Choosing Your Law Firm’s Domain Name

Pre-Introduction

While it’s worth spending some time thinking about your law firm’s domain name, it’s even more important to understand that the best domain name in the world can’t overcome a bad website.

Conversely, a great website full of useful content can overcome a so-so domain name.

Introduction

Choosing a domain name is not a task that any business should take lightly, and law firms are no exception.

As with all things, the right domain name for your law practice will depend on the specifics of your law practice and your marketing goals.

This guide is comprehensive in the sense that we’ve addressed how legal professionals in a variety of situations should go about choosing their domain name. Enjoy!

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Contents:

The Anatomy of a Domain

domain-breakdown

Top Level Domain (TLD)

Any discussion about domain names ought to begin with the Top Level Domain. The top level domain is the extension that appears at the end of all domains names. The most common TLDs are:

  • .com
  • .net
  • .org
  • .edu

A .com is the TLD of choice for most businesses. However, as the web evolves, and with ICANN’s lifting restrictions on hundreds of new TLDs, it’s becoming more common to see businesses look beyond the .com for their domain name.

Root Domain

The root domain is the part of the domain that is unique to your business. It’s what you will spend the most time thinking about when choosing a domain name for your law firm. The root domain is typically composed of words that represent the business in some way.

Some law firms choose to use a branded domain name (eg. cochranfirm.com), while other use words that describe their area of focus (eg. accidentlaw.com).

Typically, the root domain is the aspect of your law firm domain name that will have the greatest impact on your overall marketing and branding efforts.

Subdomain

All domain names are able to have subdomains added to them. Subdomains are a great solution for creating a separate website without having to buy a new domain. An example of a major website that is hosted on a subdomain is ESPN’s website:

domain-breakdown-subs

The most common subdomain is technically -www. The subdomain is not something that really needs to be considered when choosing your firm’s root domain name.

Popular Registrars

It’s important to carefully consider the registrar that you purchase your domain name through. Here’s a list of registrars that tend to have solid reputations:

  • GoDaddy
  • Name.com
  • Google Domains (Beta)
  • Register.com
  • Network Solutions
  • Tucows
  • 1&1
  • eNom
go-daddy-domainsnetwork-solutions-domain-registar

I register my domains names through GoDaddy. Honestly, it’s for no other reason than theirs is the service and interface I am most comfortable and familiar with. That, plus the fact that I like to keep all my domains in a single location for easier management, and GoDaddy happened to be the first place where I registered a domain.

My suggestion is simply to go with a company you are comfortable with.

Costs

Assuming that you’re not going after a “premium” domain name (eg. injurylawyers.com) it’s going to cost you $10 to $20 per year to register your domain name with most of the popular registrars.

Now, if you’re looking at purchasing a domain that is already registered, or you’re looking at bidding on a domain that is up for auction, you’re going to face a greater up-front cost.

As we mentioned at the outset, what ends up being the “right” domain name for your legal practice will largely depend on your firm’s specific circumstances.

For solo-attorney law firms, the domain name decision comes down to whether the attorney wants to brand the practice with her name OR with her area of practice OR some combination of both.

In an attempt to simplify things, let’s break down solo attorney domain name options into four types, and examine the strengths and weaknesses of each:

Domain Type Example Strengths Weaknesses
Exact name match andrewflusche.com
  • Name recognition. Anyone who sees your domain will learn your name.
  • Versatility. Since you’re not indicating any particular practice area with your domain, you’re better suited to address a wider variety areas of law with the site.
  • Reputation management. Particularly if you have a name that is somewhat unique, this domain will rank well for your name in search engines.
  • Ambiguity. If someone has never heard of you, they won’t be able to glean any insight into your profession by seeing your domain name.
  • Lack of keywords. We know that having keywords in a domain name correlates positively with higher rankings for those keywords.
  • Limited Availability. If you have a common name, it’s likely that you won’t be able to secure the exact match version of the .com domain.
Exact name + industry indicator andrewfluschelaw.com
  • Same strengths as exact name match domain plus…
  • Keyword value. Having terms industry indicators “law” and “legal” can help the site rank for keywords containing those terms.
  • Availability. Even if you have a common name, you’ll likely be able to buy a domain with some combination of your name + your industry indicator.
  • Length. If you already have a long name adding “law” or “law firm” or “legal” might make for a long domain name.
  • Lack of keywords. Although you’ve added an industry indicator term, you won’t gain any keyword value for your more specific practice areas.
Hybrid name + practice area fluschetrafficlaw.com
  • Brand association. This format allows you to associate your name with your area of expertise.
  • Availability. By combining your name with your practice area, you significantly reduce the odds that the domain name is already registered.
  • Keyword value. We know that having keywords in a domain name correlates positively with higher rankings for those keywords.
  • Length. Combining your name with your practice area could make for a long URL.
  • Reputation management. Since this domain type includes only a portion of your name, it may be more difficult to rank highly in search engines for your name.
  • Memorability. The more complex your domain name becomes, the harder it is to remember.
Practice area virginiatrafficlaw.com
  • Keyword value. We know that having keywords in a domain name correlates positively with higher rankings for those keywords.
  • Relevance. As a user, if I’m looking for information on Virginia traffic laws, I’m confident that virginiatrafficlaw.com will have the information I need.
  • Cost. A great practice area domain may come at a premium price.
  • Availability. These domains are typically harder to find because of their perceived SEO value.
  • Branding. This type of domain name does not serve to strengthen your brand name, unless of course your brand name is just your practice area.

