Scott Limmer

We have previously discussed the importance of your online presence. Well, your website is the axis around which all of your online presence revolves. Finding the right web site developer is critical to the success of your website. Join us as we  discusses what to look for in a website developer, what pitfalls to avoid and what should the contract between you and the developer involve.

We discuss why you may not want to choose a company that “specializes” in law firm website development. You must look to find the right fit, as you will need to have a website person who is responsive and willing to let you manage the content and look of the site. We also touch on topics such as SEO, Google analytics, and other areas that you will need to familiarize yourself with as you enter the digital marketplace


Episode transcript

INTRO:                      Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice, two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm, hosted by Scott Limmer and Oscar Michelen.

SCOTT:                      Hi everybody. This is Scott and welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice.

OSCAR:                      Hello everybody, this is Oscar and welcome back to the podcast. Once again, thanks for the comments and suggestions. Keep those coming in, we really appreciate them. Scott, I think we have a great topic today. Why don’t you tell our audience what it’s about?

SCOTT:                      Well today, what we’re going to talk about, Oscar, is dealing with all types of web vendors. As we’ve discussed in previous podcasts, I think if you’re going to have a legal practice this day and age, you have no choice but to have a website with all of the accoutrements and all the bells and whistles that go along with them that are important for your practice. Today, we’re going to discuss what you need out of your website, what are the different things a web vendor will do and we will try to give you some tips on how to deal with these web vendors in the future.

OSCAR:                      We’re trying to categorize our podcasts in a number of different ways. We’ve had some that talk really about the general mindset you need to have when you’re going into either a niche practice or developing a practice area that you haven’t done before, or relaunching or rebooting your practice after trying to go into a different field or whatever. Those are important because you would get your mind in the right place, you’re going to get your energy going in the right area, and you have to be focused in that. But then we also want to do a couple of podcasts like this that are really about nuts and bolts of the actual practice. How do I do this exactly? Where do I go for this precisely as opposed to just, “Oh, you want to have a great online presence,” which is a podcast we’ve covered before. This is much more specific, right?

SCOTT:                      It is specific, Oscar. Let’s break down the specificity of what a website really is and we’re just going to talk about a website for a few minutes. When you go to a website vendor, they tell you, “Oh we could do this, we could do that for this amount of money,” and they will create it. But what really is it? Is that a job for one person? Is the job for other people? This is just a quick list of things that I wrote down on what you need to do to create a website. You need to design what it looks like. You have to create the text and the contents. You have to create what you want your website to say. You have to have a programmer actually code the website and create it. Once it’s done, you have to make sure that Google could discover all your web pages and you have to make sure they are not going to put you in a penalty or dismiss you for any reason, and then you have to have ongoing SEO and ongoing content creation if you so choose. We think you have to but if you choose not to, so be it. Look at all those things that go into creating your website.

OSCAR:                      And then you haven’t even discussed, do you want to have a logo? What’s the color scheme? What do you want the website to be called? Is it going to be just your name? Are you going to have a name for your firm? There used to be a lot of restrictions in New York particularly that you could call your law firm, the auto accident legal center, you have to have the name of a partner, or with lots of law suits and first amendment claims being made, you can now have more freedom there and you could decide how you want to go. We choose to name it after firm partners but that’s a different thing that you may not need to do. In addition to all of those things, you have the actual design, color, logo, trademark, style to really think about.

SCOTT:                      Like we discussed previously, we talked about being the project manager for this project. If you give up all these power to somebody else, they are not going to do as good a job on your website as you are. You have to know how to direct them. You have to know what your online persona is going to be. You have to know how you want your website to look for other people and once you do that, you can then hopefully work with somebody. Now listen, I know working with website people are hard. You’ve worked with website people, I have worked with the most god awful website people in the world that took advantage of me because I didn’t know what they were doing. It was like some magic formula where they were going to get me SEO for $1,500/month.

OSCAR:                      Right. You’re going to have to have trial and error sometimes. You may need to move on to a different vendor once you launch. If you don’t find the right fit, you’re going to have to work with someone who is on the same plane as you are with respect to pricing, responsiveness, and you always, no matter who you work with, you want to have the ability, it’s important to the project manager, but to have the access to this site that you could update and make changes on your own once you learn how to do it. I would say be wary of vendors who want to have complete control to the actual editing and changing of the site because it’s going to cost you a lot of money and it’s going to restrict you, your ability to do it the way you want it on the fly when you want it.

