Should law firms publish blogs?
In most cases, no, they shouldn’t. Most law firm blogs are written based on “SEO principles” that have been outdated for years!
Years ago, when the online publishing space was a lot less crowded, the idea was to regularly publish content (any content) to create positive freshness signals.
Google would then crawl your site more actively and reward frequent updates with better rankings. In those days, many legal blogs weren’t client focused as much as they were search engine focused. Publishing online content was widely viewed as a box you had to check, and still is for many firms, which is why most lawyers don’t see positive ROI from content marketing, and most law firms should stop writing blogs altogether.
The content you see on Findlaw blogs provides a good example of what not to do. The internet has no need for 400 word summaries of stories that appeared in the local newspaper earlier in the week.
Nevertheless, you still see firms paying for this type of content.
Lawyers don’t have time to blog
Lawyers “don’t have time to blog.” That very well may be true, however, it doesn’t mean good money should be thrown away on low quality content that undermines the firm brand. If attorneys at a law firm don’t have time to create content, but would still like to invest in content marketing, it’s important they pay close attention to the quality of what’s being written on their behalf.
Thin, ghost written content that used to rank, or at least send positive signals, has been removed from the top of the SERPs forever. In fact, numerous poor quality or syndicated pages can actually hurt the overall performance of your site.
Most Legal Topics Aren’t QDF Searches
While freshness signals are still a ranking factor, they’re one of over 200 Google uses to evaluate a page. Robotically posting low quality news stories and poorly written ghost blogs is a waste of time and won’t help your site from an SEO standpoint.
Google’s old head of web spam, Matt Cutts, has publicly stated that freshness is primarily a factor for sites, such as newspapers, that cover current events. Some queries require freshness, while others don’t.
While legal blogs do occasionally cover the latest developments in case law, most successful publishers relay black letter law in a format clients can easily digest. Essentially, they assist with research.
Much of what is written on a bankruptcy or a personal injury law blog will maintain validity for a long time. In other words, legal topics typically are not query deserve freshness (“QDF”) searches.
The Reason to Publish a Blog
We’ve established that writing a blog, just for the sake of writing, won’t accomplish much, and that most law firms should stop doing it.
Having said that, publishing to a law firm blog can be an important source of traffic and new business for a firm as long as it’s done the right way.
What is the “right way”?
Legal blogs that are done right demonstrate expertise. Whether you’re a bankruptcy, whistleblower, class action or divorce attorney, your clients are facing a problem. They usually can’t, or don’t want to, broadcast it to the world. They haven’t heard of you, but they have heard of Google, so that’s where they turn first to do research.
They trust Google.
They search Google for answers, i.e. how will this problem affect me legally? If you’re there with meaningful answers to their questions, if you can demonstrate command of the issues, they’re more likely to get in touch to ask for help. Reading your analysis builds trust that can translate into new business.
Freshness signals are nice, but the goal is to demonstrate expertise. That’s what both Google and potential clients are looking for.
How Long Should Blog Posts Be?
How long should an “A” law school exam be? How long should a successful motion be?
There is no hard and fast rule to determine the length of a blog post, however, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
First, the online publishing space is crowded and competitive. Whatever topic you address, there are many other articles on the subject. Will your piece stand out?
Most law firms make the mistake of “checking the box” with content, and publishing just about anything. Don’t be one of those firms.
Content you publish online is visible to colleagues, and potential clients. Make it a representation of your brand. Put the same level of attention behind a piece of content as you would a pleading filed with the court.
Next, consider the audience you’re writing for. What questions would they have about the issue you’re discussing? Does your piece effectively address those questions? Is it useful? Could it appear in a credible publication?
If you can answer yes to those questions, you’ve created content worthy of publishing. Guess what? You’ve also addressed many of the quality factors that drive Google’s quality guidelines, so being a good citizen of the web is also good for SEO.
Not every piece of content that appears on your blog will be perfect. Far from it. The idea is that you put effort into the content and that it is useful for someone.
If you must have a word count target for each post, I would suggest pieces with a length of at least 1,000 words.
Should I Publish A Blog On My Law Firm Website?
90% of the time, no, but if you do invest in content that matters to someone, there is nothing wrong with having this content live on your law firm site.
