Searching for the right website designer and developer for your small law firm is a big deal—and it’s a tough process. Several specialized agencies claim to be the best, but how can you know for sure?
There are many factors to consider: cost, Content Management System (CMS) platform, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), design aesthetic, hosting, ownership and more. For lawyers who are new to the digital marketing landscape, finding the best digital company can be daunting.
In this article, you get 15 of the most important questions to ask law firm website designers & lawyer marketing companies before tying the knot.
#1 — How Much Will My Law Firm Website Cost? And What Are the Monthly Fees?
The age-old answer is—it depends. Obviously, a relatively novice freelancer will cost you much less than a larger agency. But the quality of work will vastly differ, and the former might even leave you worse off in the end.
In terms of companies specialized in attorney website design & development, it also depends. However, 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 website from the average digital agency.
As for ongoing website hosting costs, simple web hosting can cost as low as $10 per month, but you will be required to maintain the website on your own. This would include content management, plugin updates, version updates, security, and more. So you don’t have to sweat the technical aspects, we recommend you hire a webmaster to help maintain your website, and ensure it is optimized and secure. You should be paying no more than $250 per month for these basic services. Keep in mind, this does not include ongoing development, Search Engine Optimization, marketing services, etc.
#2 — How Long Does It Take To Launch My Websites?
A great website—especially a custom one—is bound to take some time to build. (Rome wasn’t built in a day!) The sooner you launch your site, the sooner you can start building out more marketing campaigns to begin your lead-generation efforts.
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 a bit on the long side for a marketing site. A template website, or a website that has some degree of pre-design, should take only a fraction of this time.
We’ve done research on some competitors. Below you will find the average turnaround time for several popular builder for their more economical website packages, which are often their quickest option:
- Sitebeam: 5-7 days
- 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) Will My Website Use?
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, and 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 can be 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 might not be possible.
Open-source platforms allow you to view, manipulate and own your website and the code it was built on (although we recommend you hire a professional web developer to do so). 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:
- Sitebeam: 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 — Will I Own My Website And All Website Content?
Website ownership 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 claim to provide you is a misleading proposition. 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.
Sitebeam 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 you are free to hire new website designers, webmasters, marketers, etc. at will.
#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:
- Sitebeam: 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 falsehood. Although they advertise ownership, it doesn’t exactly make sense, considering you are forbidden from viewing source code.
#6 — Will My Website Be Responsive (or “Mobile-Friendly”)?
The importance of responsive design is ever-increasing, as more and more searches are being conducted on mobile devices. About 60% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices.
It’s rare to find a website developer who does not embrace responsive web design in 2023, but we still see many older law firm websites that do not properly adapt to mobile screens. From what we’ve gathered all of our direct competitors offer responsive design, regardless of website platform.
All Sitebeam websites are responsive and properly adapt to any and every screen size (computer, tablet, mobile device). Our custom-built WordPress theme is highly adaptable to reshape and resize components based on the dimensions of the screen on which your law firm website is being viewed.
#7 — Will My Website Be A Custom Design Or Made From A Template?
The purpose of this question is to ensure the cost, turnaround time, and design quality of your law firm’s website align with the means in which it was created—from a pre-designed template or completely custom. A templated site should take no longer than 14 days to go live and should cost no more than $3,000.
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.
All Sitebeam websites are completely unique, built based on your needs, your content, and your brand. While we start with the Sitebeam Starter theme, each and every site we launch is its very own and comes with module blocks for you grow your site easily over time.
#8 — Do I Get Access To My Website Source Files?
If you’re being promised ownership, you should be able to download and keep local backups of all of your website code 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 Sitebeam website, you’re able to download all source code files for your website, databases, etc. at any time. 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) My Website Developer?
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 (developed in-house) essentially eliminates your ability to hire the right website developer for your needs.
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 Sitebeam website, you have immediate and full access to invite outside developers to edit your website, if you so chose.
#10 — What Website Hosting Service Will My Website 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.
Sitebeam hosts websites on Flywheel, a speedy and trustworthy managed WordPress hosting provider 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 — Will You Perform Updates, Maintenance, Backups and Secure My Website?
The monthly fees you pay to keep your website operational and optimized should include all technology updates, maintenance, backups and security. You should never have to do these things on your own, and we don’t recommend you add these items to your busy day as a small-firm attorney. However, if you wish to maintain & update your own website, or have a dedicated developer take the reins, you are certainly able to do so.
If you stick with a Sitebeam web hosting & maintenance plan, you can choose between our Basic package, which includes all technology updates, or our Managed package, which includes both technology updates and complete content management.
#12 — Will My Website Load Quickly?
Higher load times lead to higher bounce rates (a bad thing) and, ultimately, lower conversion rates. Optimizing your website’s loading speed is critical in keeping your web visitors on your website—so you get that next client for your legal firm. Load speed depends on many factors, such as image sizes, cache setup, installed plug-ins, the use of a Content Delivery Network (CDN), and much more.
Interested in checking your website’s loading speed? We recommend using GTMetrix, which loads your site on a server in a named location. They also offer a full, downloadable report showing each loading factor with recommendations to boost your site speed.
Sitebeam websites are configured with image optimization, caching protocols, concise HTML/markup, minified CSS/JS, and our websites are hosted on the very fast & reliable Flywheel, with built-in CDN through Fastly.
#13 — Will My Website Be Setup for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Success?
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, publicly 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 great content. On top of this foundational SEO advantage of WordPress websites, there are many plug-ins and practices that can further improve your optimization.
WordPress automatically solves a ton of SEO issues.Matt Cutts
Google, Former Head of Web Spam
Sitebeam employs digital marketing experts who are well-versed in technical SEO. That means, when we build your website, we are taking care of all the tiny details behind-the-scenes that will help your firm’s website get properly crawled and indexed by search engines. This includes things like fixing broken links, adding alt tags to images, no-indexing pages that shouldn’t be indexed, using proper header tag structure, optimizing loading speed and much, much more. In fact, for every site we launch, we run a detailed SEO audit to find any issues that could limit your SEO potential, and fix them immediately.
At this time (March 2023), we do not offer ongoing SEO services—but we have plans to broaden our service offerings. If you decide to subscribe to SEO services with an agency or freelancer, 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. SEO can be a bit of a mysterious science, as there is a large degree of uncertainty in the practice even by people who consider themselves “experts.”
#14 —Will My Website Comply With Attorney Advertising Rules In My State?
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 Sitebeam 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 Configure Analytics For My Website?
Google Analytics allows you to get an inside look at your firm’s web traffic. You have the ability to discover your most viewed content, check your number of new users, bounce rate, average page-views, and more. This will help you identify your top-performing pages, understand how your audience uses your website and much more.
All Sitebeam websites on our Managed plan are configured with Google Analytics and will be authenticated with Google Search Console. As soon as your site goes live, Google Analytics will gathering measuring traffic data, allowing you to refine your digital presence and maximize its impact.
To learn more about using Google Analytics and Google Search Console, 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.