Hosting a WordPress Website for Your Law Firm

website-design-guide-cover-2

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.

Your law firm needs a website, preferably one you can modify yourself without knowing HTML. Probably the best option for this—WordPress—is also free. WordPress powers Lawyerist as well as my firm and personal websites. If you can draft an email, you can build a website in WordPress.

There are essentially three ways to get started: WordPress.com, shared hosting, and a virtual private server. WordPress comes in two flavors: .com and .org. Both are free; the difference is where the software is installed, and what you can do with it. The easiest way to get started is with WordPress.com, but it is also the most limiting. The best way to get started is to get your own shared hosting account or virtual private server, and install your own copy of WordPress.org.

It isn’t too hard to switch between the options, but you should start with the one that will suit your needs best, so here is a look at each option.

Installing WordPress on shared hosting

Signing up for your own shared hosting account may sound daunting, but it is easy to do and very affordable. Most law firms should start with shared hosting.

You can get started with HostGator for under $4/month, including a shiny new domain name, if you need one. (Randall just used HostGator to set up his new WordPress website, actually.) You can get shared hosting even cheaper with GoDaddy (less than $2/month), but I like the software HostGator uses (cPanel) better than GoDaddy’s account manager. By the way, if you are paying more than $15/month for shared hosting, you are getting ripped off.

You can get an account with HostGator or GoDaddy and have a WordPress website up and running in a half hour or less, even if you don’t know what you are doing. Just log in to cPanel according to the directions in the email from HostGator, find the Fantastico De Luxe icon, click on WordPress, and follow the directions to install. HostGator’s customer service is very responsive, and can help you with the installation process if you run into problems.

Once you’ve got a basic WordPress install up and running, you will want to find a theme and customize your site. Most WordPress themes are free, but it’s definitely worth considering a premium theme like Thesis, which we use as the foundation for Lawyerist, and which I also use for all my websites. Thesis saves a ton of time and makes it easy to modify fonts, colors, header images, etc., without knowing how to code HTML and CSS.

Stepping up to a virtual private server

Shared hosting like HostGator is cheap and easy to use—and perfectly adequate for most law firm websites. But shared hosting doesn’t always deliver the best performance because you are sharing resources with other users. That means if another use on your server has a website that gets a lot of traffic, your site will slow down when that site is busy. That makes shared hosting a little unpredictable.

It may be worth spending a little more to get more speed, as well as a server of your own. A virtual private server is a great bridge between shared hosting and a dedicated server. It’s complicated, but a virtual server is a server of your own, though you share hardware—but not resources—with other virtual servers. Unlike shared hosting, if another website hosting on another VPS on the same machine goes down, yours will be safe.

I enthusiastically recommend the hosting provider we use at Lawyerist, WiredTree (starting at $49/month). When we needed to upgrade from shared hosting, I was discouraged to find that most hosting providers seem to assume you know how to administer your server if you are upgrading to a virtual private server. I am not a server admin, and I have no interest in becoming one. I just want to put up a website. That’s why I was looking for a managed VPS service. WiredTree takes care of all the server administration, so I can focus on writing for Lawyerist instead of maintaining the server. And if I need help, I can call WiredTree 24/7 and get a real, knowledgeable human.

With a virtual private server, your website should be faster and more reliable than with shared hosting, as long as you go with managed VPS hosting provider like WiredTree. Once you have your virtual private server up and running, you can set up and use WordPress just as you would with shared hosting.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the easiest option of all to use, but it comes with significant drawbacks. To build a website on WordPress.com, all you have to do is sign up for a free account and pick a name for your site.

You can make a decent law firm website with WordPress.com, but your ability to customize and extend your website is extremely limited. For example, unless you buy the ad-free option ($29.97/year), many visitors will see ads. You can only use the included themes, although you can pay for custom CSS ($14.97/year). You’ll definitely want a custom domain ($12–17/year) so you aren’t stuck with a yourlawfirm.wordpress.com address. And unfortunately, you cannot use plugins, which is what makes WordPress truly powerful.

While WordPress.com may work—in a pinch—for the truly frugal law firm, shared hosting or a virtual private server are a much better option for just about everyone.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmuskrat/3637703614/)

Subscribe

Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • D. Smith

    I’m a big fan of WordPress. I’d add to the information here a very enthusiastic recommendation for the program Artisteer, which lets users create custom themes about as easily as they create PowerPoint slides. It’s not free (roughly $50, I believe) but I’ve found it to be a very worthwhile investment. Coupled with Photoshop or even free imaging programs like GIMP, it really frees you up from reliance on themes, and lets you create something that looks unique (a huge failing of free themes, I think, because the popular ones become recognizable from site to site).

