Blog Post

2011 – The year that law firm websites become “publishing platforms”

23 comments

In my last post, I predicted that we’re heading towards a major shift in the way that law firms think about their websites. Here’s what it boils down to:

  • Old thinking: Law firm websites = online brochure
  • New thinking: Law firm websites = publishing platform for attorney-generated content

Why a publishing platform? Why now?
As I mentioned in my last post, there are several trends in the legal marketplace that are converging to make “content marketing” more effective than ever. And, as a result, attorneys are generating more articles, newsletters, blog posts and other thought leadership content than ever before.

The Challenge
The growth of “content marketing” beckons some interesting questions, such as: Where do we put all of this content? How can we maximize its business development potential?

Right now, it’s not uncommon for a firm’s attorney-generated content to be scattered far and wide. As a result, it’s nearly invisible to most prospective clients. For example:

  • Journal articles exist only in print (and end up in the attorney’s desk drawer)
  • Blogs reside on a server that is not connected with the firm’s website
  • Video interviews are on a DVD (also in a desk drawer)
  • Case studies live in past proposals
  • Twitter messages live on Twitter.com
  • Relevant photos are on Flickr
  • Lots of other content is isolated on the firm’s local fileserver

Even the content on the firm’s website is often scattered throughout sections like “Multimedia,” “Experience” and “Publications.” Very few prospective clients can be expected to bounce around the website looking for relevant content in all those different sections.

The Solution: A Publishing Platform
What’s a publishing platform? It’s a website that is designed to showcase a firm’s content in a way that maximizes its ability to help generate business. For example, a good publishing platform website has the following characteristics:

  • It acts as a repository for all of your content
  • It can easily accommodate oddball content like videos and photo galleries
  • It can import content from your blogs or Twitter accounts via automatic feed
  • It automatically optimizes all of your content for Google
  • It enables users to easily share the content with others
  • And, most important, it allows users to access relevant content from the most logical places -- attorney bio pages or practice area sections. (A good publishing platform would never redirect users to other sections of the website to read an article or watch a video.)

Why is this important?
Because creating insightful content isn’t enough. The content actually needs to be read by prospective clients in order to help generate business. As a result, the advantage clearly goes to those firms that optimize their websites to make the content as accessible as possible.

Comments

23 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Leigh George says:

    YES! YES! YES! Where do brochures end up? In the trash. I’ve actually heard clients say they don’t go to a company’s website because there’s no value there. The internet is a buying engine not a selling engine. You need to not just provide content but provide content that is meaningful to the audiences you are trying to reach. AND, continually updating that content is key! When you update content, you provide more value and give people a reason to come back to your site.

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  3. Earl Smith says:

    Great post Robert. You make some good points. Can you point me to any examples of law firms that have a “publishing platform” website?

  4. If you are about to design your new website….keep Robert’s points in mind!
    Great job Robert!

  5. Earl — Thank you for your kind words.

    While some law firm websites better accommodate content than others – none yet employ a “publishing platform” that is as sophisticated as the one I described in the blog post.

    That said, at Great Jakes, we’re currently building such a website for a law firm. It will have all of the capabilities described above (and more). It should launch sometime in January 2011.

    One thing we discovered when designing the “publishing platform” was that single-page attorney bios simply couldn’t accommodate all of the content that active rainmakers were developing. As a result, our forthcoming website employs Attorney Microsites – multi-page attorney bios that are essentially, small, highly-customized websites for each attorney. For more on this, please read the article we wrote about attorney microsites for LMA’s Strategies Magazine.

    Feel free to call me if you’d like a sneak-peek at our forthcoming “publishing platform” website. I would be happy to walk you through our approach and the back-end technology.

    Thanks!

  6. Leigh George says:

    Earl,
    To add to what Robert said: I was actually on a panel in October “Up Ideas for a Down Economy” speaking to the Capitol chapter of the LMA about this very issue. You can find the deck on my LinkedIn page or slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/leighgeorge/up-ideas-for-a-down-economy

    While many B2C and B2B companies have embraced the publisher approach to websites, professional services and especially law firms still take the brochure-ware approach to websites. If they do publish, it’s information all about them: accolades, new attorney announcements, news about the firm, etc. rather than industry updates and insights that would be valuable to clients and prospects. Although, I don’t know of any firms that do a good job in every section of their site, there are some who have done a good job as publishers in certain sections. For example, Freshfields Industries section includes pages with tools and video–take a look at the energy and natural resources pages. Clifford Chance does a good job on its home page but not once you dig into the site. I’m really looking forward to taking a look at the Great Jakes site launching in January–It sounds like it will really set a high bar for legal marketing!

  7. Interesting post. My lonrunnin blog http://www.ageorgialawyer.com is where I post most of my content. Some is weighty, like a post on chelation therapy, others are short.

    I will tell you it has worked wonders for my practice.

  8. Lisa Sylvester says:

    Thanks Robert for an interesting article. My law firm in Australia has used the publishing approach for quite some time, and it works well with the number of newsletters that we publish during the year. We also send an email to the mail list linking to the newsletters so that we can gauge how many people are actively looking and reading them. You certainly cannot tell this with the mail box printed brochure. Our web site is http://www.macgillivrays.com.au.

    As an great eg of a publishing platform for articles, have a look at http://www.mondaq.com which is full of many articles.

