Monthly Archives: April 2014

My Managing Partner Does Not Care About Content Marketing

Network unlocked Closeup

The middle way of content marketing

The Managing Partner in your professional firm does not want to know about content marketing. She doesn’t want to know about the optimum use of your website. She doesn’t have any interest in a wider marketing effort on the internet. She thinks this is all a waste of the firm’s precious time, and….yes, time is not only money, it’s also time away from the needs of the firm’s clients. She’s tired of hearing of the latest book you have read about content marketing. She says the authors of these books are not lawyers (or accountants, finance or insurance professionals or planners) and have no idea about the culture of a professional firm or the needs of clients of a professional firm.

Then there’s that weird interest in Buddhism you (now regretfully) brought into the argument. You told her, “I understand your issues, but think of content marketing for our firm as a Buddhist Middle Way, a path between the extremes of doing nothing and doing too much too quickly. Get it?”

She did not.

You need a business case

Here’s where she’s absolutely right – those books are not written by practicing professionals. They are not written by people who have an intimate understanding of the professional-client relationship. Her skepticism relates to the misunderstanding of that relationship by people who sell services to retail and other commercial operators. As she said at the end of that last conversation (the one in which you raised Buddhism), “we’re not selling soap powder”.

Here’s what you need to make your argument. You need a Business Case.

First look to word of mouth

This is where you have taken the wrong path with your partner. To allay her concerns, which are legitimate, you should stop quoting internet marketing experts and explain your plans in terms that every professional will instantly comprehend. And that’s word of mouth. She’s right to criticise.

I have written before about some SEO (search engine optimisation) consultants and the dangers of their sales pitches.  The same issues could be raised about twenty-something “Content Consultants” who really don’t have enough life experience in general, and specific experience in the milieu of professionals firms, to create an effective dialogue with professionals or (by proxy) their clients.

Always first look to word of mouth. As Andy Sernovitz has noted in his excellent book Word of Mouth Marketing, to gain these referrals you ought to:

  • give people a reason to talk about you; and
  • make it easier for that conversation to take place.

Your partner will understand this argument because she knows, as every professional does, that word of mouth referrals are the mainstay of any professional firm.

Now let’s anticipate her follow-up question.

How does website content promote word of mouth?

You will immediately acknowledge that this is indeed an excellent question. The answer is  straightforward, and (thankfully) demands no reference whatsoever to Buddhism. Nowadays search engines (i.e. in practice Google) are the dominant professional directories, so a marketing effort that improves both word of mouth and search engine rankings is the best strategy.

The fulcrum issue is that these word of mouth conversations nowadays take place online and offline, and in fact interact to produce what has been called “Social Voice”.

Content Marketing represents a form of word-of-mouth marketing  in which readers consume, engage and share your useful brand content. A strong content marketing strategy hits closer to the 90% trust level than any paid banner ad at the other end of the consumer trust scale (Hatchd Digital).

Clients and prospective clients utilize your firm website as a means to gauge who you are, and often as a virtual “pre-interview”. To the extent that you can create a narrative, be useful, be educational and think strategically about the needs of clients and prospective clients, you will greatly increase your word of mouth.

This is the best approach to reluctant partners, an appeal to both the well-worn and trusted word of mouth and the online content development that supports it.

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Should Professional Firms Write Long Form Website Content?


My recent long form content experience

Having just finished a six-part series of posts, 50 Website Content Strategies For Professionals, each long form (average 2200 words each), I thought I would pass on some of the lessons from this experience. For the record, this series is in total 13,500 words published twice a week for three weeks. It took a while to write, but that’s part of the secret of getting it done that I want to pass on – incrementally, not in one gigantic burst, which will likely turn into one gigantic bust.

Should professionals write a long form series?

Yes you should. And no you shouldn’t. Get it?

Long form blogging is a controversy unto itself, so let’s first look at the pros and cons before we move on to consider its place in the marketing scheme of a professional firm.

First, you will not find a definitive answer to this. Not here, and not anywhere else in the blogosphere. Sure, there are dogmatists who swing each way, but for every argument in favour of a long form blog post – say 2000 words or more – there are others who swear it is preferable to take the shorter route home, perhaps 500-700 words. The latter is what I usually aim for when not writing a stand alone post. This should reveal something, there is no “perfect” length for a blog post.

By the way, one of the greatest exponents of the blog post (and everything else about online communication, Seth Godin, regularly posts at about 100 words. Here’s an example. He has millions of readers. What’s the point? That the answer depends on who you are, what you want to achieve, and who you want to reach.

My first series post – Google Has No Clothes – was also six parts (yes, once more planned  at a neat five but once more I got carries away), but each post in the series was the standard 500 – 700 words. The latest series was a far bolder experiment.

Here’s how to tell what suits your firm

Should professionals firms – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, retirement, insurance and financial planning  professionals – have a blog? The straightforward answer is yes.

