[Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]
Like many others, I was sad to hear about the very recent decision to cease the publication of Law Office Computing. The magazine was always a great resource on legal technology and published quite a few of my articles. I’m honored that the last issue to be published has an article of mine as a feature, and includes an illustration that uses the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s album cover with my face pasted on Paul McCartney.
I rarely write about blogging anymore. It’s not that it’s all been said, but Jerry Lawson pointed out that I first wrote about blogging for lawyers more than five years ago. I’m not being critical of others writing about blogging now, because it is important to bring this material to a new audience, but I regularly see new articles on blogging, especially blogging for lawyers, that contain points that were made several years ago presented as if they were fresh insights. However, I’ll quickly note that I am not the audience for those articles. I do wish that current articles were a bit more generous in mentioning earlier source materials (e.g., The Internet Roundtable #37).
LOC’s excellent editor, Amanda Flatten, asked me if I could come up with a fresh angle on lawyers and blogging. I initially did not think that I could, but, after sounding out the other blogging old-timers at the Between Lawyers blog, I decided that the freshest approach was to cut through all the “hype” about blogging and being a “blogger” and to focus on the humble element of blogging software and why it is so effective at what it does and how it simply, invisibly and effectively creates the magic associated with blogs. As I’ve said for many years, content is what matters.
I had also gotten tired about reading about blogging and how it was a panacea for marketing. Many articles on blogging these days are quite proscriptive and attempt to mandate what “true blogs”b should and should not do. For my taste, there’s too much focus on bloggers and the personalities of bloggers and the mythos of blogging these days. To me, you stand or falll on what you write, what you actually do with your blog, and your authenticity.
My reference to “blogomania” in the article, therefore, is an ironic one, especially when it comes to blawgs. Just as the Beatles were about the music, blogging is about the content that creative people produce. Blogging software places simple tools in the hands of creative people and allows them to create art, rather than just learn how to use the tools. If you want to know the magic of blogging, there it is.
I really like the way this article turned out and hope you enjoy it. Much of whatever “wisdom,” if any, I’ve gained over the years of operating a website and a blog is distilled and set out as simply as I can in this article. If even a few people read this, act on it and create something new and cool, express something real and true, or help us see the world, legal or otherwise, with new eyes, then I’ll be quite pleased.
This blogging stuff ain’t that hard – get out there and try it. As I’ve long said, let a thousand blogs bloom.
How to Use Blogging Software Profitably – Without Becoming a “Blogger”
I missed the whole Beatlemania thing, but there are days lately when I see so many articles and so much hype about blogging, especially blogging for lawyers, that I wonder if we are in a period of blogomania.
Law-related blogs are often cited as good examples of how a profession adopted the use of blogs. Lawyer blogging pioneer Denise Howell playfully coined the term “blawg” for law-related blogs a few years ago and the word has become widely-used. I see articles on a daily basis insisting, with increasing urgency, that all businesses, including law firms, must have blogs. Can this really be true?
As a longtime blogger, I regularly get questions from lawyers about blogging and whether they “need” to have a blog. One of the common reservations I hear is that someone does not want to be a “blogger.” They feel that don’t have the time or the inclination to maintain a blog on a regular basis with multiple daily posts, thought-provoking content, breaking news stories and doing the other things we read about bloggers that bloggers wish were true.
You might be surprised to learn that you can get some great benefits from using blogging software and blogging techniques without any need to become a “blogger.” Most people will not even realize that you are using blogging software. The benefits you will find are a greatly improved Internet presence, better content, more traffic, easy maintenance and, most likely, reduced cost. If you can achieve that, who really cares whether you are known as a “blogger” or not?
Starting Point – What is a Blog?
Let’s get everyone on the same page. “Blog” has been defined in the online encyclopedia called the Wikipedia as “a website in which items are posted and displayed with the newest at the top.” I have often described a blog as “an online newspaper or magazine column without the newspaper or magazine.” The simplest definition today might well be a type of website produced and maintained with blogging software.
