Spoiler alert: the answer is almost certainly yes.
Attorneys and law firm staff are busy people. In a small firm in particular, many lawyers and employees are doing double or even triple duty. That’s one of the main reasons a law firm’s marketing often suffers. So, it’s easy to understand how seductive a drag-and-drop website service can be. We understand the sense of relief you get when you see, “Get your site live in minutes!”
Efficiency and ease of use are important, but there’s more to the equation. Choosing what appears to be the easiest solution today could cost you time, money, and even clients later. And, of course, the only way to make good decisions is to understand the pros and cons of your options.
WordPress v. Wix v. Squarespace
An apples-to-apples comparison between WordPress and the build-your-own-website services is a bit difficult, because they aren’t equivalent offerings.
Both Wix and Squarespace are website services, which allow for relatively easy creation of a website that they will host for a monthly fee. WordPress, on the other hand, is an open-source platform that is free to use. You choose and pay your own host. This is why you’ve probably seen cute and inspirational advertisements and video about how easy it is to get your website online with Wix and you don’t see anything like that for WordPress. Wix has something to sell you and WordPress doesn’t.
Still, since these are some of the most common options law firms consider, we’ll look at some of the most important factors and how they stack up for each alternative.
Ease of Use
Both Wix and Squarespace are designed to make it quick and easy for someone with few technical skills to get a website online. For most people with no experience creating a website, this type of provider is the simplest. You choose a template, then drag and drop pre-designed sections onto the page to place your images and text. While it’s technically true that you can create a website in minutes using one of these services, adding and arranging your own content and images will likely take a few hours.
The learning curve for WordPress is somewhat steeper, but the platform is fairly easy to learn, especially if you’re just setting up a basic site with pages and posts. WordPress is designed to allow non-technical people to maintain and update their own websites.
If you’ve never used WordPress before, you’ll likely need to spend a little time navigating through the backend, watching a few tutorial videos, or employing trial and error to get comfortable with the system. But, the basics are pretty simple. You can create new pages by clicking “New Page” and adding text and images to the fields provided, and you can easily arrange content by dragging and dropping items in the site menus. A wide range of templates (called “themes”) and easy-to-install plug-ins are available to customize your WordPress website, many of them free or very inexpensive.
A “responsive” website is one that changes to accommodate the device its being viewed on. You’ve probably noticed that when you visit some sites on your computer, you see a three column-layout, but when you view the same site on your phone the content scrolls from top to bottom. That’s because your phone screen isn’t wide enough to display three columns in a way that’s visually appealing and easy to read. So, the site is coded to show you something different when you’re looking at a screen that is smaller and shaped differently than the standard computer monitor.
Responsive design isn’t just a good idea anymore—design that adapts to the screen displaying it is essential for any business that hopes to attract customers or clients through its website. Over the past six years, the percentage of organic search hits to websites coming from mobile devices has skyrocketed, from 27% in 2013 to more than 60% in 2019. And speed matters, too: Google says more than half of mobile visitors will abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load.
Among the options discussed here, only Squarespace is responsive across the board. Many WordPress templates are responsive, but it’s up to you to verify that when choosing a template and plug-ins. Of the three, Wix requires the most effort on your part to ensure responsiveness. Some of the elements you can incorporate into a Wix site are responsive and others are not, so you’ll have to determine whether each module you add to a page is responsive. This also limits your design options.
Across the board, WordPress offers the greatest flexibility of the three. Currently, Wix is advertising 500+ templates and Squarespace is a little less transparent, saying they offer 10 template “families” with multiple templates in each. WordPress dwarfs those numbers with about 4,000 free themes and tens of thousands of additional themes you can buy. If you can’t find what you’re looking for among all of those options, or just don’t want to spend time combing through them, you can hire a developer to create a custom WordPress theme for you, something the proprietary platforms don’t allow.
If you want to change the look and layout of your site after creation, Squarespace makes that easiest, but with the small number of templates available, your options remain limited. Wix doesn’t have the functionality to change at all: Once you choose a template, that’s the template attached to your site. You can change your WordPress theme at any time, and the process is simple. You’ll just back up your site content, then follow a few simple steps to install and activate the new theme. You should know, though, that not all WordPress plug-ins and integrations work with all themes. If you’ve built out your site with this type of functionality, you may want to consult a WordPress developer before switching themes.
Portability of Content
Portability is a key issue that many law firms looking for a quick and easy website solution don’t consider until it’s too late. Services like Squarespace and Wix make their money on monthly hosting fees. That means they don’t want you to leave, and they don’t make it easy to do so. There’s no way to export your content if you outgrow the drag-and-drop platform and want to switch over to a more robust option. So, you may have to start from scratch or painstakingly move content into your new platform one piece at a time.
