Some law firms have several websites (or even dozens of them). Is there a strategic reason for having more than one law firm website? In this post I will discuss some of the pros and cons of having more than one domain, as well as some of the reasons why it may be a good idea.
The decision of whether to have more than one law firm website should not be based on emotion.
I want to first say that having more for the sake of more is not a good reason. Sometimes it’s hard to take emotions like fear, greed and ambition out of the equation.
I love the enthusiasm that some attorneys bring to everything they do. Marketing is no exception. Last week I discussed whether attorneys should purchase .law domains for their law firms and whether such domains provide value. It is noteworthy that many attorneys go on domain name shopping sprees and end up with a inventory of domains that bring them no benefit.
The same enthusiasm that attorneys often bring to purchasing domain names sometimes gets applied to building websites. When it comes to purchasing domain names that simply sit there, there is really no potential harm other than wasted time and money on the registration fees and process. But when it comes to having multiple websites, if done for the wrong reasons, the costs can be much greater. We will discuss the contraindications for having multiple law firm websites later in this post. But let’s dive into the positive first.
When lawyers should have more than one website or blog.
We have previously addressed the issue of whether your law firm’s blog and website should co-exist or be placed on separate domains. However, to frame this discussion, I want to make it clear that when I say website in this piece, I’m referring to either a blog, a website, or a website with a built-in blog. Given the state of website technology, the lines are forever blurred anyways. All LawLytics powered websites have a built in blog which can be turned on or off according to the firm’s needs and strategies (most of our attorneys keep their blogs on).
If your firm fits any of the following, you should consider having more than one website.
- You have disparate locations: If your practice spans several locations that have little or nothing to do with one another, it is a viable strategy to separate the local practices into two or more websites. For example, we have attorneys who practice criminal defense in two states separated by thousands of miles and multiple timezones. For these criminal defense lawyers, who practice mostly in state and local courts (as opposed to federal), the laws and procedures are different from one state to another. Trying to describe the same law, along with the penalties and processes in different states will result in confusion for the firms clients and potential clients. It will also result in dilution with the search engines. The same is true for describing local areas.
- You have disparate practice types that are incompatible: If you practice personal injury and medical malpractice, your practice areas can coexist on a single site. If you practice estate planning and violent crimes however, there is a chance that having both practice areas on a single site will dilute your messaging to potential clients. In fact, there is a substantial chance that it will cause some potential clients to choose not to contact you. Even if you don’t focus your practice on a single area, it sometimes makes sense to have niche sites that do focus on one area. Keep in mind that online, your potential clients what to know what you can do for them. That’s all they really care about. So keep them focused on them and their problems.
- You want to build something on a grand scale: Let’s say you want to focus on becoming a thought leader and market leader in a specific area, Federal Appeals for example. Even though you handle other cases, you’d like to develop yourself into the goto attorney in that area over time. To do this you may plan to build a mega website on the topic, with a highly focused blog. You’re going to need room to scale the site. In this case, start with freestanding site for your Federal Appeals discussions and grow it into a beast that will power the rest of your career while keeping your other site(s) to keep a flow of non Fed App business rolling in.
- You want to target a very specific type of case that is time sensitive: Let’s say there is a dangerous drug that gets recalled resulting in multi-district litigation. You plan to do some TV advertising around it. You may want to have a dedicated website with an easy-to-remember domain name to drive potential plaintiffs. You’ll want them extremely focused when they get there and don’t want them to be distracted by other areas of practice.
With multiple websites comes great(er) responsibility.
Just because you can have more than one website and fit into one of the above categories doesn’t mean that you should do it. It’s more expensive and/or more work to have multiple websites. Before you jump in, ask yourself:
- Do I have the bandwidth to do justice to more than one website? Maintaining an attorney website takes time and energy to do effectively. There are certain things that simply must be done to realize a good return on investment. If you don’t have the time to do them yourself because you are busy, then make sure that you set aside sufficient budget for each site to hire quality help to have it done for you. As a minimum you should set aside 2.5% of your law firm’s gross revenue to put towards marketing. Obviously this amount is very different from law firm to law firm. 2.5% does not apply to everybody because of the huge income disparity amongst practicing lawyers in the United States. If you are in the lower range of income earners, then there is a higher probability that you have more time on your hands. If you don’t have either money or time, you are doing something wrong and you should not be thinking about having more than one website until you get your ducks in order. But assuming that you have one or the other of these resources, you need to resolve to deploy it effectively. Maybe it means putting an hour an evening, consistently, into writing content for your website. If your billing rate is $200 per hour, you are investing the equivalent of $1,400 of your time each week. Do that for 52 weeks this year, and you’ve invested $72,800 in your law firm. Or maybe it means resolving to invest the thousands of dollars necessary to actually do this right. There is no free ride on the web, and no cheap SEO trick is going to change that fact. So if you lack the bandwidth, stick with a single site.
