Please don’t make these 4 big but common mistakes
This post is aimed mainly at the professional services and particularly at solicitors. But before you click away, just have a quick skim read to make sure none of this applies to you. Just in case.
So just how good are most legal blogs?
I wanted to know how good you solicitors are at writing blogs. I mean it’s not in doubt that you’re articulate, clever and should be natural-born communicators. But blogs are different. They require a different mindset and approach. You have to let go of formality and jargon. You have to break the rules. You have, in short, to talk a different language. And write in a different style to the one which you’ve spent years perfecting.
At least 50% of solicitors I have spoken to over the last year reckon they’ve got blogging sussed. If that’s right, there’s no point in me offering a blogging service you don’t need, was my thinking. So, I did some research. (Fortunately for me, the other 50% said either, ‘What’s blogging’ or ‘It’s on next years to do list!’.)
Was it your blog I looked at?
At random, I picked 10 legal blogs and took a peek. And I’m going to be brutally honest about the results. I appreciate that may mean that any of you that have read this far, may now jump ship or start sticking pins into a voodoo effigy of me. But what I found wasn’t pretty.
I’m not criticising (well maybe a little)
I won’t be naming and shaming the blogs I read and to be fair, I’m half lawyer too. It’s taken me a long time and a fair amount of training to rid myself of some of these bad habits, so I do feel your pain. But here, in all their warts and all glory, are the 4 worst blogging crimes my research revealed:
1. Writing as if to a fellow professional / writing a legal submission
This was by far the most common mistake. It takes many forms so here’s just one example:
I came across a blog last week that at first glance seemed to tick at least one good practice box. The first paragraph was short, with just two sentences. But…then it all went wrong.
All I read was blah, blah, blah
In those first two sentences, all the following phrases were used: “For a number of years, the well-established English legal principle of …’ (That was the opening number – my, I can hardly wait to read on. Not.), ‘the yardstick of equality’ and the “inequitable division of the matrimonial assets”.
All in two, short sentences!
The author went on to talk about spouses and the principles of a recent Court of Appeal decision. The main message of the article was, that if you’ve got a lot of assets you might want to think about a prenuptial agreement if you don’t want to give half to your ex on divorce.
But that message only got one, very brief mention …right at the end of the blog. In the last sentence in fact.
You don’t have to dumb down but intelligent isn’t the same as interesting or relevant to your target audience
There’s no doubt the blog was intelligently written. As an ex-family lawyer, I was interested. But from the outset, it felt like a blog aimed at fellow solicitors. And I’m pretty sure other family lawyers (ex or otherwise) weren’t the writer’s target audience.
In fact, I’m pretty sure his target was some fat cat potential client about to get married to his dazzlingly pretty bride (I know I’m stereotyping) who should get a prenup (oops, I slipped into legalese).
You’re not talking my language
I shouldn’t think any potential client read any further than the headline (I won’t quote it for fear of identifying the culprit). Why? Because I wouldn’t imagine he thought a “well-established English legal principle of…” had any relevance to his wedding! As a reader, he was lost at the first sentence if not before.
So, what should the author have done?
Well, he should have:
- Dropped the jargon, legal speak and formal style and gone for conversational. If you met the ideal reader of this post in a pub, how would the conversation sound? How would it start? Using simple, short and easy to understand language is not the same as dumbing down. It’s good communication.
- Thought very carefully about who this blog was aimed at and why. What sort of language would that person use?
- Included the main message much earlier on – like in the headline (see below).
- Avoided setting the blog out like a formal report of a recent decision. Us lawyers like it that way… but clients will get bored and think it’s …well a formal legal report!
- Used second person (if you’re getting married) not third party (for big money spouses) which sounds remote and impersonal.
2. Hiding blogs
A big majority of the blogs I discovered (and I use that word advisedly) were hidden. Not deliberately I’m sure but they were hard to find. No one was going to find them without putting in some serious effort.
And the one thing we know about internet users is that they’re not inclined to put in serious effort. Far from it. They want easy to find info at their fingertips. No effort required.
So, what do I mean by hidden blogs?
- Blogs on pages with cryptic titles ( “What we say”, “Events”, even “About” for example ) which frankly didn’t suggest to the reader that they might find a useful blog post lurking there.
