Creating a new website for your law firm, whether you’re opening up a new practice or updating a dated law firm, can be an immense task. I’d love to say that following this guide will allow you to put together a successful and profitable website in your spare time. It won’t.
However, in this series, I will walk you through the critical steps of putting together an effective website. Some of those steps inform you to go get help from someone else. Unless you’re a veteran computer programmer, a marketing expert, and a practicing, there’s a lot that’ll probably be over your head.
Don’t worry about it. In this four-part series, you’ll learn the basics of setting up a website that, as part of your overall marketing plan, will help convert visitors into clients, and give you a competitive advantage in your market.
Check out Part I: Getting Started
Once you’ve figured out how your website can best serve your prospective clients, you need to secure a domain name:
Secure A Quality Domain Name
My God, we’ve finally reached something techy-sounding. This is what you came for! Now it feels like you’re actually building a website. So we start with a pretty important part, your website’s name.
There are two components to your website’s domain name: the Top-Level Domain (“TLD”) and the appropriately named Second-Level Domain (“SLD”).
These two components are probably the reverse of what you expect.
Choosing a Top-Level Domain Name
The most popular TLD, as you probably know, is .com. However, there are a number of potential TLDs that you probably use fairly regularly:
There are also TLDs based on country codes, like .eu, .ca, etc.
Additionally, a whole new series of TLDs have recently been released for use, including .lawyer and .attorney. Unlike other basic TLDs, .lawyer and .attorney TLDs are only available to lawyers and law firms.
So what is the right TLD for your law firm’s website? Short answer, always go with the “.com” unless you have no other option. Your prospective clients – along with a large percentage of your existing clients – will instinctively add .com to anything they enter into a browser.
Don’t spend a bunch of time and money on a website that many of your potential clients never get to.
Choosing a Second Level Domain Name
Ok, time to get creative, because this part can be very frustrating. Your SLD is what people are going to need to remember, so make sure it makes sense.
There are countless ways to come up with an effective SLD. For a law firm, I would always suggest using your law firm’s name. Since it tends to be a combination of surnames, the chance your name is unique – and won’t have to compete with another law firm – is quite good. Further, since not many professions rely on partner names the way law firms do, there is minimal competition from non-lawyers.
If your general law firm name isn’t available, you can try to get creative. Add “law,” “lawfirm,” “attorneys,” or some other legal keyword. You can also try to go with just the initials of your named partners. For a more keyword-based approach, try a combination of keywords including your law firm’s practice area and/or location. A few examples:
Other Considerations in Selecting a Domain Name
Once you’ve honed in on your SLD, made sure it’s available, and reserved it with an appropriate service, there are a few things you should be aware of.
As an attorney, you really always need to be very aware of your ethical responsibilities. Your website is advertising, and your domain name needs to reflect that. It might seem silly, but your domain name can’t create unreasonable expectations. Can it really create expectations? I’m honestly not sure, but if you decide to be the test case in your state on this issue, it’s not going to be on my advice!
Avoid domain names that contain any representations about the quality of your legal services, like topnewyorktaxattorney, or promises a certain result, like wewinyoumoneylaw.com.
Additionally, you need to check your state’s ethical rules for more specific ethical issues. In New York, for example, if your domain name doesn’t include your law firm’s name, your name must be prominently displayed on every page of your website.
Multiple Domain Names
A lot of Internet marketing “experts” suggest purchasing numerous domain names and directing them all at your website. Generally, this advice is based on the apparent belief that more domain names means more potential hits from search engines. In my opinion, this advice is generally garbage, and unless your marketing company can provide a reason to get multiple domains, it’s a sign they’re going with the “kitchen sink” approach to driving your internet traffic. This kind of advice is usually a bad sign.
That said, there are several unique circumstances where purchasing multiple domain names makes good business sense:
1) [Your-Practice-Area] or [Location-Your-Practice-Area].com becomes available. Very few keywords are going to generate enough traffic to your website to justify an extra domain name. Your practice area and your location are among them. If they’re available, lock them down!
2) Your primary domain name has a SLD of 12 or more characters. The ideal If your law firm is most widely know by a combination of names that is really long, get one that’s short to be used with your marketing. Either your prospective clients will type in the long text of your domain that they know from memory, or the short one they read from your marketing material. Remember, long domain names are particularly difficult to read in small print.
3) A more accurate or keyword-heavy URL becomes available. You only get your URL for as long as you pay for it. That means the URL you wanted but wasn’t available may be available later. However, you’ve already established your primary domain with search engines and clients, so direct your new domain to your original page!
If it works for you, it’s in your budget, and you feel it could be important, then go for it. However, make sure that you have the analytic trackers in place to verify your alternate URLs’ value. Only continue paying for them if they actually send visitors to your website.
Another common piece of advice I hear frequently is to secure not only the .com TLD but also the other most common TLDs for that domain (e.g. .net, .org). This is an important tactic to avoid cybersquatting. Unlike purchasing multiple domains, which I recommend only in very narrow circumstances, I would endorse this advice.
Cybersquatting occurs when someone adopts your domain name, but with a different TLD (like www.thecyberadvocate.net). The cybersquatter’s purpose is usually to free-ride off of your marketing efforts, getting visitors who intended to go to your website.
However, they can also be used for more malicious purposes, such as to affiliate your law firm with false, lewd or defamatory content. They can be dangerous. Not only do you risk a potential PR nightmare, but there could potentially be ethical implications, even though you don’t have ownership of the other site (do you actually trust the state ethics board to understand the difference prior to a hearing?).
Unless your advertising budget is extremely small, securing the other TLDs for your domain will cost you about $10 per year for each domain. Unless you have a very common law firm name, you’re not likely to encounter cyber squatting. However, given the extremely low cost, and the significant negative consequences of cybersquatting, it’s one of the cheapest insurance policies you’ll ever find.
Securing Your Domain Name
Coming up with a brilliant domain name is useless until you secure it. Your domain name must be registered through a company approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”). Two of the best, and best-known, of these registrars are GoDaddy.com and Register.com (or check out this ICANN complete list). Either site will do.
If you’re having any trouble with your domain name, the registrar’s websites can actually help you too. Most of the best ones have tools available to help, offer suggestions, offer alternatives. They may even suggest names you’d never have considered. (You are a lawyer, after all, not a marketing executive.)
You purchase domain names for a certain duration, so if you plan on keeping that name, go long. However, unless you’ve managed to snag the perfect keyword URL (like CharlotteBankruptcyLaw.com), you’re probably going to want to keep the term to 2-3 years. Why? Because your law firm is a partnership. Partnerships change, and so will the name of your law firm.
No reason to pay for something that might be called something different in three years.
That said, make sure you keep up with the payments. Once the term ends, if you haven’t renewed, someone else can swoop in and steal that domain name, and you’ll be SOL.
Once you purchase your domain name, it’s time to talk about hosting…
… which we’ll discuss in Part 3.