Andy Havens, Marketing Management Consultant and co-founder of Sanestorm Marketing. Questions, comments, and criticism welcome. Contact Andy at 1.877.SSTORM1 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On October 13, Andy will be presenting a Power Advertising webinar.
OK. I've been hearing the term "blog" for about a year now. The word suggests, to me, an unpleasant growth requiring an oncologist's attention. It's not a pleasant sounding word. But, done well, blogs can provide very pleasant results for lawyers looking to reach new clients, demonstrate expertise and improve their marketing. If all that sounds like something you'd like a piece of, you'll put up with the funny name.
A little history
"Blog" is actually short for "web log" or "wee blog," depending on whom you ask. Various sources trace the history of the term "web log" back to 1997 and credit Jorn Barger with the creation of the word. The shorter version, originally "wee blog," was coined by Peter Merholz in the sidebar of his web log in May of 1999.
The Wikipedia has an excellent, technical definition of "blog:"
A weblog, or simply a blog, is a website which contains periodic, reverse chronologically ordered posts on a common webpage. Such a web site would typically be accessible to any Internet user. Part of the reason "blog" was coined and commonly accepted into use is the fact that in saying "blog", confusion with server log is avoided. Individual posts (which taken together are the blog or weblog) either share a particular theme, or a single or small group of authors.
The totality of weblogs or blog-related webs is usually called the "blogosphere." The format of weblogs varies, from simple bullet lists of hyperlinks, to article summaries with user-provided comments and ratings. Individual weblog entries are almost always date and time-stamped, with the newest post at the top of the page.
Blogging really began to take off in 2002, with blogs being used to support the war in Iraq. The first blog related controversy was the ousting of Trent Lott, with blogs being credited as having kept the story "on" in the press for longer than it might otherwise have been.
Through 2003, blogs gained popularity among politicians and professional writers. "How to" books began to emerge, and by 2004 the role of blogs had become increasingly mainstream. TV shows now have associated blogs. Teenagers use them as online diaries. Travel writers use them as an "instant" means of reporting on happenings and sites they experience in their travels. Writers use them to share ideas, comments and work.
But what does blogging have to do with legal marketing?
Ask the expert
To find out why (or if) blogging is a good marketing investment for lawyers and law firms, I spent some time last month talking with Kevin O'Keefe, owner of lexBlog, and industry-acknowledged expert in the area of blogging for lawyers.
Andy Havens (AH): Kevin, thanks for your time. What the heck is up with lawyers and blogs? It seems to me, at first, to be a bad fit, or at least a strange marriage. Blogs are informal, personal and very "new." Lawyers are generally reluctant to get into an area that's as seemingly unregulated and "free" as the blogosphere.
Kevin O'Keefe (KO'K): First of all, blogs are only as informal and personal as you want to make them. The easy, and often free access to blogging means that lots of people are doing lots of different things with their blogs.
AH: So a blog won't automatically make a lawyer come across like a loopy diarist?
KO'K: Not at all. Most lawyers who blog do so in a way very much like how they'd write to a client or for a business publication. That's the whole point – communication with a particular audience. We call them professional communications blogs.
AH: So lawyers shouldn't fear the format?
KO'K: No. In fact, for many viewers, the difference between a good weblog and a web site will be academic. They experience the blog the same way they'd experience any other site.
AH: Then why not do a website?
KO'K: Several reasons. First, blogs are much easier to update than a standard website. There's no code, no formatting, no HTML, no FTP. The blogger just logs in with a username and password, clicks on the "post" button, writes, clicks on the "publish" button, and that's it.
AH: So all my time is spent writing, not fooling with frames and such.
KO'K: Exactly. Lawyers aren't usually geeks. Some are, but most are fired up about their legal practice, not the intricacies of web page design and development.
AH: But, if you had a dedicated web master, you could just shoot them the text and have them post it, right? Isn't the difference between blogs and websites more of a technical issue?
