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June 2, 2011

How NOT to Blog: My Top Ten Blogging Peeves

In spite of how much has been written about blogging, including my own posts here and here, I still see many lawyers blogging in a way that at best is highly annoying and at worst, is downright unprofessional and potentially unethical. That's why I've decided to share my top twelve blogging peeves, or tips on how NOT to blog.

One caveat before we begin: my views don't necessarily reflect those of professional marketing gurus, many of whom endorse some or all of my don'ts. I know that if they were to respond (which they won't), they'd say that my preferences as a lawyer doesn't necessarily reflect what consumers want. I disagree. For starters, I may be a lawyer but I'm a consumer of services too. I turn to the web to find professionals like doctors or CPAs, as well as for more consumer oriented suppliers like hair-dressers, dog-sitters and web designers. I can tell when a site has been "pimped out" with copy intended to lure me in and make me buy and frankly, I don't care for it. Moreover, I am fairly certain that most consumers can tell the difference as well - and while they may be willing to tolerate sales pitches for commercial products, they aren't likely to go for them coming from lawyers.

Having said that, here are ten blogging practices to avoid:

1. Recycling undated posts I realize that lawyers are busy and don't always have time to write new content - so they'll repost a few old chestnuts from a few years back. That's not a problem, so long as the post appears with the original publication date. Many times, however, bloggers recycle past posts and simply remove publication dates to make the content appear as if it's new. This practice of cleansing posts of their dates is frustrating for regular readers who may vaguely remember having read the same post before - but can't go back and check because the date isn't available. In addition, many times, older content may be superseded by new events and if a post isn't dated, that may not be clear.

2. Pimping to Search Engines Ever see those blog posts that repeatedly weave in how a "Boston employment lawyer" or "San Francisco bankruptcy lawyer" can assist you? That's not content; it's preening for search engines and it's annoying beyond belief. I'd never hire a lawyer who mucks up posts with sale-sy subtext, and neither should you. Bleh!

3. Ghostwriting Ever since I posted here on my aversion to ghost-blogging, I've become even more entrenched in my aversion for this practice. When lawyers blog in first the person, they create a relationship between themselves and a reader, just as they would if they met a referral source at a party or a client at their office. So betray the trust created through blogging by faking one's voice and one's words through ghostwriting reflects a lack of integrity and a deal breaker in hiring. Blogging isn't mandatory and if you're too busy to blog or hate writing, then don't do it - or hire a law student or contract lawyer to assist and give them a byline or credit.

4. Fake Re-tweets Sometimes, I'll visit a blog and notice that every post has been re-tweeted five or seven or sixteen times. Every post, irrespective of the quality of the content. Then I realized that these bloggers most likely have a twitter-protocol - a staple of regulars who loyally re-tweet every post. I've got no problem if a blogger wants to announce new posts on Twitter - in fact, that's how I learn about a lot of good stuff. But blog posts should be re-tweeted based on merit, and not because others are compelled to do it.

5. The Quote and Run Sometimes a blogger will post a snippet from a news article or another blog post with a bland comment like "look at this" or "thought this was interesting." Others may just lift the content from an article and post part of it, then link to the article. Fortunately, the practice of "quote and run, no comment" is being phased out by Facebook and Twitter which offer better mediums for referencing articles. So for those bloggers who continue to quote and run, please - either add original commentary or take your reference posts off your blog and put them on Twitter or Facebook.

6. Linkless It's bad enough to discuss a case based on a newspaper summery without having read the actual case. It's even worse not to link to the case at all and thereby prevent others from determining whether the analysis is accurate. With Google Scholar and Findlaw and Cornell LII and Thomas to name a few, there's simply no excuse for not linking to the source.

7. Running disaster feeds Kevin O'Keefe and other bloggers have already criticized the practice of running disaster feeds to grab the attention of family and friends of victims injured in accidents to induce them to call. It's a disgusting and sleazy practice that doesn't really warrant much more discussion.

