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.
Part I: Getting Started
Part II: Your Domain Name
You have your domain name, now it’s time to get technical – first up on that list is finding the right web hosting service for your new website:
Most people think of a website based on what they see. Well, this is the part that nobody sees. Just like a play, the most important elements to making sure what happens on stage is working right is performed out of sight. For your website, that’s what your web hosting and your platform are all about. We begin with web hosting.
Understanding Your Web Hosting Needs: 5 Questions
Before you begin searching for a web hosting provider, there are a couple of questions that you should ask yourself. Trust me, once you start looking, you’ll be glad you asked.
1) What is your level of web hosting knowledge?
There’s really no better place to start than this: how smart are you about this stuff?
If you’re the kind of person who’s been setting up websites since high school and currently help 15 other people manage their online presence, you’re likely in the advanced level. On the other hand, if you’re new to this – and most of us are – admit right off the bat that you need help.
If you’re an absolute rookie at this, go with a web hosting solution set up to guide you from start to finish. Also, pay careful attention to each provider’s available support options.
Now that we’ve gotten past the initial philosophical issue, time to get to the details…
2) Do you need email hosting?
Many law firms will already have an email server on their domain name, even if they don’t have a website, so this won’t be an issue. For the rest, it’s definitely something to consider.
Email addresses look more professional coming from your domain name, and nobody wants to email their lawyer via Gmail or AOL (which still exists). Oh, and there are probably security reasons you want to do this as well. Look for hosting services and packages that include email hosting.
3) What kind of storage will you need?
This will depend a lot on what you decided in Step 1 about what kind of website you’ll have. We’re not really used to the concept, but for this, you really need to think of your website like you do your computer.
Do you plan on using videos? How about high-resolution photos (you’d better, at least for your attorney bio pages!)? The more you have the bigger your storage requirements.
However, be wary of promises of “unlimited storage.” (Consult Mistakes to Avoid #2 for more info.) When it comes to hosting options, “free” or “unlimited” options have a tendency to become Faustian bargains – not something you want considering most states require you to register your website with the state bar!
4) Will you be running WordPress (or another platform) yourself?
If you need assistance in constructing your website from top-to-bottom, it’s better to know that right from the start. Most web hosting services offer some kind of development service, but you should be very discriminating when selecting.
Does the development service charge by the task or by the hour? How does it measure? Will you get an estimate before they begin that clearly outlines how you’re going to be charged? Also, some development services are geared to helping you learn to do it yourself, which is great, but others are almost like drug dealers – you’ll need their services for life. And it’s not free!
5) Do you need additional, specific services?
Your website is more than an advertisement on a billboard, and your web hosting services are more than the beam and boards holding one in place. If you need additional services, such as established, automated backup, malware scanning, or more advanced features, you’ll be better off knowing that before you start your search.
You might not plan on hosting chats on your website or making sure it can handle more traffic and content, but don’t preclude the possibility by choosing the wrong web hosting service!
Now that you have a basic idea of what type of web hosting service you’ll need, which will help guide you through your selection process. With that in mind, you’re ready to start shopping. While you’re out there looking, here are a few tips about your web hosting service selection you should keep in mind:
5 Tips for Getting the Most from your Web Hosting Service
1) Go for value, not price
It’s so tempting to find the cheapest possible version, but this isn’t about saving every penny! You should compare the available options and pick the one that gives you the best overall value for what you’re paying. In my opinion, you should be willing to pay a little bit more to make sure you get the features you need.
There are numerous resources available to help you perform this analysis:
Also, while online reviews can be somewhat useful, one expert suggests that the best value you get from them is being able to see how a company responds to negative reviews.
2) Guaranteed uptime is nice, but test it yourself
Uptime is critical, because anything other than Uptime means your website is inaccessible. So make sure to find a web hosting service with high-quality uptime ratings. To better understand them, check out this chart from HostingManual.net:
So we agree, the higher the uptime guarantee, the better – and you probably don’t want to settle for anything less than 99.9%. However, be wary of anyone claiming 100% uptime. The best thing to do, though, is to test each web hosting service provider using Pingdom or Uptime Robot.
3) Third-party web hosting is the way to go
This one isn’t as tough to figure out as the other ones – if you have a lot of resources, including an in-house IT department – hosting your own website is an option. Of course, you’ll have to manage all troubleshooting in-house, address all outages in-house, and your Uptime will be determined… in-house.
