Should I Make a "Clean Break" With the Blog? -- Looking for a Little Help From Readers

Bob Ambrogi asked a question recently that's similar to one that has been plaguing me for about six months.  (It's literally weighed me down so I'm glad to get it off of my chest.)  The question (for me) is whether I should scrap this blog and re-launch another one.  I'd love some feedback on this.

My Online Landscape:  I've been blogging here for about 3.5 years.  I have enjoyed it tremendously.  I started the blog as a way to focus on spam-related legal issues, but over the years, my blogging interest has broadened to include all types of legal issues raised by online communities, UGC, and online businesses in general.  This has coincided with the increased attention to legal issues that have arisen out of social networking.  It's also coincided with my practice, a chunk of which has focused in this direction.  That said, there's always been a tension for me about sticking with the original focus of this blog or broadening it a bit to deal with other legal issues that I regularly read about and have an opinion on (and once in a while, insight into). 

For about the past three or four months I have been guest-blogging over at Professor Goldman's blog.  This has been a great opportunity for me.  It's something I have really enjoyed, has given me additional exposure, and most importantly, has sharpened my blogging.  Guest-blogging at someone else's blog feels similar to cooking breakfast in someone's kitchen when you are a house-guest.  You are more tentative because you are in someone else's place but you are pushed to do a better job.  Guest-blogging does have one downside and this is that you are a lot less spontaneous and opinionated about what you blog.  Either way, I plan on continuing my guest-blogging efforts at Professor Goldman's.  Although the brand benefits aren't as good as they would be if I blogged on my own blog, on balance I think the benefits far outweigh the costs. 

Reasons to Not Make a Clean Break:  The biggest reasons that people give to not have a clean break are (1) "google juice," and (2) the loss of subscribers/regular readers.  I've never placed much value on Google juice.  The precise reasons are best left for another day, but I break down my blog-generated connections into two categories.  One category includes people who "know" me or have some online or off-line connection to me.  They have a good idea of what I do and read the blog or correspond with me from an informed position of what I do and how I may be able to help them or work with them.  I would think many of these readers would (to the extent they are interested in the subject matter) read my writings at another location.  The other category of people who form some connection with the blog includes people who find the blog through a random Google search.  While the number of unsolicited reader communications I've received over the years has gone up significantly, the quality of those communications has never been particularly good.  The typical email is along the lines of "Google is listing some unflattering results about me in response to a search, can you get Google to stop."  I'm also not sold that the types of clients I have and am looking to cultivate find their lawyer through a Google search.  I'm not saying it will never happened but by and large, the average Google searching reader doesn't seem to be someone that ends up engaging with me long term.  At the end of the day, I've built up some sort of readership and brand recognition at this blog, but I like to think I could do the same at a new blog. 

Reasons to Make a Clean Break:  There are probably many more reasons to make a clean break.  The first is "branding."  When I started the blog, I intended to focus on spam-related legal disputes and having a blog that focuses on more than this is less than optimal from a branding standpoint.  I'm also not a big fan of the name "Spam Notes" for a blog that more broadly focuses on online legal issues.  (I have a personal/quirky affiliation with it but from a branding standpoint I'm not sold on it for anything other than a spam-related blog.)  Having "spam" in the name also doesn't have the warmest connotations for some.  (Maybe I'm wrong about this?  As a sidenote, for a variety of reasons, I'm not a fan of SEO considerations being the primary driver behind a blog's name - e.g., "onlinelegalissuesblog."  I'm not a professional brander, but when it comes to branding, I'm a fan of subtle and interesting.)  Second, this blog is currently on a GoDaddy platform and I've long wanted to move to another one.  WordPress is my preferred choice, although there are plenty of other platforms out there.  The simple reason why I don't like GoDaddy is that GoDaddy makes it hard to do things like add on to the blog, port content, etc.  I've set up a couple of blogs before and if I had a WordPress blog I could much more easily make some tweaks to the blog.  Equally as important, there's a robust WordPress developer community.  In contrast, the "GoDaddy developer community" is pretty much non-existent.  Third, I think a clean break makes the most sense from a psychological standpoint.  "Spam Notes" is great but it has a lot of baggage (not necessarily bad baggage mind you, but stuff that influences my writing and direction).  No matter how much I re-focus the blog, I'm still thinking about old readers and what I envisioned the blog to be when I first started it.  I am probably overestimating how much readers care and influence my writing, but writing with a clean slate will probably be liberating in many respects.     

