers, an SEO Firm, Both, or Neither?

You want to attract more clients for your law firm online.  You know it has something to do with "SEO," blogs, keywords, search engines, rankings, "content," and other such gobbldygook.

It basically comes down to three options: (1) You figure out how to do it yourself; (2) You assign a staff member to do it; or (3) You hire other people to do it.

Option 1 is great for attorneys who have a natural interest in technology and other online matters.  But even if you have an interest in this stuff, there is the sneaky problem of not having enough time to do it.  Option 2 might work, but chances are that if a staff member already knew how to do it--they'd be doing it.  They can teach themselves, but then again, they already have tasks.  Building a solid online foundation is not a throwaway task.  Do they really have the time to add it on and do it well?

That leaves Option 3.  There is a reason "SEO experts" have exploded over the last five to ten years.  When done right, these folks offer vital services--bringing in much more money than it costs to hire them. But let's be honest, SEO guys have "huckster" written all over them.  That is not because they ARE scammers but because there are so many that it is hard to differentiate the wheat from the chaff.

And on top of that you've got outside folks, like us, who seem to provide some ancillary services but maybe not the whole "SEO" package.  Is legal blog writing all you need for SEO?  Do you have to hire more than one person?  Is it all just a sham that will cost money and provide no benefit?

The Ideal
Here's what we think.  In a perfect world, you would hire both law content writers and an online marketing firm.  They are not the same.  In fact, if you hire only an online marketing team they will outsource writers for you.  Sometimes they hire us, and sometimes they hire others.  Those "others" are usually not attorneys and the quality is very iffy.  Obviously, our firm strives to provide the very best in online legal writing at a great value.

But at the same time, we do not pretend that we alone are all you need to maximize your online marketing efforts.  A solid online marketing firm can ensure you use the content we provide in the very best way possible, integrating it into blogs, web content, article submission, newsletters, and more.

In this way, as content writers, we are the grunt workers--producing the material that makes up the bulk of your online marketing efforts.  The marketing team is looking at the big picture, making sure the content is used to its maximum potential and integrated with other marketing efforts like pay-per-click ads, newsletters, and other efforts.

Quick Note: Not all online marketing firms are the same.  We often get asked by clients for recommendations for SEO-types.  We are usually leery in our recommendations, because, frankly, we know more poor SEO firms than quality ones.  The very best firms are much more than mere "optimizers."  Instead, we recommend hiring a team that considers themselves marketers first and SEO experts second.  The SEO should be part of the overall strategy, not the single strategy.  There are enough legal marketing people out there that you shouldn't settle for a team that talks about ranking well in Google and nothing else.

The Bottom Line: In our experience, the absolute best results are reached by firms with an SEO marketing team who uses specialized legal content creators (like us) to make magic.  BUT, there is still tremendous value that we can provide when working without SEO folks.  And if the SEO team is doing nothing more than switching a few words around and acting as a middle-man, then you can do without them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Google & Bing Wars - Does It Matter for Your Firm Blog and Website?

If you watch TV even a bit, chances are you've caught a commercial from the online search engine site known as "Bing."  The search site has been pushing a claim that people prefer Bing results compared to Google's in "blind" search tests.  Bing is a Microsoft project, and so it has significant weight behind it.

Google has dominated search for quite some time, and it is hard to image any competitor making much of a dent.  However, Bing is mounting the biggest challenge yet.

Does any of this matter for your law firm blog or website?  It might.  A quick run-down of the situation is below...

Make no mistake, Google still has a commanding lead when it comes to search.  The most recent reports suggest that Google has about 67% of the search market.  This compares with about 16.5% for Bing.  In other words...it isn't close.  There are still 4x as many Google searches as Bing searches.  Bing has shown slight gains in recent months, but they have not come at the expense of Google searches.  Instead, Bing's gain is the other major search player, Yahoo's, loss.  All told the "non-Google" search bunch has hovered around the same 27-30% for some time.

On one hand, you shouldn't completely discount the idea that Google will one day fall from the search perch.  After all, before Google, Yahoo was the clear leader.  But Google itself was able to fight its way to the top.  It is not impossible for the same thing to happen again.

On the other hand, Google is now much more than a search firm.  It dominates many different markets, from video (YouTube), email, and much more.  Google is integrated into the cultural lives of so many now that comparing it to the Yahoo of a decade ago is hard.

Should any of this matter to your law firm?

