If you’re on top of legal marketing trends, you’ve either created, or at least considered creating a blog for your firm. Done well, blogs can showcase your expertise and thought leadership, encourage engagement, reinforce credibility, and boost SEO. This, in turn, helps cast a wider net, drives traffic, and potentially leads to new business.
Blogs can be hosted internally or externally, and there’s a great deal of debate over which is best.
Short answer: It depends on your motivation, perspective and what you want out of a blog.
Internal: When a firm hosts their own blog (or blogs), the lawyer’s insights are posted directly on their main website, driving traffic to the site and promoting not only the lawyer, but the firm as a whole. Though internal blogs may have a slightly different look and feel, they are typically a part of the overarching firm brand. Visitors are provided a seamless user experience with the rest of the site, posts are searchable from within the site, and can easily be cross-related to relevant attorney bios, practices and offices. Internal blogs are generally less expensive because they’re just part of the website and you’re not paying for additional outside blog hosting. They can also be a lot easier to maintain since there are not multiple content management systems.
Internal blogs are generally subject to the Firm’s communications policies and can have more rigorous editorial standards and guidelines. They are also subject to legal advertising rules, since by definition, they are part of the Firm’s website.
External: An external blog is one that is hosted separately from the main website, through an outside service. External blogs are almost always branded along a topical theme and can be positioned as separate from the firm or as part of the firm. These topical blogs often work to promote the attorney(s) or practice and may have even been started by an individual attorney prior to them joining the firm (see ownership). Also, external blogs may not be fully aligned with the Firm’s branding or positioning. External blogs are expected to drive traffic to themselves and in theory (and by proxy) to the firm’s website, though there is some question as to how often that happens.
External blogs may or may not be subject to the Firm’s communications policies and may skew heavily toward an individual lawyer’s point of view. They can also focus on niche topics that may be interesting to an attorney but have little or no relevance to the firm or their marketing strategy. If they are personal blogs, they may not be subject to the same advertising rules as the Firm’s main website, though if firm branding is included, assume that they are subject to bar association advertising rules.
Pros of internal blogs:
- Single platform
- Searchable within the website
- Easily cross-related
- Can be easily featured on attorney bios & related practices
- Doesn’t diffuse marketing efforts
- Better for SEO
- Has all data in one place
- Fewer vendors (more singular accountability)
- Less expensive
- Often more secure
- Firm owns the content (pro if you’re the firm)
Pros of external blogs:
- Allows plausible deniability of attorney’s opinions vs firms
- Can be more personalized
- Can have a less official tone
- Can travel with the attorney if they leave the firm
- Often not seen as advertising
- Attorney typically owns the content (pro if you’re the attorney)
Here’s where it gets interesting and maybe a little sticky.
The content copyright for internal blogs is almost always owned by the firm since it is the publishing entity and most employment contracts stipulate that work created on behalf of the firm is the firm’s property.
The copyright for external blogs is not so clear cut. Content can be owned by the author (attorney), the firm, in some cases the service provider, and in some cases all three.
A lawyer starts an external blog as a private individual on a niche legal subject. The lawyer links to the blog to his bio on the Firm’s website and the firm links to the lawyer’s blog. The blog gains some notoriety and everyone is happy.
Who owns this blog? Probably the Lawyer. If the firm and lawyer split up, the blog will likely remain with the lawyer, which is good for the lawyer, but not so great for the firm.
A team of lawyers from the same firm start an external blog focused on a niche legal subject that is common within their practice area. The blog is branded as part of the Firm and incorporates the firm’s logo. They link back and forth from the blog to the main site and vice versa. The blog gains some notoriety and everyone is happy.
Who owns the blog? Well, it depends. Likely the firm, but without an explicit agreement in place, it could be owned by the individual lawyers or the person who registered the site. If the blog is hosted on a platform like FindLaw, Lexblog or others, ownership could be oddly in question and your content could be sold, mined or aggregated without any input from you. That said, if a team member leaves the firm, the blog will likely continue. If the lawyer who is leaving want’s his/her content, they may have to pay for it.
A firm’s marketing department starts an external blog and enlists several lawyers to write for it. As part of the development process, they make sure there is an editorial and legal framework in place to ensure viability should the team makeup change and they make sure the service provided has no legal right to the content or the ability to distribute it without their knowledge. They cycle new lawyers in from time to time for additional lawyer exposure as well as having some fresh blood and variety in the mix. They focus on niche subject matter with the client’s problems in mind.
Who owns the content? In this case, odds are, the firm does. If one or more of the lawyers leaves, they can replace them easily and the continuity of the blog will continue. If the lawyer wants their content, it would likely be at the discretion of the firm and would refer back to the pre-determined legal framework outlined when the blog was made -- or the overarching social and content guidelines set forth by the firm.
In contrast, with an internal blog, the content is the firm’s. Period. They may choose to remove a specific lawyer’s content down if they leave and may give or sell the content to the lawyer, but regardless, the firm has a lot more control (again, good for the firm -- maybe not a good for the individual attorney).
Blogs have traditionally been good for building SEO since reputable and authoritative sites may link to your blog and those links build the blog’s reputation, which in turn pushes it up higher in Google, where more people can find it.
The question that seldom gets asked is this:
Which site do you want to drive traffic too? Your blog’s site or your main website?
