A domain name is one of the most important aspects of your law firm’s online presence — not only does it give you instant credibility, but it also shows your audience what you’re all about.
Unfortunately, we at PaperStreet have seen plenty of established, reputable law firms with terrible domain names and/or strategies that reduce their professionalism and potential for new leads.
To help you understand why domain names are important and how to use your domain name to succeed, we’ve compiled this best practices guide.
How Much Is a Domain Name Worth?
Your domain is worth a bag of Doritos, until proven otherwise. So, how can you evaluate whether a domain should be purchased?
There has been a rash of domain brokers and individuals buying crap-tastic domains with keyword phrases in them and trying to profit from unwitting lawyers. For example, I recently received an unsolicited email from a company wanting me to buy washingtondcattorney.net. They wanted $10,000 for the domain. That was just ridiculous, so I offered $200 and a bag of Doritos.
Keyword phrases are good for SEO — among other things
The theory is that the keyword phrases in the domain help with your rankings. This is true, to some extent. You want keyword phrases in your domain for SEO purposes, as you tend to rank high on those direct matches.
But your domain must be backed up with content, incoming links and an overall real, live site. If that is not in place, then you are just buying an empty shell of a site and then you have to invest in its development.
How much should I spend, and what should I spend it on?
To spend $10,000 on a domain, or even a few thousand dollars, does not make sense. With that money you could produce a whole new site, with lots of content pages, and pick up washingtondcattorney.info for 89 cents as the domain! It will have the same overall value. It just makes more fiscal sense to put your money into content development and the design, versus the domain.
How to evaluate a domain’s worth?
If someone is trying to sell you a thousand dollar or more domain, be wary. Before you offer ANYTHING, check to see if:
- It has any inbound links – use www.opensiteexplorer.org
This is a critical check. If the domain has zero links, then it’s just easier to get your own domain and build your own links. If it has lots of inbound links from great sources, then muy bueno!
- A site is actually live.
Google only indexes live sites. Visit the site and see what is there. You want a site that is live that you can take over instantly and rebrand. The longer the site has been up, the better.
- If it is a real site vs. a link ad page.
Link sites that just have ads on them are a dime-a-dozen. You want a site that has real traffic and real content. Don’t fall for a single placeholder link page — it’s not worth that much.
- If it has any history – use www.archive.org.
I love seeing a site that has been online for 5+ years, or at least a few years. Also check out the overall domain age via www.whois.net. Shorter registrations and sites without history are worthless.
- It has any brand value.
Some domains are just good picks and worth their money. Lawyers.com, attorneys.com, and others are just worth money by their name alone. Names with cities and attorneys or lawyers are valuable, too. Typically you know a good domain name when you see it. They are short, .com, and descriptive of what you do. If the domain has a ton of phrases in it, is a .net, .org or other domains, discount that.
- If it has any actual rankings and traffic.
Does the site actually have any real traffic or rankings? This increases the price because they have already developed the site. If it has neither, then just pick up your own domain and spend the money on development of the property yourself.
In sum, think of a domain name just like a piece of land. If that land is developed and/or has a good location, it is already worth something. In the domain realm, if it has neither, or if the domain is easily replicated with a different extension (i.e. .org, .net, .info), then it’s really not worth anything.
How to Choose a Domain Name
If you have been through the above process and decided to create your own domain name rather than purchase one, there are some important considerations to take into account. Learning how to choose a domain name is a key aspect of marketing an attorney website. This step is extremely important in setting the foundation of your visibility online.
Here are some of the key things to keep in mind when searching for a great law firm domain name:
Your domain name should exude trust to your clients. For example, smithjoneswilliamslawfirmorlando.net does not seem as trustworthy as the more simple and professional-sounding sjwlaw.com or orlandolaw.com domains.
The bar is set much higher for a law firm than for many other types of companies, like plumbing businesses or restaurants. And your domain name is the first impression people get of you and your firm before they even visit your site. So choosing a professional-sounding domain name is key to funneling traffic in without any barriers.
Authority, in web traffic terms, refers to authority over a certain category online. For example, if you are a Tampa bankruptcy attorney and you own the domain name TampaBankruptcyLaw.com, then guess who is going to be perceived as the immediate authority when a searcher types “Tampa bankruptcy law” into Google? That’s right, you will be perceived as the authority based solely off of the power of your domain name.
This is why some law firms undertake the smart strategy of purchasing these type of generic keyword domain names and then either building their site on them or working with their SEO professional to 301 redirect them (see the section on multiple domain names below for more on this) to their existing law firm domain.
While having a domain name that is an exact match to a popular keyword that gets searched in Google is great (i.e. FloridaAttorney.com is an exact match to the keyword phrase “Florida Attorney”), having a domain name that contains at least part of the target keyword phrase your website is targeting can go a long way as well. For example, if your last name is Jones and your area of specialty is bankruptcy law, then JonesBankruptcyLaw.com could be a great domain name choice.
Sometimes the curse of law firm domain names is that there are so many named partners. When choosing your domain name, plan to make the name as short and as memorable as possible. Even better: plan for the future and be careful about whose name you include in the domain name. If a named partner leaves, then it may be extremely difficult and costly to change the law firm domain because of all of the time and marketing effort that has previously already been put into the existing domain name.
Like wine, a good domain name becomes more valuable with age. This is the case because there are only a limited number of domain names, each domain name is unique (and therefore has inherent value), and Google and other search engines base their rankings in part on the age of a domain name. When it comes to domain names, older equals more trusted for search engines.
If you stick with a domain name that ends in .com and does not contain any dashes, then you will be far ahead of the game..com is still by far the most trusted domain name extension and is definitely worth the extra time and effort it may take you to find a great .com domain name. Dashless domain names are also much more respected than domain names with dashes and are much easier for clients and potential clients to remember when navigating directly to your website.
Why You Should Only Pick One Domain Name
The following question is one we hear quite frequently: “But why can’t I use 5, 10 or even 100 domains for my website?”
Our answer is simple. Google (and the other search engines) only wants to index your site once. It does not care if you have 100 domains pointing into your site for optimization reasons.
Our advice: pick one, perhaps two at the most. Use one for your main site that Google will index. Use another domain if it has sexy marketing appeal that your main domain does not have. For instance, the second domain could be shorter, or appeal to a certain demographic. If you want to purchase multiple domains to prevent other firms from encroaching, then go ahead and purchase multiple domains, but do not expect it to help your web site or optimization efforts. Ultimately, for SEO reasons, it really is best to have only one domain.
As discussed below in our section on multiple domains,, you will want to do a 301 redirect for all previous domains to the primary domain. You definitely want to 301 redirect any secondary domain that you use for marketing purposes into the primary domain. If you do not, you could end up with Google indexing multiple web sites and that would lead to duplicate content penalties.
If you want to use multiple domains, then create multiple UNIQUE websites. Otherwise, choose your best domain and move forward with your marketing.
Domain Name Registration
Many clients have their design firm or agency purchase a domain on their behalf, as discussed above. Sometimes those agencies register the domain in their name. It’s important to note that whoever is the registrant is the owner of the domain.
Why this is important
Because the registrant owns the domain, you may run into the situation that the agency controls the domain name. If they are the registrant, they have the right to make decisions for your domain transfer, renewal, and even the right for it to be sold. This means that if at any point you want to transfer hosting, redesign the site, or need to renew your URL, you would need to contact the agency to make that change.
We’ve seen several instances where the domain agency companies that our clients hired go out-of-business, out of the country, or just plain disappear. In these cases, without the login information, these clients lost access to their domain. Therefore, they were unable to transfer, update, or extend ownership of the domain.
What does the worst case look like? The owner could let your domain lapse and your URL could be renewed by someone else. Since they are also the registrant, the owner actually has rights to sell the domain to someone else. Situations like that could take months to resolve legally, if possible at all.
Tips for your domain registration:
- Make sure the domain is registered under your name, or your firm name. You can do this yourself, or if you are working with a web design firm, you can ask them to register the site with your name and email address. Once it is set up, be sure to get the username and password for the URL. Keep this in your records for future use!
- Register for as many years as possible. This helps with SEO and keeping the domain active.
- Make sure you use a legitimate registrar. Sometimes registrars or resellers do go out of business and it complicates matters.
- Make sure you keep your email address up to date. Doing this allows you to easily reset passwords in case you forget them.
Do You Need a New Domain Name?
Let’s say your firm decided to enter a new market. You were in Dallas and now you are expanding to Houston. Do you need to get a new domain? Perhaps. If your strategy has been to use search-friendly domains from the outset, like www.dallasdivorcelawyer.com, then you may want to pick up the Houston version.