In the end, the type of domain name you choose for your solo practice should be guided by your marketing goals, and your long term business plan.

If you never intend to change the type of law you specialize in, a practice area domain may be the right choice. Alternatively, if your goals involve building a firm that practices in a wide variety of areas, a name match domain may be a better choice.

The most common rebranding scenario that we see from law firms is a situation where a partner is added to the firm, thus changing the firm name.

For example, we recently worked with Kemp, Ruge & Green on a web design project. They were in the process of changing their name from “Kemp & Ruge” to “Kemp, Ruge & Green”, which meant we needed to choose a new domain name.

In this case the choice was easy. The client’s domain was kempruge.com, an exact name match domain. Since adding “green” would not make the domain overly long or complex, we made an easy decision; we added “green” on the end and published the site on kemprugegreen.com.

If your firm is in a similar situation, consider the following before making a decision on your domain name:

  • Are we likely going to add or remove a partner in the future?
  • Does adding the new name make the domain overly long or complex (we suggest that your root domain name be less than 30 characters)?
  • Are we specialized enough in our practice to justify a more generic, practice area domain name?

Should I go with a more generic domain name when rebranding?

The Kemp, Ruge, & Green case study actually presents a compelling argument for a more generic domain name. What if partners come and go? Do you really want to change domains every time someone is added or removed?

One way to get around this is to simply commit to leaving your firm’s name the same regardless of the ownership shares. But, this isn’t always a realistic path.

For firms who anticipate changing their official firm name frequently, we suggest using a domain name that does not feature the firm’s name prominently. This way, when the firm’s name changes, you’re simply updating the content on the site; you don’t actually have to change domains.

SEO Considerations

The most important thing to understand about changing domains during a rebrand is that you must consider SEO during this process.

  • If your firm name has changed, you need to update all of your local citations to reflect that updated name.
  • You must also properly redirect all of those OLD URLs to the corresponding new URLs on the new domain.
  • You may also want to look into performing outreach to have external backlinks which point at your old domain updated to point to the new rebranded domain.

If you care about organic search as a lead generation source, the decision to switch domains shouldn’t be taken lightly. It also shouldn’t be executed without the guidance of an experienced SEO professional.

I have written before about the efficacy of publishing “hyper-focus” legal websites (ie. websites decided to providing information on an exclusive topic). If you’re considering publishing a hyper-focus website for a specific area of practice, you’ll need to start by choosing a domain name.

Let’s look at the most important considerations for choosing a domain name for your hyper-focus legal website.

  • City + Practice Area in the domain name: The thing is, laws surrounding your legal areas of focus are likely formed and enforced on the state or federal level…not at the municipal level. Accordingly, the city is only relevant to where you practice NOT to the nature of the laws and procedures, which is what your potential customers care about. In other words, the city is only relevant to your marketing. I suggest that you avoid choosing a domain name that contains the name of the city in which you practice. If you want a location reference in the domain name, go with the state. Also, even if you get leads from parts of your state where you don’t work, there’s nothing wrong with being able to refer those leads out to other attorneys thus establishing referral partnerships with other law firms in your state.
  • URL length and hyphens. When you’re creating a hyper-focus website, you may find that many of the domain names you have in mind are already registered. Typically, this means that you need to add words or hyphens, both of which tend to make the domain name longer and uglier. We suggest that you try to keep the domain name concise (< 30 characters) and on topic. For example, we created a hyper focus website for a client who specializes in reckless driving in Virginia. The obvious choices like “virginiarecklessdriving.com” were taken. Instead of hyphenating we went with “fightvirginiarecklessdriving.com” because it clocked in at under 30 characters and it accurately described the contents of the site.
  • “Attorney”, “Lawyer”, or “Law Firm” in the domain name. It’s crucial to keep in mind that the primary objective of your hyper-focus legal website is to answer the questions that your potential customers have about the area of law you practice. You want the site to be viewed, by humans and search engines, and an authority on the topic, not as a piece of marketing for your law firm. This is different than the primary objective of your main law firm website which is to educate potential customers on why they should work with your firm (marketing and sales). For this reason, I suggest avoiding having the words “attorney”, “lawyer”, or “law firm” in your domain name. Instead, use words that describe the contents of the site. For example, if I were a lawyer in Colorado practicing insurance bad faith law, I would go with cobadfaithlaw.com for my hyper-focus website over coloradoinsurancebadfaithlawyers.com.
  • TLDs other than .com. In general, I advise clients to go with a good ‘ol fashioned .com TLD for hyper-focus websites. If you go with a .org you may find a greater selection of domain names, but this isn’t a very authentic approach (unless you’re doing pro-bono work, or the website is a purely not-for-profit endeavor). I’ve also seen firms go with a .guru or a .pro TLD. These may well be against your state bar marketing guidelines, and they also may come off as cheesy to users. Again, my suggestion is to try and find a .com. If you absolutely can’t get the domain name you want with a .com TLD, then you can start shopping around for other potential TLDs that will work.

