All posts by Bryan Mixon

.attorney vs .lawyer vs .com domains. What Should Small Law Firms Do?

There are a couple of new top level domains that are opening up for registration in the next few weeks, and the announcement has attorneys wondering what, if anything, should they do?

What’s the deal?

Well first, let’s talk about what the change is.  Around 2006, ICANN, the governing body for domain names on the internet started taking bids for new generic top level domains (gTLDs).  Since most lucrative and/or useful domains have been taken up by domain squatters and the occasional legit business, folks welcomed the opportunity to get a branded domain name that was relevant to their business.

So, they offered companies and investors the chance to own and manage new top level domains.  Some of them are innocuous (.ceo, .bike, .directory, .beer), some are scandalous (.sexy, .xxx), and some are just industry specific (.plumbing, .attorney, .lawyer).

What makes the .attorney and .lawyer gTLDs interesting, is that they are intended to act like the .gov, .edu, and .mil “sponsored” top level domains.  Sponsored TLDs act as a signal of trust since not just anyone can get one of those domains.  You need to meet a managing body’s criteria. In the former, you need to prove you’re an attorney (or attending an accredited law school), and in the latter, you need to be a government, educational institution or branch of military service.

That’s the theory anyways.

Without going into the threat this imposes on existing ethics regulators (a threat that Carolyn Elefant covers in depth in her post “Should Lawyers Mark A Spot With With a Domain Dot – And Will Ethics Regulators Say Yay or Not?“) it’s important to note that even if regulators embrace the new gTLDs, the real question is whether potential clients will.

I’ve always considered sites with the newer TLDs as somewhat suspect.  It’s not a perfect system, but the fact that you need to pay a decent amount of money for a great .com domain is such a good filter that it tends to cloud my judgement when it comes to trusting other domains.

At least, that’s my bias.  But I’m not one to assume that everyone is like me.  I’m a computer nerd by trade, and as such have a fairly biased opinion when it comes to technology in general.

Enter real data…

Instead, I ran an experiment to find out for real, whether the regulated TLDs accomplish the task of inspiring trust in normal, everyday folk.

Here’s how it worked.  Using Google’s awesome Consumer Surveys tool, I asked a simple question of 100 people.  If you were looking to hire an attorney, based only on the domain name, who would you choose?

  • www.john-smith-law.com
  • www.johnsmith.lawyer
  • www.johnsmith.attorney

The idea for those three is based on the following scenario.  Let’s assume you’re trying to find a domain for your solo firm.  And let’s say you have a fairly common name where you can’t get the exact johnsmith.com or johnsmithlaw.com (because if you can, you should do that right now and stop reading.)

You might then consider, do I get my exact match domain with .attorney or .lawyer instead?  Will that get more clients to trust me?

Well, survey says…

Overall, I was surprised by the results. I thought the .com would absolutely trounce the gTLDs and that appears to be absolutely wrong.

.attorney and .com lead the way.
Turns out, while almost noone prefered the .lawyer domain, .attorney actually appears to hold roughly equal to slightly more trust than .com when you take into account the error margins in the survey.

Here’s the preliminary result:

.lawyer vs .attorney vs. .com trust

Younger folks prefer .com, older folks, .attorney
While that’s the general population, it’s interesting that there are fairly heavy splits when it comes to the age of the recipient. Something that might be useful to know for all your elder law folks out there.

age_split

Upper income clients still prefer .com
If your clients tend to be wealthier, or you hope to get more wealthier clients, it’s interesting to note that upper income individuals still prefer the .com.

Upper income folks seem to prefer .com dmoains ober .attorney and .lawyer

Upper income folks seem to prefer .com dmoains ober .attorney and .lawyer

Want to analyze the data for your target clients?
If you want to comb through the data to see what your target clients might prefer, head on over to the Google survey results page and tinker to your heart’s content.

And if you think this data is bunk, or if you want more info for your own purposes, this survey is set for 100 responses and only cost $10. You can set one up yourself and target the results by geographic region and income, and you’ll have the results in a few days.

