Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2012

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As the digital generation is coming of age, websites have been established as a necessity for any business, including law firms.

For some professionals that do not work in the technology field, starting a website started can seem overwhelming.  But there are a few different ways you can go about building a website, depending on your budget, familiarity with technology, and potential complexity of the website. 

Glossary of Web Terms

Domain name: this is the web address you type in to a web browser (i.e. www.msba.org). You must register a domain name with a service like godaddy.com, register.com, or networksolutions.com.

Domain host: This is where the files of your website are stored. Typically you will have a copy of files on your own system, and then transfer, or upload them, to the hosting site.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimizing information so your site can be found in relation to Google searches. This includes keywords that are built in to the code of your website, the number of times other sites link to your website, and how often your site is returned on searches. It is such a developed field that there are specialists devoted to the subject.

Analytics: These are measurements of who is visiting your site, where your visitors are located, and how frequent people visit. Some analytics software like Google Analytics will also return information about what search terms are bringing people to your website, which can be helpful for SEO and help you attract quality clients.

Accessibility: Can everyone access the data on your website? This means not only accommodations for the vision and hearing impaired, but for different devices and connection speeds.

Content Management System (CMS): A content management system allows for a website to be designed around templates with consistent information, and users may add/adjust content to fill in those templates. This allows for updating websites without the constant direct involvement of a web professional. Look for a web developer with WordPress or Drupal experience.

For more web-related terms visit www.web-inn.com/glossary.html.

Whether you are starting on a fresh site or looking at a complete redesign, there are some things you or your staff can do early on to help the project go smoothly. Attention to these basic steps will help everyone later in the process.

First: Establish Your Needs and Priorities

There is an old adage among printers: “Time, cost, quality. Pick two.”

This same ideal also applies to websites. While websites can be relatively cheap to set up, the costs can balloon if you are not conscientious of how these three things can interact.

Time: A rushed job will lead to missed details or an unfinished appearance, and a poor quality website could also lead visitors to have a bad first impression when visiting the website. Make sure everyone has a good understanding of expectations and deadlines from day one. This means both parties should have the deadlines and goals in writing; communicate with the designer/developer on a regular basis, and not only when a deadline is looming.

Cost: The larger the site, the more work necessary, the more bandwidth needed, and the more costs will be associated with the website’s build.  At first, keep it simple, and plan to add additional features later depending on how well the website is helping your firm. If you do this yourself, be wary of blank or “under construction” pages. Start with one or a few complete pages and build more at a later date. Some designers will utilize a content management system, or CMS, which may take more setup costs initially but will help keep costs down by allowing you to add information on your own.

Quality (or size and features): The time it takes to release the website will purely depend on the size of the website and taking the necessary preparations. If you need a website in a week, you will need to keep the site small and simple, but with enough information for those searching for legal services can find your firm. Additional features and options add programming and costs. Keep this in mind when you are working on the next step, when you begin preparing information. 

Second: Gather and Organize Information

There’s the basic information: Firm name, practice specialties, address, and contact information, including e-mail address of someone at the firm. But also consider some of the finer details. Consider what imagery you’d like to use, and a logo to use. Perhaps build a library of website designs that you like (but don’t expect a designer to copy a design).

In fact, imagery is very important in web design, to complement copy and help visitors move through information. But don’t steal images from the internet – always get permissions and give credit where due. 

Consider the number of pages you would like in addition to a home page. If it helps, draw a hierarchy chart showing what pages will link to where. You might want bio pages for each partner, links for additional information, online forms, or more. If you’re going to include something like a partner’s blog posts, RSS feeds, or news feeds, establish how often these should be updated and by whom early in the process. It goes in hand with everyone knowing expectations so that later in the project there are no surprises. Efficient blogging is deserving of a whole Tech Talk on its own.

Third: Content is King

A website needs regular attention to help kindle the flame. Make sure to remove outdated information and events where necessary, and have some sort of news feature that will show that the site is paid attention at a regular interval. This gives reasons for people to visit, and helps Search Engine Optimization, which is the variety of factors that help search engines find your firm when someone uses a search engine. An up-to-date, clean, and efficient website is your best ally. Consider establishing a consistent blogroll from firm partners, which can provide valuable content that will help to attract traffic and allows your partners to build and reinforce their image.

And a Half: Who Does What?

Once you have an idea what you can spend, how large a website you want, and how quickly, consider your options for getting the website established. You can go to web design firm, seek an independent contractor, consider hiring a web designer in-house, or start tinkering with code yourself. It all depends on you or your firm’s own personal circumstances. A good web designer or developer will walk through these steps I’ve mentioned here, and will take that information to help you establish the best possible website presence based on your budget.

Websites Can’t Be Hard!
I’ll Design It Myself

Yes, you can do this yourself, if you are technologically inclined and strapped for cash, it could lead to a serviceable website with a considerable time investment. I suppose it depends on how you want to use your time. All the knowledge you need to create your own website is not hard to find with a simple internet search. Ask colleagues with similar challenges how they got their site started.

You’ll need to register a domain name and purchase the right amount of web hosting space. You can usually get a basic website hosted for a year for less than $100 from hosting companies. You’ll want to have an understanding of basic HTML and CSS style coding, which you can do with a text editor, or many hosting sites have website editors you can use with some limitations. You will want to give yourself plenty of time to tinker with what you have available, and do some research on your own.

There is an option between figuring it out in your spare time and hiring a potentially expensive web developer.

MSBA provides ESQSites (ESQSites123.com) as a member benefit. For just a small startup fee and monthly fee, you can have a single page informational website to make sure you have a web presence. You can enter relevant information based on a professional website template available from the service. There is a variety of prices for any budget – and best of all, as an MSBA member, you are eligible for exclusive discounts with ESQSites. Visit the website or call ESQ Sites at (619) 237-5422 to get started.

Lastly, if you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at troberts@msba.org. I’d be happy to help you get you going in the right direction.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2012

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