March 31, 2004
Online Presence: Considering Blogs Instead of Web Sites
I posted this today in response to a sole practitioner's query on the ABA Lawtech list. He wanted to develop a simple web presence with the ability to expand in the future. He needed easy-to-use software as he preferred to do it himself, and did not have significant time to invest. To him, the cost of the software is less significant than his time in implementing it.
I just had a number of solo and small firm attorneys ask me virtually identical questions at Techshow, so I thought I'd reproduce my response here:
If you don't have any web presence yet, and can devote several hours per week to providing content updates (as opposed to spending a lot of it on web formatting for the initial design and on each content update), then seriously consider a blog format.
Check out the TypePad service. It's based on the popular Movable Type technology, without all of the hardcore techie hassles of most other blog systems. The blog design tools are all web-based, so you make the layout and design selections through your browser (e.g., choosing a 2-column vs. 3-column design, which content section goes where, colors, etc.). I recommended TypePad to a colleague when it was first released. He signed up one evening and showed me his finished blog the next day -- it was that easy. Implementation time is very little with TypePad in comparison to many other services and tools.
TypePad is a hosted service that has several service levels so you choose the amount of needed features you need for the price. If you have a registered domain name for your firm, I'm pretty sure that TypePad will let you point it towards their service, so you have a professional-looking URL. It's also chock-full of blogging features.
Lastly, the main reasons I mention a blog is that it really amounts to guerrilla marketing for solos for the following reasons:
1) Search Engines Love Blogs:
Search engines like Google give much higher results ranking to sites having (a) frequently updated content and (b) lots of inbound links from other web sites and blogs. Blogs meet these criteria big time. Bloggers love linking to other bloggers if they find the content compelling.
For instance, while your mileage may vary, a mere 5 weeks after releasing my blog, a search for Jeff Beard placed me at the number one hit in Google (I was already in the top 10 results within the first 2 - 3 weeks). Metatags don't matter much for some engines like Google, so I haven't even gotten around to adding any yet (although I should probably add them for other engines that may still use this method). But since most of the world loves and uses Google, it's not at the top of my blog To Do list.
2) Instant "Expertability":
If you feel comfortable posting new content several times a week about new developments in particular areas and topics (i.e., "The Niche"), you are perceived as being an expert on the subject almost overnight -- as long as your posts are professional and are reasonably reliable. Also, don't discount the social engineering factor of blogs. That is where the real presence power and results derive from. Blogs leverage what you know with who you know (or conversely, who knows you from your blog).
3) Super Easy Updating:
Posting content to a blog is very similar to being able to send an HTML-formatted e-mail. You fill out a few fields of text (subject, category, body, etc.), add in some light HTML formatting (web links, bold, underline, etc.), and click on Submit. Boom -- you're done for the day. The text gets automatically published to your blog in the exact look and feel you've pre-selected when you set up the blog.
4) RSS News Feeds = Extended Reach = Larger Audience = More Hits
I won't go into a long discussion of Really Simple Syndication other than to say it allows people to read more of your content in less time and with less effort than manually visiting each site on their daily or weekly mental list. It's a convenience and time management feature that appeals to an initially small percentage of the population, but which is growing at a good rate. Consider this: As people's list of sites in their aggregator is growing quickly, you want to be one of the first ones added so you're near the top of the heap. Early adopters have first mover advantages here.
5) Built-in Search and Content Management Features
Blogs are database-driven web sites. In other words, all of the textual posts on this blog are stored in a database on my web server. The blogging software automatically merges the appropriate text from the database with all of the web-formatted templates created when the blog was initially set up. Having a database on the back end also makes it very easy to search my prior content and categorize posts into one or multiple categories. These features are built into the better blogging systems. Likewise, my blog is set to display the last ten posts on the home page. When I post the eleventh item, the home page is automatically republished to remove the oldest prior post and add it to an archive page that is likewise categorized and fully searchable. Thus I don't have to lift a finger to move content in this fashion, and the cycle repeats for each post I make thereafter. The amazing thing is that this effective content management system is already included as a feature with some blog systems. I've seen law firms spend thousands of dollars on obtaining third party content management systems for their existing web sites. If you're starting from scratch on your web site, you just might want to take this into account.
Now with that said, blogging is not for everyone. If you just want a low-maintenance static or "brochure" web site (which in my humble opinion is of decreasing and limited value these days), and can't devote the time to post new things, then no one is going to visit your blog after the dust settles on it. Of course, don't expect people to return to your static web site either -- which is why I equate it to a simple phone book entry for the web, i.e., a placeholder. Content is King.
Likewise, if your public postings, comments, analysis, etc. can come back to bite you, then extra care is warranted. In a solo situation, you typically have much less of these concerns than if you were in a large firm or corporation -- but they could still exist in some situations.
If you'd like to see a good example of a small firm site leveraged by blogging, check out Erik Heels' site at http://www.lawlawlaw.com.
[Updated 04.01.04 to add section five on search and content management features.]