Legal blogs are a relatively low-cost way for lawyers to promote their expertise and demonstrate their knowledge to clients, prospective clients and referral sources. Blogging is also an excellent way for solos and small firm lawyers with niche practices to spur business development and raise their profile in a competitive marketplace.
Developing new business is largely about 1) building relationships and 2) demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about. Blogging can help lawyers do both.
Authoring a blog requires the writer to think about their target clients’ questions and concerns, anticipate their problems, and devise solutions (or at least offer them resources for finding solutions). It also presents the opportunity for attorneys to demonstrate that they’re staying up-to-date on recent regulatory changes, court rulings, industry trends, etc.
As for relationship-building, blogging admittedly isn’t as impactful as having dinner with a prospective client, but it can fill in the gaps between face-to-face meetings or, if the relationship isn’t yet at that level, develop credibility with prospects.
Committed bloggers get results. In their 4th annual survey of business bloggers, Orbit Media Studios reported that, out of 1,000+ respondents, 85 percent claim their blog delivers strong results or some results, a 6 percent increase over the previous year.
Additionally, general counsel consider lawyer blogs to be a credible source of legal, business and industry news. Specifically, 75 percent of GCs said they felt that way in the 2017 Greentarget survey of general counsel. (That’s second to traditional media, at 95 percent, and LinkedIn, at 86 percent. See our guide to using LinkedIn for more.)
What’s more, 77 percent of GCs said they consider lawyer blogs “very” or “somewhat” important when they are researching outside lawyers and law firms for potential hire. Clearly, having a consistent, high-quality legal blog is a solid investment of a lawyer’s resources.
And, when amplified by social media and e-newsletters, blogs are a great way to broadcast your expertise to a much broader audience. A great blog can also attract the attention of journalists who – despite their decimated ranks – are still looking for well-informed sources on any number of topics.
This blog post will discuss how to make the most of your legal blog, including the major elements of blog writing and maintenance, as well as the back-end SEO elements that will help drive readers to your content.
Very important note: Blogging isn’t about self-promotion. I sometimes see blog posts along the lines of “What to look for in a (practice area) lawyer,” with the entirety of the post conveniently describing the very same bona fides held by the author. Not only will smart readers see through this ruse, most readers will quickly exit such a page. That kind of “bouncing” isn’t good for your search engine optimization (SEO), which we’ll cover later.
The purpose of your blog – and your content marketing efforts in general – is to be a source of genuine value to your clients, prospective clients and referral sources. The more information you provide, consistently and over a long period of time, the more dividends you will see, both in terms of business generation and website traffic.The purpose of your blog is to be a source of genuine value. The more information you provide, consistently and over a long period of time, the more dividends you will see, both in terms of business generation and website traffic. Click To Tweet
What will you write about?
The best blogs have a clearly defined focus, typically determined by practice area, e.g. labor and employment law. Many successful bloggers refine their blog even further, addressing a particular niche in that larger practice area, e.g. representation of executives.
Admittedly, focusing on a single practice area can be difficult for a general service firm. But even most general practice firms have a target client base their blog can speak to, whether that’s companies of a specific size or those in a particular industry or geographic area, privately or publicly held, non-profits, etc. Many large firms maintain multiple blogs, broken down by practice area. If your firm has enough lawyers to produce that kind of content consistently, multiple, topic-specific blogs might b a good idea.
Once you’ve decided your focus, start brainstorming topics that your prospective clients will find interesting. As Nora Ephron was fond of saying, “Everything is copy.” She wasn’t talking about blogs, but her point stands.
More specifically, these are the prompts I give my clients:
- What are your clients’ perennial questions? What mistakes do you consistently see clients make that, if they didn’t, could help them avoid trouble? These topics are great fodder for “evergreen” blog posts, which you can continue to promote and re-use for, literally, years.
- Any pending or recently enacted legislation or regulations that will or could affect your clients’ industry?
- Any economic trends that could affect them down the road?
