GPSOLO June 2009
Ten Tips for Quality Blogging
According to the 2008 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report ( www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/survstat.html), a scant 2 percent of lawyers blog. That’s too bad because blogging offers lawyers a variety of benefits. For starters, a blog can inexpensively increase a lawyer’s search engine visibility and demonstrate a lawyer’s familiarity or expertise in a given practice area, both of which can help attract more clients. However, blogs don’t just increase the quantity of clients; by educating clients on the elements of their cases, blogs also enhance the quality of those clients who seek out your services.
Of course, if you’re among the 98 percent of those lawyers who don’t blog, you’ll never have an opportunity to experience these benefits. But even if you fall into the small minority of lawyers who do blog, you may not have realized these benefits because you’re not blogging as effectively as you could be. So below are ten quick tips to building a better blog and getting the most out of it over the long haul.
1. Choose the name carefully. Many lawyers try to choose clever names for their blogs, which can show originality but won’t do much for search engine visibility. Remember, prospective clients are likely to search for lawyers using “keyword searches,” so you’re best off using target search terms in the title of your blog. For example, let’s say that you handle traffic tickets in New York. Though you might be tempted to name your blog “Car Pay Diem” (a nifty play on words, to be sure), it’s highly unlikely that clients will find this blog after entering the search terms “traffic ticket” and “lawyer” on Google. The better choice: Purchase the domain name “NewYorkTrafficTicketLawyer.com,” and use the phrase “Car Pay Diem” somewhere in the blog title bar. You can also purchase additional domain names—“NewYorkTrafficTicketAttorney.com” and “ManhattanTrafficTicketLawyer.com”—and point them at your blog.
2. Pick the host that you’ll use most or find a professional. Today’s most popular blogware is WordPress ( www.wordpress.org), a free, highly flexible platform that’s relatively easy to use if you have the skills to install it on a server. If getting a site set up in WordPress challenges your limited tech skills, you have plenty of other options. You can set up an account at a hosted server such as WordPress.com, TypePad ( www.typepad.com), or Google’s Blogger ( www.blogger.com). These sites will host your blog; all you need to do to get started is create an account and select from different options to customize the style of your blog.
If you believe that you’re going to commit to blogging, or if you’re already running a successful blog on a hosted site, why not take it up another notch and hire a professional company to design and maintain your blog. Companies such as LexBlog ( www.lexblog.com), G2 Web Media ( www.g2webmedia.com), and Justia ( http://marketing.justia.com/content-lawyer-blogs.html) all create blogs for lawyers, but if they’re out of your price range, you can simply hire a designer through Elance ( www.elance.com) or Craigslist ( www.craigslist.org). For a step-by-step guide to setting up a blog, see the article “Creating a Blog” by Nerino J. Petro Jr. in this issue.
3. Content. So, you’ve picked a name for your blog and gotten it set up. Now comes the important part—the content. You want to create content that is both informative, to educate prospective clients, but also interesting, to capture the attention of journalists and other bloggers who can give your site greater exposure. Thus, for a criminal law blog, you might devote 50 percent of your posts to “how-tos,” ranging from “how to hire a criminal lawyer” to “how a lawyer effectively represents criminal clients” to “how a particular courtroom procedure works.” The remainder of your blog could be split between recent criminal-related cases in your jurisdiction and criminal matters with national visibility, such as Supreme Court decisions or even celebrity criminal arrests. By providing this kind of balance, you appeal to a broad range of readers, thus maximizing opportunities for broad visibility.
Whatever you do, don’t post purely for the sake of “search engine optimization.” A few personal injury lawyers will often post a snippet of a newspaper article on a recent accident, with no further analysis, using the victims’ names brazenly in the title of the post. The hope is that victim families will come across the post if they search Google for information about the accident. However, this kind of search engine baiting doesn’t add value to the blog, and frankly, it may be offensive to the accident victim. If you post quality content regularly, your blog will draw traffic and generate clients without stooping to these kinds of undignified tricks.
