So you've read the articles, heard the CLE presentations, and listened patiently to the exhortations of other solos, all waxing rapturously about the glories of blogging, and you're finally ready to take the plunge yourself: You're going to start a weblog of your very own.
Smart decision, and here's why:
- Blogs are growing in popularity.
- More and more clients are finding lawyers through the Internet - and the lawyer with a strong Internet presence stands a far better chance of being found.
- Blogs provide an easy way to offer added value to clients.
- It's a creative way to differentiate - to set yourself apart from the competition
- The dynamic nature of blogs - daily or otherwise regular posts, dated, short in length - makes them an ideal way for lawyers to communicate new legal developments, introduce solutions to specific client problems, and present case studies, all of which can be highly effective marketing tools.
In order to use a blog most effectively for your marketing plan, you'll need to accomplish three discrete tasks: (1) setting up your blog; (2) publishing your blog; and (3) publicizing your blog. Here are some tips to help you accomplish each task.
Setting Up Your Blog
- Choose your platform. Cost ranges from free (Blogspot, Wordpress) to relatively inexpensive (Typepad) to costlier (purchased software you install on your computer, then publish to the web yourself).
- Choose the look of your blog. Keep in mind the look of your blog will vary depending on the choice you make. Some sites offer only a limited selection of basic templates from which to choose. You can find a wider selection of visual templates using Cascading Style Sheets (a format through which you can alter the visual impact of your blog; many sites offer free or shareware versions of CSS files you can copy and paste into your own blog. You can also hire a designer to create a unique template of your own, implementing your own logo or other personalized elements that can help create a unified brand for your practice.
- Choose your audience. Who are you targeting with your blog posts? Who is your ideal reader? Are you aiming to reach potential clients or other lawyers? Individuals or particular positions or professions? Define this group clearly, and keep it in mind throughout the design and publication of your blog. It might help to think of the blog as a book-in-progress, and each post is another page in the book. You have to select the layout, the cover design, the colors - all the elements, in fact, based on who you want to "buy" (i.e., read) your blog.
- Choose a focus, or topic. This can be an element of your niche, the niche practice area itself, a particular type of client (i.e., focusing on women returning to the workplace, or immigrants seeking asylum), a particular jurisdiction, a specific type of transaction or phase in litigation - anything, in fact, that gives shape and focus to your posts. Aim for a slant that's narrow enough to make a statement, but not so narrow that you run out of post material in the first month.
- Choose some categories, if your platform allows for it. These topic headings can give your posts further shape and structure, and help your readers find what they're looking for more easily.
- Choose your URL. A word about domains: while platforms like Blogspot have the attractive advantage of being free, the URL a Blogspot-hosted blog will produce contains the blogspot.com domain. Consider registering a unique URL and mapping your blog to that domain. Example: www.mylawblog.com, versus mylawblog.typepad.com, or mylawblog.blogspot.com.
Publishing Your Blog
- Decide on a posting schedule. Blogs work best when frequently updated with fresh content. You don't necessarily need a daily post, but aim for at least three posts a week. Added bonus: the more frequently you add content to any website (including blogs), the higher your rankings in search engine results.
- In writing your articles, keep a post's topic fairly narrow. The ideal blog post is short, succinct, and easy to digest within a few minutes. If you're finding it difficult to cover a topic adequately in 2 -3 paragraphs, try narrowing the topic.
- Aim for "plain English." A conversational tone works especially well with blogs.
- Remember your target audience and tailor your word choice accordingly. If your ideal reader is a local consumer, for instance, keep the legal jargon to a minimum, or at least take the opportunity to educate your reader in an inoffensive, respectful way.
- Use formatting (italics, bold, underlining) to create visual impact.
- Leave sufficient white space to make reading easy on the eyes.
- Double check your typeface font size as it appears after the post is published. If you publish an elder law blog, and your target audience is seniors, for instance, avoid small fonts. Most blogging user interfaces will allow for an increase in font size. Experiment until you find one that's easy to read without overwhelming the page.
- Make sure you attribute your sources appropriately. If you get an idea for a blog post from another blogger, it's good form to give that blogger a link, using the specific post's permalink.
- Use links! One of the greatest tools a blog can offer, hyperlinks embedded in your article can be used to refer the reader to other helpful or interesting sources on the web. If you're writing an article about a particular section of a recently enacted federal law, for instance, why not find the text of the entire act online and link to it?