- Any recent court rulings that could affect them?
- Any current events that intersect with your clients’ interests?
- What events happen on a regular basis (quarterly, semi-annually, annually, etc.) that you can use as a jumping-off point? That could be previewing SCOTUS cases in your clients’ industry, providing updates at the close of the close of the legislative session, reminding property owners about how to maximize insurance coverage in anticipation of spring storms, etc. (See our recent blog post on using your calendar for effective marketing.)
Presentations can be easily recycled into blog posts. Chances are, you put in a lot of time preparing for and giving the presentation, so you may as well get multiple uses out of it. If it’s a lengthy presentation, you can probably turn it into two or more blog posts or a downloadable white paper (which you can offer in return for the reader’s email address).
Have you written articles for other publications? In some cases, those publications will let you publish the article in its entirety on your blog as long as you seek permission and indicate where it was originally published. But even if they don’t allow for that re-use, you are probably allowed to quote a few excerpts and link back to the original article. Once again, if you went through the effort to write and place an article in a reputable publication, get multiple uses out of it.
Think about how and when you can re-use it: Some of your blog posts will be one-time-uses only, but many of them can be updated annually with new information. So, before you start brainstorming for new topics, look back at your archive to see which blog posts you can freshen up and re-publish. According to the Orbit survey of bloggers, those who update older posts are 74 percent more likely to report strong results than bloggers who don’t.
Hold yourself accountable
If you write your blog only when you “have time,” you’re never going to get it written. Billable work, administrative work, spending time with family – all these worthy endeavors take precedence over marketing. That’s why it’s imperative to establish a schedule and hold yourself accountable.
The bare minimum is to publish something monthly, but more frequently is even better. The more fresh content you publish on your website, the more Google likes it and the better your search rankings will eventually be. Additionally, according to the Orbit survey, more frequent bloggers get better results.
The first step in holding yourself accountable is creating an editorial calendar (we use a simple Excel spreadsheet) spelling out topics, writers, and deadlines for drafts to be written and the posts to be published. If your blog discusses multiple practice areas (e.g. you have a firm with several different practice areas), your ed cal should include a breakdown of topics to ensure you have a balance of subject matter.
Accountability is key, however. If you’re embarking on this effort solo, seek out a colleague or a staffer to help you stick to your deadlines. If you’re doing this as part of a firm-wide effort, you will need a point person either within or outside the firm to quarterback your blogging efforts. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this person is your designated nag. (We’ve helped lots of lawyers and law firms create and maintain their blogs, so contact us if we can be of assistance.)
Writing your blog
Here are some tips for when it comes time to sit down and write your blog:
Be OK with shi**y first drafts: Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, says this is the key to good writing. If you spend all day sweating over your opening sentence, you’ll never get anywhere. So, don’t worry if what you write is awful. Just get it on the page. Once you have a terrible first draft, you can refine it into a work of art.
Author Anne Lamott says the best way to get past writer's block is to learn to love 'sh**tty first drafts.' If you're struggling to write a pristine legal blog, give yourself permission to write a lousy first draft, just to get it out… Click To TweetGet to the point: I have often read blog drafts that read like a legal pleading, with an intro that dryly introduces the topic, a middle part that meticulously lays out the evidence, and a conclusion that restates the main points. That is not a blog post. The ideal format for a blog post is a modified inverted pyramid, the structure used by reporters. The inverted pyramid puts the most information up top and backs it up below. That structure was developed so that typesetters could easily lop off the bottom of the story if they ran out of room, but it had a more practical use: readers got the most important information first. I say bloggers should use a modified form of the pyramid because we no longer have to worry about cantankerous typesetters, so we want the blog post to read as a complete document, with a catchy beginning, an informative middle, and a wrap-it-up-with-a-bow ending. Bloggers also get to use first person and an overall more casual style than what is required of reporters.