For our purposes, let’s think of a blog as a type of website in which new content is regularly added in the form of individual items (or “posts”) that are displayed in reverse chronological order on a set of pages that are generated into a template. Blogs have a number of standard features and, even if you have never seen one before, after you look at a few blogs, you will recognize the common characteristics.
The reason that the simple idea of blogging has taken off is that blogging makes it extraordinarily easy to publish content without needing to know HTML or other Internet technologies.
A Key Concept -b Internet Presence.
In our increasingly Googleized and online world, you have an “Internet presence” whether or not you have a website. Do a search on Google on your name or your firm’s name. To many people, that is your Internet presence. To an increasing number of people, that is also the basis on which they make decisions about you.
The best way to present and maintain a positive Internet presence is to have a good website. Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms have websites that are lackluster at best or even create negative images. Problems include lack of interesting content, out of date information and general uninterestingness.
What Works on the Web.
Over the years, people have recognized that a number of standard techniques consistently make for a successful website. The biggest point is captured by the oft-repeated phrase, “content is king.”
People using the Internet are looking for helpful sites that help them answer specific questions or solve specific problems by providing the type of information that is useful to them at that time.
A successful website will provide helpful information geared to its audience that is fresh, updated regularly and added to consistently. A website of this kind gives people a reason to return on a regular basis. When people return to your website on a regular basis, they become more likely to call you when they need your services or to recommend you to others who may need your services.
In addition to solid content, users also like to see a professional-looking site and some indication of your personality. Do you show something in common with them so that they might like to work with you?
Common Barriers for Lawyers.
Lawyers can get bogged down at several points in the process of creating a website, but no more so that in maintaining and regularly updating a website with good content. The primary reason is that there are some technical hurdles after you write the content.
Before blogging software, a lawyer might write a new item for his or her website – for example, a checklist of when to hire a lawyer for a certain issue. While it would be perfect content for the website, it was not ready to go up on the website. It would have to be coded into an HTML format that matched the rest of the website design, then uploaded to the website. While the concept is easy, the process is laborious and requires specialized knowledge. Adding one page might require that you make changes to several other pages and it is easy to make mistakes or even “break” your website in the process.
Your other choice would be to pay your web designer to upload your content, a process that has its own challenges. Often, updating your content will be about #4,667 on your web designer’s to-do list.
As a result, it is relatively rare to see law firm web sites that have a lot of fresh new content on a regular basis, with two key exceptions.
The first is websites where one or more lawyers regularly write and publish articles in other publications and then republish them or link to them on their websites. These lawyers have a steady stream of content and establish a standard procedure for getting those articles on the website.
The second is websites of firms who list press releases, recent developments or “in the news” items. They will often have a page, or a place on the home page, that lists these recent developments in reverse chronological order. A visitor gets the sense that there is ongoing activity, updates and has a reason to return to see fresh content.
The perceptive reader will note that both exceptions have a “blogging” feel to them.
How Blogging Software Overcomes these Barriers.
As someone who has had a website for more than ten years, I can tell you that my wish list before blogging software would have looked something like the following. I wanted the ability to:
- Write the content with minimal need to know or use HTML or other coding.
- Publish my content into a template that looked like the other pages on my website.
- “Publish once” and have changes appear on every page where needed.
- Create archives and implement search tools.
- Republish quickly and easily to fix errors and make other simple changes.
Blogging software lets me do all of that and more.
There are two ways to look at blogging software, depending on your Internet experience. It is instructive to consider both of them.
Those of us who have had websites for a long time see the value of blogging software as a simple, powerful, lightweight content management system for a website. I can write my content and publish it into a template. The software automatically formats my post, displays it and refreshes the other parts of my website to reflect the new content. I don’t have to painstakingly get the HTML right and make lots of other changes to my website.
