How does LexBlog’s publishing team make editorial decisions for a network of over 22,000 legal bloggers–and growing? On June 3, 2019, we hosted a webinar titled, “How LexBlog Makes Editorial Decisions” to give participants a peek under the hood.
You can watch a recording of the webinar above and read the full transcript and edited Q&A portion below. If you have any questions about topics discussed, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.
Thank you all for joining in today on how LexBlog makes editorial decisions this Monday; it’s awesome to see that so many of you are interested in learning more about LexBlog, how it operates, whether that’s because you’re hoping to make your blog more impactful, you’re trying to get more out of your relationship with LexBlog, or you’re just plain curious about how it all works.
Our team and I reached out to some of you personally, so it’s great to see a few familiar faces participating today. To start, some introductions: my name is Melissa Lin and I am the Associate Editor at LexBlog; I am born and raised in Seattle and my educational background is in journalism. As the Associate Editor, I am responsible for developing and managing all aspects of LexBlog’s editorial content and social media. This entails:
- Curating content for our legal blogging community, updating the front page of LexBlog.com daily
- Recruiting new bloggers, blogs, and firms to join our network
- Adding free members to our network
- Providing guidance to legal bloggers about how to make their content more editorially sound
- Managing all of our social media accounts
- Engaging readers and members of the network through our social media accounts
- Assisting the management of LexBlog’s various publications and syndication portals
We’re hosting this webinar today because:
- Transparency is essential for any company, but especially as a legal publishing company, we want everyone in our community to understand how we operate, how we make editorial decisions about who we want in our network/ who we don’t want, and what we choose to share/ don’t share online.
- One of our goals is to build the largest legal publishing community online and to empower legal bloggers everywhere to put their best, most authentic content into the legal blogosphere. Because if any one person is creating good content online, then that is good for everybody.
Hopefully through this webinar you’ll have learned something new about blogging. To prepare you a bit about what this webinar will cover, I’m going to:
- Give you a brief overview of LexBlog going over some terms that might be helpful
- Go a little more in depth about my role and editorial decisions I make
- Discuss how we decide blogs that fit the editorial values of LexBlog
- Discuss what happens once a blog is syndicated
- Discuss how I decide what is considered front page news
- How LexBlog utilizes social media
- Some best blogging practices at the end to improve your engagement online
As I’m speaking, feel free to write any questions that are coming up in the chat. I’m joined by some of my team members who will be answering questions in the chat and compiling more complicated questions which I’ll answer at the end. My team members are, Caroline Hess, who is our Marketing and Communications Lead, and Chris Grim who is our Business Analyst. My personal Twitter handle and LexBlog’s Twitter handle will be at the bottom right of every slide so if you’re tweeting about this webinar, be sure to tag us.
LexBlog at a Glance (03:26)
What is LexBlog? LexBlog is a managed WordPress solution that serves those in the legal community: lawyers, law professors, law firms, law bloggers and legal professionals. We build sites, syndication portals, blogs and aggregate the content of legal bloggers. Through all of these services, we now have 22,000 legal bloggers in our network contributing to LexBlog. The parts of LexBlog that I manage relate to the first and last items listed on this page here, which is a screenshot of our publishing site. The first and last points being: free blog syndication and LexBlog.com. To understand blog syndication and LexBlog.com, there are a few items we need to go over.
Important terms (04:19)
What is blog syndication? Syndication itself is a method of republishing content from other sites onto another. Any digital content online can be syndicated, but of course, the content that LexBlog is interested in is blogs.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication; it’s a type of web feed that can be found through a URL that allows the syndication to happen. The feed tells us everything in a blog including who published the content, the actual content or posts, the headlines, and the imagery that we need to pull. Feed readers like Feedly read RSS feeds from news publications or law journals to help keep track of the many different websites you might be reading in one single place.
