Summary: In this post, we cover the basic steps of content planning and creation for legal bloggers.
I know what you’re thinking. “This is a post on content marketing. People write books on content marketing. What’s this dude doing, writing a single post about an entire professional discipline?”
I know, I know. Writing strategic content and having it draw lots of traffic, shares, likes & links is hard. And worthy of several books.
Most of us live in a hurried world. We are not dedicated content strategists; we’re legal marketers who wear many hats. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely you fall into one of two categories:
- You either are a legal marketer who is developing a content strategy for your firm or
- You’re the person who already writes content (or will). You probably have great writing chops. But, you’re trained as a lawyer or a writer and – maybe – writing SEO friendly content isn’t second nature.
This post will give you a brief but complete overview of the process of writing legal content for the web. It’s based on what we know works but it’s not intended to be comprehensive. Feel free to leave us your thoughts, if you think we’ve left anything out.
Brainstorming Content Ideas: Keyword Research
Any good plan starts with research. On the web, the best way to mine content ideas is to start with keyword research. Last year I wrote an exhaustive post which offers a strategy for keyword research. My post offers deep-in-the-weeds techniques which this article doesn’t address. But, as a memory jogger, here’s why content strategies begin with keyword research:
- Keyword research is the only way to test your assumptions about what your audience wants. You don’t have to develop content ‘from your gut.’ Research reveals the popularity and variety of search strings in actual Google searches.
- Keyword research also informs more nuanced strategies. Lists of keywords from tools like SEMrush show more than popularity. They also give a ‘difficulty’ rating. These allow you to judge the approximate effort necessary to rank well for each keyword. For an example of what I mean here, consider this: Suppose I’m writing for a smallish personal injury firm. Our firm’s website is not very old (three years) and there isn’t a lot of existing content. The likelihood of ranking for a high volume keyword like ‘car accident attorney’ is very low. The competition is too fierce. But, suppose your staff has an attorney with a lot of experience in medical device failures. The search string ‘pelvic mesh injury’ is a less competitive keyword. And it probably has more than enough traffic to justify developing content around it. This is the sort of intelligence keyword research provides. It informs the direction your content strategy should take.
Once you have your list of content ideas, you should organize those ideas around themes. Then you should organize those themes into an editorial calendar. Your calendar should divide based on the ‘big idea’ driving your content strategy. For instance, you might follow what Andy Crestodina calls the ‘content hub’ strategy. This is the idea that you can’t dominate an entire industry space all at once. Rather, you build content around selected silos of knowledge. For instance, a few posts written about ‘pelvic mesh injuries’ can form the basis of a content hub. And this hub can expand to include other medical device liability articles.
Write to the Query
As search has evolved, keywords are losing ground to ‘meaning.’ In other words, Google is able to look beyond keywords. It can actually derive searcher intent, at a conceptual level. This move towards ‘semanticism’ has led to two coveted special search engine results. These are the ‘featured snippet’ and the ‘People Also Ask‘ dropdowns. These types of results are search engine gold. They ‘stick out’ visually and their clickthrough rates are very high.
Content which earns these ‘special’ results share similar characteristics. They all answer questions. Their authors have ‘written to the query,’ either intentionally or not. So, as content writers, we should make sure our content answers questions. Not all legal writing lends itself to this format, of course. But some does. Take a look, for instance, at this post from a tax blog. It currently yields a rich snippet for various ‘passive activity loss’ searches. In this post they’ve taken ‘writing for the query’ one step further. They offer executive summaries of their posts. These are question oriented and serve as an’faq’ for the post.
When in Doubt, Go Long?
Getting organic traction for content has become very competitive. There are many factors accounting for the success or failure of a piece of content. But, everyone agrees that exceptional content will almost always win the game. Rand Fishkin called it ‘10X Content.’ Brian Dean got famous by outlining a method he refers to as ‘skyscraper SEO.’ The idea is that, once you find a topic, research your competitors. Then, write a post which is better in every way. Better, for Brian, usually means longer and more exhaustive.
So, as a general rule, longer, more in-depth content will perform better in organic search. Experts disagree on ‘how long is long.’ The best advice is to look at what competitive content is ranking. And then write something better and more exhaustive.
There are a few other things to think about, as you write content for your firm’s blog. One thing we often see in legal writing is the tendency to split posts into parts. There are advantages and disadvantages to this practice. Most of these relate to length and keywords. For instance, if you’ve got a post which is very involved, you can target different keywords in different ‘parts.’ (If you pursue this strategy, though, be sure you use different titles for your ‘H1’ tags…) But a multi-part strategy doesn’t sense if each post is short and targets similar keywords. In this circumstance, the different posts will actually ‘cannibalize’ each other. They’ll both be competing with one another for search engine rank. Of course, though, there might be very sound non-SEO reasons to choose this strategy for your posts. At the end of the day, both formula and flexibility are part of the ideal content strategy.
Other ‘big picture’ things to think about in your content are internal and outbound links. As you write your posts, be sure to think about linking to other content you’ve already written. Internal links to content are important to SEO for various reasons. For one thing, internal links help Google understand which posts share related ideas. It reinforces the ‘content hub’ idea we introduced earlier.
Outbound links are a bit more complicated. Although they probably have little impact on the post’s SEO, it is often good practice to have them. No single blog post can authoritatively cover every secondary or tertiary concept mentioned. That’s why, for your reader’s sake, it’s a good idea to link to other content.
Consider this post a guide, not a formula. Writing legal content for the web must, by definition, please many masters. I’ve given you a few ‘best practices’ for content writing and SEO. But, your content has other objectives, as well, for which it is being written. Balance and priorities are the name of the game here. Knowing what practices are ‘better’ for SEO, though, can inform your writing process. As the old saying goes, “knowledge is power.”