Lawyers: if you don’t own your website, at least own your domain

Estimated read time – 3 minutes 

Not owning their business URL. This is one of the biggest SEO mistakes law firms make. It’s also one of the easiest fixes. If you take anything away from this article, it should be this: have access to your GoDaddy or Network Solutions account, and buy all your domain names through that one account. When you hire SEO providers, or change providers, your life will be much easier.

The term “SEO” is a big tent, so when I say “SEO mistakes,” I really mean marketing mistakes. Unfortunately, the legal industry is often behind the curve when it comes to technology, so the problems I identify below do seem to disproportionately affect lawyers. I can say this because I am a lawyer, and our agency works with a number of law firms. We routinely encounter situations where the client can’t get access to their GoDaddy account.

How can your law firm make sure it owns its own domain?

Law firms routinely can’t access their domain registrar

Unfortunately, lots of legal marketing providers rent websites to lawyers. This means the law firm doesn’t own their website files, they can’t move them to the server of their choice. Their ability to change design features and content is limited. If they leave the company, they leave their website. This is the way these models are set up, as subscriptions, with the goal to keep you paying. Leaving isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s not a legal marketing provider, but SquareSpace is one of the most popular website subscription models.

I’m not opposed to software subscriptions (love Netflix), but in my opinion, all businesses should own their own website. For lawyers, WordPress is almost always the best solution. However, if you find yourself using a provider who rents website software to you, there is a last line of defense that you must not neglect. The domain registrar. As I mentioned above, two of the most popular domain registrars are GoDaddy and Network Solutions. Most domain registrars offer what is called DNS hosting. It’s through your “DNS settings” that you specify mail servers and web host.

Why is this important?

Because if you don’t control this account, not only do you not own your website, you don’t own your own domain. If you don’t own your domain, you can’t install new website files at your current URL.

For example, when clients come to us who want to leave Findlaw, we rarely take the step of transferring Findlaw website files to a new host. We usually leave the Findlaw files behind and start clean with a new Worpdress site. Once the new Worpdress site has been designed and tested, we “flip the switch” at the client’s domain registrar by specifying a different host, where our new website files live. For client accounts, we use and recommend WP Engine for hosting. Once the Findlaw name servers are removed from the DNS settings, and our new ones are added in, the Findlaw site comes down, and our new WordPress site appears in its place. We didn’t take the step of installing the Findlaw site files at a different server, we went with a fresh website instead. However, we only have that option when the client has reserved their own domain, and can remember the password to the account.

In case all this talk of changing DNS settings sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, it’s really not that complex, and often involves swapping out one IP address for another. GoDaddy has a number of simple help articles designed to walk you through the process.

Not sure if you own your own domain, or who your domain registrar is? Do a Whois search

Whois is a site that allows you to search for domain names to see where they’re reserved, who reserved them, and what the domain name servers are. You can even see the name and address of the person who bought the domain if they elected not to pay for added privacy. If you can’t access your domain registrar, or don’t know which one you used, this is the place to start your research.

The bottom line

When signing up with a new SEO provider, reserve your own domain through your own account. If you have the provider do this for you, make sure there is a procedure in place for transferring ownership of the domain in the event you part ways. GoDaddy makes it pretty painless to transfer domains between accounts, this doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can become one when you work with a larger provider with aggressive contracts. They may keep your URL hostage until your contract runs out.

The best scenario is to own your own website. If that isn’t an option, remember that the domain registrar, and associated DNS settings, are the nerve center of your web presence. You should always have access.

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