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Content marketing tips: start with what you have

Content marketing tips: start with what you have

If you answer the question, “Why is my firm producing content?” with, “Because people keep telling me to,” that's not good enough. Lawyers can have successes with content marketing, but not if it is aimless or misdirected.

All you have to do is produce the perfect content. And still find the time to be a great lawyer. Easy, right? Before you expend resources turning your firm into a publisher, take a look a the content you already have and consider how it can be repurposed or improved.

First, what is quality content?

Google publishes content quality guidelines that can be used as a reference. Google, however, is a bit short on details, and the instructions consist mostly of the same advice you read on many marketing blogs. Write for users. Make your content valuable. Make it more valuable than other content. Make it accurate. Edit ruthlessly. None of these suggestions contain a particularly specific strategy for creating the types of content that will actually benefit your firm.

In reality, there is no overarching definition for quality content. Quality content is different for everyone. It takes different shapes — a long-form page, a video, a short post — depending on the goals of the firm producing it. Quality content is supportive. It may not be the thing that gets the conversion, but it can bolster the sales process by serving as a reference for potential clients as they make decisions.

Why content?

Studies suggest that Google's algorithm is becoming progressively smarter about the ways users interact with content. Larry Kim of Wordstream recently published an interesting study about how Google's introduction of machine learning has affected the relationship between time on site and ranking for Wordstream's 32 top organic traffic-driving pages. Since Google incorporated machine learning into its algorithm, the number of pages in that group of 32 with below average time on site dropped from roughly a third to only two, leading Kim to conclude that Google is rewarding user engagement.

Backlinko published a comprehensive study last September (that we analyzed here), which also suggests that the amount of time a visitor spends with a piece of content impacts results placement. Backlinko's research showed a positive correlation between low bounce rate and ranking and a positive correlation between topically relevant content and ranking.

Data suggests that content and user interest can positively affect traffic and, ideally, leads. However, “If you build it they will come is not a content strategy.” Poorly written, redundant or irrelevant content can harm your site's overall quality and authority.

Try less

The amount of information to which a person is exposed every day is overwhelming. Americans consume hours of media every day, including an average of 4 hours of television, 3 hours on mobile devices and two hours on laptops and desktops. Where does your content fit into that picture? Can it compete?

Add that dynamic to the fact that content marketing is an investment. Well-written, informative pieces require time in research, writing and review. You can assign writing tasks to attorneys, removing that that time from their supply of billable hours, or you can pay a service provider. Fortunately, your firm likely already has a place to start: your website.

Create assets from pages you already have

Unless your firm just completed a comprehensive audit or built a new website, chances are you have some pages that could use an update. Maybe laws or regulations have changed, and the information on a page is stale. Perhaps some content was written several years ago, when Google was still rewarding over-optimized pages, and it needs to be updated to focus on the user. Or, maybe some pages are just incomplete or repetitive and need to be re-evaluated.

Improving the pages you already have will aid your SEO efforts and increase your exposure to potential new clients. Useful pages will also keep visitors reading and help convince potential clients to contact you.

Content strategy

Before you sit down to create or modify anything, first engage in some high-level thinking. Effective content stems from a well-developed content strategy.

Your first step should be to develop an overall vision that describes why you are producing the content and how it advances your firm's business objectives — or one objective in particular. Your goals may be lead-oriented, or they may be geared toward education and building authority. All are valid.

Look at the content you are producing as a strategic asset, not just a webpage or blog post. What can the page do for you other than take up server space? How does the content on the page align with your goals?

Your second step is research.

Yourself: What is your firm good at and why? What do you stand for (other than making money)? Why did decide to practice law?

Clients: What do your clients need and expect? What are their stories, and how can you speak to those experiences? How do they make purchasing decisions? What are their online habits?

Other firms: How are they approaching clients? Where do they fall short? Is there an opening for you to produce useful content your competitors are ignoring?

Now, you can start to write.

Example: enhanced practice area pages

Practice area pages: most attorney websites have them, few do them well. Practice area pages on some lawyer websites seem almost obligatory. They say, “Hey, we know Google is looking for this sort of thing, so we're just going to post some generic content to cover our bases.” Many practice area pages read exactly the same way from site to site.

Were your practice area pages written only to help with SEO? Are they talking to search engines or to people?

A neglected practice area page is an untapped resource. So, how can you turn that practice area page into an asset?

First, break out of the practice area page formula that:

a) Describes the legal process as complicated

b) Lists a string of secondary practice areas in long paragraphs written primarily for search engines and internal linking

c) Sounds like most other law forms

d) Leaves readers feeling uninformed

Instead, Respect your readers. Make pages a conversion resource.

What do you tell prospective clients about what you do when you meet in person? Describe the same things online. Are there certain steps an individual will need to take before meeting you? Let them know online. Do you have case studies or representative transactions? Put a few relevant examples on the page.

Other items that make a practice area page stand out are:

1. Personal anecdotes about why you practice in that area

2. Quotes from attorneys that explain how they work with clients or why they entered legal practice

3. Experiences or histories relevant to the area

4. Quotes from clients about your services in that area

5. Graphics that contain relevant statistics

6. Short bios of lawyers who practice in that area

You can even include short how-to's or lists about what to expect from the process, if they are applicable to that area. If you include enough helpful information, you can turn the page into an offline asset by printing “what you need to know” cards that direct people to the page.

Your practice area pages are a good place to start. You should hold all of your website content to the same standard. If you can combine or eliminate redundant pages, do. If you can update content to be more timely, do. If you can make pages more useful to clients, do.

And before you dive into any content project, always ask: why?

Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend holds two bachelors degrees from Indiana University and an associates degreee from the International Academy of Design. As Art Director for Custom Legal Marketing, her work has been awarded Webby Honorees, WebAwards, Davey Awards, Muse Awards, W3 Awards, and many others. She is also a contributor to Entrpreneur Magazine through the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.