Write as much as you need to say what you want to say: At one point, we were told 300-600 words was a great length for a blog post, but data now tell us that blog posts of 2,000+ words are the best performers. This doesn’t mean you should make every post be 2,000 words, especially if you only need 500 or 1,000. Because if the 2,000-word post is boring or hard to read, it’s not going to do you any good. If you only have 500 words to say, write that. A 500-word blog post performs infinitely better than one that does not exist because the writer didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to write 2,000 words.
Be sparing with jargon or legalese: Everybody loves plain English, even lawyers. So, to the extent possible, keep legalese to a minimum. That being said, if you’re targeting corporate clients and general counsel, you will want to speak in a language appropriate to your sophisticated audience. In other words, don’t dumb it down too much, but it shouldn’t require a J.D. to comprehend (especially if you also want to target journalists, who look for experts who can help them understand complex subject matter).
Make it easy for people to contact you: Include an “about the author” box at the end of all your blog posts. It should briefly encapsulate your areas of expertise and provide your contact information. Be sure to link to your bio on your firm’s website.
Link to supporting information: If your post references a study, a news event, a court ruling or anything that contains supporting information, link to it from your post. Opt for high-authority sites (major media sites, courts, etc.) both because they help your SEO and they provide trustworthy confirmation of your data. This is also a good way to give credit to other bloggers or experts in your field and head off plagiarism accusations.
Formatting and SEO
Writing a great post is the most important ingredient of SEO. As expert Rebecca Gill evangelizes, good SEO is the result of providing relevant information that readers want. It’s not dark arts or fairy dust or keyword stuffing.
With that caveat, however, there are backend steps bloggers should take to make it easier for Google and other search engines to find your content. Here are the big ones:
Make your post visually easy to read: Use short paragraphs, subheads, bullet points, callout quotes, and graphics to break up large blocks of text and make it easy for readers to skim your post. The easier it is to scan the page and pick up the highlights, the more likely you are to retain readers, which helps lower your bounce rate. Google rewards pages that keep readers because it tells them that readers are finding what they want.
Headlines: Write a headline that conveys what readers will find but doesn’t overpromise. Don’t be opaque or “click-baity.” If someone can’t tell what the article is about from the headline, they aren’t going to click on it. Conversely, don’t undersell yourself. If the gist of your post is that clients should be leery of a new regulation coming down the pike, the headline should convey that and not simply say the post is an analysis.
Use correct coding for headlines and subheads: Blogging platforms contain H1, H2, H3, etc., codes for headlines and subheads. Use those instead of manually reformatting the words (e.g. 20-point, boldface) because Google distinguishes those headers from regular text and gives them more weight.
Use your keyword or key phrase prominently: If the premise of your post is, “What small businesses need to know about tax reform,” then use that phrase or related variations early in the article and in the headline or subheads. Don’t go overboard, but using that phrase a few times will help Google match your blog post to people who are searching for it.
Get to know your SEO tools: The most popular blogging platform – and the one I am most familiar with – is WordPress, but there are many others. Each of those platforms has their own SEO tool. One of the most popular on WordPress is the Yoast SEO plugin, but there are others. For purposes of this post, I will be talking about Yoast tools, so some of the terminology may be different from what your blog uses. All this to say, become familiar with the SEO tools on your blogging platform and spend a few minutes to make sure your blog post is easy to find by Google and other search engines.
Meta description/snippet: The meta description of your post is the summary that appears on Google. It defaults to the first few lines of text, so you will want to customize this description so that it captures your blog post’s intention and doesn’t trail off into ellipses.
Slug: Like the snippet, Yoast lets you tailor your “slug,” the unique link to your post. It will default to your headline, so you may want to shorten or refine it to eliminate extraneous words.
