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Why Website Content Is Essential For Service Firms

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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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Should Professionals Care About Website Content?

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Why professionals don’t have a content culture

It is no easy task to convince professionals – especially smaller suburban firms that make up the vast majority of the totality of employment across all professions – to undertake a task that appears to be a waste of very precious time.

And there’s some truth to that view. The content on your website is not a core function of your firm, and the hucksters who try to tell you otherwise have clearly never run a professional practice, met a professional payroll or dealt with the myriad issues that arise every day. For smaller professionals it can be a daily slog through a minefield. Why the hell should they care about the content on their websites?

Stop raising the bar

There are in fact good reasons why professionals should create informative and productive website content, and I say this as someone who also works as a suburban professional. I won’t resort to the Google Blackmail (“you MUST be on page one of Google”) – it’s rubbish, and anyway, if the rules to potentially achieve this search engine Shangri-La were ever doable, they have changed over the last couple of years.

So it’s a fair question that I have addressed in another post. Do you need an online marketing strategy? If you want to research it in more depth, then take a look at our series of MatureMedia Guides. If you do intend to pursue a content marketing strategy – which need not be more than carefully targeted website content which includes an informative bio, a Q&A section about the firm and your services, a set of information guides about those services and (hopefully) a blog post every week or so – then how do you create the culture to support it?

A creative mindset

If there is one refrain from the principals of smaller professional firms – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – to explain the reason they cannot write content, it’s that they believe they don’t have anything interesting to say. This appears to be a straightforward creative problem, but that’s only the case if you believe you must wear a creative hat to produce business content. It’s a golden oldie you probably learnt back in your schooldays, with the hackneyed refrain, “I’m just not creative”. You’re older now, and though it’s indeed hard to pick at the scab of wounds suffered at school, you need to remind yourself that content for your website is business all the way. It has very little to do with creativity.

There is a simple mechanism to overcome this negative mindset, that takes it out of the “creative” milieu and back into your comfort zone. You need to establish a system to get it done, in exactly the same way that you have a technology base for your firm, or a set of pro formas, or a well-defined path that takes a client from the first phone call to an initial interview and the opening of a file. You have these things because they make it possible to get on with the creation of work and not be overwhelmed by the minutiae of its implementation. You need the same type of mechanism for content production.

In the next post I’ll lay out some straightforward  rules to establish a creative mindset at your firm.

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Why Professionals Don’t Need A Big Social Media Budget

Websites for Professionals What Is Social Media – And Not

First, let’s be clear that “social media” is a big term with many interpretations and interpreters. For some people (usually high priced consultants) it means building lots of backlinks, looking at algorithms and lots of options about getting your website on the first page of Google search results. This is really search engine optimisation (SEO) which can be very expensive if it is done by professionals (here’s a tip – if it’s cheap, be very very wary).

So if you ask a consultant about improving the content of your website, and you’re soon asked to sign up to an SEO program, don’t do it until you first understand what it all means. How do you independently acquire this knowledge? What you need is basic research and a level headed approach (which is why you do the research!).

A Definition Of Social Media That Makes Sense

Social media is an umbrella term that includes blogs, social networking programs such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and professional networks like LinkedIn. Now some might argue with this classification, but abstract debates are unhelpful in the real world of professionals. This description happily encompasses hundreds of internet applications, but you only need to learn the basics of a few to develop your online strategy. Intrinsic in this is targeted website content and SEO (search engine optimisation). Yes, it’s not “social media”. But this is where you can begin to look at an online strategy, and it won’t be a large expenditure.

Ask yourself: what is my most immediate marketing goal? If you are a smaller professional firm, perhaps in the suburbs or a regional area, and already have a well developed website, with plain English information that has been optimised for the internet, well written biographical text and an informative FAQ section, then indeed it is time to move on to more sophisticated social media and SEO. If you are in this group, then congratulations, because you belong to a very small proportion of Australian professionals.

In other words, before you jump into big ticket items of more advanced SEO and social media (especially if you hire a consultant) first ensure you have optimised your website content. For most professionals in small firms this will already represent a significant effort. Professionals are aspirational, and that’s true for mature professionals as well. But we are too ready to accept our websites as little more than a brochure, perhaps a well designed brochure, but a brochure nevertheless. It ignores the reality that the quality and depth of your website’s content is going to be the major determinant of it’s success, and that includes SEO. There. I’ve said it.

 Where to start

All beginnings are hard. If you want a lot of ideas check out our MatureMedia Guides, or just get in touch for a chat (free) or ask a question.

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