KO'K: Saying you could manage a website like a blog is like saying you could swim from New York City to Boston. Yeah, technically it's possible. But it's way too much work for most people. Also, the writer ends up being "at the mercy" of the webmaster. With blogs, you can log in from any Internet connection and post an update any time of the day or night. At a friend's house, an Internet café, from a library computer – whatever. It's that easy.
AH: OK. It's easy, and more than convenient enough to warrant consideration simply because of that factor. But just being easy doesn't mean it's a good marketing idea.
KO'K: You're right, Andy. If blogs didn't provide real value, it wouldn't matter how easy to use they were. But that ease of use, coupled with how search engines rank web pages, works together to provide a great vehicle for legal marketing.
AH: How so?
KO'K: A lawyer's brand is based on his or her knowledge and expertise. Getting potential clients to experience your knowledge, expertise and passion first-hand is one of the best ways to make the case that you're a good choice to be their lawyer.
AH: I agree. Lawyers have been publishing articles in business publications and on websites for years. I know of dozens of cases where online publication has brought in new clients. So a weblog provides an easier way of getting that specific, legal content out in front of an audience, right?
KO'K: Right, but that's not the whole story. Most people, when they're looking for information on a subject on the Internet, use one of several search engines, Google being the most popular. Once a user types in search parameters, appearing near the top of the "search results" is the key to driving traffic to a web page. A vast majority of searchers rarely go beyond the first page of results. So search engine results drive traffic to a great degree.
Google wants to be a research tool. Which is what users want, too. Which means they – both users and Google – want results based on topical appropriateness, not marketing, format, design or trickery. When users lose faith in Google, they'll look elsewhere. So Google, and other search engines, spend lots of time fine-tuning their search engines to provide results focused on relevant content. Relevant content in the case of the law is substantive legal info as opposed to promotional information about the lawyer or law firm. Ways they do that include looking for key words and key phrases relevant to a topic area, the structure of the site, and by measuring how often the pages are updated.
AH: So if I'm looking for information on a subject, the more often my search term or key words appears on a site and the more often I update the site, the better I'll do in the search results.
KO'K: Exactly. Plus you will do much better if individual site pages are titled correctly to reflect the content on the page and if other people link to your site, as that is an endorsement of the value of the information you are providing on your site.
AH: I'm going to get ahead of you here, as a marketing guy, and make a guess. Since blogs are so easy to update, they'll change very frequently, maybe even once or twice a day. And since lawyers are generally writing on topics that are specific to their practice, they'll have lots of repetition of key words and phrases. Put all that together…
KO'K: And you've got a recipe for good search results. In fact, I like to say that "blog" actually stands for "Better Listings On Google." But lawyers need not update their blog once or twice a day for it to be an effective marketing tool. Two to three times a week is a fair amount. Plus a blog entry can be brief – a couple of paragraphs, two to three sentences each, in length. The goal is for the blog to be fun, not an albatross hanging around your neck.
AH: So by providing useful, targeted, frequently updated information, lawyers can stay in front of their potential clients as they search for legal service.
KO'K: Bingo. And in a short period of time, 6 months or so, they will be have established themselves as a reliable authority on a specific area of the law and or locale.
AH: OK. I'm convinced. How to I get started?
KO'K: Well, there are several different ways you can begin blogging. There are free or low-cost blog hosts out there, www.typepad.com and www.blogger.com being two good examples. You can sign up and get started creating a blog in about half an hour. The challenge with such services is that lawyers are often unsure what to blog, how to blog and what readily available sources there may be for good content. Plus it takes some know how to make sure your blog gets indexed properly by Google and achieves high search engine rankings. To get the marketing bounce a lawyer deserves for publishing valuable information, you need to know how to bring your blog to the attention of your target audience. That involves registration with the various blog search engines and conducting an effective linkage campaign. So, in many cases a lawyer will want to get a more professional design and the type of support needed to get the real benefits of publishing a blog.
AH: I've got to believe, though, that with blogging being as easy as you say, there will still be some major competition for the best search engine rankings.