8. Lack of Attribution Lots of bloggers fail to recognize that they're part of a wider community. Many bloggers write about topics without referencing other related posts. Of course, sometimes posts pass in publication but other times, a blogger lifts an idea from a colleague without attribution. That's not the kind of lawyer I'd want to work with.

9. Crowd-sourced blogs Offering respected colleagues an opportunity to guest post on an otherwise content-rich, well subscribed blog (like Christopher Hill of Construction Law Musings is a really nice gesture. By contrast, relying on others' content to make money or gain exposure for your blog - a practice commonly known as crowdsourcing is not.

10. Google ads on law firm blogs If your law firm blog is so popular that a vendor or respected company is willing to sponsor it (or a publication is willing to syndicate it) I say go for it. A sponsorship from a reputable company can add to a blog's cache. But as I wrote here, I draw the line at google ads, affiliate deals and tip jars which convey desperation.

So there you have it- my top ten blogging peeves. Avoid these, and you many not have the most heavily-trafficked blog on the web, but you'll have a tasteful, educational site that will appeal to referral sources and provide useful information to clients. And isn't that why you wanted to blog anyway?
March 25, 2011

Free NOLO Webinar - Lead Generation Strategies for Attorneys

Do you struggle to find quality leads? Does it seem equally hard to convert your prospects into paid clients? Then you'll benefit from our free webinar, Lead Generation Strategies for Attorneys. In this dynamic presentation with law firm marketing expert and best-selling author Stephen Fairley, you'll discover proven tactics used by first-rate lawyers across the country who consistently generate more quality leads than their competitors.

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Nolo is passionate about making the law accessible to everyone. Since 1971, our high-quality books, software, legal forms, and online lawyer directory have helped millions of people find answers to their everyday legal and business questions. Nolo's online lawyer directory is a unique tool for attorneys to demonstrate their expertise online and grow their business. To learn more about being listed in Nolo's Lawyer Directory, visit Nolo.com/lawyers/.

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November 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.
June 29, 2010

Make Your Website More Inviting By Inviting Interaction

We may be living in a Web 2.0 world characterized by interactivity and user-generated content, but you'd never know it, looking at many lawyer websites and blogs.  Most lawyer sites are decidedly first generation, serving either as glorified online brochures or a skeleton for SEO- keywords rather than offering a robust and multi-dimensional user experience.  Though admittedly, adding interactive features as recently as four or five years ago required special programming skills and cost a pretty penny, today, free and low cost tools abound.  And most of these tools are simple enough so that lawyers with average tech skills can install them on their own, or delegate the work for minimal cost to a virtual assistant or college student.

So let's get started.  In the first part of this post, I'll describe some of the reasons that lawyers should consider adding interactive features to their websites.  In the second part of the post, I'll catalog the different types of features available, and offer a couple of examples.  Finally - because we're all lawyers here - I'll briefly identify some of the ethics issues to address when making a website or blog more interactive.

I.  The Case For Increasing Interactivity

Interactive websites benefit both lawyers, prospective clients and the public.   Some interactive tools help educate users.  For example, autoresponders support education-based marketing initiatives by making it easy for prospects to sign up to receive a newsletter or an information-packed e-book.   Online quizzes and assessment tests enable users diagnose, at least preliminarily, whether they have a legal problem that warrants retaining counsel.  

Interactive tools don't just educate clients, though.  An action as simple as enabling comments on blog posts can help lawyers understand if they're getting their point across or help identify other concerns.  Forms allow lawyers to gather preliminary information about clients even before they call for an appointment.  And surveys can provide lawyers with feedback from clients that lawyers can then use to further improve their practices and quality of service provided. 

Interactive tools also facilitate immediate responses.  On-site chats, "call us" buttons and self-scheduling calendars let clients get in touch right away, while their matter is still urgent, to set up an appointment or get a quick answer.