SCOTT:                      I had a vendor that did work for me about six, seven years ago and they set up, it was I guess when Google+ was becoming popular, my timeframe might be off but a couple of years ago. They set up a Google+ account for me and I left them, and I was able to get some of my log ins back but they never gave me the Google+ log in. Google wouldn’t give it to me, they wouldn’t give it to me. I was out of luck. There was no way to get it.

OSCAR:                      That’s exactly what we’re talking about. You need to make sure that you maintain that level of control that you’re not going to be knocked out of your own website by your website vendor.

SCOTT:                      And again, this is not easy and it’s a pain. It’s a pain to keep track of all these stuff. I have a bunch of different websites. There’s WordPress log ins, there’s social media log ins, there’s a lot of stuff but this is so unbelievably important at this point. You have to keep track of it. You have to have access.

OSCAR:                      Right and you need to be organized and create a folder in your computer and on your phone, and in the flash drive for your passwords for your domain registrations, ticklers for when they become due. When was the last time you updated them? Keep track of all that some place and a couple of places where you have that and you’re not beholding to somebody else to have that. What would say, Scott, is the first step?

SCOTT:                      Well the first step I think is figuring out in your mind what you want your website to be. I think the second step is you need to find someone who is going to help you. There are different ways you could do that and there are different types of people you could find. The first category of people I like to talk about are legal website vendors. Guys that just do legal websites. Those seem to be very popular probably easy solution for a lot of people. I’ve always found it a bit troublesome that someone in my county, 10 of us could have websites from the same company and they are all telling us that they are trying to get our SEO rank really high, but really we’re competing against each other. That’s always a bit of a problem.

OSCAR:                      It is. You have to be careful about who they do sites for. In some ways, the person that I use was recommended to me by a friend and he helped develop our firm website.

SCOTT:                      Was he a legal website guy or was he a regular website guy?

OSCAR:                      No, he was not specifically a legal website. He had done a friend’s legal site that I liked very much. They didn’t do the kind of law that we did. They are the opposite. They are on the plaintiff’s side of the employment litigation. He was a solo guy then. Now, he has two other partners who do the work and it was the right size fit for me because he could do things that responsibly the way that I wanted to do.

SCOTT:                      Well you also had a good idea in your head what you wanted when you started.

OSCAR:                      Right. You have to first develop that idea and that concept and say, “This is what I want. Here are some sites that I like but here’s what I don’t like. More importantly, here’s my target audience. Here’s who I want to reach and with what message I want to reach them with. That’s the first starting point because that shapes what the site will look like. I’d say the very first basic step is what do you want it to be called, what’s the domain you are going to want to save? What is the name of the URL that’s going to lead you to your site and it has to be something simple and searchable. Like our own podcast, we went through lots of imaginations before we settled on Law Reboot for its simplicity and its connection to the message. You’ve got to do the same thing for your practice.

SCOTT:                      And these are all things that Oscar is talking about, it’s going to be tough to find whether it’s a big legal vendor, or whether it’s somebody small in our neighborhood. It’s going to be tough to find someone who is going to sit with you and go over all these things with you. You have to have these things set up so you can go to the vendor and say, “Hey, this is what I want.”

OSCAR:                      And yet though you can’t do.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      We can’t code so we need someone who is going to do the coding for us but we are the ones who are going to write the content for us. Yes, maybe the website.

SCOTT:                      It’s you, exactly.

OSCAR:                      Right. maybe the website guy can help you edit it or shape it and think about how to visualize it on the website, but no one can take the place of you where you decide what your brand message, your firm message is going to be.

SCOTT:                      Nobody is saying you can’t get help for any of these things. You could certainly get help what your message is going to be, you could get help with the content for your website. It’s my concern due to my bad history that if you let the same person take care of everything, if you allow your web vendor to say, “Don’t worry. I could write content. I could design. I could code. I could do all the stuff for you and it’s going to be fine.” I guarantee you it won’t be fine.

OSCAR:                      And it’s not going to be you. It’s going to be his version of you and that’s not going to be the same thing because you’re not going to have the authenticity that we want you to reflect on your website. That gets back to once you develop what you think the URL should be called, what the site is going to be named…

SCOTT:                      The other problem I see with a lot of the guys that just do the legal and who are legal vendors is they all look the same. There are a lot of gavels. We’ve talked about all that stuff before.