4. Frequency. It’s important to keep content fresh at your blog. Starting out, you should aim to post four or five times a week (most blogs get less traffic on the weekends, so you can take a break then as well). After a while, you can cut back to three times a week, perhaps even two if you’ve stockpiled some useful content. Most important, keep in mind that if you stop posting for several weeks, some readers may think that you’ve shut down your blog. So if you do need to take a break, leave a note indicating that you’re busy or heading on vacation and postings will resume in a couple of weeks.
5. Tags and categories. To keep posts organized and readily accessible by your target readers, make use of tags and categories to keep them organized. For example, create a category for “family law FAQs” that will cover your general questions and categories for other topics, such as recent court decisions or national news. Use tags to alert readers to hot topics—for example, a reproductive-rights attorney might use “octo-mom” as a tag, which could draw journalists searching for additional commentary on that topic.
6. Title bar. The title bar of each blog posts gets additional attention from search engines, so title your posts with descriptive terms, repeating those that may attract searches. If you are writing a post about how a homeowner who’s behind on the mortgage can avoid foreclosure, you might title the post “How Homeowners Can Fight Foreclosure.” Thus, homeowners searching for information on fighting foreclosure are likely to come across your post.
If you can, try to incorporate information about your locality into a title bar post. Finding specific local information is notoriously difficult, so including your location in a title bar can give you an edge. Thus, you could further amplify the foregoing title as follows: “How Montgomery County Maryland Homeowners Can Fight Foreclosure.”
7. Links to others. Remember, organic searches aren’t the only way to draw traffic to your blog. You can increase traffic and overall visibility through links to other blogs and websites.
Many bloggers try to include a laundry list of blogs at their site and then seek out reciprocal links in hopes of getting noticed. Truth is, random reciprocal links don’t provide much value. After all, if your blog is listed at a site along with 50 other blogs, there’s not much chance that anyone will visit it. What’s preferable to reciprocal links is to get your blog linked organically (i.e., mentioned) in a post at another blog. So try to engage other bloggers in conversation—cite to other blog posts and discuss them at your blog, and it’s likely that other bloggers will do the same. If a popular blogger links to your blog and discusses it, you’ll receive a huge boost to traffic.
So does this mean that you shouldn’t list any blogs at your site? Not at all. But when you select blogs to list, choose those that serve as good resources to your readers rather than those that you hope will provide a reciprocal link to your site.
8. Getting sites noticed. How can you get your sites noticed so that others will link and discuss them? For starters, why not e-mail other bloggers with a link to your post? Bloggers are always looking for fresh material, and they’ll welcome a tip about an interesting post. Bloggers also use Twitter to announce new blog posts to their followers, which can increase attention.
9. Making blog content accessible in multiple formats. Use a variety of tools to make your blog content accessible to as many readers as possible. Most blogware includes RSS feeds, which allow readers to subscribe to your feed. But many programs, such as like Feedblitz.com, also allow readers to receive blog posts by e-mail. Finally, you can package blog posts into an e-book that you can make available for download at your site.
10. Use analytics. To make sure that your blog continues to grow, keep track of statistics through an analytics package. Some blogware comes with built-in stats, but you can also install programs such as Google Analytics ( www.google.com/analytics) or Site Meter ( www.sitemeter.com) at your site. Your stats will tell you how many visitors frequent your site, as well as insight on the search terms that are bringing traffic. In fact, if you notice that certain search terms or word combinations are drawing readers, you can draft posts that specifically respond to that interest.
Conclusion. As mentioned at the outset, most lawyers still aren’t blogging, so if you get started now, you can still gain an advantage as a “first mover.” Better still, if you follow the tips set out here, you can ensure that you’ll keep that advantage even as the field becomes more crowded.
Carolyn Elefant is an attorney in Washington, D.C. She is the creator of MyShingle.com, the longest-running blog on solo and small firm practice, and author of Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be. She may be reached at email@example.com.