Free: 10 Things the Best Law-Firm Website Designs Have in Common
For seven years, Lawyerist has published an annual list of the best law firm websites. Now, you can find out what they have in common.
Okay, so you are comfortable with online privacy issues, you have spent some time on Wikipedia and Google learning about the “geek stuff,” and now you want to get going and market your law firm online. Obviously, you want to start with square one: a website. And a website is the logical next step in online marketing, so let’s get to it.
When I say “static website,” I mean a normal website: a set of web pages with content that rarely changes, and could be described accurately as a sort of dynamic business card and resume rolled into one. Many people will throw in a brochure-y article or two, but the bottom line is that a static website rarely changes. (A “dynamic website,” by contrast, could be a blog, wiki, or other frequently-updated website.)
A static website is online marketing 101. Every firm should have one, almost without exception. Most Americans have internet access in one form or another. Many will get referrals to more than one lawyer, who they will try to find online. The ones they find will get phone calls. The others probably will not.
First, you will need a hosting plan. A web host is a place where your website is kept (“hosted”), and internet users can view it. Once you have a host, you can get a domain name (lawyerist.com, for example) and set up your website.
There are probably thousands of web hosts out there. Find one you like. I use HyTekHosting. I love their service, and their reliability is top-notch. Two things: (1) if you are paying more than $15/month for your web hosting and you are just hosting a website, you are paying too much; and (2) don’t tolerate downtime. If your website goes down more than once a year, and for more than a couple of hours, get a new provider.
Look for a “shared hosting” plan, as opposed to a dedicated or virtual host. (If you know you want dedicated or virtual hosting and why, feel free to ignore this.) With a shared hosting plan, you lease a directory on a server with other users who are leasing other directories. This is the cheapest form of hosting, and will be more than adequate for most websites. It is what I use for this blog, my law firm website, my consumer law blog, Caveat Emptor, and my newest project, Minnlawpedia. All are hosted on the same shared hosting plan.
Once you have picked a hosting provider and signed up for a shared hosting plan, you will need to register your domain name, the “address” that people type into their browser to find you (lawyerist.com for this blog, for example). Many hosting plans will include a domain name when you sign up with them, but your domain name is something you can take with you from one hosting provider to the next. For this reason, many people recommend registering your domain name with a different company than your hosting provider. It can make switching hosting providers easier.
GoDaddy.com is probably the most popular domain name registrar, and their prices are hard to beat. Once you register your domain name, your hosting provider should be able to walk you through the process of pointing your domain name at your shared hosting directory. I won’t go into it in detail now, since it is something you only have to do once, and your domain name registrar and/or hosting provider should have pretty good directions.
Building a static website
In order to have a website, you must build one yourself or have someone else do it for you.
You can build a website yourself, if you are willing to learn the CSS and HTML necessary to do a proper job. Ten years ago, any website at all was a good start. But today, you need something a bit more polished. Increasingly, your website will be potential clients’ first impression. It is worth the price of a good designer to get a positive first impression. Do it right, whether you decide to do your own or hire someone.
(A word on hiring a daughter, nephew, etc. A website you have your nephew design will look like a website you had your nephew design. And unless your nephew works somewhere like Artropolis, that ain’t good. Hire a professional.)
One easy way to make your own website is to use the popular blogging software, WordPress.org. WordPress.org is what I used to create this site as well as my law firm website. Even though WordPress.org is blogging software, it serves really well for building a basic website. You can choose a pre-designed template and set your site to display a static page as the front page, and you can write other pages for the other content pages (bio, contact info, etc.). I intend to write a tutorial on doing this sometime in the future. For now, install WordPress.org at your hosted account and start playing around with it.
Or, if you just want a website with minimal fuss, hire someone. Like hosting providers, there are thousands of website designers out there. I used E.Webscapes for a recent redesign of my blog, Caveat Emptor. I spent $600 for the blog template, which did not include any of the content, of course.
