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    On your mark, get set, Blog!

    Blogs are a hot topic these days: Campaigns have them, prospective clients read them, and professors teach using them so why don't more lawyers have them? The fact is, many lawyers already have blogs and are reaping the rewards of doing so. A blog is an online, reverse chronological record of thoughts.

    Jon Groth

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 9, September 2008

    On your mark, get set, Blog!
    Here's what you need to know to get your blog up and running.

    by Jon Groth & Rob Teuber

    Blogs are a hot topic these days: Campaigns have them, prospective clients read them, and professors teach using them so why don't more lawyers have them? The fact is, many lawyers already have blogs and are reaping the rewards of doing so. A blog is an online, reverse chronological record of thoughts. Lawyers' blogs usually focus on the law or law-related current events. Lawyers interested in starting a blog should know certain basic principles before entering the blogosphere.

    A prospective blogger must learn how to start a blog. Many people use one of three main Web-based services that will host a blog for free. The Typepad, Wordpress, and Blogger services are used by millions of people1 including many Wisconsin lawyers. Because these services are free, using one of them is the most likely way lawyers will become bloggers. Alternatively, people familiar with HTML Web language and Web site design can purchase blog software and a domain name and begin blogging. Or you can hire someone to create a blog for you.

    Choosing the Right Service

    Free Services. Blogger, Typepad, and Wordpress are blog services that can be accessed via the Web just as you would access an Internet-based email account2 Through each service, a blogger can write a blog entry while at any location where Internet access is available. These services have their pros and cons.

    Pros. These services are free and easy to use. A basic blog can be created in less than an hour and will contain the basic bells and whistles of blogs (for example, RSS feeds, visitor tracker, and other features)3 These technical aspects are provided and managed by the service provider, and bloggers need not worry about the service going down for any extended time. A home computer may crash and lose all its software and saved data. Blog services, on the other hand, save a blogger's data "in house."

    Cons. The domain name of a blog created using one of these services will have "wordpress," "blogspot," or "typepad" in it (another domain name can be purchased and redirected to the blog but the dominant site will always contain the blog service's name). For example, a Wordpress blogger's site will have the blogger's unique name first and "wordpress" second (www.your blog.wordpress.com). The look and feel of these blogs are limited to a certain number of predetermined designs. This can make a blog difficult to personalize4 Users also are limited to certain free services. For example, Wordpress and Blogger offer vastly different types of statistics about blog visitors. Free service can be good, but bloggers should know its limitations.

    Blog Software. Lawyers more serious about blogging might determine that purchasing and downloading blog software is worthwhile. Cost is the major downside of blog software. Purchasing and downloading software also requires the blogger to have more advanced technical knowledge. Lawyers using blogging software need to purchase a domain name (that is, your Web address) and rent space on the Internet to host the blog. A domain name can cost as little as a few dollars a year. Basic hosting costs are relatively nominal (options can start around $5 per month), but the more traffic to the site, the more the hosting cost can increase. Finally, a blogger who uses purchased software is responsible for all Web site maintenance, which can be a great hobby for some bloggers but a painstaking part-time job for others.

    Jon Groth Rob Teuber

    Jon Groth, Marquette 2000, is an attorney with Pitman, Kyle & Sicula S.C., Milwaukee, and author of the blogs www.jonpgroth.com and www.wisconsinpersonalinjuryattorneys.wordpress.com. Rob Teuber, Marquette 2000 magna cum laude, is an attorney with Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP, Milwaukee, and author of the blog www.federaltaxlawforum.com.

    The authors will speak on using blogs, podcasts, and the Internet to further business development during the Solo & Small Firm Conference, Oct. 23-25, in Wisconsin Dells.

    The benefits of purchasing blog software include the ability to create virtually any Web site using nearly unlimited design choices of theme, color, or font. Almost any gadget or feature (like a "flicker" picture frame or news links from media sources) is available, and themes can be combined and integrated. This flexibility gives the technologically advanced blogger the ability to create a truly unique blog.

    Hiring a Web Site Designer. If you prefer to have a Web site design or features that are not available through the free services, but you lack the technical ability to create your own blog, you can hire someone to create it. Pricing options vary from hourly rates to flat fees, and the total cost may reach as high as a few thousand dollars. Hiring a technician provides all the benefits of purchasing software, including the ability to have a blog with a unique design. The main benefit of creating a blog this way is the ability to insert the blog into a firm's existing Web site. Because of the methods that search engines use to rank results, adding a blog to a firm's Web site increases the chance that visitors will land on the firm's site when searching for certain information5 If the blog is connected to an existing Web site, the site will be like a one-stop shop for everything about the firm. (Editor's Note: For information on how search engines function, please see "Search Engine Marketing: Getting Noticed on the Web" in the July 2008 Wisconsin Lawyer.)