Images and alt-text: Blog posts with imagery typically perform better than those without them, so it’s ideal to include a photo or graphic. Some legal topics, however, don’t always easily lend themselves to images, but it is best if you can include one. If you do, be sure to fill in the “alt-text” to include words with your keyword or phrase. Because Google cannot “see” the image, it wants you to provide alt-text to reassure its bots that the image is, in fact, related to the topic of the post. But since Google also has a responsibility to serve up accessible posts for the blind and visually impaired, it wants your alt-text to serve that purpose as well. The best alt-descriptions do double duty, in other words. An example could be, “Picture of editorial calendar on desk to show importance of scheduling blog posts”
Include internal and external links: As mentioned above, links to other high-authority sites reflect well on your site, SEO-wise. They also help your readers get supporting information. In addition to outbound links, include internal links, which are links to other pages within your site, including previous blog posts on related subject matter, practice area pages, news releases, lawyer bios, etc. In addition to boosting those pages’ SEO, those links provide readers with relevant information, which, once again, helps with SEO.
Include a link to subscribe to your blog: If your firm distributes your blog posts via email or client alerts, include a link to subscribe to your blog at the base of your posts. Third-party email providers such as MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, etc., will generate HTML code you can use to create that subscription form.
Let others know about your blog: Include a link to your blog in your email signature line, on your website bio, and in any other regular communications with your contacts. Especially once you have a nice archive of blog posts, make sure others know about it. If there are journalists who cover your practice area and might find your posts helpful, drop them an email with a link to your blog and an offer to be of assistance.
Additionally, make sure that Texas Bar Today knows about your blog by sending them a link to your RSS feed (for WordPress blogs, that’s https://(Your Blog’s URL)/feed/). Texas Bar Today compiles a weekly Top 10 list of the week’s best blog posts, which can help drive additional traffic to your blog if you make the list.
Amplify via social media, and newsletter: Use your social media platforms to amplify your blog post and help grab more readers. For example, LinkedIn ranks particularly highly with in-house counsel as a credible source of information, so be sure to share your post there. And remember that Twitter is fleeting, so feel free to tweet out your blog post several times, highlighting different parts of the post in each tweet. Particularly if your post is “evergreen” (i.e. it’s as relevant today as it will be six months or a year from now), you can re-post it to your social media channels periodically (roughly once a month on Twitter and once every 2-3 months on Facebook and LinkedIn. Buffer is a great tool for that.). That will help drive traffic to perennially useful content and raise your online profile at the same time.
Broaden your scope of influence: Paid promotion of your blog post (via aggregation services, promoted posts on social media or even pay-per-click) can drive traffic to your content. But one of the most effective ways to grow your readership, according to the Orbit survey, is through “influencer outreach.” Basically, this is convincing other people who are highly regarded and already have a large audience to promote your blog post. They can do this via social media, through their own blogs, or in other communications with their audience. (This can, but doesn’t have to be, a quid pro quo, whereby you promote their content as well.) Alternatively, reporters and others who have built-in audiences may be inclined to promote your blog if they find it consistently useful and informative (another reason to stay away from self-promotional content).
Playing the Long Game
Legal blogging isn’t that easy, nor is it a recipe for instant success. It may take several months of regular blogging and promotion before your efforts bear fruit, but it will have been time well-spent. Blogging is a great way to think about your clients’ and prospective clients’ needs and provide them with the information they need to be a better consumer of your legal services.
Amy Boardman Hunt is all about helping lawyers find their voice and showcase their expertise. When she’s not doing that, she’s trying to find great hiking spots in Dallas. If you know of any – or you need a legal marketing muse – drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author’s note: I consulted multiple sources on blog post optimization and formatting in writing this. Thanks to Sarah Hadden of Words and Pictures Marketing for her fact-checking as well as the authors of these articles, all of which provide more great information on blog SEO:
Neil Patel, Moz, 12 Things That Will Kill Your Blog Post Every Time
Serge Stefoglo, Moz, The Start-to-Finish Guide to Optimizing Your WordPress Blog Posts
Joost de Valk, Yoast, The Snippet Preview: What It Means and How to Use It
Jasmine Henry, Writtent, 10 Killer Tips: How to Format a Perfect Blog Post