Monthly Archives: June 2014

Why Website Content Is Essential For Service Firms

Desk

 

How does Google find your firm?

Google wants to find the closest match on its search engine results page to what is searched by a prospective client. To do this it sorts billions of web pages and ranks them according to their value. There are many aspects to this ranking technology, however, the need for good content is now paramount because Google has altered its search algorithms to elevate the value of quality content as a prime driver of its ranking determination.

Ranking is based on a combination of two things – relevance and authority. Relevance is how close are you to the term being searched. But at the heart of Google’s algorithm is its proprietary means to measure the authority of the page (the “PageRank™” named after Larry Page, a founder of Google). This originated with the innovative work of Google’s founders on the authority of academic writing, which sought to rank the weight of an academic paper according to the number of different papers that cited it as an authority. Here’s the tricky part – not all of those citation sources are of equal value. For instance, if your academic paper is cited as a research source in a Nobel prize winner’s paper, which is also widely cited by others, it would (and should) give greater authority to your paper.

The Google algorithm originally achieved s a similar result, except Google looked for links from other web pages (called “inbound links”), not citations, and the authority was weighed by the number of links to the page that links to your firm. At least that was the intention in the early days of Google, and why the artificial use of those links became so prevalent, spawning so-called “link farms”.

“Panda” is a code name for a series of Google algorithm updates that commenced in February 2011, whose aim was to create a heavier focus on reader value and reward the trustworthiness of the website content. The many versions of the Google algorithm changes – both Panda and post-Panda updates – have specifically focused on quality unique content.

First understand your law firm’s content needs

The various Goggle updates have placed more and more emphasis on the quality of writing that must be relevant, authoritative, less jargon heavy and written in plain English. That’s hard to achieve by consultants unfamiliar with the professional-client culture and relationship, or at the least a similar service profession, which is why professional firms should always carefully brief and vet consultants hired to write content for their firm websites.

But don’t expect a copywriter to understand the nuances of estate litigation or mortgages or superannuation trust deeds. If you are a service professional without the time to write your own content, then at least get a thorough grounding in what you will need and look for someone very familiar a similar professional service industry. This is all explained in my eBook The Ultimate Guide To Website Content For Professional Firms (downloadable from the subscriber form at the end of this post and in the right hand margin).

Write benefits not features

The best way to structure content that targets both your clients AND Google is to understand and emphasize the benefits that clients derive from your services. An outside copywriter may assume that a family lawyer is in the business of selling family law advice and expertise. But this is going to cause real problems if you make it the foundation of your communication with clients. What if you instead shift the emphasis to “benefits”? After some time in this branch of law, you will be familiar with the emotional needs of clients in the throes of a life-changing relationship breakdown. From this perspective, what are you “selling”? Reassurance? Relief from anxiety? Guidance through a legal minefield? Hope for the future? The chance for financial security for children? Those are “benefits”, and they are the foundation of good website content. That does not mean you ignore the legal issues – every client wants to know that you will see them through the legal mire to a successful result – but you need to couch that advice within the context of an appropriate client psychology. This is sometimes known as a “client persona”.

When you focus on the features of your firm’s services, and not the benefits of those services, you misunderstand your client’s needs and how best to communicate with them. Ask yourself, “what do our clients really value”. That will always lead you to write content that rewards clients and boosts your search engine ranking.

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Service Professionals Are Natural Content Producers

Website contnet marketing for professional firms

Professionals are always content producers

“I can’t write a blog”. “I can’t write an eBook”. “I can’t write my own content for our firm’s website”. “I can’t…” Well, you get the idea.

Why is it that so many service professionals – lawyers, accountants and superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – apparently believe they cannot write beyond the usual  parameters of their profession? I don’t get it, and that’s not because I am a professional who has published written material for decades. In fact that only adds to the mystery.