As you look for different designers, look through their portfolios and make sure you like their style and think they will be able to adapt to your needs. The website they build for you will probably look similar to their other work, so find a portfolio you like.
You will hear a lot of designers talk about “search engine optimization.” If they act like this is a Big Deal and want to charge extra for it, head the other way. Basic optimization is important and should be a part of designing any website, but unless you pay for advertising, pretty much the only way people will find a static website is by searching for the name of your firm. There is no way around this, no matter what SEO tricks your designer claims to know. Without dynamic content or paying for position, you are unlikely to show up on the first page of Google when someone searches for “Minnesota attorney.” (I would bet Lawyers.com and Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben pay more than my gross yearly revenue for that privilege.)
You should expect to pay at least $1,000 for a good, basic website. If you want more, you pay more. Shop around and look for the best all-around deal to make sure you get what you want.
What to include in your website
Include some information about yourself, your areas of practice, the services you offer, and how potential clients can contact you. You might also include some substantive information. A basic primer on traffic stops is nice to see on a criminal defense lawyer’s website, for example, but there is no need to go overboard; most potential clients can find the same–or better–information on Wikipedia.
Take my website for The Glover Law Firm as an example. It may not suit everyone’s style, but it has all the elements of a good, basic law firm website, and a few extra things:
- Home page with firm news – the home page has the firm name and contact information–the basics of any business card, and the firm news “extra” gives visitors an update on what is going on at the firm and–hopefully–the impression that the firm is alive and well;
- Biography – this basic element tells visitors a bit about me, the attorney they may hire (complete with a half-decent picture);
- Resources – this “extra” element contains useful information for clients, potential clients, and consumers generally–a reason to visit my website besides just to hire me, in other words;
- Consultations – this basic element could have been folded into one of the other pages, but I felt it was worth setting on its own, and it also relates to the Resources page; and
- Contact information – this basic element has information on how to contact me and how to get to my office.
No matter who you work with, you will have to provide most of the content. So start writing. Get your resume or CV in shape, type up a description of your firm, a list of your practice areas, etc. Some web designers can help you fill up the gaps in your website, but you will always be the one doing the majority of the work. As you should, since this is your website.
Now that you have a shiny new website, you want people to find it! Most people will probably find your website by searching for you. As of this posting, 25-30% of my visitors reach my website by searching for “Sam Glover.” This should make it obvious why I sometimes refer to a static website as a calling card or a dynamic business card. Most people will find out who you are before they get there, kind of like when you are handing out business cards at a networking function.
A blog is a great way to raise your profile, resulting in more people looking for your website, and we will talk more about blogs in the next installment of this series. But a blog may not result in direct referrals of potential clients. If what you want is potential clients who are looking for an attorney, advertising may be your best bet.
If I tried to summarize all the ways you can advertise online, this post would turn into a novel, and it is long enough already. Further, I do not advertise, so I am not an expert beyond a general familiarity. That said, all advertising boils down to this: reaching potential clients at the point at which they are trying to find a lawyer.
Search engines like Google are a common way to reach potential clients. For example, someone who searches for “Minnesota divorce lawyer” on Google is probably looking to hire a divorce lawyer in Minnesota. (Click that link and see who is paying for that search term.) With Google AdWords, you can choose your keywords and bid for position. When browsers click your link, you pay for that click. Yahoo! and Microsoft Live offer similar options, but they work slightly differently.
You can also advertise with a lawyer referral service. The Minnesota State Bar Association has one, for example. So does FindLaw, Nolo, and nearly any other organization or legal website you can think of.
When you are deciding whether to advertise online, consider your ideal pool of prospective clients. Select an advertising portal that they are likely to use. If you are using a search engine, choose your keywords carefully. Some will be obvious, but there may be others that you can also use.
Whatever you do, track your marketing carefully and adjust it accordingly as you go.
Up next is part 3: blogs and social networks . . .