GPSOLO June 2009
Creating a BlogBy Nerino J. Petro Jr.
Blogs (short for “web logs”) are considered by many to be the new personal diaries of the Internet age, except, unlike diaries of old, blogs are very public. If you’re just looking for a way to share your interests on Inuit throat singing, that’s probably not a bad way of defining—and using—blogs. On the other hand, if you are looking to use your blog as an adjunct to marketing your practice, the blog isn’t a diary. Lawyers should view “blogging” as an opportunity to help market their expertise and knowledge to a broader audience consisting of existing clients as well as those who may be seeking assistance in the practice areas discussed in the blog. This means that the content of the blog is critically important to its success and its ongoing retention of readers.
Is a Blog Right for You?Before addressing questions about where to host a blog, how to design a blog, and what platform to use, you need to answer the threshold question of whether or not a blog is right for you and your needs. This is a very subjective process and should not be arrived at lightly. Questions you should ask yourself include:
- What goal or goals are you trying to accomplish? Is it simply dissemination of basic information about your firm, similar to the information found in a standard law firm brochure or firm website?
- Do you want to be seen as a trusted source for specific legal news or information on a specific legal topic or practice area?
- Do you consider a blog as another part of your firm marketing plan?
- Do you want to solicit feedback on the information posted, and if so, are you ready for the consequences of these comments if in fact you allow them?
- What segment of your client and potential client base are you trying to reach?
- Is a different form of electronic or other communication—such as a traditional website or paper newsletter—better suited to the information you’re trying to distribute to your potential and existing clients?
- Are you ready to make the commitment required to maintain a successful blog by posting regularly?
Do It Yourself or Outsource It?Once you’ve decided you need a blog, the next steps are to decide (1) will you outsource the design of your blog or will you create the blog yourself and (2) will you host your own blog or will you have someone else host it for you.
Outsourcing the design.If you don’t have the time or talent to design your own blog, consider having a blogging design company such as G2 Web Media ( www.g2webmedia.com), PaperStreet ( www.paperstreet.com), or The Blog Studio ( www.theblogstudio.com) design your blog for you. These companies will design your blog for you to host via an independent web domain and web hosting provider of your choosing (see below).
Hosting your own blog.If you decide to host the blog yourself, you will need to obtain web hosting services and a domain name. You can get both simultaneously from companies such as GoDaddy.com ( www.godaddy.com), BlueHost ( www.bluehost.com), DreamHost ( www.dreamhost.com), Register.com ( www.register.com), Netfirms ( www.netfirms.com), or Yahoo! Domains ( http://tinyurl.com/apbfar), to name just a few. Many of these companies will include the domain name registration for free if you sign up for one of their hosting plans. You will then need to select a blog software package such as WordPress ( www.wordpress.org), Movable Type ( www.movabletype.org), b2evolution ( http://b2evolution.net), or one of the many blogging and content management products available (for additional suggestions, see the list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog_software.
Outsourcing everything.If you don’t want to go through the steps of getting a domain name and a web hosting provider, consider companies that will both design and host your blog. Companies such as LexBlog ( www.lexblog.com) or Justia ( http://marketing.justia.com/content-lawyer-blogs.html) provide true “turnkey” blog solutions for lawyers and will obtain the domain name, provide blog design, and host your blog. A middle ground to the above options is to use a service such as TypePad ( www.typepad.com), which provides the blog software and hosting but allows you the ability to design and customize your blog using their software. You can even obtain a unique domain name and have it mapped to your TypePad blog.
How Do I Design a Blog?Whether you decide to do it yourself or have someone else design your blog, I recommend that you begin the design process by taking the following three steps:
Identify your goal or goals.What do you hope to achieve with your blog? Determine your goal, such as becoming “the” source for a certain area of law aimed at consumers or using your blog to demonstrate your knowledge aimed at other attorneys with the intent of obtaining referral work. Some attorneys use their blogs to keep existing clients up-to-date with information that may affect them, such as changes in tax laws as they apply to estate planning. Having a clear goal or goals in mind is the first step to designing your blog.
