Reprinted from the October 2019 issue of Marketing the Law Firm
By following the nine best practices of blogging, attorneys can get new business and generate more revenue. Becoming a renowned expert in your field will bring you the best files from the most profitable clients — and the shortest path to becoming a thought leader is to write a blog.
Consider the effectiveness of blogging:
- 57% of marketers say they've gained clients specifically through blogging.
- Law firms that blog get 97% more links to their websites.
- Businesses that blog get 434% more pages indexed in Google.
- 66% of business-to-business marketers who write blogs generate more leads than those who don't.
- Companies that blog have 55% more visitors to their websites.
Source: SEO Tribunal
Veteran legal blogger Victoria Blue of LawLytics says: “When it's done right, blogging can allow you to become an influencer of people; it helps you attract followers who want to know what you'll say next, and it can help you become part of the news cycle. Blog posts can help you to declare what you're thinking about and what you want readers to consider on a given date.”
“You're a thought leader only when people follow you. When your articles are cited by others, when your proposals become federal regulations, when what you've written has had an impact, then you're a thought leader. Until then, you're just another guy who has occasionally gotten his name in print,” says Above the Law blogger Mark Herrmann.
To this I would add that I've written the LawMarketing Blog for more than 10 years, attracting more than 1 million visits over time. I know it is working because attorneys from all over the country phone me out of the blue to ask for advice on marketing their firms.
Research shows that 80% of potential clients check out professional services firms by looking at their websites, and what they look for is a blog that answers their questions. See, “Beyond Referrals: How Today's Buyers Check You Out,” Hinge Research Institute.
Some 82% of AMLaw 200 firms have at least one active blog. If you're not writing online and your competition is publishing regular blog posts, you face a genuine business risk. The best time to start a blog is today, and you will be assured success if you follow the nine best practices for blogging that gets new business.
1. Utility Is What Corporate Clients Want
Actionable, practical blog posts are most likely to move potential clients toward purchasing decisions. “Content that tells them not just what happened, or what it means, but what they need to do about it is far more likely to make them call the author and say ‘I need you to help me do that,'” according to the 2019 State of Digital and Content Marketing.
When I was in law practice, I recall being so pressed for time that I read only articles that had pragmatic information that I could put to work in my own practice. That's also how corporate clients think. “Give me information I can use, not content that tells me how great and wonderful you are,” says Shon Ramey, General Counsel at NAVEX Global.
Before starting to write, it is essential for attorneys to identify their target readers. As the saying goes, “find the riches in the niches.” Thought leaders don't try to interact with everyone — instead, they target a select audience with mutual interests. “By choosing a niche practice area, and by limiting the cases you accept to one or a few practice areas, you create the impression that you're a specialist,” says attorney Ken Hardison. Having a niche practice makes it easy for attorneys to spell out their unique selling proposition, an essential element in successful marketing.
Excellent examples of niche writing are the DLA Piper blogs IPT Italy, about intellectual property, and Les Echos Business, a French-language blog on business transactions.
Blog posts should be educational. A great example is “How to Win an Insider Trading Case“ by attorney Robert G. Heim of Tarter Krinsky & Drogin. It covers how insider trading cases are uncovered, the SEC's role, a defense attorney's initial steps, red flags to be alert for, and the law of insider trading. I can see how anyone charged with insider trading will want to read this blog post.
Another illustration is “Trademark Re-Filing and Bad Faith – Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200” by Niall Lavery and Simon Casinader of K&L Gates. They cover Hasbro Inc.'s failed re-filing program in the EU for its Monopoly game. “Hasbro did try to argue that their re-filing tactic was common practice in maintaining ownership of a trademark, which it is, but the decision highlights that a tactic's popularity does not equate to acceptability or legality,” they write. K&L Gates publishes nine blogs.
Attorneys should adopt the techniques of journalists when they write blog posts. Accordingly, the first paragraph should spell out the main point of the article. There is no profit in making readers wade through a long post to find the gravamen at the end. The first paragraph should include the who, what, when, where and why of the story.
