Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hiring Legal Writers? Do Not Drown Them in Rules, Requirements, Mandates, & Guidelines

Delegation is not easy. The challenge is manifestly harder if you think that the goal of delegation is to have someone else do something exactly as you would do it yourself. This is a fantasy. No matter what the task--from painting a wall to writing a blog post--it is always possible to find something that the delegate did which you would have done differently.

While no delegation is perfect, some tasks simply cannot be given to others without a clear understanding that it will not be done exactly as you would have done it yourself. Writing is the prime example of this. There are many ways to quantify "good" writing. But there will always be immense disagreement about what exactly is or is not good. And perfection in writing is unattainable.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”                                                   - Mark Twain
In an attempt to have a writer produce something exactly right every time, clients (lawyers, legal marketing directors, marketing companies) sometimes create comprehensive, exhaustive "guidelines" for their delegate-writers.

You can never use these words
No contractions, or adverbs, or unnecessary adjectives
You must put this link here
You cannot link to this phrase
You cannot quote these types of sources
Or these sources
But "try to avoid" these sources
Never use "fluffy" language
You must use this type of phrase X number of times
Always reference this
But never this
Use underlines here
And bold text here
But never here
Italicize these
But not these
Spell these out
But write these out...

...It can go on indefinitely

Unnecessary chaos. What starts off as an attempt to control the relationship and produce uniformly better results actually has the opposite effective- an inferior product and soured relationship.

Comprehensive guidance may work great in completing some tasks--but not so in writing. It is trying to keep hold of sand by squeezing so tight that it all falls through your fingers. Excessively detailed requirements cause various problems

1) Writer Paralysis - No writing project is easy. From a 200-word blurb to a 2,000 word article, writing is work. The challenge is made infinitely harder when you have a 2, 3, 4, 10 page checklist of guidelines to follow. Giving a writer a task and then giving them an unnecessarily detailed list of Do's and Don'ts is like handing a marathon runner 25 lb weights before the race.

2) Inefficiency - Providing very specific and comprehensive guidelines inherently makes the writing process longer and harder for the writer. Unless those guidelines are absolutely necessary, they end up doing nothing more than make the writing process less efficient. The most detailed guidelines are usually only created to advance a vague notion of uniformity without a real focus on exactly why something is or is not required. If the only reason your guidelines are so detailed is because you simply want everything to be identical to everything else, then you are likely hurting your writer efficiency unnecessarily. This leads to higher turnover among writers, paying more for writing, or settling for mediocre writers who are great at checking off all the boxes but not necessarily producing the most original, interesting, or useful content.  

3) Wasted Creativity - You are hiring a writer both for their available time to complete the work as well as their skill in doing the inherently subjective task. By overloading requirements upon them, you snuff out much of their own ability to add personal style and substance. You do not get their best work.

4) Stale Redundancy - In today's new SEO world, the focus should be on crafting helpful, original, material--not dwelling on random uniformity preferences. Trying to meet very specific guidelines frequently results in writing that comes across as bland, formulaic, and uninteresting.

5) Creating a Dead End - It is easier to write guidelines than to write the finished product itself. Many firms or company guidelines become too by accident, because new rules are added over a long period of time. Some individual post or client has some problem, and so a new line is added to the handbook. Repeat over a period of months or years, and *voila* an extra long rule sheet emerges. When not crafted all at one time, this can create an actual maze for the writer leading to a dead end-where it is virtually impossible to meet all of the requirements in a single piece.

6) Unnecessary Conflict - By hiring writers, you become an editor. This gives you power. You can make a change in any regard and insist that the change was necessary because some error was made by the writer. You are paying the writer, so they do not have much recourse and will usually accept the change or make the edit with an apology. But the use of edits (or at least the explicit condemnation to the writer) should be done with care, because it inherently sours the relationship. The longer the list of guidelines or requirements the easier it is to find various words, phrases, links, or actions that the writer did "wrong." It is easy to point out the problem in frustration ("I explicitly said never to use contractions!"), but was the breach of the very detailed requirement actually in any real way relevant to the quality of the writing? Was calling out the inconsistency with the random preference worth hurting your relationship with the writer?