There's a final reason I'm in favor of a clean break and this is that my blogging has been pretty focused on having a conversation with other lawyers around legal issues (cases, legislation, etc.).  I would not characterize it as particularly client friendly.  The average business person is not likely to pick up this blog and find a bunch of useful, practical advice.  I think there's a pretty big underserved niche here.  I could focus my old-style law blogging elsewhere (e.g., on Professor Goldman's blog) but launch a new blog that's much more client friendly. 

A Third Alternative - an Online Business Card/Portal:  Another alternative that's been swirling around is to set up a portal of sorts at my old law firm website (which I've been meaning to kill or redirect for about a year now).  It also enjoys a relative strength in terms of Google juice but doesn't accurately reflect what I'm doing.  I've often thought that it's worthwhile to have a single spot (it could be a page, such as a landing page, on a site) where you should aggregate your professional online activities.  In any given month I may guest-blog, receive a media mention or two, and write a few blog posts.  It may be nice to aggregate this and update it on a weekly basis (relatively easy to automate) at balasubramani.com.  What's the purpose of this?  I could include this in my email footer so if I want to give people a nice snapshot of what I do online, I can just send them this link.  I could include a mini bio and resume on there.  People could obviously just do a Google search to find out what I'm doing, but I like the idea of being able to present this to people (not necessarily everyone but people who aren't familiar with my online activities) and control the presentation.

Organizing Your Online Presence:  The final thought I want to add is that I've really struggled with "organizing my online presence."  I generate a fair amount of content and put it out there in a pretty unorganized way.  I've read a ton of blog posts on how to best organize your online presence, and while there's obviously no one size fits all approach, I haven't even come close to organizing my online approach much.  Beyond the guest-blogging and plans for a new blog I have had thoughts about starting a video blog - a weekly recap of some interesting legal issues and practical advice.  Where should I put this?  Should I integrate this with my new blog?  Should I put it on a separate blog? 

Either way, I've been thinking about this a lot over the past six months, and I thought it would be helpful for me to just articulate my thoughts on this.  I'd love to hear thoughts, feedback, etc.

Added:  Bob posts his thoughts here.  He's been blogging a lot longer, and has a much bigger readership and recognition, and a lot more reason to "keep the blog going."  I'm not sure what the best approach is for him, but after writing this and reading his post, I'm convinced that at least for me, a chunk of the attachment is emotional.  And this favors a clean break.  (It's odd that we become attached to things like blogs, given that they are just a place to store and access your writing!)

Some loosely related links

Mark Hermann recently wrote a piece in ABA's litigation magazine [pdf] about some blind spots he had when he first started his "Drug and Device Law" blog (which has now turned into a group blog - best of luck to Jim Beck and his co-bloggers!).  This article is well worth reading, among other reasons because Hermann has a great writing style.  It's just entertaining on its own. 

Chris Brogan posts on this topic often.  Although some of his advice doesn't fit as well for lawyers, I often enjoy reading his big picture thoughts on creating content and engaging an audience, and I find it helpful.  (Unlike other people, I don't think lawyers necessarily want to build a community with a bunch of people commenting.  Instinctively, this wouldn't work as well for lawyers, but I may be wrong.)  If nothing, it gets me thinking.  Here's a post (for example) worth checking out:  "If I Started Today."


