Your Law Firm Blog: Is Anyone Reading It?
5 characteristics of a great legal blog.
Do you remember where you were on May 23, 1999? The millennium was winding down. Folk were in a panic about Y2K: $300 billion was ultimately spent to ensure the world’s software was ready for the shift to 2000. And an IT enthusiast named Peter Merholz made a joke: “For What It’s Worth I’ve decided to pronounce the word “weblog” as wee’- blog. Or “blog” for short.”
And that was that. Merholz coined a new, now ubiquitous word. Today there are more than 100 million blogs, a fraction written by and for lawyers, and for the clients they serve.
So, is anyone reading your blog?
In 2016, 26% of all law firms reported they have blogs (56% of firms with 100 or more attorneys). 74% of firms maintain a presence on social media. That’s not counting individual lawyers’ blogs, or social media. For an industry with annual US revenue of $292bn, there is a lot at stake.
Law firms — like other businesses — blog mainly because they hope to attract new clients. Some lawyers blog because they have something to say. These are solid aims. But to paraphrase the old philosophical question: “If a blog launches on a website, and no one is around to read it, does it make a sound?” The most effective blogs start with solid goals and a thoughtful, documented marketing strategy.
Some firms feel pressured to blog once they see that other firms have them. They fear losing out on business, being left behind. There’s a temptation to throw a post or two up on the firm website and see what sticks. But don’t be hasty. A poorly written, inaccurate or outdated blog is far worse than no blog at all. Before posting, it’s essential to understand what blogs are, how best to use them, and how to measure those results.
Many businesses launch blogs specifically to increase their Google search ranking, hoping this increased visibility will make it easier for new clients to find them. There is an obsession with SEO (search engine optimization), the science of peppering content with keywords to increase the likelihood that anyone searching for those words will find you first. (For example, a personal injury firm might seed their blog with multiple references to “dog bite”, whether it makes sense or not.) In the early days of blogging this led to an emphasis on quantity over quality, as businesses tried to ‘game’ the Google search algorithm. Aware of the problem, Google made two spam-fighting algorithmic updates: Panda and Penguin, designed and implemented to boost the impact of organic, high caliber writing, and decrease the rankings of ‘junk content’ — poor or plagiarized pages onto which wheelbarrows of SEO keywords had been dumped.
Collectively, (along with the most recent RankBrain) these changes shifted the ranking focus back to quality posts and original content. This renewed emphasis on content marketing is a boon to lawyers.
Content marketing is the art and science of creating online material that doesn’t sound or feel like advertising, content that does not explicitly promote your brand at all, but still generates interest in your product while — and this is key — providing value to the reader. Lawyers are naturally good content marketers. One of the biggest challenges for industries outside the practice of law is creating content — generating endlessly fresh ideas. That’s the legal sweet spot. Lawyers think, speak and advocate. They write well. They make new law. They win — and lose cases. They collect war stories. They argue nuance. These skills — every last one of them — comprise the building blocks of blogs. The skills that make good lawyers also make us excellent nascent bloggers.
So, why bother?
Recognizing your specific goal(s) and target audience tightens your focus and bolster the effectiveness of your blog. But why blog?
The most common and compelling reasons include:
- Attract new business.
- Provide value to existing clients.
- Establish a reputation as a thought leader in your field.
- Connect with peers.
- Attract referrals.
- Elevate firm’s reputation within the legal community.
Your firm’s marketing strategy determines your goals. Those goals, in turn, dictate your ideal audience, and the nature of your target audience drives your blog’s content, tone, and distribution. A personal injury firm trying to attract dog bite victims in Southern California will have a blog with a very different look, and feel, than a firm trying to establish itself as a thought leader on complex construction disputes or M&A.
Is anyone out there?
Your ideal audience is determined by your goals. We all want to be widely read. Popular. Notable.
But the quality of the audience is far more significant than the quantify. Marketing professor Chad Pollitt quotes Mark Schaefer: “Our goal should be to create, develop and nurture an alpha audience.” The alpha audience — for purposes of evaluating law firm blogs — is that key fraction of readers with the power to help you meet specific strategic goals. If you are blogging to attract referrals, it’s the peers with work to refer. If your blog aims to elevate your personal profile, it’s the other thought leaders in your field. The most effective blogs are designed to reach, appeal to, and offer value to this core, key audience.
Once lawyers got over their initial reluctance to ‘give away their ideas for free’ (after all, isn’t that what clients pay us for?) they discovered that there’s value in doing so. But how best to measure that value?
Because blogs are a fairly new tool there is little consensus on how to evaluate a firm’s ROI (return on investment). The ‘vanity measures’’ (How many likes? How many shares?) aren’t suited to measure long term, cumulative impact on a firm’s reputation or network, nor the personal development of an individual lawyer. Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of LexBlog cautions, “The metrics used in advertising and marketing in the form of eyeballs, visuals, and traffic may not be applicable to measuring return on investment in publishing.”
The ABA TECHREPORT combines data from the annual Legal Technology Survey Report with expert analysis, observations and predictions from leaders in the legal technology field. As co-author of the Blogging and Social Media Section, Allison Shields, President of Legal Ease Consulting, literally wrote the book on lawyers who blog. Asked how lawyers can measure the success of their blog, Ms. Shields observes: “The biggest problem I see with lawyers measuring ROI of blogging is that they have poorly defined goals and expectations and therefore don’t implement an effective blogging strategy.”
Characteristics of a great blog
So what makes a great blog?
- It’s fresh, readable, and well written.
- The topics are interesting and valuable to your target audience.
- It’s reaching the right people.
- It meets goals (KPIs) derived from your marketing strategy.
- It reflects who you are and what you do. Staid? Edgy? Folksy? Know your brand, and create content and a voice that reinforces that brand.
of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP said she won’t even launch a blog until it has an ‘internal champion’ — a firm lawyer who commits to producing ongoing content, and recognizes the value of those efforts. And author Ann Handley exhorts writers to be ‘Ludicrously Spectacular’.
Room to grow
Data from The ABA 2016 Tech Report supports a conclusion that, despite the number of legal blogs, there remains room for growth. Blogging remains most popular for firms with ‘business to consumer’ practices (as opposed to ‘business to business’ (B2B) practices.) This leaves considerable capacity for practices that aren’t consumer based to grow their revenue and reputation through blogging.
Even with exponential growth of blogs in the past decade, 74% of firms still don’t blog. And 92% of individual lawyers report they don’t personally maintain a blog. Should they be blogging? Yes. A well-reasoned, well-written blog post with useful tips or fresh insight is a thing of beauty. And 42% of lawyers who personally blog report they landed a client or a referral via the blog.
There are 1,315,561 licensed lawyers in America, every last one of them with something to say. A thoughtful, readable blog, within the context of a sound marketing strategy, is one of the most effective — and ultimately lucrative — ways to say it.
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