The National Law Forum

The Blog of the The National Law Review

Deciding what Platform to Use for Your Law Firm Website

I often have clients ask me how frequently they should refresh or update their websites. That is a tricky question. When it comes to content, a website should be updated on an on-going basis – every week is good, and every day is not too much. Frequent content additions will increase the likelihood that your site is viewed often, as search engines catalog content using the keywords users are likely to query and return results based on a combination of the most recently posted content, the closest match to the query and the most highly viewed pages that contain the appropriate keywords. That means the more optimized (good use of keywords) content you post, the more views the content is likely to get.

When it comes to design, a website will begin to look dated in two to three years and should be revisited and updated. This is the perfect time to review the site’s navigation and make sure it has remained user-friendly and consistent with current trends in website design. As with most things in business, having an initial strategy when building a website will reduce the need for changes and make the changes easier to implement when it does come time to refresh the site.

So, what does good initial strategy entail when beginning a website build?

The Importance of CMS Selection

First and foremost, you must think about the foundation the site is built upon. Nearly every website built now has a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS allows for ease in operating the website without a need for knowledge of coding. For instance, adding and deleting content can be easily managed on the back-end of the site with the use of built-in templates. There is no reason for a law firm not to use a CMS. The only questions to consider are which category and type of system to choose. This is the big overall strategy decision, and it will impact the ease of use and updates for the life of the site.

There are two categories of CMSs: Proprietary and Open Source. They provide similar functionality, but they operate very differently. A Proprietary CMS is built and owned by an independent company, and that company “leases” the right for a firm to use the technology. Proprietary was the most used form of legal website CMSs for many years.

Open Source CMSs are built and maintained by programmers throughout the world and are open for anyone to use at no cost. Programmers continually update and add to the code making improvements, which they openly share. This is a newer platform for the legal industry.

Deciding Between Open Source or Proprietary

Proprietary CMSs generally come with a hosting and maintenance plan, providing a sense of security to smaller firms without the in-house resources to update and maintain the site. Though this can ease the burden of website management for the firm, it also requires a monthly or annual fee to keep the site up and running. In addition, as most licensors will not allow access to their code, a site refresh will entail additional fees whenever upgrades are needed.

With the use Open Source CMSs, programmers are continually enhancing the code and the updated functionality is freely shared. Any firm can add the enhanced functionality to their site free of charge. That said the firm must have the in-house capability to do so or contract with an outside vendor to complete the project. If a firm does use an outside vendor to assist, it’s a one-time project fee as opposed to a long-term commitment.

The Move Toward Open Source

For the past several years, law firms have steadily trended toward the use of Open Source platforms and ownership of their websites. Long gone are the days of two or three legal power vendors owning the mass market share of law firm websites by using a formulaic, proprietary build approach and charging for site content and technology updates on an hourly or monthly basis.

Not if, but when you do plan for a refresh or new site build, you can reduce costs and enhance site longevity by using an Open Source platform. There are three main options, WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. There have been many comparisons of these Open Source Code options, and I share the main value/asset for each below.

WordPress: This system works best for small- to medium-sized firm websites. (Most Popular)

Drupal: The most powerful Open Source CMS, it allows for efficient upgrades. (Most Advanced)

Joomla: The better platform for e-commerce, it requires some level of technical coding. (The Compromise between WordPress and Drupal)

There is considerable information on the Internet regarding each of the listed Open Source systems. Identifying which CMS to use, whether proprietary or open source, is key to ensuring a smooth and effective website strategy for years to come.

Article By Sue Remley of Jaffe

© Copyright 2008-2015, Jaffe Associates

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