A Lawyers Weekly article, reprinted in the Arizona Capital Times, reflects significant excitement about legal weblogs ("blawgs"). But some of the statistics presented in the article seem dubious:
- "In the four months since the blog — www.antitrustlawblog.com — was launched, the number of readers has skyrocketed to 50,000, up from 4,000 readers a month."
- J. Craig Williams, a lawyer in Newport Beach, Calif., estimated that his blog — mayitpleasethecourt.net — gets 20,000 hits a day."
- "“You can set up a Web site for $10,000, or put up a blog for $10,” [Larry Bodine] said. “I tell all my small-firm clients — forget the Web site, let’s get you a blog.”"
As for "mayitpleasethecourt.net" getting 20,000 "hits" per day, that particular term has long posed problems - does a "hit" mean a "file hit" (for which there are typically multiple "hits" per page view), "page view" (the number of times a page is displayed), or something else? And given the report that this traffic "generates one new client a week for his five-lawyer firm", well, generating business is good, but that would be an unbelievably poor conversion rate if that's one new client per 140,000 visitors to the weblog.
I am reminded of a lawyer I know who insisted that a peculiar website she was running was getting "a million hits per day". I'm sure her SEO ("Search Engine Optimizer") was telling her that the site was achieving that level of popularity - but neither its subject matter nor its subsequent (lack of) prominence supports that claim. Be aware, folks, that web designers and SEO's will not always be honest about the amount of traffic their work inspires - if you hear a huge figure from a professional you have hired, ask to see an actual report of traffic metrics based upon an analysis of the website's logs.
As for Bodine's suggestions, I simply disagree. First, it's only going to cost you in the neighborhood of $10 for a weblog if you "do it all yourself". And if you use that measure, it is no more expensive to set up a website if you "do it all yourself". Second, if you were to retain Mr. Bodine's services to set up a small firm website, I sincerely doubt that his quote would be in the $10 range. Third, websites and weblogs provide very different functions. A good law firm weblog can be integrated into the firm's website, with ready access to other content from that site, including information about the firm and its lawyers. A stand-alone weblog will be a less effective marketing tool. And, to the extent that Bodine's insistence that the "freshness" of a weblog's content helps a weblog achieve better search engine results, that would also hold true for a weblog which is integrated into a website.
And that traffic thing....
The other big reason for starting a blog, Bodine said, is to increase a firm’s visibility on the Internet. Google and other search engines rate the relevance of a site by how frequently it’s updated, as well as the number of other sites that link to it.Well, then, going back to an earlier example, what happens when you search Google for the word antitrust? The Antitrust Law Blog is result #42 - a decent result given the 7,390,000 hits reported, but not likely to generate significant traffic. Many of the "top ten" results are from traditional websites, some of which have seen little to no change in years. Yes, "fresh" content can get you a boost in the search engines, but that of itself won't give you staying power, and that of itself won't necessarily cause you to outrank established, traditional websites. Further, good content on an established website will continue to rank in search engine results, month after month, year after year, while "fresh" content from a weblog will typically become effectively absent from search engine results within weeks.
“The reason you want to have a blog is because it gets much more traffic [than a Web site] because search engines have tuned up their algorithms to seek and list blogs first,” Bodine said. “Blogs are basically what search engines are looking for — text and something that’s refreshed and interesting.”
Yes, it may well be possible to create a new weblog, and to use the weblog to achieve short-term search engine results which are better than those you are likely to achieve with a traditional website. (As I've mentioned in the past, most law firm websites are bad, and it shouldn't be surprising that bad websites don't generate much business.) If you have neither a website nor a weblog and you feel you must choose one or the other, it can thus make sense to start with a weblog, and then to establish your traditional site. If you will be attracting business based upon current legal issues and events, a weblog may well be the easiest way to get that "fresh" content before your potential clients. But if you are producing good content which is of longer-term interest, you will almost certainly benefit from building a traditional website.
Whatever you do, in the (im)mortal words of Public Enemy, don't believe the hype.