For people who have never worked on a website in HTML, they simply avoid the learning process and move into a system in which they can write a post in something that looks and works like a simple word processor and then “publish” the new content on their website (usually by simply clicking on a button that says “publish”). A good number of bloggers say that they would not be blogging if they had to learn HTML. The key for them is that they can write and publish so easily.
In either case, the blog approach overcomes the most common barriers for lawyers on putting new content on their websites.
One good thing about blogging software is that there are relatively few choices. It is reasonably easy to make a decision about what to use.
Your first choice is whether to install blogging software yourself on your web server or use a hosted service. If you do not even know what a web server is or if you have one, the choice gets very easy.
If you use a hosted service, you will pay a modest monthly fee. You will get a user name and password. You have a “dashboard” from which you can make selections about your blog. You can choose among a number of nicely-done design templates, include features like comments, set up categories for posts and much more. You can have a great-looking, full-featured blog in a few minutes for $10 to $15 a month.
If you want to do more customization and have more control, you will want to consider buying blogging software and installing on your web server. The good news is that your ISP should now be familiar with this process and be able to help you with the installation or install it for you. Take it from me, the initial installation can be tricky and time-consuming, but the software, once it is up and running, seems to be very stable. You can then choose a design template (or have a custom one created for you) and configure your features and you are off and running. Expect the software to range from free to approximately $200.
The majority of blogs have gravitated to two blogging software platforms – Movable Type ($199) and WordPress (free). Most law-related blogs seem to be on the Movable Type platform these days. Other choices exist, but there is little reason not to use one of these two packages.
If you choose the hosted services approach, you will find that the majority of law-related blogs are hosted on TypePad.com. I have personally used TypePad, WordPress.com and SquareSpace.com. You will also see blogs on Blogger.com, MySpace.com and other providers. I suggest starting w ith TypePad (a hosted version of Movable Type), but take a look at the others to compare services and features in light of your needs.
What Blogging Software Does – A Short Tour.
Your user experience will be very similar whether you install blogging software or use a hosted service. TypePad is really just a massive installation of Movable Type.
You will go to your own login page and enter your user name and password. You will be taken to a console page that lets you administer your blog and gives you information about it.
Most of the time, you will simply be adding new content. In the world of blogging software, new content is created on an item-by-item basis. The unit of blogging is an individual entry call a “post.”
Let me walk you through the process of how I create a post.
I click on a button or menu choice to create a new entry. I see a template that allows me to give the post a title and to select a category for the post. There’s a text box into which I can then type my content or post. Clicking on little icons allow me to bold, italicize or underline, to add hyperlinks, and to block quote or do other formatting, all without knowing HTML. The required HTML code is inserted for me.
I can type my entry into this box or copy it from another document. When I’m done, I can preview what the entry will look like when it is formatted, check for typos and make other revisions. When it is ready, I click on a button that says “publish” or “save” and the post is published on my website.
Here’s where the magic happens. My post is now added to the main page of my blog, at the top, in reverse chronological order, within the design template for my blog. The post is also placed in the appropriate archives, shown on the calendar, and categorized and made available in the search engine on the blog. As I’ll discuss later, the post is also sent out via my RSS feed. All of this happens automatically.
By the way, once you understand this process and see it in action, you will understand why most bloggers will say that writing for your blog takes much less time than most people imagine.
If I want to make a change to my post or add to it later, I simply go to the post in the blogging software, make the change and republish the revised post.
Why Blogging Software is so Appealing.
Blogging software allows you, especially you the busy lawyer, to concentrate on writing and producing content without worrying about the coding, the technology, the delays and other drawbacks that get in your way. In other words, it slashes away most of your excuses to procrastinate on producing content.
Do I Need a Separate Blog?
The beauty of blogging software is in its simplicity. If you look at my website (www.denniskennedy.com), you will see that my blog appears to be another part of my website. If you look closer, you will see that my blog is a Movable Type blog that is separate from my website, but, because of the common design template, appears to be integrated with my website.