Finally, if nothing else, there's a certain "gee-whiz" quality to interactive tools.  They're just plain neat - and convey an air of sophistication to many clients, even though they're cheap and easy to implement.  As a result, these tools will set you apart from the competition and  impress clients and colleagues.

II.  Types of Tools To Incorporate

There are literally, dozens of interactive tools and widgets that lawyers can deploy on their websites, with new ones frequently emerging.  In this section, I'll identify some of the types of interactive tools that you might incorporate along with some of the examples that I've personally used or seen employed at other sites.

1.  Comment Features
 
On the interactivity scale, comments rank fairly low.  A comment section is most appropriate on blogs; it allows users to participate in an online conversation about a post or ask additional questions.  Most standard blogging platforms include comments as a default feature; however, you can also install a third party platform like Disqus to support comments.  Third party comment platforms can make a comments section more dynamic, by enabling participants to receive notice when new comments are posted, and to reply directly to a specific comment.   (I recently installed Disqus over at my home blog,  MyShingle.com).

2. Forms

Emails are somewhat interactive - and indeed, most lawyers include an email address on their websites so that clients can get in touch.  But often, emails invite lengthy rantings or omit important details that you may need to decide whether to pursue a client further.  In contrast to email, forms provide a more effective means to gather preliminary information from a client because you can identify the information that you want the client to provide.  Sometimes, that information may be as basic as their city and state so that you can figure out whether their matter occurred in a jurisdiction where you're licensed to practice.  A form is also conducive to providing more explicit instructions; for example, you can include disclaimers next to certain questions reminding clients not to provide too many details to avoid compromising confidentiality.

Some blog platforms, such as Word Press, support contact form plug-ins.  Though my law firm website, CarolynElefant.com came with a Word Press plug-in form, my personal favorite is Google's free form generator, which you can embed in any website.   

3.  Autoresponders

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Screen shot 2010-06-29 at 6.34.26 PM.pngAuto-responders do exactly what the name implies:  they provide an automatic response to emails generated through a collection form that appears on the website.  If you've ever been asked to complete an online form to register for a newsletter or to download an e-book, you've probably seen an auto-responder in action.  At left, you can see an example of an auto-responder that visitors to my home site, MyShingle.com use for registration.

Because auto-responders send an automatic reply to users, they are more dynamic than forms, which simply capture information but require a manual response.  For that reason, auto-responders are useful for distribution of educational content, like newsletters or e-books, because once a user supplies the information requested on the form, the auto-responder will automatically send out the ebook or newsletter without need for human intervention.  In that way, an auto-responder can help lawyers control distribution of valuable materials - for example, you can, as lawyer Jay Fleischman describes at LegalPracticePro, use an auto-responder to efficiently dispense information over a set period of time to keep your name in a client's mind.  Auto-responders may also deter competitors from downloading your work since they'll have to use their name to retrieve it (true, they can create an alias name and email, but that involves an additional step).

One of the most popular and widely used auto-responders is Aweber, which costs around $200 annually.  Aweber supports multiple releases and also includes templates that you can use to set up e-newsletters.  Constant Contact is another inexpensive service for newsletter or event registration, with different pricing options starting at as little as $15 per month.  If you're not ready to commit financially, MailChimp offers a limited free auto-responder and newsletter service for up to 500 subscribers.

4.  Assessment Generators and Quizzes

Screen shot 2010-06-29 at 9.06.44 PM.pngAssessment tests and quizzes serve as a fun way to engage clients at your site by teaching them about the law.  For example, you might create a quiz on the structure of the Supreme Court or the Bill of Rights as a public service to educate clients about the law. There aren't many online quiz creators, but one that is free and works for this purpose is Quibblo.com.  

Somewhat different from a quiz about facts, an assessment test can also help clients determine whether they need to hire a lawyer.   For example, a bankruptcy lawyer might create a test that asks clients about their ability to pay their bills or whether they are subject to pursuit by debt collectors, and assign points for each answer.  Depending upon the number of points, the answer key might suggest that a client consider the bankruptcy option (as discussed in Part III, you'd want to include extensive disclaimers and caveats as part of the test, to avoid having a client believe that it constitutes legal advice).

