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Should I Pay for Search Engine Optimization? And How Much?

If you browse our list of digital marketing services here at LaFleur, you might notice that we don’t list search engine optimization (SEO) as one of them. Why don’t we offer SEO services when so many digital marketing agencies do?

Well, the answer is that we do offer SEO services — they’re just wrapped throughout everything we do. And in truth, offering SEO as a standalone service shows limited knowledge of what SEO really means — or, even worse, a desire to willfully deceive potential clients who don’t have a deep understanding of SEO.

To learn more about SEO and why it doesn’t make sense to treat SEO as a siloed, standalone service, keep reading.

What Is SEO and Why Does It Matter?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making your website more “findable” by Google’s algorithms. When Google finds your site, it shows up in a search engine results pages, meaning that more people get connected to your goods and services. While the nature of SEO practices has changed significantly over the past decade, the cornerstones of SEO remain content and keywords.

In the early, heady days of SEO, keywords were the only way Google understood whether a website was related to a search term. If your website used the phrase “tacos in Austin, Texas” in the title tag, headers, sub-headers, and body copy, Google understood that your website was about tacos in Austin, Texas, and would list your site as a result for those who searched that term. The more you used your desired keywords, the more likely your site was to show up early in Google results.

However, Google and its search algorithms have gotten smarter over time. Other factors now influence how web pages rank in search, and SEO as a keyword-based approach is only one of them.

RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: SEOoops! 8 Common SEO Myths, Debunked

Should Your Company Invest in SEO?

If you’ve never invested time, energy, or money in optimizing your website for search, you may be wondering if it’s time to do so now. You may have also been approached by marketing companies offering to “perform SEO” for you apart from any other services. When marketing companies frame SEO this way, it shows that either they don’t understand SEO or assume you don’t, and usually, the results will underwhelm you.

That said, there are some cases where certain standalone, one-off optimization services can actually help your site perform better in search, even if you don’t invest in other essential digital marketing strategies like content marketing. In general, one-time optimization makes the most sense when you have an older site with an existing library of content that simply needs updates to improve the user experience and compatibility with Google’s search algorithms.

Examples of standalone SEO services that can provide value for these types of sites are:

  • Making back-end improvements to your site that improve site performance, page loading times, and site security
  • Cleaning up your content to get rid of old, outdated blog articles and webpages that no longer receive meaningful traffic or provide relevant information
  • Reorganizing your site’s URL structure to be cleaner and more logical
  • Fixing or removing broken links
  • Adding on-page SEO elements like meta descriptions, alt tags, and headers (H1, H2, etc.) to pages that don’t have them
  • Adding images to pages and blog articles

If you wanted to purchase these types of service from LaFleur, we do offer them. They fall under our website builds, upgrades, and hosting service area.

Still, even though these updates can help improve your site’s performance in search engine results, it’s unlikely they’ll vault you to page one if your site wasn’t performing well already.

When You Pay for SEO Services, What Do You Really Get?

When it comes down to it, SEO in and of itself isn’t something you can buy. So, when marketing companies offer it as a service, what are you really getting? Often, the answer is:

  • Stuffing headers, body copy, and meta descriptions with keywords (an outdated practice that won’t work and can even get your site penalized by Google)
  • Obtaining backlinks to your site by requesting or purchasing them from other websites (another practice that Google frowns on)
  • Updated navigation (which may actually help a little, but probably not as much as you’re hoping based on what you’ve paid)

Overall, what do these services get you? At best, they may marginally improve your site rankings. At worst, your site becomes less user-friendly and inviting because it’s awkwardly stuffed with keywords, your Google ranking goes down as the functionality and usability are compromised, and you lose valuable leads. When you need your business to succeed online, these are less than favorable results.

RELATED ARTICLE: When Digital Marketing Plans Fail, Reboot for Success

What Should I Do to Boost Page Rankings?

According to Google itself, the single best way to improve your site’s performance in Google rankings is to publish original, high-quality content that your target audience finds helpful. In other words, the foundation of “SEO” is really content marketing.

