The relationship with your web developer is an important one. We have all heard horror stories of law firms getting involved with a developer only to find out that the initial expectations of the project were very different from the outcome.
I have put together a list of 5 questions I think are very important to ask your website developer before you hire them.
1. Who owns my website?
You would be shocked at how many attorneys don’t actually own their law firm websites. In many cases they are renting their sites. They pay a great deal of money to a web development company who builds a custom website on a proprietary platform. Usually there is an upfront charge as well as an ongoing monthly fee. If the firm ever wishes to part ways with the developer and take the website with them, usually they will be able to get the raw files, the design, and the existing content (although sometimes the developer will even lease parts of the content).
When this happens, there is no longer any way to update the website without hardcoding changes. In this case, the website needs to be rebuilt on another platform which can cost as much as a new site built from scratch.
With the abundance of open source platforms (ie: platforms that are not owned by a single company or entity and anyone can use) such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. there are plenty of options available to attorneys to avoid a situation as I described above.
2. Can I update the site myself (Is the site built on a content management system)?
A content management system (CMS) allows you to login and make edits and changes to your website without having to create a new page or edit an existing one by hand. This allows you to update your website without having to contact a web developer to make a change on your behalf. If you have ever used a blogging system such as Blogger or WordPress.com than you have used a CMS before. Any modern website you intend to market your law firm with should be built on a content management system. Not having one is simply a non-starter.
This seems to be more common knowledge these days, however I am still shocked at the number of law firm websites I see that are not built on a CMS.
3. Can changes to the look of the site be made further down the road if necessary?
It’s important that flexibility is built into the framework of your website. We all know that the “internet world” moves fast. What looks sleek and modern today can look dated and old 4 years from now.
It’s important the your site is built on a framework that has the ability to be updated even if this might cost extra at the time of the update. The point is that you want the choice and ability to update your current site rather than start over from scratch again.
For example, we are big fans of the Thesis framework for WordPress. The beauty of Thesis is that you can build a very custom look and feel for your site but the “guts” of the site will remain consistent. This way, if you choose to update the look at a later date, your investment and headaches will be much smaller than if you need to switch to an entirely new system.
4. Can I easily update necessary SEO elements, ie: page titles and headers?
You want to ensure that your website won’t prevent you from achieving your marketing goals. From a search engine marketing perspective, it’s important that you have fine-tune control over the elements of your site. Most modern content management systems will allow you to make any changes you need, but it’s a good thing to ask your developer before the site is actually built.
5. How long will it take from the day we sign up until the site is launched?
This is a very important question. From all my experience dealing with web developers, the biggest issue I ran into didn’t have to do with the technical aspects of the website development. It didn’t even have to do with the end result of the project. The biggest problem I ran into was finding a developer that actually delivered the project in the timetable they said they would.
Our internal rule at AttorneySync was to double whatever time frame we were quoted by a developer. They weren’t just off by a little, they usually were off by a mile. Since many of us are operating under certain time constraints, especially with a website we are trying to market, waiting 6-8 months for a website to get finished is unacceptable.
This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that once the web developer is hired and the project is underway, there is a lot of time lost in switching to a new developer.
My suggestion is to ask the developer how long the project will take. Then ask for a couple of referrals. Talk to the referrals about their projects and relationship with the developer. Ask how long the developer said their project would take initially and then how long it actually took.