The best out-of-the-box online tool that I've found for assessments is the Assessment Generator.  Robust and easy to use, the Assessment Generator lets users create five different types of assessment tests (the example above is one that I created here at MyShingle, that lawyers can use to evaluate their need for a contract lawyer).  There's a free version of the Assessment Generator available; the more full-featured version costs around $10 a month.

5.  Surveys and Polls 

Like quizzes, polls can entertain site visitors - for example, soliciting their opinion on anything from political issues (Do you agree with the President's Supreme Court nomination?) to personal preferences (How many  hours a week do you spend on Facebook?).  Several blog platforms offer poll plug-ins, but you can also create and install your own with services like WidgetBox.com.  With polls, users can vote and then see the results of the poll after voting.

Surveys are a little different from polls because users won't automatically see results.  You might include a survey at your website for clients to provide you with feedback on your firm.  In addition to using Google Forms (mentioned previously) as a basis for a survey, you can also try Wufoo or Survey Monkey, both of which offer a limited free option.

6.  Online Scheduling

Thumbnail image for Screen shot 2010-06-29 at 11.18.42 PM.pngAre you losing clients because you don't have the staff to answer your phones and schedule appointments promptly?   One interactive tool that can remedy lack of staffing is a do-it-yourself scheduling system installed at your site.  Scheduling systems are basically an online calendar where prospective clients view your available openings and set up their own appointments.  The calendars are set up so that only the site owner can view the names and information associated with the appointments; site visitors don't have access to this private information.     

There are plenty of options for online scheduling, and many are free, including Tungle.me (displayed above), Doodle.com and Scheduly.

7.  Call Me Buttons and Live Chat

Ideally, your website should provide multiple ways for clients to contact you.  Most sites include phone numbers and emails - but if you're not available, the client will still have to wait for a response.  That's why you might consider getting a free Google Voice number to use as a "call me contact" at your site.

Previously in beta and available via invitation only, GoogleVoice is now open to all.  Google Voice allows users to create a "Call Me" button which can be embedded in your website.  When users click the button, they'll be connected to your Google number, which in turn, you can set up to re-direct to another phone number - thus, increasing the chance that you'll be available to take the call when it comes in.

Equally interactive is live chat, another feature that can be installed at a website - and a concept that I discussed about a year ago here at MyShingle.  With chat-ware, users can  type in a question at your site and you or your staff can supply an immediate response.  Live chat  options include ZohoChat and BoldChat, which costs around $300/year.

III.  Ethics Caveats

Any blog post on interactive websites for lawyers - even one as lengthy as this one - is not complete without a discussion of ethics issues.  Below are some of the ethics red flags that interactive technologies may raise, and suggestions on best practices for addressing them:

1.  Creation of Attorney-Client Relationship/Legal Advice:  One potential ethics risk of interactivity is that the immediacy of the communication may create the perception of an attorney-client relationship.  Or, a client may believe that the attorney is providing legal advice.  For example, consider a situation where a client asks a specific question in the comments section of a blog or through live chat.  If an attorney replies and provides suggestions, a client could rely on that advice - and the attorney could face malpractice exposure if the advice turned out to be incorrect.  To avoid any perception that a communication at the website constitutes legal advice or gives rise to an attorney-client relationship. lawyers should include appropriate disclaimers.

Likewise, if you include an assessment generator at your site on a topic like whether a prospect qualifies for bankruptcy, include caveats to clarify that the test provides guidelines - it is not a definitive diagnosis of a legal problem (nor is it legal advice) and that all cases are different. 

2.  Confidentiality & Conflicts Issues:  Clients may assume that information collected in forms will be treated as confidential.  If you are using a free form generator, the information that you gather may not be fully confidential - and the client should be advised of that risk.  At the same time, you should limit the type of information that you collect to begin with - never ask potential clients to provide social security numbers or extensive details about their claims through a form that is not secure.