A strong content marketing strategy should involve:

  • Filling your site with high-quality, original content (webpages, blog articles, infographics, videos, podcasts) that addresses topics your potential customers or clients want to know about
  • Regularly publishing new content
  • Researching keywords and including relevant keywords, but only when it’s natural to do so and doesn’t compromise the user’s experience
  • Updating old content to include more “evergreen” (perpetually relevant) information
  • Culling old, outdated, and ineffective content that isn’t worth updating

When you need to boost page rankings, your money is best spent investing in a holistic digital marketing strategy that’s designed to deliver sustainable results for the long term. While there are certainly cases where a one-time touch-up can improve your website’s performance in search, you should be wary of agencies that promise these fixes will continue to deliver results over time (unless they’re also attached to a long-term content strategy).

When You Need Reliable Results, Content Marketing Is Your Best Long-Term Investment

To get a website that performs well in search and delivers leads month after month, you need to play the long game. As much as we’d like to be able to deliver instant and massive results for our clients, we can’t, so we don’t promise that. There’s no way to make your site skyrocket to the first page of Google search results with a series of one-time fixes. Attaining lasting improvements in search engine performance and web traffic takes investment, commitment, and some patience.

If you don’t have a team of writers, editors, designers, web developers, and data analysts who can execute a data-driven content marketing strategy, don’t fret. That’s why LaFleur exists. We love working with clients to help them reach their marketing goals and make the best possible decisions. And we never offer quick fixes that won’t improve your business’ health in the long term.

LaFleur: Your Forward-Thinking Digital Marketing Partner

Here at LaFleur, we employ trained, certified SEO specialists who have the knowledge, skills, and experience to optimize your company’s website for search. And we approach all our services, from creating content to making website updates, with a holistic mindset that’s designed to make sure your website and digital marketing properties continue to attract and convert customers in the long term.

If your current website isn’t meeting your expectations, we can help! Call us at (888) 222-1512 or complete our online contact form and we’ll chat.

How and Why We Choose Our Blog Topics

Maintaining a great legal blog and coming up with targeted, relevant topics is no easy feat — and here at LaFleur, we manage many law firm blogs at the same time. So how do we juggle topic ideation for numerous blogs across a wide range of practice areas while maintaining the focused nature of the content, avoiding overlap between different clients, and generally keeping things fresh?  (more…)

Power Converters: 4 Steps to Creating Content that Drives Conversions

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.

References:

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/

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Content Marketing: Sponsored Journalism vs Advertorials

At LaFleur, the key to our marketing strategy has been and will continue to be the creation of strong, compelling content. Our editorial process begins with developing unique, insightful ideas that apply to individual clients’ practices and ends with posting well-researched, truly outstanding content that aligns with your law firm’s goals. We believe in marketing with you – not just for you.

A big part of that marketing effort is the creation of content for blogs that highlights your professionalism and expertise. In turn, this content – if it is researched and written well – creates an opportunity for cross publication in local or national periodicals or media. This content fuels new business, but it also engages your network of peers, your current and former clients, news agencies, and even your competitors.

Content like this can broadcast your firm’s success, credibility, and reputation as well as highlight the rankings and accolades of your firm and your team. Receiving third-party awards such as “Top Ten Personal Injury Attorney” provides an opportunity to create new content, distinguish you and your firm from your competition, and allow you to reach a broader audience.

There are many legitimate, professional ranking systems out there that involve things like being selected by a committee or requiring nominations from your peers. While you and your team’s accomplishments will draw in awards and higher rankings, our expertly written, well-edited legal content exponentially increases your visibility and keeps you in the minds of your peers, your clients, and the organizations who honor top lawyers and firms.

But what happens if you try to bypass all this?

Recently, Newsweek.com developed a section on their webpage that highlighted its “10 Best Personal Injury Attorneys 2014.” Labeled (in an inconspicuous, tiny font) as a “Sponsor Insight,” this page explains the value of personal injury attorneys and the role they play in restoring their clients’ lives and then lists the “Top 10” attorneys, complete with in-depth profiles.

We’re certainly not discounting the level of expertise of any of these attorneys. It’s clear from their credentials and reputations that they are competent lawyers who do win cases. However, the list itself is misleading. On the most basic level, “Sponsor Insight” is a tame, duplicitous way of saying that it is an advertorial. Mongoose Atlantic, the company managing this revenue-making machine for Newsweek, bills itself as “a publisher’s representative with a difference.” Their sparse website tosses out a lot of marketing buzzwords like “accountability” and “turn-key solution” while flashing their list of clients and their work in popular magazines like Time and Forbes.

