Shopping for a new law firm website is tough; a lot of agencies claim to be the best, but how can you know for sure? In this article, we break down the 15 most important questions to ask law firm website designers & lawyer marketing companies before tying the knot.
There are hundreds of factors to consider: cost, website CMS platform, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), design aesthetic, hosting, ownership and many more. To those foreign to the digital design & development world, finding the best digital company for your law firm can take deep research. There are some factors that are absolutely more important than others, and they should be the basis of your questions for any law firm website designer you consider hiring:
#1 — What is the cost of my website and how much are monthly fees?
Getting pricing information from most law firm website development companies is a cumbersome process, as most of the major players in the legal marketing space don’t put their prices online. So what’s a good price?
Well, it depends on whether you are getting a fully custom website or a templated design. Most law firm website development companies offer both options and you’ll always pay more for a custom design.
The Law Technology Today division of the ABA found the average law firm website cost to be $6,183. For a WordPress website, this is about on-par with what you will pay for a custom site from an average digital agency.
Keep in mind, this does not include any costs for branding, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or other. This is the most basic purchase you can make at a law firm website development company.
With us, you can get out the door with a website for just one payment of $2,750. Check out our full website product info to learn more.
#2 — How long does the website design & development phase take?
Of course, you want your law firm website to be live now, as it’s your most important marketing tool. Sporting a half-done website or “new website coming soon” landing page is quite the roadblock for inbound leads. So what’s a respectable turnaround time for a new website?
The same Law Technology Today study found the average law firm website development turnaround time to be 76 days. If you’re going for a fully custom website, just below 11 weeks is still too long. A template website, or a website that has some degree of pre-design, should take only a fraction of this time.
We’ve don’t turnaround time research on our competitors for their most economical website packages, most of which being template websites:
- Command Legal: 5-14 days, ~30 days for custom design
- PaperStreet: 45 days minimum
- Zola Creative: 28 days estimated
- Juris Digital: 30 days maximum
- FindLaw: 63 days estimated
- LawLytics: 32 days average
With more complex, custom websites, expect turnaround times to sit around at least 150% of the deployment times listed above.
#3 — What Content Management System (CMS) are your websites built on?
This is one of the most important questions on the list. At the most basic level, you have two options: proprietary vs. open-source.
Proprietary platforms do not allow you to access your website’s source code. They are often developed by a few in-house developers at a software development company. These websites can have the potential to serve your law firm well in terms of digital marketing, but they are very restrictive in terms of design, development, SEO and ownership. You are often handcuffed to a proprietary platform: in the case you would like to fire your web developers, you may have to start over on your digital presence, as a seamless migration of data to an open-source platform is not likely.
Open-source platforms allow you to view, manipulate and own your website and the code it was built on. You have ultimate freedom and flexibility in every way imaginable. The most popular and reputable open-source CMS in existence is, without a doubt, WordPress.
WordPress is an easy-to-use CMS with a world of flexibility. You don’t need to be a web developer to learn your way around WordPress and be a proficient user very quickly. Most of our competitors use WordPress, save for a few:
- Command Legal: WordPress
- PaperStreet: WordPress
- Zola Creative: WordPress
- Juris Digital: WordPress
- FindLaw: FirmSite, a proprietary platform (now offering WordPress also)
- LawLytics: LawLytics, a proprietary platform
The ABA recommends lawyers and law firms use WordPress over any other CMS on the market; they even offer a book to learn WordPress in one hour.
#4 — Do I own my website and all content?
This is critical. Owning your law firm website is the only way to truly have the freedom and flexibility to make all of the decisions around marketing your firm online. When getting quotes from dev companies, make sure you read the conditions thoroughly to ensure all website components and copy are uninhibitedly your property.
Going back to the CMS platform you choose: companies that offer websites on proprietary platforms may claim that you own your website and content, but this is not exactly true. By definition, you are not able to view and retain the source code of a website on a proprietary platform, so any “ownership” they offer is essentially pointless. You can compare it to buying a car but not being allowed to open the hood and make upgrades or fixes on your own—or with another mechanic.
Command Legal provides 100% ownership of all content, source code, design visuals, etc. on your website. Anything and everything you need to feel in control of your web presence is yours and we provide links to download your files at any time.
#5 — Is there an extended contract?