I see the data, so what should I do?

Well first, don’t panic. It might seem like there’s a great gold rush out there for these domain names, but the population that uses them is tiny (relative to other TLDs) and an even smaller fraction will actually purchase the domains. And since switching and/or deciding on a domain is a BIG deal, don’t make the decision rashly.

Should I switch to a .attorney domain?
Probably not, definitely not right away, and MOST DEFINITELY, not without some professional help.

There are a number of things to consider when considering a domain switch. You’ll need to consider the cost of replacing any marketing collateral you own like business cards, pamphlets etc.

You’ll need to perform an audit of your existing site to make sure any and all pages on your site are redirected to the new domain properly (for any site with more than 5 pages, seek professional help with this).

You’ll need to update all of your DNS records to match the old domain so things like email will still work… in other words, it’s not as simple as just changing your domain.

Should I register my existing domain with the .attorney and .lawyer TLDs?
If you have $35-$100 burning a hole in your pocket and it would make you feel better to have them just in case, go ahead and buy them. But remember, if you buy both at $35, that’s $70 every single year you own them.

But what if I want to prevent someone else from registering them?
Unless you’re a giant brand with money to spare, this is generally a false worry. First of all, as a small law firm, you’re not big enough for most squatters to care about.

Second, unless the squatter commits to building content in your niche, search engines will never find the squatter’s site anyways.

And thirdly, if you’re concerned about someone coming along and registering a domain just to bad mouth you or your firm, well, the only way to prevent that is to buy up every gTLD out there, and that’s going to cost you a whole lot of money just to prevent a hypothetical.

However… one case where I’d consider squatting is if your firm is hyper personalized and your name is reasonably common. For example, if you own “marystevens.com” or “marystevenslaw.com”, consider picking up “marystevens.attorney” and “marystevens.lawyer” as building a little moat around your personal brand is important when you have a common name.

I am just starting out, should I go .com or .attorney?
Based on the data, it looks like we can rule out .lawyer. And if you can get a decent .com with no dashes, go that route for sure.

But, if you found a really nice .attorney domain in a competitive niche, like say “nydefense.attorney” or “thepersonalinjury.attorney” go for it! Given that it appears that the trust is there, it can’t hurt.

But, one thing to consider is whether having the singular “attorney” or “lawyer” as a domain name will be limiting if you want to grow your firm. The domain seems to imply a single individual, and that might become an issue down the road if you suddenly have a couple of associates or additional partners.

I already registered the domains, if I don’t switch, what should I use them for?
First, redirect them to your existing site by using a CNAME or URL record with your DNS provider. I know that’s really techy, so if you need help, just email me.

Second, if you’re not changing your primary domain, do not use your new domains for things like email or other branding materials. Besides confusing your clients, it also confuses google into thinking there really are two sites and that hurts your SEO.

Should I buy up domains for multiple practice areas?
Not unless you’re creating separate sites for each and have the time to maintain them.

Just owning the domains and pointing them all at your existing site won’t really make a difference for your site traffic. Google will only recognize those domains if you actually have content on them and have links coming in using the new domains. And since it’s highly unlikely that any consumer is going to type “newyorkpersonalinjury.attorney” into their browser bar without some sort of marketing material to prompt them, you won’t get any additional direct traffic either.

But what if I’m squatting, hoping to sell the domains to other attorneys?
Well, sorry to be the one to say it, but you’re the reason we can’t have nice things (like reasonable .com domains.)

That’s it! Any more questions?

If you like this kind of no-nonsense marketing advice for solo and small firm attorneys, sign up for our marketing bootcamp where you’ll get one email every week with easy to digest marketing plans that let you get back to being a lawyer.

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Cheap web design on the side of the road is NOT the way to go.

How Much Should A Law Firm Website Cost?

