Many would-be legal bloggers start writing a blog without much thought except get business based on the recommendation of some marketing “expert.” This is a big reason why there are so many crappy, dead law blogs. Most are no great loss, just an archive of second-rate posts nobody wanted to read, anyway.

Because what you realize a few months after starting, say, the Nebraska Workers Compensation Law Blog, is that it doesn’t take long to write pretty much everything there is worth writing about injured workers’ rights. After that, you can write case law updates (like every other work comp firm does) and hope somebody cares, or you can let your blog die.

This sort of thing happens all the time, and it is why it makes sense to be a little more thoughtful when deciding what you want your blog to be about. (Note: If you are writing a blog for SEO reasons and it doesn’t bother you that nobody wants to read the crap you are publishing, feel free to stop reading at this point. This post will be lost on you.)

Blogs aren’t for marketing

First and foremost, blogs are a form of publication, not a tool for self-promotion. They are meant to be read. Successful bloggers build a readership; they don’t just write to attract search engine traffic (although the search engine traffic will usually come as a side benefit of having a lot of loyal readers).

It’s much easier to keep a blog going if you start with this in mind. Nobody wants to read marketing copy, and that’s what a blog is if you are just trying to attract search engines or convert clients from the few unfortunates who are unlucky enough to stumble across your tripe. Which means you won’t get much traffic, and you won’t have much motivation to keep writing. So you probably won’t.

Besides, even if marketing is your goal, there are better ways to do it than writing a blog, even if you write a good blog. It takes a lot of time to write a blog, and you won’t be certain it will pay off until it does—if it ever does. You could make better use of your time and money going out to lunch with people or managing an AdWords campaign.

Writing a blog post is a bit like giving a presentation. People attend if they think they will get something out of it. If you stand up in front of the audience and promote yourself, you will disappoint your audience, and none of them are likely to come to any more of your presentations. If you focus on being interesting and informative instead of marketing, your audience will think well of you. They will probably come back for more, and even though you aren’t promoting yourself, every member of the audience will be a potential referral source.

The key, in other words, is to get people to keep coming back. That means building a readership, not just attracting occasional browsers.

Attracting readers

Most people deal with a particular legal problem for a relatively short period of time, which is why you should not write a [practice area] law blog. Your blog will only be interested to a relatively small subset of people who happen to be looking for answers to legal questions at a fairly small point in time. It’s like trying to hit a bullet with an arrow; even if you do connect, the interaction is over as soon as it starts.

Instead, resist your initial impulse to write a blog about [insert your specific practice area here]. Back up. Write for people who are likely to be interested in your specific practice area at some point, even if they aren’t right now. If you must think in terms of marketing, write for your potential clients before they become your potential clients, when they are just people looking for things they are interested in online. Gather an audience of as many people who might become your potential clients at some point.

For example, if you have that work comp firm, don’t start a workers compensation law blog. Start a blog for workers in the industries your best clients are likely to come from. Call it something interesting, and don’t put it on your law firm’s website. Don’t write too much about workplace injuries. Instead, write about salaries, union negotiations, industry changes, safety standards, technological innovations, and so on. Sprinkle in a few informational, search engine bait posts, but focus on writing great content above everything else.

Or, if you are a bankruptcy lawyer, write a blog about personal finance. If you are a business lawyer, write a newsy blog about local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. If you are a family lawyer, write a blog about strong marriages and parenting challenges. Hopefully you get the idea.

When you watch your site statistics, focus the number of returning visitors. That is the statistic that matters most, and the one you want to make grow.

Keep writing

It is a lot easier to write a blog for a well-defined group of people than it is to write a blog for a well-defined group of people who also happen to be looking for a lawyer at that particular moment. Even so, it is hard to keep a blog going, especially in the beginning.

Before you even think about starting a blog, ask yourself whether you are the kind of person who feels compelling to write, no matter how busy you are or what is going on in your life. If you aren’t that kind of person, you probably shouldn’t start a blog.

And no matter what you choose to write about, make sure you are passionate about it. You could write a blog about keyboard design, and if you were passionate about things like “clickiness” and key shapes, you could probably make it work for years. If you can find something you are passionate that intersects with the work you do as a lawyer, you’ve got a really good start.

Finally, no matter what, you aren’t likely to get much traffic at the start. This is normal. In the beginning, you will dream about having several dozen visitors a day, much less several hundred. Keep writing, commenting on other blogs, and directing people to yours. The audience will come as long as you publish great content that people want to read and share.