Websites for Rent?

Considering buying or renting a law firm website? Do you know how to tell the difference? Hundreds, if not thousands of lawyers don’t own their own websites. They rent them from their web marketing company. And many of them don’t even realize it.

Years ago, when I first started researching the legal website marketing space, this was one of the things that surprised me the most. And considering some of the other things we’ve learned, that’s saying a lot.

Buying vs. Renting Websites

To me, owning your website is a no-brainer. But I suppose I can try to come up with some arguments for renting.

The obvious one is short-term costs. Just like real estate, in most cases, renting a website should be less expensive than purchasing a website, at least in the short-term, at least in theory.

However, registering a domain, signing-up for hosting, installing WordPress and even selecting a premium WordPress theme is pretty darn inexpensive.

If I were forced to recommend a rental website, I would probably recommend Squarespace. At the time of writing this, Squarespace’s business plan is $24/mo if you pay for a year ($30/mo if you pay monthly). So, that’s $288/year to rent. Depending on your theme choice, you can probably beat that by “purchasing” your own WordPress site. And under this scenario, by year two, owning your own WordPress site is almost certain to be more affordable.

Another argument for renting might be to have some help with installation, management and maintenance. But as Jay Fleischman notes:

Realize that putting up a website or a blog for your firm isn’t that difficult. In fact, if you pick up the phone and call one of the major hosting companies they can walk you through the process in about 10 minutes. You can install an easy-to-use website and blog platform such as WordPress in as much time as it takes to watch an episode of Big Bang Theory.

The truth is that you can own your website and still have someone help you with installation, management and on-going maintenance. These are really completely separate issues.

What Does Website Ownership Really Mean?

As I noted at the beginning of this post, a lot of lawyers don’t even realize that they don’t actually own their sites. At least not all of the important parts. While you should really own every aspect of your site, there are three “parts” that are especially important:

  • Your Domain
  • Your Content
  • Your Content Management System

Your domain is where your site lives. You might think that this isn’t that important. After all, assuming you own your site’s content, you could always migrate your content to a new domain. However, one major problem that you’ll face is that search engines assign authority to domains. Over time, your site will develop authority (i.e. people link to your pages, share your pages, etc). If you switch domains, you’ll be “resetting” this domain authority.

But putting aside search, people will come to recognize your domain. Some people will reach your site by entering your domain into their browsers, or bookmarking it to return later. If you switch, you’re making it difficult for people to find you again.

Your site content includes things like the design, imagery and text content. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat common for web marketing companies to license site content. So, even if you own your domain, if you stop renting the content, you’re basically starting over.

Most lawyers tend to grasp the advantages of owning their domain and content. The thing that is often overlooked is the content management system.

Some legal web marketing providers build sites on proprietary content management systems. In other words, you’re licensing the software upon which your website is built. So, if you stop paying, they’ll give you your domain and site content files, but you won’t be able to update your site (unless of course you want to create and edit HTML files).

One of the things that makes WordPress such an excellent choice is that it’s released under The GNU General Public License. Which, in a nutshell, means all of its users are free to use, share and change it.

If you’re outsourcing the design, development or marketing of your website, make sure you are clear about who owns your domain, content and content management system. And get it in writing.

Have any website design & development horror stories? Share your experience and help other lawyers avoid making the same mistakes.

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  1. Avatar Joe Henderson says:

    Quick advice to build your own site: look around for attorney sites you like. Most of them will have the designer’s info at the bottom. Get quotes from a few and get to work. Never underestimate how much your website communicates about your professional credentials. People make judgments whether you like it or not.

  2. Avatar Brett says:

    Totally agree with you, as a site builder myself it is very interesting to hear how common the practice is of renting vs. owning sites. I always suggest owning when it comes to this type of potential asset for your firm.

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