OSCAR:                      Lots of courthouses, pictures.

SCOTT:                      Right. So what are the other options? Your other options are you have to do some hard work. Yes, if you use the big legal vendors, it’s going to be easier than doing it any other way because they are going to be the project managers. They are going to find everyone to take pieces of your website and take care of it. If you are going to do it a different way, you have to put the time in. What can you do? I’ll tell you a little bit about what I’ve done the last few months. I needed someone to do some fixes on my site. I needed some people to do something. I interviewed probably about four companies online by email and then we spoke on the phone and two or three people locally that I met with. Through perseverance, I found a group of guys who are trying to make a name for themselves. They are trying to build the business, and they are doing a fantastic job so far on my website. I think you have to find someone who is going to work with you, who is going to be interested in doing the work for you that doesn’t just look at it as a quick job to make a few dollars. You need a relationship with someone who is going to build your website because there are always constant changes and things to be posted.

I’ll go off on another tangent, I went on my Google Webmaster account yesterday and it said that Google wasn’t picking up like half my pages. I don’t know how to fix that. I have no idea how to fix that but I have somebody who absolutely knows how to fix that and at a drop of a hat, I sent him an email and it got taken care of.

OSCAR:                      I think we need to take a little bit step back because…

SCOTT:                      Do I talk too much?

OSCAR:                      No not at all, because we’ve been so involved in this so long that we know some of these terms, we know some of the ideas that we want to get across and we take for granted. Our listeners are in the same place that we are. So when you go to web vendors, they are going to use these terms for you so you should be familiar with this. Let’s start with the first one that we already mentioned a bunch of times. SEO is search engine optimization and that means how to get search engines to find your site through the phrases and the words that you put on there in order for you not to get lost among the tens of millions of legal websites that are out there. That’s the first thing.

SCOTT:                      Just to talk about SEO for one second so you understand the difference between how it used to be and how it is now, SEO used to be the type of thing that somebody can gain very easily. They put certain keywords in something called meta tags which are on each page. They would get reciprocal links to websites that had built up authority and because your site is linked to them, you would then increase your rank in Google but that doesn’t happen anymore.

OSCAR:                      They would have robots that repeatedly searched and found your sites and things like that. Google has constantly changed its algorithms to avoid being gamed by that because they want to be the ones to game the system, so their website and clients could get it.

SCOTT:                      At this point what we’re talking about when we mean SEO is your ongoing content creation – any type of blogs, any sort of text changes that you’re making in your website and the initial setup of your website that allows Google to find your pages the way you want them to be found.

OSCAR:                      To make sure that your banners, your terms are in searchable format as opposed to things like photos that Google would just not look at if your headline, your banner….

SCOTT:                      You want to make sure everything is searchable for Google.

OSCAR:                      If it’s unsearchable, it’s not going to be found, you spend all those time trying to figure out what the URL should be and the term can’t be that. Secondly, you mentioned your Google webmaster account. What are you talking about?

SCOTT:                      Whenever you have a website, you register it with Google and Google shows you all the analytics and statistics for the website – how often you come up in a search, how many pages had been crawled by Google – all different types of statistics. I can’t say I understand them all but I certainly understand a fair amount of them because again, this is what’s important to my practice and I need to make sure my website is getting out there. While I don’t understand everything, I had somebody who will give me analysis of it whenever I need it.

OSCAR:                      But more importantly, make sure your web vendor, when you’re interviewing them can show you the back door to some other sites that he has done to show what his analytics show and make sure he guarantees that you’ll have the ability to access that, see it, and at least understand. I would say the two or three most basic things you want to do, is Google picking up the website, how many views, how many page views, how many unique views, things of that nature. These are the terms that your web vendor is going to be using when you interview them so you need to familiarize yourself a little bit with them and answer all the other questions. A pretty site is very important but if nobody finds it and you can’t tell whether it’s working, it’s completely useless.

SCOTT:                      That’s it exactly. There are a lot of websites that can’t be found because they have little mistakes on the pages so Google isn’t finding them. There are tons of websites that are coded wrong and are not properly prepared for Google to search them, but if you look at them, they look fine.

