Like most aspects of legal marketing, there’s more to blogging than meets the eye. While on their face, blogs are outlets for lawyers’ thoughts and opinions on the latest developments in their practice area, the most well-known blogs prove that they can be much more. The best blogs create business and career opportunities for their authors on a scope that few other marketing tools can achieve.
Law firms place considerable (and understandable) focus on maximizing the return on investment associated with blogs. Yet many fail to bridge the gap between a blog’s launch and the hoped-for self-reinforcing stream of new clients, media interviews, social media shares and speaking engagement invites. What causes that poor return, and what investments can be made to avoid it? Lawyers and marketers must carefully consider or reconsider nearly every aspect of their blogging presence, right from the start.
Lay the Groundwork
Before a single post is crafted, a topic area is chosen or a co-author is recruited, lawyers should acknowledge and align two crucial elements that can make or break their blogging experience: expectations and reality. If not addressed, unrealistic expectations on both sides of the return/investment equation negatively affect every stage of the process. The amount of time lawyers expect to spend researching, writing and posting; how often they expect to post updates; what content they expect readers will enjoy and proactively share; and when law firms expect blogs to begin garnering significant attention, to name a few, will likely not survive first contact with real-life conditions.
Feeding into this dichotomy between expectations and reality is a serious problem with the phrase “return on investment” itself: the “return” comes first in the phrase, but is rarely if ever first in practice. Successful high-quality blogging requires an upfront investment in time, money and energy that will likely not see an immediate return absent special circumstances. In the early post-launch period, it may feel as though your blogging efforts are bearing no fruit and will never bear fruit. This can lead to less time spent researching, writing and sharing posts, less posting activity, fewer blog visitors and a quick downward spiral toward abandoning the enterprise altogether.
The good news is that consistently investing that time and energy will greatly increase the likelihood that your blog will pay dividends later on. The first step to ensure continued investment is to replace unrealistic initial expectations with patience, persistence and a commitment to specific, measurable and achievable goals. Initially, these goals can encompass a mix of web traffic metrics, social media activity, post comments and your own posting frequency.
Write Like You Mean It
Once committed to that initial investment, consider the core topic and tone of your blog, and ways to make it unique and indispensable for readers. The topic might seem an easy choice – an area where you’d like to build a practice or reputation perhaps, or a niche your firm’s existing blogs don’t currently cover. But a far better approach is to ask yourself what you’re passionate about. What do you enjoy reading about in the news or on other blogs? What topics do you follow and discuss most on social media? What long-term legal problem is not getting the attention it deserves? That is the topic you should cover, because you’ll be infinitely more engaged when researching, writing, posting and sharing your updates, and it will show in your final product.
This passion should inform the topic, but it should also inform the approach you take to covering it. A straightforward look at new developments in your area of choice is tried and true, but may get lost in a sea of similarly established blogs covering those same developments. The key to this stage in the blog development process is using your existing knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject to distinguish your blog from those of your competitors. If you approach it from a creative and unconventional angle, or merely make your personality a core part of your writing, your blog is more likely to produce new visitors curious to read a familiar subject from a new perspective. By extension, it also will be more likely to become an indispensable source for returning visitors. Remember, as Coco Chanel once said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
Write Frequently, and Know Your Medium
Think about your favorite bloggers (or your favorite newspaper columnists, if you prefer). What makes you a regular reader of their work? Beyond their informed insights, a major element of your loyalty is undoubtedly that you can depend on them to produce new updates for you regularly. If they only wrote once in a while, you might not regard them as such a reliable source of information, and you’d be less likely to seek out their work. The same holds true for legal blogs.
Posting frequency is one of the crucial factors, if not the crucial factor, driving ROI in B2B blogging. According to benchmark data published in April 2015 by inbound marketing firm Hubspot, the more blog posts companies published per month, the more traffic they saw on their website. B2B companies that blogged 11 or more times per month had almost three times more traffic than those blogging one time per month or not at all. In addition, those high-frequency blogging companies generated approximately 1.75 times as many leads as those that blog less than three times per month. Finally, Hubspot found that, overall, companies that have more than 400 blog posts total on their site receive about twice as much traffic and more than three times as many leads as those that have fewer than 400 posts.
