How to Develop Content Ideas That Deliver
June 1, 2016
Any law firm engaging in online marketing will have to create content. Webpages, press releases, blog posts, FAQs, videos and social media content may all be part of the plan. But producing content blindly, just for the sake of having it, will not pay off.
Your firm's online content must be part of a larger plan. Yes, your firm's marketing team will have to come up with creative ideas and produce quality content on a schedule. But it must be purposeful, and for that you need a strategy.
Developing a good content strategy means asking a few key questions:
What is the target audience?
What types of content will be useful and relevant to the audience?
What is the measurable business goal the content is intended to support?
The first step in developing a content strategy is to determine your target audience. This should include, at minimum, demographic information such as age, gender and geographic location, and it should also include as many distinguishing characteristics as possible, including specific legal issues and questions that the firm's prospective clients will have. The more narrowly you can define your target audience, the more effective your content strategy can be.
Depending on your firm's practice areas, you may be starting with a broad or narrow audience. However, one of the many advantages of online marketing for law firms is that even a very broad practice area can include narrowly targeted content. Many prospective clients will use search engines such as Google to find information about their legal issue, and they will often use very specific search terms. Your firm can use this knowledge to your advantage by targeting these terms. Using the example of a personal injury firm, a person injured in a bus, bike or pedestrian accident may use search terms that relate to the specifics of their accident, typing “bus accident lawyer” into Google's search bar instead of “car accident lawyer.” If your firm wants that business, your definition of your target audience needs to include several such sub-categories so that you can develop appropriate content.
Another important consideration is the distinction that exists in some practice areas between the central person involved in the legal issue and the person making the hiring decision. Elder law attorneys are often seeking to earn business from the adult children of elderly people rather than the elderly themselves. When college students are in legal trouble, it will often be their parents who are searching for an attorney. Awareness of these demographic differences is crucial to developing content that is relevant to the target audience.
Once you have defined your firm's target audience, which should include several different sub-categories, your content team can develop an editorial plan that includes many different types of content relevant to those audiences. Your team should put themselves in the shoes of the target audience and get to know their interests. This includes not only the specific aspects of their legal issues that most concern them, but their other common areas of interest or concern. Some types of online content may be designed not to directly address legal issues but to simply draw readers in from among your target audience.
Your content team's editorial plan will include many different types of online content. Each has a different purpose and requires a different tone and style, so we will look at each of them individually.
Your law firm's website needs to be packed with individual subpages, each dedicated to a specific subject relevant to the legal issues your prospective clients face. These subpages can be oriented to specific search terms you are targeting. Thus, you will have multiple pages that contain similar — but not duplicate — content, reframed to address the specific concerns of a portion of your target audience. Continuing with the example of a personal injury firm, the firm will provide much the same legal services for an injured person who was struck by a city bus as for an injured person struck by a car. However, the prospective client who found the firm's website by searching for “bus accident lawyer” or “Can I sue the city if I was hit by a bus?” should arrive at a subpage that presents the firm as the preeminent authority on bus accident lawsuits, answering specific questions that the client will have about that situation. The firm does not appear authoritative on that subject if the user sees only a one-size-fits-all webpage on legal services for accident victims and a line of text indicating that the firm handles bus, bicycle and pedestrian accidents as well.
One question your content team should constantly be asking themselves is, How are we distinguishing the firm's website from every other law firm out there? When there are dozens of law firm websites going after the same target audience, how can your firm rise to the top? This is a question that needs to be addressed with regard to every type of online content produced, and especially for the firm's subpages that address a specific legal problem. This is the firm's chance to say, on one page, “Here's what we've got for you.” If what you've got does not look any different from what anyone else is offering, that is a problem.