    I’m not the product seller and don’t have a link, but highly recommend anyone interested Google around and check it out.

  • Jay

    Perfect timing for this topic.

    Does anyone have experience with Bluehost? They are referred by many WordPress users and WordPress itself, though its more than HostGator at $7/mth. I’ve also receive many suggestions to purchase your domain from a register company (even if GoDaddy) and not to use the free option from your host, due, apparently, to the possible issues in transfering to a new host.

    • I haven’t used Bluehost, but I’m sure it’s a good option for shared hosting.

      I think it’s a good idea to get your domain separately from GoDaddy, but not all that important. I just moved from shared hosting to WiredTree, and it was easy to transfer my domain from that host to GoDaddy.

    • Jay, I’ve used Bluehost for years (with a multiple year sub, I’m prob paying less than $5/month). They had some downtime issues earlier on and I considered switching to Hostgator which just about everyone seems to recommend, but stuck it out and have been happy with the performance of late. Their customer service has been stellar.

      • I have used a number of hosts, including Hostgator, but I’m a Bluehost fan. I have found their phone support to be excellent, and they have unlimited file storage. This is a big deal if you want to store your video where you keep your website.

    • I have used Bluehost in the past for a few clients. The results were mixed. On one server, the system was blazingly fast. On another we had 10 second load times. So I think it really just depends. Companies we have used with 100% success in the past are:

      Media Temple
      Rackspace (Dedicated and Cloud)
      Verve Hosting

  • Great info, Sam! After researching blogging and content management systems like Blogger, Drupal and Joomla a few years ago and test driving a few, I settled on WordPress.org (not .com — if you’re going to go WordPress, go all the way). It functions beautifully as both a blogging platform and a CMS, both optimized for search. Haven’t stepped up to dedicated servers and don’t think I need to — sounds a bit daunting :-)

    • Hi, Tim!

      WordPress is great software. You can also use it to set up a pretty decent website and not only a blogging site. Just set the reading option to display a static page instead of the blog. You can look at my firm’s website if you want to see how that looks like.

      Will

  • WordPress is very powerful software but it requires maintenance. One of its strengths is that you can update the site with articles, cases, or new addresses. At the same time, you also have to keep the software up to date to make sure your site isn’t compromised. There are also many plugins that are all but necessary when using WordPress. You have to use Akismet to block spam, security plugins to lock down your site, and a SEO plugin with a sitemap capability to make sure all the big search engines know about your updates.

    As far as hosting, you are not necessarily getting ripped off if you pay more than $15 a month. Uptime and loading times are very important for a corporate website. Spending $20 a month for hosting at pair.com might be worth it if you have a heavy web presence.

    VPS is very powerful but also difficult as heck. Not only do you have to administer WordPress, but you also have to take care of the underlying Linux distributions and packages. WordPress, like many web software, sits on a LAMP platform (Linux, Apache webserver, MySQL database, and PHP scripting). All of those packages need to be kept up to date without breaking your site. Furthermore, you are in charge of setting up the firewalls. However, if you want to go that route, SliceHost and Linode are two worthy providers.

    In this day and age, getting a custom domain is crucial. Not only do you need it to run your website, but you also need it to host your email. A lawyer using an AOL email address just doesn’t have credibility nowadays.

    • The reason I recommend WiredTree for a VPS is that you don’t have to do any of the stuff you mention. You get all the advantages of a VPS, and they take care of maintaining the server. I don’t know how to “take care of the underlying Linux distributions and packages, etc.,” and I have no interested in spending my time doing that for now. WiredTree does it for me so I don’t have to worry about it.

  • Jay

    Obtaining a custom domain name and email address is simple. I’m brand new to websites yet I setup a GoogleSites website with a custom domain and email address.

    I’m going to try and use an old PC to setup a WordPress site offline and to have a webpage ready to launch when the time comes. Has anyone done this before?

    • Why would you jump through hoops to set up WordPress on your local computer when you can set it up the easy way on a shared host for as little as $2/month? You can keep the site from going live until you are ready.

      • Jay

        One is that I’m not sure when I’ll pull the trigger and launch the site. Two, if you just have a live site on the shared hosting how to you make large changes to the site? Are you just updating the live site, say when WordPress releasing new versions or if you add a new theme or new add-ons?

        • What do you mean by large changes? We make updates to Lawyerist all the time—large and small. In fact, today we added a new social media icon to the sidebar, inserted the box above the content column, added category descriptions to category archive pages, and soon I will add in a featured post option.

