Some Thoughts on Effective Legal Web Content


Free: 10 Things the Best Law-Firm Website Designs Have in Common

For seven years, Lawyerist has published an annual list of the best law firm websites. Now, you can find out what they have in common.

If you’re marketing and managing your website and online reputation, you’ve probably read somewhere that “content is king.” And while it’s true that the quality of your content is probably the single most important component of any marketing campaign (both on and offline), developing effective effective web content is more easily said than done. So how do you go about developing great content?

Web Content Is More Than Just Words

While historically, the web was comprised mostly of pages containing words, in a matter of a few short years, Internet content has completely evolved. It now comes in a wide variety of visual and aural forms that may include, among other things: text, images, sounds, videos and animations.

When you’re setting out to develop your own web content, or working with a content developer, you should keep these different forms of web content in mind. There are huge opportunities in the online legal space for attorneys that are willing to embrace these different content types. Everyone uses text. Some lawyers are getting more savvy with developing professional videos. Very few are effectively using infographics. Even fewer are developing helpful tools for their users.

Think about how much more visitor engagement you could get if your site contained a tool or calculator that actually helped your visitors solve a problem or perform some standard computation that’s relevant to your field. Further, this is the type of web content that attracts links and social shares. Which is the natural way the web is interlinked and the way to get search engines to chase you.

Web Content of the People, by the People, and for the People

Ed Fry has a great post on developing web content on the SEOmoz Blog:

We consume content to solve problems, be entertained and to satisfy curiosity.

When you set out to develop content, it’s essential to remember that it’s for people! Do people want to read your regurgitation of a local news story? No. Are you helping your visitors by spinning an article from some crappy article directory? No. Are you building trust with your visitors by creating resource pages on your website that exchange links with hundreds of other legal websites? No.

While all of these things may or may not help you with your visibility in search engines (WARNING: depending on how you implement them, some of these techniques may actually violate search quality guidelines and end up hurting your search visibility), none of them does absolutely anything for your visitors in terms of helping them solve a problem, answer a question, or even to entertain them (although I have seen some pretty entertaining article spinning).

Plus, none these “content strategies” will attract new links or social shares. Meaning, that any SEO value that it might have had in 2003 is likely very small, if it exists at all, today.

Here’s what Google’s SEO voice, Matt Cutts, has to say on developing web content:

1) The utility of an article is paramount. If you write 2000 words about mortgage loans and never discuss the industry landscape or impart some useful, concrete knowledge to your reader, that should set off a warning flag in your head. So use this advice only for good (high-quality articles), not for evil.
2) Be sure to study your niche. I just spent 10-15 minutes to tackle the “default printer in Linux/Firefox/Mozilla” space. Is that niche worth writing an article about? Well, it was for me, because I was looking for this information myself. In general, any time you look for an answer or some information and can’t find it, that should strike you as an opportunity.

But the larger point is that if you put in time and research to produce or to synthesize original content, think hard about what niches to target. My advice is not to start with an article about porn/pills/casinos/mortgages–it’s better to start with a smaller niche. If you become known as an expert on (say) configuring Linux or hacking gadgets, you could build that out with things like forums to create even more useful content. Look for a progression of niches so that you start out small or very specific, but you can build your way up to a big, important area over time.

Remember that it is people who are the important “things” consuming your content, not search bots. And people use the web to find interesting, useful, and helpful things.

Also, develop your content to get your visitors involved with it. Encourage discussion. Pose a question. Spark a debate. The more the people that visit your site contribute to your content development by commenting, sharing, and linking, the more effective your content will be in building your professional reputation online.

And love him or hate him, Mahalo founder Jason Calcanis, in my humble opinion, has a very accurate definition of where the web is heading:

Web 3.0 is defined as the creation of high-quality content and services produced by gifted individuals using Web 2.0 technology as an enabling platform.

Winning the future on the web is all about high-quality content.

So How Do You Do It?