Caveat: This is not at all to suggest that all guidance to hired writers is inappropriate. Sharing basic parameters, general goals, preferences on style, main topics to discuss, and other details are essential to a healthy relationship with your legal content writer. Instead, this is merely to suggest that there is a point where it all backfires.

More rules and requirements given to writers is not always a good thing. Be judicious in this regard to ensure the best final product and the most beneficial relationship with your delegate.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Legal SEO Basics in 2014 - Content Writing Rules for Panda 4.0

The task of online legal content writing and blog writing can be broken into two parts: (1) Writing interesting, useful, share-able material; (2) Ensuring the material takes into account up-to-date search engine optimization details.

A common mistake is focusing too heavily on only one of those prongs. The writing may focus only on keywords and buzz topics and mirroring every detail of the perfect SEO scheme without emphasis on quality material. Or the writing may be oblivious to modern day search engine optimization, with duplicate content and dense structure. Either approach is a problem because it means that the writing either wont be worth reading or won't actually be read (because no one will find it online or devote the time to absorbing it).

Many attorneys working to write content for their own website or blog struggle most with the second prong--the SEO part. You may have may ideas about topics to discuss, commonly asked questions to analyze, and other information that is very much worthwhile for potential clients and the community at large.

But the SEO details are foreign to most legal professionals. And the challenge is made ever harder by the fact that the rules are changing on a monthly (or even daily!) basis. That is one key reason why it is worthwhile to have help with online writing and marketing. Whether you want help with the writing itself or need guidance getting your thoughts found, going it alone on that front is often a mistake--leading to lost business potential.

If You Read Nothing Else About Writing Online Content At This Moment:

For these intrepid souls who want to get their mind around the basics of SEO writing today, a very helpful short article at SiteProNews breaks down the basic writing in today's "Panda 4.0" world (referring to Google's latest algorithm update targeting content). The cliff notes version of the lessons we can take from the latest update include:

1) Remove all duplicate content. Ensure that no content is copied verbatim from anywhere on the web, included your own pages (and including long snippets of statutes, case law, etc.)

2) Remove "thin" content. Ensure that all material actually grapples with a question or issue. That does not mean that all pieces must be 2000 word white papers. But, brief 200 word, bland, ultra-generic pieces are worthless.

3) Write for people, not search engines. This is counter-intuitive considering this is a list about how to write for search engines. But, ultimately, Panda changes are all about rewarding quality material that is written for the quality of the prose with far less emphasis on keywords and marketing.

Photo Credit: Ed.ward via Compfight cc

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Legal Content Writing & Google's Panda 4.0 Update

Anyone who follows SEO news on a daily basis was likely swamped with one topic over the last week-- Panda 4.0.

The Update
On May 20th, Google's Matt Cutts revealed that the latest algorithm changes targeting spammy content was rolled out--likely affecting search rankings for a variety of sites. As a Search Engine Watch story explained, "The Panda algorithm, which was designed to help boost great quality content sites while pushing down thin or low-quality content sites in the search results, has always targeted scraper sites and low-quality content sites in order to provide searchers with the best search results possible."

The Panda updates first started over three years ago and were mainly targeting "content farms." These "farms" including low-quality nonsense pages that provided readers with little information but included a high percentage of keywords. These sites are on the way out. Instead, Google is pushing natural, useful copy. Google wants to reward websites that add text to their website and blogs that is well written, well organized, and answers actual questions or provides genuinely useful information.

The Lesson for Law Firm Web Copy
The ultimate take-away from this update (like all others) is simple: high quality content is critically important.

It is best to view these updates as akin to changes in the enforcement of criminal laws. If you follow the law, then there is no reason to worry about an increase in enforcement efforts. If the speed limit is 70, then go the speed limit. If you do, there is no reason to fear a dragnet to catch all speeders.