          It sounds like you may not have used a content management system before. It doesn’t work the same as an old-school site where each page is hard-coded in HTML. It’s far more dynamic, and meant to be updated on the fly.

          • Jay

            I’m very new to website creation and trying to learn. But, are you not concerned with updating the live site and possibly corrupting it? Not minor tweaks and post updates, but installing a new version of WordPress or adding new features, changing themes, making updates that you don’t want public until you can verify that is looks right?

            • Installing a new version of WordPress, changing themes, or updating plugins takes seconds.

              If you are concerned with compatibility, have a test site on a subdomain (I’ve got 8 WordPress sites running on the same host on different domains and subdomains) and try it there, first. Or just do what I do, and wait a week after major updates to get an idea of what compatibility problems might exist, and then do big updates during low traffic times.

    • Hi, Jay,

      I use test domains hosted on shared hosting to play around with. It’s a more realistic test if you do this. Using shared hosting requires a bunch of configuration that can cause a website that works fine on your computer to break when hosted.

      Use a domain that is completely unconnected to your real website, set it up so that it isn’t shared or searchable by Google, and leave out any search terms that can confuse this test site with your real site.

      But the number one rule to setting up your website (and for computing in general) is to back everything up. Keep backups regularly, and especially right before you do anything, even something as mundane as updating a WordPress plugin.

      Hope this helps.

      Will

  • I love my WordPress blog as well as one from Blogger. WordPress does much better with traffic and search results, IMO. I’ve even monetized them both without spending a dime other than a custom domain name for one.

  • If your site is hosted on WordPress, rather than installing the program on your own hosting account, you cannot use your site to advertise.

    You might not consider your blog to be advertising, but odds are it is, and that “attorney advertising” disclaimer you’d better have at the bottom will probably be enough for WordPress to suspend your account.

    • Huh. I never considered that. I think it’s unlikely unless you are actually running display ads, though.

      Or do you know of this happening?

    • There are other reasons not use a WordPress.com hosted site including lack of plugins and them controls, at least last time I looked into it.

      Good point about advertising.

  • We generally recommend WordPress too. In fact, so far, I haven’t been convinced that there is a better CMS for a law firm website. The only situations that get close are for very large firms that have unique requirements and functionality.

    While Sam does an excellent job of demonstrating how easy it is to install WordPress, if you need some help getting WordPress installed on your host, we’re happy to help.

    Also, in terms of additional search engine-friendliness, you should check out Yoast.com.

  • Jay

    Gyi,

    Ever setup WordPress on a local PC using WAMP?

    • Hi Jay-

      Yep. WAMP is nice for development. Although, I usually just build on a dev sub-domain and then move the whole installation to the root.

      • Jay

        If you have a live site on a shared host, do you use the WAMP server for making updates, or do you just update the live site directly (or can you run a copy on a sub-domain that is hidden and you can play with without fear of corrupting the live site?)

        • I do the hidden sub-domain. As long as you noindex, nofollow OR (not and) add the sub-domain to your robots.txt (Keep Out Google), it’s really the easiest solution, in my humble opinion of course.

          • Jay

            Do you just use a sub-domain as a test platform, then go to the live site on the root domain and make the same changes that you want to make? Or, do you make a copy of the main site on the sub-domain, make the changes on the sub-domain and once happy, move the revised sub-domain site to the root to be the new site? And, I’m assuming for all this you don’t use FTP programs anymore?

          • Hi Jay,

            It depends on the change. If it’s something minor, I will test the changes on the sub, then manually implement on main.

            If it’s major, I might move the entire updated site from the sub to the main.

  • I currently use wordpress.com to host my “Women as Lawyers” research blog and would like to use a domain name but am a little confused about how to go about it. Do I understand that this is really two parts 1) paying for the domain name; and 2) registration? I’m confused.

    • Two parts, yes, but two different parts. If you signed up for a shared hosting account with HostGator, Bluehost, or GoDaddy, you could grab a new domain at part of it. Then, you just have to move from .com to .org. ProBlogger has a tutorial that’s a bit old, but still probably works.

    • Angela,

      You get your domain name from a registrar such as GoDaddy, and then get a hosting service to hold the files. Then you have to set the registrar’s name servers to point at the hosting service’s computers. It’s really simple.

      I try to avoid buying my domain names from my hosting companies. I keep all of my domain names with GoDaddy, and then host elsewhere. That way, if I have a hosting dispute, I can move without fear that they’ll hold my domains hostage.

      The entire process is very simple, as is setting up your custom email using Google Apps.