It can be pretty daunting trying to figure out how much to spend on a law firm website these days.  There are companies charging tens of thousands of dollars and promising the moon, and there’s always your cousin’s friend from college who would do it for a case of beer and a bucket of chicken.

Sometimes it helps to just set some expectations.  Your mileage may vary according to your goals, your geographic region etc, but here are some ballpark figures that will give you a good sense for what you should get for your dollar, and help you figure out just how much you can afford to spend.

So let’s kick this off at the bottom.

Less than $500

The old adage goes, you get what you pay for.  This bucket usually contains either family friend discounts, students doing the work, or your run of the mill website builder like GoDaddy or Wix.

If your goal is just to have a site that you can point people to, and don’t intend to do online marketing, blogging, lead collection etc, this might be the way to go.  Be careful here though.  A lot of times the website builders are loss-leaders for the business.  For example, GoDaddy makes the website builder cheap to get you to do your web, email and domain hosting with them, which often ends up being a more expensive and lower quality offering than going out and getting decent options separately.

For example, I use DNSimple for domain and DNS hosting. I can’t recommend them enough. And for email hosting, $50/year for Google Apps is an absolute steal.

$500 – $1500

This is a tough range.  It’s tough because it’s likely that you could find someone to do the work for the price, but it’s going to be very difficult to judge the quality beforehand.  A developer that’s worth their salt will be able to charge A LOT more than this, so here, you’re typically dealing with local developers that might not be around very long. You want someone that will be around 2 or 3 years from now and who can answer an email at the drop of a hat if there’s a problem.  Now, if you’re willing to take a bit of the management tasks on, you could probably find a very talented international developer on oDesk that could do a great job for this price.

$1500 – $5000

This is what I would consider the sweet spot for most solos.  In this range you can get a good developer to do a basic site that’ll cover the bases for most of you.

When I say “cover the bases” I mean:

  • Uses a nice responsive theme (looks great on mobile devices)
  • Uses a Content Management System like WordPress or Drupal. Avoid hard-coded sites as you’ll need to contact your developer any time you need a change.
  • Has a BUILT-IN blog (I saw a recent post that suggested attorneys should have a separately branded blog. That is such terrible advice that I would consider it dangerous.)
  • Uses best-practices like semantic markup to make your site more easily parseable by search engines.
  • Basic setup with Google (Google Analytics, Google Authorship)
  • Can offer limited tech support for the foreseeable future.
  • A classic looking, basic typographic logo if you don’t have one yet.
  • Redirects from your existing site if you have one. Basically, make sure that anyone linking to your existing site ends up on a relevant page on your new site.  Without this, any SEO clout you’ve built up will disappear.
  • And the ability to walk you through how to do basic edits (like writing blog posts) yourself.

What you likely won’t get at this price point:

  • Custom photography
  • Custom graphic design (the theme you use will be the “web designer”)
  • Custom copy
  • Comprehensive branding

$5000+

Once you go over $5k, the sky really is the limit.  You could get a custom graphic designer to do a completely custom design just for you.  You could get a marketing consultant to do your bidding.  Really, at this price range, it’ll be really confusing because it’ll likely be a much larger to-do.  There might be an law firm SEO consultant or an AdWords consultant.  All of these things can be positives, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and there’s a lot of sharks at that price point that’ll promise you the world and never deliver.  If you’re spending that kind of money, make sure you get references and demand quantifiable proof that the investment was worth it.  If they’re good, it’ll be more than evident.

Whatever you decide make sure the following:

Make sure that your domain name is registered under an account you can access yourself and that it’s registered TO YOU.  As I mentioned, I really like DNSimple for this.  They’re great people and they make managing domains really simple without some of the spammier upsell practices of companies like GoDaddy.  Also, don’t let your developer own this account.  If he’s out of business in 2 years, you’ll have a really hard time getting control of your domain (if you can at all).

Be wary of SEO sharks that mention link-building or keyword density when pitching SEO services.  SEO is almost entirely based on writing good content that answers questions that people want answered.  There is very little left that can “game” the system.  Anyone that tells you they can get to the first page of Google for something like “DUI attorney Nashville, TN” and doesn’t immediately follow it up with a year-long content strategy is selling you a bag of goods.