Free members are those who already have a blog, but not on the LexBlog platform. And when I say not on the LexBlog platform, I mean a blog that we have not built or managed. Free members want their content syndicated onto LexBlog, and these members get benefits such as having another avenue of readership via LexBlog, social media highlighting from us and free members also get their work sent out on the various newsletters that correspond to the topic of their blog.
When I talk about influencers or people you need to engage online, I’m talking about people who are known for their blogging in their practice area, engage with the people in their community effectively, and are leading the discussion on the various issues or trends in the area.
Indexing is really important because when content gets indexed online, that means that it gets picked up by search engines. So all of the content that gets aggregated onto LexBlog that is not originally from LexBlog does not get indexed. So, any content that we pick up will not compete with the original source.
This is a screenshot of LexBlog’s RSS feed just to give you an idea of what it actually looks like and means. For people who have never seen this before, it might just look like a big bunch of convoluted text. But this will show us everything in a feed, including the author, the headline, the actual content in a blog, as well as any imagery and dates attached to it.
Free membership criteria (06:55)
There are two ways that people apply for membership. The main way is that the publishing team and I actively reach out to legal bloggers that we think are doing a great job and would love to highlight. And the other avenue is that people just happen upon our publishing site, or know of LexBlog, they have a blog and they want to be included. People apply via that blue button at the bottom ‘Add Your Blog Now’, and fill out a form that has entries for name, the blog URL, as well as the topic of the blog. We use that information that bloggers send to us to evaluate the quality of the blog.
LexBlog has a really specific means of evaluating blogs. We primarily want blogs that:
- Give original insight and analysis and go beyond simply summarizing and passing along information to the reader. We want blogs that add value. Engaging on outside sources is key and authors should definitely do that. But adding their own perspective is what readers online really want to see. If [readers] didn’t want your perspective then they wouldn’t be going to you.
- Are Tasteful. Blogs that are written as clear attempts at self-promotion, or show little taste when commenting on sensitive subjects will not be included on LexBlog.
- Write for Online. Content that is easily scannable, visually attractive, whether that’s done through imagery or formatting is something that we prefer on LexBlog.
- Engage. Blogs that do a good job of engaging the outside community and don’t live within the silo of the blog, but actively bring in outside ideas and listen to the voices of influencers and others around them is a really crucial part of effective blogging. Posts that demonstrate this ability while adding value and offer unique commentary are much more likely to be included in our site.
- Are impactful. Blogs that address national news or news affecting a large number of people merely outside one’s personal life will be more likely to be included on LexBlog. A blog that only affects one small city is not necessarily not going to be included into LexBlog, but we definitely appreciate the posts that cover communities at large.
- Subject matter and categorization is really important. Blogs must relate to law and actually be blogs. You’ll be surprised that the number of applications we get from sites that aren’t actually blogs. One time we got an application from HP printer company which is interesting. But we wouldn’t include that because that is not related to law and that is not a blog.
You can read these editorial guidelines more in depth in LexBlog’s editorial policy.
Rejected Blogs (10:00)
There are also a number of reasons that we reject blogs. The first one being that they’re not law and not a blog. Maybe their posts are vague, too long, maybe their posts are redundant or they post the same posts repeatedly or maybe they outright plagiarize other content online, which we find unacceptable. Maybe the style or quality of the post is incomprehensible or just not good writing; not something that we can understand. And of course, LexBlog itself is an aggregator, so we do not accept applications from other aggregators.
And again, blogs that are overly self-promotional isn’t something that we necessarily want. There are a lot of blogs out there that end their posts in several long paragraph pitches for people to get in touch with their firm. We think that a few sentences are okay: you can write a post and then you say, “If you like my content, feel free to follow me, please subscribe.” That’s absolutely fine. But when that pitch is several paragraphs and is longer than the original content, readers online don’t like that; they find that very advertorial and it just puts them off, so we also do not like to include that on LexBlog. Other reasons for rejection are unclear authors–again, transparency online is key. We’re [aggregating blogs] because we want to empower bloggers online to be put their best foot forward. We want you to be empowered to be clear about who’s writing.