With WordPress, your files are stored in a folder (called the “FTP file”) on your host’s server. If you want to switch hosts, you can download that folder to your computer or to a cloud-based storage account, install WordPress (for free) in your new hosting account, and then upload your files. While it takes special software and a little bit of knowledge to make sure you do this correctly, the software is available for free and there are many online tutorials. And, of course, you can always hire a professional to make the transfer for you.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is key for any business that hopes to use its website to draw in prospects and generate revenues. And, no law firm can afford to neglect those looking online for legal services. One recent survey showed that online search was the second-most-popular means of looking for an attorney, after referrals from friends or family.
While there are other ways to draw traffic to your site, most have one significant thing in common: a price tag. Google Ads, paid ads on Facebook and other social media platforms, and advertising on related sites are all popular ways to generate web traffic, but in most cases you’re paying for every click. On the other hand, click-throughs from natural search results are free. Sure, it takes some investment to implement your SEO for lawyers strategy, but a single solid ranking can generate a flood of traffic—traffic you’re not paying for at $2 or $5 or even $25 per click.
Wix has a bad reputation for SEO-friendliness, but it’s a bit outdated. Wix had some serious SEO problems in the early days, but most have been corrected. Today, both Wix and Squarespace offer most SEO basics, and do so in a way that’s easy for novices to use. For instance, both platforms now allow you to change page URLs and to create search-friendly alt text for images. But, if SEO is important to you—and it should be—WordPress offers the most, including a choice of SEO-plug-ins, more sophisticated customization of blog post URLs and other structures that impact search rankings, the ability to schedule regular content publishing, plug-ins to push content to social media platforms, and more.
Sites created in a website builder can also be much slower to load, which can have a significant impact on search ranking. Google has long factored site speed into its ranking determinations, and in 2018 announced that loading time would also be factored into mobile search rankings.
Blogging & Content Creation
WordPress was designed as a blogging platform, and later expanded into the most popular platform for website creation. Blogging is a key content marketing strategy for attorneys for many reasons. The most obvious, which applies across industries, is that blogging allows for a steady stream of fresh content. Blogging also provides a way to drill down to “long-tail” search terms—more specific phrases that draw a smaller number of visitors, but are narrowly focused to attract your prospective clients. And, of course, people seeking legal help want to be able to rely on your knowledge and experience. Regular blogging creates an opportunity to show your knowledge across a wide range of specific issues, so prospective clients are likely to find information relating to their needs.
Though all three options allow for blogging, WordPress offers by far the greatest range of options in terms of templates, ability to modify formatting, plug-ins to help with cross-promotion of post, SEO, categorization and more. WordPress also makes it easy to allow, disallow, or monitor comments, which can help build community and return visits.
In terms of direct customer service, proprietary platforms like Wix and Squarespace beat WordPress hands down. A quick Google search for “Wix customer service” yields a toll-free number for support. While Squarespace makes it a bit more difficult to drill down to actual contact, you can message support through its website and get help.
WordPress, being an entirely different animal (software rather than a service, free rather than paid by the month) doesn’t offer customer support. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s harder to get the information you need. WordPress offers free video tutorials for its most used features, and a rich customer support library. You’ll also find many other video tutorials and step-by-step guides online.
It’s also worth noting that your host may offer WordPress support by phone or chat. Check into this when choosing a host, and make sure that the hosting company offers one-click installation for WordPress.
Other Options for Law Firm Websites
We’ve compared some of the most popular options law firms consider for creating a web presence. But, of course, there are many more options. Here’s a quick look at two other options you may encounter.
Other Content Management Systems
One of the reasons we generally consider WordPress to be a superior solution for law firm websites is that it is a reasonably sophisticated content management system and not just a website builder. But, of course, WordPress isn’t the only content management system available. In fact, there are many, many options—most of which you’ve probably never heard of and never will. Still, WordPress is the undisputed market leader. One recent study put WordPress’s market share at just over 60%. Joomla, the next-most-popular content management system, came in at around 5%.
One key distinction between the two platforms is that WordPress employs a more user-friendly visual editor, which makes use of the site much more intuitive for less technically inclined users. WordPress also has a well-developed hierarchy of users, which allows a law firm to give staff and even outside contractors limited permissions and then approve content before it goes live. This functionality is much more limited in Joomla.
Joomla does have a great out-of-the-box functionality for building a community, with built-in user registration. This aspect makes it a good solution for certain types of organizations, but has little or no application for most law firms.
