I often speak with attorneys who are either already using the WordPress platform for their website or want to know if they should be using it. Given WordPress’ march to ubiquity I thought it may be a good time to go over the pros and cons of using the platform for your law firm’s site. I’ve previously discussed common mistakes lawyers make when using WordPress and also discussed other website options for law firms. In this article I’m going to look at the upsides of using WordPress in your practice as well as very important issues you need to understand when doing so as such issues can lead to problems with your web marketing. Let’s get to it.
WordPress is a “content management system” or “CMS” which greatly simplifies the building of a website. CMS technology has advanced rapidly in recent years and, as a result, most businesses have no need for a website that is coded from scratch. An attorney can save a substantial amount of money by hiring a web developer who uses a CMS. Of the different CMS platforms, WordPress is by far and away the most popular. It currently has roughly forty-eight percent of the CMS market1 and that share is increasing. We utilize WordPress for sites constructed as part of our attorney website design services. Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using the platform.
An upside for Attorneys using the WordPress platform is that it is highly flexible and allows websites to be built for less money
WordPress is an open-source platform which allows for a website to be constructed with relative ease. It allows for easy editing of HTML and CSS so that the look and functionality of a site can be easily manipulated by a developer who knows how to do so. The look of a site will largely be defined by a framework known as the website’s “theme.” There are many free themes available and premium themes may be purchased from various software companies. Additional functionality can be added to the site through software applications known as “plugins.” There are many plugins available; some are geared towards those who desire additional functionality but do not know how to write code while some are geared towards developers who wish to automate certain processes. WordPress sites can save attorneys money and provide good potential for search engine optimization.
Lawyers can save money by having their website built on the WordPress platform, or any other CMS
It can cost a substantial amount of money for a lawyer to have their website coded from the ground up. Using a CMS, such as WordPress, allows a developer to drastically reduce the amount of time and effort necessary in constructing a website. This, in turn, allows for savings to be passed on to the attorney. In addition to cost savings which occur on the initial site build-out, making future changes to the website is far easier with a CMS. This means that changes to an attorney’s website can be quickly made for far less money then it would cost to re-write code on a website with code written by hand.
WordPress sites have a good potential for search engine optimization
As I mentioned in my article on understanding what is, and what is not, SEO, legitimate search engine optimization entails 1) making sure you follow a content strategy that will make your site relevant to readers and search engines and 2) ensuring that your site is built in accordance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Obviously the CMS you choose has nothing to do with the content on your site, but the flexibility of WordPress allows for the guidelines to be easily followed. Examples of building a site in accordance with these guidelines include, but are not limited to, making sure a site loads quickly, proper formatting of pages (such as proper use of the <H> elements), using proper meta descriptions and title elements, etc. It will be up to your developer, however, to ensure that these guidelines are actually followed.
Attorneys need to understand the many potential downsides of using the WordPress platform
WordPress is not a magic “cure all” for building a successful law firm website. Attorneys should be aware of the many potential downsides to using the platform. These include the necessity of knowing how to code, the ease with which one can hire a bad developer, the fact that using WordPress makes you reliant on a higher number of third-parties then you would otherwise be if you were using a different CMS, and the fact that, contrary to what many lawyers think, you do not truly “control” your WordPress site.
Lawyers who use WordPress can run into problems if they don’t know how to code and/or if they hire a bad developer
Using WordPress effectively requires one to know how to code. CMS platforms come with different degrees of flexibility. WordPress is far more flexible than a platform such as Google’s “Blogger.” This flexibility, however, comes with a trade off. The more flexibility you get in a platform then the less automated that platform is going to be. To get the functionality you are likely to want out of a WordPress site you are going to need to have decent HTML and CSS skills along with knowing basic PHP code.
Right now you are incorrectly thinking that you’ll just “hire a developer” to help your law firm with the coding aspect of WordPress. There’s a problem with this – the flexibility of WordPress means that it’s very easy to hire a
dumb-ass, incompetent, yo-yo person holding themselves out as a website developer even though they don’t know the first thing about coding. Remember above when I said one of the platform’s upsides is that it allows a skilled developer to save substantial time and money in constructing websites? Well the downside is that the platform also allows people, who have no business coding and who don’t know the first thing about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to build a website that will look relatively nice. Will that person give you a website which looks “cool?” Yep. Will the website provided by that person perform well in search? Probably not. Consider, for example, that I’ve looked at the issue of whether attorneys should use a website constructed by AVVO. Even though the websites provided by AVVO are built on WordPress, they are, in my opinion, poorly constructed and do not match up to Google’s guidelines. The bottom line is that it can be very easy for an attorney to hire a WordPress developer who will provide a nice looking website which then won’t perform well in search.
Attorneys do not “control” their WordPress website as the platform makes them reliant on a higher number of third-parties then they would otherwise be
I’ve spoken with many attorneys who, for understandable reasons, want to “own” or “control” their website. In other words, they don’t wish to be with a service which requires them to pay monthly or could go away at some point in the future. These lawyers, in turn, have a developer build a website for them through the WordPress platform. Beyond the potential developer problems, discussed above, the truth is that these attorneys are no more in control of their WordPress site than they would be with another CMS website for which they were paying each month.
Attorneys are not “in control” of their WordPress site because the platform actually makes them reliant on a larger number of third-parties than they would otherwise be. Say, for example, you were paying a monthly subscription to XYZ company for use of their CMS platform. You are tied to one company and one company only. Now say, for example, you have a WordPress site which uses six plugins (this is a very low number; I’ve seen many attorneys who use well more than twenty plugins installed on a WordPress site), then this means you are now tied to nine different companies; you are reliant on WordPress to keep updating the core software, you are reliant on the theme developer to continue updating the theme, you are reliant on each of the six plugin’s developers to keep updating their pieces of software, and you are reliant on the web developer who built the site for you. If any of these people fail to keep the software up to date, in a way that won’t hurt your site with Google, then now you have a problem. In other words, the chances of your site being harmed by someone not staying up to date is greater with WordPress than with another CMS. This can leave you feeling like you’re walking a fine line just like this guy:
Increased reliance on third-parties means that one is actually less in control of their website.
My final thoughts on whether attorneys should use WordPress
The bottom line is that WordPress can be a great platform if you a) know how to write code yourself or b) you are working with a developer that is competent. Also, keep in mind that using WordPress does not address the issue of your site’s content, which is critical to performing well in search. Are there attorneys who use WordPress and do well? Yep. Are there attorneys who use WordPress and do poorly? Yep. Are there attorneys who use other CMS platforms and perform well? Yep. Are there attorneys who use other CMS platforms and perform poorly? Yep. The bottom line is that there are upsides and downsides to using this platform.
1Entire Internet CMS Usage January-July 2015, Accessed at: http://blog.builtwith.com/2015/07/06/entire-internet-cms-usage-january-july-2015/ on July 15th, 2015.