Blogging is a great way for professionals in any industry to establish a strong reputation, build a network of influential peers, become better at their craft, and ultimately, attract new business opportunities and clients. Attorneys are no exception.
Effective legal blogging is both a science and an art.
The science of blogging refers to things like registering a domain, setting up web hosting, proper configuration of a content management system, and incorporation of technical search engine optimization best practices.
The art of blogging refers to things like the subject and composition of individual blog posts, strategic interaction with influencers, and promotion of the blog to a target audience.
This guide covers both the science and the art of effective legal blogging, and lays out a framework that any attorney or legal professional can implement, regardless of her technical proficiency.
Registering a Domain Name for Your Law Blog
Your blog’s domain name is an important decision. That’s why we wrote a guide on how to choose the right domain name for your legal website.
The right domain name for your personal law blog will, as ever, depend on a variety of factors. Some of the most important factors include:
- Your personality. A blog, by definition, is an online journal. By deciding to publish a blog you have committed to sharing your unique expertise, through your voice, on the web. As such, your domain name ought to reflect your voice and your personality.If you tend to write in a lighthearted fashion, a domain name with some irony or humor may be appropriate. Conversely, if most of your writing is in a serious tone, or covers a serious subject matter, you ought to consider a more straight-forward domain name.
- Your subject matter. Needless to say, if you blog about criminal justice issues, it wouldn’t make sense to do your blogging on whistleblowerlaw.com. If you prefer not to try and be funny, witty, ironic, etc.I suggest that you choose a domain name that accurately describes your subject matter. If you blog exclusively on anti-trust law, a domain name like AntiTrustTalk.com would be a good option.
- Your audience. Unless you plan to be the only one to ever read your blog, you should have a target audience in mind. Perhaps your target audience is other attorneys – peers. Or, perhaps it’s non-lawyers, consumers, etc. who you want to educate.
Before choosing your domain name you ought to consider the composition of your audience and choose a domain name that will appeal to them.
Once you’ve narrowed down a list of a few potential domain names, you can use any variety of tools (I like Domize.com) to check whether they are available.
Myth: There are no good .com’s left
I often hear people complain that there are no good dot-com domain names available, and if there are, they cost an arm and a leg to get. This simply isn’t true. You may have to get a little creative, but you can find a great dot com domain that won’t cost you more than $12-$20 a year to register.
Once you’ve found your domain name, it’s time to register it. I personally use GoDaddy for domain registration, and unless you have a specific preference for some other registrar, I recommend the same for you.
Domain Registration Best Practices
- Register your domain for no less than three years. Search engines actually have access to registration durations, and may look at your site as less legitimate if you register your domain for just one year at a time.
- Don’t go crazy with buying domain names. You’ll likely find that this is simply a waste of money and makes management of your domains unnecessarily difficult.
- Don’t give in to all the upsells. All you need is to register one domain for 3-5 years. You don’t need email set-up or hosting, or “SEO”, or any of the other crap they’ll try to sell you.
Web Hosting for Your Law Blog
If you think of your new law blog as a house, the domain name is just the façade; it’s what people see first, and it gives them an idea of what’s inside.
Your web hosting is the basement where you keep the water heater, the circuit breaker, and all your winter clothes. Your web host is where you keep the things that make your website a website, and not just a domain name.
Because we believe that WordPress is the optimal content management system (CMS) for blogging (which we’ll get into more later on), we suggest that you chose a web host that is expressly focused on hosting WordPress websites.
There are a million web hosting companies out there, and which one is best is a question that is not possible to answer. What we can do, however, is tell you the absolute requirements for your web host, and give you a couple of specific companies that we have used and endorse.
Hosting Requirements for WordPress:
- Must be Linux Server (no Windows) running either Apache or Nginx.
- WordPress will work with PHP 5.2.4+ and MySQL 5.0+, but recommends PHP 5.6+ and MySQL 5.6+.
Web Hosts We Recommend
Premium Choice – WPEngine*
WPEngine is purpose built web hosting specifically for WordPress websites. This is our premium option because it costs more than many other web hosts (plans start at $29/mo). But, you get what you pay for, including, in this case, automatic WordPress installation, and excelling customer service.
Economy Choice – BlueHost*
While there are a few more steps for setup than with WPEngine, BlueHost offers cost effective web hosting starting at $3.95/mo (Shared Personal Hosting). Bluehost will also give you a free domain name with sign up.