Make sure you understand the ins and outs of your Content Management System before you sign off on the project.  If you’re not completely comfortable with the process of updating your practice area pages or writing a blog post, you never will, and that’s the quickest way to make your investment depreciate like an abandoned house.

When in doubt, feel free to ask for help. I see all of the shady stuff targeting my wife’s practice and I want to scream, so I’m happy to share unbiased advice.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion in the space.  If you have any questions, feel free to let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them…

 

Photo Credit: Mario Carvajal used under CC
Google Setup Guide

The Ultimate Small Firm Google Setup Guide

Everyone knows Google is the ruler of the roost when it comes to search. In this guide, we’ll take you through the steps to make sure your firm’s Google setup is a firm foundation for the rest of your marketing efforts.

What a lot of small law firms miss out on is the fact that Google provides a number of free tools to help site owners (that’s you) adhere to best practices that can help Google better understand what your content is about. And when you make Google’s job easier, it can only help your prospects of ranking for important search keywords.

We’re going to walk through the setup of each of these tools to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the free stuff.

Your Google Account

First thing’s first. You need to have a Google account. If you use gmail, you’re probably familiar with all of this, but I would highly recommend setting up a separate Google account specifically for your firm. It’ll make things much easier down the road.

If you use Google Apps for your firm’s email, awesome, you already have a Google account, and you can use that email and password to sign in.

If you don’t use Google Apps, you can still create a Google account using your business email address, just use this form.

Google Analytics

Google analytics is a tool that keeps track of who’s visiting your site and when. It’s a very powerful tool that we’ll get into in more detail at a later time, but for now, let’s just get your site set up and verified.

First, log into google analytics by going to http://www.google.com/analytics. Once there, you’re going to create an account by clicking on the “create an account” link in the top right corner.

Google analytics is structured by accounts and then by property. Accounts act as a grouping of websites (properties). For most firms, you’ll only have one property, but if you have a law blog on a separate domain, like blog.myfirm.com, or myfirmblog.blogger.com, you may want to manage multiple sites.

Let’s start by following Google’s instructions for setting up your firm’s account.

Click on the ‘Admin’ link at the top of the page. From here you should be able to create a new account. Fill it out as follows (let’s assume your firm is called AmazeLaw Firm and your website is amazelawfirm.com):

Account Name: AmazeLaw Firm
Website Name: Main Website
Website URL: http://amazelawfirm.com
Industry Category: “Law and Government”
Reporting Timezone: Select your timezone
Data Sharing Settings: It’s ok to leave the defaults here, but for the paranoid, you can uncheck “Anonymously with Google and others” and “Account specialists”.

When you’re ready, click ‘Get Tracking ID’ and accept Google’s Terms & Conditions.

Congratulations, you’re now staring at a rather techy looking page that contains the code you need to add to your website in order to get tracking up and running.

If you use a content management system like WordPress, Drupal, or AmazeLaw, all you need to do is authenticate with Google Analytics and it will suck the code in for you. For example, on WordPress, if you go to Plugins > Add New and search for “Yoast Google Analytics” you can install a plugin that will allow you do suck in your code. There’s even a nifty video over here that will show you exactly how to set it up.

If you use AmazeLaw, just log in and go to your dashboard, there should be a giant button asking you to authenticate. Clicking that will automatically suck in your tracking code.

Now if you don’t use WordPress or AmazeLaw or if you need a developer to add the code for you, here’s a sample email you can send your developer that will instruct them on how to add it to your site. By the way, this should be an amazingly simple task for any competent developer so don’t let them charge you for more than an hour’s time to do it (it’ll likely take less than 10 minutes depending on how they’ve set up your site.)

