Most specialised websites relate to a particular work area, usually with a work-related domain name. Instead of a firm trying to cover all its work areas in one website, the task is split up into a number of separate sites with each concentrating on one legal area.
I have collected all the firms with specialised sites I know about at www.venables.co.uk/firmsx.htm (nearly 400 firms). Although all would be called specialised sites, they are managed in several different ways:
- The actual name of the firm may be work oriented, so the domain name is (obviously) work oriented.
- The firm has a main site based on its name plus one or more specialised sites.
- The firm uses a work-related domain name for the main site.
- The firm has a main site based on its name plus extra work-related domain names which are redirected to the main site.
Pros and cons of a specialised site
The main benefit of a work-related domain name is that it counts highly in Google searches (Search Engine Optimisation or SEO) and is likely to get more people finding it than a site based on the firm’s name. It also enables the firm to send out a clear message about a particular type of work without having to cover several work areas, or needs of the firm, in the one site.
The main disadvantage is the extra work involved in creating multiple sites and keeping them up to date. To create and maintain one really good website is hard enough without multiplying the effort (and money) required to do it several times over!
In the sections which follow, we hear from two firms who have developed multiple websites, and also from two web services companies who advise firms on their marketing strategy.
Tim Bishop of Bonallack and Bishop
Bonallack and Bishop, of Salisbury, Andover, Amesbury, Verwood and Warminster, cover many types of workfrom probate to personal injury, divorce to debt recovery and conveyancing to compensation claims from probate to personal injury, divorce to debt recovery and conveyancing to compensation claims.
They have a large number of specialised sites including www.enfranchisementsolicitors.co.uk, www.prenuptial-agreement.co.uk, www.thenowinnofeesolicitor.co.uk, www.intellectual-property-lawyer.co.uk, www.compromiseagreementsolicitorsuk.co.uk, www.armydivorce.co.uk, www.militarydivorce.co.uk, www.extendingalease.co.uk, professional-negligence-claim.co.uk, contestingawilluk.co.uk, freehold-purchase.co.uk and ip-lawyer.legalbloggers.co.uk.
Delia: What made you try specialised sites?
Tim: There is always a need to attract new clients and develop new sources of work. Having grown by 1000 per cent in 12 years we have further plans for £1/2m growth in the next three years. Growth has to be pursued actively.
Delia: Do you buy the domains or do you invent new ones, which cost almost nothing?
Tim: With one sole exception, the domains are all new. UK domains (co.uk) cost just £5.98 plus VAT for two years’ registration.
Delia: How much of the design work can be reused from one site to another?
Tim: The general website templates are identical. Images and text are generally unique for each site, although we do have a few sites which are similar and can use some of the same artwork.
Delia: How much work is involved?
Tim: There is a considerable amount of work needed to understand SEO and massive ongoing keyword research, to pick the right domains in the first place and optimise for the right phrases. Content writing is mainly a combination of me, my marketing manager and a law graduate I have been using the last year. Some of my lawyers have written material though I tend to use their input very sparingly. Few of them write succinctly or with enough relevance for clients – I think that’s probably typical of the profession as a whole.
Delia: Do the sites bring in additional new work?
Tim: A combination of natural traffic and pay-per-click traffic is currently driving new work to the firm. However, as many of the sites are relatively new, we are still only creeping up in the natural rankings. I am confident, however, that we will really start seeing significant benefits in the next three to six months.
Douglas Silas of Douglas Silas Solicitors
Douglas Silas Solicitors of London specialise in education, disability and public law. Their specialised domain names (not all separate sites) include www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk, www.educationlawsolicitor.co.uk, www.educationlawyer.co.uk, www.senlaw.co.uk, www.disabilitylaw.co.uk, www.disabilitysolicitor.co.uk, www.publiclawsolicitor.co.uk and www.judicialreviewsolicitor.co.uk.
Douglas: I set up my own firm in 2005. Although I still operate as a sole practitioner with a small team, we have now consolidated our position as one of the top firms in the UK specialising in education law (according to the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners).
Apart from the URLs in the list above, I own about 600 domain names which are mostly linked to the type of work I do and which all point to my website. My original website used www.dsslaw.co.uk and www.douglassilassolicitors.co.uk. However, I found that most people were accessing it through the domain name www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk so I therefore made this our main website address.
I dabbled in SEO and Google AdWords during the first few years but now only use them sparingly as I found that I was already (by then) appearing organically near the top of many relevant searches. I also found that people who were looking for a specialist like me may first do a website search but would then seek out personal recommendations or look at websites like the Legal 500 or Chambers & Partners. The trick was then to have a good website when they arrived. SEO, Google AdWords or specialised domain names are not the answer to everything.
I provide as much free information on the site as possible to help people help themselves without needing to instruct someone. However, it is also made clear that if people do eventually need to instruct a solicitor, I am good at what I do. I have also found that prospective clients are also more interested in what others say about you than what you say about yourself. We receive about 12,000-15,000 visits a month.
Content is the most important thing in my opinion. I feel that prospective clients are first looking for information to assist them as well as someone who may be able to help them.
It is very helpful to have a domain name which simply and quickly tells people what I do. Overall, I think that the use of specialised web addresses can be useful but I also think that it is a much wider issue than it looks at first blush.
Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing
Sue: The advantage of a separate niche website is that internet visitors can immediately see that you specialise in their area of interest and take comfort in your expertise. These types of site tend to be more effective at driving leads and enquiries than general information sites.
This is quite difficult to achieve in a firm-wide website where you may be trying to balance the marketing objectives of different departments with different target markets. For example, commercial teams may have a wider geographic catchment area to the private client team. And how do you balance the different selling messages to high net worth individuals versus legal aid clients?
When planning a niche website, you are not hampered by the structural constraints of your main website and can structure it accordingly. For example on Elliot Mather’s www.newhome-solicitor.com, the objective is to drive enquiries and this is done via an enquiry form which forms the basis of the home page.
If you do not want a different structure, then as Tim Bishop explains, it is also possible to use the same framework for multiple websites which will make the exercise more efficient.
A dedicated website is also likely to perform better in internet searches due to the sheer volume of relevant content, especially if updated regularly. The downside is that most firms struggle to keep one website up to date and it requires a real commitment to do this for several sites. They need to realise that “a website is for life”.
David Gilroy of Conscious Solutions
Delia: Do specialised sites work for SEO?
David: Yes, they do work, but only if you put in the right level of effort. Just building a micro-site and submitting it to Google will not usually be enough.
Delia: Do you ever suggest a fleet of such sites?
David: Not unless the client really knows what they are doing with their digital marketing strategy and has the time and cash to make it work. The big problem here is that the firm usually has a finite marketing budget and then, rather than concentrate it on one or two websites, they have to split it between several.
Delia: Would you suggest that all the sites should be designed in a similar way?
David: If possible, as for example, the following three: www.jcpsolicitors.co.uk (main site), www.jcp-family-law.co.uk and www.jcp-rural-law.co.uk. The two micro-sites are consistent with the main brand but have unique content, imagery etc to the suit the sector or topic. However, if one site is targeting, say, private clients and the other sites are aimed at commercial clients, then a new design may be needed to make it match the target audience.
Delia: Presumably multiple sites each require new material from the firm to keep them fresh?
David: Yes, and it’s a real problem. Google likes big sites that get bigger slowly, so unless a firm is committed to adding fresh content to the site it will rarely rank very well for anything other than low competition search phrases. Unless a firm can successfully manage their main website, setting up multiple websites is fraught with dangers.
Delia: Does this increase greatly the amount of work you have to do for a firm, in setting them up?
David: Possibly. It’s all about whether the second site is a clone of the style of the main site or whether a complete new site is used.
Delia: Is this a technique you would recommend?
David: Yes, it is a valid technique, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Delia Venables is joint editor of this Newsletter.