What Mongoose Atlantic does is create ads. They may be well researched and nicely laid out, but they are indisputably advertisements. Brian Chasnoff of the San Antonio Express-News contacted Newsweek for his article on one of the personal injury attorneys featured, and Oliver Tree, a spokesman for Newsweek.com, confirmed “that’s actually an advertorial. It’s a paid piece.”

Even in a society that tends to value gold stars and ribbons for participation, this is roughly equivalent to buying yourself a trophy for winning a 5k you didn’t run in. New in 2015 is the “Legal Superstars” section of Newsweek.com, again with a small “sponsor insight” logo at the top. That’s it. There’s nothing else to distinguish this from any other section of the website and identify it as paid-for information.

Chasnoff of the Express-News dug a little deeper and discovered the cost information for these “Superstars”:

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]In a sales pitch emailed to an attorney, an account executive for the company wrote, “Have your feature be accessible to everyone in the country on Newsweek.com, Double sized photo at the top of the page, and the guarantee that your feature will be able to be seen by 350,000 unique visitors … All participating Attorneys will receive a ‘Newsweek – Legal Superstar 2015’ emblem for use on their website.

The “advertising cost” for the “national option” is $14,950, according to an invoice emailed to the attorney. No one at the featured law firms is interviewed; rather, the firms are encouraged to write their own profiles.[/mk_blockquote]

There are undoubtedly a great deal of disingenuous tactics that are used throughout the world of advertising. A #1 ranking isn’t hard to come by with enough disclaimers, caveats, and exceptions. At least for now, terms like “#1,” “top ten,” and “best of” still catch the eye of consumers and instill a sense of confidence – whether it’s warranted or not. And although sponsored journalism is an increasingly prevalent way that people are consuming media, there’s an important distinction to be made between sponsoring journalism and sponsoring an advertisement.

Ultimately, advertorials disguised as journalism are misleading to potential clients. What’s worse is that they undercut the hard-earned reputation of lawyers and firms who are now forced to explain how being honored on a peer-reviewed, invitation-only list of the top 100 lawyers in a state is different than paying to become one of the “10 Best Personal Injury Attorneys 2014.”

The ethics behind content like this are muddled. Newsweek says it’s a “premier news magazine and website, bringing high-quality journalism to readers around the globe for over 80 years.” But a sponsored ad isn’t journalism. And even though Newsweek has labeled the content as a “Sponsor Insight,” the average consumer may not be able to tell the difference when it’s listed among and formatted in the same way as non-sponsored articles.

More troubling are the implications of a proliferating pay-for-award culture in the media. As media outlets struggle to thrive in the digital age, the profit incentive for featuring content like “best of” lists becomes greater. In a sea of inflated curriculum vitae, the search for truly outstanding attorneys becomes even more hopeless – and consequently poisons the reputation of attorneys in general when clients have lackluster experiences with the “best” lawyers.

At LaFleur, we fundamentally believe that your actions and effort should stand for themselves, and transparency is a fundamental cornerstone of our business. When you become a client, you will work with creative, experienced, and invested digital marketing strategists who will strive to showcase your talent, ability, results, and outstanding client satisfaction – instead of advising you to pay for faux-accolades. Your expertise will shine through our cleverly-crafted content and well-researched pieces – instead of on a dubious and ultimately meaningless “best of” list. In the end, honest appraisal will come from credible sources, and you’ll be holding yourself to a higher standard. Run your 5K. And let us run with you.

 

References:

Chasnoff, B. (2015, January 16). Henry paid for Newsweek ranking. San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved from http://www.expressnews.com/news/news_columnists/brian_chasnoff/article/Henry-paid-for-Newsweek-ranking-6021776.php

Graeme Somerville, R. (2015, May 6). Newsweek lawyers kill content marketing. PR Week. Retrieved from http://www.prweek.com/article/1345910/newsweek-lawyers-kill-content-marketing

Reveal Thought Leadership With Content Marketing and Current Events

Lawyers don’t always get fair treatment from the general public. Most of this negative perception is unfair, but sometimes it’s warranted. And one of the most common critiques levied against attorneys is their occasional penchant toward opportunism.

Spreading awareness about current events is an important responsibility that many lawyers take seriously. Unfortunately, your target audience might interpret your input and legal analysis as shameless grandstanding to win clients and manipulate the justice system. In fact, I can’t think of any other profession (other than perhaps news journalists in the post-truth era of Donald Trump) where expressing an expert opinion is so universally ignored, condemned, and abhorred. This makes it even more important to position yourself and other stakeholders at your law firm as thought leaders offering insights about current events rather than profiteering carpetbaggers dredging for vulnerable clients.