In the end, this is a very subjective process. Blogging can vary all across the board and we’re seeing new blogs and new types of blogs come in every day. So we do a gut check, [I ask] ‘Would I be interested in reading this blog? Would other bloggers on LexBlog find value in reading this blog? And if any reader online stumble upon this blog, would I and my team be proud to say that this is the kind of content that LexBlog supports?’ And if the answer to any of that is no, then that is a no from us. Once we reject a blog, I will send them a rejection email with notes for improvement, and then people have the opportunity to reapply again.
What Happens Once a Blog is Syndicated? (12:46)
This is what happens when a feed is added. This is the author page of one of our free members, Barry McGuire. I manually create the content in the firm, author, and blog landing pages that appear on LexBlog. Any page that has content populating that top gray area over there is something that I wrote and put in the social media icons for; I try to do this for as many authors as I can. But of course, if there’s something in particular that a free member wants in their profile, then they can email me and I can put that in. But the most important info that should be in a bio is information about:
- Who the person is
- The area of law that they practice or write about
- The name of their firm/ organization
- Why they have an authority on [the subject] matter or have an interest in it
This top part over here is the blog’s landing page on LexBlog for that same author. And the bottom part is his firm’s landing page.
Whistleblower Protection Blog–this is one of my favorite blogs on LexBlog, and this is what their overall blog landing page looks like on LexBlog. Through aggregation, you can see all of the authors linked to the original source and the original blog. And then at the very bottom of it there is the feed of all of their content with the newest content appearing first.
Once a feed is added, this is what it looks like on our end. This might be a little bit difficult to see. It’s not really important for you to see exactly all the words here, but this is how it looks like in the back end of WordPress. I click on every single link, every single new piece of content every day, and that averages to around 200 posts or more everyday. I’ll try to read every single one. And from reading those and choosing the best content, I will decide what gets put on our front page everyday.
Front Page News/ Featured Content Criteria (15:00)
There are a number of criteria that I use to decide whether something is good for LexBlog’s front page. The first of which is:
- Unexpectedness. Is a blog post covering an event or subject matter that is out of the ordinary and will it have reader effects in something that’s just an everyday occurrence?
- Conflict. Does the blog post discuss an opposition of people or forces that results in something more dramatic than ordinary?’ Stories with conflict, of course, are often quite newsworthy.
- Another thing that we like to think about is continuity, ‘Does this story relate to a story that’s already in the news?’ Stories that the public are already aware of because of mass media coverage gathers a kind of inertia and makes difficult topics more accessible and less ambiguous to the public.
- Data and Terms. ‘Does the story have data and clear terms to make the content reliable?
- Does the story relate to a topic that happened within the last few days or has the potential to be an ongoing story?’ So, timeliness is of course, really important. We prefer a post that covers something that happened recently versus something that happened months ago, because at the point, the story is stale. Unless, the author adds a new argument or provides commentary that hasn’t been discussed before.
- Impact. ‘Does this impact the field of law? Does it have national or international impact? Or does the story cover a smaller area, but it’s still interesting because the content of the story sets a new precedent for other cities or states to follow?’
- Clear authors are really important; often times, within the stories coming in…we’ll see posts that are authored by eight or more people. I won’t feature those because readers won’t find it believable that a short post is authored by so many people, and they would be put off by that.
Additionally: a story that is only marginally newsworthy as it relates to a bigger story may still be featured. Engagement of influencers–quoting and referencing other people in the communities–is useful. Offering original insight and commentary. And, in terms of variety, I will try to feature as many stories as I can. This can be anywhere from 10 to 20 posts a day from a variety of firms and authors with a mix of factual pieces and opinionated pieces.
I myself, am very interested–and I think a lot of people in our community are very interested–in the issues of mental wellness in law, trends in law schools and education, environmental issues, supreme court rulings, and if there’s a story that affects marginalized communities, I will try to feature those as much as I can.