- Do I have enough to say? If you don’t have information to add that is not out there already, you are shouting into the void. The void is where mediocre content and cut-rate website efforts go to die. This is because there is already an abundance of crappy content. This is because nobody wants to read crappy content. And this is because the search engines have a vested interest in making sure that your law firm’s additions to the content crap pile on the internet do not see the light of day in search results. So if you don’t have enough to say to cover two, or three, or four websites, stick to a number of sites that you can populate with meaningful information. It’s great to do it yourself because nobody knows your practice better than you do. You’re the expert. And you’re an attorney so you should be able to write like a finely tuned racehorse, right? But if your time is more valuable spent elsewhere, it doesn’t mean that you should still say on your site what you want to say using a proxy to write it. Just make sure it’s genuine. Make sure it’s legally and factually accurate. Make sure it’s engaging and entertaining. And make sure that it adds value for your readers.
- Do I have the patience needed? If you are impatient and want to see results yesterday, you unlikely to be able to build an enduring empire. Multiple websites can be about building an empire, which takes time and money, so they are probably not for you. If you are a “results now” and “future-be-damned” type of attorney, you are better off having a single website and spending your money building disposable pay per click advertising. Just be careful when you do, because it can quickly become a money pit if mismanaged, and there are many attorney marketing companies that will sell you ads even though they have a huge conflict of interest in doing so.
- Am I willing to play by the rules? All attorneys should play by Google’s rules. If you don’t and you allow a SEO person to take shortcuts like buying links, you are building your empire on a very shaky foundation. If you don’t play by the rules with one site you risk losing the value of that site eventually. When you introduce multiple sites into the equation, however, the risk of using bad practices increases exponentially. Do not, I repeat, do not allow anybody to convince you that linking those sites together is a good idea for SEO. It is not. In fact, it’s a terrible idea. For more information, read about link schemes (see this also), and understand the ethics of link building. If you are tempted to try to leverage one of your sites against another to gain an advantage (as in, let’s put links to our firm’s site B on our firm’s sites A, C and D), check yourself before you wreck yourself.
- Do I have the technical knowledge or support to handle multiple sites? If you are managing your law firms’ websites yourself, your technical ability to handle multiple sites is something that you should take into consideration. If you plan on doing it yourself and you are very comfortable with the time it takes to keep the site secure, backed up and operating optimally, then you already know what it takes. If you haven’t already done this, I recommend getting very comfortable with a single site first. On the other hand, if your law firm uses LawLytics already, this isn’t a worry, because you can have as many websites and blogs as you want in your control panel without any additional work, and the technology is taken care of for you. But just because you can easily do it on LawLytics, doesn’t mean you always should. If you’d like to discuss whether it makes sense strategically to add another site to your LawLytics-based infrastructure, let’s talk it over and look at your current infrastructure and objectives.
Some bad reasons to have more than one website for your law firm.
Above we discussed some reasons why having more than one attorney website may be a good idea. But it’s not always a good idea. In fact, sometimes it can be a very bad idea. Let’s look at some reasons:
- You haven’t defined an objective for having more than one website. One of the main reasons that I believe attorneys fail to launch, get traction, or flounder and lose steam in their online marketing, is that they fail to articulate clear objectives when doing things online. I see a lot of lawyers doing things haphazardly. When I was practicing law I knew attorneys whose motions practice looked very much like this. Think of every possible motion that you can bring, throw at the wall, and see what sticks. While this might work with some judges and opposing counsel, with (all due respect) the search engines, and with potential clients, it is likely to result in a whole lot of wasted time, money and energy, with very little to show. So if you don’t know why you should have more than one website for your law firm, then you probably don’t need more than one site for your law firm.
