Distributed Publishing Opportunity #3: Microsites

This is the latest in a series of posts on distributed publishing opportunities for lawyers and law firms. Check out the intro post and previous entries on blogging and social media, if you haven’t already! Now, on to our next topic…

Microsites

Microsites are single-subject websites which can include a variety of content formats:

  • Isolating a service line;
  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions;
  • A niche-topic or industry-based blog, or
  • A collection of resources and papers on a designated topic.

These projects, at least in my view, become infinitely more interesting when we begin mixing the content delivery; for example, a blog combined with an FAQ collection, or a collection of papers with niche-service pages.  Microsites are often smaller in size than firm websites (though that can vary) and are typically located on a domain independent from the firm’s site, or on a sub-domain. The unifying aspect, however,  is the microsite’s hyper focus on its topic of choice.

This topical focus can deliver success on a number of fronts, including:

  • Readers are delivered to a website dedicated to their particular issue. Especially if it’s a subject that’s rare or difficult to research, being the provider of quality information can (and will) make an impression.
  • A clear publishing topic to the search engines. What’s this website about? Google aggregates a variety of signals in order determine a site’s subject matter. Microsites deliver both a lens and clarity: the URL, the content, the on-page attributes, the domains linking into the website, and even the people who follow it on social media — all (or at least ‘mostly’) say the same thing: your publishing topic.
  • Publishing depth. Higher traffic volume on websites is often reflective of long-tail search success. Getting those infrequent and unpredictable searches (which cumulatively have a huge impact), requires lots of publishing depth. This kind of topical depth rarely happens on a firm website, and if it does, it frequently gets buried.
  • Memorable navigation.  There’s only one domain name to remember, with a number of the subject keywords embedded.  Those factors alone will deliver repeat visitors.
  • Attributable metrics. Firms like to see their target audience all in one place.  But unless your firm is working in a single-practice area vacuum, you’ll need to do some serious slicing ‘n’ dicing in Google Analytics to figure out which groups are benefiting from which online marketing. Microsites solve this issue with simplicity — these sites are rarely tied to more than one or two practice groups.

Most firms begin this process by profiling their chosen audience and deciding on a subject, identifying factors such as geographic boundaries to services, industry targets, and the types of work that firms are currently delivering to those groups.

Selecting a domain name that matches an appropriate (and reasonably high-volume) search target is often facilitated by using Google’s Keyword Research Tool.  Keeping the domain in alignment with your designated topic — be it related to your practice, industry or a designated legal issue — helps to keep each microsite oriented to the chosen search language.  Plus, and this may the the librarian in me speaking, it never hurts to know the language associated with a topic’s demand (think “supply & demand”). Information seeking behavior says something about each market — sometimes whether or not it even exists.

Next, the firm’s focus will often turn to developing or curating high-quality content that addresses the subject. This is no easy task, but many firms find success in group-based brainstorming, or “scrums”. And while it’s certainly valuable to identify the issues that other media and publishers are currently addressing, lawyers are often at their best when they draw upon experience. Understanding the issues that keep their clients awake at night is an insider’s take, and a view that’s worth sharing.

Where appropriate, microsites can link out to the relevant sections of firm-owned web properties, such as practice area pages, lawyer bios, and firm publications.  If the firm or specific lawyer has a Twitter account that’s narrowly focused on the chosen subject, those tweets could also be included on the microsite.  And depending on the firm’s commitment, adding social media outposts dedicated to this new property may also be valuable — IF and only IF they will be maintained.

Pulling from our own experience here at Stem, here are some microsite examples that we’ve worked with our clients to develop:

In this example, the firm wanted increased search exposure for ‘Canadian tax disputes’ in Google. The chosen microsite domain has a portion of that search phrase embedded, http://taxdisputehelp.ca. This site also offers detail on how the Canadian tax system works, common problems that taxpayers face, and how the firm can help individuals resolve these issues.

Another example, this one comes from a personal injury firm that mostly handles product and medical device cases. The firm has used microsites whose URLs incorporate a product name and a potential type of injury, such as http://www.zoloftbirthdefectslawyers.com. On this site, visitors can learn about what side effects have been related to this particular drug, get up-to-date news on relevant scientific research and FDA warnings, successful lawsuits, and get in contact with the firm if they believe they have a case.

In this third example, http://www.nursinghomeinjurylaws.com, a site was created and maintained by an elder abuse lawyer we work with. It features state-by-state collections of legislation related to nursing homes, overseeing and related agencies, relevant posts from the lawyer’s blog, and externally-authored articles.

For each of these examples, a microsite project has helped to broaden our client’s digital footprint and make authoritative inroads for the firm’s practice-centric publishing efforts. Microsites are, admittedly, only one of many online marketing tactics available to firms these days, and using them without the support of relationship driven tools (i.e. blogging and social media) isn’t the best approach. Microsites continue to be, however, an effective method to showcase niche subjects, issues or practice areas. Done tastefully, they can be a very effective addition to your firm’s distributed publishing toolbox.

Next in this series: legal FAQ sites.

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