After going through all the stories and choosing the 10 to 20 stories that are allowed to feature on LexBlog.com, this is what it looks like; one main story on the left side, three secondary stories, and the rest of the stories on the right side without an image. Creating this front page requires putting all of the stories that are feature-worthy/ front-page worthy into the Featured Post category and choosing imagery for the featured posts.
Sometimes I alter the headlines to make them more succinct or descriptive. For instance, on the top right there, that story by the Consumer Finance Monitor was originally, a general headline; along the lines of “Update on Student Loans.”; versus what I edited was: “For the First Time in Three years, Interest Rates on Federal Student Loans Will Decrease.” This [headline] makes the topic seem more newsworthy and gives readers a better sense of what they’ll be reading.
Once I feature a story, all of these stories will be pushed out to our front page newsletter, which we have several thousand followers for. I’ll also share all of these stories on social media, usually multiple times–least once on the day that it was originally published and few more times throughout the week.
Social Media Sharing (20:00)
We use a platform called Buffer to schedule the sharing of tweets and posts on Facebook and LinkedIn. There’s so much interesting content that comes through LexBlog: 200 posts a day, adding up to about 6,000 posts monthly, and we want to share as much as we can. Even if a story doesn’t make it to the front page, I’ll try to share it to our media accounts. We typically have tweets going out every hour of every day.
When tweeting, I will take an interesting quote from a post or I might paraphrase or summarize the article. And of course I’ll always tag the firm, the blog’s social media, and the authors if they have social media. Over here you can see an example of what I put online for a tweet. On the left you can see what the post would look like if I had just copy and pasted the headline of the original post. And on the right is how I tried to add value and get more readership to the original article and comment on the article. Versus ‘Landmark Ruling Expands Rights for Harassment Victims in Illinois’, it ended up being “for the first time last week, Illinois Court of Appeals ruled that legal entities such as a corporation can be sued under the Illinois Gender Violence Act for sex discrimination. This greatly expands rights for harassment victims in Illinois.”
Another example. This one is from a blog post from Kevin O’Keefe, the CEO of LexBlog, the original headline was “Blog for You.” And then we added value to that by instead saying, “Why do you blog? Blogging for SEO and content marketing has created a lot of noise according to LexBlog CEO, Kevin O’Keefe. But blogging to reflect on what you have learned to join a conversation, and to build a community still works.”
The reason we do this is because, if readers just wanted to see the headlines of stories, they can just look at a newsletter or feed reader. But social media is a really useful tool to add commentary and for readers to get a secondary perspective on top of the original. And again, we want to add as much value as we can to the content that’s coming in through LexBlog and get more readership to the blogs that we think are doing a good job.
Additional Blogging Tips (22:50)
Some last things that I would like to leave you all with is some good blogging practices. A lot of times we’ll see blogs that aren’t really clear on what they’re about. All blogs out there should have an About page or somewhere on the blog that
- Explains who the blog is for. Readers want to know, ‘Is this for lawyers? Is this for contractors? Is this for contractors in a specific state or a metro area?’ If they stumble upon a blog and they have to dig to find out what is this blog about, it’s less likely that you’ll get a subscriber or a new reader for that blog.
- Readers should also learn what kind of content they should expect to read, whether that’s more opinionated pieces or simple updates.
- And there should also be an explanation of why the blog or the bloggers of that blog are a good source of information.
Something that I cannot reiterate enough is inclusion of your social media icons on your blog. When I’m sharing from LexBlog’s social media accounts–and I know that this is true for anyone online–if I see a post and I’m unable to find an author’s social media account within 20 seconds on the original page, then I won’t tag that author. So make sure your social media icons are on your blog because even if someone thinks your work is really good but they can’t find you, they still might share that post but you won’t know because they haven’t tagged you. And then you won’t be able to join in on a conversation and perhaps develop an ongoing relationship with a reader.
