Want a new website that you can actually use? Here are 10 things to require of any website vendor.

This exclusive content was written by PracticeProfs President Dave Slovin for Lawyernomics by Avvo.

Two similar issues in any week are normally enough to escalate that topic to the top of our blog calendar. Last week I spent time working with three new clients trying to make their “new” websites support a fundamental ongoing marketing program. Unfortunately, all three will end up paying more than the original bargain-basement price, and one will have to implement a completely new site. Don’t fall for the same tricks and make the same costly website mistake. If you want a new law firm website that you can actually use, read on to learn what to require of any website vendor.

I Know a Great Web Guy…

Sometimes it seems like there are more website vendors than doughnut shops, and everyone knows a “web guy” who promises a cheap website. If you don’t know anyone, a quick Google search returns hundreds of options. It looks kind of like the old yellow pages listings for Tow Trucks, including a few “Aardvark” entries. To be fair, my firm also creates websites, but mostly in support of broader marketing campaigns.

If you are just looking for an online presence with a couple of pages that describe your firm, there are many cheap website options, including just doing it yourself. If you want a more dynamic and interactive website that you can update, expand, and market, many of those ultra-cheap template options do not apply. You’ll need more of a marketing partner than a web guy.

Build Your Website Right the First Time

So how can you tell the difference and avoid a very costly and time-consuming mistake? Here are 10 requirements to include on your RFP or vendor questionnaire. Feel free to expand or cut based on your firm’s unique needs:

  1. Customized Page Template – Your site design doesn’t have to be created completely from scratch, but you also don’t want your local adult bookstore to have the same generic template.
  2. Content Management System (CMS) – Require a secure, robust, publicly available CMS that allows you to easily add, delete or modify text, headlines, images, pages and website navigation. WordPress and Joomla are two popular examples.
  3. Search Engine Ready – Each page has core search engine friendly components like meta tags (title, description, keywords) and headlines (h1, h2, h3). The site should also include a privacy policy page and dynamic (XML) sitemap.
  4. Contact Form – This may be a traditional form (with a Google map) as well as a separate email list sign-up module. The site should send you an email, or integrate with your contact management system.
  5. Blog – Whether at launch or in the future, you’ll want an integrated blog section with a summary page that links to individual posts. This includes ability to sort posts by category or timeframe. You may also want recent titles to appear on the home page.
  6. Social Links and Sharing – Standard icons on each page that link to LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, etc., plus the ability for the visitor to share content through his/her own social accounts.
  7. Website Portability – You should own the site outright, and retain the ability to move the entire website (including the CMS) to another hosting provider whenever you want. Don’t allow your website to be hijacked by a vendor using proprietary technology.
  8. Website Mobility – While you don’t need a separate mobile site (sorry vendors), your website should be viewable on a Windows/Mac PC, tablet, or phone. Some sites automatically adjust using a technology called responsive web design.
  9. Practice Management Tool Integration – If clients can log in, sign up for events, or pay online, make sure the technology can be integrated into the template.
  10. Hosting and Maintenance – All websites need a home, and require regular backups and software (CMS and other modules) updates. Better to know these fees now and confirm there is no long-term contract requirement.

After I wrote the initial draft of this article, the first question I received from my team was, “How much should a website cost?” That’s like asking how long someone’s legs should be. Abe Lincoln felt that a person’s legs should be long enough to touch the ground. If he was asked about website cost, I think Abe would have agreed that a website should cost whatever it takes to deliver the flexibility and functionality your firm needs to differentiate and proactively market your services online.

If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.SM

 

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