Your law firm’s website is, without a doubt, the most important piece of virtual real estate you own. In the modern world, the website has taken the place of a polite receptionist, an impeccably decorated office and a firm, confident, welcoming handshake. Potential clients will form their first impression of you and your firm long before there is any contact or real-world meeting. It is essential that your website projects the right image, gives the best possible impression, and provides useful information.
The idea of putting together a website can seem overwhelming at first, but it really doesn’t need to be a complicated process. Like most big projects, if you break it down into smaller steps and follow a plan, the path becomes clear and reaching the goal is not so difficult.
With that in mind, we’ve put together an easy-to-follow checklist that will guide you step by step through the website construction process. This checklist will make sure you hit all the critical points when putting together a new website or refining one that already exists.
✅ Choose and register a unique domain name. Before you can do anything else, you’ll need to have a domain name. In general, the domain name you choose should be as short as possible and easy to remember.
In most cases, you’ll probably want to use the name, or an abbreviated form of the name, of your firm. Another option might be to choose a domain based on the type of legal services your practice offers — something like “mytowndefenselawyer.com” for example.
The key point here is to make sure people will easily remember the name and be able to spell it if they hear it. For example, if the name of your firm contains easily misspelled surnames, a more generic domain name might be a better choice.
If you find that a name you’d like to use has already been registered, you’ll need to come up with something different. Don’t try to register a similar name by adding hyphens or numbers, etc. Doing so will only create confusion.
✅ Hire a site designer. Once you have the domain name, you’re ready to talk to a site designer. Aside from helping you create the overall look of your site, a designer will be able to help you with the next few steps on the list, too.
The designer you hire will be the biggest overall influence on how your site looks and functions. The choice of who to hire should not be taken lightly. Do your research, ask questions and verify references. There are plenty of web designers out there. Take your time and find someone you feel confident and comfortable working with.
✅ Choose a content management system. “Content Management System,” or CMS, is a generic term for software that helps you manage your website. Two popular examples would be WordPress or Joomla. Although there is a bit of a learning curve, these systems make it possible for you to create and edit pages on your site without the need for complex coding skills.
Your website designer should be able to recommend the right software based on what your law firm wants to accomplish with the site. Because of it’s popularity, flexibility, and ease of use, WordPress is often the final choice.
✅ Decide on a web host. Now that you know which software you’ll be using to manage your site, locating a suitable web host is the next step. In most cases you won’t need more than one of the most basic hosting plans.
Again, you web designer will have plenty of experience working with different hosts and should be able to recommend at least two or three worth evaluating. Reliability is the key factor to look for. A good host will have an uptime guarantee of 99% or higher and should offer 24 hour live support.
Your host should be able to take care of setting up your domain name and getting your initial site online. From there, you designer will take over and begin building what will be your law firm’s new website.
✅ Setup your domain email addresses. Nothing looks more unprofessional than email addresses like “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org.” An email address for anyone at your firm should be on your own domain.
You will most likely find options in your web host’s control panel for setting up and managing email addresses on your own domain. You can also take advantage of G Suite to use Gmail and many more of Google’s services on your own domain.
✅ Sign up with an image provider. You’re going to need plenty of images for your initial site and for the content you’ll add to it in the future. This means you’ll need a reliable source for licensed images. Copying and using images you find on the web is a dangerous practice that could lead to problems which would be especially embarrassing for a law firm.
Getty Images, ShutterStock and DreamsTime are three of the most well known stock photography providers. You can also find plenty more by simply doing a web search for “stock photos” or “stock images”. Check out Law Technology Today’s panel of experts recommendations for finding graphics.
✅ Set up a backup schedule. A good web host should automatically create backups for you, but you should set up your own backup schedule as well. In the end, if there’s a catastrophic problem, it will be up to you to provide everything needed to get your site back online.
If you’re using WordPress, there are several plugins available that will create backups and allow you to download or store them on a cloud service. Other CMS systems also have backup solutions available.
The importance of making regular backups can not be stressed enough.
✅ Set up Google Analytics. The final step to putting together a website for your law firm is to set up Google Analytics. Without Analytics, you are flying blind. The tracking and statistics that Analytics provide will give you insights into things like how your site is working, what your audience is reading, and sources of traffic, leads and revenue — just to name a few.
As with backup solutions, many CMS systems have plugins or add-ons that make it quick and painless to get Google Analytics up and running on your site. In most cases you simply need to sign up for an Analytics account and provide your CMS with the unique account number you are assigned.