Lastly, be empowered to share your work. If you blog, you have a blog and you clearly care about your topic and you care about blogging, don’t let your content just live in the silo of your blog. Really put yourself out there online and share your work. And of course, we always recommend using imagery when sharing your work; it’s good for SEO, it makes your blog more visually attractive; it makes it easier to share on everyone’s end. It gives a little more context and value to your post. And the recommended specs for that is 1200 x 630 pixels. This is the social media specifications for most social media platforms out there.
I’m going to open this up to some more questions, but my email is email@example.com, it’s right there at the bottom. You can always email me if you have any questions about how to craft your post, or your social media messaging or if there’s any story you think I should be aware of. And if you want to follow our front page news channel, then please go to the Subscribe page on Lexblog.com and you can subscribe to the front page news channel to see which content LexBlog thinks is best. And that is it, thank you for joining in. Were there any questions that anyone had?
Question and Answer
Question: Should we send blog [posts] directly to you if we think they should be featured or do you curate that automatically based on the feeds?
Answer: All content from a blog will be pushed out automatically via the blog’s assigned newsletter topic, but featured/front page content is manually selected. If there is a specific post you recommend for the front page newsletter, then you can contact me directly. Reaching out to me does not guarantee that your post will be featured, but it helps. Two hundred posts a day is a lot of content, so some posts will inevitably slip through our publishing team’s review of daily content. You can always send me an email informing me of a particular piece, and even if I’m unable to feature the post you suggest on our front page, I can most likely share it to our social media.
Question: How does LexBlog categorize blogs that cover multiple topics?
Answer: We get this question a lot. We want to be as specific as we can about our newsletters and the content that is going out of them because when readers subscribe to a newsletter, they expect to see niche content. At maximum, we will categorize a blog covering multiple topics under two to three categories. If a blog is categorized under ten different categories, then it would be published to ten different newsletters, which would come across as spam.
Question: Does LexBlog assign topics/categories to blogs?
Answer: It depends. Applicants must fill out the application form–which includes sections for their blog URL, the name of their firm or organization, and the area of law the blog covers.
We use that form the determine which newsletter and category the blog should live under. But if we think a blog covers another topic, or maybe the person who applied did not quite understand the application, then we might choose a different category. And of course, we always confirm everything with the original applicant. Once someone has applied, we find their RSS feed, and we have created their firm, author, and blog profiles on LexBlog, we will then confirm with the applicant that their pages on LexBlog are accurate.
Question: Do you have any general recommendations on blog post length?
Answer: No. And our CEO Kevin O’Keefe says it all the time; if a blog post only takes you 200 words to say something, then it just takes 200 words. The most important things are to write succinctly and avoid redundancies.
I will say that sometimes–and this depends on your audience–posts longer than 2,500 words might be tedious for readers to get through. You might consider publishing your post in multiple parts. Not only will that give your readers a series of posts to look forward to, but it also creates more content for your blog and allows you to dig deeper into specific sections of a more complicated subject.
But again–what is most important is that within your post, you are able to make your point.
Question: What makes you add or reject a blog based on an RSS feed?
Answer: Sometimes we are unable to add a blog purely because of its RSS feed. Sometimes the RSS feed is incompatible with our platform. Sometimes the applicant’s blog doesn’t have an RSS feed.
Also, in an RSS feed there’s this thing called the “creator field.” We look at this to pull in author names and see who uploaded or wrote the post. We have seen third party marketing teams in the creator field of some blogs, revealing that posts were not actually written by the applicant or their firm. In these cases, we will automatically reject that blog because, again, we want to empower people to write original, authentic content.
Question: What if I made changes to my RSS feed or blog after my blog has been syndicated?
Answer: No problem. As long as the URL for your RSS feed remains the same, our system automatically updates and will continuously pull in your content. But if you change your blog name, RSS feed URL, organization name, or have changed the direction of your blog and want to recategorize it, then simply email me and I will manually update your LexBlog pages as quickly as I can.
Stay tuned for future webinars from other members of our team.