- Organize your planning process. One of the most efficient ways to collect ideas is to create a special bookmark or "Favorites" folder in your internet browser dedicated to collecting links to "blog fodder" - pages that inspire you to blog. Examples: news pieces about legal developments, other blogs, recent case law, etc. Save those pages as you browse throughout the week. When you're ready to blog, simply pull up a page in that folder and start writing.
- Consider implementing "blogging day" at the office. Most blogging interfaces will allow you to save drafts of posts and even create a different timestamp for each. This allows you to write a week's worth of posts, if you're so inclined, and schedule them for posting on different days of the following week.
Publicizing Your Blog
- You don't need to submit your site to search engines. Most will send out a "spider" - a software program that crawls the internet looking for new stuff to archive and report. (However it's a good idea to check periodically after you publish your blog for the first time - say, every week or so - to make sure the main search engines are picking up your blog.)
- Monitor your stats. If your blogging software or hosting service doesn't provide a built-in way to monitor your blog statistics or "stats" (i.e., referrer links, number of views, traffic history, etc.), then you'll want to look for a "plug-in" that you can install in your blog's code to show you these figures. There are too many options out there to detail in one article, but a good place to start is in your blogging host's knowledge base or your software's help files; most will discuss stats and offer suggestions.
- Increase your traffic. The key to upgrading your page hits is offering frequently updated content, coupled with increasing your incoming links (the other web pages that link to you). Increasing your incoming links, in turn, depends on how well you participate in the blogger community.
- Be a good blogging citizen. Frequently visit other blogs and participate in the conversation found in the comments section. While it's considered poor form to trawl for clicks among the comments section in other people's blogs, it's perfectly legitimate to offer a substantive, sincere comment about the post in question, and include your URL. The way you do this is not in the body of your comment's text, but in the sign-in block for the commenting form, which usually will ask for your name, your email, and your URL. When the comment's posted, your name will usually display as a link to the specified URL - so make sure you type the URL correctly!
- Reach out to your fellow bloggers. Email other bloggers - not with a direct request to add a link to your blog (again: poor form), but with a sincere "great blog, I really like your content" or some specific thoughts about a particular post. Here you can mention your blog in the email body ("I have a new blog located at [URL]; I'm enjoying the process so far - mind if I ask you a few questions about blogging?").
- Put your URL in your email signature. It is a terrific, automated way to get your URL out there.
- Add excerpts from key posts in your email signature. When including your URL in your signature, consider going one step further and adding an excerpt from a particularly evocative or representative post. Leanna Hamill of the Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law Blog, for example, includes this line in her email signature:
"Worried about your older parent? Thinking of having them live with you? Here are some things you must consider.
- Include your URL and blog title on your business cards and your letterhead. There's a lot of real estate on the blank side of that card. If you have a firm brochure or other marketing materials, include a short paragraph about the blog with the URL.
- Make sure you link to yourself: put a link to your blog on your main (static) website, if you have one. (And if you don't, get one. Remember: web presence.)
- Alert the media. Write a press release about your blog, both at its "birth" and at any significant point thereafter. For instance, if you feature an interview you conducted with a significant figure (politicians, lawyers, judges, industry leaders, etc.), let the public know about it, and direct them to the permalink for the post in question. Be sure to include a short paragraph about the blog in general, and about you and your practice.
- Participate in blogging "Carnivals." A carnival is a revolving (usually weekly or so) collection of recent blog posts from various blogs concerning a similar topic. Probably the best known carnival for law blogs is blawgreview.com. You can participate in carnivals in two ways. One - submit articles to the carnival host for consideration. Two - sign up to host the carnival. It's a bit of extra work, but it can significantly drive up your traffic, and a lot of that traffic will stick around afterwards.
Blogs - and their use in marketing - are only limited by the creativity of the blogger. The best tip? Dive in, learn the medium, and experiment. It does work. Just ask any of the many bloggers who've seen their blogs bring them fame and fortune - or at least more paying clients.
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About the Author
Sheryl Schelin is a solo practitioner, focusing on bankruptcy, consumer, and plaintiff's employment litigation. She lives and works in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She is a member of the American Bar Association, the South Carolina Bar Association, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
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