Tips for making blog content more compelling

Many law firms offer blog sections on their websites, but even a casual survey shows that these tend to be the least loved areas of an otherwise informative site. Posts may have last been updated a year ago or longer, or there's the same "coming soon" message that's been there since the site was built.

Some firms choose to make their blogs into a series of press releases instead of blog posts, focusing on recent hires, for example, or litigation success.

While these are noteworthy and should be covered, blogging has come a long way since its early days of online fluff, and now content strategy and management is in full bloom. Using a blog section as a lackluster digital bulletin board - or worse, as nothing at all - misses some major opportunities to connect with clients, emphasize a firm's brand and mission, attract new clients, and even buoy staff morale.

"Blogs act as the voice of the brand," says Martha McCarthy, co-founder of The Social Lights, a Minneapolis-based firm specializing in social media and digital marketing. "They're more personal than Web copy, and tend to be more updated. They allow readers to get a look into the insights and personalities of a company."

Whether a firm is starting from zero or trying to remake a blog into a more compelling section, here are some tips that can help:

Start with a vision: Simply throwing posts up at random doesn't work, because for blogs to be effective, a firm needs to have consistency and a regular schedule that will entice readers to keep returning. Unfortunately, many firms find that the job of creating content gets punted around, without a clear plan and a content calendar.

If a firm has limited internal resources in terms of time or writing management, there are many freelance content writers and agencies that can step in. But before hiring on, sit down and map out what kind of content you want, how often you expect to update it, and any goals that are involved. For example, a firm might want to increase recruiting, which would lead to blogs about a firm's culture and people. Drawing more clients might lead to blogs that give insight on specific topics, setting up the firm as a thought leader in a certain industry.

Focus on ideas, not announcements: Many companies, including law firms, focus on blogs as a way to sell, which leads to content that sounds promotional rather than insightful. This approach simply doesn't work well, says David Gee, principal at Edina-based G-Force Communications. "Blogs are meant to be conversation starters," he says. "They create community, and should be written with the reader in mind. Think about what's in it for them, not for you."

Even though a blog will have effects for the firm, such as increased brand recognition, for example, the content should still be focused on being relevant and useful for readers. For instance, a firm specializing in personal injury law might feature posts that cover what to do after an accident, what to expect during a lawsuit, or trends in personal injury cases. That type of content gets shared with a broader audience, as opposed to an announcement about a recent court win. Press releases are fine to include if they get sprinkled in, but if a firm is only broadcasting this kind of content, the section should be changed to "news" instead of "blog."

Market the content: In the digital age, the cinematic advice of "if you build it, they will come" doesn't apply. Just having a blog section rich with great content isn't enough - a firm needs to draw people toward reading and sharing the content.

As part of a larger online strategy, a content plan should include at least sharing the blog links through Twitter and LinkedIn. If the firm has a sizeable Facebook following, the posts should be included there as well. Most effective tends to be a regular firm email newsletter, sent to clients and prospective clients. These can go out twice a month, and feature short descriptions of recent blog posts along with links.

Creating content that's compelling and easily shared can help a firm in numerous ways, from drawing new associates to providing relevant information for clients. Revamp that "coming soon" section of a website into an area that's rich with possibilities.

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Elizabeth Millard has been writing about technology for 20 years. Her work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld. She attended Harvard University and formerly served as senior editor at ComputerUser.

Published: Thu, Apr 23, 2015