Recently I’ve had the same conversation with attorneys working on updating their law firm websites. Most of the time this means updating their old sites to ones that are mobile-friendly. Selecting a web development company is a big decision – and should be an informed choice. There are many good web development companies and freelancers out there for you to work with. There are also more than a few bad apples who cost firms a lot of money unnecessarily.
Below are red flags I see come up over and over again, some of which I’ve had experience with myself. If one of the statements below applies to your work with a web development company, it is time to ask some additional questions.
They don’t ask you about your target client.
A web development project should always begin with a conversation about your target client(s). The goal of your website is to convert visitors into clients. Understanding your target client will guide the content and functionality that drives your site. Your website should be less about you, and more about your client. How does your firm solve the problem your website visitor is facing? Planning to ensure your website is aligned with the business goals for your practice will set the foundation for a much smoother website development project and a website that will bring new clients to your practice.
They want to build you a separate mobile website.
Your website must be mobile friendly. While you can accomplish this with a separate mobile site, Google prefers responsive design to a separate mobile site. This could affect your search engine ranking, among other issues. This is a good article from Hubspot on separate mobile sites v. responsive design.
They will build your site on something other than WordPress.
A WordPress site developed with a well-chosen theme will usually meet your law firm’s needs. WordPress is the Content Management System (CMS) behind more than 60 million websites today. WordPress is free, though it is normal for your web development company to use a Premium theme that will require a one-time licensing fee. They will likely pass this cost to you.
If the web development company wants to build your site on their proprietary CMS, you will want to understand what you can take with you if you terminate the relationship. You probably won’t be left with anything that translates into another website, and will have to start over. Also, if they want to build you a custom site on WordPress, understand their reasoning why. Most likely a responsive WordPress theme will meet your needs, and save you money. You will want to make sure the theme works for the business goals you have your site, and the plug-ins they will add to your site to extend its functionality.
You will not have access to the back end of your site.
You want to be able to access your site and the content in it at all times. (Even if you never plan to, you want to have that control.) Today, if go to your web development company for all updates and changes, that is a huge red flag – you could incur lots of additional costs if you have to go to them for everything. Further, if you want to end the relationship with your web development company, they will essentially hold your website hostage and you will have to start over from scratch. The investment you made in developing the site will be for nothing. Which brings me to another point – make sure you have direct access to your hosting provider and domain name registrar. Your inability to access the back end of your site also affects your ability to publish on the site – or at least makes it costlier to do so. Consistently updating content through a blog or other publishing feature is how to make your website work for you to build trust with your website visitors, nurturing those leads, and converting them to paying clients.
They want you to sign a contract with a long term commitment.
I recently spoke with an attorney whose web development company wanted him to enter a three-year contract. Think about the vendors who still force you into long term contracts these days – cable providers, cell phone providers…companies that aren’t known for stellar, or even half-way decent, customer service. I know web development companies use contracts (typically 6 to 12 month contracts) to spread the initial cost of website development into easier to manage payments for their clients. While I feel a contract of any term is not ideal, I understand the advantage small payments offer lawyers who are also small business owners.
If you are contemplating using a web development company that offers this relationship, understand exactly what you will get in exchange for your monthly payment. For any contract, you should understand:
- What is the early cancellation fee if you want to get out of the contract?
- What specifically are you receiving in exchange for your money each month? (Don’t accept vague answers like link building and SEO. Ask the vendor to elaborate.)
- How will the vendor measure success each month? How will they show you their efforts are producing results?
This article just outlines a few of the things you need to know in working with web development companies. If you have other questions, or have an additional consideration to offer fellow attorneys, I’d encourage you to comment below. I work with lawyers and firms considering a new web development project, or in the middle of one that might not be going as smoothly as they would like. I help lawyers understand what’s normal to expect from their web development companies, and the right questions to ask to vet vendors. If I can help you and your firm, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.