Where Every Law Firm Should be Publishing Their Content

BY Brendan Conley

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Law firms seeking to connect with potential clients online know that publishing useful and intriguing content is indispensable. Blog posts, press releases, FAQs and articles are how firms engage and inform readers while also delivering the underlying message of their attorneys’ expertise in their field. One question that naturally arises is where to publish.

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The easy answer is on the firm’s website, and it is true that the firm’s own site should be packed with content. Usually a law firm will use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to call attention to recently published pieces. However, Facebook and certain other sites also lend themselves to publishing pieces directly on those platforms: so-called distributed content. Is this something law firms should be doing?

To understand the significance of distributed content, we can look to the experience of newspapers, which have undergone a series of changes so absolute that the word “newspaper” is becoming obsolete. News organizations, still reeling from the decline of print advertising and struggling to find a sustainable financial model for online news delivery, have been hit with the new challenge of distributed content, also known as off-platform publishing.

News outlets cannot avoid Facebook’s outsized role in delivering eyeballs. According to Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of adults in the U.S. use Facebook, with about half of them – 30 percent of the general population – getting news there. This outstrips YouTube, where 10 percent of Americans get news, and Twitter, on which eight percent of Americans find news stories.

News organizations, already wary of Facebook’s growing power, were recently presented with a new twist. The social media giant, noticing that news websites can be clunky on mobile devices, had a helpful idea: why not just publish news articles directly on Facebook instead of, for instance, washingtonpost.com? The readers are already on Facebook anyway, and the social network could deliver a smoother reader experience, while sharing advertising revenue with the news outlet. What could go wrong?

Many publishers have reacted coolly to Facebook’s proposal, noting that moving news from the open Internet to Facebook’s walled garden raises multiple red flags regarding journalistic integrity, editorial control and good business sense.

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Other publishers are already on board. NowThis, a news startup that produces compelling and informative videos, has no content on its own website, just links to its social media accounts, where all of its videos are published directly. Buzzfeed, the former king of clickbait, is not as focused these days on luring visitors to its website. The media company has 20 employees who create distributed social media content that never appears on buzzfeed.com.

Publishers who have embraced off-platform publishing may reasonably argue that if the content is reaching readers and advertisers are paying, what difference does it make which website it appears on?

Law firms don’t face the same existential crisis that newspapers do, but they still must make choices about where to publish content. Those decisions should be part of a plan designed to connect the greatest number of prospective clients with the firm, and creating such a strategy requires some hard thinking.

Take the typical blog post. Let’s say, “Know Your Rights If You Are Arrested.” Written by the firm’s marketing team and reviewed by an attorney, it is designed to draw the reader’s interest and provide useful information while delivering the real message: these attorneys know the law and they can help.

The firm publishes the blog post on its own website, shares it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, readers Like or Retweet it, and future clients are thereby introduced to the firm. The blog post also has search engine optimization (SEO) value. Thousands of people are Googling, “What are my rights if I am arrested?” and the more useful the firm’s content is, the more likely those users are to be directed to the firm’s website, creating a cycle that helps boost the post’s overall ranking in search engine results. The next time someone Googles “criminal defense lawyer” in the area, the firm’s website may have moved up a notch in the results pages.

Now consider this. Many of the people who hit the Like or Retweet button never read the article and never visit the firm’s website. They read the excerpt, agree that the information may be useful, and pass it on. This obviously limits the usefulness of the piece. Is distributed content a better solution? In other words, would a piece written by the law firm’s marketing team and posted directly on Facebook be more likely to be read and shared, leading to more engagement with the firm by prospective clients?

Clearly, writing for other platforms has its place. As part of a law firm’s marketing plan, attorneys may write a column for the local newspaper (even the print edition!) or a guest blog post on a website that is popular with a pool of potential clients. Since Facebook is popular with almost everyone, occasionally publishing original posts directly on the platform makes sense. A great advantage of all online publishing is that detailed data regarding readership and engagement is readily available, and decisions about where to publish should be driven by this data. The success of different content delivery methods is in large part measurable.

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Does this mean that law firm websites will go the way of news outlets that publish only distributed content? Could law firms follow the same logic, accepting that users might read a post on Facebook, visit the firm’s Facebook page, and then send a Facebook message or call the office seeking representation, all without ever visiting the firm’s actual website?

The answer to that question is in the data for each individual firm. If Facebook or any other social media outlet generates leads for a firm, then it makes sense to develop that presence.

However, Facebook itself emphasizes individuals over institutions in its News Feed algorithm, which can be an obstacle for a firm trying to reach users. And there are several other reasons to believe that for most law firms, websites will remain more important than social media presence. Most of these reasons have to do with another giant of Silicon Valley: Google.

People use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and share news, information and funny cat videos. Occasionally, they use it to search for things they need, even legal services. But much more often, people who need an attorney will turn to Google or another search engine.

A recent FindLaw survey found that people in need of a lawyer are now more likely to search on the Internet than to ask a friend or family member, and a survey conducted by Moses & Rooth found that people were ten times more likely to use a search engine than a social network to find an attorney. Moreover, prospective clients are using the Internet not just to find an attorney but to do their own research. A friendly Facebook page may engage users, but a comprehensive, professional website will convince researchers to become clients.

Creating and maintaining a superior website has a dual purpose: persuading readers, and placing the website in front of those readers in the first place, by getting it to the top of search engine results pages.

Research shows that 91 percent of searchers do not look beyond the first page of search results. People who have the specific goal of comparing several different businesses may dive deeper, but clearly being on page one is the goal.

And here is an often-overlooked fact: there is no evidence that social media activity helps with search engine results at all. The details of Google’s algorithm are secret, which leads many people to speculate about how social signals may or may not affect search results, but Google itself has said that Facebook likes and Twitter followers do not matter. Yes, social media activity can result in increased traffic to the firm’s website, and increased traffic looks good to search engines, but why not get that increased traffic directly from the search engines themselves? And the way to do that is to publish high-quality content directly on the firm’s website.

So while some traditional publishing outlets may get swallowed by social media, law firm websites will not. Off-platform publishing has its place, but building the firm’s own website remains paramount.
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Brendan Conley

Brendan Conley is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and legal content developer for law firms throughout the United States.

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