You have a few options here — we explore some of these below.
Get a New Overall Domain
You can purchase an overall domain that would be for both cities (current and new). You would 301 redirect any previous domains. This would be the dominant domain for all sites and all sites would redirect into this domain.
- Pros – This approach is good for branding and SEO (with proper 301).
Cons – There is a new need to advertise, or there is a market change of domain.
Additional Web Site for the New Market
For search optimization purposes, we recommend creating new sites with unique content for each market. While this increases costs (as we need to develop other niche sites), it is effective for branding and search optimization.
- Pros – You don’t have to change anything on your current site. You get a new site to brand too!
Cons – High costs
Redirect New Domain
If branding is the only consideration, then we can simply redirect the domain to the existing site. We can do this with a 301 redirect (explained more below) so that the main dominant domain is shown on the web site launch. This is the best option for SEO.
Alternatively, you can alias the domain so that it remains as whatever the user types in. However, this is not recommended for SEO reasons.
- Pros -” It’s easy to do.
Cons – If you do not 301, then it could lead to SEO issues. If you do the 301, then it could lead to some small branding issues.
What to Do with Multiple Domain Names
Have you purchased not just one domain, but multiple domains, perhaps even hundreds? Maybe you have the best direct match domain ever – yourcity-injury-lawyer.com or something even snazzier. Perhaps you want to take advantage of the power of a direct match domain.
Let’s find out how to properly use that kick-butt domain.
Myths about multiple domains
There are a few myths about having multiple domains. Let’s get rid of those first.
Myth #1: “Each new domain will be indexed on its own and rank high with my existing content on my existing website.” Unfortunately, the belief is wrong. As we explained above, Google will only index one site at a time.
Myth #1: “I can buy 100 domains and increase my search rankings of my main site by just having them point to my site. Unfortunately, the belief is also wrong.
What Google wants
Google and other search engines only want to index one version of your web site for its dominant domain. For this reason, don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
Google does not want multiple versions of your web site in its index. It wants unique content on all your sites and domains.
Furthermore, search engines will assign penalties if you have the same content on all domains. You really want to avoid duplicate content penalties.
Tips to manage multiple domains
With these myths dispelled and a better understanding of what multiple domains may mean for search engines and website traffic, here are our top tips for managing multiple domains.
Pick one domain to use with unique content
One tactic is to pick one domain for your website and redirect the remainder to that dominant domain. This is done through a 301 redirect, and Google will only index the dominant domain. You can still use the other domains for advertising and tracking purposes.
301 redirect multiple domains
If you are going to buy tons of domains, realize that in order to ensure proper website architecture, your web firm should only 301 redirect secondary domains into your primary domain. This will allow search to index just one domain and keep duplicate content issues away. However, you can also use those domains to create new sites – it just takes a lot more effort.
The good news is that 301 redirects are really simple – 15 minutes of work. The bad news is that they do not take full advantage of your direct match of the keyword phrase of the domain. It just redirects traffic.
Create unique websites for the alternate domains
An alternate way of using those domains is to create multiple UNIQUE websites. The key is that the web site’s content must be unique and non-duplicate, this way each website will rank separately on Google.
They really cannot just be one-page placeholder sites, as that violates Google’s rules. The goal should be creating the best resource in your particular area. Now, we have seen that where there is little competition in an area, a one-page site is fine. But usually, it takes at least a five-page site to compete.
Additional domains can be blogs, micro, niche, or practice area sites. If the content is unique and non-duplicative, then they will be indexed independently.
Note that you can actually reuse your initial web design and your overall web brand. So that minimizes costs by a lot – you only have to pay for the building of the new site, not the design. All you need to do is create unique content to talk about your subject area. Better yet, plan a campaign to become THE resource for your practice area.
The good news is that if you create multiple web sites, you can rank high for each. The bad news is that this method increases costs as you have to produce more content and multiple sites.
Get Help Creating, Updating, or Consolidating Your Domain Name
If your firm does not have anyone with expertise in website development, knowing whether you’re doing the right things with your domain can be difficult. Fortunately, PaperStreet’s website design team has just the knowledge and experience to help you obtain the most successful domain name for your law firm.
Contact us to get the domain support you need.