The most intricate details of the search world shouldn't take up much mental space.  But, if Bing begins to make even more inroads, then it may be relevant to at least understand the basics of how they calculate results that might in any way differ from Google.

Right now, SEO is focused almost entirely on one question: What will make me rank well in Google?  But if Google competitors start showing more movement, then it might be worth ensuring that there are not other big or small SEO steps that need to be taken to account for those searches.

Then again, even if that happens, it is hard to see how the major components of proper search will change much.  There is uniformity in the value of interesting content, social media connectivity, and similar steps.  In that way, law firm blogs and legal content writing will continue to be the critical component of maximizing your firm's online visibility.

Obviously that is another reason why investing in that original legal content now is a prudent move.  Its value will not go away.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Be Careful Of Cheap Legal Content Writers

Outsourcing.  It's been a buzzword for decades, usually in reference to jobs that are being shipped out of the U.S. for cheaper labor.  Most of the focus has been on factory work leaving, as more and more manufacturing is done outside the country.  Now, of course, there is also outsourcing of traditional "white collar" jobs, from reading x-rays to even some legal work.  While any issue that might draw away business should be investigated, it is important not to exaggerate the risk of outsourced lawyers.  After all,  beyond the unauthorized practice of law issue, there is the simple fact that legal work still requires specialized skill.

Long story short, outsourcing lawyers is not something that should causes trembles for the firm owner just yet.

But that is not to say that everything related to the business of the law may not be ripe for outsourcing.

Take legal content writing.

Marketing budgets are often tight, and when firms are deciding how to spent their money to attract clients, cost considerations are obviously high on the list.  When it comes to having assistance with law firm content writing and blogging, there are natural temptations to go with the lowest bidder.  Usually that means using writers from out of the country.  But it is absolutely critical to understand that quality matters in online content writing, particularly when it comes to writing in the name of respected professionals, like attorneys.

Using poor quality content hurts in two ways. First, it simply is not that valuable for SEO.  Websites like "watermyblog.com," for example, produce mini 150-200 word posts for any number of websites (including law firm blogs).  The price for these services is usually quite cheap, from $6-15 dollars per post.  But the fact is, those short snippets are of virtually no use to the reader and serve next to no SEO function.  Many attorneys have been duped into buying these packages to receive canned content that is far too short and not tailored to their specific needs.  It is simply wasted marketing money.

Second, poor content harms conversion rates.  SEO is about getting eyeballs to your website, but it does nothing to get the people who reach it to actually call and retain your services.  The best legal blog posts not only act as crucial SEO tools, but they provide useful information for a reader and help to convert them into clients.  Poor content does not do that, and actually may have the opposite effect. We have seen sample posts from competitors who use non-attorney writers from outside the country, and the difference is staggering.  Attorneys must never forget about their own online reputation, and putting obviously poor quality content on a site with a law firm stamp on it is poor business.

Quality + Price
Obviously our approach at Law Blog Writers is the exact opposite of cheap content mills.  While we understand that firms can purchase blog posts written by writers in India for cheaper than our team, we believe that quality cannot be sacrificed.  When you consider that a post written by a non-lawyer from a cheap labor pool only costs marginally less than an attorney in the United States, the need not to go with the bottom of the barrel is clear.  Your online image is vitally important, and buying valueless-content can do more harm than good.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Legal Content - Future Clients will Expect It

For better or worse, right now most law firm content strategies (blogs, white papers, Avvo articles, etc.) are focused on search engine optimization.  Obviously, SEO is hugely important and becoming more so as online networks encroach more and more on human lives.  However, we have long pointed out that law firm blogging is about much more than SEO.  While the SEO value alone is enough to make it virtually required for all serious law firms, it is a mistake to view these tools--of which blogging is the most important--as only useful to increase pageranks on Google searches.

Playing the Long Game

One way to look at it is by considering the legal client of the future. Picture the twenty year old today.  This person likely has not had any use for a lawyer and doesn't think much about it right now.  Creating a will or crafting an estate plan is not on their radar.  They are unlikely to be developing a business in need of legal advice.  They may seek out an attorney after a car accident or if they get into some criminal trouble, but overall, they may not be the target market for many attorney right now.

But they will be.  In a decades or two, this generation will be hiring lawyers for a wide range of issues, from real estate needs and landlord disputes to bankruptcy matters and disability benefits.  How will these people BOTH find possible lawyers and decide which one to call?