KO'K: That's true. But blogs are still so new to the world of legal services that it's a great time to get started. After all, the earlier you begin, the more of a head-start you'll have. Also, like I said there are certain techniques – both for writing and for posting – that will help your blog get more traffic.
AH: Such as?
KO'K: Well, one is that old classic, "keep it simple, stupid." Especially for the headlines of your posts. Those end up being the titles of your blog's web pages, and search engines rank the text in titles more strongly than that in your body text.
AH: Anything else?
KO'K: Well, to a degree it depends on what kind of traffic you want. And that's when you get into my area, blog consulting and optimization.
AH: Uh-oh. Isn't that the whole "webmaster" thing you told us to be wary of? A geek that gets between a lawyer and his public?
KO'K: Not at all. We provide a turnkey solution at www.lexBlog.com, besides the professional design, licensing of a platform suited for lawyers and hosting of blogs, it involves helping lawyers better understand how to create a blog that will drive the kind of traffic they want. We also provide some ancillary services, such as publishing to a lawyer’s blog ‘core’ consumer or business person friendly content as well as news and legal updates that can supplement the lawyer’s blog postings. That helps differentiate a blog even further, gives it even more frequent updates, and frees up the lawyer to write more regularly. The goal is not to create a ‘ghost blogger’, just to provide Internet users a well rounded site of legal information, the emphasis of which is the individual lawyer’s blog entries.
AH: So you're more of a "how to" consultant, teaching lawyers to "fish" from their blogs, rather than selling them fish every day?
KO'K: Something like that. Also, the free and low-cost blogs really are pretty "generic" looking. Most lawyers prefer a site with a more professional look. Getting the initial design just right is another way we help our clients.
Blogs are a place where legal information, technology and marketing all come together. Our experience in all three of those areas helps lawyers maximize the results of their efforts.
AH: So legal blogs actually deliver on the promise of the web; they put people searching for answers to legal questions in touch with the lawyers who are taking the time to put that information out there.
KO'K: You hit the nail on the head. Most people are confused by the law. If they do a search on a topic, they want an expert who's interested in helping them. The characteristics of blogs vis-à-vis search engines make it easy for people to find legal blogs. And the care, time and authority that a lawyer puts into posts goes a long way towards convincing visitors that this is a lawyer who both knows and cares.
AH: I hear an analogy all the time about law firm web sites; people say they're like a universally available brochure rack in the lobby that everyone can access. It sounds like blogs are more like a direct line into a lawyer's brain.
KO'K: Sure, why not. The thing about most law firm websites is that they're all about the firm. You've seen them, you know. Lots of "we were founded in 1694," and "we have 309 lawyers" and "we're dedicated to providing exceptional service." Which is all fine, if you think someone with a legal problem might search for "founded in 1694," "309 lawyers," or "dedicated."
AH: That was irony, right?
AH: Can you give us a couple examples of legal blogs that you like?
KO'K: Sure. We've got a number of clients with great blogs already up and running. Check out http://braininjurylawblog.com/, http://communicationslawblog.com, http://camlawblog.com, or http://legalsanity.com/.
AH: Last question. What are the three most important things for lawyers to remember when crafting a blog?
KO'K: First, it has to be specific. The more precise and detailed your scope, the more likely that you'll be found by people with questions in that area. Second, keep it updated regularly. Once a day is great. Three or four times a week is an absolute minimum if you want to "own" the space. Lastly, do it because you love the subject. You can really tell the bloggers who have passion from the guys just doing it for PR.
AH: Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate your time.
KO'K: My pleasure, Andy.
The birth of my blog
Kevin made it sound so easy, that I decided to try it for myself. I checked out a few of the blog hosts, and settled on TypePad. Within a half-hour of signing up, my new blog -- http://legalmarketing.typepad.com/ -- was up and running. I added new content every day or so, and guess what… less than two weeks later, a search on Google for "legal marketing blog" lists yours truly on the first page.
This stuff works, kids. And it meets my criteria for good marketing; it adds value. So give it a try yourself, or shoot Kevin a line at email@example.com.
Happy blogging to all, and to all, a good-night.