Now that I have concluded my diatribe, I will attempt to eat my own dog food, and provide some useful tips on developing effective content:

  1. Listen! – What are the people that you want to find your site looking for? What questions do they have? What problems are they trying to solve? What issues are they researching? You can’t provide useful web content answers if you don’t know the questions.
  2. Be Unique – Look at what your competitors are doing and be different. In other words, be yourself. That’s one thing that no matter how hard your competition tries to do they just won’t be as good at it as you are (at least in theory). Let your personality shine through. There are some legal blogs out there that survive almost entirely on snark. While I don’t advocate this for everyone, if that’s who you are, and that’s what’s worked for you, don’t avoid it. You simply can’t please all of the people all of the time. In my experience, being yourself up-front is better than trying to be someone else. No one likes a phony (including Google).
  3. Commit – Of course developing good content is hard. Of course it takes time. Most things of value do. Your visitors know this. Search engines know this. Make small investments in content development up front. Practice. Get better. Learn what works. Stop doing what doesn’t.
  4. Diversify –  Are you already a prolific blogger? Great! Try something new. Develop an infographic. Produce a video. Publish a whitepaper. Try new web content ideas. While great writing is obviously very important, it’s one-dimensional. Different content will appeal to different audiences.
  5. Get Help – Are you a horrible writer? Do you have absolutely no design or technical skill? No problem. The world is tiny. There are literally huge communities of talented people that are fantastic at developing content. Does that mean outsourcing social media & blog post writing to people that don’t speak your native tongue, let alone know you? Of course not. But there are editors. There are graphic designers. There are video producers. Partnering with these people and communicating your content messages with their help can have a shocking impact on the effectiveness of your web presence.

Need some examples?

Casey Anthony Trial Infographic

Via Orlando Family Law Attorney DeWitt

Now I leave it to you to decide for yourself whether this infographic is useful, in poor taste, or as one commenter noted on the Orlando Sentinel, “revving-up red-meat reaction to sensational news” (not to mention that it’s published by a family law firm and not a criminal defense lawyer).

If that example doesn’t appeal to you, here are some more quick examples to consider:

Of course, just like everything else that you do both on and offline,  your web content is subject to your state’s rules of professional responsibility. Regardless of how vague, arcane, and unworkable your rules may be, you must keep them in mind, but not be paralyzed by them.

Okay, admittedly some of these might not be the best fit for you law firm website or blog, but you get the idea. So what do you think? Do these other forms of web content have a place on legal websites and blogs? Have you tried any of these web content strategies? Have they resonated with your visitors?



Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Thank you for this thorough overview and insightful posting! The idea of infographics is most definitely something I will be discussing with my web production and editorial staff after reading this information. We have recently shifted our focus from content production to SEO, keywords, and other aspects of online profiling, but this has given me several great ideas to discuss with them how we can make our online presence more 3-dimensional and appealing to various audiences.

    One thing we’ve tried that has worked immensely is something you mention – filling the need of potential clients! My staff has reported to me several times that if they can’t find the information they’re seeking quickly and efficiently, then it means our potential clients are having the same difficulty and it’s time to focus on producing that content to fill that niche and solve the dilemma for everyone. Filling a need is a key part of marketing, and predicting the needs of people can often be best investigated by attempting to fill those needs for yourself.

    • Wade-

      You’re right on the money. Fill the needs of your audiences. Make something that makes people want to share it and say wow (borrowed from Rand Fishkin).

      The truth is that whether it’s an infographic, a video, a whitepaper, or just regular text, the sites that will “win” are those that give their visitors what they’re looking for.

      If you think about it, it makes sense. That’s exactly what search engines are continually evolving to do.

  • Joel Leppard

    Great article. I actually used to work with Moe DeWitt, I think when the Casey Anthony trial was going on. The DeWitt firm does actually practice criminal law and many of the lawyers at the firm are former public defenders. It’s not like it takes a rocket scientist to determine the possible charges, elements of the crimes and maximum possibles sentences. Anyways, thanks for the post, very helpful.