Steve Matthews, a well recognized authority on bringing web visibility to the law firms, joined the discussion this week on law firm blog location and SEO.

Matthews recommends that firms place each of their blogs on its own unique domain outside the law firm website architecture. Especially for larger general practice firms.

Mathews makes four points in favor of separate blog domains from the SEO side:

  1. The absence of subject-aligned keywords embedded within the firm’s domain name hurts SEO. Like it or not, PetersononBrainInjury.com — all other factors being the same — will outperform PetersonLLP.com.
  2. The firm website is about the firm, as it should be. With multiple areas of practice, a law firm website’s incoming link text and other on-page factors can become so scattered that Google has trouble giving weight to the firm domain on any particular subject. Keeping a tight focus is a critical part of competitive SEO. That doesn’t mean that a practice page can’t compete in the rankings if we focus on the task; but for a law blog that wants to become a topical powerhouse, a single-subject and focused domain will outperform the firm website every time.
  3. Law firms websites’ link networks tend to be unfocused. Having a strong set of links (both incoming and outgoing) to similar subject websites is another measure of subject authority and relevance. Blog links have this attribute in spades, while firm websites rarely do.
  4. Links from practice blogs actually support the firm’s website. Strategically linking from blogs back to the sponsoring firm’s practice pages can help your SEO. But doing that from inside the firm website does not have the same impact. Blogs on their own domain have their own status with Google, including PageRank, a different set of incoming links, different signals of subject relevance, and so on. It might be an investment to develop the online presence for another domain name, but this is a question of building assets. Long term thinking says having two (or 22) strong website assets is better than having one.

In addition to SEO, Matthews raises a few common sense reasons to have your blog off of your law firm’s website.

  1. You must let your blogs and your bloggers shine. Let’s face it: burying five or ten blogs within the firm website often means just repackaging the firm’s newsletter content. Simply calling such repackaged content a “blog” doesn’t make it one. There must be a change in how lawyers approach their writing; the lack of personal opinion on a blog can kill its chance of success. Putting blogs under the firm website risks stifling the personality of the website and of the lawyers who are blogging.
  2. Mixing commercial and non-commercial commentary runs several risks. Blogs on a firm website will always appear tied into the commercial entity of the firm. This becomes not just an issue of optics, raising the question of whether bloggers are restricted from offering value-added opinion. It also runs an ethical risk: changing the nature of the firm’s content and tone with an internal blog may draw unwanted attention of some state ethics panels.
  3. A separate blog domain will have a better chance of building readership. Developing a blog’s readership is difficult at the best of times and will be more difficult within the confines of a firm website. A unique and memorable domain is a big marketing plus for any website, no less so for law firm blogs. Blogs on law firm websites don’t have that feature. Law firm website developers also tend to embed these blogs into their larger CMS product, frequently omitting the RSS feed and email alerts in the process. All of which is to say, blogging technology rarely gets utilized in a way that lets these blogs fully interact within the blogging community.

Matthews acknowledges there are counter arguments to having blogs live separate from a website, but “invariably, that scenario is not for firms with hundreds of lawyers and multiple practice groups.”

And in the case of all law firms, “For reasons of SEO effectiveness, but even more importantly, for the sake of the blog itself, firms should park it on the driveway and not in the garage.”

I spent a good deal of time further researching the issue last weekend and exchanging notes with authorities in the SEO field. Nothing swayed me that lawyers and law firms would be better off putting their blogs inside their website architecture.

I’m in agreement with Matthews that for law firms trying to achieve true client development benefits from blogging, that their law firm blogs belong outside the website.

On a side note, Steve Matthews blog, Law Firm Web Strategy, is an excellent resource on bringing web visibility to law firms. His blog has been in my RSS reader for years.

  • Based on my nearly six years of blogging as a lawyer in a large firm, I agree wholeheartedly with the virtues and benefits expressed in this post regarding the blog domain name being separate from the law firm’s domain name.

  • I totally agree with this article. To take your analogy above even further, PetersonBrainInjury.Com won’t rank as well as simply BrainInjury.Com or BrainInjuryLaw.com. Isn’t it all about how your ideal customer will be typing a long-string search into google? Obviously tie-ins to the firm site are appropriate, but if someone already knows who I am and where I work, they can find my blog from there. The blog is an effort to expand and engage with NEW readers.
    (Or maybe I’m just biased b/c of how I do it!)

  • Each argument is easily dismissed:
    “Subject-aligned keywords”. This only means that people will use better anchor text in a link pointing to your site. The idea is that “PetersononBrainInjury.com” will rank more highly for “brain injury” than just “PetersonLL.com”. A big firm can easily overcome this problem by just naming their blog “the brain injury blog”, which will generate just as many anchor text rich links. (Google Employment Law Blog”)
    “Make the website about the firm”. This is nonsense. SEO is about pages, not domains. Google knows what it’s doing. A large firm should be able to generate 100s or 1000s of links pointing to its home page. Yes, 99% will use the firm’s name as the anchor text, but the firm can then use the power of their home page to send that authority to it’s internal blogs.
    “Unfocused link networks”. More nonsense. SEO is about nurture, not nature. Keep this in mind: a search engine doesn’t really know what a “blog” is. It’s all just words on a “page” that have been indexed. You can do everything on a “law firm website” that you can on a “blog”. The fact that firm’s don’t make smart SEO choices doesn’t mean that they can’t.
    “Internal links are worse than external”. That’s, well, just wrong.
    Ask yourself this question — should the New York Times have different URLs for each of its sections?

  • Patrick, I am not going to say that what you’re saying is nonsense and flat out wrong. I will tell that myself and others believe that your points are not as compelling as the points we have made in favor for having law blogs live off and independent of the firm’s website.
    Comparing law blogs and the New York Times is terribly misguided. The New York Times is not in the business of building relationships through enaging their target audience for professional and business development reasons. Lawyers are.
    No question that you’ll advise people you talk to put all their blogs on their law firm website. I will not as I do not believe it is in their best interests for professional and client development interests.

  • Kevin:
    I don’t advise people one way or another. In fact, if I were more savvy, I would just agree with you, as that would help my own website. Unfortunately, facts are facts — your points aren’t compelling when it comes to SEO.
    Take your point about the New York Times. Google (the automated search engine) doesn’t know anything about the Times’ business model (nor does it care). The Times, however, does know about SEO and it doesn’t have separate URLs for its different sections (and it uses subdomains for its blogs).
    If you’re right about the SEO benefits of “free-standing” blogs, then the SEO principles would work just as well for the Times as it would for a law firm.