OSCAR:                      The web vendor is going to show you that but then you’re going to ask, “Show us the statistics that the website is found.” By the way, the more you familiarize yourself with these terms and what you should be looking for, the more seriously the web vendor is going to take you, I want you to think about when you go buy a car.

SCOTT:                      I was just thinking the same thing right before you said that. I was like, “When you’re buying a car.”

OSCAR:                      Right. You had nowhere to look. You went in there and the guy basically with throw things at you and you kind of are stuck. You have to be a car guy, you bring your mechanic, but now with car facts, Kelly Blue Book being online, and all these other reports, and all these other reports that let you see what the dealer pays, what other dealers are paying. You take the time when you go shop a car to look for those things that you don’t get hosed and you don’t just open up the hood and look at the engine as if, ”What the hell am I going to do with that now?” That’s basically the extent of car repair I know. You open up the hood, you look underneath it, and that’s basically it. You need to get familiar with the engine, if you will, of your website so that when you talk to your vendor, you’re sending the message like, “I know specifically what I want and I know what areas I want to have access, I want information I expect to be able to find from the references you give me.” Don’t just look at the site and say, “Where does it rank? Show me some site rankings. Where are the page views for these sites that you’re giving me and how do I know that you’re going to give me not only a good looking site but an effective site.

SCOTT:                      This could be the lifeblood of your practice. Take your car buying analogy further, the only thing you could get screwed on when buying a car is how much money you pay probably. You’re probably still going to be happy with the car. They are still selling it to you with the engine. If you go to the wrong web vendor and you give them over your money, he may be selling you a real pretty website but there’s no engine in it.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. To keep the analogy going…

SCOTT:                      It’s bar exams today, correct?

OSCAR:                      Yeah, my son is on day two. Today, he’s just on the multi state portion. There are no analogies. I said to him yesterday or the day before, “Remember Stephen, the multistate, the answer is somewhere there.” At least you have that.

SCOTT:                      Right, it’s always there.

OSCAR:                      But in any event with this car analogy, when we talk about website vendors, think about the kind of websites you want and whether this vendor is going to fit and develop it for you because if you need SUV, you’re not buying a luxury car. If you need energy efficiency, that’s a separate type of car that you’re going to be looking for. The same thing, what types of sites has the vendor done and has he done the size, type, and scope of site you are going to be looking for.

SCOTT:                      That’s perfect. Attorneys listening, I’m sure there’s an incredible span of types of practices that you have. Imagine if somebody is looking to get asbestos cases and someone is looking to help people with adoptions, you can’t have the same website. You need to evaluate, you need to explain to the vendors what you’re looking for. It has to be distinct.

OSCAR:                      Right and not just that, who is your client.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      And he has to shape that site and understand the shape of that site for your type of client. It doesn’t matter whether he has done law firm so much before. Has he done the type of client you want? For example, a lot of the website vendors we interviewed and one of the reasons we hired this particular person was because he dealt with the same size of client that we wanted – the small to mid-size businesses and that was more important to us than whether he had worked with law firms before we wanted small and mid-sized business clients and he had the right mindset and mentality to find those clients. Maybe if you’re looking for folks that are going to be individual clients, families, or things of that nature, do they work in related businesses? That’s just as important as a law firm. How they work with other businesses that work with families or people in stress, or people looking for professionals in other areas – accountancy, medicine, veterinary, even engineering – things like that that are going to be applicable or at least comparable to your practice.

SCOTT:                      This is an important decision as you’re going to make. You’re looking to make. You’re looking to hire someone to put the outward phase of your firm on the internet.

OSCAR:                      Yeah and so many of our podcasts have talked about getting ready for networking, referral practice, all talks about your online presence.

SCOTT:                      And I think looking at a web vendor at the totality of all the sites that they’ve done and look at some of the statistics from those sites will give you a better picture of what they could do for you.

OSCAR:                      Who have they helped before and how has that generated more page views? You can’t necessarily guarantee that more views lead to more clients but common sense tells you that’s a good indicator of a successful website is that it’s getting found and looked at by people who are looking for that area of business and one of the search terms that have led to that. Ask your web vendor, how did he create search terms for these sites that led to it being found and being effective?

