Over the last few days I’ve been asked by several attorneys for technical advice regarding websites they constructed using WordPress. I’ve noticed a lot of common issues that attorneys often don’t consider (or often don’t know to consider) even though they have a big impact on a site’s search performance. These four tips are often overlooked and will help your site load faster, which is a big part of SEO. They will also reduce technical problems and make your site more secure. Even if you are not a “techie” lawyer and someone else has built your WordPress site, I strongly suggest using these items as a “checklist” to ensure your web builder is doing his or her job correctly.
Attorneys using WordPress should pick a theme with as much functionality as possible
The building block of a WordPress site is the template (referred to as a “theme”) in which the website is put together. WordPress themes come in all shapes and sizes with some being free and some only available for purchase. These themes establish the look and feel of a WordPress site. They also establish the functional capabilities your site will have assuming you don’t install additional software (a.k.a WordPress plugins). This is due to the way in which the WordPress platform is designed; the designer of a theme can easily build in whatever functionality he or she decides to put in the theme. When choosing a theme for your law firm’s website, you should pick one that is aesthetically pleasing and includes as much of your desired functionality as possible.
Choosing a theme with pre-installed functionality saves you from having to install additional plugins. The fewer plugins you install on your site the better. Additional software slows down the performance of your site (which as I explained in my post on why SEO matters to attorneys, hurts your website’s performance in search). In order to avoid this, I suggest picking a theme that, at a minimum, includes the following functionality:
- A “responsive” design – this makes your site appear properly on mobile devices as well as personal computers. I will be explaining in a future post why a responsive website will perform better in mobile searches than will other alternatives for making your site mobile-friendly.
- Built in page templates so pages may be set to display items such as HTML sitemaps, contact forms, etc.
- Social Media Integration so you are not using additional plugins to add social media icons
- The ability to add a custom header and background – I see many attorneys using themes that don’t include this option so they install plugins to overwrite the theme’s appearance.
- Built-in support for stat trackers such as Google Analytics.
While it hasn’t been updated in a little while, a theme I like with a lot of this functionality is the Admired Theme by Brad Thomas. I mention this theme more as an example. Again, it hasn’t been updated in a while and it appears support for it has stopped. Be sure to ask your web designer which of these functions are built into your Theme – you may be surprised at how many of these functions they are getting through plugins (which is undesirable) instead.
Attorneys should use WordPress plugins that properly fit their purposes
This is a big one I’ve come across. I’ve assisted many attorneys with WordPress sites who are using plugins which provide more functionality than what the attorney needs. The problem with this is that even though the attorney only needs a fraction of what the plugin can do, all of the plugin’s code (including that which is not being utilized) must load when someone visits the page. This unnecessary code loading slows your site down, which ultimately hurts you in search.
Common examples of attorneys using plugins that are overly broad include Yoast’s SEO plugin (which we have found to be buggy anyway). We find this full of unnecessary features that either go unused or that provide no real SEO value. If you are going to use an SEO plugin then we recommend the All in One SEO Pack by Michael Torbert. This provides all the functionality you need and is much lighter on your loading time than Yoast. Again, this is just an example. I suggest going through your list of plugins and going for “slimmer” versions of ones with functionality which you only use a portion of. Your web developer can give you a list of plugins installed on your site – research your plugins and see if they are over broad for your purposes.
Many attorneys are using two WordPress plugins for a job that can be accomplished by one
More is not better. The fewer plugins an attorney uses on their site then the faster it will load. I’ve come across attorneys who have two plugins installed (each doing a separate task) when one of them actually included functionality to do both. For example, if you are using the All in One SEO Pack, mentioned above, then you don’t need an extra plugin for an XML sitemap as the SEO plugin includes that functionality. Consolidating your plugins will improve your site’s performance and reduce security risks. It’s time to go through your plugins and see exactly what they can do. If you’re developer has installed more than eight plugins then I would really question them as to why and be concerned as to how this is going to impact your site; we typically only install two on WordPress sites. Have your web developer give you a list of plugins installed on your site, research them, and look for overlapping functionality so you can tell your web developer to consolidate.
Attorneys using WordPress should avoid doing things through their website that can be done “off-site”
This is an easy one. Many attorneys install plugins into their websites to perform certain tasks even though those tasks can be performed without installing software on the website itself. An example of this involves social media. I’ve helped many attorneys who have installed plugins which auto-share posts or pages to social media outlets. If you are doing this then you are unnecessarily tying up resources. Instead of having your website do this (which slows things down even further and hurts your site in search) use a social media manager such as Hootsuite to automatically manage your postings to social media. Hootsuite is not connected to your website and will automatically pull posts from your site and place them on your social networks. This can improve site performance dramatically. Social media is just one example – what are some tasks you have your website performing on an automated basis even though an external service can do the same job? Ask your web developer.
Don’t just assume that your web developer has done their job correctly simply because your site looks nice. If you are building a site in WordPress it is best to use your own HTML and CSS to add functionality and to change your site’s appearance. When we build a site in WordPress, as part of our attorney website design services (there are also times we code the site from the ground up or use a different Content Management System, depending on the circumstances), this is the approach we take and your web developer should be doing the same. However, the items listed above are things we’ve seen from numerous attorney sites and making these simple fixes can improve your site’s technical performance dramatically and this will boost you in search. What are some issues you struggle with in WordPress? Chime in using the contact form below.
11/21/14 Update – This article originally contained a link to the “Admired” WordPress theme mentioned above. As of this update, that theme has not been updated in over two years and we can no longer recommend it. We have removed the link. While there are many free themes that work well for attorney websites, we suggest that attorneys purchase a theme from elegantthemes.com. These are the themes we use when constructing a WordPress site on behalf of a client.