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.