There are a number of mistakes commonly made by lawyers in designing their websites. In fact, the original draft of this list shot well past 20 mistakes before it became apparent that everything could not be covered in one article. With that in mind, the following is a list of the Top 10 mistakes lawyers make with their websites - with the caveat that reviews of more attorney website design errors are still to come.
1. Not Owning the Website Domain Name
No one other than the attorney should own the domain address used for a lawyer's website. If someone else owns the domain, the lawyer is at their mercy. That person or company could fail to renew the domain registration, intentionally or accidentally delete the account, shut it down over a billing dispute with the lawyer, or go out of business without the lawyer knowing it until the firm's website disappered.
Lawyers and law firms need to own their own domain names and control them in a way that keeps anyone else from interfering with the domain registration. Domain names can be purchased for less than $10 a year from companies like GoDaddy. There is absolutely no reason to let someone else own the domain name.
2. Using a Bad Domain Name
Unless a law firm specializes in representing comedians, it shouldn't be funny when choosing a domain name. If a lawyer's name is Jack Spratt and the domain www.jackspratt.com is available, he should use it. If the firm name is Spratt and Dumpty and the domain name www.sprattdumpty.com is available, they should use it. If an attorney's primary area of practice is defending DUI cases at the North Pole and www.northpoleduilawyer.com is available, he or she should use it. The choice of a domain name for your law practice is not the time for being funny, offbeat, or unusual. Be professiona, and remember that from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, the name of the site is a major factor in the site's search engine ranking.
3. Being a Back Page or Subdomain of Another Website
Being the back page or a subdomain of another company's website is generally a bad idea. Don't use free hosting services or services that requires the domain to appear as a sublisting of some other website. A website named www.jackspratt.com is much more effective and professional than www.jackspratt.tripod.com or www.jackspratt.geocities.com. At best it looks amateurish; at worst, it looks like the lawyer can't afford a real website.
One exception to this rule is if the hosting service permits domain mapping, which causes all the pages appear under the law firm's domain name. Companies like Typepad enable this feature for a very reasonable fee, changing www.jackspratt.typepad.com into www.jackspratt.com.
4. Not Owning the Hosting Account
Not owning the hosting account of the firm's website is surprisingly common in the legal community. Just like a third party can make a website disappear when the lawyer doesn't own the domain name, a hosting account owned by someone else can easily disappear or be sabotaged. Many lawyers tell horror stories of web designers or "SEO optimization experts" retaliating when the attorney balked at high fees or expressed a desire to transfer the hosting elsewhere. No law firm's website should be subject to the whims of another company or person. Attorneys should own the hosting account and control who has access to the content management system (CMS). Companies like Hostgator have made this affordable on even the smallest of budgets.
5. Using Flashy Landing Pages
Flashy landing pages are popular with web designers that want to show off their skills, but they aren't liked by people searching for information online. A complicated flash page may look great once it finally loads, but many people will not wait around to see it. Many site visitors immediately click away from a website that tells them to wait while fancy graphics and videos are loading. Remember the KISS rule - keep it simple, stupid. If you absolutely insist on using a flash intro on your landing page, at least include an option for visitors to skip it to go straight to what they are really wanting to see. People who come to a law firm website are looking for legal information, not special effects.
6. Stale Content
Stale content is a very common mistake on lawyer websites. If the firm's website was build several years ago and hasn't been updated since then, the site has gone stale. One of the factors search engines use to determine site ranking is whether or not the site receives regular updates. To rise to the top of search engine rankings, make periodic updates to the site's content.
One of the best ways to have fresh content is to integrate a blog into the design. In fact, free blogging software like Wordpress can be used to build the entire website. If nothing else, periodically post summaries recent court rulings related to the firm's areas of practice. This makes the site more interesting to search engines as well as to potential clients.
7. Failing to Provide Substantive Legal Information
Failing to provide substantive legal information is another frequent mistake in lawyer websites. People looking at a lawyer's website are not as interested in the lawyer as they are in the legal issue that drove them to look for a lawyer. What people really want is information about their problem. An attorney who merely claims to be an expert on some area of law does not convince people as much as the attorney who posts articles or blog posts demonstrating that expertise. An attorney who is competent enough to advertise expertise in an area of law practice should know the subject well enough to provide some basic information on a website. Use that knowledge to gain more clients.
8. Failing to Target a Specific Audience
Lawyer websites often fail to target a specific audience. This is particularly common among attorneys who have a general practice. However, a vague website or a website promoting too many areas of practice is never going to achieve first page Google ranking. Attorneys need to decide what kinds of clients they want to target with a website, and then build the site around that theme. Think of phrases that a person would type into a search engine if they needed a lawyer with the firm's expertise. If an attorney wants to be the top DUI lawyer at the North Pole, he or she better make sure that the phrase "North Pole DUI lawyer" figures prominently into at least one page on the website.
9. Using Large Photos and Graphics
Nothing will slow down the loading of a web page more than heavy graphics and photos. Most people will not sit around and wait to see what wonderful images await them on a slow-loading site, especially when they are looking for information on lawyers and legal problems. People do not go to a law firm's website to look at pictures, they go there to obtain information about serious issues. While a few photos can be used effectively in the site's design and to boost SEO (such as having a jail photo saved under the name of the local jail), too many photos or images with a high resolution will make the site load at a snail's pace. Focus the site on words, not graphics and photos.
10. Failing to Get Listed in Directories and on Other Websites
Getting a law firm's website listed in online legal directories and on other websites is a great way to boost a site's SEO and to increase the likelihood of drawing in clients who visit those other websites. This does not mean paying link farms to post junk links to the firm's website, it means getting the website listed in quality sites and legal directories that have actual value. There are many lawyer directories that receive a lot of traffic from people looking for legal information, and most of those sites will provide at least a basic listing for free. It can be a little time-consuming to look for directories and post links to them, but it is well worth the effort.
Are there other lawyer website mistakes that should have made the Top 10 list? Tell us about it in the Forum.