WordPress’s larger market share creates some other advantages, as well. The popularity of the content management system means that it gets a lot of attention from developers, designers, and others in the website creation and maintenance industry. That means more available integrations, more plug-ins to add functionality to WordPress sites, and more online resources to help you make the most of the platform.
Legal-Specific Proprietary Options
Some big players in the legal industry—most notably FindLaw—offer website services for law firms. Hiring a company like FindLaw, with an established name and clear legal industry expertise, may seem like a safe and reliable way to get a high-quality law firm website. But, there are two reasons we do not recommend that clients choose FindLaw for their websites. First, FindLaw is an expensive option. Pricing isn’t exactly transparent, but some practice management experts have estimated the cost at several times what a firm would pay for good design and hosting elsewhere—perhaps as much as 10 times as high. Those high fees often come with long-term commitments, and extricating yourself from FindLaw can be so difficult that the Internet is awash with articles about how to “break free.” At least one former FindLaw employee has established a new business rescuing content for law firms leaving FindLaw.
While there are ways to retain the value of a FindLaw site after moving away from the company, the better option is generally to maintain control from the start: to purchase your own domain, have web hosting in your name, and own your website design and the content you put on your site.
Why WordPress is Best for Your Law Firm Website
Clearly, there are many factors to consider when choosing the platform you’ll use to build your law firm website. In a nutshell, here’s why we think WordPress is the best option for attorneys:
- WordPress offers much more flexibility than a website builder like Wix or Squarespace when it comes to site layout, integration of functionality like taking payments through your website, and the ability to make changes after your website is created.
- WordPress was built for blogging, which can be an important element in both your search engine optimization and content marketing strategies.
- While WordPress has a slightly steeper learning curve, it’s designed to be user-friendly for basic functionality, so you and your staff will easily be able to add blog posts, change text, swap out an image and make other content changes once you learn your way around.
- For more sophisticated alterations, you’ll find tens of thousands of WordPress plug-ins to help add functionality to a WordPress site; if you get stuck or want to do something that can’t be automated, you’ll have no trouble finding the help you need—WordPress is the most popular platform for web designers and developers, too.
- With WordPress, you’re in full control: you can purchase your domain, have a wide range of options for hosting in an account you control or hire someone to manage, and you own the content you create or purchase.
- Moving WordPress content to another host or even another URL is a relatively painless process, so you’ll never be held hostage as you can with some proprietary platforms charging monthly fees.
Key Components of Your Law Firm Website
Of course, every law firm is a bit different. For example, your law firm may focus in one narrow area of law, such as consumer bankruptcy, or may handle a wide range of consumer cases, such as personal injury, workers’ compensation, bankruptcy, divorce, criminal defense and estate planning. The structure and depth of a general practice firm may differ somewhat from that of a narrowly focused firm.
Still, certain elements are important—or even legally required—for every law firm site. You’ll want to make sure that your law firm website includes:
- A home page that shows who you are: Not all visitors to your website will start with the home page, but it should be the online introduction to your firm. Be sure to showcase what sets you apart and why a prospect should contact you rather than another firm.
- Good attorney bio/profile pages: These pages are among the most visited on law firm websites, and it’s no surprise. In a recent survey, people seeking legal services listed an attorney’s background and credentials as the most important piece of information they wanted to see in their search.
- Information about each of your practice areas: Include a clear listing of your practice areas on your home page and in your site navigation, and then expanded information about each. The most common way to set this up is a dropdown or sidebar navigation listing with a separate page for each practice area.
- Clear, easy-to-find contact information: Make it as easy as possible for your prospects to contact you, preferably through different channels. Create a separate contact page, but also include your phone number and short contact forms on every page.
- Reviews and testimonials: If your state’s Rules of Professional Responsibility allow for the posting of testimonials or reviews, it’s a great way to let prospects know that you live up to the promises your website makes and your clients are happy with your services.
- Disclaimers: Required disclaimers vary by state, so you’ll have to do your homework on this one. Some common disclaimers and notices include information about the attorney responsible for the site’s content, a notice that no attorney-client relationship is formed by filling out a contact form and that the information on the site is not intended as legal advice, and a statement that results reported are not intended as a representation of expected future results.
- An active blog: As discussed above, blogging provides an excellent opportunity to build out your site, boost SEO, and establish your expertise.
It’s also important that you provide clear, detailed navigation on your site. There’s more than one way to achieve this, but a horizontal menu near the top of the page with top-level navigation and dropdowns is a popular and effective format for law firm websites. With the vast number of WordPress themes available, you’ll have many options for making this content accessible and visually appealing to your market.
Learn more about why we recommend WordPress to clients and how our WordPress web design services can help make this critical marketing tool work for you.