3.  Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL)

Some of the communications that you receive at your site may involve individuals in jurisdictions where you're not licensed to practice - and potentially trigger UPL claims.  Make sure that your site is clear on where you are licensed to practice, and avoid substantive responses on matters that are outside of your jurisdiction.

IV.  Conclusion

As I've posted repeatedly, many lawyers focus myopically on SEO, without any thought to how to convert transient visitors into paying clients.  By inviting interaction, lawyers can make their websites more inviting and impressive to visitors, and in doing so, improve their chances that short term visitors will eventually become long time clients.
December 3, 2009

Blog Early and Often

My blogging mantra has always been:

blog early and often.

Most commonly, it's the "often" component of this equation that generates the most discussion and debate.  For example, a recent Portfolio story on lawyer blogs pointed out that:

[...] many are finding that feeding the blog beast with fresh content is a legal challenge unto itself. Lawyers and blog specialists say the best legal blogs generate at least several posts per week.

While it's important to blog often, particularly when getting a blog off the ground, timing is equally, if not more important than frequency.  In other words, you don't need to blog often so much as you need to blog early.

First to press:  One component of blogging early involves reacting quickly to a big news story, getting a post up on breaking news or a recently issued decision before other bloggers come on the scene.  When you post about a new development early, you make your blog indispensable to readers; a go to source of up to date information.  In addition, an early post on a topic ensures that other bloggers or media sources will link to or comment on your blog, therefore giving you more exposure.  A couple of rules about posting early, however. 

First, if there's a hot news story or just-issued judicial decision, don't just throw out a link with a single line like "read this!" or "breaking news!"  To make your post valuable, you must offer some original insight or prediction, even if it's based on a quick first impression.  You can always update the post or write a follow up as events emerge.  Second, you don't need to be first to press with every single news item, or you run the risk of converting your blog into a news feed rather than a source of analysis and conversation.  If you enjoy providing rapid feed on new developments, share your blurbs on Twitter, which offers a  better platform for short form writing than a blog.

Early in the morning:   When I say that you should blog early, I also mean it literally, as in early in the morning.   Many heavy blog readers like newspaper reporters (who can give you more exposure) or other lawyers (who can generate referrals) tend to scroll through their news feeders first thing in the morning in search of fodder for their own blog posts and stories.  If you can get your posts up early in the morning, they're more likely to be read when fresh.  By contrast, if you post on a time-sensitive topic later in the day, by the time your post comes up on an aggregator, it may be yesterday's news.

Early in the week:  Posting early in the week is important for two reasons.  First, (and though the evidence is hardly scientific), based on my experience at several different blogs, readership is generally highest on Mondays or Tuesdays.  A  survey of various design blogs reached a similar conclusion, though Thursdays were a close second.  Tuesday is also the most popular activity day for Twitter, which can also be a source of traffic to your blog if you tweet links to your posts.   Statistics aside, there's a second reason to post early in the week: it will allow more time for conversation to brew throughout the week which will also generate more traffic.

Early adapter:  Finally, if you're just starting a blog, you gain a tremendous advantage if you can establish yourself as first to market on a particular topic.  Indeed, many of the earliest blogs, like Howard Bashman's appellate law blog,  How Appealing continue to dominate not just because of quality but also a strong first mover advantage that helps keep competitors at bay.  Even though blogging is more common than five years ago, there's still plenty of room for lawyers to establish a blog on a  topic that's not yet been covered and benefit from a first mover advantage from that  particular niche.

In short, I can't emphasize this point often enough:  blog early!

Here is another post on this topic (from last year) from Blog for Profit.

