So you’ve been thinking about taking your talents to the internet, but you’re overwhelmed about how to get started. I’ve tried to boil it down to these 20 steps to get online. Obviously, by reducing the process to 20 steps, I’m oversimplifying what it takes to organically grow your visibility on the web. On the other hand, you have to start somewhere. Hopefully, at least one person will find this simple enough to motivate them to give it a try.
It’s also worth noting that I begin the process with choosing a domain. There are several consideration that you should make before you get to domain registration (like whether getting online is even right for you in the first place). Before you go out and register a domain, you should spend some time thinking about your practice and your goals. While the web can be a powerful component to marketing your practice, it’s relative effectiveness will greatly depend on your commitment to it and the skill of the people involved.
- Register a Domain – Consider a domain that is descriptive of your firm. That may mean using a keyword-rich domain that describes the geography and subject matter of your site/blog. Something like www.chicagocriminaldefenselaw.com. It could also be your name (not as good for exact matching keywords in search engines), or some combination of descriptive keywords and your name. You can use sites like Domize to see whether your intended domain is available. Of course, you can also check domain availability with your domain registrar like Godaddy or Hostgator (who actually uses Registry Rocket for domain registration). Try to limit the length of your domain. Keep in mind, that in addition to search traffic, you’ll want people to be able to easily remember your domain name so that they can enter it directly into their browsers and spread by word of mouth.
- Set Up a Hosting Account – Since I’m recommending using WordPress, you’re going to need a hosting account that supports WordPress. Stay away from the super economy hosting accounts. For most of you, shared hosting is just fine. However, I recommend that you choose a hosting plan that offers unlimited domains, unlimited disk space, and unlimited bandwidth. I also recommend choosing a plan that has cpanel access and a 1-click WordPress install script.
- Install WordPress – If your hosting plan has a 1-click install script like fantastico, installing WordPress will be really simple. I recommend that you install it to your root domain as opposed to a sub-domain or sub-directory (you should make sure that you can do this before you buy your hosting plan). Sam Glover (@samglover, +Sam Glover) at Lawyerist (@lawyerist, +Lawyerist) has a 30-Minute WordPress Setup Guide that I recommend you check out.
- Choose a Theme – Your WordPress theme will give your site/blog its look and feel. WordPress offers a vast repository of free WordPress themes. But, like most things, you get what you pay for. There are even more premium themes from which to choose. And of course, you could hire a professional design and development firm to build a custom theme for you from scratch. Depending the complexity of your theme design and implementation, quality custom themes can run $2,000 to $6,000. Much beyond that and you have to start asking yourself whether your theme is really worth that kind of investment, in my humble opinion.
- Add Contact Information – If the purpose of your site/blog is for people to contact you, it stands to reason that you have to give them a simple means by which to do so. This might mean a phone number, mailing address, email address, or email contact form. If you decide to provide an email address, be warned. It’s the wild west on the internet. You’ll likely receive all sorts of automated bot spam if you simply post your email. I recommend installing the contact form 7 WordPress plugin and really simple captcha.
- Consider Your Disclaimer – This one requires a bit of thought. You may have read something about the Horace Hunter Disclaimer debacle. While I applaud those you who resist overly restrictive state Bar rules, if the website/blog marketing fight isn’t yours, I recommend you add a simple disclaimer to your footer. It should probably include something about the possibility of being construed as advertising, that no attorney-client relationship is formed by visiting/interacting with the site/blog, and that visitors shouldn’t submit confidential information via web forms. Or something like that. Check with your state Bar on this stuff.
- Install Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin – There are a lot of SEO plugins out there. Personally, i like Yoast’s. It’s simple and comprehensive. It will allow you to easily optimize page titles, create an xml sitemap, and link your webmaster tools account. When it comes to WordPress and SEO, Yoast is ‘da man.
- Fix Your Permalinks – Depending on your web host, your default WordPress installation may not have pretty permalinks. Sam talks about this in his post, so I’m not going to go into great detail here. But I recommend custom structure /%category%/%postname%/. But that’s just me.
Check Your Privacy Settings – Again, depending on your out-of-the-box WordPress install, you may need to change your privacy settings so that your site will allow search engines to crawl and index it. Unless of course you don’t want your site to appear in search engine results.
