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

Marketing, SEO

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?

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  • Mary Wenzel

    Great post Brain. I love the information you got from such a simple question!

    • Thanks Mary – while not a rigorous scientific test, it’s great to get a baseline. Interesting to see how it changes over time and if others get similar results.

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