- Blogs hidden deep within the services pages. At one site I visited, I clicked on the services page, then I clicked on a sub-page about Last Power of Attorney and then, as my mouse accidentally swept across the page, I realised there was a further page with a blog about LPAs. But for my fidgety mouse, I would never have found it.
- Not using any relevant keywords.
3 ways to make your blogs easy to find
When you’re writing a blog post, always have in mind how it’s going to be found by readers. There are essentially 3 ways (not including paid advertising):
i. Make the signposting on your website really simple and clear. Have a page (preferably which is in the main navigation bar) dedicated to your blog. Make it clear what it is. Blog. Recent developments. Something like that.
ii. Think about keywords and do some keyword research. Once you’ve identified the right keyword/s use them naturally in your writing. Try and make sure they are scattered throughout the body of your writing.
Using keywords is a post in itself, which I’ll write in the future, so stay tuned. But ideally try and include a keyword in your post title, your opening few lines, maybe in a sub heading and towards the end as a minimum. But don’t over use them.
(Jargon alert) If you don’t know already, learn about Meta tags and make sure you write a Meta title and description for each post. Edit your URL and take advantage of Alt tags. If you have no idea what I’m talking about – send me an email. This is a big topic but I can at least talk you through the basics.
iii. Promotion. Few, if any blogs will succeed without a bit of promotion. You could send out an email or newsletter with links to your blog, you could post it on LinkedIn. You could tell all your friends and family (not the best tactic unless they’re potential clients). But do something with it.
Better still, try and work out where your target reader is hanging out – it may not be on LinkedIn!
You also need to think very carefully about your email header or social media post. “Read our latest blog here about recent Court of Appeal guidelines” is about as compelling as a squashed slug.
3. Which leads me nicely onto the subject of headlines
Without wishing to be unkind, the standard of headline or post title that I came across was shockingly poor. Here are a few examples:
• Easing a painful process
• No stellar contribution
• Owen v Owen: time for reform?
• Are you compliant?
• Out of sight but not out of mind
Now, I appreciate that other solicitors or accountants you know may be interested in the above. I can even take a wild stab in the dark about what some of these posts might be about.
But will your potential client know that these cryptic / dull titles are directed at them? Would they have a clue what they’re talking about? Do they feel relevant?
You need to grab their attention
In order to get a potential client’s attention, you have to write a headline that is relevant to them and compelling. Something that grabs them by the short and curlies and makes them think, Crikes, that’s me, I better read this (followed by, if you’re lucky, Gosh these chaps know their onions, I’ll get in touch).
Going back to our earlier example, what about, “How do you feel about giving your ex half of your assets?” It may be a bit clumsy but surely better than “Special contribution argument takes a blow” (Oops).
4. Poor formatting
Second jargon alert. What do I mean by poor formatting?
I mean great long chunks of text with long paragraphs and no sub headings.
I mean no headlines at all.
I mean sentences longer than the Amazon (river not shopping platform).
I mean tiny font or white font on a coloured background (don’t make my eyes bleed please).
I mean (stretching the definition of formatting here but bear with me) using old photographs of a really geeky / pompous / old fashioned (delete as appropriate) lawyery type who doesn’t look like he’d be remotely sympathetic as I face the crisis of my life.
Make it a pleasure to read
Your post doesn’t have to just read well. It has to look pleasing. Headlines, as I’ve said, should entice your reader in. Your first line, compel them to read on.
Sub headings should outline the story so that if they haven’t got time to read the whole thing, they get the drift.
Sentences and paragraphs should be short. This allows the reader to catch their breath and digest the information and doesn’t make the post look too overwhelming.
Spend time culling. Cull paragraphs, sentences, words and even letters. Keep it simple. But make it look nice.
Don’t have a library shot of some corporate clone but equally, Rumpole of the Bailey (is it just me who remembers), may not be the look that you’re after.
Now it’s your turn
I’ve been harsh on you. And no doubt this blog post is riddled with breaches of my own rules! I’m human and so are you. Writing blogs is hard. We all mistakes. I make loads. I hope this post will help you make less.
Of course, if you are writing for your fellow professionals…a lot of this advice mains good!