Hi <Developer’s Name>,
I would like to add google analytics to my site. The following code needs to be added to the <head> tag on every page on my site.
<Copy and Paste the tracking code here>
Thanks!
<Your Name>

That’s it! You can verify whether the tracking is installed by going to Admin > Choosing your account and property, and then .js Tracking Info > Tracking Code. Next to your Tracking ID, you should see “Waiting for Data” or “Tracking Installed”.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google doesn’t provide much direct control when it comes to how your site appears in search, but what little control it does give you is controlled from webmaster tools.

In order to log in to Webmaster Tools, just visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home. From there, you’ll be able to add your site and verify ownership.

When you log in, if you don’t have any sites set up, you’ll see a welcome video and a simple text field where you can put your domain to add your site. Simply enter your domain, and click ‘Add Site’.

If you followed the steps in the Google Analytics section above your site should already be verified. If not, follow one of the procedures Google outlines in order to verify your ownership of the site. Unfortunately, it may require help from your developer.

Google+ Authorship

Google+ may not be poised to take over Facebook any time soon, but it’s generally accepted that having a Google+ profile set up (if not actively updated) is a best practice for SEO. Google has indicated that going through the process of verifying the authors of content on your site will act as a quality signal in search algorithms. In other words, set up a Google+ account for yourself, and link it to your website.

If your email uses the same domain as your website (it does right!?) then the process is simple. Just log into Google+ using your firm email address and then go to this link and submit your website.

If you don’t have an email address for your domain, something like myfirm@gmail.com or awesomelegalsolutions@hotmail.com, then it requires a bit of effort to get authorship set up, and honestly, your time would be better spent signing up for Google Apps for business and moving your email over there. After all, bill@awesomelegalsolutions.com is a lot more professional than awesomelegalsolutions@hotmail.com.

Google Places

And finally, it’s time to get you on the map. This is absolutely key to making sure your firm is available for Google to list at the top of localized searches. You know, the ones that show a map and a list of 5-10 businesses.

Signing up for Google Places is quick and easy as well. Go to the Google Places signup page and click “Get on Google”.

In the map that appears, search for your business, either using the name or your office address if you have one. If it appears in the search box, click on the business to claim it. If not, just select the “None of these match. Add your business” link at the bottom of the search results to create yours in the system. Now, if you don’t have a Google+ page for your firm, this will go ahead and create the page for you as well.

There are a few fields worth noting when you get to the point that you need to enter your address information. The first is, well, the actual address. Many solo’s don’t actually have a physical office, and even if you do, it’s likely that you want to serve an area larger than the city in which you live. If you don’t have an actual office, enter your home address (you’ll be able to hide the address later). But whether you have an office or not, make sure you check the box that says “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location.”

And finally for the “Category” field, you could put the general “Legal Services” or if you have a specialty try that. Search along the lines of “Family Law Attorney” or “Employment Attorney” to select your specialty.

Once you have filled out that information, it’s time to let Google know where you operate. If you checked the box above, you’ll be given the option to list out cities, or choose a radius around your office. I would suggest a radius, but that’s entirely up to you. If you want your office to also appear on the map, just check the box “I also serve customers at my business address”.

When that’s done, you’ll be prompted to create a Google+ page for the business and sign Google Terms of Service.

You’ll be asked to verify your business by mail, and you can then go ahead and edit your Google+ business page.

Whew!

That’s it! Take a break. Now you can edit your site knowing that you’re all set with Google.

Was that too much? Want help?

This stuff can get super hard to keep track of. That’s one thing we pride ourselves on here, is our ability to stay on top of best practices on the web, and then building it into our system so that you don’t have to worry about it.

If you want to spend more time being a lawyer, and less time tinkering in HTML…

Sign up for a free trial at amazelaw.wpengine.com

 

Photo Credit: Carlos Luna used under CC
crumpled up law blog

Solo Lawyers Can’t Afford To Be Law Bloggers

You are not a law blogger. Go ahead, say it out loud if you’re not at a coffee shop where people would look at you weird. It’s that important.

