I have heard from a number of new attorneys about how to market yourself online through a web site. I thought I would share some thoughts about this here on my blog, based on my own professional experience as a web developer and entrepeneur. As always, if I can be of further assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me.
First Things First – Get a Domain Name
You will need to pay to register a domain name, like faithatlaw.com, with an internet registrar, such as Network Solutions. This is required in order for all the other computers on the internet (well over a billion) to be able to find your site’s location on the network server that will hold your web site’s files and data. Network Solutions was the original registrar back in the bad old days, but today there are a number of registrars that you can work with (try searching with google to find others). Be sure to pick one that looks like they are going to be around for a while (and that may not be the guy that registers domain names for $10 for 1,000 years).
Your domain name should make sense based on the name of your practice, your specialty, and should ideally be short. Don’t try to use a famous trademark as your domain name or you will get in trouble! Don’t pick a name that is three hundred characters long, either. And your name should usually end in .com. There are other possible domains, like .biz or .tv, but these have really not caught on for the average internet user looking for your site.
Web Site Hosting
Your web site has to physically be located as a set of files on a server that is connected to the public internet. You will generally have to pay someone who is in the business of hosting sites for this service, unless you have a T1 connection at home with a static IP address and your service contract allows you to host sites. There are a lot of businesses that offer web site hosting. You may want to find a hosting company that will support multiple web languages, backend databases, blogging, and other features, even if you don’t need that right away.
Content of Your Web Site
Your web site should be straight forward for your users to get around, and should have a basic navigation scheme that highlights your skills, services, and a way for users to reach you. Think of what you would put on a brochure that you would mail to prospective clients and put that on your site.
Be careful about the graphics or other art that you place on your site. Using other people’s art without a license or express right can get you into trouble, especially if your site gets a lot of traffic. There are a number of services that you can purchase that will allow you to create a web site from a template (this service is often wrapped up in the hosting of the finished web site itself). Be sure to read the contract before you sign up for the service.
Meta tags are a special hidden indexing tool that helps internet search engines like yahoo and google to properly index the content of your site. These are placed in the header section of each web document, and are basically a list of the words that describe the content of your site, like “attorney,” “copyright infringement,” “tenant and landlord,” “intellectual property” and so on. You may or may not have the ability to add this to the header of the documents that you post, but check with your service provider or hosting company about editing these tags.
Blogging and Dynamic Content
Once you have your site up on the internet, you need to make a note on your calendar to update the content of your site on a regular basis. And by regular, I do not mean once every thirteen years. You should have a section of your site for news, and you should post updates to this section on things that are going on with your firm. You can also create an online blog, like this one, and post news and updates to it. This is good for several reasons. One, the search engines stop by your site regularly and they see what is on the site. New content will get indexed by them, which helps to increase the chances that someone searching for you will find your web site. Two, people that actually do come to your site will think you actually still exist and are actively working as an attorney. And three, the more content you have overall, the more established you will appear to others that might be researching you, including other attorneys, especially if you can demonstrate some expertise in your area of the law.
Google, Yahoo, and MSN probably make up 95% of all the searching of the internet today, with Google making up nearly 60% all by themselves. All three of these allow you to pay for advertising, which basically helps to make sure that, based on the keyword search, your web site will show up towards the top of the search results. Generally speaking, this is the entire web search game. If your site is indexed but consistently appears as search result 624,691,504 out of 624,691,505 results, no one will ever find your site via a search engine. That makes the search engine pretty much useless to advertise your site, and by extension, makes your web site kind of useless (I mean, people will find your web site if you meet them in person and give them your business card with your web address on it, but how many people can you meet in person to do that?).
Of the three, I would recommend starting with google. The cost to run an ad with keywords is generally minimal to start, and you only pay if someone clicks on your ad and comes to your site. Now, not many of the clickers will become customers, but you don’t need a million customers to start. In fact, you may only need just one.
Some web site hosting companies will provide you with statistics on your web site’s utilization. These stats are very helpful as you begin to develop your site and want to measure how successful your efforts have been, because you can compare site activity before and after you begin advertising in various places. Also, most web servers will allow you to collect referer data, which you can use to see how people get to your site, such as a search engine or other web site address that has a link to your site.
So, for example, if you are advertising on google, google will tell you how many times someone clicked on your ad in a given period. You can then query your web site itself to see how many people used google to search for you and what search terms they used to find your site. If your google had got 2 clicks in a month, but people got to your web site via a google search 60 times, you might need to change your ad on google, or change the keywords that you are advertising to match how people got to your web site.
Or, if you are advertising on yahoo, but all of your referers are from MSN or AOL, you might stop advertising on yahoo and start advertising on one of the other search providers or services.
Market From Multiple Angles
Marketing is all about advertising in multiple ways at the same time. So, if you are considering building a web site and advertising from it or about it, also think about other places you can get the web address in front of your prospective customers. Also, think about what’s cost-effective for you, especially if you are just starting out as an attorney. Ads in a major newspaper that you run weekly for a year are going to cost thousands of dollars, and it is very hard to measure what impact these ads are having on those that contact you. But, you can put your web address on your business cards, stationery, on other materials that you handout to prospective clients, perhaps on direct mailings that you send to prospective customers, and as a tattoo on your forehead (that will go over well in court!).
Good luck in your efforts and contact me if I can be of service.
Tim Faith, esq.