In order for your law firm’s website to be visible on the internet, it has to be hosted on a web server. Further, if you want other people to be able to view and visit your web site, your site must be copied to a public web server. Even though you might be able to run your own computer as a web server, in most cases, I recommend that you allow an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to host your site. Usually, using a reliable ISP is well-worth the investment in terms of security, stability, up-time, speed, support, and updates.
You don’t have to look very hard to find that there are thousands of ISPs from which to choose. And from those ISPs there are a variety of hosting plan options. I’m not going to list all the types of hosting here, but there are a few with which you should be familiar:
- Free web hosting - Oftentimes supported by advertisements, usually very limited in terms of features and functions when compared to paid hosting plans.
- Shared web hosting – With shared web hosting plans, your website lives on the same server as several other websites, typically ranging from a couple hundred to several thousand. These are probably the most common web hosting plans and are usually the default economy plan offered by the most popular hosting providers.
- Virtual Dedicated Server - These plans are more commonly referred to as Virtual Private Server (VPS). They divide server resources into virtual servers, where resources can be allocated in a way that does not directly impact the underlying hardware.
- Dedicated hosting service - With a dedicated hosting plan, you get your own Web server and have full control over it. Perhaps too much control. You will have full administrative access to the server, which means you are responsible for the security and maintenance of your own dedicated server. Dedicated hosting plans are typically far-more expensive than shared web hosting plans and generally overkill for most law firms.
- Cloud Hosting - Cloud hosting plans are relatively new. They provide a powerful, scalable and reliable hosting from clustered load-balanced servers and utility billing. Cloud hosting can be more reliable than alternatives since other computers in the cloud can compensate when a single piece of hardware goes down. However, the lack of centralization may be a concern for lawyers with data security or privacy concerns.
For the overwhelming majority of law firms that are looking for an affordable and easy-to-use hosting plan, a reliable shared web hosting service is probably the way to go. If you experience problems with your shared hosting plan, chances are that you need a new ISP and not an upgrade to a dedicated server account. On the other hand, if you’re receiving a significant amount of traffic to your site, need more administrative capabilities, or are concerned about your site being hosted on the same server as more spammy sites (a potential consideration for search engine optimization), then you might want consider making the extra investment into a dedicated hosting account.
Perhaps more important than choosing your type of hosting, is choosing your ISP.
Spend some time shopping around and getting feedback from other tech-savvy lawyers about their experiences with various ISPs. I’ve worked with a variety of hosting companies on law firm website projects. Generally speaking, I have had positive experiences with most of the major players. If forced to choose one, I would recommend HostGator. Here are a couple reasons why:
- Support – In my experience, their support has been very helpful. They offer a variety of tutorials on their site, have live chat, twitter support, and phone support. To me, except for reliability, support is probably the most important consideration in choosing an ISP.
- Reliability – In several years of using HostGator, we’ve only experienced one major outage issue and it was resolved very promptly (same day).
- Price – Their shared hosting plans start at about $4 per month. However, I recommend that you invest a little more for their baby (about $7 per month) or business ( about $11 / month) plans, especially if you’re thinking about hosting more than one domain.
My nutshell opinion on law firm website hosting is to register and sign-up with HostGator and use Fantastico to install WordPress at your root domain. In my experience, this is the easiest and most affordable way for most lawyers to get started with a reliable and flexible website and blog.
It’s important to keep in mind that hosting is distinct from registration. Domain registration is basically the process of reserving your domain for use with an accredited registrar.
It’s worth noting, that your registrar and hosting provider don’t have to be the same company. For example, you could register your domain with GoDaddy and host with HostGator, or vice versa.
To me, the most important thing to keep in mind about registration is that, generally speaking, whoever registers the domain, basically owns the domain. You don’t want to be in a position where a third-party registers your domain, you make considerable investments in marketing the domain, and the third-party claims ownership either requiring you to pay some sort of licensing fee, or simply denies you use of the domain. Similarly, if you’re going through a third-party to design, develop, and maintain your site, you should be clear about who owns your site content. Too many lawyers get burned by website marketing companies that build sites for law firms only to hold the lawyers hostage for their sites. Make sure it’s clear who owns your domain, content management system, and website content up front.