Alex Heshmaty explains what content marketing is, and how family law firms can use it to grow their client base and build a rapport with them.
What is content marketing?
Legal content marketing refers to any type of written, spoken or video content whose primary purpose is to promote legal services to prospective and existing clients. The most common types of content include website service pages setting out the main areas of law handled by the firm, blogs and news updates explaining recent changes to legislation or case law, and email newsletters which aim to establish a rapport with existing clients.
What is the purpose of content marketing?
Effective content marketing should ultimately generate new (or repeat) business for a firm. There are various ways in which this end result may be achieved:
improving the Google ranking of a firm’s website and increasing visitor numbers through search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques
establishing a trusted tone of voice
keeping your personal or firm ‘brand’ front of mind
explaining legal developments or concepts and how these might affect the lives of your clients, providing an incentive for them to get in touch for legal advice.
What is SEO content marketing?
One of the key reasons for creating website content is search engine optimisation (SEO). For the uninitiated, SEO is essentially all about getting your website to show up towards the top of the organic Google results for specific searches (eg 'family lawyers in Bristol'). 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 are therefore the 'true' ranking of web pages and are much cheaper to maintain in the long-run than PPC results.
As a general rule, the more quality content you have on your website, the better chance your web pages will have of appearing on the first page of search engine results. In the past, SEO techniques were rather crude and included practices such as ‘keyword stuffing’ where, for example, the phrase 'family lawyers in Bristol' would be repeated multiple times on a web page in an effort to trick search engines to increase the relevancy. Google has gradually increased the sophistication of its algorithms which determine rankings, in an effort to filter out this sort of sharp practice. Now, the key criteria for preparing search engine-friendly content include:
natural flowing and easily readable language
use of synonyms where appropriate
ensuring that each web page has at least 300-400 words of content
using headings and subheadings to help structure the content on a page including questions - either in the form of subheadings or by providing FAQ-style content.
There are many other SEO criteria which do not specifically relate to the content itself, such as the number of external links from 'authoritative' domains (eg the BBC or a government website), the amount of time visitors spend on a web page and the age of a domain name.
Establishing a tone of voice
Building a rapport with potential clients is particularly important for family law solicitors. Prospective clients will often judge you on the tone of voice which comes across in your content, and they will use this to make a choice as to whether to come to you for advice or go elsewhere. There is no magic formula when it comes to establishing the right tone of voice, as every client will have a different preference; some will appreciate formality and others will prefer a friendly, down-to-earth approach. What is important is to decide on a particular tone, adopt it for all your content and apply it consistently. In effect, this means that you should either write your own content or work with a specialist legal copywriter who can ensure that a consistent tone is retained.
Content marketing across different platforms
With such a wide array of platforms available for publishing content, it can be difficult to decide on the best way to communicate with clients. Here are some of the pros and cons of the main options:
A website is the best way to establish an online presence and provide a shop window outlining your services and detailing any specialist areas of family law covered. Providing a different service page for each distinct area of family law (eg divorce, children, pre-nuptial agreements) helps with SEO, as do subpages (eg child arrangement orders and child support under the main children section). Each service page should be fairly concise and provide a 'call to action' which explains the best way a potential client should get in touch for advice.
Keeping a regularly updated blog (either as part of your website or separately) allows you to expand upon specialist skills - or simply to demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of family law and your grasp on the latest developments. Although you should primarily be writing for your clients, blogs can also serve as 'thought leadership' pieces and can help to establish your credentials and brand amongst your peers.
If you decide to start a blog - especially if it is designed to cover legal developments - you should ensure that it is regularly updated. Otherwise it will start to look stale and reflect badly. Aim to publish at least one blog each month, or better still one every week. You should also review existing content and make sure that it is accurate and up-to-date, as a blog page you wrote several years ago may end up being the first web page that a prospective client lands on!
If you decide to send out an email newsletter, tailor it to individual clients as much as possible. This isn’t just about adding clients’ names in the salutation line; make sure you also try and target specific clients. For example, you can choose to distribute an email explaining a new law affecting child maintenance only to clients who are divorced parents. The ability to target emails to relevant clients will depend upon an effective customer relationship management (CRM) database.
Due to the confidential and sensitive nature of their work, family lawyers may find that their use of social media is largely limited to building ’brand‘ (ie the firm’s brand and/or their own personal brand) awareness rather than extending to any meaningful interaction with clients. LinkedIn can be used as a blogging platform and, although it’s primarily a professional arena, business clients who already have an existing relationship with a full-service firm may convert to private clients should they require family law advice. Twitter can be an effective means of spreading news of a recent legal development, but its 140 character limit means that any tweets needs to be concise, creative and make use of #hashtags.
Video, podcasts and printed media
Video content is becoming increasingly popular as a way of promoting legal services. Short introductory clips or longer webinars can serve as an effective way of connecting with clients who are more receptive to visuals and sound rather than the written word. However, in general more effort needs to go into preparing video than written content; unless you have a lot of experience of video editing, it will be necessary to have these produced professionally. Podcasts are far easier to produce than videos and can work well as a complement to blogs, reaching the ears of reluctant readers. Finally, good old fashioned printed media seems to be making a comeback, almost as a retro means of communication which can provide a unique voice in a digitally dominated world.
About the author - Alex Heshmaty
Alex Heshmaty is a legal copywriter and journalist with a specialist interest in legal technology, technology law and DIY legal services. Alex has worked in the legal publishing and marketing sectors since 2001 after completing a law degree and initially training as a web designer. He went on to edit and write content for a niche employment law publisher and gained experience of legal marketing at a leading design agency, before starting up his own legal content company, Legal Words, in 2008.