- You are getting ready to abandon a site that is not working. I’m all for starting over when a website is not working and shows little promise of rehabilitation. I recently wrote about what happens when your firm’s website starts smelling like dead fish. But doing so should be done strategically. Don’t just start a new website and keep the old one around for kicks and giggles. Have a plan for that website. It may be that you should just shut it down. It may be that you should de-index it in Google, but keep it around because the URL is used in offline advertising. Maybe you should forward the old URL to your new website (if you don’t know what you are doing with this, don’t attempt it on your own, as it can be dangerous). The point is, just because you realize that your law firm’s old website is chopped liver, doesn’t mean to just start building on the lot next door while you let that old stinker fester. Have a plan.
- Your competition has a lot of websites. Let’s say you practice personal injury law on the plaintiffs’ side in a big city. You have serious competition. One of your competitors bought a package of five websites seven years ago, and you see those websites come up a lot for searches involving your city name plus “personal injury lawyer.” Here’s where “monkey see monkey do” can get you into trouble. That strategy may have worked years ago for them. And it may continue to work for them if their competition continues to copy them (why this is the case is beyond the scope of this piece). But it does not mean that it will work for your firm. Again, what is your objective in wanting to have more than one website? If the only articulable reason is that your competition does, then go back to the drawing board and see if you can think of a more compelling reason.
- You feel bad about letting your old web guy go. We attorneys tend to be a very warm and fuzzy bunch when it comes to some things. For whatever reason, we tend to give our vendors a lot of slack when they are doing something that we don’t understand. We also tend to bond with them in unhealthy ways. We tend to empower incompetent people to handle one of the most important aspects of our law firms’ futures, our online marketing. Maybe your nephew did your website and you don’t have the heart to take away his $300 per month, so you keep paying him while you commission a professional to build and manage a better website that will actually help you grow your law firm? Maybe you’re a criminal defense attorney and you bartered your services in exchange for website or “SEO” services from your client (it’s okay, you’re not alone, it happens… a lot!), only to realize that it’s a bad idea. Now you’re afraid of firing him because you defended him on an extortion case and he’s pretty good at what he does. No matter why you don’t want to break “bad” news to your current web guy, there is a win-win situation that doesn’t involve hurting anybody’s feelings (or cash flow). Tell your nephew thanks for the great job and as a thank-you continue to give him $300 per month until he replaces the income (I know… I know… but it’s only $300 bucks per month, you know he needs it, and your sister will appreciate it). And tell your extortionist former client thanks for the “great” job and move on. Firing a person or company can be tough, but not doing so is not, in and of itself, a valid reason for having more than one law firm website.
- You just want a new website design. This is perhaps the worst reason to build an additional website or blog for a law firm. It’s relatively easy to restyle a website (it’s free with LawLytics membership every two years, and if you’re using WordPress there are a plethora of templates to choose from, although with some significant downside lawyers should know about). If your site is already working but just needs updating, you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater (I suppose a better analogy would be to get an additional baby). Ugly websites can be made to look better in short order. Websites that are not mobile compatible can easily made responsive. Websites that are already responsive can be made even better by taking a mobile first design approach. If you are thinking about getting a new website because you want a better design, schedule a demo with us first and we will help understand your options for upgrading or fixing what you have. We rescue ugly and underperforming websites every week by brining them into the LawLytics system and giving them new life (and a refreshed design).
- You don’t have control over your current website. We see this a lot with some of the larger attorney website design companies. They registered your domain name (thanks a lot guys). They slipped into your agreement with them that they own the domain, the design, and the content (you didn’t read it before you signed it, did you? I know you couldn’t imagine anybody being that bold with an attorney. It happens.). And now you are hostage. This was more the norm four years ago before LawLytics came to the scene, but it still exists in some companies despite it being wildly against every attorneys’ best interests. From what we’ve seen, however, despite agreements to the contrary, many web design companies who used to do this are now willing to release attorneys from these atrocious parts of the agreements and allow the law firms to assume ownership of the domain name and content. My point is, don’t just assume that, because it says it in an old contract that you signed years ago, that your website will be lost if you switch companies.
Recap and conclusion
While there are many strategic reasons for law firms to have two or more websites, the decision to do so should be made objectively, planned well, and executed professionally. Make sure that your objectives are clear, and that you are not choosing to have more than one site based on emotion or undefined strategy. Avoid following the crowd, and don’t let the triggers of fear or greed cloud your judgment.