I want to take this opportunity to discuss how lawyers can be sure they are selecting and using the best possible domain name for their law practices.
Selecting a domain name for your law firm is one of the most important decisions that lawyers make in the early stages of online marketing. Your domain name will not only be where your clients and potential clients find you, but will also play a significant role in the branding of your law firm.
Take your time choosing a website domain name for your law firm
I want to emphasize at the outset that it is better to take your time and make sure that you select the best possible domain rather than registering something quickly. With the possible exception of recently released top-level domains such as .law, the domain name land rush has been over for a long time. If a domain name is available for you to register today, there’s a significant probability it will still be waiting for you and available to register tomorrow, or even next week, unless you stumble upon a random gem.
Think about what your domain name says about your law firm. Is it consistent with the message you want to convey? Is it easy for people to remember? Is it easy for people to type in to their web browser? Could it easily be mistaken for similar domain names owned by other firms that could receive business that was intended for you?
According to MOZ, the three top tips to consider when choosing a domain name are:
- Don’t use word separators. While other very credible sources on the Internet strongly disagree with this assertion, according to MOZ, using separators such as hyphens in your domain name can detract from credibility, and can serve as a spam signal to search engines. The reason being that the main motive for using hyphens in a domain name tends to be spammy “search engine optimization” involving stuffing keywords into the domain name. We have seen many examples of law firm domain names that use hyphens as separators ranking very well, over the long-term. However, the good search engine placement that these hyphenated sites enjoy is likely not a product of the domain name itself, but rather the content contained within the website.
- Avoid “uncommon” top – level domain names. The advice given is to stick with mainstream top-level domains (TLD) such as .com and .net, and avoid more obscure ones. The examples given include .info and .cc. and the reason cited is that these domain names can be viewed as spam indicators. However, we’ve seen definitive proof that a domain name such as one on a .info TLD can do extremely well, and can even dominate a practice area and jurisdiction. For example, Atlanta attorney Richard Lawson built dui.info from scratch using LawLytics. Despite being a .info domain, the site is thriving. In fact it dominates most state and local searches throughout Georgia. The site is thriving due to the amount, and quality, of content. Despite the advice of some experts to stick with .com, we believe that any domain, if developed and nurtured well can thrive regardless of TLD. That means that a law firm website built on a .law, .lawyer, .attorney, or .abogado TLD can, and likely will thrive, if and when the correct content is added.
- Avoid long domain names. Rounding out the top three tips offered by MOZ is to avoid domain names that are longer than 15 characters. Their reasoning, which we believe is sound, is that shorter domain names are easier for people to type, to remember, and to share. And the shorter the domain name, the less of a chance of a typo causing a client or potential client to fail to find your firm’s website. However, like the above two rules, I believe that there are worthy exceptions. For example, it would be difficult to argue that the domain name criminaldefenselawyers dot com is difficult to remember, or that it’s easy to screw up. So for that domain name, it’s worth having more than 15 characters. But what if you simply put dashes between the words “criminal,” “defense,” and “lawyers?” Doing this makes it not only more cumbersome to convey the website address, but significantly more likely that somebody, intending to go to the site with dashes, would end up on the site with no dashes instead. For that reason, the addition of the two dashes to this otherwise memorable and easy to use domain name, make it much less valuable, and much less viable for use in a law firm.
The purpose of your law firms website domain
The purpose of your law firm’s website is to serve your practice, your business, your clients and potential clients, and your reputation. Your website will almost always be the first direct impression your potential clients get of your law firm. Even when they have been referred directly to you, most people will go to your website and check you out before they meet you, and often times even before they decide to give you a call based on a good referral.
There’s a subtle psychology surrounding what happens when your potential clients interact with your website and domain name for the first time. If they know your domain name, and type directly into their web browser, the first action that they take will literally be typing in your domain. Years ago, before the Internet, this initial action used to be dialing a phone number. But a phone number, unless it was a “vanity number,” was much less personal, and much less memorable. In fact most phone numbers, unless played over and over again as part of the TV or radio jingle, were virtually meaningless. Not so with the domain name.
Now let’s say you practice one and only one area of law. For the purpose of this example, let’s say divorce law. And also, for the purpose of this example, let’s say you limit your divorce practice geographically to the Chicago area. Because of the specificity of your practice, if your clients type in a domain name that reinforces your location and practice, for example chicagodivorcelawyer dot com, that interaction will tend to have a positive effect on the potential client. This is because, even before they formed any impression of your firm (which they definitely will once your site loads) your domain name has already reinforced and confirmed what you and your firm stand for.
