By John Reed*
“You should be blogging.”
This is a phrase you’ve likely heard many, many times from law firm business development staff, legal marketing pundits, and even other lawyers. They’ve probably said that blogging will boost your search engine optimization results, drive traffic to your website, and have prospects beating a path to your door.
Well, maybe. The thing is, the spirit is willing but the fingers on the keyboard may be weak.
Consider that treadmill you may have purchased last January. Despite your initial excitement and best intentions for continued use, is it now an expensive clothes rack? The same may be true for your blog.
Blogging is a long-term commitment. You need to stick with it, and stay in the game for the duration. It’s not a side hobby you can engage whenever you feel like it. The key to having a successful law blog is consistency. If you start a blog for your practice or your firm, you must continue blogging to see any meaningful results. It’s an unbreakable rule.
Fortunately, there are ways to develop thought-leading legal content for your blog that will also keep you motivated. Just like strapping on a Fitbit lets you see the cumulative effects of your efforts, these tips for blogging will keep you racking up time on your keyboard – and you might even enjoy it.
1) Read. Then Read More.
Stephen King is undeniably one of today’s most prolific writers. As he notes in his “20 Rules for Writers,” one of the keys to pushing out a consistent volume of content is to read. A lot. This may seem counterintuitive.
After all, if you don’t have time to write then you probably don’t have time to read, either, right? The truth is you need to be making time for both, as one supports and feeds the other.
If you are serious about developing compelling legal content for your blog, setting aside enough time to read is essential. First, contrary to what some may believe, prolific legal bloggers don’t just get handed post topics by an ethereal muse.
Rather, they read everything they can get their hands on relating to their practices – legal newspapers, law journals, industry publications, and mainstream media.
You need raw input to put out effective blog posts that address the concerns, interests, and needs of your target audience. The only way to do that is to read and stay on top of current trends and issues, which will also help you be a better lawyer.)
Second, reading widely allows you to hone your voice.
The best way to figure out how to write for your audience – and you must write in a way that resonates with your audience – is to follow good writers who write similar kinds of content. This is not reading for pleasure.
The task is to pick apart how other authors approach a subject, the language they use to convey complex issues and ideas, and even the choices they make in organizing the piece. All of this, both consciously and unconsciously, will inform a legal blogger’s writing and make it better.
2) Gather Competitive Intelligence
Prolific legal bloggers are not only voracious readers, but also gather intel on the competition. Like any other medium, there are some legal blogs that stand out from the pack.
They have won the trust of their audience (determined by likes, shares, search rankings, and other metrics) and are the go-to voices that both in-house counsel and outside law firms respect and turn to for insights into their most pressing needs and concerns.
If you are not already the proud owner of a wildly popular and authoritative blog, it’s important that you canvas and study others that are.
Pay attention to the topics they cover, the style of writing, frequency and relevance of posts, and the kinds of questions readers ask in the comments and the author’s replies. Then, use that information to inspire your own blogging.
Make it a goal to move the needle on your blog so that it draws the same kind of respect and regular readership. Rest assured that it can be done! Every successful and influential legal blog started off with a blank screen and a blinking cursor, just like yours.
3) Get Organized.
Successful legal blogs don’t just happen. They are carefully tended and curated by the lawyers that write them. Their authors take a thoughtful approach, which involves planning and structure. Each post fits into an overall strategy rather than one-off random-acts-of-blogging.
The best and easiest way to stay organized is to implement – and maintain – an editorial calendar. It doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate or fancy. An Excel spreadsheet will suffice. What is most important is that posts are planned in advance, ideally in quarterly increments.
Coming up with post topics ahead of time and laying them all out in an editorial calendar allows the blogger to identify and address overlaps and gaps. Is one issue getting more digital ink than others? Do the post topics reflect the lawyer’s overall business development strategy? Are the posts repetitive?
An editorial calendar will also help with scheduling posts. In order to attract and maintain a regular audience, a blog must have new posts on a regular, predictable basis. It doesn’t matter whether the frequency is daily, weekly, or even monthly. What counts to your readers, as well as Google and other search engines, is that new posts will appear when expected.
Having an editorial calendar does not mean a blogger cannot address other topics as they arise. It’s perfectly fine to sub in a post about a precedent-setting court decision or a regulatory change that will directly affect readers.