Some commentators believe that publishing a law blog on a law firm site undermines the purity of the blog as an art form. The idea is that a blog is a hub of information and commentary, and adding to that a commercially driven website taints the experience.
In my view, the “purity of blogging” argument overlooks the way most visitors interact with blog content. Blog posts are granular additions to larger, niche conversations. They operate at the micro-level. Blog posts are both published in this way, and consumed in this way.
Readers find blog content via search engines, and through social media campaigns, as landing pages. Their first point of contact, whether it’s a blog on a law firm website, or a blog that is just a blog, is with the individual blog page. The typical blog visitor doesn’t arrive via the home page, they arrive as the result of a long tail query, after asking a question, or performing research. If they see blogginess when they arrive, they’re happy. These types of visitors may never see the firm’s home page, or about page, or services page. They interact with the content they searched for, and judge its quality based on how well it addresses their needs. What matters is that the quality of the blog content is high, and that it’s regularly updated.
Critics of law blogs are quick to point out that ghost town blogs that are never updated, or spam blogs that churn out keyword dribble, are cheesy and unnecessary.
Long Tail Search Traffic
Blogs are designed to harness what is known as “long tail search traffic.” Long tail searches usually come in the form of questions, and in the aggregate they can drive far more traffic to a website than more obvious large volume vanity searches.
However, harnessing long tail traffic is still largely a function of domain authority. Most law firms don’t have the time, budget or expertise to build more than one authoritative site. Housing a law blog on the main site gives published content more credibility in search as the authority of the root domain increases.
Lawyers who start a blog separate from their primary URL dilute link equity as some links point to the blog, and others to the law firm site. The result is that neither site performs as well as it could were they consolidated. Any marginal SEO value gained by linking your law blog to your law firm website, is outweighed by the benefit of publishing content to an authoritative domain.
Should law firms use WordPress?
Ok, so we’ve laid out the basics, as well as some advanced issues, surrounding legal blogging. Let’s say you’re ready to dive in and start producing great quality content. What platform should you choose? Should you host your own site or use a hosted solution?
See also: How much should a law firm website cost?
As a starting point, we recommend clients use WordPress as a content management system, both for a blog or a firm website (or both). WordPress powers 40% of the web, and for good reason. The platform is easy to update and is easily customizable. For more on why WordPress is a great solution for a website, take a look at this article.
Once you’ve settled on WordPress, there are two basic options: WordPress.com (a blog hosted at WordPress.com) or WordPress.org (using WordPress software on a URL you own and host). Any WordPress.com site will be a subdomain of WordPress.com, and not a domain you own. For example, if JSO were to set up a blog at WordPress.com, the site URL would be jsodigital.wordpress.com. By contrast, WordPress.org, as a self hosted solution, allows you to build a site at a domain you own.
In order to help site owners make a decision between the two options, WordPress put together a helpful chart which can be visited here.
It’s also worth reviewing this guide to WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com.
Although WordPress.org comes with more maintenance responsibility, we recommend this option as it gives site owners greater freedom in customizing and owning their site’s and content.
Libraries rather than blogs
If this article has convinced you not to publish a law firm blog, a library of content could be a nice alternative. If a law blog is described as an ongoing conversation, a library of content is more akin to a series of valued books on a shelf, organized by topic.
With a content library, you pick 50 -100 core topics and address each in a hierarchy. For example, a personal injury library would contain one section devoted to medical malpractice. Under the umbrella heading of medical malpractice, the library would include pieces on:
- Hiring a lawyer
- SOL deadlines
- Damages caps
- Types of medical malpractice, etc.
Some of the best SEOs advocate for this “spoke and wheel approach” as a much better solution to a blog system. For example, we have worked with the famous SEO auditor, Alan Bleiweiss, on a medical site we own, and he is a huge proponent of creating libraries over blogs.
Blogs can be a great way for law firms to engage an audience, and attract new business. However, creating quality content that people actually want to read is not an easy job.
If your firm wants to invest in content, be sure that the quality of what you publish is an accurate representation of your professional expertise. Live up to that standard, and you’ll have success.
Stray from it, and you’ll be doing more harm than good.