Back in the day, it was a good strategy to have many external sites in order to do link building within a self-controlled network of websites. Multiple outside blogs that all linked to the main site were great because you could post quality content and then link back to your main website, which in turn increased the relevancy of the main site within Google and other search engines, increasing your page rank.
But then Google evolved (and BTW, this happened a long time ago).
These days, the authority (or quality) of the website linking to you matters much more than quantity of inbound links. In other words, The New York Times linking to you once has a lot more weight than Joe linking to you a hundred times from his personal site.
Because of this, new external blogs will be starting their SEO journey from scratch and linking from your blog to your main website won’t add anything to the main site’s SEO until the blog builds up enough authority to have relevance, which might take years. Additionally, Google is now relying heavily on artificial intelligence and AI quickly sees past any linking schemes.
In contrast, an internal blog shares the authority of the main website from day one and will have a higher SEO ranking almost immediately. All SEO and promotional efforts can then be focused on one website rather than many and can be maintained much longer. Also, with an internal blog, the constant new content on the firm’s website helps to rank the whole website higher, not just one page or section.
If one tries to do both and a post is published on an external blog and soon after posted to the firm’s main website, Google’s PageRank algorithm will find the two pages with nearly identical content and discount one or both. In other words, Google’s algorithm could have trouble deciding which page to pick, and may decide to not show either.
Diffusion of Marketing Efforts
Firms tend to optimize and promote the blog (or blogs) and the main website at the same time. Given the limited resources of most firms, the focus often starts with the blog, but then favors the main website after the initial rush of getting the blog launched, leaving the blogs to fend for themselves.
This is not to say that with a large enough team or a passionate attorney driving the bus, an external blog cannot be successful, but it does beg the question: why are we driving traffic to multiple sites? Can we focus our marketing dollars in a more effective way?
External blogs can have a completely different user experience than an internal blog. For instance, an external blog can be branded for just that subject matter. In many cases, external blogs are free standing and ONLY a single topic blog so they can be customized to suit the author or the subject matter. This may be great for an individual blogger or someone arriving from a Google search, but there is a high potential for a less than stellar experience from an end user’s perspective if the goal is to present something cohesive across an entire brand.
For instance, if the user is coming from the main corporate site, the blog’s RSS feed can be easily displayed on a corporate page, but the actual content is not part of the site -- it’s just a feed. When clicking on a link in that feed, the user leaves the main website and goes to the blog.
Because the content isn’t actually housed on the main site and users are being sent to another site there are many issues that can (and do) arise:
- Different look/feel behavior from the main site to the blog
- Potentially many different look/feel/behavior across several blogs
- Lack of singular voice (brand or positioning diffusion)
- Spawning multiple browser windows (opening links in new tabs)
- Confusion created because of these different domains/looks/feels and new links
- Does not integrate with the rest of the site’s content
- Limited or no ability to easily relate to multiple attorneys, practices and offices
- Related and discoverable content is limited to each silo/site
- Limited or no integration with main site search (the blog content will not show up in a main site search and the blog will not be able to search for main site content)
Skewing the Narrative
In our research, only Lexblog claims that external blogs are better 100% of the time. We have a lot of respect for Kevin and the company he created. In fact, I sat on a panel with him last year at the New York Bar Association’s Small Law Firm Symposium and found him to be both insightful and informative -- but it’s in his better interest to extol the virtues of external blogging. So when doing your own research, please note the author/sources and see if they trace back to Lexblog. They often have great points, but understandably skew external.
What we’ve tried to do here is take a more nuanced and balanced approach based on situation rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Very few things are 100% good or bad, so when we run across and extreme stance, we tend to be skeptical and dig a little deeper.
So what's Better? Internal or External?
It depends on who you are and what you want out of a blog.
If you are a solo practitioner, you should have one website. Period. That website should have the ability for you to post articles (i.e., a blog) and also house your bio and contact information. This is firmly in the “there is no spoon” camp. It’s not internal vs external in this case, it’s just a small website. Keep it simple, stay focused and get back to billable work!
If you are an attorney working for someone else with passion and a strong or unique point of view, then you may want your own blog. A little piece of the Internet that you own, maintain and is independent of your current firm. Your motivation is to build an audience around you and your point of view and be able to take your blog with you wherever you go. Be prepared to defend your blog and it’s content and consider playing nice by linking to the website of the firm you’re currently working for. Note any rules or guidelines they may have on both blogging and social media (as they often go hand in hand). Be careful to read the fine print of the platform agreement to make sure you actually own the content once it’s posted.
If you run or are part of a marketing department for a large law firm or are a partner in a small-medium firm without a marketing department, internal blogs will generally provide more long-term value than externals blogs because of the reduced effort and cost (which can be double), increased usability and functionality, better control of a unified vision, ability to leverage the firm site’s domain authority from an SEO perspective and having a single point of accountability from a web vendor perspective. Be mindful of blog functionality. Each internal blog should allow for individual feeds, subscriptions, mailing lists, topical tagging and have some degree of flexibility in terms of layout and presentation of various types of media (text, pictures, video, etc.). What you want is a good fully functional blog capability within the firm’s website, not something lame that’s been crow-barred into place as an afterthought. If you’re going to have internal blogs, make them good!
Still unsure which to choose or have additional questions? Give us a call or email us. No pressure -- we’re happy to help!
More reading on the debate:
More on external blogs (by LexBlog):
More reading on blogs and SEO: