Alex Heshmaty, legal writer, explains what content marketing is, and how law firms can use it to grow their client base and build a rapport
Long gone are the days when law firms could rely on word of mouth, a nice shopfront and perhaps a bit of local newspaper advertising to get and keep business. In these days of increased competition and ever more demanding clients, your marketing needs to set you apart, and showcase your expertise and the people in your firm.
That's where content marketing comes in. Content marketing means providing relevant and useful content on legal developments or concepts to your prospects and customers, which will give them a 'starter for 10' on solving their issues, and a reason to come to you to get the additional advice they need. Effective content marketing can also help your firm to:
- Improve the search engine ranking of its website and increasing visitor numbers through search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques
- Establish a trusted tone of voice
- Support a strong personal or firm 'brand'.
How to distribute your content
Content marketing can be written, spoken or video content, and can be sent through a wide range of channels.
Web content and blogs
A website is the best way to establish an online presence. It provides a 'shop window' to display your services and any specialist areas of law practised by your firm. Your website should also provide a 'call to action' that explains how a potential client can get in touch for advice.
You can include content marketing on your 'main' website, or you can split it out into a blog. Online content marketing allows you to expand upon your specialist skills and demonstrate your in-depth knowledge. Blogs have the added advantage of serving as 'thought leadership' pieces, helping establish your credentials and brand among both prospects and peers.
LinkedIn is mainly used as a professional networking platform, but can also be a useful blogging tool. The connections with whom you share your expertise may become clients should they require your services, for example, when writing a will.
Whatever route you use for online content marketing, publish at least one entry each month, and review existing content to make sure that it is accurate and up to date.
Email newsletters should be tailored to individual clients as much as possible. This isn't just about adding clients' names in the salutation line e.g. Dear John Smith; you should target specific clients through your content marketing. For instance, an email explaining a new law affecting child maintenance should only be sent to clients who are divorced parents. To target in this way, you will need an effective and secure customer relationship management system / database.
Due to the confidential nature of their work, many lawyers may find that their use of social media is largely limited to building 'brand'. However, Twitter is also effective for sharing news of legal developments – which is also content marketing. Tweets needs to be concise and pertinent, and make use of images, gifs and video.
Video and podcasts
Video content is a popular way of promoting services. Introductory clips and webinars are effective for connecting with clients who prefer visuals and sound to the written word. Video content takes more effort to prepare, and those without extensive experience may need to engage a professional production firm.
A podcast is a digital audio or video file or recording (think audio book), that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or device. Podcasts are easier to produce; they can complement blogs and reach the ears of reluctant readers.
Print media seems to be making a comeback as a marketing tool, presenting an alternative in a digitally dominated world. The production and distribution of printed newsletters and magazines providing legal updates can help differentiate a firm from its competitors who rely on email newsletters. However, this approach comes at a cost: printing and postage potentially reduce the return on investment, and also makes that return harder to measure (for instance, there are no click-throughs to track).
How to write your content
When writing for the web, it's vital to keep things scannable; shorter attention spans and limited screen size (particularly if people are reading on their smartphones) mean that lengthy paragraphs and footnotes should not be used. Try to break up longer articles with the use of sub-headings and bullet points; remember that almost half of adults in England have a reading age of under 16. Considering the readability of your copy will also benefit those with English as a second language. There are tools in Word and online than you can use to assess readability. Or the Hemmingway App will flag up complex sentences and use of the passive voice.
Other than this, two of the key considerations in preparing effective content marketing are tone of voice, and, for online content, SEO.
Prospective clients may judge you on the tone of voice of your content, which could determine whether they choose to instruct you. There is no magic formula for establishing the right tone of voice; some clients will appreciate formality, while others will prefer a friendly, down-to-earth approach. Decide on a particular tone, adopt it for all your content and apply it consistently. Remember: don't use legalese, non-standard acronyms or jargon for content aimed at prospective clients.
What is SEO?
SEO (search engine optimisation) is the process of ensuring your website shows up towards the top of the organic search results for specific searches (eg 'family lawyers in Bristol'). Search engines include Google, Duckduckgo, Bing, Yahoo and more. The more quality content featured on your website, the better chance it has of appearing on the first page of search results.
Organic results refer to search engine results which are not advertised or paid for using pay per click (PPC) services such as Google AdWords. Organic results reflect the 'true' ranking of web pages and are much cheaper to maintain in the long run than PPC results.
Key criteria for preparing search engine-friendly content include:
- Natural, flowing and easily readable language
- Use of synonyms where appropriate
- At least 400 words of content per page
- Headings and subheadings to help improve the structure of content
- Questions, in the form of subheadings or FAQ-style content.
Legal content marketing examples
Video and podcasts