Dec 01, 2008

Why Sharing Documents Online Can Help You Get A Share of SEO

Okay, so you've written an interesting article for a client newsletter or a local media publication.  Trouble is, your newsletter only goes to subscribers, while the local media publication isn't even Internet accessible.  And while you can scan the article and upload it to your website, even that may not buy you much more mileage because the document's text may not get picked up effectively by search engines.

Truth is, without a decent presence on the Internet, that article just doesn't have much of a shelf life, marketing-wise. And when you realize that, you'll probably find yourself less likely to write another article, which will reduce your marketing efforts even more.

Fortunately, there's a simple solution to this problem:  Article archiving services -- such as JD Supra, DocStoc and Scribd, to name a few -- don't just enable you to easily post your documents online, they can actually help supercharge the search engine visibility of your written work.

The theory behind article archive sites is to give authors a chance to share their work product with others and to provide a convenient way for others to view the article without having to go through the trouble of downloading a cumbersome PDF file.  JD Supra is geared specifically toward lawyer work product, while DocStoc and Scribd serve as repositories for a wide range of written materials.  You needn't limit yourself to just one site, however.  Starting out, you might experiment with uploading the same document at several sites and evaluate which produces the best result.

Why Lawyers Have Nothing to Fear from Sharing Documents

As far as I can tell, lawyers haven't been using article archiving sites pervasively or regularly, though that is starting to change.  Still, some lawyers shy away from using article archive sites for several reasons, all of which I'll address.  First, some lawyers harbor concerns about posting pleadings or other public filings that might infringe on their clients' privacy.  Though most courts offer electronic filing and house court files online, these are generally not visible in search engines.  Concerns about client privacy are valid, however, and you should seek a client's approval before posting filings from an active case online.

Second, some lawyers worry that by sharing filings online, other lawyers might "steal" the information.  For that reason, you might not want to post a detailed fifty-page memo that you produced for a client on a cutting-edge issue.  However, as I just mentioned, most court filings are online and available electronically, meaning that many lawyers will have access to your materials anyway.  Also, consider the flip side of sharing a pleading:  A lawyer who lacks your expertise may be impressed enough with your work product to refer you a matter.

Finally, lawyers who have published an article elsewhere in a print publication may be concerned about running afoul of copyright laws.  That's one reason lawyers should always take care to reserve re-publication rights when agreeing to write for a publication, particularly where there's no compensation involved.  If you haven't done that and remain worried about copyright laws, contact the publication and inquire about its rules.  The publication may not take issue with the reprint, and indeed, might be grateful for the added online exposure.

Getting Started 

Now that you're aware of some of the benefits that document sharing sites offer, here are some best practices for getting started.  These instructions apply generally to any one of the three sites mentioned, all of which I've used at one time or another with ease.  The first step is to set up an account, which doesn't cost anything for the three sites I've mentioned.  In addition, you'll also want to create a fairly detailed profile so that users who stumble across your document can learn more about your practice.

Once you've got the basics in place, follow the site instructions for uploading documents.  You'll have the option to add tags and possibly assign a category to the documents.  You'll want to use a variety of tags, ranging from your name and your firm's name, the article title and the topics covered by the article.  The tags will boost your search engine visibility and enable users searching for similar topics to find your article.

After our document is successfully uploaded, you'll be provided with two types of code - one that will provide a link to the document, while the other will allow you to actually embed the document at your site, so that users can view it or scroll through it.  In addition, JD Supra allows users to create a widget that enables them to "stream" a running list of uploaded documents in the sidebar of a website or blog.  Recently, JD Supra also announced that the widget could be incorporated into Facebook to enable users to stream recent documents along side their Facebook profile.

Most importantly, you want to incorporate document uploads into some type of regular routine.  For example, each time you publish an article, you want to get in the habit of uploading it to a document sharing site.  Alternatively, every month or so, you might review your case files to identify documents suitable for sharing and then upload them in bulk at one sitting.

Lawyers are becoming increasingly familiar with article archive services, but from what I can tell, they have not yet started to tap their potential for increasing search engine visibility and getting more mileage out of written work product.  By starting to upload select articles and work product now, you can still gain a first-mover advantage, as well as an opportunity to show a broad audience the quality of the work that you can do.