We do have a few extra technical setup steps before we will be ready to blog using BlueHost. These steps are included in the next section ‘Installing WordPress’
Note on self hosted blogging platforms: There are many blogging platforms that offer self-hosted solutions. Examples are WordPress, TypePad, and Blogspot. Self hosted means that, when you register to blog on these platforms, your domain name will be, for example, yourlawblog.wordpress.com.
Self hosted blogs have advantages and disadvantages. One of the glaring disadvantages is that you don’t really own your blog when it’s self-hosted on one of these platforms.
We believe that if you’re going to invest the time and energy it takes to create an effective blog you should own it, which is why we won’t be discussing self-hosted blog options here.
Installing WordPress on Your Law Blog
As we mentioned above, we are not going to discuss any content management systems other than WordPress. As far as we’re concerned, there are no other options in terms of a blogging CMS. So there.
Ok, at this point you have your domain registered and you have your hosting set up. Now, it’s time to install WordPress on your server, and then point your domain at said server.
These instructions should work for most shared web hosts, but be sure to consult your web host’s website to make sure there are no major differences.
Step 1: Do NOT Use “1 Click” Installation
Almost every web host offers “1 click” installation of WordPress. I admit, this sounds appealing, but it can cause all sorts of issues that will make you feel sad. Don’t do it.
Step 2: Download WordPress
Go to wordpress.org/download/ and download the latest version of WordPress. Save it to your desktop, or wherever you like to save things on your computer.
Step 3: Configure FTP Client
When you sign up with your web host they will normally send you an FTP login be email. In case that doesn’t happen, here is an example of how to create FTP credentials on BlueHost.
Go to your ‘Hosting’ tab once and then click “FTP”:
You can follow the prompt to create a new FTP user, or scroll down the page to update any current users. To ensure you have the correct access to your server make sure you have access to the /public_html directory (pictured in screenshot).
Once FileZilla is installed on your computer you can login using your host (ftp.yourdomain.com or server IP), username (ex MattG@yourdomain.com) and the password you selected for the user. With these credentials you can log onto your server.
To log on using FileZilla create a new site by selecting the top left button (pictured below).
This will bring up a window prompt to add your new FTP to FileZilla. The settings below are a BlueHost example. These will differ potentially if using another webhost.
At this point you should be able to connect and see the files on your server. If this is a new installation, and you registered the domain with on the same account as your hosting, this will be the “root” of your website directory.
If you’re adding the domain to your account from another registrar, follow these additional steps.
Next, upload the WordPress Files that you downloaded in step 2.
Step 4: Create a Database
Before we can make WordPress live we need to configure a database where all your content and WordPress settings will live. From the hosting dashboard select ‘databases’:
First, create a new database, user and accompanied password. Make sure to save your username and password for later, as you’ll will need them to finish the process.
Next, add your user to the database you created. Make sure when you’re adding the user to mark them for full permissions.
Now that everything is prepped, let’s finish the WordPress installation.
Step 5: Finalizing your WordPress Settings
Once your files are in place for your site and you have created your database with user permissions you’re ready to finalize the installation. To do this go you your domain in your browser.
You should see a screen that looks like this:
Then, follow the WordPress prompts selecting your language and inputting your server settings. Make sure to create a unique table prefix, this will help to limit the vulnerability to hacking.
On the final screen it will ask you for user login information, make sure to remember this as you will need it to log into your new WordPress.
The last step is to login to your WordPress by going to youlawblog.com/wp-admin/.
Essential WordPress Plugins
One of WordPress’s best qualities is that, because it’s so widely used, there are tens of thousands of plugins that can help you add advanced functionality to your law blog.
However, plugins must be added with caution. If not properly developed, or adequately maintained by their developers, plugins can be the source of security breaches, poor pagespeed, and can break other functionality on your site.
So that you don’t have to think about it, below we’ve provided a list of fundamental WordPress plugins that we suggest for your law blog, along with instructions for proper configuration and maintenance.
- Yoast SEOYoast SEO is a free plugin that will help you ensure that your blog is well optimized for search.To install Yoast SEO, login to your WordPress back-end and navigate to Plugins // Add New. Then search “Yoast SEO”. Once the plugin is installed click “Activate”.That’s the easy part. Now it’s time to properly configure the plugin. There are a countless ways the Yoast SEO plugin can be configured. Since you’re getting into blogging, you should invest a little time in learning the ins and outs of this plugin. Here are the best places to start:
- “Noindex” TagsTags are a common source of URL-based duplicate content. We suggest using the “noindex” option for tags, as shown below:
- “Noindex” Author and Date ArchivesArchives are another common source of URL-based duplicate content. We suggest using the “noindex” option for these, as shown below:
- “Noindex” Subpages of Archives and Disable Meta Keywords
- Contact Form 7 (+ Flamingo)Contact Form 7 is a simple free plugin that allows you to create contact forms for your blog. We suggest that you install Flamingo in tandem with CF7. Flamingo is a lightweight CRM that will automatically store the contact information of people who submit your contact forms.
- SumoMeSumoMe is a free plugin that allows you to easily add social sharing buttons to your blog posts. It also integrates with various email marketing services like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact for when you’re ready to begin building email lists.
- WP Sitemap PageWP Sitemap Page is a free plugin that makes it easy to create an HTML sitemap page on your blog. HTML sitemaps can help both users and search engines discover all of your blog’s content.
- AutoptimizeAutoptimize is a free plugin that makes your law blog faster by by aggregating and minimizing JS, CSS and HTML.
- WP SmushWP Smush is a free plugin that will automatically reduce image file sizes. This will help make your blog’s pages load faster as well as allow you to automate image optimization.
- Monster Insights for Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics by MonsterInsights is a free plugin that allows you to easily add Google Analytics tracking script to your law blog. This plugin is not altogether necessary if you know your way around an FTP client, but if you’re less technically savvy, it’s the perfect tool for the job.
SEO Checklist for Your Law Blog
In addition to configuring the Yoast SEO plugin as we described earlier, there are some other fundamental SEO items that you ought to incorporate on your blog.
- Set Up Google Analytics & Google Search ConsoleThese tools will allow you to track the overall performance of your law blog. Make sure to set your blog up with both of these free services. Learn how to install, configure, and use them with these resources:
- Optimize URLs (ie. Permalinks)In general, you want to keep your blog’s permalinks short and sweet.WordPress makes it easy to set your blog’s permalink structure. Here’s what we suggest for the configuration of your permalinks:Each time you publish a post, you’ll be able to set that post’s specific permalink. For this, keep it short, sweet, and relevant. For example:
- Optimize Page Titles Using Yoast SEOFor each post you need to be sure to set a unique page title that contains keywords relevant to the specific topic of the post, using the Yoast SEO plugin:
- Organize Content with Proper CategorizationOne of the most common mistakes we see from newbie bloggers is poor categorization of blog posts.In general, we suggest that each blog post be assigned to no more than two different categories. We also suggest that you think about and define your categories at the start of your blogging rather than constantly adding new categories on the fly. This will help you create a well organized, and thus well optimized blog.
- Beware of Keyword CannibalismKeyword cannibalism describes a situation where multiple pages on your blog are written on such similar topics that they actually compete against each other for relevant keyword searches.You will maximize the SEO efficacy of your blog if you do your best to ensure that each post is written on a unique topic that you have not previously covered.
Defining Your Blawging Goals & Success Metrics
Before you can publish meaningful and effective blog posts, it is essential that you define why you’re blogging in the first place.
Different types of blog posts will produce different results.
Why Are You Blogging?
Let’s start by taking a look at a few different practical goals you may be looking to achieve by blogging:
- New Client Acquisition
Obviously, this is goal #1 for your legal blogging. Some blog post topics (eg. do I need a lawyer after a car accident?”) are designed to directly drive new clients.
- Link Earning
You may have heard about this before referred to as link bait. Sometimes you create unique blog content for the purpose of gaining exposure and links to your content.
- Coverage of Firm News
Maybe you received a new large settlement and you want to let the world know. You can do this through an announcement with a blog post.
- Authority Building
You’re an expert in your field but maybe not enough people know it. Some blog posts are published for the purpose of showcasing your expertise in your subject matter.
If you’re trying to generate referral business you might be publsihing blog posts in order to network with other attorneys. You can catch the eye of your peers and potentially get more business by publishing blog posts that appeal to their interests or pain points.
It’s also essential to define your key performance metrics and understand how to measure them. Take the time to become familiar with Google Analytics so that you can effectively track your key metrics from your blog.
You can’t do more of the things that work if you don’t track what’s working in the first place. Blogging success can take many different forms:
- Social shares on Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Number of page views
- First page rankings for relevant search queries
- Links earned from relevant publications
- New email subscribers
- New clients signed (obviously, the most important metric)
All of these goals can and must be tracked.
