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Poking your competitors


#1

I’m currently in early access mode on my CMS for solo and small firm attorneys. It’s by no means a finished product and still has a bunch of (self-perceived) holes that need to be filled before I consider it a solid product ready for general release. Right now I’m taking early access clients with a very heavy concierge on-boarding process.

There exists a blog that almost all of my prospective clients read or at least follow on twitter/facebook etc. They’re generally considered to be a good steward of advice for attorneys in general (not specific to solo’s).

Oh, and they also have a product that’s in direct competition to my CMS, essentially a specially packaged version of Wordpress that they’re trying to promote. I’m not worried about them from a competition standpoint because the value proposition of my product appeals to a different type of attorney, namely the deeply untechnical, one that finds wordpress too cumbersome to manage on their own.

They re-published a post yesterday that is sufficiently awful advice as to be dangerous. It’s pretty clear that they republished it because it’s an older post that’s keyword heavy on “law firm website” as an SEO ploy.

I could write an absolutely scathing rebuttal of the piece, highlighting how awful the advice is, and perhaps use it as fodder that they’re probably not the ones you should be trusting with marketing advice.

Question is, is it wise to poke the bear at this point since I’m in such a new and vulnerable place. I want the persona of my marketing materials to have a sort of “white knight” feel to it, ridding the solo attorney marketing space of all of the spammy and predatory advice that’s out there. This seems like a perfect fit to do that, but would a) call attention to an article that would just give them more SEO juice, b) put the bullseye on my back as competition eliminating my ability to sneak up from behind them later on, and c) they have a huge following and I’m not sure I want to make an enemy of that (just yet).

Am I overthinking this? Should I ignore it and move on to more important things? Or should I own it and use it as an opportunity to stake my claim?


#2

There are more pro’s and con’s to this that we can ever know so can’t give advice to your situation but just wanted to share that I was in a similar situation a few years ago when I was just starting out.

Got in a row with someone who was ‘internet famous’ in my niche who published something demonstrably wrong then got all uppity when I politely pointed the mistake out. He came across with fairly pathetic with quite vitriolic with “who do you think you are?” personal attacks rather than looking at the issue. I shied away from the confrontation but now wish I had stood firm (while keeping professional of course) as the page that contains what is left of that spat got more inbound links than anything I tried to do for marketing and still brings in traffic.

One thought though - would your non technical target audience get the rebuttal or would they see it as “two nerds arguing in gibberish”?


#3

That’s true. It’s a tough scenario to say one way or the other, so thank you for relaying your experience. I think that’s more of what I shold’ve asked for. Any regrets or positive outcomes from poking competitors when you’re at an early stage.

And to answer your question, I think the rebuttal could easily be framed in a way that makes sense to the non-technical, particularly because the advice they give makes things much more difficult to solos and my thoughts would be on how to make their lives easier.

For background, the post essentially talks about how solos should detach their blog from their firm website and give it separate branding etc. Essentially, the exact opposite advice for what someone who wants to see any sort of inbound marketing benefit would want. i.e. no SEO benefit, needing to build two brands (and two websites) at once, when most are struggling to build even one.


#4

Wow, that is awful advice!


#5

Vulnerable to what? Failure? From my angle you have nothing to lose. I’d give it a go and keep it professional. If you had an established business, I would then air on the side of caution.


#6

Personally I’d love to see a good rebuttal to someone I respected. It means you’re a thinker. That’s why I learned AngularJS against any other JS framework out there. Quora is a great example of “internet famous” people disagreeing with eachother politely and creating great content for both parties.

But when it’s just your word vs his I lose respect for both people.


#7

Whatever you do, keep it respectful and professional. A public slanging match is only going to make both of you look bad.


#8

Sometimes you can frame a piece in such a way that it isn’t a direct attack on a competitor, perhaps doesn’t even mention or link to their piece, but presents an opposing point of view clearly and in such a way that anyone reading both articles would get it. If poor advice is out there then it is valuable to write up good advice, but that can often stand alone without needing to even reference the other post.

An alternative thing to do, and something I use as a writer, is not to attack one individual or company for their viewpoint but find enough examples of that viewpoint to say, “some people/companies are claiming x” and then take the general argument down without making it look like an attack on one party. That only works if there is some poor received wisdom floating around that enough people might have jumped on, but if you can do that it works well to stop your piece being a direct attack on a competitor.

Above all it’s important to stay classy. Present your argument against the advice and methods only and avoid anything that looks like a personal attack or an attempt to damage their reputation.


#9

Personally, I wouldn’t call out the competitor. That only comes off as petty, especially when you’re a newcomer to the space. And that kind of post doesn’t give your audience anything of value.

Instead, I’d use this as an opportunity to create the definitive resource on this topic, backed up with real data/evidence that you’re the expert on his stuff.

You said they simply re-posted the piece, so that wouldn’t give them much SEO value anyway. If your piece is original (and provides real value to your readers), then it should do well.

I’d also add that the role of content marketing shouldn’t be to educate about your product (or the shortcomings of a competitor). It’s to educate about a topic. Selling your product comes later (after they trust you because of the awesome content you deliver).


#10

I think calling out the competitor (for this particular market) is a bad idea. Attorneys probably don’t want to engage with internet drama drama or public scandal - you might get the SEO link juice, but will it get you any sales? Or just hurt your reputation?

I haven’t read the article you’re talking about, but there are circumstances where what you’ve mentioned might be good advice. Lawyers sometimes move on to other law firms, in that case building a personal brand that is transferable between organizations is actually a good career move. SEO / inbound might not be as important as messaging to current clients.

As for non-techies, perhaps you’re targeting a certain market, but consider that attorneys are great at outsourcing anything that isn’t their core-competency. They’re not going to be managing their Wordpress themselves, they’ve probably contracted some tech guy or a bunch of prestigious firms to handle all that, so they never have to think about it. I’d definitely talk with your early access clients about their vision for the future of their firm, and if they think they may ever outgrow your product.

Hope none of this is too negative & perhaps I’m thinking of a different market… just sharing my thoughts in case it helps to know some roadblocks you might face in the sales process!


#11

Thanks all for the thoughts. Seems pretty clear that not calling out the competitor directly is the more prudent choice. I’ll definitely write a highly detailed counter-argument that speaks to these specific attorneys’ needs. The post was always meant to talk about the idea of making sure your blog is serving your business and not detracting from it. The fact that my product will allow them to do that will likely be mentioned in a footer with a CTA, but the post itself is strictly informing marketing best-practices for those with limited time/effort resources.


#12

Thanks for the thoughts. You’re absolutely right that there are circumstances where a separate brand makes sense. The one you describe is actually advice I’ve given to a number of attorneys that are still in big firms as a way to give themselves leverage and clout when they either go out on their own or want to move on, or even if they just want to move up the ranks within their own firm. In fact, one of my future plans is to offer a blog-only plan for those attorneys that are still in big firms that want to build their personal brand. Then when/if they want to move out on their own it’s as simple as upgrading to the plan that gives them a full marketing site. A form of long-long term prospecting if you will.

The market I serve is solo and small firm attorneys (think bootstrappers of the legal world). Just like solo founders, they have extremely limited resources to dedicate to digital marketing both in terms of money (not many have the money to contract an IT firm and if they do, they’re likely growing or large enough not to be in my target market), and time. Having two separately branded sites effectively doubles the amount of work they have to do on an already strained budget of time and money.


#13

It can work if your competitors are large, corporations that people tend to dislike. Then you have the underdog angle. We built this a few years ago too. https://lessaccounting.com/compare-accounting-software/