What makes a blog post fail? “Fifty-one percent of in-house counsel say they dislike a blog post that is “too salesy,” or not impartial, or not sufficiently relevant — a sign that the content may not be educational enough. A blog post like “[Our Law Firm] is Named A Go-to Construction Law Firm” is an example.
Summing up, Mark Heintz, Principal at X9Y Consulting Group, is quoted in the 2019 State of Content Marketing report saying: “I want info that's relevant to me and that impacts me.”
2. Magic Words and Numbers for Titles
The headline for a blog post is the most important line of text in the article. Wordy, run-on titles are a sure turnoff in the age of Buzzfeed, which pioneered eyeball-grabbing headlines.
Avoid this 29-word logorrhea: “The Superior Court Refused to Issue an Interim Injunction to Prevent the Operation of a Restaurant, Which Would Violate the Non-Competition and the ‘Disidentification' Obligations Under a Franchise Agreement.”
The idea blog post title is eight words. Titles with eight words received a higher click-through rate than the overall average, and are shared more often on social media.
Attorneys should also use the proven formulas that just seem to work:
- Put a number in the headline. This indicates that the article has a premeditated outline of specific points. A study by Conductor.com found that headlines with numbers generate 73% more social shares and engagement. If you have any doubt, visit the hilarious Buzzfeed Title Generator which kicks out clickbait headlines like “The 24 Greatest Optical Illusions Of The ‘90s.” If you need more proof, see, “30 BuzzFeed Headline Tips You Need to See to Believe.”
- Use an odd number. A single, small odd-numbered digit, like five or seven, is like candy for your organizational mind. It's also interesting to know that using odd numbers is better than even numbers. According to the Content Marketing Institute, headlines with odd numbers had a 20% higher click-through rate than those with even numbers.
- Use a colon, hyphen or [bracketed words] in the title. Why does this work? It catches the eye and engages the brain.
- Use magic words like “How to” and “You,” addressing the reader directly. Other magic words for titles are “What,” “Why” and “Best.” Years of experience in direct-response marketing shows they are power words. Others include “Now,” “New,” “Love,” “Free,” “Instant,” “Hot,” and “Because”.
- Ask a question. For example, Cooley blogs use titles like, “GDPR One Year On: What Has HR Learnt?” and “Deal or No Deal? The Impact of Brexit.”
3. For the Right Length, Longer Is Better
“Post to the length that it needs to be written to convey the right message. If everything that needs to be said can be said in 500 words, stop there,” says Victoria Blute. “However, the topic you're writing about may warrant a post that's a thousand or two thousand words — or possibly even longer. If it does, don't stop short of the length required to write a detailed, meaningful piece for your potential clients.”
That said, the consensus of research indicates that longer blogs are better-read. Search engines love long, authoritative posts, especially when they're focused on solving a pressing problem for readers.
- The average word count of top-ranked content in Google is between 1,140 and 1,285 words.
- The ideal length of a blog post is 1,600 words, which takes around 7 minutes to read.
- Most of the top-10 Google results are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.
But it depends on your goal. Want more comments on your blog? Try writing short, discussion-based posts no longer than 275 words. Want more shares on social media? Aim for medium length blog posts between 600 and 1,250 words.
“There are people who do read much of what you write, and these are the users that should matter to you. They are your engaged readers, and they're also the ones who are likely to engage your firm if they appreciate and trust what you've got to say,” Blute writes.
4. Be Part of a Team of Writers
Sixty-three percent of people consider blogs that have multiple authors to be more credible.
Regrettably, the ABA's Techreport 2018 reports that many firms, regardless of size, rely on a single attorney to carry the load of content creation; 39% of respondents overall reported that one lawyer in the firm creates the content for the site. This is much too heavy a burden.
That said, larger law firms often rely on multiple lawyers to create content. For example, Latham & Watkins has seven blogs, and each is written by a team of editors. Their Global FinTech & Payments Blog is written by a dozen writers. Their “Latham.London” blog is written by six authors.