Why Is Developing Content Based on Current Events So Important for Lawyers?

Regardless of your firm’s proximity to a given event, if it’s relevant to your practice area(s), you should consider developing related content for your website. You will exhibit your expertise on the topic and let current and future clients know you’re a reliable option if something similar happens to them. And if multi-district litigation or a class action lawsuit arises, you could receive inquiries from potential clients or referrals from other attorneys.

Reporting on current events in a timely fashion can also impact your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Certain generic keywords are exceptionally difficult to rank highly for due to intense competition. Examples would include terms such as:

  • “Chicago lawyer”
  • “car accident attorney Los Angeles”
  • “tax attorney Florida”

Thankfully, Google takes hundreds of factors into account when determining your ranking, and one of them is timeliness. If you have recently created or updated content on your website and/or blog, then you’re more likely to perform well when Google ranks your site. One excellent way to do this is to track relevant current events and write about them.

Google also cares about consistency. Far too many lawyers (and professionals in other industries) create a blog, publish a few posts right away, and then never bother writing again. This directly contradicts any notion that your law firm is consistent and reliable. If you can’t be bothered to write a few hundred words each month to at least keep up appearances, why should Google boost your rankings? Why would potential clients believe you’re going to fight for them when things get tough? By keeping an eye on current events and creating original, relevant content, you’ll maintain a constant presence on your blog and encourage readers to continue checking in with you to receive expert legal opinions and advice.

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Convert Current Events Into Evergreen Content

When writing about current events, it’s important to take the long view. With the rapidly evolving news cycle, whatever story you’re discussing won’t be newsworthy very long, so you want to make sure your words have staying power, both for your audience and SEO efforts. Getting out in front of a story can be helpful for your website and your firm in the short term, but you also want to take a tasteful and sustainable approach that will deliver long-term results from your content. You want to answer potential questions before they’re asked and position your firm as a thought leader in your area(s) of expertise.

The first thing you want to do is include pertinent, accurate details related to the event. If you’re a personal injury attorney and there has been a school bus crash in your state, you want to explain where the wreck occurred, how many people were injured (or worse) and their current status, relevant details about how the crash happened, and any quotes from victims, eyewitnesses, authorities, and other experts.

Do not give any specific opinion on the event itself. You weren’t present and probably don’t have enough information. Instead, stick to the facts and convey them with a sympathetic, respectful tone. If you are going to present an argument either way, be sure to explain that your thoughts are speculative and that the truth will be exposed in time through due process. Your primary goal is to establish and comment on the facts as you understand them and to communicate your legal perspective on what is known for sure.

Once you have covered the facts, you can take several different approaches to transition into a long-form piece that will have a positive long-term impact.

Use Your Blog Article to Speak to a Wider Issue

Newsworthy events are nearly always part of a larger trend. To continue the school bus crash example, it would not be the first bus crash to occur, and it will unfortunately not be the last. You can use a specific event to discuss a larger issue. If bus crashes are declining, explain how a specific crash is an outlier. If they are increasing, discuss why, what can be done to reduce them, and how people can stay safe.

You can also take a wider view by comparing the effectiveness of different policies in other states or even other countries. Don’t hesitate to take a stand on what laws or actions could be implemented to address a problem.

Relate the Current Event to Your Experience and Expertise

While there are certain benefits to tangential content marketing, you should always write about current events that directly relate to your law firm’s primary services. This allows to you link to the relevant service page on your site and keep potential clients moving forward in the sales process. It also allows you to use current events as a springboard to discuss your experience and expertise.

For example, you can discuss similar cases you have (successfully) resolved. You can speak in-depth about a specific, relevant case. You can describe the unique qualifications and resources you and your team have to handle similar cases.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that you want to keep this type of content focused on how you have helped your clients. People are drawn in by stories, but if your piece seems even a bit self-aggrandizing, your potential clients will tune out and leave your site — and they won’t be coming back.

Offer Your Expert Opinion About the Current Event

Be sure to keep your opinions rooted in your personal history and legal knowledge. Let readers know what you suspect will be the next steps and how the case may move forward. You could also include a discussion of similar events that have happened within the last several years and describe the outcomes.

