If you don’t have a website for your law firm, or you have one that makes you sad, this post is for you. We’re breaking-down some basics to relieve some of the most common headaches.
WARNING: This is by no means a comprehensive guide to building a law firm website, SEO or internet marketing. It is also not the only way to go about it. However, having worked on a bunch of web marketing projects, I can tell you that the advice here has been tested.
Yes, there is a planning stage. Most of the problems that you will cause for yourself stem from failing to spend any time at all planning out what it is you intend to do online.
What is the purpose of your activity online?
Bad answers include:
- Everyone is doing it.
- I’m looking for a magic marketing bullet to turn around my business.
Better answers look like:
- People have told me they looked for me online and can’t find me.
- I asked people how they would begin their search for a lawyer like me and they said online.
- I’d like a place to send people when I meet them to learn more information about me.
There are others, but I think these get the point across.
Your purpose and goals should instruct your entire process.
However, planning goes beyond mind mapping your basic goals. Your plan should be specific.
It should include deliberate thought about how you and your law firm will look and feel online.
It should take into consideration who the people are that you are trying to engage online.
Hint: These people should not be limited to prospective clients.
It should also account for how these people use the internet and where they “hang out” online.
Yes, the overwhelming majority of you should have a website. Some of you who are familiar with the concept of the “distributed web” might push back that websites are no longer necessary.
You need one place online that you own and no one can take away no matter what.
But let’s take a moment to discuss what I mean by a website. Really I mean:
- a domain registered in your name,
- a hosting account and
- a WordPress installation.
To me, these are the absolute essentials.
Choosing the right domain is actually a lot more important than the credit it is given.
Most lawyers get excited about domains that contain keywords that are relevant to their practice. These include domains like:
In fact, lawyers pay great sums of money to obtain these “golden goose” domains.
With some exceptions, these are largely a waste of money. If you’re inclined to dump a couple grand on a domain, this post is probably not for you.
Instead, when choosing your domain, consider the following:
- How will most people search and look for me online?
- What words are they likely to use?
- Are they likely to type my domain directly into their browser’s address window?
- Is it important that it’s easy for people to remember?
- What information will you be including on your site?
- What messages, themes, emotions are you trying to convey?
Once you have a basic concept of what you’re looking for in a domain, you have to see what’s available. Domize is a helpful tool in this regard.
If your dream domain isn’t available, don’t resort to adding a bunch of hyphens between the words or choose some weird top level domain extension (i.e. .biz, .info, etc).
Keep it short. Keep it simple. Make it memorable.
Once you’ve chosen a domain that’s available, the next step is to register it.
There are a lot of domain registrars. If you have one you like, use it. I’ve used a few but tend to register most domains with Godaddy.
ALERT: You should register your domain in your name in your own account. Don’t let someone else register your domain in their account. If you do, you are setting yourself up to be held a domain hostage.
Also, it’s worth noting that domain registration is different from hosting. While I recommend Godaddy for registration, as you will soon learn, I tend not to recommend them for hosting (and certainly not for SEO).
Choosing the right host is very important. You will here things like, “hosting is a commodity, go with the cheapest one you can find.”
Wrong. Wrong Wrong.
It is true that hosting companies are ubiquitous and hosting can be very cheap. However, if you want your site to load fast and not be down regularly, I recommend one of three options:
– WP Engine (if you use WordPress, and you probably should).
– Rackspace (if you don’t use WordPress).
– Someone who has invested a bunch of money into their own hosting (i.e. they have their own servers of have built a hosted environment on AWS or something like that).
WP Engine is excellent, with two major drawbacks:
– They only host WordPress websites (not a total drawback, but keep in mind that you’ll have to host email elsewhere).
– They are strict about their security, plugin, etc, rules (this is actually a benefit but you might find it frustrating if you like to tinker).
You might argue that a third drawback is the cost ($29/month for single site at the time of posting). $29/month is not that much money for hosting your law firm’s website. Admittedly, $99/month for more than one site seems a bit steep. But most of you will likely benefit from choosing WP Engine in the long run. Think about the costs of people bouncing off your pages because they are slow or down.
If you don’t use WordPress, you should probably choose Rackspace. You probably won’t because you will be outraged by the cost. And Rackspace is probably overkill what you have in mind. So, look for a third-party hosting company who uses Rackspace. All the benefits, much less cost.
If you refuse to use WP Engine or Rackspace, you’re in the hosting wilderness. Here’s my advice, don’t get the economy class shared hosting options. You will regret this choice.
And if you are going to save on hosting, you must invest in security and caching (you will need to invest in these anyway). Also, regularly test your pages with tools like WebPageSpeedTest, Google PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom. Slow pages lose clients.
I challenge you to provide valid reasons for not choosing WordPress. Before you submit your reasons, here are some that are not valid:
- WordPress is only for blogging.
- WordPress isn’t secure.
- WordPress generates bad code.
Okay developers, go ahead and list all of the issues about support and why they need to pay you a bunch of money to build a custom platform…
Save yourself the trouble and expense. Just use WordPress.
But don’t just use it out-of-the-box.
Admittedly, there are a bunch of things you will want to do to WordPress to make it more secure and perform better in search. One of those things is to install Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin.
You should also read Yoast’s WordPress SEO Guide.
Recently, Yoast started offering WordPress themes too, so I’ll give those a plug here:
WordPress themes are ubiquitous. Some are free. Some are premium templates. And of course you can have someone design and build a completely custom theme for you.
If you can afford it, get a custom theme built. Make sure that it’s responsive and that your theme developer knows a bit about UX and SEO.
If you can’t afford it, get a premium theme. It will be fine. But, make sure you research it. Look for reviews of the theme and the theme developer. Contact the theme developer. Try to find live examples. Run pages that use the theme through speed testing tools. Look at them on smartphones and tablets.
Sure, you can also use a completely free theme. And frankly, some of free themes available in the WordPress repository will get the job done. But research and test it extensively. Also, see how well it is being maintained. When was it last updated? Is the developer active and responsive? Is it still being supported?
Theme developers have to eat too. Paying for a theme is your best bet to be sure that the developer will continue to support it.
Okay, there you have it. Everything you really need to get online and avoid excessive headache and pocketbook-ache.