I know this is a scary and frustrating time for attorneys who own solo practices and small law firms. It’s easy to react impulsively to normal business down cycles. And what’s happing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic is anything but normal. Knowing that many attorneys are likely to be looking to cut as many expenses as they can, in my March 16, 2020 post I warned that your law firm’s website is essential to your firm’s future, and that disabling it would have a cascade of consequences.
Today Google affirmed this advice by issuing rare and very specific guidance on its webmaster blog. While I recommend reading the whole post for yourself directly on Google’s blog, here are some quick and extremely important quotes from Google:
As a last resort, you may decide to disable the whole website. This is an extreme measure that should only be taken for a very short period of time (a few days at most), as it will otherwise have significant effects on the website in Search, even when implemented properly. That’s why it’s highly recommended to only limit your site’s functionality instead. Keep in mind that your customers may also want to find information about your products, your services, and your company, even if you’re not selling anything right now.
Keep in mind that Google’s advice must cover every type of business. So when you read the above quote, understand that as a lawyer there are very few functions on your website that you’ll want to limit because it is important to ensure that your clients and potential clients not only know that you and your firm still exist, but that they are able to easily contact you.
If you have a live chat feature that you won’t be able to tend (or that is tended by a 3rd party company that is not currently operating), we do recommend that you disable that, and if you have a built-in payment portal and you do not want to accept payments, you should disable that as well. If you’re a LawLytics customer and need help with either of these things, let us know.
In its post, Google goes on to elaborate on the cascade of consequences that can flow from disabling your website (which roughly track the advice I gave on the 16th). To quote Google:
Proceed with caution: To elaborate why we don’t recommend disabling the whole website, here are some of the side effects:
- Your customers won’t know what’s happening with your business if they can’t find your business online at all.
- Your customers can’t find or read first-hand information about your business and its products & services. For example, reviews, specs, past orders, repair guides, or manuals won’t be findable. Third-party information may not be as correct or comprehensive as what you can provide. This often also affects future purchase decisions.
- Knowledge Panels may lose information, like contact phone numbers and your site’s logo.
- Search Console verification will fail, and you will lose all access to information about your business in Search. Aggregate reports in Search Console will lose data as pages are dropped from the index.
- Ramping back up after a prolonged period of time will be significantly harder if your website needs to be reindexed first. Additionally, it’s uncertain how long this would take, and whether the site would appear similarly in Search afterwards.
So, if you are considering disabling your website, understand that you’re not saving money or time now as much as you’re sabotaging your firm’s ability to function when the COVID-19 pandemic is done.
Instead, I recommend using this time to make your practice more resilient by creating the infrastructure to be able to practice law remotely, and to get ahead of your competitors by spending your spare time working on your website by adding content that Google will show your clients and potential clients as they try to navigate their legal problems in this (temporary) new world.