“Creating a team of bloggers can facilitate regular blog contributions. By sharing responsibility, you can provide fresh content on a regular basis and ensure that no single person bears the burden for the blog's success,” writes blogger Allie Wassum.
Attorneys should create a team and choose people who really want to write and have a passion for blogging. “Consider asking potential members to fill out a short application for entry to the team,” Wassum says. “However, to ensure that the blog is always updated and that posts get published when necessary or moved around as needed, it's essential to appoint an editor for the team.”
I regularly write blog posts for the Blog for Arizona, which was voted the best political blog by the Washington Post. We have a team of 10 active writers including former and current elected officials. I recruit writers and edit their copy. We track how many page views our articles get, and compete to be the best-read author. The team holds regular editorial meetings about current articles and the direction of the blog, and we use a Facebook group to send story tips to each other.
It's been a proverb since the 1300s that “many hands make light work.” But if you are unable to form a team, find an outside content source like LawLytics, which has written millions of words for hundreds of law firms. 30% of respondents in the TechReport outsource their content writing to an outside provider or consultant.
5. Write Durable Blog Posts That Work Year After Year
The idea is to write blog posts that generate new business now, next month and next year. Durable posts get many more visits over time than “decaying” posts that are read once and forgotten. While only 10% of all blog posts are durable, they account for 38% of total blog traffic. One durable blog post generates as much traffic as six regular posts combined.
All it takes to write a durable post is a shift in your approach, and the application of specific tactics. Durable blog posts address broad, evergreen topics that are a common concern for many potential clients. Topical posts create a surge but then decay rapidly. Posts that focus on current events (a technique known as “newsjacking”) decay rapidly over time. You can expect visits for these posts to taper off as readers move to the next news event.
According to Hubspot, broad tactical posts attract ongoing attention. Write about a wide-ranging topic and offer tactical advice with mass appeal. In other words, write for as large as possible a segment of your potential customers. Broad tactical posts include product reviews, breakdowns of processes, or instructions on how to diagnose a practical, mechanical, or health-related issue.
Examples can be found among Baker & McKenzie's 24 blogs, such as “Cannabis Due Diligence I: Four Lessons Learned” and “US State Omnibus Privacy Laws — A Primer.” (Notice the use of a number in the title and the eye-catching dash and colon.) These blog posts will be read when they are first published, and read repeatedly over time.
6. Include a Picture or Video In the Blog Post
The majority of bloggers include more than one image in their articles. It's a fact that when people read, they will look at the pictures first. Neurologists believe that the brain's capacity for processing images is 60,000 times faster than text. See, “Picture This: Content With Visuals Get 94% More Views.”
So, get yourself an account with Shutterstock.com, which has 300 million stock photos. These royalty-free images can illustrate the concept a blogger is discussing. (Of course, avoid trite legal images like columns, gavels, courthouses, blind justice or scales.) The best images include a human face because this is what the brain is trained to look for.
Attorneys should commission infographics, which are a chart or diagram used to represent information or data. This kind of eye-candy can overcome short attention spans, particularly with Millennials. The idea is to take a few data points, have a graphic illustrator turn them into a picture, and put the graphic into the public domain. Infographics are particularly nice in that they compress a lot of information into a small space and one that, if it's done right, is engaging for people to look at.
Infographics are something that plaintiff firms excel at. For example, Columbus, OH, attorney Robert Kerpsack created the infographic “Injury and Death in US Truck Accidents.” Rhode Island Personal Injury Lawyers d'Oliveira & Associates has created a library of more than 100 infographics on boating accidents, birth injuries and lead poisoning.
An easy way to add a graphics is to publish a PowerPoint slideshow. This is easily done by uploading slides to LinkedIn's Slideshare.com. Once it's online, simply click “Share” under the SlideShare, copy the “Embed” code and paste it into your blog post. Now your readers can page through your presentation online and look for salient points.
Finally, turn your written content into a video. 59% of executives say they would rather watch a video than read text. Videos more engaging, more memorable, than any other kind of content. “Video is big, so take advantage of it. Most of today's customers are more likely to push a “Watch” button than a “Download Report” or “Read This” button,” reports Forbes magazine.