Kevin O'Keefe
also posts a lot on blogging and law blogging.  I seem to recall an older post of his about a blog being the most effective online "hub."  I'm not sure this is that post, but it will give you a flavor of where Kevin is coming from:  "Does a lawyer need to blog to make effective use of social media?Niki Black also collected a bunch of tweets on this topic:  "Does a lawyer need to blog to make effective use of social media?"  For me, the answer to the question asked by Kevin and Niki is obvious.  As far as interacting online, I'm happiest when blogging.  I use Twitter and Facebook but it's mostly for fun or a mix of fun and for professional reasons (with the emphasis on fun).  If I didn't blog I probably would not participate online in any professional capacity, or certainly would not participate as much.
 
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Comments

  • 3/15/2010 2:23 PM Melissa Denton wrote:
    I think you should make an unclean break. Start a new wordpress "client friendly" blog that gets you business and helps clients while integrating it with your website for your business. My lawyers.com martindale hubbell website (ascherdenton.com) for my law firm is a good law firm type website and my other site (advantagedenton.com) has my blog (not a paragon of marketing blogs). You can keep your esoteric communications with other lawyers in the guest blogging and use your site for business development. My 2 cents. Best wishes!
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  • 3/15/2010 2:25 PM Melissa Denton wrote:
    OOPs. Forgot to mention that the "unclean break" you should make is to keep your old blog site up but make it direct readers to your new sites where you are active. Explain what you are up to and send folks to any and all other sources they are interested in. Better than autodirect to your biz site since the lawyer types would probably like your guest blogging more.
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  • 3/15/2010 2:28 PM David Sugerman wrote:
    Venkat-
    My law practice predates the digital era, and I note that because I'm sure it informs my thinking. I practiced in the same firm for 19 years and went solo earlier this year. The old firm started online in the mid 1990s--fairly early for a small injury/consumer firm.

    It's taken me a while to figure out that my blog and web page are inferior sources of new business. While our practice areas are different, most of my cases come in on referral. I notice that the web portal inquiries tend to be less committed than clients who come in via referral. Still, as to my specialized practice areas, e.g., consumer class actions, I think the blog is essential.

    All of that overly-long explanation is offered for how I came to realize that starting anew was the right idea. I still track analytics on my old site. The drop has been pretty big, though the old site didn't pull huge numbers. Traffic numbers aren't particularly meaningful. I'm still getting inquiries from the web via the new site and building it as my own. I don't regret for a moment starting the new site.
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  • 3/16/2010 7:29 AM Carolyn Elefant wrote:
    I came here via Bob Ambrogi's site where I left a lengthy comment.

    I think that your focus - your legal practice area on the one hand and your side interests are fairly well aligned (in contrast, to, for example, someone who blogs and writes about solos, on the one hand and handles energy regulatory issues on the other). So for you, the proposed portal makes sense - a place where you can run the blog feed from Goldman's site, feeds from your other blog and recent announcements, etc...
    I do think that the idea of a client centric website on the issues that you deal with in your practice could be very useful. When I was writing my social media book with Niki Black, I was doing quick research for primers by lawyers on things like copyright of blogs, legality of taking wholesale posts w/out attribution, grabbing a photo from Facebook and putting it on a private site, etc...Believe it or not, I found very little. These are enormous topics that people want and need to know about and just doing some basic informational posts (with cites to statutes or regs) would attract huge readership.
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  • 3/16/2010 8:10 AM Kevin OKeefe wrote:
    Keep the blog, make it your leading Internet presence (web site would add zero), change your focus so not so lawyer to lawyer (listen to and engage others), and upgrade to another platform.

    Lawyers get work by word of mouth based on their reputation. That's done by engaging one's target audience to build relationships. If you can figure out how to engage people and build relationships via a website you'll be the first one.

    The importance of the name of a blogs is overhyped. Listening to your target audience and engaging them in a strategic fashion is key. You're then known by your name (the one your Mom and Dad gave you), not the name of a blog.

