Specialised Websites - The pros and cons (Article by Delia Venables and published in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers)
19th January 2011
There are a lot of these. I have collected all the firms with specialised sites I know about (nearly 400 firms) at www.venables.co.uk/firmsx.htm. Although all these sites would be broadly called specialised sites, they are managed in several different ways:
1. The actual name of the firm may be work-oriented, so the domain name is (obviously) work-oriented.
2. The firm may have a "normal" website (based on its name) plus one or more specialised sites.
3. The firm may have a "normal" site but instead of using the firm’s name as the basis of the domain name, the domain name is work-related and the contents of the site is work-related.
4. The firm has a "normal" site with a normal domain name based on its firm’s name but has also extra work-related domain names which are redirected to the main site (so they are not all separate websites – just separate domain names).
Pros and cons of a specialised site
The main benefit of a work-related domain name is that it counts highly in Google searches (Search Engine Optimisation or SEO) and is therefore likely to get more people finding it than a site based on the firm’s name. It also enables the firm to send out a clear message about a particular type of work without having to cover several work areas, or needs of the firm, in the one site.
The main disadvantage is the extra work involved in creating multiple sites, and keeping them up to date. To create, and maintain, one really good website is hard enough without multiplying the effort (and money) required to do it several times over!
In the sections which follow, we hear from two firms who have developed multiple websites, and also from two web services companies who advise firms on their marketing strategy. The contributions provide several different views of the topic.
Tim Bishop , Senior Partner of Bonallack and Bishop, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonallack and Bishop, of Salisbury, Andover, Amesbury, Verwood and Warminster, cover many types of work from probate to personal injury, divorce to debt recovery and conveyancing to compensation claims. They have a large number of specialised sites includingwww.enfranchisementsolicitors.co.uk, www.prenuptial-agreement.co.uk, thenowinnofeesolicitor.co.uk, www.intellectual-property-lawyer.co.uk,www.compromiseagreementsolicitorsuk.co.uk, www.armydivorce.co.uk, www.militarydivorce.co.uk,www.extendingalease.co.uk, professional-negligence-claim.co.uk, contestingawilluk.co.uk, freehold-purchase.co.uk and ip-lawyer.legalbloggers.co.uk.
Delia: What made you try specialised sites?
Tim: There is always a need to attract new clients and develop new sources of work. Having grown by 1000% in 12 years we have further plans for £1/2m growth in the next three years. Growth has to be pursued actively.
Delia: Do you buy the domains or do you invent new ones, which cost almost nothing?
Tim: With one sole exception when I did buy a domain from a third party, the domains are all new. UK domains (co.uk) cost just £5.98 plus VAT for two years registration.
Delia: How much of the design work can be "reused" from one site to another?
Tim: The general website templates are identical. Images and text are generally unique for each site, although we do have a few sites which are similar and can use some of the same artwork.
Delia: How much work is involved?
Tim: There is a considerable amount of work needed to understand SEO and massive ongoing keyword research, to pick the right domains in the first place and optimise for the right phrases. Content writing is mainly a combination of myself, my marketing manager and a law graduate I have been using the last year. Some of my lawyers have written material though I tend to use their input very sparingly. Few of them write succinctly or with enough relevance for clients - I think that's probably typical of the profession as a whole. I write the front page and then rewrite/optimise the remaining site content.
Delia: Do the sites bring in additional new work?
Tim: A combination of natural traffic and pay per click traffic is currently driving new work to the firm. However with many of the sites being relatively new we are still only creeping up in the natural rankings. I am completely confident, however, that we will really start seeing the significant benefits in the next three to six months.
Douglas Silas of Douglas Silas Solicitors, email@example.com
Douglas Silas Solicitors of London specialise in Education, Disability & Public Law. Their specialised domain names (not all separate sites) include www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk,www.educationlawsolicitor.co.uk, www.educationlawyer.co.uk, www.senlaw.co.uk,www.disabilitylaw.co.uk, www.disabilitysolicitor.co.uk, www.publiclawsolicitor.co.uk andwww.judicialreviewsolicitor.co.uk.
Douglas: I set up my own firm in 2005. Although I still operate as a sole practitioner with a small team, we have now consolidated ourselves as one of the top firms in the UK specialising in Education law (according to the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners).
Apart from the urls in the list above, I own about 600 domain names (believe it or not) which are mostly linked to the type of work I do and which all point to my website. My original web site used the domain names www.dsslaw.co.uk and www.douglassilassolicitors.co.uk. However, I found that most people were accessing it through the domain name www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk so I therefore made this our main website address.
I dabbled in SEO and Google Adwords during the first few years but now only use them sparingly as I found that I was already (by then) appearing organically near the top of many relevant searches. I also found that people who were looking for a specialist like me (and who were also the kinds of clients that I wanted) may first do a website search but would then seek out personal recommendations or look at websites like the Legal 500 or Chambers and Partners. The trick was then to have a good website when they arrived. SEO, Google Adwords or specialised domain names are not the answer to everything.
I provide as much free information on the site as possible to help people help themselves without needing to instruct someone like me. However, it is also made clear that if people do eventually need to instruct a solicitor I am good at what I do (I have also found that prospective clients are also more interested in what others say about you than what you say about yourself). We receive about 12,000-15,000 visits a month.
There are far too many people out there telling you that you need to do this or that to your website in order to stand any chance of 'competing' with other lawyers. My website is very simple with just a side bar, title and written content. Content is the most important thing in my opinion. I feel that prospective clients are first looking for information to assist them as well as someone who may be able to help them.
It is very helpful to have a domain name (as www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk) which simply and quickly tells people what I do. Overall, I think that the use of specialised web addresses can be useful but I also think that it is a much wider issue than it looks at first blush.
Sue Bramall, Berners Marketing (www.bernersmarketing.com),firstname.lastname@example.org
Sue: The advantage of a separate niche website is that internet visitors can immediately see that you specialise in their area of interest and take comfort in your expertise. These types of site tend to be more effective at driving leads and enquiries than general information sites.
This is quite difficult to achieve in a firm-wide website where you may be trying to balance the marketing objectives of different departments with different target markets. For example, commercial teams may have a wider geographic catchment area to the private client team. And how do you balance the different selling messages to high net-worth individuals versus legal aid clients?
When planning a niche website, you are not hampered by the structural constraints of your main website and can structure it accordingly. For example on Elliot Mather’s special sitewww.newhome-solicitor.com, the objective is to drive enquiries and this is done via an enquiry form which forms the basis of the home page.
Another advantage is that a dedicated web site is likely to perform better in internet searches due to the sheer volume of relevant content, especially if updated regularly.
The downside is that most firms struggle to keep one website up to date and it requires a real commitment to do this for several sites. The department behind the initiative needs to realise that “a web site is for life”.Back to Blog
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