7. The More You Blog, the More Clients You Will Get
Frequency of blog posts matter. There is nothing worse than visiting a blog and seeing that the most recent post was a year ago (see, https://tinyurl.com/yyghsm2f).
72% of bloggers who posted weekly say that they acquired a customer through their blog. The ideal frequency ranges from once a week to two to three times a week. Businesses that publish 16 or more blog posts per month see 3.5 times more traffic than those that post four times a month.
Among other qualities, Google favors blogs that offer fresh, new materials and are updated frequently. For example, Nexsen Pruett collects its blogs under “Insights,” and updated it 14 times in August 2019. Baker & McKenzie updated its Brexit blog 11 times in August.
Thought leadership requires consistency. “It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Don't aim for big hits. Big hits rarely happen, and even when they do, their impact can quickly fade. Publishing one article on a big platform may get you lots of “likes” on social media but that's about it. Thought leaders continue to show up. As Seth Godin says, it's the constant “drip, drip, drip” that matters,” writes Jay Harrington.
8. Make It Easy for Clients to Discover Your Blog
The best practice is to allow visitors to subscribe to your blog via email. Whenever you post a blog, subscribers get a notice in their inbox. Baker & McKenzie includes “Subscribe to this blog by email” on every post. Readers only need to enter their email address. Latham & Watkins features a “Join our mailing list” link that lets potential clients choose from 24 industries and 29 different practices. Brilliantly, they collect each subscriber's name, title, company, address, phone, and email. Collections of email addresses allow attorneys to invite individuals to webinars and special events.
“Make it easy for your audience to get to your content and even easier for them to take it in. Get them to a place where they can binge on what they love about what you,” says Shep Hyken in Forbes.
Smart bloggers will share versions of their content on other platforms, like articles on LinkedIn, Avvo and Facebook, so that they can be found in many places.
9. Start an Editorial Calendar
Every successful publication, online or in print, has a schedule of upcoming topics. The calendar should be written down, or else it's inchoate and no one can examine it.
Editorial holes to fill include conferences, presentations, webinars, charts, videos and podcasts. By identifying the blog's “greatest hits” of most-read, popular articles, attorneys can easily identify winning topics. Most blogging platforms will generate reports on the top 10 posts and WordPress will show the top posts over a given period of time.
Don't be reluctant to ask for help. 27% of attorneys said that writing and blogging is an area where they need more support, according to the Legal Marketing Association's Law Firm Digital Marketing Survey. Chief marketing officers should include blogging in an attorney's individual marketing plan.
“A thorough content plan includes what will be published, when it will be published, and who is responsible for each step in the publication process. Ideally, this would include specific dates for each task associated with content publication,” writes Victoria Blute.
Often the best blog posts answer a question that a client asks during an appointment with the attorney.
Tips for successful editorial plans include:
- Create content in batches.
- Set aside time to write a number of posts or articles.
- Write a long piece and break it up into several shorter posts.
- Schedule writing time, even short blocks of time like 15 minutes.
- Take CLE materials and turn different sections into several articles.
- Take the list of documents you request from clients and turn them into a checklist.
- Write a case history — something that has an interesting story with a protagonist, a challenge and how an attorney saved the day.
- Find a way to make an emotional connection, by warning against dangers (fear) or recommending best practices (safety).
Apply all nine best practices in this article to your blogging. The majority of marketers say that blogging is their top content marketing priority. Find other writers in your firm and put together a team of bloggers. Give your readers practical articles with actionable information. Use magic numbers, words, and punctuation in titles because it takes advantage of the way the human brain seeks information. Go long when you write blog posts and design them to be durable over time.
And lastly, remember that the more you blog, the more clients you will get.
Larry Bodine is the Sr. Legal Marketing Strategist for LawLytics.com. A member of Marketing the Law Firm's Board of Editors, he can be reached at [email protected] and 520-577-9759.