Decide which characteristics you want your blog to have.You should take a look at a number of existing blogs to see which ones you like and which you don’t. What are the specific characteristics that lead you to prefer one blog over another? This step can help you decide which characteristics of these other blogs to incorporate into your blog. Characteristics may include links to other blogs, ability for readers to be able to comment on posts, advertising, and regular use of images. Do you want the ability to have extensive control over the way your blog appears, or do you want something simple and easy? Are you going to host multiple blogs on different areas of the law or on different topics? Do you want others to be able to collaborate on posts? How about links to social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn? Knowing what characteristics you want to include plays a key role in the step below.
Create your layout.How do you want your blog to look on the screen? Do you want one main column and a sidebar to hold links, navigation, and blog roll (a list of links to other blogs)? Perhaps you’d like a three-column design with a sidebar on each side of the main column, dedicating one to navigation and site tools and the other to advertising. When you looked at other blogs to identify which characteristics you liked, you were also deciding which ones you found visually appealing; visual appearance can be important, and depending on your personality you may elect a bold, modern look or something more conservative. Pull out a piece of paper and sketch out what you think your ideal blog layout would look like. Make sure that you sketch those items you want (e.g., a blog roll, navigation area to go to older posts and other pages on your blog, quotes of the day, etc.). Find ideas and tips on sites such as Webdesigner Depot ( www.webdesignerdepot.com), Smashing Magazine ( www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/08/28/45-excellent-blog--designs), and Blog for Profit ( www.blogforprofit.com), created by lawyer, blog designer, and author Grant Griffiths.You will notice that selecting your blogging package or web host isn’t included among these initial three steps. The reason for this is simple: The heart of your blog is the goal or goals you want to achieve through the content, characteristics, and layout. Once you have completed the three steps, you will have the knowledge necessary to research the different blogging platforms available and see which ones will allow you to most easily and accurately create your blog.
DIY Blog CreationOkay, let’s say you’ve identified your goals for the blog, settled on its basic characteristics, and sketched a rough layout. Time to set it up. If you’d just as soon outsource some or all of the tasks involved, contact one of the vendors noted above. If, however, you’d like to tackle the entire process yourself, the balance of this article will present a do-it-yourself model for blog creation.
What blogging platform should I use?One of the toughest decisions you will face may be deciding which platform you wish to utilize. This decision is also where the design steps come into play: Not every blog package may support your desired design elements. As mentioned above, you have numerous choices when it comes to picking a blogging platform. There are several free blogging services that can get you up and running relatively quickly if you decide that you need only a limited ability to customize and only a smallish set of features. These free services generally provide the hosting for the blog as well as the tools to create your blog. Some examples include Blogger from Google ( www.blogger.com), ClearBlogs ( http://clearblogs.com), LiveJournal ( www.livejournal.com), and WordPress ( http://wordpress.com).Generally, these sites require you to use their URLs (web addresses) for your blog (e.g., billsmith.wordpress.com rather than www.billsmith.com) and may restrict your blog to a limited number of design themes or features. Blogger allows URL mapping, which lets you obtain your own domain and have it mapped to your Blogger blog. However, I don’t recommend any of these for law firm use. Hosting your blog either on your firm’s website or as a stand-alone site will provide you with more options as to the blogging platform you wish to use. By using an outside web hosting company, you may find that blogging tools are included in your web hosting subscription. GoDaddy.com provides products such as WordPress, Nucleus, and pLog for its web hosting subscriptions. You can also obtain WordPress software at no cost to use on your own web hosting servers or on an outside vendor’s server. Two other popular blogging platforms include TypePad, which provides both the hosting and powerful blogging platform, and Movable Type, a freestanding publishing package akin to WordPress, which is free and can be used on a web host of your choice. Because TypePad provides both hosting and blogging platform, your blog will have a TypePad URL, although you can obtain a distinct URL and map it to your TypePad blog. There are products such as ExpressionEngine ( http://expressionengine.com), Textpattern ( www.textpattern.com), Drupal ( http://drupal.org), and others that are either free or fee-based.