When I look around at the options available to lawyers looking to create their websites, I see two broad categories of choices:
- Do everything yourself,
- Hire someone else to do it for you
Doing everything yourself is not recommended. I maintain this even if, like me, you are an attorney who previously had a career developing complex websites for hundreds of organizations, develop mobile apps in your spare time, code in ten languages, and built your first website before leaving elementary school. The simple reason is that you should be focusing on business development and practice.
On the other hand, hiring others to develop your web presence for you can be insanely pricey. And, though the price may be no sweat to you to afford, I say “insanely” from the following points of view:
- Having full awareness of the costs associated with running all of the various technologies, I can say that a lot of web developers are making a lot of money for what they are offering.
- Having a solid understanding of the value a web presence delivers to an attorney, as compared with some other prospecting efforts, I can say that what a lot of web developers are providing is not of much value to lawyers. (I am not saying websites are not valuable, just that what is being delivered is not all that valuable. More on that later.)
- Having a very broad grasp on what is out there and what is on the cutting edge, I can say that pricing is not built on principles of fairness because a lot of what is going on could be described as delivering yesterday’s technology at tomorrow’s prices.
What are you paying for?
Heidi Alexander, a law practice management advisor with the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program did a phenomenal job laying out the components you need to purchase and run in order to build a website. In sum, you have to buy:
- [And, I would add to Alexander's list] The actual website or content management system (i.e., what people see when they go to your website.)
Domains cost less than $15/year. Hosts capable of serving an attorney website cost about $10/month. Email is free with hosting. And, a decent website can be built in (generously) twenty hours of semi-skilled work — $1,500 at $75/hour for an okay web developer — and should be redone every three years. Amortized over the three year period, the site itself should cost $500/year.
Yearly, this means that the cost of the technologies needed to build your web presence are $635/year. Depending of course on what you actually get, everything that you pay above this cost measurement for your website is extra profit for the developer or waste.
The above table summarizes the yearly costs assuming you get a new website every three years.
What are companies charging to do it all for you?
Alexander mentioned three companies that offer to do it all for you: LexisNexis, FindLaw, and Avvo. You’ll pay a premium for that. And while I could not get numbers of all of these services, I was able to get numbers readily on Avvo. They were not encouraging.
Avvo, which offers what would best be described as a turnkey/self-service platform as a service is charging $199/month to do it for you. That’s $2,400/year, when, assuming they were buying the technology for it at retail prices, would cost them $635/year to provide to you.
I would estimate that they actually can provide hosting for much cheaper, and website development for next to nothing in terms of marginal cost because they own their own servers and have automated development, nearly removing human labor from the picture. I would guess they can provide their platform to you at a cost of less than $60/year (and I am being generous).
That’s a margin of 4,000%!
How can they justify that?
In attempting to justify this margin, they make several claims that I find to be non-credible:
- “Search engine optimized. Our SEO experts automatically optimize your site’s code for your practice area and location.” Remember, search engine optimization is about beating out your competitors. If everyone is search engine optimized in exactly the same way by the same algorithm, the effect is nil.
- “You own it. You control it. You own your domain name and content. If you decide to leave, it is yours to take with you.” While you may own the content you write, if you leave, I can guarantee you will not be left with a fully functioning website you can deploy on another host. That’s because giving out the server-side code that fuels your website would be tantamount to giving away the company’s entire competitive advantage in this industry.
- “Easy-to-understand reports. Our monthly reports show you the metrics that matter: how many clients find, contact & hire you and how to get more.” While not entirely non-credible, they are offering an analytics package, one of the best of which (Google Analytics) is available for FREE. Basic analytics cannot justify a price point when it is free to anyone who wants it.
- “It quickly pays for itself. With pricing at just $199 per month, including a dedicated account manager, Avvo Ignite Starter is a great value that delivers a return on investment – more new clients.” Without an inbound marketing platform like HubSpot (which starts at $200/month), it would be hard to make the case that putting together a website is going to be enough to convert prospective clients.
So, if you are looking for a website, be careful out there. There’s a lot of hogwash, snake-oil, and secret sauce. And at the end of the day, it might cost you a lot of money if you fall for it.
If you are considering building a new website for your practice and have questions about how much your project should cost you, or what resources are available to keep your project within your budget, I invite you to be in touch.