On the other hand, let’s say you not only practice divorce, but also do bankruptcy and estate planning. And let’s say that, while you’d prefer to stay in the greater Chicago area, you’d also are willing to accept cases throughout the state, or even ranging into a neighboring state. What might occur if someone with bankruptcy case is referred to you, and must type in the domain name listed above? The answer, which should be obvious, is a disassociation in the potential client’s mind of your focus from their need. Even though you may be the best possible bankruptcy attorney in this situation, your domain name will have a deterrent effect on that referral. In fact, that referral may decide not even to press the ‘enter’ button after typing in your website address.
Make sure your law firm’s domain name is compatible with all areas of law that you practice.
Given the above examples, when you determining what domain name to use for your law firm, it’s important to boil your practice down to a least common denominator. In the above example, suppose that you practice three disparate types of law, but that, no matter what, you do not want to stray outside of the greater Chicago area. The least common denominator in your practice would be Chicago. In that case, you may very well want to choose a domain name that contains the word “Chicago.”
What are other “least common denominators” that might inform a law firm’s domain name?
- Type of practice. The type of practice can be influential and when possible is logical to include in your firm’s domain name. Give significant thought to how it boils down. Consider a practice that is only criminal defense. Criminal defense is a rather broad category, and not all criminal defense lawyers focus on all types of cases. For an attorney who only handles DUI cases, for example, using the words “criminal defense” in a domain name may be overly broad. For a DUI specialist who wants to use his practice area in the firm’s domain name, it makes sense to use the acronym DUI, or DWI, rather than “criminal defense.” Similarly, if your firm focuses solely on juvenile criminal defense, it may make sense to use the more specific delineator “juvenile,” in your domain name, as it sets your firm apart from competitors. As another example, consider the practices which fall under business law. The firm which handles all types of business matters, including formation, transactional work, advising, and litigation may select the broad term “business”, as this may be the best least common denominator. But not so for a boutique firm only practicing business litigation.
- Attorney reputation. Regardless of the type of law that you are your firm practices, the least common denominator may be your attorney or attorneys. If your attorneys have reputations that are in and of themselves powerful brand names, or if your firm has the media savvy and the will to make your attorney’s names prominent, the least common denominator for your firms domain name may contain the name of at least one of your attorneys. Would it make sense for a prominent lawyer with a national reputation in personal injury, to use “personal injury” as the least common denominator in their domain name? The answer is decidedly “no!” Can you imagine Gerry Spence using the words “Wyoming personal injury” in his domain, rather than his own name? The name “Spence”is much more meaningful, and much more powerful, than the subject of his practice. In other words, who he is at this point in his career is much more significant in the eyes of potential clients than what he does. And, in case you’re wondering, we have undisputed evidence that domain names which focus on the law firm or attorney’s names cannot only do well, but can actually dominate search engines results.
- Consumer buzzwords. We have previously written about reasons why it may be a good idea to have multiple law firm websites. One of the compelling reasons can be to focus on a niche area, without diluting other areas of your practice. Some lawyers actually build entire practices around one or two very specific areas of litigation. For example, say your a partner in a mass tort practice is currently focusing all efforts on vaginal mesh litigation. In that case, it may be wise to choose a domain name where the least common denominator is, in fact, the phrase “vaginal mesh.” Let’s say your firm has developed a highly specialized practice suing one Sheriff’s Department in a particular county. Could this be the least common denominator for your law firm’s domain name?
I encourage you to spend as much time as you need to consider the least common denominator for your firms domain name. In this day and age, it’s as important as naming your law firm.
Avoid choosing a copycat domain name.
When it comes to marketing, lawyers love to copy each other. That’s why, back in the day, every yellow page ad in the lawyer section looked about the same. I think what happens is that lawyers look at what successful attorneys are doing, and figure “this guy must know something that I don’t, so I’ll just do what he’s doing.” This is a dangerous thing, not only because there is a pretty decent chance that the person that you are copying doesn’t use best practices, but also because if you simply copy someone you are doing nothing to delineate yourself and your practice.
It may be tempting to mimic the domain name that your best competitor is using on a .com top level domain, and put it on a .law or a .net domain. the only thing that doing this will accomplish is potentially confusing your potential clients. Furthermore, the act of copying indicates that you likely have not invested sufficient time and energy thinking about your own practice.