But I do know three things for certain: one, it’s not that hard to write website content that will be relevant and useful to your clients; two, you already understand pretty much most of what you need to know to write that content; and three, content marketing is essential if you want to be found online. As I have previously written in my eBook The Ultimate Guide To Website Content For Professional Firms (downloadable from the subscriber form at the end of this post and in the right hand margin):

You may have heard the story of the sign that adorned the wall of the so-called War Room in the campaign headquarters of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential run against then incumbent George H. W. Bush. At one time following the Gulf War, with stratospheric approval ratings, Bush was considered unbeatable. Clinton’s chief strategist James Carville hung a sign to keep the campaign team on message – “It’s the economy, stupid”. His motive was not to berate the team that it lacked intelligence, in fact they were the best and the brightest, he placed it there to emphasize the obvious. Sometimes, in business as well as politics, we need to remind ourselves of what is right before our eyes. For a professional firm that wants to be found online, it’s the content.

Professionals don’t know what they already know

How long did it take to finish your professional studies? In my case it was five years full time at the University of Melbourne. Let me assure you, the basics of writing content for your firm’s website are elementary compared to those years of formal education. And what have you been doing since you graduated (no, not the mandatory trip to Nepal, after that)? In all likelihood you have been out in the real world, where know it or not you have undertaken rigorous training to be a …. content producer! Now all you need do is add a few simple rules – that’s 90% of what you need to know right there.

The other 10%? Just write…then write some more. Look, if there’s one rule to follow with content marketing, it’s this: produce quality content, and then more quality content, and then more. That’s it.

Changes to Google’s search engine rankings algorithms, introduced over the last few years, have ensured that quality content is now an imperative. Google’s response to the many objections to its algorithm changes, usually from those who previously relied on artificial means to boost rankings, has been the same for a while now – stop complaining and just create great content. Google will help new clients find your firm if you create ongoing original and useful content, and happily for you this is well within your reach.

Your firm is a content factory

We erroneously tend to think of content as that function of our firm that conveys something of value in writing to our clients, but that’s way off the mark. Putting aside Google and it’s voracious appetite for content, as a professional you are essentially in the content business, and that’s from the moment you greet a client in the waiting area to the final letter you send to finalize the engagement. Everything you say or produce for clients is either a content product, a piece of advice that easily translates into content, or an asset from your knowledge bank that that is already in writing or can be readily transcribed. In the end it’s all content, and for professionals it’s ubiquitous. That’s very good news for you.

Professionals know all about the rules of content (yes, you do). It’s encompassed in the way you explain arcane concepts to your clients, using techniques you have honed for years. As a lawyer, I used to do a lot of appearance work in courts. Often clients would tell me that they did not comprehend much of the courtroom interaction, complaining that they felt more like spectators than participants. But they never said that about my conversations with them when we were in my office or on the phone. That’s because, like the vast majority of professionals, I had learned to explain complicated issues in plain English. And this is the essence of good content marketing as well.

Just remember that writing content for your firm’s website is like a client interview. What is it that clients inevitably tell to begin a first interview? They tell a story. If you are a family lawyer, it might be a chronicle of a philandering partner or years of neglect. If you are a financial planner, it might be a tale of an investment opportunity that went south, or a dream to plan for a tertiary education for children, reflecting opportunities the client never had in their own family. A retirement expert might hear about the struggle to build a business, and the hoped for reward of a seachange to a coastal paradise.

And how do you respond? Usually with a story of your own, or stories of other clients who have trodden the same path. All service professionals know that listening is an essential skill. You probe for the right questions to clarify your client’s problem, and choose a way to explain their situation in its professional context, framed in the tones and language you have discerned from your client’s words. It’s the same with website content. Yes, you know many, many big words. But resist the temptation. The goal is communication, not self-aggrandisement (yes, that’s a very big word!)

Management consultant Ted Dwyer has noted:

…we know that clients view relationships as having multiple components, technical expertise being just one. The other components of quality relationships appear to be the same as those that exist in our personal relationships – trust; responsiveness; empathy; transparency; likeability; honesty; and, above all, genuine caring based on demonstrable actions.

What website content should professionals create?

It’s not the “what” that matters – it’s what the content achieves. Does it educate clients and prospective clients? Does it create an empathetic relationship with the client? Does it anticipate or alleviate pain points in their service transactions?