Blogs take advantage of a web design technique involving templates and “cascading style sheets” (CSS). This technique separates the content elements and the design elements. The CSS is “applied” to the template and dictates how your browser displays the page. If you change the CSS, you can change the entire look and feel of the blog without changing the content whatsoever. In fact, some blogs allow you to click on a button and instantly change the look and feel of a blog.
Web designers today tend to create websites, or redesign old ones, using the template and CSS approach. You can then incorporate, as I do, a blog and a website into a unified design.
However, the key lesson I have for you is that you don’t need to “have a blog” or “be a blogger.” Instead, you can use the blogging software to create content for your website without even thinking about it as a separate blog.
For example, you could use the blogging software to generate a “what’s new on this site” section of your website. If you posted a new article, it would appear on the “what’s new” page, just like a blog post, but it would also be put into category archives. A visitor could then go to an “articles” section of your website, find the article and never be the wiser that the “articles” section was simply the “article category” archive page for your “blog.”
Some people have even used blogging software to create what appears to be a standard website by creatively using the features of the software. In other words, their blogs appear to be standard websites. If you think of blogs as simply a form of websites, and blogging software as a lightweight content management system, you will have an idea of how this can be done.
Why Should Blogging Software Appeal to Non-bloggers?
The biggest reason most people don’t want to be “bloggers” comes down to a question of time and priorities. Most people do not want to commit to the daily posting regimen that many bloggers seem to follow.
If truth be told, most bloggers, especially me, do not post on a daily basis. However, there is no question that an approach that time stamps posts and puts them in reverse chronological order will reveal how often you post and how long it has been since the last post.
If you forget about being a “blogger” and concentrate instead on how blogging software can help you improve your Internet presence, you will see how many elements of a successful website it helps you achieve and how easy it makes it to do so.
Blogging software gives you the ability to:
- Easily create and publish new content on a regular
- Avoid learning HTML and other technical elements
- Automatically organize and archive information
- Concentrate on your writing and personalize and target it to your audience
- Have a professional-looking design at very small cost
The end result is that you have the tools in your hands to create a website with exactly the elements that have proven to be successful in websites over the years. Blogging software more or less automatically and effortlessly pushes you into a disciplined approach that incorporates the most-effective website techniques.
Closing the Deal – RSS and Search Engines.
There are two other benefits of using blogs and blogging software to consider.
The first is search engine optimization. Because Google and other search engines currently place a high value on link popularity and other factors commonly present in blogs, blogs tend to rank very high in search engine results. This is not because of anything inherent in the blogging software. It is largely because blogging software helps you focus on content in ways that enhance your search engine rankings and, coincidentally, appeal to your target audience and make visitors want to return.
The second is RSS, which stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” Think of it as a newsfeed. RSS allows people to subscribe to your blog through a news aggregator program or service and automatically receive your posts as you make them without ever needing to return to your blog. In essence, it creates a new information channel for your content. For example, when I “publish” a blog post, the item is also published in my RSS feed and subscribers receive it in a matter of seconds. You can do the same thing on your website, but would probably have to do that by hand. Blogging software does that automatically.
Although I am one of those bloggers that you read about, like you, I’m not convinced that blogs are for everyone or that everyone needs to be or is suited to be a “blogger.” I am convinced, however, that, more than ever, having a great Internet presence and website is vital for lawyers and law firms. If look behind the “blogging phenomenon” to see what is really happening, you will see ways that blogs and, especially, blogging software can help you create successful websites in an easy and inexpensive way. You can be a “blogger” or not – there are many great things about blogging – but you will definitely want explore the ways you can benefit from using blogging software to improve your existing website and enhance your Internet presence.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Like what you are reading? Check out the other blogs where I post – Between Lawyers (feed) and the LexThink Blog (feed).
Technorati tags: legal technology blawg blogging software blogomania