So much of the advice bandied about on the internet regarding how attorneys should blog, is for lack of a more-perfect term, crap. It simply doesn’t apply to you as a solo or small-firm attorney. Here’s why.

Law Bloggers use their blog to increase their status and credibility among other lawyers.

When you’re just starting out, this seems like the easy, logical place to start.

After all, you know the law, you can provide deep commentary on the law that other lawyers would appreciate, and that Small Firm Inferiority Complex is a powerful beast that is always thinking of ways to justify to your big-firm brethren that just because you’re small, it doesn’t mean you’re not an expert.

Here’s the thing though. Your clients don’t care. If they were interested in learning the nuances of law, and could understand that deep analysis, they wouldn’t need your help.

They want to know how the nuances of law affect their daily life. How do they solve that one nagging problem that they’ve ended up at your site trying to solve? And can you explain that problem, that pain, to them better than they could explain that pain to themselves. That’s how you win a client’s trust. Not, by being the most vocal fish in a small pond of blogging lawyers, but by doing the legwork to convey true understanding of your clients’ day-to-day problems.

Now, I won’t deny that there’s certainly value in convincing other lawyers that you’re worth a referral, and sometimes it’s valuable to provide a unique insight and circulate it among your peers. But make no mistake about it, writing for lawyers should be considered a rare guilty pleasure, not the focus of your firm’s marketing plan.

Law Bloggers consider their blog to be a separate entity from their firm.

Law bloggers often see their blog as an extension of their personal brand; a sort of hedge against becoming too synonymous with their parent firm lest they decide one day that they want to move on. That’s a great strategy, and I’d recommend that strategy to any associate (or partner) at a big firm.

But you’ve already taken that leap. There’s nothing left to hedge against. Your blog is the marketing arm of your firm, and they should be so intertwined as to be indistinguishable to any potential clients (and Google). Worrying about driving visitors from your blog to your firm website is a fool’s errand. Your blog is your firm website.

What’s more, if you were to separate your firm website from your blog, you’re effectively making sure that none of the SEO value generated by all of that effort is transferred to your firm. Having them both under the same domain is critical to ensuring that your firm and its blog rank well in Google.

Blog posts don’t pay the bills, clients do.

Your blog isn’t about you. It’s about your clients. Everything you do needs to be geared toward their needs, their desires, their pains. Every marketing activity you spend time on need to be focused on one of two things. One, getting more prospective clients to your site. And two, convincing them that you’re so deeply in tune with their problems that they absolutely can’t afford to not contact you for your expertise.

In short, you need to focus on blogging to get business, not being in the business of blogging.

To that end I would strongly recommend looking outside the law industry and into small business marketing for your marketing advice, as your small-firm’s marketing is much more closely related to that of a pool salesman* than a law blogger.

* Marcus comes off a little “marketing-guru” at the beginning, but trust me, you’ll love him by the end. One of the more genuine applications of business blogging I’ve ever seen and a simple framework you can always fall back on when you’re searching for what to write about, or even why you’re bothering at all.

 

Photo Credit: HPUPhotogStudent used under CC
Fresh coffee in hand, ready to start marketing your firm.

Real Digital Marketing Tactics For Solo Attorneys

Starting your own firm is hard work. You don’t have the same resources that big firms have to market yourself. But luckily, what you lack in budget you gain in scrappiness. You can move quicker and with less oversight. You can ditch the BigLaw stuffiness and appeal directly to the clients you want to help.

Here’s our promise. We will deliver an actionable plan every week that can be implemented in less than 30 minutes a day, that, applied consistently, will provide you with an audience of prospective clients that lets you focus on the law instead of glad-handing at every networking event that rolls through town.

Remember, consistency is key if you want to build up that consistent stream of clients. Consider us your coach. We’ll give you a plan, every week.

Want to get early access to these tactics? Sign up for the email list and we’ll deliver them right to your inbox, every Monday morning. If not, check back on Fridays for that week’s plan.

Photo Credit: 55Laney69 used under CC