 
September 11, 2009

Legal Marketing Round Up

It's time for another round up of updates on previous posts.  Without further ado, here's a bunch of quick follow up tips from around the blogosphere:

1. Be Careful Whom You Hire As  a Marketer  A few months ago, I asked whether you should hire a legal marketer and warned about some of the potential red flags to avoid in choosing a marketing consultant.  At least one unfortunate attorney failed to read my advice, and now, she's found herself the brunt of serious criticism around the blogosphere. 

Colin Samuels' Infamy and Praise Round Tuit 2 provides the best summary of the sordid affair.  Apparently, a California attorney retained a marketing consultant (well, actually, she bartered for his services) who chose to build her online presence by scraping content from other blogs, including Houston criminal defense lawyer's Mark Bennett's Defending People.  The consultant also set up a number of alias Twitter accounts under the California attorney's name in a lame effort to boost her SEO.  Mark Bennett took the consultant to task  here and here, with the end result of spreading the story around the blogosphere, damaging the attorney's representation in the process.  Two lessons here:  (1) bad publicity isn't necessarily better than good publicity and (2) DON'T outsource your marketing efforts.  Hopefully, this attorney will read my earlier post on guarding your reputation online so that she can minimize the negative commentary.

2.  Recyle and Re-purpose for a Successful Blog In my post on ebooks, I described how you can recycle or re-purpose content you've created for blogs or other publications to include in the ebook. However, the concept of re-purposing or multi-purposing is also useful to understand if you're trying to build a successful blog, a topic I've covered here. Over at Blog for ProfitCalifornia Defamation Law Blogger Adrianos Facchetti describes how he multi-purposed his blog content to gain visibility in his niche of Internet defamation in just six months time.  Facchetti explains:

This is the "hub and spoke" strategy.  This is how it works.  Let's say I write a really great post and I want to make sure a lot of people read it. The first thing I would do is to upload it to as many websites as possible. So, I would upload the post to several bookmarking sites like social median and digg. Then I would upload it to JDSupra. Then I would tweet about it.

I also made sure that my blog posts updated automatically to my LinkedIN profile and to my Facebook profile via RSS feed.
My goal was to get my content in as many different places as I possibly could, which I did.  Use this strategy. It works
.

There's similar advice over at the Baby Boomer Entrepreneur, which in addition to Facchetti's suggestions recommends (1) recording blog posts for podcasts or videos and (2) circulating blog posts to Ezinearticles.com, a heavily trafficked site which will rock your SEO.

 

August 19, 2009

Make Sure The Message Matches the Medium

When it comes to Internet marketing, there's no one size fits all solution.  The effectiveness of any of the tools that I've discussed here at the Legal Marketing Blawg, such as blogs, Twitter or video depends not just on whether your current or prospective clients spend time online but  also where and how they use the Internet.

To understand the importance of how clients use the Internet to your online marketing efforts,   consider the results of an April 2009 study by the Pew Internet Project released last month.  According to the study, 56% of those polled said they have at some point used wireless means for online access - a figure that's significant enough to convince most lawyers to either start or step up marketing measures online.

But the 56% figure doesn't tell the whole story about wireless use.  Turns out that even though African American Internet use via traditional means (such as home or office computers) is much lower than for the general population, African Americans represent the most active users of the mobile internet:

48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.

29% of African Americans use the internet on their hand held on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.

Based on these use rates, you'd be justified in engaging in any type of generic online marketing activities, such as putting up a website or purchasing online ads, if you wanted to attract and serve African American clients.  But given that nearly a full third of African Americans access the web through a hand held device, your online marketing campaign would be far more effective if you invested in those tools which are most compatible with hand held devices.  For example:

-Internet access through handheld devices is usually slower than through broadband wireless and a direct connection.  So a fancy, flash-driven website that may look impressive on a large screen might be clunky and frustrating to someone trying to view it on a cell phone. 

-Blogging can be an effective Internet marketing tool.  But lengthy tomes in small font don't mix with a hand held.  To keep a hand-held based audience engaged, either opt for shorter snappier posts that can be digested in a cell-sized screen or make sure that your blog is mobile compliant.

