Nov 23, 2010

Websites and Blogs: To Bond or Not to Bond, That Is the Question

To bond or not to bond? That's the perennial question for lawyers when it comes to figuring out the optimal relationship between their law firm website and blog. And last week, two top lawyer blogging experts, Kevin O'Keefe of Lexblog and Steve Matthews of Stem Legal weighed in, generally agreeing that lawyers, or at least those at large firms, can achieve better visibility by keeping a blog as a stand-alone unit, under a domain name and platform distinct from the law firm's website. As I'll discuss, many of these arguments in favor of a separate blog apply equally to solos and small firms.

Kevin's major argument in favor of keeping law firm blogs separate from the mother site is SEO (search engine optimization). Kevin's not simply speculating; he offers compelling evidence from Google search results that confirm the high ranking performance of big firm blogs that reside on separate sites.

Steve Matthews agrees with Kevin about the SEO benefits of separate domains, explaining that
 "like it or not, [subject-aligned keyword names like] Petersonbraininjurylaw.com-- all other factors being the same -- will outperform Petersonllp.com."

But Steve also favors separating blog and website presence for non-SEO related reasons that reinforces . Steve explains that when blogs are installed as part of a large firm website, they are usually fashioned as repurposed newsletters rather than fresh content. In addition, bloggers who blog as part of a firm website may need to constrain their opinions and personalities to avoid conveying the impression that the blogger represents the firm's official position on a matter. Finally, a stand alone blog has a better chance of building a relationship with readers.

Some of the reasons for a stand-alone blog apply equally to solo and small firms, but I'll chime in with three more. First, it's less risky than a full blown website re-design. Setting up a stand alone blog is quicker to get up and running, and easier to take down if the blog never takes off.

Second, for lawyers who are laid off by their former employer and want to get a web presence up quickly, it's fairly easy to start a blog through a free service like Blogger and use it as your online source of contact until you can set up a full blown website. Many of the lower cost blogging platforms, like Wordpress or Blogger support free or low-cost themes that enable lawyers or if they use them, designers, to create blogs that resemble websites, or put another way, websites that function as blogs.

Third, a stand-alone blog facilitates marketing a niche-practice. If, for example, you'd like to start a niche estate planning practice that focuses on single mothers or include dog-bite cases as a subset of your PI practice, cabining this topics to an individual blog is a more effective way to demonstrate your focus. By contrast, if you mixed these topics in with general discussion of other topics, you run the risk of diluting the appearance of expertise.

Of course, if you only have a single niche practice, Steve suggests that a unified web and blog may make more sense. From Steve's post:

"Consider the case of boutique practices, or solos and small firms with limited practice areas. Our SEO goal is to help Google understand each domain; making clear the core set of keywords, phrases and topics that each website covers. Larger firms' websites and blogs are rarely this closely aligned, but boutiques, solos and small firms can be. When firm services and blogs are targeting a similar core set of keywords, it might not make sense to split your SEO footprint."

Some final thoughts: even where you do separate your blog from a website, it's important to retain some connection and uniform branding. So consider these tips:

  1. Link your blog to your website and vice versa, and in fact, consider adding a widget to your website that displays new postings from your blog;
  2. Display a common logo or color scheme on the blog and website for consistent branding; and
  3. Include a photo of yourself on both the blog and website so that readers who've followed your blog recognize you if they happen to stumble across your website and vice versa.

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