Be careful of the companies that provide ownership, but only after you’ve fulfilled an extended contract. If you have any problems with your website developer within their multi-year contracts, you may not be able to back out with any ownership and have to start from scratch. For this reason, when you buy a website, make sure you own it now.
We’ve done contract research on our competitors and have found the following:
- Command Legal: No extended contract, immediate website ownership
- PaperStreet: 2-year contract, website ownership after contract
- Zola Creative: No extended contract, immediate website ownership
- Juris Digital: No extended contract, immediate website ownership
- FindLaw: Multi-year contract, proprietary platform
- LawLytics: No extended contract, proprietary platform
As we mentioned, “owning” a website on a proprietary platform is a bit of a misnomer. Although they advertise ownership, it doesn’t exactly make sense, considering you are forbidden from viewing source code.
#6 — Are your websites responsive (mobile-friendly)?
The importance of responsive design is ever-increasing, as more and more searches are being conducted on mobile devices. In 2018, about 60% of web searches are performed using a mobile device.
It’s rare to find a website developer who does not embrace responsive web design in 2018. From what we’ve gathered all of our direct competitors offer responsive design, regardless of website platform.
All Command websites are responsive and properly adapt to any and every screen size (computer, tablet, mobile device). Our dedicated WordPress theme, Enfold, is highly adaptable to show, hide and resize components based on the dimensions of the screen on which your website is being viewed.
#7 — Will my website be a custom design or made from a template?
The purpose of this question is to make sure the price, turnaround time and design quality of your law firm’s website are aligned with the means in which it was created—from a pre-designed template or completely custom. A template site should take no longer than 30 days to go live and should cost no more than $6,000.
Template websites are often cheaper and you have the benefit of getting exactly what you see as opposed to relying on web designers to come up with a unique design from scratch that you might or might not like. You also benefit from a much shorter development time, as it is mostly just a plug-and-play affair. The sole benefit of a custom website is having a site build uniquely and specifically for your legal brand.
Most major players in the law firm website development and legal marketing space offer both templated and custom web design. Template websites are pre-designed to fit a general purpose (“small business”) or a specific purpose (“solo attorney”).
Most law firm website themes and templates come with varying levels of customization to make them on-brand with your legal practice. Provided you find the designs appealing form a particular provider, they can often change the styling to fit the feel of your business.
Command Legal websites are referred to as “pre-designed” and come with complete flexibility to make your site present your firm uniquely.
#8 — Do I get all source files for my website?
If you’re being promised ownership, you should be able to download and keep local backups of all of your website and design source files. In some jurisdictions, it is required that you keep a record of all attorney advertising materials for a number of years after distribution—and law firm websites are considered attorney advertising in most states.
You can download your WordPress website and save a backup locally, check out this quick video.
With the purchase of a Command Legal website, you’re able to download all source code files for your website, databases, design files, etc. If your website developer has an issue with you maintaining your own version of source code files, you may want to look elsewhere.
#9 — Can I readily hire (and fire) website developers?
Again, if you own your site, you should be able to hire and fire your website designers/developers at will. Purchasing a law firm website from a company that institutes an extended contract or builds websites on a proprietary platform essentially eliminates your immediate freedom to readily hire & fire your developers.
Having the ability to hire new talent to improve your online presence is critical as the quality of business website design becomes more tied to building consumer trust. By teaming up with a law firm website developer that does not let others into your dashboard, you have less control over your business’ digital presence.
With the purchase of a Command Legal website, you have immediate and full access to invite outside developers to edit your website.
#10 — What website hosting service do you use?
Website hosting a very important factor that often goes overlooked. Not all hosting providers are created equal. To have a fast-loading, reliable and secure website, you’ll want to go with a website hosting provider that offers encryption (SSL Certificate), local servers, automated backups, cache functions and solid customer service.
Command Legal hosts websites on WPEngine, a speedy and trustworthy service that comes with automated backups and effective security. If you prefer to host elsewhere, you certainly can, although you will be responsible for maintaining your website’s updates, security, maintenance and backups.
#11 — Do you perform updates, maintenance, backups and secure my website?
The monthly fees you pay to keep your website up should include all updates, maintenance, backups and security—you should never have to do these things on your own. We offer two hosting packages: basic hosting ($49 per month) or hosting + content management ($199 per month).
If you wish to maintain & update your own website, or have a dedicated developer take the reins, you are certainly able to do so. Contact us on support and we will be happy to help you out!
