How to Set Up a Law Firm Website
Once upon a time, in the dark ages before the invention of the electric car, fax machines, and tort reform, lived a small law firm that generated clients from Yellow Page advertising, television commercials, and even the guy down the block that saw his or her name on a shingle outside the front door. The fairy tale ended about the time that the Beatles’ songs became “oldies.” The practice of law has become a business.
Life as we know it has fast-forwarded. We live in a digital, TIVOing world. We have become an MTV generation with the attention span of a nanosecond. We yearn for information but must receive it quickly, absorb it immediately, and then act upon it instantaneously. We no longer drive to the corner and buy shoes from one store. We now shop from several different locations without ever leaving our homes. What styles do we like best, which color suits our needs, and lastly, who has the best price?
Welcome to the world of marketing your law firm via the Internet. I do not feel the need to expound upon the fact that a law practice needs a website. That is a given. Your website is a virtual office and will eventually become more and more of an integral part of practicing law. It is already hard to remember a time before we used email. You would think that a natural disaster has struck the world when your email is not working or your Internet connection is down. Try to take a deep breath and remember that technology is not perfect and bad things happen to good people. Very rarely, if you have a qualified hosting company, should you ever lose information due to a break in the system. Cyberspace is a big place, and sometimes things may get rerouted temporarily, but just like the mail or lost luggage, email should eventually reach the right address.
A website needs to be more than a place-holder with your name and contact information for several reasons.
- A website gives a law firm credibility. The registration of a domain name and the creation of a website show stability and the illusion that the law firm is on top of technology. The firm is current with their ability to keep up with the latest trends and is willing to put their credentials and practice knowledge out for viewing worldwide with pride.
- A law firm website conveys information about the firm as well as practice information, which can save the time of explanation via telephone.
- The website can be an invaluable tool for new client generation.
- A law firm that has always garnered clients via referral or word of mouth can use this as a source for these invaluable leads to gain more insight into the firm.
- Websites can provide knowledge by offering general or timely information for those seeking specific facts.
- Websites have leveled the marketing playing field between a small start-up sole practitioner and a large well-established firm with good search engine placement.
- Websites become a source for attracting a more sophisticated clientele via their ability to use a computer and use search engines effectively.
- A website reaches a market that no other marketing source can touch. Local television or other localized advertising has to be seen or heard in a specific geographic location. A website is accessed worldwide. A potential client in another state needing the services of a licensed attorney in your region is very limited in his or her ability to find a qualified lawyer of your caliber via any other method.
Now that I have you convinced that having a website is just smart business, how does one set up a site that is effective? Several factors go into the creation of a law firm site.
- Register an Effective Domain Name
- Register your Law Firm Name.com or any variation on your name if the generic is not available. This is the first thing that someone will type in the search address box in order to find you. If you have a fairly popular name such as “Smith,” perhaps register SmithLawFirm.com or JohnSmithLawOffice.com.
- Try to use only variations of a .com. If you use .net or something similar, chances are you are sending traffic to someone else’s site because the potential client will probably type in .com first.
- Register a secondary name that will be more explanatory of your practice and geographic area. You have more leeway with this domain. It might be oaklandfamilylawyer.com or bankruptcyinoakland.com. This is not mandatory but can help with search engine optimization placement and is useful from a marketing vantage point by utilizing this domain in ancillary marketing strategies. This is comparable to having a good vanity telephone number such as "1-800-LAWYERS." People are more apt to remember a simple domain name than the actual law firm name or telephone number.
- Both the law firm domain name and the secondary name can point to the same website. This is called a domain alias. Regardless of which name is typed in, the browser will take the reader to the same site.
- I caution you, from a search engine optimization vantage point, against having multiple aliases point to the same location. This can count against you in the Google placement game.
- How to Set Up an Effective Law Firm Website
- Develop a unique corporate brand in order to stand out amidst the sea of law firm websites swimming on the Worldwide Web.
- Billboard Uniqueness
- You want to showcase your expertise simply and succinctly from the first impression. Remember that people are more apt to shop the deal and look at multiple websites when looking for counsel via the Internet. You need to ensure that your visual presentation is distinctive and that your firm verbiage explains your strengths in a language that is easily understood by your target clientele as well as ensuring that you stand out from the opposition. Hiring an outside marketing firm that has experience and success in creating law firm websites and writing content is probably money well spent but not a necessity.
- Homepage Effectiveness
- The homepage of your website is the most important aspect of the site. It takes between 8-10 seconds for a homepage to garner a viewer's attention.
- Important information needs to be seen at a glance. Where is the law firm located? What kind of law does the firm practice? How do I contact the firm?
- If a searcher has to drill down to subpages in order to find important contact information or if viable data is located beneath the fold (under the space that shows up on the monitor at one time), you are losing potential clients. Remember that the attention span of an Internet user is short. If the page is too graphic heavy or slow to load, then the reader is likely to move on to the next website.
- Billboard a call-to-action when necessary. Does the law firm offer a free consultation? If so, this should be featured on the top of every page. Encourage readers to call the office so that an experienced "Closer" can speak to them directly.
- Feature successes and case types as well as recent news on the homepage of your site. Remember that the homepage is the first impression and needs to convey all vital information in an easy-to-read layout. A professionally created site is often worth the investment. No one ever wants to spend money on things we can do ourselves, but law firm marketing is an expertise. Many people and companies can create websites, but the development of an effective law firm site takes experience as well as knowledge of what works. There are several companies that offer this service such as Findlaw and Attorneys Online.
- Content on a website is king. People use the Internet for information. More viable and fresh substance on a law firm site is the future of marketing via the Web. This information can be found and utilized several different ways.
- Law firms can write their own articles or outsource to companies such as Attorneys Online and Next Client. These are enewsletters that provide refreshed content weekly. Articles are rotated on your enewsletter page. Attorneys Online content is customized to the law firm, and fresh content is added regularly.
- The upkeep of a blog takes work on the part of the firm. In order for a blog to be effective, information should be added at least twice a week. This can reference an article read recently or can be a lengthy dissertation on a specific topic. The insertion of specific keywords into posts will aid with optimization. Search engines such as Google are constantly looking for new, timely, relevant content per subject matter and index sites accordingly.
- Information Pages
- This content can be additional pages that expand upon practice areas in more depth or articles. All of this information should be easily found via the navigation bar, and each individual topic should be on its own page. People should never have to drill down in order to find information. The billboarding of the topic should be featured conveniently for the end user. All content should be kept timely and added to on a regular basis. Consider outsourcing the writing of information due to the value of keeping your website current and well-placed in the search engines.
Should I hire a marketing firm to set up my website? There are a lot of vendors that claim to build websites and get you listed in the search engines. Remember that large machines such as Lawyers.com or Findlaw have thousands of clients with commissioned sales reps ripe for another sale. The marketing of attorneys is a specialty that not many companies possess. A successful strategy requires more expertise than just the creation of a website. Do your research when hiring a marketing firm. Do not be afraid to shop the deal: that’s what your clients are doing.
Cheney Winslow is the CEO of Attorneys Online and Askthelawyers.com ( www.attorneysonlineinc.com and www.askthelawyers.com).
© Copyright 2008, American Bar Association.