Even today, many lawyers are surprised to learn that they don’t need to code their websites in HTML one page at a time. In fact, most websites today are built on some type of content management system (CMS). A CMS makes it relatively easy to launch and change a website with very little technical know-how. However, choosing the right CMS for your needs can have a big impact on both the effectiveness of your site, as well as, your wallet. Here are some things you should consider in choosing the right content management system for your law firm website or blog.
An Open-Source v Proprietary CMS
Content management systems are software. And like other types of software, they can be put into two very general buckets: open-source and proprietary.
For our purposes, in this specific context, open-source essentially means free. Yay! Proprietary, means you pay for a license to use the software. Like most things in life, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to both buckets.
An open-source CMS might be right for you if:
- You have a limited budget for your website.
- Desire a high-degree of flexibility and customization.
- Have some technical know-how.
- Are concerned about being held hostage by a website administrator.
A proprietary CMS might be right for you if:
- You don’t care about being able to make changes to your site yourself.
- You don’t need much control or flexibility.
- Want a lot of help administering, updating, managing and maintaining your site.
- Are looking to develop a long-term relationship with a website administrator.
- Aren’t concerned with the ability to up and move your site to a different administrator.
Examples of open-source CMS solutions include:
- WordPress.org (my personal favorite)
Examples of popular proprietary CMS solutions include:
- Godaddy Website Builder
In my view, most lawyers are better-off going with an open-source CMS. Most of the perceived benefits of a proprietary CMS (support, maintenance, etc) can be achieved by simply hiring someone to support your open-source CMS solution. Furthermore, the risks and costs of being held hostage by essentially renting your CMS are simply too great. Finally, choosing an open-source solution like WordPress also opens up access to the global WordPress community of users and developers.
Nine times out of ten, I recommend that solo and small law firms choose WordPress. There are a few very rare exceptions to this general rule.
Your CMS and SEO
If you care about being found in search engines, then choosing a CMS that is (of can be easily configured to be) search engine-friendly is key.
Some CMS software will do “weird stuff” with URLs, HTML and redirects. This can have a negative impact on the ability of search engines to find, access and index your web pages. Not good.
Fortunately, most of the major solutions that you’re likely to encounter (both open-source and proprietary) have SEO configuration options to deal with these issues. However, you should still ask. And just because that CMS can be configured to be search engine-friendly, doesn’t mean it will come that way out-of-the-box. Even my beloved WordPress requires some configuring to “work right” in search engines. Fortunately, if you do decide to go with WordPress, many of the basic SEO issues can be resolved with some very simple adjustments (pretty permalinks, Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin, etc).
In writing this post, I wanted to lay out some of the major things you should be thinking about in choosing a CMS. And to reiterate, there isn’t one CMS solution that’s right for every single law firm website or blog that you can think of (although WordPress is pretty close).
However, most of you will be hard-pressed to come up with reasons not to use WordPress. Some of you might argue that WordPress has security vulnerabilities. But any vulnerabilities you might have heard about can be avoided by taking appropriate hardening measures and avoiding sketchy themes and plugins.
After reviewing 100s of websites and dealing with the headaches and frustrations that can be caused by choosing the wrong CMS, I can confidently say that the overwhelming majority of you will be best served simply by just choosing WordPress.