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The other day, Gyi and I were talking about law firm websites and law blogs, and whether lawyers ought to combine the two. I’ve come out strongly in favor of keeping blogs separate from websites, but many folks disagree with me just as strongly.

I’m not changing my mind about that, but Gyi thinks there is a third option: just start a blog, and don’t worry about the website. I agree.

Blogging is better for bringing in potential clients

A law firm website has one primary purpose: getting visitors to contact you. Websites also have secondary purposes like providing your address so people can find your office and mail things to you, but if there were no hope of getting clients by putting up a website, few would bother. On its own, though, a static website isn’t very good at attracting visitors, unless you are doing something else to bring them in, like advertising or hiring sketchy SEO consultants.

But what is it about a website that convinces people to call? Actually, I think most people who get to a law firm website just want to know whether you can help them, and if so, how to contact you. I’m not even sure people care about the first part. They just fill out the first contact form or call the first phone number they see. I haven’t practiced consumer law in over a year, but I still get several calls a week from people who want me to sue a debt collector or a landlord.

And that’s what has me convinced Gyi is right. I don’t have a website anywhere that says I sue debt collectors; all I have is a consumer law blog that talks a lot about debt collection and other consumer issues. But it doesn’t have my contact information. I even removed the little bio blurb at the end of my posts. The only indication I even write for Caveat Emptor is my grayed-out byline. I even run big, conspicuous ads for lawyers who actually do sue debt collectors. And still they call.

This is at least good anecdotal evidence that blogging is effective enough on its own. If you can do a good job blogging, you don’t have to have a website and spend a bundle on SEO. Just put your contact information in the sidebar, add a page about your practice, and that ought to do it.

Caveat emptor

I have gotten lots of business from my blog over the years, I have also had to sift through a lot of people who just want free advice, or who want to sue Jesus and President Obama for allowing a bird to take a dump on their shoulder while they walked under a tree. As Scott Greenfield often (and correctly) points out, social media and quality referrals don’t necessarily go together.

I also don’t know for sure whether my website still plays a role in those phone calls. My law firm website and my personal website, are found primarily by people searching for me by name. It is quite possible that they see my byline on Caveat Emptor, search for me to get my contact information, then call. Is it possible that they wouldn’t call if my phone number were in the sidebar of my blog, instead of on a separate website? Possibly, but I doubt it.

Using a blog as your main web presence

If you are going to take Gyi’s advice and use a blog as your primary web presence, I have a couple of ideas on how you ought to do it.

First, read this post, and don’t start a blog unless you (1) know what you are getting into, and (2) are willing to commit to it.

Second, make it a blog, not a law firm website. Ban sales pitches and prominent “hire me!!!” graphics. Give it a decent name (i.e., not San Dimas Personal Injury Law Blog), focus on generating great content, and forget about marketing. Marketing will happen on its own if you write great content that people want to read and link to and engage the blogosphere.

Feel free to use a darker color than I do for your byline, though. Maybe even include your picture and a bio blurb footer on your posts.

Include your phone number and a contact form in your blog’s sidebar, but not necessarily at the top. If people are willing to take an extra two or three steps to search for my phone number, they will certainly be willing to scroll down your blog a bit.

Put an About page on your blog (make sure readers can find it easily) and use it to describe your practice and (more importantly) the clients you want to represent. A big picture and a little biographical statement at the bottom of the page would be nice, too.

Step 3: profit!

If you can generate great content, and if you can do it consistently over time, you will end up with a great web presence, and it might even become a good, durable source of referrals.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelivelygirl/5261389796/)

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  • http://constructionlawva.com Christopher G. Hill

    I agree that a blog is a great source of information for potential clients. I also agree that it can generate business (though with an eye toward sorting out the stuff that is not profitable). I do think however that a website for the firm itself is a good thing to have if for no other reason than folks expect it. I started my blog pre-solo career and kept it going and it seems to be the best online source of business. I get a lot from word of mouth and other “real world” sources as well. I started a website using the same theme in WordPress and linked the two.

    I like having both and having them separate, but I can see your point. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • http://lasthonestlawyer.org/ Mike Ayotte

    Excellent article. I have both, but agree that a content driven blog is key.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    That’s weird. I have a blog, and yet nobody calls me to sue debt collectors. I must be doing it wrong. Nuts.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I didn’t know you wanted people to call you to sue debt collectors.

  • http://cooklaw.co Steve Cook

    From a SEO perspective, integration of the two on one subdomain allows the firm’s practice area pages (which are often “boring” because the copy is largely keyword-focused in order to display highly in the SERPs and which don’t naturally attract many inbound links as a result) to share and leverage the authority of the blog (which can be much more engaging and can garner many more natural, high-value links) and receive significant, qualified search engine-driven traffic.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Yes, but SEO doesn’t have much to do with getting people to call you once they get to your website. Nor does it necessarily have anything to do with informing visitors about the lawyer whose website they have landed on. It is less than half of the equation, at best.

      • http://cooklaw.co Steve Cook

        You’re right, it is only part of the equation. However, most of our conversions, and most of our conversions that become clients, are visitors that landed on our practice area pages and searched for the term “lawyer” or “attorney” + [practice area] as opposed to those that landed on our blog.

        • Gene

          Interesting… Sam, any comment on this?

          • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

            What sort of comment did you want?

            If his practice area pages are doing the work, then I don’t think his blog has much to do with anything.

  • Gene

    He’s integrating the blog to boost practice areas pages through authority deriving from high quality links (pointing to the blog) if I’m reading it right. Do you recognize this as a benefit or argue against it?

    • http://cooklaw.co Steve Cook

      Exactly.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      It’s a benefit if you’re all about SEO. As I said above, there’s more to marketing than SEO. And as I’ve written before, putting a law blog on a law firm website is dumb. Unless all you care about is SEO. Which is dumb.

      Blogs aren’t tools for boosting SEO. They are publications meant to be read. Can they be both? Sure. And they don’t have to be on the same domain to do it. In fact, the link juice you get from a blog on a separate domain is superior to the link juice you get from a blog on the same domain. But you’re much better off writing for people than writing for search engines.

      • http://cooklaw.co Steve Cook

        I don’t know that writing posts for people and search engines are mutually exclusive. Cogent, well reasoned analysis (which is what people are most interested when retaining a lawyer) works well for both.

  • Gene

    Thanks for your input Sam, it’s nice to see different views on the same issue.

  • http://cooklaw.co Steve Cook

    Sam and I simply define the concept of “blawging” (I actually hate that word though it does help to clarify the nature of the blog) differently. I think that both definitions have their merits.

    Frankly, I think it would be rewarding to write a blog like one of Sam’s, but I don’t think I have the personality to do so; I don’t like “inciting riots”. I am a boring transactional lawyer (a wife and 3 kids in the suburbs of Phoenix).

  • Jim Loxley

    It’s a difficult one and in my browsing around legal blogs, many lawyers are doing this already, particularly in the US. Less so in the UK, I think. It seems to very largely on the blog. Some legal blogs such as the Lawyerist are much more stand-alone publications were as are made as quick asides without such a refined angle.

  • http://www.forthepeople.co.uk Lloyd Green

    A very interesting debate, can see the arguments on both sides. We have gone for the combined approach, not just for traffic and seo but because people are increasingly not just looking at whether the firm can help them but also, who are the people in the firm, what do they write about, do they seem knowledgeable about the legal issue and do they write in plain English. Regular blogging offers these insights and in my view is better and more visisble when integrated with the site.