    Getting Noticed

    Once a blog exists, content must be added. The frequent posting of blog entries is a must. Bloggers should post at least three times a week for the first few months. Thereafter, entries can be added at the blogger's leisure. Remember, a blog should not be allowed to sit idle for too long. Delays between new posts of even a few weeks can make your blog less relevant to search engines and readers. While writing substantive content, a blogger should concentrate on getting the site recognized. Blog services will make a new site available to the major search engines, but blog directories and search sites like www.justia.com can direct additional traffic to a blog.

    Another way to drive Web traffic to a blog is to meet and greet other bloggers. Reading and commenting on other blogs is just as important as maintaining regular content on one's own blog. Comments are what make blogs so unique6 and bloggers should start reading and commenting immediately. By commenting on other blogs, the blogger can help establish the presence of his or her own blog across the Internet. When commenting, bloggers should include the Web address of their blog to direct readers to the site. To further promote a blog, the Web address should be included on a law firm's primary Web site, the signature line of emails, and letterhead. Wherever a blogger's name appears on the Internet it should be closely followed by a blog address. Including this information increases the number of links to a blog and the likelihood that the blog will appear at the top of search results.

    Tags and Other Must-Have Extras

    Several extras can provide a user-friendly atmosphere on a blog. Although a site should not be overloaded, a few extras will make a blog look professional and easier to navigate.

    Tags and Labels. Every post you write should be tagged or labeled according to the contents of the specific post. This is done when creating the blog entry by choosing what "tags" best identify a particular entry. A blog post on subrogation law should contain a tag using key words like "subrogation," "lien," and other words that best describe the post. Most services will allow a post to be described according to its topic. The blog service then creates a separate page for each tag. Search engines will recognize and give a higher ranking to Web pages having more posts with a given tag.

    Categories. Bloggers who discuss several topics should create categories for each topic. For example, a blogger who writes about taxes, estate planning, and business law might want to place each entry on one of these topics in a separate "category." Categories are similar to, but broader in scope than, tags. Every post is saved under an additional page on a blog according to the category discussed. This is another way to make a blog user-friendly and easy to read.

    RSS. RSS (real simple syndication) feeds are a must have7 because they allow readers to subscribe to your site and receive automatic notices whenever you update your content. (Editor's Note: For more information on using RSS, see "RSS: Making the Internet Subscribeable" in the August 2006 Wisconsin Lawyer.)

    Tag Clouds. Using tag clouds is a helpful way to show readers what topics are discussed on the blog. The "cloud" appears on a blog with the font of each tag sized according to the frequency of the posts on that topic. The larger the font, the more that has been written on that topic and the easier it is for readers to see which topics are most popular.

    Blogroll. A blogroll is a list of links to other blogs. It is a helpful way to show readers the topics that the blogger finds interesting. A blogroll is usually found on a blog's sidebar and lists other blogs and Web sites containing useful information. Blogrolls can be used to create an online network of bloggers and, with reciprocal links, can increase Web site traffic.

    Properly establishing a blog on the Internet takes time. Perseverance is the best attribute a blogger can have. Blogger burnout is one of the top reasons blogs are abandoned and left stale, and a stale blog is no more useful than an outdated Web site.

    Endnotes

    1A fourth option is Movable Type. It often is included as one of the top four commonly used blog services.

    2These services are available at www.blogger.com, www.typepad.com, and www.wordpress.com.

    3RSS feeds allow visitors to subscribe to a blog and have new posts delivered directly to their computers. Visitor tracking programs allow bloggers to track trends relating to the blog (number of visitors, popular topics, etc.). Gadgets allow a blogger to add preprogrammed features to a blog (for example, a "flicker" picture frame on a blog or the ability to access and post to a blog from a mobile device).

    4Wordpress allows subscribers to personalize their site using the html-like writing language called CSS (cascading style sheet).

    5Blogs are generally considered to increase a Web site's ranking in search engine results because of the frequency with which blogs are updated.

    6Comments allow readers to communicate with the blog's author. From comments come more Web traffic and ideas for future posts.

    7Real Simple Syndication (RSS) is a way to automatically furnish your blog's content to an end user via an RSS feed reader. The blog's content can then be read at the end user's discretion. See http://www.whatisrss.com/.




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