Foreword: There are many opinions on this topic. Mike Blumenthal has some best practices below, and in the past has told me that the focus should be on building your brand with one powerful site. He expands upon this in an e mail Q & A below.
Here is my e mail interview with Blumenthal:
Michael Ehline: Q:
“. . . ok i just don’t want to take u out of context. i presume your position has not changed? better to have one site for all locations and brand right? . . . “
Mike Blumenthal: A:
“What I suggest for businesses is to create great content that is user focused, presented in a way that is easy to find, understand and realize who is presenting the information. If resources are limited then building out your core assets to their maximum potential is going to provide the most reward for the effort. Local search is all about brand, branding and reinforcing that brand in an online world and until such time as a law firm is managing ALL aspects of their web equity to their fullest potent (i.e. local, search, email marketing, blogging, short and long tail local searches, local optimization, reviews etc etc etc etc) then they should focus on their branded site.”
Michael Ehline view: I do see value in microsites on many levels, but agree with Mike 100%. But as Blumenthal has said in the past, it will exponentially increase the work involved, as you are now nursing more than one site.
The Rosenfeld View:
The major problem with most law firm websites is that they cover too many general topics in a superficial way. Topics are rarely are rarely covered in enough depth to really engage readers (potential clients). Similarly, when search engines spider the sites there is mixed message being extracted due to fact that there is a diverse base of content.
The Need For Practice-Specific Websites
Some law firms continue to sink resources into loading more content into their main firm sites with limited success. Perhaps a more refined method of getting your office’s message and content distributed across the web is via the development of a new site(s) dedicated to a specific practice area.
Several years ago, microsites became fashionable when developers recognized that they could rank well for particular search terms simply by incorporating them into the url structure. While exact match domains, may still carry some weight in search engine results page (SERP), their utility has been somewhat diluted by increasingly sophisticated algorithms that detect the flimsy content that some of these sites are loaded with.
Successful Content Creation
As the web continues to evolve and consumers become more sophisticated, a law firm’s decision to incorporate microsites into their web presence can still be a wildly effective in terms of client development. In order to maximize their chances for success, firms need to understand that while they can call the development of their new web property a ‘microsite’ the name is somewhat misleading as they may be better off considering their area as a regular website dedicated to a specific practice area.
As I continually hear my peers in the Circle of Legal Trust, preach in their writings, content is still the king when it comes to SEO. As any lawyer who has website that actually succeeds when it comes to bringing in business already understands, devoting a tremendous amount of resources to content development is indeed necessary for the overall user experience and to stay atop search engine results. With a firm microsite, a similar dedication is necessary in order to keep readers engaged. Similarly, a site stocked full of quality content may help protect your niche from competitors who will likely adapt these techniques at some point.
What About A Name?
The names of most law firm websites are about one thing, vanity. Many law firm sites may have been created five or ten years ago without any thought as to branding or SEO. Rather, a salesperson likely suggested a url based upon the name of the lawyer or law firm. While it may not be wise to wrestle with a url of an aged domain, lawyers need to adapt a more progressive approach to naming their new properties.
The first step in creating an effective name for a microsite is to simply banish the idea of incorporating the firm name into the site. Unless your brand incredibly powerful, any name recognition is more than exceeded by the incorporation of specific keywords. Take a look at this Google keywords tool to help capture the maximum value for your search terms. Also, consider if you wish to concentrate on a particular geographical area. If so, consider incorporating the name of the state / city into the url structure.
It’s All About Improving The User Experience
By now, you’ve likely realized I’m not a huge advocate of a law firm establishing a microsite—simply for the purpose of trying to capture an exact match search in their url. Even if such sites rank well, my guess is that their conversion rate (actually getting new business from the site) is extremely low. However, for individual attorneys and law offices with truly specialized practice concentrations and a passion for the work that they do, the adaption of microsites for those areas can really help differentiate them as the expert in the field.
As we get closer and closer to seeing SERP’s mimic human responses, you can expect your microsite to start ranking well. By creating a site with a focused purpose and a centralized theme, you will inherently create a site that a computer recognizes as a trustworthy site and will hence be rewarded in search results for targeted keywords. As content acquires more depth, long-tail keywords will also inherently get recognized.
While it may take time for the new sites to establish themselves, other attorneys in the field will likely be green with envy when they see how effective these sites turn out to be in the future. Get busy and start creating your niche site today— just doesn’t call it a microsite!
Jonathan Rosenfeld is a personal injury lawyer in Chicago. Some of his niche sites include: