All the talk these days is about social networking. Have you got a Facebook page? Do you Tweet? Are you LinkedIn? But we should not forget that the granddaddy of the so-called social media is blogging and that’s been around for a long time; so long, in fact, that blogging is now unremarkable; blogging is normal and that’s good because we can get on with making the most of it without the hype. Let’s see how.
First, a bit of background
As we all know by now (don’t we?), a blog is a website or sub-site whose pages comprise reverse chronologies of articles (called posts), with the most recent posts presented on the main (home) page, and older posts presented on archive pages, accessible usually by month and sometimes also by category. A blogger is one who maintains a blog, and blogging is that activity.
The term “weblog” was coined in 1997 to describe the online diary format that was then developing in the tech community.
The first broadly popular American blogs emerged in 2001, centred on political discussion, and politics has continued to be a popular blog topic.
Blogs then developed a particular role in breaking and shaping news stories. The Iraq war of 2003 spawned a wave of bloggers, expressing passionate points of view that did not reflect the traditional left-right divide. The role of blogs as an alternative to the controlled, mainstream media was clearly demonstrated by Salam Pax – the “Baghdad Blogger” – who posted about his day-to-day experiences from amidst the mayhem on the ground.
Having penetrated the public consciousness and with the aid of the easy-to-use blogging tools which were becoming available online, blogging took off and personal blogs of all hues quickly sprang up.
While for some the view of blogs as the ramblings of the semi-literate persisted, they gradually became accepted as a serious medium, with news services, politicians, businessmen and lawyers increasingly using them as effective tools for communicating and conversing with their audiences.
What are (law) blogs used for?
It’s important to recognise that blogs are essentially just a really easy to use publishing system and can be used effectively for any type of publication where content is ordered latest first.
A blog about law or legal practice is often referred to as a blawg – an unattractive term which I have now grown fond of.
Most blawgs cover new developments, with comment and analysis of the issues and other passing thoughts and asides. However, law blogs are as varied as the individuals that write them, ranging from the focused and serious to the eclectic and irreverent.
As blogs have become more common we find many firms producing straightforward news blogs for clients and, particularly in areas of high competition, full-on “marketing” blogs designed to attract custom via SEO.
That blogging has gone mainstream may disappoint some early adopters who might have wished their turf to have remained unsullied. However, it was hardly unexpected. Put a useful technology out there and all sorts of people will find all sorts of uses for it.
Blogging is a simple, cheap, efficient, effective way to publish and update time-sensitive information, particularly in constantly-changing fields such as the law. Blogging puts in your hands publishing power even greater than that which was the preserve of only large, established publishers with fat wallets not so long ago. Content management, feed generation, subscriber management, search engine optimisation: all is built in for free. That’s reason enough for almost everyone and every organisation to consider blogging.
Blogging is good for business. If you have something to contribute in your field of expertise, simply by showing who you are on your blog, you will engage with your peers and your market; and by showing what you know, you will promote yourself without the need for glossy brochures, calculated networking or other self-promotion that may not sit easily with you.
Blogs are not just a publishing format, but a networking tool, a means to reach out and engage with an audience; and blogging is not just about publishing, but about conversing and contributing.
Of course, most individual lawyers don’t have the time or the inclination or the talent to blog though they may see the benefit in so doing. In the absence of any committed bloggers within a firm the law firm news blog might seem like a reasonable compromise.
I commend those firms that are blogging news rather than just mailing out print or sending email newsletters, but you are competing with the very best law news sources nationally and any first-mover advantage (still relatively few firms are doing this) will be short-lived. Law firm blogs need to be focused (usually on a particular practice area), to have personality (usually meaning it’s not “the firm” but individuals or small groups that should blog) and to be engaging (providing comment and analysis and stirring things up a little) or to deliver some other value that cannot be found elsewhere.
How blogs help with SEO
Search engine optimisation should not be a primary purpose in blogging, but it is a compelling reason to use a blog service rather than a custom CMS for topical content, to blog better and to blog more frequently.
How does blogging provide SEO? First and foremost, blogging generates great new content. As each new blog post is published, your site content is enhanced: new pages are created with page titles, headings and content that can include many keywords relevant to your audience, so your presence in Google increases for all those terms.
Google loves blogs. It likes the fact that your website is being frequently updated and places a higher value on your pages than it does on otherwise equivalent pages on more static sites. Google knows a lot about blog structures and crawls and indexes new content surprisingly quickly: you get onto Google ahead of the more pedestrian competition.
Blogs also automatically generate RSS feeds which effectively distribute your latest information to those who choose to subscribe, driving more traffic to your blog. Other bloggers and sites may also “pipe” information from your RSS feeds into their pages, creating links to your blog.
A good blog will also establish connections and conversations with your peers and readers by providing comment and analysis, linking to other bloggers and encouraging user comments. These connections and conversations further enhance your visibility and reputation, leading to networking and consequent linkage with others of influence.
These factors – good content with keyword relevance, frequency of updating and quality linkage to (and from) your site – are the key metrics used by Google and other search engines in determining your page rank. Without question good blogging will dramatically improve your visibility in the search engines by improving your score on all counts.
Are blogs good for marketing?
A blog “works”, ie it engages effectively, raises profile and is good for business, if it expresses a genuine personal voice. (I say “personal” rather than “individual” because there are many effective group blawgs which express the personal voices of a group.) But in my view the effectiveness of blogs declines as you move from personal and business blogging, through (impersonal) corporate and marketing blogging, to the downright evil of spam blogging.
Blogs are a legitimate and useful marketing tool, but topping Google is not all: poorly implemented blogs can backfire spectacularly in the court of public opinion. If you’re thinking “we should start a blog – it’s great marketing”, make sure you do it right.
Nick Holmes is joint editor of this Newsletter.
He blogs at www.binarylaw.co.uk