Should A Small Law Firm Host Its Own Blog?
February 20, 2018
If you’re on top of legal marketing trends, you’ve either created, or at least considered creating, a blog for your small law firm. Done well, blogs can showcase your expertise and thought leadership, encourage engagement, reinforce credibility, and boost SEO. This, in turn, helps cast a wider net, drives traffic, and potentially leads to new business.
Internal or External Attorney Blog Hosting?
Blogs can be hosted internally or externally, and there’s a great deal of debate over which is best.
Pros of internal blogs:
- Single platform
- Searchable within the website
- Easily cross-related
- Can be easily featured on attorney bios & related practices
- Doesn’t diffuse marketing efforts
- Better for SEO
- Has all data in one place
- Fewer vendors (more singular accountability)
- Less expensive
- Often more secure
Pros of external blogs:
- Can be more personalized
- Can have a less official tone
- Often not seen as advertising
Which Website Gets the Traffic?
Blogs have traditionally been good for building SEO since reputable and authoritative websites may link to your blog and those links build the blog’s reputation, which in turn pushes it up higher in Google, where more people can find it.
The question that seldom gets asked is this:
Which website do you want to drive traffic to? Your external blog or your small law firm's website?
Back in the day, it was a good strategy to have many external websites in order to do link-building within a self-controlled network of websites. Multiple outside blogs that all linked to the firm website were great because you could post quality content and then link back to your firm's website, which in turn increased the relevancy of the firm website within Google and other search engines, increasing your page rank.
But then Google evolved (and BTW, this happened a long time ago).
These days, the authority (or quality) of the website linking to your small firm website matters much more than quantity of inbound links. In other words, The New York Times linking to your firm once has a lot more weight than Joe's personal website linking to your firm a hundred times.
Because of this, new external blogs will start their SEO journey from scratch, and linking from this external blog to your small law firm website won’t add anything to the firm website’s SEO until the blog builds up enough authority to have relevance, which might take years. Additionally, Google is now relying heavily on artificial intelligence, and AI quickly sees past any linking schemes.
In contrast, an internal blog shares the authority of your small firm website from day one and will have a higher SEO ranking almost immediately. All SEO and promotional efforts can then be focused on one website rather than many and can be maintained much longer. Also, with an internal blog, the constant new content on the firm’s website helps to rank the whole website higher, not just one page or section.
If one tries to do both and a post is published on an external blog and soon after posted to the firm’s website, Google’s PageRank algorithm will find the two pages with nearly identical content and discount one or both. In other words, Google’s algorithm could have trouble deciding which page to pick, and may decide to not show either.
Diffusion of Marketing Efforts
A number of firms tend to optimize and promote the blog (or blogs) and the firm website at the same time. Given the limited resources of most small law firms, however, the focus often starts with the blog, but then favors the firm's website after the initial rush of getting the blog launched, leaving the blogs to fend for themselves.
This is not to say that with a passionate attorney driving the bus, an external blog cannot be successful, but it does beg the question: why are we driving traffic to multiple sites? Can we focus our marketing dollars in a more effective way?
User experience can differ greatly between external and internal blogs. For instance, an external blog can be branded for just that subject matter. In many cases, external blogs are free standing and ONLY a single topic blog so they can be customized to suit the author or the subject matter. This may be great for an individual blogger or someone arriving from a Google search, but there is a high potential for a less than stellar experience from a potential client's perspective if the goal is to present something cohesive across the small law firm's brand.
For instance, if the client is coming from your small law firm website, the blog’s RSS feed can be easily displayed on a firm page, but the actual content is not part of the site - it’s just a feed. When clicking on a link in that feed, the client leaves the firm's website and goes to the blog. Because the content isn’t actually housed on the firm's website and client's are being sent to another website, there are many issues that can - and do - arise:
- Different look/feel behavior from your small law firm website to the blog
- Potentially many different looks/feels/behaviors across several blogs
- Lack of singular voice (brand or positioning diffusion)
- Spawning multiple browser windows (opening links in new tabs)
- Confusion created because of these different domains/looks/feels and new links
- Does not integrate with the rest of the website’s content
- Limited or no ability to easily relate to multiple attorneys, practices and offices
- Related and discoverable content is limited to each silo/site
- Limited or no integration with firm's website search (the blog content will not show up in a firm website search and the blog will not be able to search for firm's website content)
Additionally, consider whether you want a prospective client to leave your firm's website to read the external blog, and, hopefully come back to your main website.
Skewing the Narrative
In our research, only Lexblog claims that external blogs are better 100% of the time. We have a lot of respect for Kevin and the company he created. In fact, I sat on a panel with him at the New York Bar Association’s Small Law Firm Symposium and found him to be both insightful and informative - but it’s in his better interest to extol the virtues of external blogging. So when doing your own research, please note the author/sources and see if they trace back to Lexblog. They often have great points, but understandably skew external.
What we’ve tried to do here is take a more nuanced and balanced approach based on situation rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Very few things are 100% good or bad, so when we run across an extreme stance, we tend to be skeptical and dig a little deeper.
So what's Better:
An Internal Small Law Firm Blog or an External One?
It depends on who you are and what you want out of a blog.
If you are a solo practitioner, you should have one website. Period. That website should have the ability for you to post articles (i.e., a blog) and also house your bio and contact information. This is firmly in the “there is no spoon” camp. It’s not internal vs external in this case, it’s just a small website. Keep it simple, stay focused and get back to billable work!
If you are a partner in a small law firm without a marketing department, internal blogs will generally provide more long-term value than external blogs because of the reduced effort and cost (which can be double), increased usability and functionality, better control of a unified vision, ability to leverage the firm website’s domain authority from an SEO perspective and having a single point of accountability from a web vendor perspective. Be mindful of blog functionality. Each internal blog should allow for individual feeds, subscriptions, mailing lists, topical tagging and have some degree of flexibility in terms of layout and presentation of various types of media (text, pictures, video, etc.). What you want is a good fully functional blog capability within the firm’s website, not something that’s been crow-barred into place as an afterthought. If you’re going to have an internal blog, commit to it being an integrated part of your website.
If, on the other hand, you are an attorney working for someone else with passion and a strong or unique point of view, then you may want your own blog. A little piece of the Internet that you own, maintain and is independent of your current firm. Your motivation is to build an audience around you and your point of view and be able to take your blog with you wherever you go. Be prepared to defend your blog and it’s content and consider playing nice by linking to the website of the firm you’re currently working for. Note any rules or guidelines the firm may have on both blogging and social media (as they often go hand in hand). Be careful to read the fine print of the platform agreement to make sure you actually own the content once it’s posted.
Still unsure which to choose or have additional questions? Contact us. No pressure - we’re happy to help!
-Todd & the AttyHub Team
More reading on the debate:
More on external blogs (by LexBlog):
More reading on blogs and SEO: