Should Law Blogs Have a Call to Action?
Never take advice that begins with the word “never,” except under certain circumstances.
For example, the advice that law blog posts should never contain a call to action.
Outside the legal marketing sphere, most marketers believe that online content should include a “call to action,” meaning, a message that encourages the reader to take a desired course of action. The purpose of content creation is to bring readers to the content author’s website and to begin the process of converting interested strangers into customers or clients. Call it “relationship building” or “moving the user through the sales funnel” or whatever, it’s really all the same thing. A call to action — express or implied — accelerates the process of turning a stranger into a customer.
Some within the legal marketing community hold the view that a call to action detracts from the blog post’s primary mission of enhancing an attorney’s reputation and fostering relationships that might lead to new business. They believe CTAs look unprofessional too.
I’m not convinced. Here are a few reasons why attorneys might consider appending a call to action to their blog posts.
Prospective Clients Don’t Know What Action to Take
Clients of large firm lawyers tend to be in-house counsel and business executives. These clients are well-aware of their legal rights and obligations. They have a budget for legal services, and they have a keen sense of when they should reach out to legal counsel.
Individuals, however, are frequently unaware that the legal system provides redress for common life problems. They really don’t know what to do when confronted with a legal problem.
When faced with a legal problem, just 16 percent of individuals consider consulting an attorney, according to the American Bar Foundation’s 2014 report Accessing Justice in the Contemporary USA: Findings From the Community Needs and Services Study (PDF).
Forty-six percent attempt self-help, and 16 percent do nothing at all.
According to the report, the legal issues faced by individuals in the survey included “work, finances, insurance, pensions, wages, benefits, shelter, and the care of young children and dependent adults, among other core matters.”
The main reason why individuals did not consult an attorney was that they failed to appreciate that their problems had a legal solution:
When people who did not seek any assistance from third parties outside their social circles were asked if cost was one barrier to doing so, they reported that concerns about cost were a factor in 17% of cases. A more important reason that people do not seek assistance with these situations, in particular assistance from lawyers or courts, is that they do not understand these situations to be legal.
Far from being unprofessional, a strong call to action following a blog post can motivate individuals to take meaningful measures to address serious life problems. Attorneys who conclude blog posts with thoughtful suggestions to contact legal counsel are making a contribution to their community and the civil just system.
Law firm marketers might also give some thought as to why prospective clients are reticent to seek legal advice. Is there a language problem? Does the firm handle cases involve possibly embarrassing circumstances or sensitive legal issues? Are confidentiality concerns or worries about being aggressively marketed to in play? Calls to action that address the reader’s apprehensions could be productive.
When the Post Is the Call to Action
A straight discussion of a legal development with the familiar “If you need legal assistance, contact …” CTA tacked on the end is a less-than-ideal presentation that should be avoided or, failing that, handled with care.
Instead, lawyers should consider writing blog posts in which the headline and the post content are calls to action. Think about it. The blog author has the entire post to convince the reader to take some form of action. Why wait until the end?
Consider these headlines:
- “What Is the Right Age to Make Your First Will?”
- “Estate Planning, It’s Not Just for the Rich”
- “Are You Being Underpaid for Overtime?”
- “HIPPA Compliance Obligations You Might Have Missed”
- “Seven Text Messaging Campaigns That Attracted Class Action Suits”
- “Five FTC-Approved Social Media Advertising Disclaimers”
You get the idea. The headline for each of these hypothetical blog posts flags some type of legal exposure and then motivates the reader to do something to mitigate legal risk. The entire point of the post is to motivate the reader to seek out legal advice. The post is, for all intents and purposes, an extended call to action.
Most legal blog posts written today follow a formula: News + Analysis + Takeaways. Sometimes there’s no analysis. And the takeaways are skimpy too, if present at all. Nevertheless, this formula is comfortable for most attorneys. Attorneys tend to be careful, circumspect writers. And they don’t like to offer opinions in writing until they have first identified and analyzed the legal development at issue. Fair enough. But it’s tough to write a compelling blog post following this formula unless you’re writing for another attorney.
If you insist on writing this way, then write your takeaways in the form of calls to action. Instead of “call my firm,” tell readers to have a plan of action in the event of a data breach. Tell readers to train their social media marketers in the latest FTC guidance. Tell readers the top ten legal risks their employee handbook should address. Some of your readers will take these actions, and a percentage of them might retain your services.
For more ambitious writers, however, a far better approach is to front-load the blog post with the takeaways, filling it out with news and analysis as needed. This is the familiar “inverted pyramid” style that news journalists follow. Writing in this fashion ensures that the post will hook the reader early and be interesting to even the most-distracted reader.
Placing Calls to Action in RSS Feeds
Law firms whose blogs serve sophisticated news consumers (business executives, attorneys, librarians, government officials, journalists) may find that a substantial number of readers are accessing their content via RSS feeds.
The reading environment offered by RSS clients varies greatly. The law firm’s website branding is absent in most cases, and sharing options are limited. In all cases, the carefully crafted contact information, disclaimers, attorney author profiles, and branding is missing.
For these reasons, law firm bloggers with RSS subscribers should take a moment to examine the presentation of their content in the leading RSS clients and to decide whether they are satisfied with what they see. A call to action, which might seem like overkill when appended to a blog post on the blog’s dedicated website, could provide a vital link between the somewhat free-floating RSS feed entry and the blog post author’s website.
Ideally, the law firm marketer would like to give the reader a strong hint of what to do next — even if “what to do next” is to learn more about the firm or blog post author. Or to subscribe to the firm’s feed. An RSS feed entry without hyperlinks pointing to the author’s website is a dead end, particularly on a mobile device.
Here are a few strategies for providing a CTA (or some sort of firm branding) in an RSS feed:
- Append a short, tasteful CTA to the post itself. The Polsinelli on Privacy blog includes a call to action at the bottom of each post (e.g., “If you have additional questions regarding this topic or data breaches, please contact the author of this article or a member of Polsinelli’s Privacy and Data Security practice.”) plus a link to the post author’s profile page. Fisher Phillips, an employment law firm with a national footprint, consistently publishes calls to action at the bottom of its legal alerts, though less often on its blog posts.
- Publish an excerpt-only RSS feed with a link to the full blog post at the blog’s homepage. Many news publishers set up their RSS feeds this way, in large part because they have advertiser-supported operations that depend on website page views. See this strategy applied to a law firm blog on Kegler Brown’s Ohio + Legal Ethics blog.
- Include permalinks pointing to the post title and blog homepage. Most WordPress implementations provide this functionality automatically.
- Provide a “related posts” listing at the bottom of the blog post that will provide links back to the blog author’s website.
- Include “for more information” material at the bottom of the post. These links should point back to the blog author’s website.
Should law blog posts never include a call to action? That seems like an overstatement. There are too many circumstances where a CTA, tastefully presented, can deliver real value to the reader and writer, with no loss of professional standing. My advice? Never follow “one size fits all” advice.