You could also pull in details about statutes related to what happened and if any new or pending litigation might impact the process. Focus on providing information and educating your readers about what rights the injured parties have and the actions they and their families should (or shouldn’t take). Without getting too sales-focused, provide the sort of advice a reputable firm would provide to someone in this position who had requested a consultation.

These are just a few styles of long-form, topical content that we consistently see positive results from. Many other approaches could be effective, depending on the unique goals, branding, and size of your law firm.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to Write Great Legal Content

Don’t Forget the Essentials of High-Performing Blog Content

Regardless of which approach you take, always close your piece with a strong call to action (CTA) that lets your readers know that you and your firm are available to answer their questions and take their case if they experience something similar in the future.

In addition, you should remember to follow basic on-page SEO best practices:

  • Use a 60- to 70-character title tag that includes organic keywords and, potentially, your firm’s name.
  • Create a 160-character meta description that provides an engaging preview of the article.
  • Implement descriptive heading tags that reveal the structure of your piece and allow readers (and search engines) to easily understand your content.
  • Naturally incorporate relevant keywords throughout the piece. But don’t overdo it. Google’s algorithms are highly sophisticated and have been designed to weed out spammy content with contrived keyword usage.

Effectively using SEO best practices throughout your content will improve your page’s visibility, clicks, time on page, and search ranking.

FREE EBOOK: Law Firm Website Fundamentals: Improve Your Search Engine Ranking Today

A word of warning: You want to be exceedingly careful if you are trying to reach people who were involved in the event you are discussing. You do not want to come off as opportunistic, exploitative, or insensitive. The best way to avoid having your writing backfire is to work with content marketing experts who have successfully leveraged timely, relevant events into lead-generating assets.

LaFleur Can Help Your Law Firm Capitalize on Current Events in an Ethical, Effective Way

Staying abreast of relevant events in real time, developing ideas for long-form content, regularly writing several pages about those events, and getting your content posted and live on your site quickly enough to capitalize on trending topics may seem overwhelming. As a busy attorney, you are likely sitting at your desk with a pile of work that needs to be done. The first thing running through your mind may be, “That sounds like a great idea!” But the second thought is probably, “Where would I find the time to get all this done?”

This is where LaFleur comes in. We can reduce strain on you and your staff by tracking news, providing commentary, and posting content on your website so you can improve your online visibility and position yourself as an expert without having to lift a finger. We offer holistic marketing solutions with affordable packaging built for law firms of every size.

Plus, our writing and editing team includes former attorneys, master’s-level writers, journalists, and other talented professionals. Our expertise gives you ultimate flexibility:

  • We can write complete articles for publication and get your approval before they go live.
  • We can outline the majority of the article and incorporate feedback from you for specific quotes or commentary.
  • We can take your written content or dictation and edit that into an article that’s ready to post.

Whether you already have a content marketing strategy or you’re starting from square one, we can take your firm’s marketing efforts to the next level. Please contact us by calling (888) 222-1512 or by completing this brief form to schedule a free consultation. We’ll discuss your goals and objectives and build a customized marketing plan uniquely tailored to your budget and ambition.

Content Marketing Nuances: Double vs. Single Quotation Marks

Relatively speaking, punctuation is a fairly new development in the history of writing. The problem with including punctuation, paragraph breaks, or any graphemes not undeniably necessary for conveying meaning is that writing materials were, until the last few centuries, extremely costly or extremely inconvenient. Clay tablets, wax surfaces, bark, and leaves – all of which were used for writing at different times and in different cultures – have obvious disadvantages. Papyrus and parchment were both labor-intensive and expensive materials to make. Even ink, especially in vivid colors, required pricey materials to create. In fact, some legal documents from the Late Middle Ages indicate that scribes and artists were paid not by the merit of their work but by the amount of rare pigment that was used in its creation. Of course, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it – at nearly $3,000 a gallon, even cheap black printer ink is an incredibly precious commodity in modern offices.

content marketing
15th century excerpt from a Latin manuscript: Book of Hours

So, to conserve space on expensive pages and preserve the costly ink used to fill those pages, scribes would pack as many words as possible into their work. In many manuscripts that predate the printing press, it’s virtually impossible to tell where one word ends and the next begins; there’s even a term for this style of writing: “scriptura continua.”

By the middle of the 16th century, punctuation was beginning to become standardized because of the expanded use of printing presses, the corresponding plummeting costs of paper and ink, and wider distribution networks for books. For example, double quotation marks became common in printed works between the 16th and 17th centuries. The single quotation mark was developed around the turn of the 19th century in order to clarify the use of quotes within quotes.

