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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"One and Done" Is Not a Legal Blog Writing Strategy

When talking with attorneys about starting legal blogging, many say things like "I'll try it," or "Maybe I will give it a shot."  That is a great first step, as the difference between the success level of so many firms is simply a willingness to do something to improve a firm's online perception and bring in business.  However, we have come to learn that much  hinges on what the attorney means by "trying" or "giving it a shot."

If writing one post a week for one month and then stopping because it doesn't generate calls is "trying," then there really is not much difference between trying and doing nothing.

Taking a real shot at any marketing effort--including amping up online efforts via a law firm blog--requires actually devoting time and resources to determining if the effort works in the long haul.  For blogging, the length of time committed to the project is likely more important initially than the frequency.  So long as you are posting at least once per week, you can build a solid online presence if you keep with it over many months.  Producing more than one post per week--including every day--can maximize the effect, but it is not necessarily required to make a difference.  Timing, on the other hand, is critical.  Even if you post seven times a week, if you give up the effort after one or two months, then there is no chance of seeing improvement.

Long story short: You do not necessarily need to blog every day, but whatever frequency you decide, make sure you do not give up after a couple months.

Along similar lines,  a Search Engine Land post recently discussed how the "one and done" approach taken with many online marketing efforts leads to significant (and often abrupt) problems.  The story focuses on link-building, which is a part of law firm blogging.  The author explains how a common mistake with many of these efforts is working hard for a period of time on it, and then stopping.  This has serious detrimental effects on all businesses, because culling online status requires a constant effort.  As the article title itself explains: "Five Years of Doing the Right Things Can Be Undone with Nine Months of Doing Nothing."

Make no mistake, for every month that you are not maintaining or improving your online marketing presence, others are doing something to gain ground on you.

This does not necessarily mean you should sign your life away immediately once you decide to aggressively pursue online marketing efforts.  It is just a reminder that "one and done" is not a mindset that works in legal blog writing, SEO, or any online work.

Our legal content writers do not require a long-term commitment.  We intentionally work month-to-month, because we understand that having budgetary flexibility is important for all law firms.  We are attorneys who have run practices ourselves and have the same gut-aversion to being locked in long-term with these marketing options.  However, we do understand why many SEO companies insist on long-term contracts--because it simply takes a bit of time for any effect to be seen.  If all online marketers were judged by results after one or two months, then virtually all clients would be unhappy.

Committing resources to your law firm blog is perhaps the single best change you can make to increase your online visibility and reputation.  But go into it knowing that it will take time and that it is not a "one and done" strategy---it is a new way of approaching marketing that will hopefully last indefinitely while continuously bringing in clients.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ethics Complaint & Illinois Legal Blog

The cautious attorney is often reluctant to devote full time, energy, and resources into a blog out of concerns about the still-confusing rules regarding attorney advertising, legal disclaimers, and more.  After all, we are drilled in law school about the tight professional responsibility requirements of the profession and the need to be cautious about public pronouncements and anything that can be construed as advertising.

There is still much more uncertainty that there is clarity about how ethics rules and advertising principles apply to law firm blogs.  Each state is different, but certain cases involving attorneys facing various sanctions (usually light) for online conduct have spread and been latched onto by the most jittery of attorneys (usually the transactional types :)  While it is important to understand the basis for those professional sanctions, it is a mistake to hear generally about some attorney getting in trouble with their law firm blog and assuming the worst.  Make no mistake: legal blogs are an incredibly useful resource and it's unfathomable that this exchange of content online will be stopped by any professional review organization.

Last month we mentioned one of the more high-profile cases involving a legal blog.  That matter related to the use of the term "Worker's Compensation" by a Texas attorney.  The matter was still pending, but the bottom line was that the lawyer was told to remove the blog because of it's use of combinations of words like "Texas" and Worker's Compensation. The state department which forced the matter argued that it alone could use the phrase, and that the attorney's online presence confused community members about the attorney's lack of connection to the government.  Many observers note that this case is won't (and should not) result in any official action against the attorney.

The Latest Example
Now comes another case of a law firm blog getting an attorney in trouble.  In the most recent matter an Illinois estate planning/probate lawyer faces a complaint as a result of aggressive allegations she made in two blog posts about the actions of the county's probate system.

Specifically, the attorney seemed to vent her frustration about the outcome of a specific case in which she was representing a resident with property interests at stake.  The attorney's post made accusations of widespread corruption in the Cook County court system.  She went on to claim that her client was the victim of elder abuse and that the guardian ad litem (among others) were responsible for victimizing the elderly woman.  The allegedly accused the GALs of  violating the law.

The complaint alleges that the blog writer knew that her accusations were false (or should have known).

No Need to Panic
Undoubtedly, some will read about the above situation and immediately assume that it is an example of another way that law firm blogs are risky.  But it doesn't take much though to realize that this really has nothing to do with blogging.  As explained in the public sphere thus far, this is all about libel--not blogging.  The merit of the accusations will be dealt with by those involved, but the fact that the claims were made in a blog is not at all the central issue in the case.

The only possible takeaway lesson for law firm bloggers is not to commit torts online as well as offline.  Defamation can occur online, and it should be avoided.  But other than that, it is critical not to blow up these stories as in any way a sign of doom that faces all law firms that commit significant resources to their blogging.