  9. I’ve found that writing articles and publishing them online has been a great way to draw in potential clients. The key is to identify a question that one of my potential clients would ask as a question, and then answer that question in the form of an article. Some of these appear on my website, and others appear on other sites that include a link back to my site where people can find me. I am often contacted by people who have specific legal issues that I have published an article about.

    While my site contains links to many things I publish, I don’t link to everything I write because I write on a variety of topics. For example, I write the About.com Law Practice Management site (law.about.com), which is written for an attorney audience. This usually has little or nothing to do with matters that would interest my potential clients in my appellate law practice website. I link to a few of the articles, but not everything. However, I use social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook to market everything I write, no matter which audience is being targeted.

  10. Robert, I think you are right on track. With more and more websites being developed in content management system (CMS) platforms like WordPress and Drupal, attorneys will be able to update their sites just as easily as they have been updating their blogs. It will no longer be enough to just post to your blog – even once a day. You will need to regularly update and add content (new pages, graphics and video) to your website. It used to be that you had to pay a website marketing firm to make these types of changes. Now, with a good CMS platform, you can do it all yourself once you have the website properly set up.

    Another thing that I think will happen is that more and more firms will develop multiple sites and/or blogs. Many of these sites will be for specific practice areas (types of cases or leads you want to generate) and they will be set up with CMS platforms so you can expand them with new rich content as well. I believe that an aggressive web real estate strategy will be key to success in 2011 and beyond.

    -Dan Goldstein
    Owner, http://www.Page1Solutions.com

  11. VIckie Gray says:

    While I agree with all the comments above, the real challenge in my opinion is defining “meaningful” content. With firms everywhere posting content on the same issues (wish I had a dollar for every article about “health care reform” on law firm websites), we need to focus on developing content that our clients want to read; that they want to read before they read any OTHER law firm article on that topic; and that also manages to differentiate from the firms that are writing the exact same thing. Hmmm, I think I just made a resolution for 2011 :)

  12. Great insights, Robert. It’s easier for prospective clients to gather a comprehensive picture about an attorney. They’re able to make a more informed decision if they have access to more information (bios, blog posts, articles, books, podcasts, etc.). It’s transparent and shows experience. It also shows that they’re not “hiding” anything. (All while getting more website traffic!)

  13. […] recent post/discussion peaked my interest. The title,  2011 – The year that law firm websites become […]

  14. Robert, I LOVE this concept. To be able to gather and house all of our content in one place is a fabulous idea. I’m not saying I expect clients and potential clients to camp on our web/content sites and read everything there instead of finding us all around the Social Web, but to offer them the choice of learning as much about us as possible, to follow, friend or connect with us in that space, and to even converse with us makes good business sense.

    These sites will come and go, so to have our content housed safely (kind of) on our site is always a good idea.

    Nice job…now I’d like to have one of those sites! :-)

  15. Brad Cooper says:

    If this platform can take content that is designed to be read by other lawyers and somehow automatically re-write it to be easy to read for prospective clients– shortening it, adding bullets and charts, adding calls to action, and giving away enough, but not too much–this would be a great platform! =)

  16. […] 2011: The Year That Law Firm Websites Become Publishing Platforms, by Robert Algeri, sets the scene: “[T]he content on the firm’s website is often scattered throughout sections like ‘Multimedia,’ ‘Experience’ and ‘Publications.’ Very few prospective clients can be expected to bounce around the website looking for relevant content in all those different sections. The solution: a publishing platform … a website that is designed to showcase a firm’s content in a way that maximizes its ability to help generate business.” […]

  17. Tracy TC says:

    Website content with liberally applied keywords gets picked up and shared throughout the web, providing breadcrumbs for service users to follow back to the content originator’s website. The content originator reinforces his/her/its brand as an expert on the subject. The expert gets hired to provide services. Does this sound shockingly innovative to anybody? Come on, people. This isn’t new to the rest of the world. Only to our industry. Everybody else has been calling blogs “CMS’s” for years.

    On the other hand, Robert, your post warms my heart and I see hope that lawyers are finally waking up and smelling the coffee. =-)

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the new site you mention in your post, and hope that you’ll add me to the announcement list. I think you’re dead on with the attorney micro-sites as opposed to one page bios. Are you familiar with David Scott Meerman’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR (2007)? His thoughts on social media press releases might be helpful as you finalize your micro-site model.

    Good luck with the launch!

  18. […] has been stated that 2011 will be the year that law firm websites become publishing platforms. There is no question that effective law firm web strategy requires content publication and […]

  19. […] some great blogs lately about the importance of creating and sharing good content. Late last year Great Jakes even predicted that 2011 will be the year that content marketing becomes king. And I think they’re right – particularly their prediction that websites will become […]

  20. You’ve got a very helpful site. I’ve been here reading through for around two hrs. I am a newbie as well as your education is extremely helpful in my experience. Thanks

  21. irphan says:

    It is great change for world business for web development.
    Now a day lawyer provide his/her service online to his client.
    and it is easy for all client to take advice by the net.
    it reduced client time and money. http://www.mixedsoft.com
    and any one take advice form any country. Law make his own
    web for better service…

  22. […] 2011 – The year that law firm websites become “publishing platforms” […]

  23. […] Indeed, 2011 has been proclaimed as the year that law firm websites become “publishing platforms. […]

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