Of course, if your law firm lacks its own dedicated IT department, don’t even worry about it. “Renting” time on a third-party web hosting service has a ton of benefits, and provided you’ve done the correct analysis and done your research, it’s definitely worth the price.
4) Try before you buy (a.k.a. Money-back Guarantees are Worth their Weight in Gold)
It’s not just that you should make sure that your web hosting solution offers a money back guarantee, it has to be clear and unambiguous. Most web hosting solutions are going to be paid on a 6-month to 2-year basis to get the best deal, so getting your money back is no small thing.
Make sure you understand the money back guarantee (unless you didn’t know, I’m a HUGE fan of the 30-day trial period!) and how to navigate the process.
5) Advanced options and upgradeable packages are your friends!
Remember before when I said you should figure out if your website is going to need any specific advanced features, or may in the future? Well, here’s where you leave room for the ones you might not know about today.
Probably the single biggest thing you should be prepared for is outgrowing your website. If your web hosting service has a number of different options available for upgrade, that means you have something to grow into. However, be warned, some web hosting services may offer you low prices for their entry package, and make it up by drastically overcharging on the upgrade… and making it very difficult to move elsewhere.
Hopefully, you’ll be served quite well by these tips. However, there are still numerous opportunities to get screwed over. So learn from other people’s bad luck:
5 Web Hosting Mistakes to Avoid
1) Using a “free” web hosting service
Just don’t. If your website ends with wordpress.com, you’re doing it wrong – setting aside the professionalism thing I discussed earlier.
The “free” web hosting services have a similarly burdensome trade off as the Faustian “Unlimited” packages discussed earlier. While you might not pay anything for “free” web hosting, that doesn’t mean it comes without a price:
- You’re Renting Your Space – You don’t have total control over your environment, settings, setup or design (which makes branding impossible). Additionally, you’ve also got no control over the ads that end up being shown.
- Low Google Rank – Google’s search algorithm puts low priority on free domain names. Not something you want if you’re trying to get your potential clients to actually visit your new website.
- Contracts. Oh, the CONTRACTS – Having a website with legal directory services such as LexisNexis or FindLaw might seem like a good idea, but they come with a dubious contract and a high price.
2) Failing to confirm features and resources with the terms of service
Doing your research is critical – you want to know everything that your prospective web hosting service provides. However, a lot of providers tend to offer “unlimited” resources and features, particularly if you’re going with a WordPress platform.
Many of those same sites actually place limits on what your site can do, which are contained within their Terms of Service. Violation of those limits can result in sudden suspension of your website, so be careful!
Also, just as with any other Third Party Vendors, make sure to review the Terms of Service to ensure compliance with your ethical obligations!
3) Going with a web hosting service without live chat support
This particular error comes in two different varieties. The first is by the person who looks at the very first question in this list and believes they know more than they do. The second is someone who thinks tech support options are interchangeable.
Either mistake is easily solved if the web hosting solution you decide to use has live support standby on hand at all times. The best option is live chat on the website – yes, it’s superior to a call center – because they can rapidly assist with most problems you’ll see, from minor to critical.
4) Buying your web hosting and registering your domain name with the same company
It’s become common for web hosting service providers to offer free domain registration with purchase of a web hosting option. DON’T TAKE THE BAIT! Or, better yet, DO take the bait, but also buy your own domain name separately (and have the free domain to point right at your main one).
Owning the domain name yourself makes your website portable. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the web hosting service provider. They need to release your domain before you can go to a different provider. Worse, what will you do if they go out of business?
Buy your own: GoDaddy or NameCheap are good options.
5) Forgetting about bandwidth
Remember before how we talked about the storage capacity of your website? Particularly the part where if you’re hosting video or large images, it takes up space? Well, it turns out that things that take up a lot of space to store take up a lot of bandwidth to see.
Host video, and one user will be transmitting data to stream the video to their computer or device. The same thing happens when a page opens with a large image. Make sure you know if your hosting service provider puts limits on your bandwidth. You could find yourself getting penalized, suspended, or outright shut down… just because people visited your website!
Coming in Part 4: The best platform on which to build your law firm’s new website!
About the Author
Brian Focht is a civil litigation attorney and technology enthusiast. In addition to being the author of The Cyber Advocate, he is also the producer and host of the Legal Technology Review podcast, and co-founder of B&R Concepts, a small business technology consulting company.