Online content marketers and search engine optimization (SEO) experts are nearly unanimous when they say that writers need to avoid using the passive voice in their marketing content. The advice isn’t a suggestion, either: The way some marketing experts talk about it, you would think that using the passive voice in a blog post would set the internet on fire.
Not only do we think the concern is overblown, we don’t think that lawyers should worry about it, at all, provided they are still writing effectively.
In fact, there’s a huge segment of the legal world that actually benefits from the effective use of the passive voice in their online legal content marketing: Personal injury lawyers.
The Passive Voice
A brief recap of the passive voice is helpful, here.
The passive voice is nothing more than a description of a sentence structure that focuses on the object of an action, rather than the subject doing that action. Examples include:
- The sidewalk was run on by George (Active: George ran on the sidewalk)
- A poem will be read by Mary (Active: Mary will read a poem)
These sentence structures can be very awkward and stilted. Some of them, though, sound quite normal.
All of them carry less impact for the reader. That’s the biggest downside to sentences written in the passive voice, and it’s why so many linguists, writing coaches, and grammarians hate them. They insist that sentences in the passive voice don’t deliver the way they could, had they been written in the active voice.
It Isn’t an SEO Signal, Though It May Influence Reader Metrics
Online marketing professionals also hate the passive voice. But when they explain why they hate it so much, the rationales come out pretty empty.
No one has been able to point to concrete evidence that an article filled with sentences in the passive voice was outperformed by content that was all in the active voice. This suggests that the passive voice is not a traditional ranking signal or some penalty or red flag that search engines throw up every time they crawl a page with it. Being able to reliably recognize the passive voice in written content also seems like something that search engines would struggle with doing.
Instead, lots of online marketers attacking the passive voice rely heavily on Google’s insistence that it is out there, looking for “high-quality content.” The passive voice is bad, therefore content with the passive voice would not be “high-quality.”
That’s it. That’s the logic.
Unfortunately, SEO plugins like Yoast and writing checkers like Grammerly started adding features that detected and flagged the passive voice. Once editors could automatically find passive sentences in articles, marketers began telling their content writers to avoid using it. No exceptions allowed.
The reaction is completely out of line with the problem, though. The passive voice doesn’t engage the reader like the active voice. It isn’t as potent. But the reaction implies that the passive voice will always ruin an article. It can, if the passive voice has a constant presence in the piece. The result will sound muted, stilted, awkward, and just… off. This can have a negative impact on the reader metrics that search engines have increasingly turned to in order to find content that is relevant and important for a given search query.
But tactful use of the passive voice can actually be quite effective. And personal injury lawyers are in a perfect position to use it in their online content marketing.
Torts: Where the Direct Object of the Accident is Your Targeted Client
The targeted client of every personal injury attorney is the direct object of a terrible accident. All of a personal injury attorney’s online marketing efforts, therefore, should tailored to the victim who has been torted. On the marketing front, at least, the person who did the torting is irrelevant.
So, personal injury lawyers, go ahead and use the passive voice in your targeted pages and legal blog posts. Use it naturally. Use it effectively. Don’t pay attention to SEO plugins giving a frowny face for “readability.” Instead, write the content that appeals to your targeted clientele.
The direct objects of the negligence, not the subject causing it.