If you’re like most attorneys that we work with, you don’t just want content that informs and enlightens your audience. Sure, those things are important, but if you’re paying for content or spending your valuable time to write it, you want to create content that converts — meaning it turns leads into real, tangible cases.
Of course, getting there is easier said than done — especially when it comes to legal blogging, which has to walk a fine line between being approachable and being technical. To help, we’ve laid out the four steps that can help you evaluate your current legal marketing content and see whether it follows the best practices that can move readers to take the plunge and choose you to handle their legal issue.
1. K.I.S.S. — Keep It Simple, Smart Guy
One rule for conversion-oriented writing that almost every marketing expert agrees on is that your writing should be clear and simple. Experts say that you should aim to write for a 10- to 13-year-old audience if you want to create content that really drives conversions.
In general, this translates to everyday language and short paragraphs, but it doesn’t mean that you need to publish copy that’s dumbed-down. If you haven’t interacted with a fifth-grader in a while, they can actually understand quite a lot (which, if memory serves, is the idea behind a popular game show). And if your content can’t hold the attention of a 12-year-old, at least through the initial paragraphs (where you should be front-loading your most important points), you’re probably not writing clearly enough to maximize your conversions.
One tool that can help you determine your content’s reading level is the Fleisch-Kincaid scale, which is designed to measure the difficulty of a given passage to read and understand, then assign it a score that indicates the passage’s readability. You can also use the score to figure out the approximate educational reading level (5th grade, 8th grade, college-level, and so on) of your content.
Of course, the Fleisch-Kincaid scale has its detractors — but that’s a tangent for a different blog post. Just remember to treat it and any other readability scale as a guideline, not gospel. You can use this online tool to get the Fleisch-Kincaid (F-K) score (along with some other similar metrics) for a passage or piece of copy.
Of course, if I’m going to call on you to use these tools, I need to take my own medicine, as well. I ran this piece you’re reading through the same online readability assessment and got an F-K score of 62, good for an 8th-9th grade reading level.
On the other hand, I put in this blog article that I wrote a few weeks ago and got an F-K score of 14.6 (ouch), which translates to a college graduate reading level. Try comparing the two pieces yourself and see if you can sense the difference in readability.
2. Get to the Point
The second step is closely related to the first one. Just as you need to be clear and concise with your language, you have to be ruthless with your content’s structure. This holds true for all good writing but especially so for digital marketing content that’s intended to create conversions.
There’s an enormous amount of evidence to show that no matter how compelling or easy to read your blog article or web copy is, a certain segment of people — 5 to 10 percent or maybe more, depending on the context — will never scroll down past the fold (the point where the screen stops when the page first loads). This means that for a healthy portion of your audience, you’ve only got one chance to get them to convert, and it’s right at the top.
One tried-and-true story structure method that journalists have long used to hook readers with short attention spans is called the “inverted pyramid.” It involves putting the foundation of your content — the core bit of information that you’re weaving an article or piece of web copy around — at the top of the piece, then developing that idea with supporting information and additional facts as you move toward the bottom.
This way, readers who make it all the way through the piece will have a deep understanding of the issue you’re trying to break down. But even those fickle folks who tend to bounce without scrolling will at least grasp the one key takeaway you want them to know.
Legendary advertising executive David Ogilvy — often described as “The Original Mad Man” and “The Father of Advertising” — once said that five times as many people read the headline as the body copy of an ad, and the most up-to-date research regarding online content shows that he’s still right.
Recently, the editors at The New York Times pulled back their curtain to reveal some of the testing processes they use to evaluate headlines for their online articles. They found that headlines with a conversational tone and clear, powerful language — including precise facts and figures — can create big surges in traffic to a piece of content.
For example, in March of this year, the Times tested the following two headlines for the same article:
“Measuring Trump’s Media Dominance”
“$2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Trump”
Any guess as to which one did better?
The second headline created a 297% increase in readers compared to the first. According to the Times, these kinds of headline tweaks routinely create huge differences in traffic.
Of course, for certain types of stories, various offbeat headlines can work too: Puns and plays on words, teasers that tantalize, intriguing questions. Especially for a legal blog, though, you should avoid bait-and-switch headlines that don’t give the reader what your headline promises.
Instead, try to stick with direct, conversational headlines that make an instant impression. Then, you can hit them with your most important point and a fast call-to-action to leave an early and lasting impression.
3. A-B-C-I: Always Be Creating Images
Writing great marketing materials has always involved creating images and putting together a narrative for the reader. In the case of legal marketing content, though, this doesn’t necessarily have to involve lots of flowery language or poetic descriptions.
Instead, it just means that you need to apply some visual appeal so you can hook your audience, and so you can create a vivid story in their mind of what it’s like to work with you and how their legal issue will play out when you represent them.
The simplest way to do this, of course, is with actual images and video. The statistics that demonstrate how important pictures are to digital marketing content could make a mountain, so we’ll just pick a few off the pile:
• Researchers at Xerox found that colored visuals increased people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%.
• Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.
• When people hear information, they’re likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the information three days later.
Even though pictures are indispensable for online content, writing with the intent to create images in the reader’s mind can be powerful too — especially when it’s paired with real pictures that support those images.
For legal writing, this might involve describing a real-life or theoretical story that illustrates the concept you’re trying to talk about, or grabbing the reader’s attention up front with what content marketers call “power words” — colorful story-telling terms like “disastrous,” “startling,” and “instantly.”
Of course, we can’t talk about creating powerful language in a legal blog without touching on the passive voice. For whatever reason, attorneys seem to suffer a special plague of passive-voice writing. In other words, they write about things being done by people, not people doing things.
For example, a lot of attorneys tend to write like this:
A lawsuit was filed by the plaintiff. (passive)
Instead of writing like this:
The plaintiff filed a lawsuit. (active)
I could go into all sorts of speculation as to why this is — perhaps they think it sounds authoritative or scholarly? — but that’s really not important here. What you do need to know is that the passive voice is the opposite of powerful, conversion-oriented writing: it creates a bleak world of people being driven by their actions instead of an exciting one of people making choices.
Don’t just take it from me, either. In his memoir and writers’ manual On Writing, best-selling author Stephen King devoted a special section to waking up writers who stay stuck in the passive voice. With 350 million books and untold millions of movie tickets sold from his work, King probably knows a thing or two about creating content that converts.
“The timid fellow writes ‘The meeting will be held at seven o’clock’ because that somehow says to him, ‘Put it this way and people will believe you really know,’” King writes. “Purge this quisling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write ‘The meeting’s at seven.’ There, by God! Don’t you feel better?”
4. Use Jargon Sparingly
Legal jargon is a double-edged sword for an attorney’s or law firm’s blog: Cut it out completely and you risk seeming unprofessional — people expect a certain amount of learnedness from their attorney, after all. On the other hand, too much legalese can choke a blog like waist-high weeds, making it look boring, ugly, and intimidating to an average person.
One good rule of thumb that can help you figure out where to cut down on jargon is to ask yourself: “Can I replace this term to a reasonable degree of accuracy and with relative ease by using everyday language?”
For example, here are a few terms that could be considered “legal jargon” that you’ll find in frequent use on the legal blogs we create for our clients. Sometimes we’ll define these terms in a piece of content if we think it’s needed, but other times we assume the reader can figure them in context or look them up.
Either way, these terms put fairly complex concepts into concise terms, and explaining them through plainspoken language often ends up creating wordier sentences and bogging down written content.
Litigation > the process of taking legal action, conduct of a lawsuit
Negligence > failure to exercise reasonable care
Lien > debt-related claim against property/funds
Damages > the amount of loss suffered that can be recovered in a lawsuit
Liability > responsibility for damages
On the other hands, here are some examples of jargon that you won’t generally find in our work. We avoid these terms because the average person won’t immediately understand them, and because the core concept can easily be explained with a few everyday words — at least to a degree that’s precise enough for an informative article (remember, your legal blog doesn’t have to hold up in court!).
Tort > harmful act
Tortfeasor > wrongdoer, defendant, negligent person
Litigant > plaintiff, defendant
Continuance > postponement, delay
Disclaim > deny
And while we’re on the topic of legal jargon, remember that to a general audience, every phrase in Latin pretty much translates to the same thing: “stop reading now.” Latin may live on in legal documents, but it’s better left in the dustbin when you’re blogging for the general public.
LaFleur Legal Marketing
Of course, these tips are just the beginning when it comes to creating content that drives conversions, and even if you do apply them, it takes time and care to do it right. If you’re ready to create leads and conversions through better content but don’t have the time or in-house resources to maintain your own blog, contact the legal content professionals at LaFleur today by calling (888) 222-1512 or completing the brief form on this page.
We’re ready to show you just how much a full-service legal marketing partner can do for your business.
Bulik, M. (2016, June 13). Which headlines attract most readers? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/13/insider/which-headlines-attract-most-readers.html
Hangen, N. (n.d.). David Ogilvy’s 7 tips for writing copy that sells. KissMetrics. Retrieved from https://blog.kissmetrics.com/david-ogilvy/
King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft (pp. 122-124). New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lee, K. (2014, February 7). 189 powerful words that convert: write copy that gets your customer’s attention every time. Buffer Social. Retrieved from https://blog.bufferapp.com/words-and-phrases-that-convert-ultimate-list
Mawhinney, J. (2016, January 13). 37 visual content marketing statistics you should know in 2016. HubSpot. Retrieved from http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy#sm.0000zr0qyzndudgrwhm1j8n92bg55
Manjoo, F. (2013, June 6). You won’t finish this article. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/06/how_people_read_online_why_you_won_t_finish_this_article.html
Saleh, K. (2016, June 5). 13 surprisingly effective tips for conversion-oriented content. Content Marketing Institute. Retrieved from http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/06/tips-conversion-content/