This article was originally included in Trial Magazine, published by the American Association for Justice.
Most law practices rely on third-party consultants or agencies for website development and online marketing assistance. Unfortunately, not all providers are transparent. Knowing the right questions to ask (and who to hire) can be challenging if you aren’t well versed in digital marketing. Below are five important truths that often aren’t revealed until it’s too late.
1 – You Don’t Actually “Own” Your Site
Your firm’s website is an asset and one that you likely invested in heavily in terms of both dollars and time. Ensuring ownership, potentially beyond your current agency relationship, is important. Portability is not assured and understanding the content management system (CMS) that your website is built on will let you know how easily the site can be moved in the future.
Agencies build websites on either a proprietary system or an open-source CMS such as WordPress. If your site is on a proprietary system, you will likely not be able to host it elsewhere. Despite “owning” the graphics and design, you do not have any ownership of the underlying code that makes the site function. Without this, your site will need to be built from the ground up to turn your design back into a functioning website. It is also important to understand any licensing restrictions related to content or images that are used on your website.
Having a true understanding of ownership will allow for greater flexibility and increased control of your firm’s web presence. Unless you are willing to invest in a new website every time you switch providers, insist on an open-source CMS.
2 – Your Project is Being Outsourced
Great websites are created all around the world. That said, it is generally wise to know who exactly will be designing, coding, populating, and managing your website design project. Just because an agency tells you the website is being designed in-house does not mean that no part of the project is being outsourced.
An in-house team is generally going to provide a superior level of security and communication, and changes are able to be processed more quickly without having to allow for drastically different time zones and team schedules. It is also beneficial to be able to speak directly to the designers and coders involved in your project to avoid a game of telephone.
3 – SEO Takes Time
This fact is frustrating for both agencies and law firms. Unfortunately, there’s really no way around it. Three to six months is a common estimate but the best results can often take twelve to twenty-four. It is important to remember that content needs to be written and optimized, crawled by search engines, indexed, and ultimately reflected in positive results. The good news is that this process has gotten dramatically quicker in recent years, though it is still excruciatingly slow when compared to paid search or purchased leads.
It is worth noting that incremental progress can be seen much more quickly. Whoever you are working with should be able to deliver regular reports detailing improvements and highlighting all of the progress your website has made. So while traffic and leads will typically not increase until first page rankings are achieved, it’s a long road from obscurity to the first page and that journey should be well-documented.
4 Increasing Traffic Doesn’t Substitute for Increasing Leads
Website reports can be filled with a variety of metrics detailing your firm’s online visibility. While practically anything can be tracked, organic reports often contain Google rankings, website traffic, and leads generated. So while your ultimate goal is likely retaining more clients, achieving that goal is predicated on having your website generate leads. This will happen as the result of more organic traffic from improved rankings.
Reports can be misleading when increased traffic does not lead to an increased volume of leads. This can occur when your website does not reach the correct audience. We often see this when sites rank nationally for searches despite the firm’s local target audience. There may be ancillary benefits to this increased traffic, but it is important to recognize when the increased traffic is not serving your primary goal.
The best way to avoid this problem is to find the signal in the noise. Insist on reports, or at least a summary, that includes only actionable data your firm fully understands. It’s easy to get lost in numbers or misled by secondary metrics that do not actually accomplish your goals.
5 – Ultimately, Compliance Issues are Your Problem
Most attorneys are familiar with their ethical obligations when it comes to advertising, but can you say the same for your marketing agency?
In addition to your state’s Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys are increasingly running into compliance issues when it comes to privacy laws and accessibility.
Half of all states have recently passed privacy laws or have privacy bills being considered by their respective legislatures. These laws, designed to protect consumers, require certain websites that collect personal information (like names, emails, and IP addresses — a staple of most legal sites) to make specific disclosures. Unfortunately, many digital marketing agencies haven’t kept pace with these regulations and fail to offer their law firm clients dynamic privacy policies or cookie consent tools.
Another important consideration is whether your firm’s site is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). One in four adults in the United States is living with a disability and millions of individuals use assistive technologies to access the internet, making the need for an accessible website more important than ever before. Sadly, some agencies downplay the importance of an accessible site. Their lax approach may lead to missed business opportunities and, even worse, legal trouble for your practice.
Before starting any project be sure to fully understand your agency’s familiarity with compliance rules and regulations.