There are many possible reasons why your competitor is successful, and his or her choice of domain name is likely not in the top 100.
Avoid domain names that are difficult for non-lawyers to spell.
If you are a mass tort lawyer specializing in a defective drug or product that is difficult to pronounce or spell, it’s probably not a good idea to use the name of that drug or product in your domain name. Too many things can go wrong when your potential clients, again especially those who are referred directly to you, are typing.
If your name is difficult to spell, (unless you are so famous that the public assuredly knows the spelling), you’d be best served to steer clear of using it in your domain name. And if you have a first name, or last name, which although simple, has multiple acceptable spellings, avoid using it in your domain name.
People have extremely short attention spans. Even when someone has been referred directly to you, if he or she can’t immediately locate your site, they are sure to stumble upon one of your competitors. The point is, don’t make them work to find you.
Avoid using hobbies, exclusive groups, and puns in your domain name.
You may love dogs. Dogs may be your life, and your identity, but unless you practice exclusively in the area of canine law, there should be no mention of dogs in your domain name. What’s important to you, and even what defines you as a person, does not matter to most of your potential clients. Your potential clients care first and foremost about themselves. For that reason, they care primarily about what you can do for them.
Although there are certain exceptions, is usually not a good idea to put in exclusive group delineation in your domain name. For example, if your firm’s unique selling proposition is that of a religious affiliation, probably not a good idea to include that in your domain name. A notable exception may be if you practice in a community with a large enough population of that religion, and a large enough referral base, to support the business that you need. It’s also generally not a good idea to draw gender lines in your domain name. For example, a firm consisting of only female lawyers may not wish to embed that fact into a domain name. On the other hand, suppose you have a niche divorce law practice where you focus only on representing mothers, or grandparents, or men. As long as you’re satisfied that there will be business enough from a single gender, or relational group, it might be a good idea.
Avoid using comparatives, and superlatives in your domain name.
Your law firm may very well be the market leader. Your attorneys may be the best in the area, or even in the world. But we strongly recommend keeping comparative and superlative language out of your law firm’s domain name. For example, you may fancy yourself to be the “premier” personal injury firm in your market, and you may well be right. But that fact, or opinion, does not belong in your firm’s domain name. Setting aside any ethical implications, it simply poor Internet practice. Very few people will search for the word “premier.” While some people do search for the phrase “best attorney,” or “top attorney,” followed by a practice type in a location, putting superlatives in your domain name may now, or in the future, serve as a spam signal to the search engines. Although beyond the scope of this blog post, the best way to demonstrate that you’re at the top of your field is through social proof such as reviews and ratings.
Avoid using abbreviations in your law firms domain name.
Suppose your firm’s name is Asimov, Smith, and Satterfield. Well you may internally refer to your firm as “ASS,” which really sounds kinda cool when you spell the letters rather than say the name, the acronym is going to be meaningless to people outside of your firm, and in this obviously ridiculous example, can even create a negative connotation. This firm would be better off using either one attorney’s name, or the combination of all three, rather than picking something like”asslaw dot com.” Abbreviations and acronyms must have significant branding behind them to be successful, and most law firms, especially the small ones, simply don’t have that.
Anticipate potential law firm name changes.
When you’re selecting your law firm’s domain name, consider whether the domain name will be useful years down the road. If you’re building your web presence the right way, you’ll be building an appreciating asset. Changing domain names based on an old partner leaving, or a new partner being brought on board, can seriously disrupt the appreciation and value of your website. If you’re a solo practitioner, consider whether you may wish to partner with another lawyer in the future. If you think you might, it may make sense to use a descriptive domain name rather than something that contains your name. And if you’re in a partnership, it also makes sense to clarify at the outset what happens to your domain name if the firm dissolves, or changes composition. This is a much larger subject, which we will cover elsewhere.
When it comes to choosing your domain name, it pays to take your time and think things through. The domain name land rush is over, and there is very little advantage to be had by running out and buying what ever possible domain names come to mind. On the other hand, don’t get bogged down in analysis paralysis. We often help counsel our LawLytics attorneys on the subject of domain name selection. In fact, we have developed a good methodology for helping firms rapidly choose the right name.
If you’ve already purchased a stable of domain names (which many attorneys have) it may be time to look through that stable and decide what’s truly valuable, and what can be allowed to expire. A domain name that remains undeveloped, and without content, is virtually worthless unless the domain name in and of itself has intrinsic value. Unfortunately, few domain names do.