The same is true for best practices in legal SEO. Create high-quality original legal content that is actually useful to readers. If you do, then not only won't you worry about these Google actions--you will welcome them. If you have high quality legal content, Panda 4.0 is a net-positive, resulting in  an increase in rankings.

Whether you are an SEO company working with law firms or managing you own firm's online presence, the time to invest in legal content is now.

 Photo Credit: Chi King via Compfight cc

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Legal SEO Professionals - Keep Control of Content


SEO professionals and legal marketing companies, we feel your pain.

No two law firm clients are the same. Every attorney has their own idea of how their site should look and what it should say. Some clients prefer a hands-off approach, allowing you and your team to do what you think needs to be done. Others are the exact opposite, micro-managing every aspect of the process.

Of course, as a business, you do your best to accommodate every individual client's needs. But when it comes to online marketing, this can present a conundrum. What if the client is pressuring you to take steps that you genuinely believe are not in their best interest? What is the balance between meeting their preferences and providing them the best service possible?

This issue frequently pops up with regard to content. After all, lawyers usually leave the more technical details alone, appreciating that they are less familiar with the topic. But the content seems much more in their wheelhouse. Law firm clients may be tempted to write items themselves or otherwise be very hands-on with the process.

A recent GatherContent post touched on this very issue, coming to the clear conclusion: "Don't Let Your Client Write the Content."

We won't repeat all the reasons why you should keep control of the content. But you should. Particularly as Google moves more and more toward maximizing the value of high-quality content, it is essential to ensure copy is well-written, properly tailored, and available on time. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Our Legal Content Writing Prices are Ridiculously Lower than Anyone Else. Heres's 3 Reasons Why...

I am not sure if this is a compliment or an insult. But we get asked it all the time..."I don't understand your price structure at all." This is always offered by way of explaining that other providers offer writing services at 200% to 500% higher rates. How can we offer a blog post at $45 when other leading legal marketing companies charge $200?

I'm sure we lose business because folks think our writers are outsourced from foreign companies or that we have random college grads cranking out ambiguous content. Neither is true. And we consistently reiterate one simple fact: we are better than anyone else at this.

In the spirit of being forthcoming we figured we'd share a bit more about why our prices are far lower than others. It's a simple matter of old schoool business fundamentals...

1) We specialize - Our secret is so obvious that it shouldn't be a secret...this is all we do. Not only do we focus on content writing, but we focus specifically on legal content writing by actual lawyers. Virtually every other operation you come across will be segmented in one of two ways: Either they will offer you some "full legal marketing package" or they will offer "any writing you need" regardless of whether lawyers are actually writing it. Either way it is scatter-shot and less efficient.

2) We offer one service - You can find 1,000 firms offering you a complete online marketing package, with SEO, directory service, the MOON, and more. We do not do that. We are lawyers first, online writers second. Yes, we believe in the importance of online marketing for attorneys. But we are not going to sell you anything. Ever. We will write content that works for a set price without rambling about the latest trend that will magically change your business world.

3) We are good at this - Here's a secret only for those who stumble upon these blog posts -- people fail at this business every year. Content creation is hard. There is no machine that you can place orders in to crank out perfect results every time. This is the #1 reason why the largest legal marketing firms do not mess with content--it's very difficult. Anyone can write one intersting, useful blog post. But what about 100 posts a week? It takes real efficiency and expertise to do that. We won't reveal all our secrets, but that is our entire focus.  Which is how we thrive.

Here's  a secret: Those three fundamentals are synonyms for the same thing. The bottom line is we focus exclusively on doing this one very specific thing as well and as efficiently as possible. That's it. We don't try to sell you anything else. We do not spend resources training anyone to to anything else. This is all we do. Period.

If you need legal content for your own firm or that of a client, please contact us today. I guarantee you cannot find better work for a better price.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Less Lawyer Anxiety - Meditation, Sleep, Outsourcing

Do you go to bed with a laundry list of tasks, worries and concerns buzzing through your mind?