Should professionals firms also consider a long form post? Look at the following:

  • How long will it take to say what you want? If you are a personal injuries lawyer, and you want to write a post about the steps prospective clients should take to make a claim after a public transport accident, then it’s going to take longer than a post about how to write a letter to your neighbour over a fencing dispute.
  • If you publish a blog post once a month, or even every two weeks, then there is probably more room to write a longer post. Obviously it will take more time to write the latter, and I deal with this in the next section.
  • What’s your purpose? What’s the business case for your blog post? If the greatest investment rewards your business case, then do it. If not, then it is a waste of time and will only reward your ego
  • Can you write well enough to sustain an argument or thread over a long form series? If longer form equals boring, then you are in trouble and would be far better to stick to a shorter form.

The answer is an occasional longer form series

This is what I intend to do:

  • 500 – 800 words posts for the everyday issues I want to address that also match my business case;
  • an occasional longer form stand alone post over 2000 words;
  • and a longer form series of five posts or so, each 2000 words up, perhaps every few months.

My reasons for an occasional long form post are:

  • it provides lots of internal links for other posts;
  • it’s good advertising for my writing ability;
  • there is more room for keywords to help search engine rankings;
  • it encourages readers to share;
  • it separated you from the pack;
  • it offers scope to fully present an argument;
  •  it can form a chapter in a later eBook or other publication.

How to create a long form topic

This is the easy part. I keep an account on Feedly, and I read a lot of news. When I think of a topic I want to consider for longer form writing, I jot it down and then populate a list with URL’s and sources until I have enough to begin a research project.

What software do I use? Yes, I know all about Evernote and similar tools to gather ideas for future reference. Sorry to make this shocking confession, but I use a notebook. Made out of paper. And a pen. For those of our younger readers, this is a writing apparatus. I then transfer my ideas to a Word document under headings, and when I have accumulated enough ideas under a specific heading, turn it into a long form blog post. Prehistoric I know.

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Keyword Planner For Professional Firms

Wordle - Keywords

The day Google killed its Keyword Tool

August 28th, 2013 was a sad day in the annals of DIY bloggers and content-makers. Once it was easy enough to find keywords for your firm’s website. You looked into the bowels of the Google Keyword Tool and presto, there they were, keywords of every shape and description. The results also told you how often (or how little) that term was searched by prospective clients looking for a service just like yours. It was a godsend.

But godsend no longer, not after August 28th, 2013. A day of infamy.

What is Keyword research?

Keyword research attempts to predict the words clients and prospective clients might type into a search engine when they look for the service you provide. You then use those words, strategically placed in your website content, to attract them to your firm’s website. Keyword research is basic, and should be looked at by anyone who writes targeted (optimised) content. It should also be conducted for every page on your website, and every blog post you write.

But how does the search engine know what searchers specifically want if, as is usually the case, the searcher does not type those specific words (in fact often the searchers don’t know, that’s why they’re doing “research” or “surfing”).

Using the Google Planner

Google still has a lesser keyword tool, the Google Keyword Planner, but it associated with its paid Google AdWords. You get it when you sign up for an AdWords account. You can use it to get the average monthly searches for the terms you have identified as potential keywords. Again, your ideal keyword has low competition and high search volume, but they are obviously scarce.

First use the “new keyword or ad group ideas” function. Then type in a broad search term for your professional service e.g. “family law”. You will receive a list of “related words” to check. So “family law” might return “divorce lawyer” “financial agreement” “custody” etc.

Then check the search volume and level of competition for that keyword. This is where it gets interesting. The most common failing of professional firms is to target keywords that are the most popular (e.g. “make a Will”), not understanding that the same keyword (or keyphrase) will also be targeted by larger competitors. This will be challenging (at the least) if you are a small firm competing with a much larger firm for the same keywords.

Look at the long tail

Although you might logically think the most popular search terms are the majority of searches, in fact they account for less than 30% of the total searches performed on the web. The remaining 70% are the so-called “long tail” of search. This is the treasure trove you can mine and refine with the Keyword Planner – the hundreds of millions of unique search terms that appear less often, but when added together represent the largest percentage of all searches.

Remember, for every person who searches a broad term like “accountant” or “lawyer” or “financial planner” or “insurance broker”, there are many more who search for a specific service by an accountant or lawyer or financial planner or insurance broker, e.g. “self managed superannuation fund” or “family law financial agreement” or “flood insurance broker in Smithville” or “family trusts tax returns”.

There is another element at work here. A decade ago we would be more likely to search for a standard keyword and use the search engine results to sift through the resulting information to clarify what we wanted. Nowadays there is an evolutionary development in the sophistication of searchers, who are more likely to begin the search for more targeted words. Those targeted words are more “long tailed” by nature, which makes them ever more important.

Don’t run to consultants

At best keyword research is problematic. This is even moreso given Google’s decision to withhold information that was once the bedrock of any keyword research, especially for those who relied on free research available through the Google Keyword Tool.

This is a complicated issue, because it may appear to make hiring an SEO expert a greater imperative. There is no doubt that the withdrawal of the Google Keyword Tool is a major setback to DIY keyword analysis, but at the same time other Google changes have also taken place in it’s algorithms, and the effects must be analyzed holistically. Content research is more than technical use of a tool – it’s also knowing your clients and the client you want to attract to your firm, the overall quality of your content, and the trust that your content engenders.

There is very much you can do on your own before you need to seek (expensive) outside help.

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