    If I were to ask my most loyal readers what's the name of my blog, 90% wouldn't know. My blog readers as well as the people who have come to know me by my word of mouth reputation (who don't read my blog or follow me on Twitter) know me by my name. My name is my brand, not the name of my blog. That's the case for any professional - especially lawyers.

    If you feel the need to apologize for the name of the blog or explain what you're doing, add a tag line. But the focus of who you engage is really what defines you.

    Focus on what's important. If you're looking to grow professionally and from a business development standpoint in certain areas and you feel its not happening, focus on that. Not pontificating about the name of your blog, that's a waste of energy. The name of your blog is about number 33 in the top things that are important in a lawyers building a personal brand on the Internet and growing their book of business.

    If you want to discuss further, give me a shout and we'll meet for coffee. We're both in Seattle.out and we'll meet for coffee. We're both in Seattle.
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  • 3/17/2010 12:57 PM Eric T. wrote:
    The importance of the name of a blogs is overhyped

    I'm not so sure about that. Since mine is [region][practice area] I think the title strikes many as self-promotional, before the content is even read.

    And while I've done a pretty good job combatting that, I think there are some out there that would rather stick needles in their eyes than link to such a blog.
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  • 3/18/2010 10:14 AM Doug Cornelius wrote:
    Venkat –

    I’m going to chime as someone who started a new blog and left behind an old one. I thought others may be able to learn from the reasons and the results. I left a similar comment for Bob Ambrogi.

    I created a new blog because the topics were going to be so different. I figured that few (if any) of the KM Space people would be interested in the new compliance topics.

    A second reason is that the new blog was private for several months. I was not sure how the new employer would react to public blog. But I had grown used to having a blog as a place to store and link to substantive information. So I wanted one, even if it was private.

    You won’t lose content because you can always import the content between the platforms. You may also be able to keep the same URLs for one of your blog posts.

    The issue you are going to have when you switch platforms is that you may lose your feed and its subscribers. I set up KM Space fairly early on with FeedBurner so that people subscribed through FeedBurner, rather than directly through the blog’s RSS feed. You can change the input feeds going into FeedBurner with the same output. So I kept the KM Space feed and occasionally push stories through it. I simply changed the feed source to be the RSS feed from one of the categories in Compliance Building (in WordPress the categories also have RSS feeds) instead of the RSS feed from KM Space. When posts have the “publish to KM Space” category they also go out to the KM Space subscribers in addition to the Compliance Building subscribers.

    I still do not have as many subscribers to Compliance Building as I do for KM Space. That’s no surprise give the differences in topics. Surprisingly, Compliance Building has a far greater percentage of people who subscribe by email. (Being able to offer email subscriptions is another advantage of FeedBurner.)

    Even though the number of subscribers is not as high, my number of Pageviews caught up to and surpassed the old blog after a few months.

    Again, they covered different topics so it’s hard to draw conclusions. But it seems clear that you can recover from switching to a new blog platform.

    I do agree with Kevin O’Keefe that you should not get too worked up over the name of the blog. You can always just switch the name, without switching the URL.
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  • 3/18/2010 11:10 AM Venkat wrote:
    Thanks for the comments (here and elsewhere). Very helpful!
    Reply to this
  • 3/18/2010 10:22 PM William Silverstein wrote:
    I for one think you should not make a break. While I may not agree with you, I do find your writings interesting.

    Don't give up the URL, as Google juice is of value. You can always change the name and title, and alter alternative urls.
    Reply to this
  • 3/24/2010 9:21 AM Chris M Vail wrote:
    If you assume that your success as a blogger will continue, migration will only become a bigger problem the longer you wait. @Doug Cornelius, breaking your existing RSS fees is definitely a problem, but you can counteract that by (1) making sure your new blog auto-updates your Twitter status, which will retrain your audience to find your new URL and (2) you can "abuse" the RSS feed of your old blog by posting regular reminders about the URL of your new blog. The readers who care about your writing will get the message one way or the other and make the change quickly. Good luck!
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