Do you wake up in the middle of the night with the same thoughts--often dreaming of missing this deadline or failing to do that task?

Do you hear the alarm clock a few hours later only to immediately feel that knot in your core, worrying about that ball you are dropping--dreading opening up your email inbox to see what fresh horror awaits?

Far too many attorneys are caught in this cycle.

STOP THE ANXIETY CYCLE

If these questions hit a little too close to home, then it is high time to think seriously about chronic anxiety, over-work, and the need to re-evaluate how you spend your time. Before you roll your eyes this is not necessary another call to remind you that "life is too short to spend all day in the office."

To be clear, life is ultimately too short to prioritize work over all else. BUT, taking steps to lower anxiety and ease up on your incessant to-do list does not automatically correspond with less money. The opposite is true in many cases. As pie-in-the-sky as it may seem, doing less is often far more effective (and profitable) than doing more. (For general primers on that concept see The 80/20 Principle and The 4-Hour Workweek).

There are no shortage of excellent discussions of lawyer anxiety and depression. But if you happened upon this post you likely want instant gratification and help. Here are three steps you can take tonight to slowly walk down the road of more sanity, less chaos, and, yes, more profit.

1) Meditation - You do not have to take your shoes off, sit in complex positions, or listen to bizarre music. Meditation simply means taking 10 minutes to focus on your breathing and not on the 10,000 other worries dive-bombing your brain on a daily basis. This is not New Age nonsense. There is real science behind the benefits of meditation. You can do it anywhere at any time. Think about it.

2) Sleep - You need a regular sleep schedule. This is not the first time you've heard this. The benefits of solid rest are simply unquestioned. Consider that this week the world's oldest person--116 years old--attributed her longevity to three things: Sleep (8 hours a day, always), Sushi, and Relaxation.

3) Outsourcing - Much anxiety is rooted in performing more tasks than you have time for and/or work that you do not enjoy or know how to do well.  Fortunately, there is a solution: have someone else do it.  Obviously as legal content writers and legal blog writers, we work in the outsourcing arena, and so this is a tip near and dear to our hearts. However, you do not have to take our word for it. Virtually every example of strong business growth  coupled with less anxiety involves passing the reins to others.

NOTE: Actual depression is very real, requiring professional support. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, but you must take time to talk to someone about it.

 Photo Credit: Arturo J. Paniagua via Compfight cc

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Still Not Sure About Investing in Online Legal Content Writing? Look At This One Graph

If you are a fan of the AMC drama Mad Men, then you appreciate how the marketing world must change with the actual world. Starting in the late 50s and progressing through the early 1970s, the show captures how the Madison Street mavens--those copywriters charged with convincing consumers to make specific choices--adapted through the decades.

The biggest change over the course of the show invovled the steady shift from magazine ads, billboards, and prints toward television advertising. Starting off as a relatively small part of all advertising packages at the show's inception, by the end of the 1960s, the role of television dwarfed all other advertising work.

The marketing dollars followed the habits of consumers. It was an undeniable marketing rule then...and it is the same today. When trying to attract clients you must understand their habits. Television came to dominate the advertising world in the 1960s, because Americans began watching television at astonishing levels.

But the world is changing. While television is far from disappearing, the options for consumers have greatly expanded over the past two decades. Television's reign is no longer. The pedulum is now swinging toward the clear future of media dissementation-The Internet. For proof, take one look at this graph:



The significance of this may not be shocking for those who appreciate today's media world. But this survey taken at any point over the last half century would have yieled different results. For decades, television was clearly the one technology that Americans could not live without. Now, however, the internet is clearly superior. Keep in mind, this survey includes ALL residents--even seniors. For the younger generation, the importance of the internet (and their cellphone to use the internet) is paramount. This will not chance as the younger generation ages.

Follow the Eyes of Your Potential Clients
All solo practitioners, small firm managers, and marketing employees appreciate that all marketing dollars need to be spent wisely. Just throwing money anywhere is a surefire way to spend more to attract clients than you ever make in actual business from those clients.

