Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed numerous tweets announcing small and solo law firms launching or relaunching their Web site. In turn, I took greater notice of the commonplace and repetitive exhortations from Web-design-firms-cum-online-marketing-experts to optimize SEO on your law firm website.
Taken together, these episodes have me wondering, “Why?”
I’m not arguing that websites are obsolete, or questioning SEO — to the contrary — but rather, I am wondering why expensive, complex, static websites are still so entrenched and central to the online marketing and identity of solo and small firms. The best explanation I’ve come up with is 1) conformity and 2) habit. Websites are virtual “shingles.” EVERYBODY has one. If you’re in practice, you must have a website to show you’re legit and to help people find you. As a result, blogs usually are undertaken in addition to — not instead of — websites. No wonder, then, that social marketing for law firms is viewed as an additional expense and resource strain.
But there’s another way to look at it: You don’t NEED a website.
Law firm blogs meet the same key functional objectives as websites — aka brochureware — at a fraction of the cost. They are dead simple to set up and manage, they look professional and they have the critical advantage of dynamic content.
Publishing company HarperStudio asked fans of its blog that same question when it began contemplating how best to elevate its online marketing and community-building strategy:
“Why do we ‘need’ a website? We’ve been looking at proposals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I am still not clear what we would accomplish with a website that justifies that amount of money. I certainly understand the difference between their functions [blogs and websites], just not the ROI.
Nearly everyone who’s opinion on the matter I highly regard says we need one. Certainly the companies we’ve looked into hiring say yes. And yet no one seems to be able to explain to me ‘WHY’ in a way that makes sense to me.”
A few months after asking followers for their opinions, HarperStudio announced its decision:
“Your comments to the question were AMAZING. I read and used every one. The result is that we decided to forgo the expensive website and instead build a WordPress site….The whole thing came in under $10,000. It’s easily maintainable by all of us and our authors. We hope it’s a fun place to hang out. It’s a work in progress.”
Marketing blogger Trish Jones begins her case in support of blogs over websites with a key point:
“First of all, I need to make this ultra clear … a blog IS a website. In fact, I want to take that a stage further and say that blogs are “dynamic” websites. You can have pages on a blog and, with some of the great blog software on the market today, it can sometimes be difficult to tell some blogs and websites apart.”
My own elevator pitch for the advantages of blogs goes something like this:
- Operational: Even non-technical people can set up a creditable blog through providers like WordPress, TypePad and Blogger in less than an afternoon — for free and by themselves — and maintain/update it just as easily.
- Financial: Basic blog packages and hosting are free, but even custom design and hosting costs a fraction of what’s required for a full-blown website.
- Functional: Blogs are more than narratives. They incorporate tabbed pages just like standard websites.
- Aesthetics: Very attractive, readable themes are plentiful and available for free; customized/branded themes are very affordable.
- Agility: You can add, delete and update blog pages by entering text into forms on the fly, while Web pages need to be programmed and tested before being published.
- Marketing effectiveness: Dynamic content like blog narratives and comments give followers a reason to follow and continually visit a blog, and — this is important — search engines index blog content more quickly than website content.
Standard websites are still the way to go if the required functionality and/or user experience is complex:
- Dropdown menus
- Numerous and complex groupings
- Complex branching and cross-referencing
- Sophisticated graphics and multimedia
So while they are still useful and necessary for some purposes, fully featured websites don’t need to be the default setting for law firm online branding and marketing any longer.