They will look online, of course.  That's a given.  Their lives are consumed by social networks, search, and free information sources.  If you are even reading this blog post it means you must be aware that billboards, yellow pages, and even things like traditional TV commercials are (perhaps slowly) fading in importance.  

Understanding this reality is required but not sufficient to best position yourself to be seen by these clients of the future.  You need to not only position yourself to be seen by these clients online (SEO does this), but you must also figure out a way to convert them to actual clients.  It is here where blogs are pivotal.

The truth is that today's twenty year old expects to find helpful information provided to him immediately by those whose services he or she may utilize.  Visiting a website with contact information is one thing, but if that website provides little besides a phone number, email, and biography, then the potential client is far less likely to take the bait.  Today's twenty-year old is used to being given a wealth of useful, interesting, and timely information immediately.  Those who do not provide it are far less likely to ever get a dime of business from the twentysomething. 

This applies to a wide range of products and services--and legal services are no exception.  Consider a website selling camping backpacks.  One site has a neat list of all the different packs that they offer, with prices and links to order.  A competitor has the same neat product list.  But they also have a dynamic website that provides useful information on a wide range of topics: discussions about the new, stronger material being developed for these products, a list of the top 10 best weekend hikes, summaries about celebrities using certain packs, and more.  The latter company is going to get the business 85% of the time.  Because the online searcher will be spending significantly more time on that website.

It is important for law firms to accept that the client of the future will absolutely demand useful information from a potential attorney before calling.  Law firm blog writing provides that information.  The earlier you start committing to this essential part of your online storefront, the better.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dunning-Kruger Effect & Legal Writing

This month's edition of the ABA Journal includes a story with the catchy headline: "Why Lawyers Can't Write."  The story essentially argues that most lawyers are not very good writers and, critically, they often do not recognize that they are poor writers.

Dunning-Kruger
This general lack of awareness is encapsulated in a principle identified by two Cornell psychologists about a decade and a half ago: The Dunning-Kruger effect.  The principle posits that those who are not skilled often do not realize their inadequacies.  This would apply, some suggest, to lawyers and their writing ability.  The psychological argument is expanded to also suggest that the unskilled are unable to recognize genuine skill in others and think of themselves as skilled.  Sadly, the psychologists not that studies have found that the unskilled are only able to reverse this only after "highly effective training."

Long story short:  Many lawyers are poor writers and don't realize it.  This is a recipe for a career of inadequate submissions in all forms--from briefs to blog posts.

More specifically, the ABA article argues that there is a woeful lack of focus on style.  Obviously substance is key in legal writing--you've got to get the legal principles/arguments right.  But far too many place all emphasis on substance and next to nothing on style.  This is a huge mistake, particularly when it comes to legal blog writing.  If failing to address style in a legal writing piece submitted to the court is inadequate, failing to address style is a law blog post is crippling.  A blog post is simply wholly inadequate if the writer has no appreciation for writing style.  The reader of an online piece will mostly skim, and they won't give more than three seconds focus to a post if it is too dense and unreadable.


Improving vs. Perfecting
To be fair, we do not for a moment envy the job of legal writing instructors.  On many levels, it is next to impossible to change a lifetime of habits that students have developed over a twenty to twenty five year period.  A few legal writing classes mixed in over the course of a law school career cannot work miracles.  Of course, that is not to say that improvements cannot be made, but it takes a yeoman's efforts to go from inadequate to top of the class.

The same principle is relevant in legal blog writing.  Of course individual attorneys can be trained to improve their writing ability generally and blog writing ability specifically.  However, there is a far cry from "improving" and "doing very well."  At the same time, most "blog training" is highly inadequate.  It usually involves an SEO professional at a website company talking with the attorney on the phone a few times and explaining how to insert links, keywords, and categories.  None of the "training" has anything to do with writing quality itself, and it offers only a cursory look at the issues.

That is one of the reason that law firm utilize our services--understanding that it is far more effective to outsource the task to those who are drilled in that particular service.  Please contact our office if you could benefit from the support of our legal blog writers.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Law Firm Blogging -- It's Not Just Google

If you talk to online marketers, the team that people your website, or SEO professionals, they will usually mention blogging in one context: a way to improve your SERP performance.  SERP = Search Engine Results Page.  In other words, the idea that is drilled into so many attorneys is that they need a blog solely to improve their ranking on search terms in Google (or Bing, Yahoo, and the many other search engines).

While content--good legal content--is critical to SERP improvement, it is not at all the only way that blogs benefit the firm.  At least not in the way that SERP is understood by most lawyers.