That is why is is becoming irrefutable that the vast majority of marketing dollars need to be spent in online marketing efforts. Not only is the internet the medium of choice for residents throughout the country, but the trends lines are clearly moving even more strongly in that direction.

In other words, to attract clients NOW there is no smarter move than ramping up online marketing efforts. Not only that, but to position yoruself to do well TOMORROW, you also need to invest in online marketing.

Original content is the foundation of all solid online marketing efforts. That is why is is prudent to invest in legal content writing as soon as feasible; it is bar-none the most logical short-term and long-term marketing investment for firms of all sizes and in all markets.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beyond Blogs --The (Uncertain) Forefront of Legal Marketing

Those of us who work in legal marketing are often under the mistaken assumption that most (or at least a majority) of law firms are reasonably well-acquainted with the modern day necessities of a website and use of updated original content to share information with the public and attract clients.

But we exist in a bubble that distorts the picture.

Believe it or not, most law firms still do not have a legal blog. But, if you are reading this, chances are you already have a blog, work with legal clients who have blogs, or, at the very least, are seriously considering (finally) taking the plunge.

For a moment, we'd like to avoid another post where we bang our heads against the wall while exclaiming that every single law firm needs to have an updated blog. Instead, we'd like to jump to an even more "futuristic" marketing tool that some early-adapter law firms are using: Daily Deals.

Bargain Bin Legal Services
The Daily Deal craze (think Groupon and Living Social) is no longer a "cutting edge" idea. For several years now, business of all stripes have been exploring the tool. The basic idea is for these companies to cull millions of followers to whom they present unique, daily deals--steeply discounted products and services. The notion is attractive for businesses seeking to spread information about their services and entice reluctant potential customers to give them a shot.

While Daily Deals are old news for many, lawyers are only just beginning to try it out. The reluctance is for good reason. Not all services are the same.

It is one thing to entice a resident into buying a 50% off white water rafting trip ("I have always wanted to do that...might as well jump on this."). It is an altogether different thing to sell some 50% off legal service ("I have been meaning to get a divorce...might as well hire this guy and take care of it now.").

Lawyers and marketing teams considering these daily deals must think very clearly about whether it make sense. The answer likely varies considerably between practice areas. Those looking for injury or divorce cases, for example, may have a hard time justifying use of daily deals--and their clients are far less likely to need legal services on a routine basis. Alternatively, those crafting estate plans (or other flat fee options) may be able to justify some general coupon system ("I have been meaning to get that will written up...might as well try it now.").

The Ethics
Beyond the marketing strategy, as with all lawyer conduct, ethics must be considered. Are there any potential ethical pitfalls to consider?  The three key issues to consider:

1) Competence: As always, you should never take on a legal matter that you do not feel comfortable actually handling. It is critical to be specific when making these deals, so that a "50% off" coupon does not generate clients in areas that you do not want to handle. Once the deal is purchased, it may not be as simple as telling the potential client that you will not take their case.

2) Honesty: Similarly, it is important not to let the marketing language with the deal get the best of you, breaching honesty with the client. Most notably, if the deal suggests that you are offering 50% off your regular hourly rate, from $300/hour to $150/hour, you should actually charge $300/hour regularly. Misleading the public to generate business is never acceptable.

3) Fee splitting: These Daily Deals can be structured in different ways. The most common are general coupons for X% off an hourly rate for a total of X hours. This method is the most simple and generates the least complexity. Alternatively, deals that require the purchaser to pay up-front (with the Daily Deal company collecting the cash) may come with fee-splitting and escrow issues.

To learn more about the potential ethical issues to weigh with Daily Deals, definitely browse the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Responsibility's recent Formal Opinion 465 "Lawyer's use of Deal-of-the-Day Marketing Programs." The opinion does not suggest avoiding these tools, but it does offer clarity on how to keep within PR bounds while doing it.

 Photo Credit: paulswansen via Compfight cc