In America, using quotation marks is relatively easy and generally follows the history of quotation marks: double quotes are used for direct quotations, and single quotes are used to mark quotes within quotes. Below are two examples:

  • Abraham Lincoln wrote that “the leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence.”
  • Our history teacher told us, “Abraham Lincoln wrote that ‘the leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every calling, is diligence.’ ”

In the United States, we also use double quotation marks in a few other conventional ways:

  1. To denote titles of short works like articles, poems, TV episodes, or songs. (Italics are used for titles of longer works like magazines, long poems, TV series, or albums; at 434 lines, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is often regarded as the quotation mark/italics demarcation.)
    -The writers of Breaking Bad incorporated many literary references into the show, like Walt Whitman’s famous poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.”
    -Time recently ran an interesting piece about how video evidence is interpreted and used in the courtroom entitled “The Problem With Police Body Cameras.”
  2. To indicate that words are being discussed as words. (Sometimes italics are also used for this purpose – as long as a piece is consistent with usage, either method is correct.)
    -Interestingly enough, the words “lawyer” and “loyal” both share a common root word in Latin.
    -During his grand jury testimony, Bill Clinton famously remarked, “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” (Note that single quotation marks are used here because the word being discussed as a word is within a quotation.)
  3. To indicate sarcasm; these are known as “scare quotes,” though the term “scare quotes” can also mean quotes that are used to scare readers.
    -To be clear, your “argument” is that if we allow same-sex couples to marry, people will soon be able to marry their dishwashers?
    -I stopped asking him for advice when I discovered that his “credentials” consisted primarily of photoshopped certificates printed at Kinkos.

Controversy over the use of quotation marks arises because different parts of the world use quotation marks in different ways. In British English, for example, single quotation marks are used for direct quotations, while double quotation marks are used for quotes within quotes. The “correct” use of other punctuation, such as periods, with quotation marks also raises a lot of hackles among grammarians. The primary issue is how to treat something within quotation marks as a syntactical unit. In American English, most punctuation goes within quotation marks: One of my favorite poems is “Birches.” In British English, punctuation frequently goes outside of quotation marks: One of my favorite poems is “Birches”.

The British English style of punctuating is often referred to as “logical punctuation”; however, the simple truth is that all punctuation is generally either (1) used as a convention – which has no relationship to logic whatsoever (it’s conventional to say “bless you” when someone sneezes, the logic – and origin – of which is fairly dubious) or (2) used to clarify meaning – there’s likely no confusion about the meaning of the sentence above: One of my favorite poems is “Birches.” In fact, taking truly “logical” punctuation to its extreme can be quite ugly: What does Shakespeare mean when he asks, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’?; is he being tentative or declarative in his use of ‘shall’?

Ultimately, punctuation should clarify meaning and not interfere with someone’s reading. Stylistic choices – even within a country – can vary from publication to publication, from university to university, from business to business, and from one setting to another. (Many people don’t take the time to punctuate their texts, but they certainly take the time to properly edit their resume.) Over time, the “rules” governing the use of punctuation will likely continue to change, especially since the Internet has exponentially widened the distribution network for content much like the printing press did for books.

When you’re making decisions about style on a website, in a publication, for your e-mail campaigns, on your social media platform(s), and anywhere else, the primary consideration should be your target audience. Are you marketing to casual millennials in an informal e-mail campaign? Perhaps the occasional LOL or emoticon is acceptable 😉 Are you trying to attract educated professionals to your website? Spending a few extra minutes proofing your next blog post will undoubtedly be worth your while. Are you marketing internationally? It might behoove you to become familiar with standard usage in the regions you’re targeting.

And if you don’t want to have to worry about any of this, you can get in touch with someone at LaFleur Marketing about our content marketing services. We can make your life easier, promote and unify your brand, and make your business more profitable – you can quote me on that.

Photo credit: quinn.anya / Best Bobs / CC BY-SA

Content Marketing Nuances: “Literally” and Auto-antonyms

When it comes to the English language, there are two primary schools of thought. Prescriptivists generally agree that our language should be arbitrated – that rules about spelling, punctuation, grammar, mechanics, and usage should be both established and followed. Descriptivists take a different approach: rather than setting up laws governing the use of language and attempting to enforce them, they prefer to simply observe and report on the ways that language is used. While that may seem a little bit academic, quality content marketing has to take into account the needs, goals, and image of a brand, which means choosing a writing style (and, by extension, an approach to using language) that attends to those elements.