This is a different model than the traditional online “brochure” advertising of many professional firms. It requires an understanding of your clients’ wider needs. For instance,  nowadays it is no longer enough to tell clients they require adequate house insurance. To properly address those needs, and to encourage engagement with your content, you need to show them you have anticipated their underlying anxieties about the best strategies to protect their assets and their families. It’s precisely the same way you handle client inquiries every working day.

That’s real content marketing.

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Mature Professionals Are Dead Stars

Hubble

Why the internet shuns mature professionals

Pulsars are the remnants of a star, now dead, that has exploded in a supernova. Interestingly, though sometimes a mere few kilometers in diameter, they play way above their weight in the surrounding neighborhood, spinning very fast with enormous density so a teaspoonful of would weigh trillions of kilograms.

How apt. Once bright shining stars, when mature professionals venture into the online universe we are seen as the burnt out vestiges of a former glory. But like pulsars we also play way above our weight, and our density is the product of decades of experience in our professions.

As I explain in my eBook, I began my middle-aged journey to online content marketing as a result of a failed joint venture:

A while ago I had a small epiphany. Sitting at a conference table with a group of website designers and consultants, I realized my presence that day was largely superfluous. Not much of a revelation, you might think, we’ve all had that feeling in meetings. Except that I was the architect of the online product under discussion, and a lot of money was being spent in pursuit of its development.

This is fairly common experience for those of us who have suffered through endless consultations with IT professionals who revel in an arcane language and poor presentation skills. As I realized in that meeting, my presence was at best annoying, my questions a hindrance to the process, and my age (fifties) a matter of some unexpressed but not entirely hidden derision:

At that meeting I realized the consultants saw the product mostly as a means to showcase their expertise, which was reflected in conversations that largely disregarded the needs of the ultimate customer, the end users who would source it online. Though these consumers would be the final arbiters of its success, the IT consultants pursued an agenda of ever more demanding and time consuming technical “fixes” that in fact seemed to needlessly impede the usability of the product.

There was clearly a disconnect here. As a lawyer and writer (and let’s face it, the architect of the product!) , I understood that the product was all about the end users. For the consultants who bandied around state of the art analyses of SEO and meta tags and other technical issues of website design, every meeting seemed an opportunity to consult with each other. I was ignored not because I was older, but because I was irrelevant.

Mature professionals know more than they think

Mature professionals – 45 or 50 or 55 or 60 – are disenfranchised in the online world. You can argue about this till the digital cows come home (to your homepage of course), but it’s a fact. How do I know? Because I am one of them.

In my profession, the law, contrary perspectives are not unusual. It is an interesting dilemma of discrimination laws as to where the liability for prejudice lies – is it an objective test or are the subjective “feelings” of the victims to be the benchmark? Let me be clear, when it comes to this form of discrimination, my experience is that ageism is alive and well in the online world, and many peers confirm these feelings.

Of course it’s not only the fault of clueless commentators, most of them far younger, who do not know how to communicate with mature professionals. Many of those professionals also fear to move beyond a comfort zone where they have spent decades in a soothing limelight. But it’s not as though content marketers and other internet marketing specialists lay out the welcome mat. It’s therefore a real pity that there are few peers, and I am trying to be one of them, to facilitate the entry of fellow mature professionals into the world of online content. In part, that’s why I launched this website.

The big secret mature professionals keep to themselves

You won’t learn this in a book about web design or content marketing, but mature professionals who feel alienated from online marketing sometimes have the most to offer and to gain, because we come armed with decades of professional experience. For us, mastering the technology is the easy part.

Why is this a secret? Because those mature professionals don’t believe their expertise can encompass online content management, and content providers are more motivated by a need to emphasize and sequester their proprietary skills.

So how about a meeting of the hearts and minds?

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"Lawyer and plain-English expert Geoffrey Winn wants to set you free to make the legal and financial decisions that will help you take control of your life."

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"Practice Management: How to Get To The Top" by Geoffrey Winn               

Law Institute of Victoria Journal May 2014  

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