The answer to how the firm can distinguish itself is not surprising: provide better content. In terms of subpages that address a specific legal problem, the way to make content better is often to provide more: more facts and more specific answers to client concerns. There is a systematic way to go about doing this, known as the skyscraper technique. When you look at a city skyline, the tallest buildings are the ones that stand out. People remember the tallest skyscrapers, while the merely tall just blend in with all the others. To apply this perspective to webpages, look at the top results for a search term you are targeting and take note of what makes their content great. Then direct your content team to do better. Take your content over the top in terms of quality and comprehensiveness. Google's algorithm does its job well: the website that provides the most comprehensive answers to people's questions will rise in the rankings.
Questions are in fact one of the most common types of search terms, and we are not talking about simply, “Where can I find a lawyer?” Often, prospective clients will have several intermediary questions before they even decide whether they are looking for a lawyer. Can I sue my doctor? Do I need a power of attorney? What is the statute of limitations in my situation? If your firm is the one providing comprehensive answers to specific questions, then you accomplish several goals. You will drive traffic to the firm's website through search results, you have succeeded in presenting the firm as experts, and when people researching their legal issues decide it is time to hire an attorney, they are much more likely to hire the firm that has already assisted them with their research.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) need not be lengthy. It is a much better strategy to target many different questions with concise answers than to address a few questions with long answers. Short answers to multiple questions allows you to target specific search terms, which are often in the form of a question. Answers to FAQs should be as specific as possible, providing the hard facts that people are looking for, not bland pronouncements. Some firms may purposely offer only vague answers on their website and recommend that the website user to call for a consultation. The intention behind this choice is clear, but it may backfire. Clients who want a more specific answer will simply keep searching until they find one, and that means moving on to another firm's website.
Whether you call it a Blog or a Recent News section, a portion of your firm's website should be dedicated to more timely content, and it should be updated often. Recent updates make it clear to both search engines and prospective clients that the firm is up to date with relevant news, which may include changes to the law in the firm's practice area or news about recent cases. A blog or news section that has not been updated recently is the equivalent of darkened windows: Prospective clients may well wonder, Is this place still open?
So what should blog posts contain? Certainly news about verdicts and settlements in your firm's practice area, relevant lawsuits that have been filed and changes in the law that affect your practice area are all relevant. Reporting on these items sends the message that your firm is well informed about the current state of the law. Blog posts can also include opinion articles from the point of view of the firm's attorneys, commenting on law and politics in a way that is relevant to clients' interests. All of these topics will do the job of presenting an online image of the firm as knowledgeable and current. But a blog can go further. An attorney who does a lot of public speaking may also want to do a lot of writing for the firm's blog. When a group is looking for a speaker or a reporter is looking for an attorney to comment on a legal story, having many examples of the attorney's writing available online will help them find your firm.
Another way blog posts can be more creative is to focus on non-legal topics that are nevertheless of interest to your prospective clients. This is where your detailed definition of the various groups within your target audience can be used to the firm's advantage. An elder law firm may be seeking the business of people who want to establish power of attorney or guardianship for their elderly parents. Blog posts can focus on this group's other relevant interests, such as Alzheimer's research, caretaker support groups, safety for seniors in the home and many other such topics. In this way, your firm's blog may do more than just give an authoritative appearance — it may gain actual readers.
One way your firm can stand out is to develop multimedia content. Presenting information in a different medium will often distinguish your firm from the competition simply because you are the only ones doing it. Two formats that have significant potential are videos and infographics.
Some types of information, such as how to perform home repairs, naturally lend themselves to the video format, because it is simply easier to understand when you can watch someone do it. Legal information is not inherently visual in this way, but presenting information in video form can still be a good move for law firms, for two reasons. First, there are internet users who simply prefer information in that format. Just as some will always prefer to read an article if given the choice, others will always prefer to click on a video. If yours is the only firm answering a specific question in video form, you will attract that prospective client. The second reason to consider video is that it can have a positive impact with search engines. For some search terms, a relevant video will be featured prominently in the search results, even if the user is not searching specifically for videos. Also, creating a YouTube channel for the firm provides one more platform for the firm's content. The firm's videos should be professionally produced, and may feature one of the firm's attorneys answering relevant legal questions. Rather than one long interview, a good strategy is to present short clips that answer questions prospective clients may have. The titles of the clips will then correspond to relevant search terms.
