This article was originally included in Trial Magazinepublished by the American Association for Justice.
Most law firms 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 tricky if you’re not well versed in digital marketing. Below are five important truths that are often not revealed until too late.
1 – You don’t actually “own” your site
Your business website is an asset in which you have probably invested a lot of money and time. It is important to secure ownership, potentially beyond your current agency relationship. Portability is not assured and understanding the content management system (CMS) your website is built on will let you know how easily the site can be moved in the future.
Agencies create websites on a proprietary system or on an open source CMS such as WordPress. If your site is on a proprietary system, you probably won’t be able to host it anywhere else. Although you “own” the graphics and design, you do not own the underlying code that makes the site work. Without it, your site will have to be built from scratch to turn your design into a functioning website. It is also important to understand any licensing restrictions related to content or images used on your website.
Having a true understanding of ownership will allow for greater flexibility and control over your business’s web presence. Unless you’re willing to invest in a new website every time you switch providers, insist on an open source CMS.
2 – Your project is outsourced
Great websites are created all over the world. That said, it’s generally wise to know exactly who will design, code, complete, and manage your website design project. Just because an agency tells you the website is designed in-house doesn’t mean any part of the project is outsourced.
An in-house team will generally provide a higher level of security and communication, and changes can be processed faster without having to account for drastically different time zones and team schedules. It’s also beneficial to be able to speak directly to the designers and coders involved in your project to avoid a phone game.
3 – SEO takes time
This fact is frustrating for agencies and law firms. Unfortunately, there really is 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 should be written and optimized, crawled by search engines, indexed and ultimately reflected in positive results. The good news is that this process has gotten considerably faster in recent years, although it’s still excruciatingly slow compared to paid search or purchased leads.
It should be noted that gradual progress can be observed much faster. The person you work with should be able to provide regular reports detailing improvements and highlighting all the progress your website has made. So while traffic and leads usually don’t increase until first page rankings are achievedit’s a long road from obscurity to the front page and that journey should be well documented.
4 Increasing traffic is no substitute for increasing leads
Website reports can contain a variety of metrics detailing your business’ online visibility. While almost anything can be tracked, organic reports often contain Google rankings, website traffic, and leads generated. So while your ultimate goal is probably to retain more customers, achieving that goal depends on your website generating leads. This will happen as a result of more organic traffic from improved rankings.
Reports can be misleading when increased traffic does not lead to increased lead volume. This can happen when your website isn’t reaching the right audience. We often see this when sites rank nationally for searches despite the company’s local target audience. There may be secondary benefits to this increased traffic, but it’s important to recognize when increased traffic isn’t serving your primary purpose.
The best way to avoid this problem is to find the signal in the noise. Insist on getting reports, or at least a summary, that contain only actionable data that your business fully understands. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers or be misled by secondary metrics that don’t actually achieve your goals.
5 – In the end, compliance issues are your problem
Most lawyers know their ethical obligations when it comes to advertising, but can you say the same about your marketing agency?
In addition to your state’s professional conduct rules, attorneys increasingly face compliance issues when it comes to privacy and accessibility laws.
Half of all states have recently passed privacy laws or have privacy bills pending in 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 have not kept pace with these regulations and do not offer their law firm clients dynamic privacy policies or cookie consent tools.
Another important consideration is whether your business site complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). One in four adults in the United States lives with a disability, and millions of people use assistive technologies to access the Internet, making the need for an accessible website more important than ever. Unfortunately, some agencies downplay the importance of an accessible site. Their lax approach can lead to missed business opportunities and, even worse, legal issues for your practice.
Before starting any project, make sure you understand your agency’s familiarity with compliance rules and regulations.