Attorney discovering SEOThis is the next post in my “Website Options For Attorneys” series. I’ve previously focused on the various do – it – yourself options. Going forward, this series will now focus on options that involve hiring a web developer. I’ll focus on website services that cater to attorneys such as Findlaw, Scorpion Web Design, etc. Before getting into the discussion, it’s important to do a quick post on the pros and cons of outsourcing your site.

My firm excelled due to proper web development. I started as a one-man operation, working in my living room, in 2006 and by the start of 2010 I had three associates and numerous other employees. I personally handled all of the search engine optimization for our main sites and was personally responsible for all aspects of our blog. That being said, I was very fortunate to have a technology background and was able to perform these tasks on my own. Given that most attorneys are in a different situation it is important to understand the pros and cons of outsourcing your web presence.

How attorneys can benefit from outsourcing the design of their firm’s website to a developer

Having a website professionally built provides your firm with much more upside potential than using a do-it-yourself (DIY) option. As I discussed in my previous posts in this series, DIY options are simply going to be more limited in their potential for search engine optimization. This is an inherent tradeoff; the easier you make a platform for non-techie attorneys to use then the more that platform is going to lack functionality and be limited in other areas. So if you want your firm to do well in search, you’re going to be far better off with hiring a web developer. If you want to grow your practice substantially, you will likely need to utilize a professional developer.

There are several other ways that attorneys benefit from hiring a developer. Let’s look at each of them:

SEO Knowledge  – Hiring the right web designer/SEO professional means that you are getting someone who understands what the search engines are looking for when they rank websites in your niche. Keeping up with how search engines go about ranking sites is a full time job. Google makes “…hundreds of improvements per quarter…” to its search algorithms[i]. While many of these changes are publicized, attorneys simply can’t devote the necessary time to keep up with them if they also plan on running a successful practice. Hiring a good developer/SEO professional ensures that your site is staying up with the times.

Online Marketing StrategyWebsite content – Hiring the right web designer means that you will get content that resonates well with search engines. While attorneys tend to be good legal writers, generating a pleading for court and writing for the web are entirely different things. Two clients come to mind, whose websites we built under our attorney website design and SEO packages; these clients had websites prior to hiring SEO for Lawyers but these prior sites contained minimal content. One of these clients stated that she “wasn’t sure what to write” for her prior pages. The other was actually considering using redacted legal briefs on his former site as he was also unsure of how to approach his site’s content. It goes without saying that neither of these sites were doing well in search. As part of our services we wrote content for all of their pages and built them new websites. Within three months each of these clients were on the first page of Google for several different searches (not just one particular search term) and their practices are now growing. In other words, hiring the right professional can mean that you gain a website with the right content.

The downside for attorneys who hire web developers to handle their website

There are two main downsides in hiring someone vs. using a DIY option. These downsides are expense and the risk of hiring a web developer/SEO professional who simply isn’t good at his or her job.

Expense – Hiring someone to build and manage your site is expensive. That’s just simply the way it is. Sometimes this expense can be quite high. How web developers handle these issues vary; some may charge an initial fee to write the content and build the site. These developers would then likely charge an attorney on an hourly basis for any ongoing maintenance. Another option would be to have the work done on a “subscription” basis, which I will be discussing in my next post.

Bad website designerHiring a Bad Developer – I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I would receive cold calls from so-called “SEO experts” when I was running my law firm. We’ve all received the “I’ll get you to the first page of Google” pitch. We then tell the self-proclaimed expert to never call back and promptly hang up the phone. The number of poor developers out there can make hiring the right professional hard for attorneys who don’t know the good ones from the bad ones. This can result in an attorney wasting thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars without seeing any return on investment.

In my next post I will be discussing how attorneys should go about hiring an SEO/website professional and what criteria to look for. The remaining posts in this series will then focus on the different services that hold themselves out as specializing in attorney website development and search engine optimization.

[i] Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt – D9 conference (2011).