Infographics are another medium that can deliver great results for law firms. An infographic is an image, often in a long vertical format, that presents factual information in an eye-catching way, using powerful graphic design. Infographics should be produced by a professional graphic designer, using information provided by the firm. Facts should be checked and sources cited with care. One of the great advantages of infographics is that people actually enjoy having useful information presented in an attractive, easily digestible form, and they will tend to spread such images far and wide on their own. An infographic should feature the firm's name, logo and website address prominently, and it should make clear that people are encouraged to share the graphic online and provide a link back to the firm's website.
Press Releases, Guest Blogs and Other Off-Site Content
Your firm's marketing team will not only be developing content to be published on your website. Press releases about the firm's achievements or that feature the firm's attorneys commenting on the legal issues of the day, should be distributed to the press and to distribution networks for off-site publication. In addition, the firm's attorneys may want to contribute guest blogs for publication on the websites of prominent organizations connected to the firm's practice area. This serves the dual purpose of establishing the firm's attorneys as experts and providing a valuable link from a highly-ranked website to the firm's site.
In terms of content, press releases can be prepared according to long-established standards, and guest blogs can cover much the same types of material as blogs that are published on the firm's website. The important thing to remember with off-site content is that it should not be duplicated on the firm's website, as duplicate content will earn a penalty from Google and devalue both websites where the content is published. Online content must always be unique.
Social Media Content
One reason your firm should have a strong social media presence is simply because that is where the eyeballs are. Many prospective clients encounter law firms through social media, and the firm should have a conscious approach to developing its social media profile. Much of that profile will include posting on Facebook and Twitter with links to recent additions to the firm's website, such as a new blog post. However, the firm may also choose to create content specifically for publication in social media.
Developing content for social media allows the firm's content team some freedom, as it is a more casual context where the firm and its attorneys can be presented with a more human, everyday tone. At the same time, the content team should be aware of potential pitfalls. Each social media world has its own culture, and the firm should be careful to strike the right tone. Many businesses engaging in social media activity appear spammy, which could damage the firm's brand. Make sure that the content team is familiar with the platform in which the firm intends to participate, and knows how to participate in the right way.
Producing high-quality online content costs money, and the firm will need to be able to measure results to determine the most cost-effective content strategy. That means identifying specific goals where progress can be measured.
Of course, the ultimate goal is more business for the firm, but this can be broken down into specific objectives that different types of online content are intended to produce. One of the major advantages of online marketing is that user activity creates data, so progress toward goals can be measured easily.
The goal of a subpage on the firm's website dealing with a specific legal topic may be to convert the reader into a lead, either through engagement with a chat function or by making a call. For an underperforming page, the goal may be simply to lower the bounce rate. These goals are easily measurable through tools like Google Analytics, and this allows for experiments with different ways of presenting content.
If the firm commits to developing a certain number of FAQ pages, the goal may be to increase traffic to the firm's website by a certain percentage. Using traffic analysis tools, it will be easy for your website development team to measure not only progress toward that goal, but exactly which types of content are helping to achieve it.
The goal of guest blogs, press releases and other off-site content may be to produce a certain number of high-value backlinks in a certain amount of time. This in turn will be reflected in the firm's position on search engine results pages for specific terms, which is an important measure of the success of the content strategy overall.
Social media activity can have its own objectives, and platforms like Facebook provide their own analytical tools to help you gain insight into whether the firm is achieving its goals with that type of content.
Strengthening the Strategy
It is not uncommon for a law firm to start publishing content without an editorial plan, much less a comprehensive content strategy. Even if there once was a strategy, it may have been forgotten as the content team fell into a rhythm of producing the same type of content over and over, with a lessening regard for the target audience or measurable objectives. Whether it is for the first time or as a reexamination, a top-down review of the firm's content strategy will help to focus the firm's resources on meeting specific goals.