This is important as it keeps the blog current, and will also ensure people searching for posts related to current news might find those posts through online searches. Your editorial calendar shouldn’t be written in stone and topics can be shifted around.
4) Blog Once. Then Leverage, Leverage, Leverage.
One of the biggest acts of marketing malpractice legal bloggers commit is not squeezing every last drop from the content they post. Not only does this represent wasted opportunity, but it is also tremendously inefficient.
From ideation to research and drafting, the average blog post probably takes a couple of hours, perhaps longer depending on the complexity. If all the author does is publish the post on the blog, that is effectively three wasted hours.
Yes, maybe regular readers will have RSS feeds set up to get new posts, or check back around the time one should appear (see Tip #3), but this does nothing to engage infrequent or new visitors and expand the post’s exponential reach.
Treat each blog post as a precious investment that requires time and energy to create. You can maximize your ROI by broadcasting each post as an update on your social media platforms, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, and maybe Facebook and Google, too.
Helpful apps such as Buffer and Hootsuite can automate this process for little or no cost. This is also crucial to fostering engagement with your content, which is the major metric Google uses when ranking a website.
Simply posting to social media is only the bare minimum when it comes to leveraging a blog post. You can generate an even bigger yield from blogging by:
- Distributing the blog post, if appropriate, in an e-newsletter to clients, prospects, referral sources, business partners, vendors, and other audience constituents.
- Identifying specific prospects and clients who might benefit from information in the blog post and sending it to them with a personalized note.
- Using the post as the basis for a PR pitch to reporters who might be covering that issue. A brief, helpful email with useful information can often trigger an interview and start a fruitful media relationship.
- Developing an abstract from the post that can be used to secure a bylined article opportunity with a key industry trade publication or a speaking engagement with a key organization or group. This may require additional work to expand the post and adjust for style and tone, but it’s a good way to leverage the time and research you’ve already spent in developing the post.
- Making sure new blog posts include links to previous posts on related topics. This contributes to SEO and increases the chance that readers will explore the blog more deeply and remain on your blog and website longer. You should also revisit and revise old posts to include links to new posts on similar themes.
5) Know When to Seek (Professional) Help
Technology has made blogging accessible to virtually everyone, including lawyers, yet not every lawyer has the skill, time, or inclination to handle all of the tasks necessary to launch and maintain a blog. This is especially true if it would be better – and more profitable – for a lawyer to focus on client work and leave certain responsibilities in the capable hands of another professional. This includes:
- Initial Set-up and Design: While WordPress, Squarespace, Medium, and other platforms make it easier than ever to start a blog, they can require a significant amount of technical knowledge to finesse. There are many capable companies that will assist a lawyer designing a blog, customize it to their needs, and set it up so that it’s almost a point-and-click effort going forward. When considering a lawyer’s valuable time, it’s likely far more cost-effective.
- Images and other Graphic Design Elements: The look of a blog is important. It must engage readers and leave an impression. Having a logo, color scheme, and other graphic design elements gives a law blog a professional look, boosting its sophistication and authority and promoting your brand. A picture is worth a thousand words, so incorporating a compelling image can only enhance the impact of each post. Stock images are your best bet, but avoid gavels, law books, scales of justice, courthouse steps, shaking hands, and other clichés like the plague.
- Content: While this might seem like the most personal aspect of the blog and something a lawyer should do themselves, there can be significant benefits to getting help with the blog’s content. From establishing an editorial calendar and developing topics to collaborating with you on research and drafts, outsourcing certain steps can be a worthwhile tradeoff for creating a consistent, effective legal blog. Don’t worry about giving up editorial control – any reputable content provider will always secure approval before posting anything, and should abide by your every dictate.
Making the Most of Your Legal Blog
A legal blog is a valuable marketing tool, but only if blogging is done consistently and with an overall strategy in mind. There are ways, though, that every lawyer can have a successful blog. It takes some organization and old-fashioned work, but it can be done.
All that is required is simply getting started. Jump in!
About John Reed
John F. Reed, Esq. is the founder of Rain BDM, a consultancy helping law firms of all sizes build outstanding client relationships. Having worked in and around the legal profession for more than 20 years, John knows firsthand the challenges confronting the profession and the changing legal landscape. He now trains and coaches attorneys in business development and social media, and provides firms with strategic planning, project management, tactical support, and outsourced marketing department services.