Before diving into this, let’s establish the difference between a law firm website and a personal law blog.

    Law firm website: A website with information about an operational law firm. Law firm websites are expressly commercial in nature. While individual attorneys from the firm may contribute content to the law firm website, the site represents the firm as a whole, not simply the ideas and views of a single member of the firm.
    Personal law blog: A collection of writings by a lawyer, which may or may not be affiliated with any specific “law firm”. A personal law blog can effectively produce new professional opportunities for an attorney, but it is not expressly commercial in nature.

The right domain name for your personal law blog will, as ever, depend on a variety of factors. Some of the most important factors include:

  • Your personality. A blog, by definition, is an online journal. By deciding to publish a blog you have committed to sharing your unique expertise, through your voice, on the web. As such, your domain name ought to reflect your voice and your personality. If you tend to write in a lighthearted fashion, a domain name with some irony or humor may be appropriate. Conversely, if most of your writing is in a serious tone, or covers a serious subject matter, you ought to consider a more straight-forward domain name.
  • Your subject matter. Needless to say, if you blog about criminal justice issues, it wouldn’t make sense to do your blogging on whistleblowerlaw.com. If you prefer not to try and be funny, witty, ironic, etc. I suggest that you choose a domain name that accurately describes your subject matter. If you blog exclusively on anti-trust law, a domain name like AntiTrustTalk.com would be a good option.
  • Your audience. Unless you plan to be the only one to ever read your blog, you should have a target audience in mind. Perhaps your target audience is other attorneys – peers. Or, perhaps it’s non-lawyers, consumers, etc. who you want to educate. Before choosing your domain name you ought to consider the composition of your audience and choose a domain name that will appeal to them.

So, you’re interested in the new .Law TLDs? Let’s have a look at the most important things you should understand before making the decision to invest in one.

The Basics

  • A company called Minds + Machines has the exclusive license from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)— the nonprofit responsible for coordinating the monitoring and creation of naming conventions on the Internet— to operate the new .law TLDs. If you’re in the market for a .Law TLD, you’ll be dealing with Minds + Machines.
  • Minds + Machines started taking orders for .law domains July 30, 2015, the beginning of a 60-day “sunrise period.”
  • Firms who have registered their trademarks with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers are eligible to participate in the sunrise period.
  • Domain name registration will be available to credentialed members of the legal community October 12, 2015
  • The cost for branded .law domains (eg. Janesmith.law) will cost roughly $200. The cost for more generic “premium” domains (eg. CaliforniaInjury.law) will start at $500.
  • There will also be a standard $200 annual renewal fee + a $10 verification fee.
  • Anyone who applies for a .law domain will have to certify that she is a lawyer and submit to a verification process. Lawyers can apply on behalf of themselves, their law firms and their companies.

Some Valid Reasons for Registering a .Law Domain

  1. Your current domain name sucks. It’s long, it has a bunch of hyphens, it’s not relevant to your practice, it’s had bad SEO done to it, etc.
  2. You have a specific strategy in place for building an awesome website using your new .law domain.
  3. You missed out on getting the .com domain you wanted, but you have an opportunity to get the same domain as a .law.
  4. You think it’s fun to buy new domains.
  5. You have a tech-savvy audience who you feel will respond positively to the fact that you are an early adopter of the .law domains.

How will Google treat the new .Law TLDs?

Just this past July, Google published a blog post on how they will handle new top level domains (TLDs). Essentially the message is, Google does not give one TLD preference over any other.

Google is in the business of returning the best possible search results to their users. They work hard to build a ranking algorithm that is meritocratic. In general, they strive use authentic quality signals that are hard to manipulate (natural backlinks, social shares, user engagement signals, etc.) in order to rank search results. They do not want to reward a website with high rankings just because the organization behind it was able to purchase an expensive domain name; they want to reward true quality.

Will a .Law domain help my search engine rankings?

We know that having keywords in a domain name can help a website rank for those specific keywords. Accordingly, having the .law in your domain name may help your website’s search engine rankings for some keywords. But, if this is the primary reason for your decision to go with a new .law TLD, you’ll likely be disappointed in the results.