- Install Google Analytics – For those who don’t know, Google Analytics gives you insights into your website traffic. It tells you where your visitors come from and how they interact with your web pages. You don’t necessarily need to use Google Analytics (it’s free, for now), but you should use some form of web analytics.
- Connect Your Google Webmaster Tools Account – Webmaster Tools is another way you can get feedback about your site/blog’s health. It will give you insight as to how Google sees your website. You will get feedback and notifications if you have problems with your site that could be impacting your visibility within search results. It will also show you which sites are linking back to your site, which queries your site is appearing for in results, and whether or not people are clicking on your pages in search results.
- Claim Your Google Places Profile(s) – If your prospective clients are likely to use search to find you, I strongly encourage you to focus on local search marketing, including claiming your Google Places listing(s). Make sure you follow the Google Places Quality Guidelines. You can claim a listing for each of your physical offices, as well as, for each lawyer at your firm.
- Set Up Your Twitter Account – Twitter might have a place in developing your web presence. However, it’s important to understand what Twitter is and how it works. I strongly advise against thinking of Twitter as another advertising opportunity (unless of course you’re paying for promoted tweets, which I don’t really recommend at this point). Follow Twitter best practices and start talking to people like a normal person. If you wouldn’t follow yourself on Twitter, you’re probably not using right…
- Set Up Your Google Plus Profile(s) – I know, just what you need another social sharing platform. But unfortunately, Google has search, gmail, maps, etc, so its social sharing platform matters. Search, plus your world is dramatically shaping search results. Therefore, if you want to get found in search, you should be connecting and sharing on Google Plus.
- Choose Topics to Write and Share About – Now for the important stuff. Your success online will largely depend on the quality of “stuff” that you publish. Your web content can take many forms. It might be blog posts. It might be status updates, tweets, shares, plus ones, etc, etc, etc. All of this “stuff” that you do online will impact how others perceive you. If your writing and sharing is boring, uninspired, or just plain spammy, people aren’t going to connect with you or your content. Which means it’s not going to get linked to, endorsed, shared, talked about, etc. Which means it’s not going to “perform” very well in the online community. Listen, then listen some more, then think, then think some more, then write. We could talk about this bullet point forever, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. At some point, you just need to jump in. But just think before you jump.
- Create an Eye-Catching Title – Don’t create a title you think search engines would like. Create titles you think people would like to read, click on, share, and link to. When publishing online, think like a journalist, not like a search engineer.
- Link to Reliable Sources – Just like in real journalism, sources are important. The internet is filled with trash. Know who your citing. Connect with them in other ways both online and offline. Some of the strongest content contains the best sourcing of information.
- Add Something to the Conversation – Now that you’re getting the hang of this stuff, be sure you’re adding something to the conversation. Don’t regurgitate. Add your voice. Add your perspective. Add your experience. Always remember that what you publish, is public and won’t ever go away (unless of course Congress passes SOPA/PIPA in pieces through back door legislation). Think about all the different people that may potentially see what you’ve written, shared, posted, liked, etc, etc. They might be colleagues, clients, jurors, judges, and yes hopefully potential clients.
- Share What You Wrote With People Who Might Care – Don’t fall victim to the “if you write it, they will come” mantra. Guess what, nine times out of ten, they won’t. You have to get your content in front of the people who are interested in it. You might not know who those people are yet. Also, your content might not be that interesting yet. I recommend starting out by sharing with people you know. Ask them what they think. Tell them to be harsh. Find people who write on similar subject matter. Have a discussion with them. Find them on Twitter. Find them on Google Plus. Read their blogs and articles. Comment on them. When appropriate, share your thoughts and your writing.
- Repeat Steps 15-19 – Engage online as much as seems reasonable for your practice. If you’re a busy trial lawyer carrying a heavy case load, you’re probably wondering whether you’re going to be able to stop for lunch let alone stop to tweet. Make small investments in time. You don’t sit with your cell phone and text people all day, do you? Maybe you do. Take the web, publishing, and social networking in small bite-sized pieces. Maybe for you it’s first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s at lunch. Maybe it’s when you’re unwinding at the end of your day. Find a few minutes here and a few minutes there to participate. Don’t sacrifice the quality of what you write and do online for frequency.
Always remember, make the web better. Hope this helps a little.