Of course, disagreements about the use of language arise even within an organization full of people who have the same concept of a business’ needs, goals, and image. Individual speakers and writers have a tendency to embrace their inner prescriptivist and latch on to specific pet peeves: ending sentences in a preposition, splitting infinitives, using “whom” indiscriminately (even when it’s the subject of a relative clause), or inappropriately using “literally” in a sentence, which seems to be an increasingly popular point of contention among writers, editors, and amateurs alike.

But “literally,” like so many English words, isn’t quite as literal as its morphology suggests.

“Literally” is an adverb that, of course, means “in a literal, exact, or actual sense; not figuratively, allegorically, etc.” This definition, and the fact that the word “literal” is literally spelled out within the word, is what gives rise to the well-intentioned aversion to liberally using “literally” in more figurative ways, like when people say they “literally saw the most amazing movie ever” or that there were “literally a million people in line waiting for tickets.” Perhaps you’ve heard that someone “literally wrote the book on the subject” or that they “literally can’t even.” In almost every case, these things can’t actually be true, and using “literally” when you don’t mean something “in a literal, exact, or actual sense” on your website, in your marketing materials, or even in your professional communications can be off-putting or even outright misleading.

Just because it’s wrong for your brand doesn’t mean that using “literally” in a more casual way is patently wrong, though. The Oxford English Dictionary lists another definition for “literally” and suggests that it is “used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense… (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely.’” The OED also adds that this is “now one of the most common uses” even though it “reverses the original sense of literally.” So although you may think using “literally” figuratively is literally the worst thing ever, its metaphorical meaning is not only in common circulation today, but has been for quite some time. Alexander Pope, an incredibly famous writer, explained that “every day with me is literally another yesterday for it is exactly the same,” which is hardly a literal use of “literally” (or “exactly” for that matter). That was in 1708.

Regardless of when “literally” took on its second, figurative meaning, English words are notorious for having multiple definitions or even meaning two entirely opposite things. There exists in English an entire category of words called auto-antonyms – words that mean the opposite of themselves. “Sanction” can mean to allow something or to penalize someone for doing it. “Oversight” can mean that something has been carefully watched over, or it can be something, usually a mistake, that has gone completely unnoticed. This is perhaps why oversight committees are so often ineffectual – their members run around in circles wondering if they need to oversee or overlook, and things don’t get any clearer when those oversight committees are sanctioned: some think they’ve been given a green light to continue while others think they’ve been reprimanded.

Even a simple word like “left” can be confusing: if a person has left, he or she is gone, but if he or she is left, that person is still there; thus, it’s important to seek clarification if you ask about your boss and someone tells you “he’s left” or “she’s left” since what you say next could put you in hot water or cause you to skate on thin ice – two seemingly contradictory things that, coincidentally, have exactly the same meaning. Maybe they’re synonymous opposites?

While some may see this ambiguity as a problem, it is an essential and beautiful part of the English language. 

Modern English has been built from and enriched by dozens upon dozens of other languages. Words are encountered, are adopted, and then branch off and grow into new words with new definitions and associations. “Littera,” the Latin root of “literally,” is the same root word that gave us “literature,” “letter,” and “literary.” That the word “literally” has taken such a literary turn should come as no surprise once you get to know its word family. In fact, “literally” is more of an outlier – the stubborn sibling who obstinately refuses to join everyone else in a lighthearted game of pretend.

Originally, that Latin root word “littera” just meant “letter of the alphabet.” And ultimately, letters and words are building blocks for communication; they are the tools that we use to convey meanings and impressions. Whether you’re hastily sending an informal text or carefully crafting the mission statement for your organization, words have an impact, and choosing the right ones becomes ever more important as English continues to proliferate across platforms and adapt to new media.

In his “Essay on Criticism,” Alexander Pope also wrote that “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing; / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: / There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain, / And drinking largely sobers us again.” Whether you have been a figurative “literally” user or not, the next time you’re around the water cooler and someone is having “literally the worst day ever,” you can at least smile with the understanding that they are moving our language in a new direction, which is what English has been doing for centuries upon centuries despite our best efforts to reign it in. In fact, you might now be able to school the pretentious grammarian who tries to correct the word’s “misuse” – and that would literally put me over the moon.