#12 — Do your websites load quickly and how do you improve loading speed?
Higher load times lead to higher bounce rates and, ultimately, lower conversion rates, so having a speedy website is critical to keeping your web visitors on your website. Load speed depends on many factors, such as image sizes, cache setups, installed plug-ins, the presence of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for mobile devices and much more.
Command Legal websites are configured with image optimization, instant loading for mobile devices, and our websites are hosted on the very fast & reliable WPEngine, who also provides automatic caching.
You can check your load speed using GTMetrix, which loads your site on a server in a named location and also offers a full, downloadable report showing each loading factor with recommendations to boost your speed. If your Command Legal website is not loading quickly, submit a support ticket and we will be glad to help out!
#13 — Do you offer Search Engines Optimization (SEO) services?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the the practice of making your website more discoverable through organic and local queries through search engines like Google and Bing. Most law firm website development companies offer SEO services, with prices depending on your your budget, location, legal focus and more. The cost can get high in the very competitive legal services industry.
Matt Cutts, the former head of web spam at Google, endorsed WordPress, saying it “automatically takes care of 80-90% of Search Engine Optimization.” It was originally built as blogging platform, to deliver content, and Google loves content. On top of this foundational SEO advantage of WordPress websites, there are many plug-ins and practices that can further improve your optimization.
Command Legal employs digital marketing experts who are well-versed in high-level SEO practices. We offer two SEO packages that use data-proven practices to help your firm reach Google’s first page. For what it’s worth, we did some SEO cost analysis on our competitors and found very prices are all over the board: the lowest cost of any SEO plan was $500 per month and the highest was “at least $15,000.”
If you decide to buy into SEO services, be sure to get monthly reports that detail all work and progress relative to your own organic visibility and to your competitors for the keywords for which you compete. Also, make sure the SEO practices you are buying aren’t “black-hat” strategies, as you could get penalized by Google and lose your ranking.
FindLaw, a well-known law firm marketing company operating under the lawyermarketing.com domain, has been bashed for their poor SEO services—check out this Reddit thread for Law Firms where someone had this to say:
“they really don’t know what the hell they are doing when it comes to SEO. They cannot explain how they accomplished what they did or what you are paying for. They produce almost no results and then they try and bully you into paying for more and more without showing any results. In addition, I just dealt with this at the firm I work at, they will not let you out of contracts and are horrible to deal with. We had to have many different lengthy conversations about how they were overcharging and then producing no results as agreed upon in the contract and that they were unable to show what they were spending the money on.”
Be cautious when purchasing SEO, as there is a large degree of uncertainty in the practice even by people who consider themselves “experts.”
#14 — Do your websites comply with attorney advertising rules?
Law firm websites are considered attorney advertising in most jurisdictions and must comply with the associated rules. Most of the advertising and client solicitation rules fall under Section 7 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
All Command Legal websites are built in accordance to the ABA model rules for advertising. Each website will have a disclaimer and a statement telling your website visitors that the website is a form of “attorney advertising,” as required by the ABA. When scouting law firm website development companies, take a look at some of the sites in their portfolio—if they don’t have this disclaimer, they’ve likely not done their homework.
As we mentioned, we offer complete control of the content on your website, so if you update your own content—or rely on a digital marketing professional to do so—you will be responsible for making sure the content complies with attorney advertising rules.
#15 — Will you install & configure analytics plug-ins on my website?
Google Analytics allows you to get an inside look at your website’s web traffic. You have the ability to discover your most viewed content, check your bounce rate and average view duration, identify your lowest-performing pages, see where your visitors are located geographically, and much more.
Ultimately, analytics give you an inside look at where your website can be improved to convert more leads.
Command Legal websites are equipped with Google Analytics and will be authenticated with Google Search Console through our most basic SEO package. As soon as your site goes live, Google Analytics will be measuring your traffic, allowing you to refine your digital presence and maximize its impact.
To learn more about using Google Analytics and Google Search Console to Gert actionable data for website improvement, check out How to Get Actionable Data from Google Analytics in 10 Minutes and 5 Actionable Reports from the New Google Search Console, respectively.
Deep investigation into your law firm’s website developer is a necessary (and often grueling) process, but we hope that you feel more at ease knowing now what you need to know about a potential provider. If you know of any questions that should be added to this list, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.