      Will

  • Jay

    Angela, you can continue to use WordPress.com and get your own domain name, but you have to pay an annual fee to WordPress.com to enable that option, plus purchase the register. WordPress.org has instructions on how to move from WP.com to a shared hosting site.

  • I use WordPress for my blog, but not my website. I have built a number of blogs with WordPress because it is free and powerful, but I have found customizing the themes, even the ones I paid for, to be pretty much a nightmare. The one exception to this is the theme I use on my blog now–Twenty Ten Weaver. The designer went to the trouble to build a customization interface that even a lawyer can understand.

    • Hey, Jim,

      Have you tried Tarski? It is a free theme but it is quite nice.

      Will

  • Steven Appleget

    WordPress has a short, steep learning curve if you are starting from scratch. The documentation does a good job of guiding you through the setup, but if you have no experience, there will be some new concepts you have to grasp. (“Whaddaya mean ‘schema’? Wazzat?”)

    But don’t despair! You can do it! Read the docs carefully and take your time.

  • One other issue worth commenting on again here is security. You can go here to learn more about hardening your WordPress installation: http://codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress

  • I wouldn’t touch WordPress.com for the main company website unless you want to drive away leads! Nothing looks more amateur than mycompany.wordpress.com (well, actually mycompany.blogspot.com looks worse). But I do think WordPress.com is a smart move if you’re looking to expand your reach, or syndicate content. Just be careful with WordPress – it’s a truly awesome platform and one I use incessantly, but it’s also a target for lots of hackers so make sure you have everything secure.

  • Good article. We use WordPress and our own PaperStreet Total Control CMS depending on the needs of the client. Each has their advantages.

    I would also mention that you can install WordPress on Cloud servers too (which are very similar to VPS and Share hosting), but typically can scale faster if you suddenly have a traffic spike. Rackspace.com is a great provider with its Cloud Sites.

    One thing before you choose a provider, check out reviews of WordPress on cheaper providers. I won’t name names, as perhaps they have resolved their issues, but we have had incidents where speed is slooooooooooooow on shared hosts. So slow that we had to move the client’s WordPress site a day after launch. Fun!

    This is due to the fact that WP can be resource intensive with a lot of database and include file calls (it could also just be the nature of share hosts too). If that happens to you, just find a new host and/or consider optimizing WP with various caching plugins.

    Finally, I would recommend clients hire a designer to create a unique design. Be different on the web and be a success. We are of course a design team, but I would recommend this irregardless of that fact. If the budget is not there, go to http://www.themeforest.net and pick up a good theme to modify. I would stay away from the default templates as it simply does not do your firm justice.

    • Great info Peter. We’ve run into shared hosting problems with some hosts too (like StopMommy…). However, it also depends on which hosting plan you purchase (I recommend deluxe minimum).

      +1 for unique themes designs. Lawyerist’s own Karin Conroy also creates beautiful WP custom themes.

      I like building off of Thesis.

  • Just a heads up that the best DIY book I’ve ever found out there for WordPress is Digging Into WordPress by CSS Gurus Chris Coyier and Jeff Staff. It’s my bible for tricking out a WordPress site. You know it’s serious when it has an entire chapter on RSS feeds.

    • As soon as it’s back in print, I intend to get it. I’d get the PDF, but I prefer physical volumes for reference materials.

  • I highly recommend Arvixe.com. It is a smaller hosting service whom I have been with for the last five years. I have never had a problem with them, and the owner often answers questions himself. They have wordpress available with all of their hosting options, and it is easy to set up and use with subdomains (i.e. blog.domain.com as opposed to http://www.domain.com/blog) – although the latter is better for SEO purposes.

  • Great post. I wish more lawyers would approach their website as a means to control their online presence. Most lawyers want a flashy website, that they cannot even control. What is the point of having something online that you cannot modify yourself?

    In dealing with WordPress, I design websites that can help lawyers do it themselves, I am here to educate, and design something for them that works.

  • Justin McLeod

    I just wanted to share I bought the Kindle version of the book “Using WordPress” and found it to be a great book, though I had some trouble getting the interactive content to work.
    I use WordPress and love the customization/ease of use as a newbie web developer/lawyer. Great article!

  • Nice post Sam. I have actually set up a wordpress site for my New York law firm and it works well. I already had experience with wordpress for two blogs I created. Using it for a website was a bit different than using it for a blog and there was a little learning curve but I think I’ve mastered it now.

    Scott Lanin, Esq.
    http://www.laninlaw.com
    http://www.nyforeclosurelaw.com
    http://www.nybusinesslitigator.com