How to Come Up with Effective Blawging Topics
As a legal blogger, you essentially have two distinct audiences:
- Attorneys who practice in your field (your peers)
- Your potential clients
While some blog post topics will be relevant for both audiences, it’s critical to define your target audience when developing new blog post topics.
Below we’ve provided five tactics for developing blog post topics that will help you reach your target audience online.
- ‘Overview of the Law’ Blog PostsPublishing blog posts that address your area of law at a high level is a great way to kick-off your law blog.For example, if you specialize in defending people from reckless driving charges, it would be make sense to publish blog posts on high-level topics like:
- Understanding reckless driving laws
- The penalties for reckless driving convictions
- Potentially effective defenses for reckless driving charges
- Leverage Common Client QuestionsThink about what questions your clients most commonly ask you and write blog posts that address those questions.A great way to do this efficiently is to reference emails, meetings, and phone calls with your clients wherein you addressed common (or, no so common) questions about your area of law. In many cases, you can simply copy the text from an email, edit it, and publish it directly on your blog.These kinds of topics will drive search traffic for long tail, informational search queries that are relevant to your niche.
- Use Google Auto Suggest & Related SearchesThis one is dead simple and wildly effective. Google’s auto suggest results are based on commonly searched queries, making it a great place to turn for new blog topic ideas:Google’s related searches are equally as effective:
- Leverage Your Own Case WorkOne of the greatest benefits of blogging for professional development is that it allows you to show your expertise. There’s no better way to do this than to write about your actual case work.If you recently secured a great result for a client, write up a case study that describes the specifics of the case and details how you were able to help your client achieve her goals.
- React to News in Your NicheThis one is pretty self explanatory. For example, if you practice personal injury law, you probably monitor some sort of news source that covers injury / accident news in your area.When newsworthy cases come up (eg. Tracy Morgan’s truck accident from back in 2014), publish your thoughts / reaction to the case on your blog.
Blawging Mistakes to Avoid Making
Here are a few of the most common blogging mistakes we see see in law blog posts. We suggest you avoid making these mistakes.
It’s critical to think about your intended audience when blogging.
Let’s use this very guide as an example.
Our audience for this guide is DIY lawyers and law firm partners. These are highly competent people, but they do not necessarily consider blawging, internet marketing, or SEO their full-time profession.
Accordingly, we’re not going to write this guide using the same language that we would if our target audience were our peers in the digital marketing industry. When you start blogging I suggest you make a similar consideration.
It seems obvious, but we see typos in law blog posts all the time. While reader comprehension is of course a concern when typos are present, the bigger concern is with reputation management.
Sloppy grammar in your post will cause both your peers and potential clients to look at you less of an authority. Additionally, typos will inhibit legitimate online publishers from mentioning or linking to your content.
I suggest that you take the extra time to ensure that your law blog posts are free from typos and grammar mistakes.
Walls of Text
It’s important to break-up your blog posts with images, headings, bullet points, etc. This is a concept called “Readability”. AJ Kohn wrote a very nice explanation of this concept here. The idea is, the harder your content is to read, the less valuable it is.
Much of what determines the readability of content is the skill of the writer. Still, even if you aren’t a great writer, there are some simple actions you can take to make your blog posts more readable. I highly suggest that you read AJ’s post, which I linked to above.
We’re all really busy. We want answers now. Don’t frustrate your audience by using 10 words when five will do.
Don’t preamble your content with a long explanation. Tell them what you’re going to tell them and then dive into it.
Again, this tip will be followed naturally by talented writers, but even if that doesn’t describe you, you should keep this in mind while writing. Doing so will cause you to write more concisely.
Improper Image Attribution
Blogging is all about establishing yourself as an authority and earning the trust and respect of your peers and your customers. Failing to properly attribute your images will not help you accomplish this. This post from ProBlogger.net should answer your questions on proper image attribution.
If you’re writing a blog post about whether oral agreements are enforceable in Texas, your page title should be optimized for a query like:
Are Oral Agreements Enforceable in Texas?
When beginner blawgers lack a fundamental understanding of SEO, they often write titles like this:
Texas Contract Dispute Lawyer: Are Oral Agreements Enforceable in Texas?
Wrong! Don’t stuff keywords just because. Optimize your blog posts for the types of queries that the posts actually address.