Given these statistics, it is clear that a blog with a lack of frequent updates is a serious missed opportunity. The best way to maintain or increase the frequency of your updates is highly dependent on your time management and writing styles. However, setting automated reminders, bringing in other regular or guest contributors if possible and consistently mining the news for new post ideas can be invaluable in avoiding the aforementioned downward spiral toward the dreaded abandoned blog.
Just as a reliable pattern of updates can and often does lead to a larger audience, so do posts that are tailored for the medium of the Web. Readers viewing updates at their desks or on their mobile devices respond best to content that is easy-to-read, quick-to-absorb and visually appealing. A 1998 Nielsen Norman Group study, backed up by more recent research, showed that users “generally prefer writing that is concise, easy to scan, and objective (rather than promotional) in style.” In that study, a redesign of two online whitepapers using those three principals found that users of the rewritten site reported higher subjective satisfaction and performed better in usability tests. In short, when users find your blog content more satisfying to read and a more ready source of the information they seek, they are far less likely to avail themselves of the “Back” button and never return.
The benefit of this expectation is that your tone should be less formal and your posts shorter. A blog is not a medium to publish legal briefs or dissertations. Blog posts shouldn’t run at thousands of words and require hours of research. Instead of long paragraphs, structure your posts with sub-headings and bullet points. Include appropriate, legally purchased or licensed images when possible, to break up text and draw readers’ attention. Publish quick reactions to news developments. If you attend an industry conference and have some takeaways, consider writing a few bullet points on your experience. Your readers may find value in a quick list each Friday that solely contains links to articles you’ve found relevant or fascinating that week. In short, save your long-form writing with citations for legal journals and other media.
Frequent, differentiated and well-constructed posts will prove to your audience that you have your finger on the pulse of your subject area and make you a trusted source. They will also keep your readers engaged and decrease your time spent on the blog (part of your “investment”), making it easier to realize a return. The rules for writing etiquette on the Web are too numerous to recite here, but it is sufficient to say that catering to readers’ online habits will lead to a better reader experience, a quicker writing process and highly shareable content.
The “Publish” Button Isn’t the End
After finishing a post and clicking “Publish,” it can be all too easy for lawyers to consider their work complete for now and return to serving client needs. However, a final step remains to ensuring solid blogging ROI: spreading your work far and wide. Sharing published content with your personal network—on social media, by e-mail and in person—is a core blogger responsibility. At this stage, the “return” half of the ROI equation finally becomes possible, and proactive sharing only increases the potential for that return. By spreading the reach of your opinions and insights over time, you pave the way for your network to consider you a “go-to” lawyer in that topic area, generating those sought-after referrals, speaking engagements, media inquiries and other attention. It’s the final investment with each post and a necessary one to fully realize a solid return on the blog as a whole.
Blogging Isn’t For Everyone
We know that a successful blog takes time, energy and a number of strengths on the part of the author: well-honed and adaptable writing skills, patience, persistence and extroversion among them. Not every lawyer possesses the full complement of skills, much less the time and energy. Before diving head-first into blogging, honestly evaluate your personality, your practice and your preferences when it comes to marketing. Understand that numerous alternative marketing tools and techniques available may better suit your core strengths and your legal practice. Choose the option, or options, that make the most sense for you. Don’t choose to blog just because “everyone else is doing it.”
The return on your blogging investment will come in many forms. As is the case with most marketing expenditures, it will be difficult to show a direct correlation between a blog post and your bottom line. Short of a new client mentioning that they retained you as legal adviser strictly because of your blog, it will be hard to attribute financial revenue directly to your blogging endeavors. Most likely your return will be defined in new relationships created as a result of the blog, interviews or speaking engagements attained via a blog reference or social media shares. It may not be defined in hard facts or figures, but you will be able to tell when your blog is beginning to show a return. You will see it in your expanded network, your increased confidence in your subject area and in your growing practice. Remember that your blog should be a reflection of you as an individual and that success is measured differently for every blog and blogger. Find your niche and make it work for you and for your practice.
About the Authors
John Witts (left) is a marketing technology manager and J.P. Laub (right) is a marketing specialist at Fox Rothschild LLP.