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Law firm publishers screwing up by chasing traffic

law blog traffic

We screwed up by pursuing scale and traffic, a senior publishing executive at a U.K newspaper told Digiday’s Jessica Davies (@jessdaviesmk).

In a story which Davies says Digiday granted anonymity in exchange for brutal honesty, the newspaper executive confessed:

The digital media industry has completely screwed up by pursuing scale for the sake of scale. There’s been a relentless pursuit for the biggest number you can get, which has partly been driven by what advertisers want, and partly driven by vanity. We have all chased unique users without really interrogating why we want those users. The way Google and social platforms in general have made us work, is that we want a new person at all points, regardless of whether that person engages with the site at all

You’re chasing numbers for the sake of numbers without getting anywhere, they continued.

Internally you fear that if your figures have dropped month-on-month, everyone will start questioning what’s going on. But actually it’s a very crude way of determining success. What really matters is do you have a decent, engaged, loyal user base and can you make money from it. When you see a site has 10 million users a day, you have no idea if 9.5 million of those have just come in and out because they’ve watched a video on Facebook — to that person, they’ve just watched a Facebook video, they’re not interacting with the brand.

I probably talk to as many lawyer and law firm publishers as anyone. Whether they are on our LexBlog Network or not, 90% of them are chasing traffic to their content.

How many unique visitors? How many subscribers? Why aren’t the numbers growing? How many services should I use to distribute content to their lists? Can I auto-feed my content to social media?

What’s the end game? Is it as if you blanket bomb every major city with your content, or at least those with the 90,000 inside counsel, someone will pick up a piece of your content off the sidewalk and say, “Wow, what intellect, I need to call these guys.”

The executive says nothing is changing in newspapers, even though no one is succeeding because “[W]e look around and see everyone else is doing it, and that validates it.” Boy does that sound familiar.

Sadly, innovation, as is also the case with law firms, is not coming from the newspapers.

Most of the innovation, new ways of looking at things, and genuine attempts to change, aren’t coming from publishers, but the big platforms. I’m struggling to think of a legacy news publisher that has done anything to set themselves apart. The biggest innovation ever made in publishing is the introduction of the paywall, which was a fly in the face of what was generally accepted regarding content on the open web. Other than that, it feels like the only approach we’ve had is, let’s get bigger, do more and get bigger. What’s your plan B? There needs to be a recalibration of what individual newspapers are about, what value they add to their own readers, and what services they can provide.

In the case of large law, which is pouring out a ton of content, there has to be a recalibration of what the firms are publishing, what their goals are and how they are going to realize their goals.

I had lunch today with Dave Bowerman, Director of Client Development at K&L Gates. We talked how the firm, then as Seattle’s Preston Gates & Ellis, built a data base of e-dsicovery cases and, led by Bowerman, faced it with an e-discovery blog to give the data-base a presence on the web.

The goal was not to get traffic to the blog, but to raise the firm’s stature in the burgeoining e-discovery arena. Bowerman wanted the influencers in e-discovery to be talking about the blog and data base. He wanted people at conferences to have heard about it so that his lawyers at the conference would be recognized for e-dciscovery.

Bowerman wanted e-discovery authorities across the country citing the blog and database when they were out speaking and in their writings.

Bowerman knew if he could create an organic buzz among the influencers, the reputation of the firm’s work in the area would grow, his lawyers would have the opportunity to build relationships with clients, prospective clients and referrals on e-dicovery work, and revenue would grow.

Sure, as word of mouth spread, traffic grew to the blog and database, but traffic was never the goal. Scaling the blog up was never the strategy nor driving force.

Look at Cooley Go, an online resource for startups across the country. The focus being how can we give as much value away for free – news, insight, information, tools, and forms – to entrepreneurs, startups, VC’s angel investors, bankers, and employees.

I doubt a Cooley lawyer can even walk into into tech startup conference or networking event today without people coming up and saying “Hey, that Cooley Go, is pretty cool. Well done.”

I can’t tell you how many times the subject of Cooley Go has come up at conferences, events or meetings I’ve attended. I can’t imagine how many times the site is being shown in university class rooms, start up events and technology conferences.

Imagine what this is doing for Cooley. A lawyer there would have to be a darn fool not to be able to drive a truck through the relationship and business development window that Cooley Go has opened.

What’s the point? When publishing, you don’t have to follow all the other law firms off the traffic cliff.

Focus on engagement of your audience, beginning with the influencers. Have as an end goal being the go-to lawyer or law firm in an area and as a result bringing in markedly greater revenue.

If you want to look at web stats, that’s fine, everyone days. I looked at mine last summer. But I wouldn’t look at traffic and scaling up as measures of success.

As the newspaper exec would say, that’s screwing up.

Image courtesy of Flickr by DJ Mitchel

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