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.

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.