Monday, January 07, 2008

Firm Websites & Blog Software

As I touched on Friday over on my Stem blog, I believe the future of law firm websites will increasingly be driven by web 2.0 technologies. And in particular, over the next couple years I'm expecting more what we experience to resemble what we know as blogs today -- more proper Content Management (or "CMS") software being used, and more emphasis on Lawyer commentary.

The interesting part here for me is how this commentary will be integrated, and I think that will depend a lot on the firm, and the firm's approach.

Under ideal circumstances, and a definite course for larger firms, IMO, is using something along the lines of my hub-n-wheel strategy -- service pages, profile pages and various qualification tools on the firm's principal site, surrounded by other content-based websites, each defined by the firm's core service lines and target audiences.

This is the type of approach I've tried to implement with Clark Wilson. The principal law firm website being at, and the spokes of that wheel being content sites like BCRELinks and the Canadian Trademark Blog.

The counter strategy here, and probably more applicable to smaller firms and solos, is to create a single CMS driven website that combines traditional legal website content with newer technologies that support online commentary. This type of site could be built on a blogging software like Wordpress, outsourced to a company like Lexblog, or created using a community portal CMS like Drupal. Any of these solutions would do.

As an example, in recent weeks I've been working with new Stem client Ron Chapman, a Florida criminal lawyer. On his site, we're looking at things like improving the service pages and more detail & examples within his lawyer profile. Ron's blog commentary will be front & centre on this website, with the service pages off in their own dedicated area. Ultimately, I'd like to see the link architecture give a little more prominence to those pages in the template design, but I think we're getting there.

There aren't a lot of people using blog software to build websites these days, but it is being done, and I think we're looking at a big increase soon. I've felt this way for a while, and it's one of the reasons I built my company site on Wordpress. Actually, it's two installs of Wordpress; one for the main website and one for my Strategy Blog.

Feature wise, using blog software has allowed me to:
  • offer RSS feeds for every page on the website;
  • integrate comment functionality in webpages, at my choosing;
  • use open source software & not pay for an expensive CMS product;
  • create new pages the same day I've conceived of a concept;
  • move the blog functionality off the homepage (not necessary, but something I wanted to do...);
  • repurpose the blog functionality for the site's news area, thus creating an easy publishing & RSS enabled press release function;
  • create a website with the SEO basics already baked in.
That last point is worth noting. Often when I get retained to SEO work for law firms, one the first challenges I face is to get those on-page optimization basics in order. By using blog software, the turn around time to getting a website ranking well can be cut in half. It's significant.

Blogs, comments & trackbacks, RSS functionality - all these features are here to stay. For me, the question now becomes how long before firms integrate these features into their principal site, and how prominent blog style commentary will become. Time will tell, I suppose. :-)

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