-Many mobile users frequently access YouTube.  For that reason, video may be an effective marketing option.  Likewise, Twitter offers several different mobile-accessible applications and could also serve as an effective medium to connect with mobile-enabled clients.

Depending upon what kinds of clients you intend to target, there are a myriad of other small tweaks that can make your online marketing more effective.  As I wrote in another context, you need to imagine your audience, or in this case, your clients:

What I mean by imagine your audience is to visualize the individual readers, from those who stumble across your site online to those who dutifully read your updates daily. Where are they reading your blog - in a Starbucks? Their office? At a basement computer after the kids are in bed? Are they dressed in stiff work clothes or wearing pajamas? Using an news reader or catch all site like Alltop to catch up on posts - or do they physically visit the site to get the information?  Printing out your posts in a public library because they don't have a printer at home, or scrolling through them casually on their iphone while riding the subway to a suburban mansion?  By imagining these details, you can refine the form of your post to match your audience's circumstances - for example, enlarging the font or brightening the page if you suspect folks are reading in dimly lit areas, or including an easy print or PDF option if your audience prefers hard copy.

Most lawyers would like to believe that online marketing begins and ends with search engine optimization, that by hiring a good consultant and driving traffic to your site, you'll generate clients.  But all of the SEO in the world isn't going to make a difference if prospects leave the destination once they arrive.  It's not until you understand how your target audience is reaching you online that you can make sure that their experience is pleasant (as opposed to frustrating and confusing) once they arrive.  That way, they're guaranteed to return, or even better, to stick around long enough to decide to give you a call.
June 5, 2009

Legal Marketing Round-Up

Once again, it's time for a round-up post, updating information that I covered in earlier posts.

1. Lawyer-Bloggers All A-Twitter About the Value of Twitter 

Back in February 2009, I considered whether lawyers should be using Twitter, ultimately concluding that at the very least, they ought to give it a try.  Last month, however, lawyer marketing expert Larry Bodine stirred up a controversy with this piece contending that Twitter isn't a very effective tool for lawyer marketing.  Bodine highlighted Twitter's high churn rate, with 60 percent of users dropping off after just a few months' use and pointed out that other tools such as email promotions and blogs were more effective ways to drive traffic to a website.  Most significantly, Bodine argued that Twitter was a time sink -- a distraction from getting real marketing work done that didn't lead to serious business.

Bodine's post earned him lots of criticism in the blogosphere, which David Barrett exhaustively summarizes at Linked In Lawyer.  Most of the commentary emphasizes that Twitter isn't an end in itself, but a supplement to other marketing tools, such as creating an introduction to warm up a cold call or other personal connection, or helping lawyers reinforce their personal brand.

2.  Are Listservs Obsolete?

Back in December, I made the point that the new generation of social media still hadn't rendered listservs obsolete.  Fast forward six months... and is that still the case?  Via the Legal History Blog, I came across this interesting article, Where Do Legal Listservs Fit in A Social Media World? by law librarian Greg Lambert.  Lambert notes that while listservs still remain a great way to build relationships, network, and discover new resources, at the same time, they have drawbacks such as "lazy research" (obvious questions sent out to 2500 members) and a tendency to generate flame wars if left unmoderated.  Lambert favors Ning (which I'll post about on Monday) as his tool of choice for combining the ease of use and spontaneity of listservs without the drawbacks.  I checked out the Law Librarian Ning that Lambert referenced -- and while it's a nice looking site, it lacks the fluid interaction of a listserv.  At the same time, the participants have all filled out bios, which can facilitate connections and networking.
May 12, 2009

Blogging for Lawyers - Part I

To date, I've penned eighteen entries for Nolo's Legal Marketing Blawg, covering marketing tools ranging from eBooks to article archiving to listservs and more.  But so far, I've omitted one rather conspicuous topic: blogging.

In part, my omission derives from the fact that there are already so many resources on blogging available online.  For example, consider Grant Griffiths' (a recovering-lawyer turned blogger) twelve-part-and-still-growing-series on how to build a successful blog that will generate clients.  Likewise, Kevin O'Keefe of Lexblog maintains an archive crammed with blogging basics.  As for me, I've penned my share of articles on blogging, including a now-five-year-old piece, It's A Blog World After All (surprisingly, only the info on tech is dated) and a GP Solo article, Get Your Blog Rolling, which offers hints on guerrilla blogging tactics that will let you get the most bang from your time.  I also authored a form-follows-substance blog-based presentation on blogging, that you can click through here.  This piece too is five years old, but except for some technology changes, the concepts remain the same.

And yet... in spite of the fact that lawyer blogging has been around for more than five years and generates a huge volume of coverage, only two percent of lawyers are blogging.  That's the statistic from the 2008 ABA Technology Survey, which also found that 8 percent of law firms are blogging.  You might conclude that the paucity of lawyer-bloggers means that blogging is a waste of time, but in fact, the opposite is true:  Few lawyers blogging means that the door's wide open for you to get in on the ground floor.

Moreover, even though social media is the marketing tool with all the buzz, it's blogs that have both the staying power and the impact.  Just last week, the influential women's web hub Blogher.org released the results of this study, which concluded that:

Women are nearly twice as likely to use blogs than social networking sites as a source of information (64%), advice and recommendations (43%) and opinion-sharing (55%)...
In short, when it comes to gathering substantive information, women are relying on blogs -- and if you're a lawyer with a blog, you become a trusted source.

Blogs are also a proven source of generating clients. Greatest American Lawyer Enricho Schaefer discusses the success of his firm, which he attributes to his findability from the organic search terms embedded in his blog.

By now, I've probably overwhelmed you, but at the same time, I have hopefully piqued your interest in starting a blog.  For now, I'll lay out a couple of of preliminary steps to getting started and, in the following weeks, I'll share some best practices and details.  So here are a few first steps:

1.  Register a couple of domain names.  Yes, I know it sounds crazy to invest money in domain names before you get your blog set up.  But the domain name is critical -- because each time you update your blog, that domain name will get a boost in the results returned by search engines.  So by giving your blog a topical name that's relevant to your practice area -- such as NebraskaCollectionLaw.com for a Lincoln-based collections attorney -- you're organically boosting your search engine visibility. 

Don't despair if your first choice of domain name isn't available -- many great domain names are still out there.  If you serve a specific jurisdiction, location, or city, you may want to include that location in your domain name. Most prospective clients hope to find attorneys within a locality -- and by including a city or county within your domain name, you increase your findability -- e.g., BethesdaMarylandDivorceLawyer.com.   Sure, those terms are narrow, but you can purchase a couple of domain names and aim them all at the same site.  So go run some searches and see what's available.

2.  Start reading other blogs.  Spend some time reading blogs -- you can find a universal list at the ABA Blawg Directory and Justia's Blawg Search.  Take a look at how those blogs are set up and which features you like (or don't like).  Are there particular styles that you favor?  Certain topics or writing style?  Keep a list of your preferences.

3.  Set up a news reader or sign up for Twitter.  One way to come up with material for blog posts is by staying informed.  You can do this by signing up to use a News Reader where you can read streams of posts from blogs and news sites all in one place.  Or, you can hop on Twitter to see what kinds of news items those you follow are posting.  Current stories and news events are a great source of information for posts and will help you generate traffic.

4.  What would you want to hear?  In addition to staying on top of news streams, put yourself in a client's shoes.  If you were a prospective client searching for a [bankruptcy or immigration or family or special education or fill-in-the-blank] lawyer, what kinds of questions would you have?  What information would you want to know?  And what would you hope to learn about your lawyer?  More than anything, imagining your audience is the secret to an effective blog, as well as one that's personally satisfying.

Email me at elefant@myshingle.com with any other questions about blogging.  I'll pick up this series over the next few weeks.