Here are two reasons why.

(1) When talking about search engine performance, most think that the blog will improve the rankings for the main firm page.  For example, the idea is that you have blogs which include terms like "Florida injury attorney."  That term is linked to the firm's home page which helps to improve how the home page ranks when searchers type in "Florida injury attorney."  That works...kinda.  But it is not some magic formula that brings instant results, nor is it necessarily the main way that a blog benefits a firm.

That is because, on many occasions, searchers land directly on a blog post itself.  For example, someone involved in a car accident in Miami may not be searching for "Florida injury lawyer," but they may be searching for questions like "Will my Florida PIP insurance cover my back injury?"  If you wrote a blog post discussing PIP coverage, perhaps sprinkling in terms like "back injury" and "Miami," then the searcher may find your blog post.  They'll learn of the firm via the blog post and perhaps retain legal services if necessary.

In this way the blog  benefit relies much more on the content itself and less on some magic linking tricks to amp up rankings for main site pages.  Of course, SEO best practices are still important to use when writing the post itself.  After all, it is no good if the searcher never finds your post discussing  PIP coverage for personal injury.

(2) On top of the searcher landing directly on the blog and finding the site from there, blogs have also been shown to be very helpful in converting a searcher to a caller. Getting potential clients to your website is one thing, and getting them to retain you is another.  Many articles (and entire books) have been written on this conversion process.  But without question to get someone to actually call you must make it clear that you are knowledgeable, experienced, and personable such that the client can envision working with you.  Blogs can meet all of those goals.  They ensure the client is greeted with an interactive experience that projects freshness and helpfulness.  Put simply: all things being otherwise identical, a client is much more likely to call the firm with a blog (that is actually updated with interesting content) than one without a blog (or with a stale one).

Monday, February 18, 2013

What to Look for in an SEO Company-- For Law Firms

You get about 25 emails a week from companies trying to sell you on their SEO services for lawyers.

Most of the time you ignore them, but at some point you may actually need to take a look at your search engine optimization.  If you are building a new website or trying to improve dismal performance in attracting online clients, then you very well may need SEO help.  Does that mean that it is time to actually read those emails instead of automatically deleting them?  Maybe.

Because were were all attorneys first and online-marketing types second, we often get asked by clients about which SEO firms they should hire.  To be honest, we struggle answering the question.  We do not have affiliate relationships with SEO folk.  We have worked with a wide range of SEO teams in the past (and still do), some seemingly better than others.  However, there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to SEO.  Depending on geography, budget, and certain personal preferences, one search engine optimization team may be better for you than others.

Our legal content writers can offer targeted help with SEO--and all of our blogs incorporate SEO best practices.  However, we are focused on the small niche of actually writing content, not necessarily conducting comprehensive efforts to improve current design and content functioning or strategize on additional approaches to draw in clients online.  In short: some of our clients hire other SEO experts to compliments our work, some do not.  While we work hard to assist with online marketing, we recognize that the aid of outside SEO experts can be a very positive addition.

Who to Hire?

A video was posted over a SEOMoz last week that provides a very helpful summary of how you might want to go about searching for an SEO company.  If you or your firm is looking at how to select an SEO, it is worth listening to this brief video or reading the transcript.  Besides the obvious tips (i.e. get advice from trusted colleagues), there are various other insights which might be helpful when conducting your search.  Two of the more unique thoughts:

Then, I'll add this important caveat, very important caveat, which it's okay to get a couple of references that are not great. It really is. [...] There is no way that you're going to do SEO consulting or agency work, any kind of consulting or agency work or services work and not have a few unhappy people in the past. I think that 100% happiness ratio is extremely rare, and even if they were happy at the time, oftentimes people become dissatisfied over time with things, and that could be not the agency's fault, the consultant's fault. 

That is something we have come to appreciate since making the switch from practicing law to helping other attorneys with online marketing.  Obviously, if you receive consistent questionable references, then something is amiss.  But every dissatisfied client does not equal bad service.

Be very careful about choosing exclusively on price or experience. Now, price is an obvious one. You sort of go, "Yeah. I'll get what I pay for and choosing the lowest price vendor might not be a great idea," and those kind of things. 

The inverse of this is also true.  When it comes to legal work--even outsourced legal blog writing--some firms cannot get over the idea that if they pay more, they must be getting more value.  Some of our writing competitors literally charge 300% more for the same service.  Be cautious about buying on the cheap, but don't assume that spending more will get you more.