SCOTT:                      You have to remember, a lot of these guys for a lot of years didn’t have to answer any of these questions. They just built sites and people said, “All right whatever, I’m making a couple of dollars and everything is fine.” They are not used to answering these questions. They may not even know the answer to these questions yet you have to dig deep. You have to ask them about sites that they’ve done, successes that they’ve had. Ask them for referrals to other clients, call two or three people who they have built websites for. See if they have a good continuing relationship, if they do updates and if they like what they are doing. We talked about reviews, testimonials, it’s one of the best ways to find out about people.

OSCAR:                      Once they give you search terms and referrals sites, the sites they want you to look at as references should lead to, do some independent searches on your own. Check out whether those sites come up with those search terms. If you go to Google, on the right, you can search incognito. We’ve talked about this before. When you search for yourself or firm and your search terms, you should always search incognito because your prior searches will lead you to the same sites that you have always found. When you search incognito, it’s like you’re searching for the first time like a new user and so test out your vendor’s references.

SCOTT:                      What we’re saying is when you search your law firm, if you come up first on your computer every time, it means you need to go to another computer.

OSCAR:                      Because you’re always going to come up. It’s like, “Oh this is great. Look at this article I wrote. It came right up.” The computer knows changes that you wrote that article and it’s finding it for you because it thinks you want…

SCOTT:                      It’s what I asked.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. It wants the article that you wrote. It’s not like “Oh great, it came right up.” The same way, push a little bit more. Take the time and test the vendor because I’m telling you, in this current marketplace, your online presence is key and your website is your key to your online presence. It’s where everything germinates out of. We’ve talked about web vendors, what you’re going to want to find from your web vendors, what you’re going to ask them to show you to let them know you’re picking the right one.

SCOTT:                      The other suggestion I’m going to make is that if it’s possible, it’s not the easiest thing in the world but when creating everything, when creating new accounts, Google accounts, WordPress accounts, if you could be the one that creates it and then you could give access to your vendors, so this way, you control the keys to the castle. You don’t have to ask them for access and then try to lock them out if you ever decide to fire them, or maybe even hire a third party. I have somebody who I consider my webmaster. He takes care of all my stuff like that. Have a third party, maybe create all these accounts and then give somebody else the access. I think you will be a lot safer in the long run because think about it, you have a great website for 5-6 years and maybe these guys don’t even do anything shady. They go out of business or they are gone. Maybe you don’t have access to your stuff like you thought you did.

OSCAR:                      It’s very critical. Let’s talk a little bit about the contract that you’re going to have with this web vendor and we’re all lawyers. We should be able to formulate the basic contract but think about whether you want to have certain benchmarks in there. You want to have time frames by when he’s going to have this done, that done, by when you’re going to be able to see what this page looks like, that page looks like. If it’s going to have a blog, when will be the blog be up and ready to go. Will I have separate analytics for the blog? I want access to that. I want access to be able to post my own blog article so I don’t have to write you to post the article. Make sure that the contract contains that level of specificity and it’s not, “I’m going to pay you $3,000 and the website will be ready in three months.” Okay, what does that mean the website will be ready? I want the URL purchase within, up and running.

SCOTT:                      You purchase your own URLs.

OSCAR:                      Purchase your own URL. Own it yourself. I want to have that link up. I want to be able to see it. I want to be able to have a home page by x date. I want to have the pictures chosen up and ready, the content created. Make sure you stage it. You pay them in stages that when it’s finally completed, you pay the last stage the same way you do when you’re constructing or doing renovation on your home. Please think carefully about what the written contract is going to require the web vendor to do and put yourself in the place to have control at all times over the backend of your website, your blog, and your analytics.

SCOTT:                      Like Oscar started out the podcast the same as that we’re trying to give you as much specific information with dealing with vendors as we can in this podcast. If anybody has any follow up, any questions, anything you would like us to talk about leading out of these issues, we’ll be more than happy to talk about them in a later podcast. Feel free to shoot us an email. Again as always, thank you so much for listening. This is Scott. You can reach me at Scott@LawReboot.com.

OSCAR:                      This is Oscar. You can reach me at Oscar@LawReboot.com and thanks again for your suggestions and comments. You can find us on iTunes, on Stitcher, and on our own site, LawReboot.com to leave us comments, reviews, and suggestions for future shows. Thanks again.

OUTRO:                     This has been Reboot Your Law Practice with Oscar Michelen and Scott Limmer.

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