How To Start A Law Firm Website For Less Than $100
Chris Dreyer | July 12, 2015
It used to be that building a website was a highly technical process that required a lot of specialized skill. For the most part that is still true but attorneys can set up a basic website where they can blog, add pages and images, set up a contact form and begin promoting their firm online for less than 100 dollars.
Today with CMS platforms like WordPress and user-friendly hosting services, virtually anyone can look like a web-programming superstar for next to nothing. Attorneys in private practice who haven’t gotten around to or who cannot afford professional web development can set up a first-rate website in no time.
Step 1 Register a Domain Name (COST: FREE – 12.99/yr)
You have to register a domain name if you want to build a website. Normally the cost for something like this is about 13 dollars for the year for domains that aren’t taken already. If you want a domain that is not available (and it’s a must-have), you will have to negotiate with the owner of the domain.
Currently if you go with Blue Host1, you can get a free domain name when you sign up for hosting (full disclosure I am a Blue Host affiliate). Simply visit www.bluehost.com2 and click on the green “Get Started Now” button on the home page. On the next page you will be prompted to enter the domain name that you wish to register or enter an existing domain name you want to use.
Step 2 Find a Host (COST: 4.95/month)
Hosting is a cost you cannot get away from when having a website and it is also one of the least expensive parts of the whole process (within reason). Most attorneys are only going to have informational-based sites so it is safe to say you will not be spending a lot on hosting.
Signing Up For Hosting
There are a lot of mainstream hosting companies that will work just fine if you prefer to use something other than Blue Host. Remember that if you want to do a WordPress install your host will need a current version of PHP running on their server and support for databases. These things are pretty common with most well-known hosts. If you are wondering about what other features you should be thinking about, here is a good post3 on the different features that tend to be important.
Currently you can sign up for a basic account with Blue Host for 4.95 per month4. You will have to buy a plan for a minimum of three months but I would recommend the year-long registration and even longer if you can swing it. There are two benefits here:
1. You will not have to worry about renewing things right away.
2. Registering a domain for a long period of time indicates trust for search engines.
If you do not want to use Blue Host, other hosting providers have similar pricing and features for WordPress-based sites or other kinds of installations. If you are using Blue Host, you can continue on with the process above to purchase a hosting package and installing WordPress. After you choose a domain name or enter an existing one, click the next button and you will be taken to the account set up page.
Follow the rest of the steps to sign up for hosting in subsequent pages. You can then log into your account to get ready to install WordPress on your new hosting account.
Step 3 Download WordPress (COST: FREE)
There are a lot of ways to build a website and WordPress is one of the most flexible and easy-to-use platforms out there. There is also tons of documentation for the do-it-yourselfer. WPBeginner has an excellent post on why you should go with WordPress5. In a previous post about how to start a blog6, we went through how to install WordPress using your host’s built-in interface. We will go through that again here.
How to Install WordPress
Installing your website with the Blue Host’s interface is super simple. In this post we will be doing it with Blue Host but other mainstream hosts have similar processes. A lot of them have interfaces that allow you to install WordPress in a few clicks. In these instructions, you are pretty much downloading and installing WordPress in a few clicks and you will not need to mess with any files or technical stuff.
Start by logging in and going to the control panel of your account.
Once logged in, you should see a lot of icons for different options in your hosting account. It should look like the screenshot below. Look for the WordPress icon (it says “Install WordPress”) and click on it.
You will then be asked to check the domain you want to install WordPress on along with the directory you would like it on. Note that if you already have a website on the domain this process will not work as intended. You will either receive an error or end up overriding whatever files were in place on the site (i.e. deleting an existing website). Make sure you are doing a fresh installation of a new site and that any old files (if present) have already been removed. If you never had a website on your domain name then you are good to go.
On the last screen you will be asked to enter your site title, an admin user name, password and email. Be sure to write these down! You should also check the box that says “create a database automatically”. Also check that you agree to the terms of service and then click “Install Now”.
Visit the home page of your new website. You should see WordPress’s default page. If you’re seeing that, you are ready to move on to installing a custom theme.
Step 4 Adding A Custom Theme To Your Site
WordPress uses themes which are basically the underlying structure of the site. For example the position, styling and functionality if images, menus, forms, pages, posts, etc are all defined in the theme files of WordPress (for the most part). The CMS comes with a default theme (which is what you are seeing when you visit your new website for the first time).
You can always use the default theme but there are also many other choices out there. For example you can download attorney-specific themes7 for your site.
Where to Find Themes
If you search for “wordpress themes” you will find tons of results but be careful where you download your theme from. Some are free and some are paid but not all are good choices. Some themes can be “buggy” (meaning they are difficult to work with) or they may not work with your version of WordPress. Always go to a reliable source and you are better off paying for a theme than downloading a free one. Also read any reviews available on a theme developer’s profile in any theme market place. You may save yourself some headache before downloading.
You can find decent themes for between 40 and 60 dollars at the sites below. Payment allows you to download the theme files and typically use them for just one website. Below are a list of trusted sites where you can purchase themes.
• The WordPress.org Themes Directory9
• Elegant Themes10
Once you have found a theme you like, download it but leave it in the zip file that it comes in. You can just leave it in your downloads folder for installation (coming up).
Do your homework before you download a theme. For example make sure there are not any additional plugins required for purchase in order to make your site look like an example you saw. You should be able to find information like this from the theme author. Also read reviews from other theme purchasers to get an idea of whether they had a good experience or not.
How to Install Themes
You can install themes right from your WordPress administrator interface. Login to your site via the admin URL (www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin). After you log in, you should see a screen like the one below.
Click on Appearance then Themes in the navigation menu to the left. You will see the default theme(s) already installed on your site. Click the “add new” button at the top of the screen in the themes section.
Click on the upload link and then “choose file”. You will then be prompted to look for theme files on your computer. Navigate to the zip folder that you downloaded earlier and select it. You don’t need to unzip it, WordPress will do that automatically.
Click “install now”. WordPress will do some thinking and then you should see some progress messages. If your theme was installed correctly, you should see a screen like the one below.
Click the activation link to make the theme live (this will replace any other theme you have running including any default WordPress themes). If you are not ready to make the theme live, you can always come back to it later.
Customizing Your Theme
Since there are so many different themes out there, it is hard to make a step by step on how to customize one. In general you should visit the theme author’s website or the place where you downloaded the theme for any documentation on setting it up. Many times, theme files will have some sort of documentation or instructions included with them.
If you find a theme that has a “quick-start” version of a zip file download, use that. That will generally set a site up just the way you saw it in an example. Then all you have to do is go through and modify content and settings to fit your attorney brand and your content.
There are a lot of great plugins that you should add to your site right off the bat. Here is a list of them to get you started.
• Google Analytics for WordPress12
• Hupso Social Sharing13 (there are a lot of good plugins for social sharing but I use these)
• All-in-one SEO pack14 for WordPress
• Feedburner form15 (for people to subscribe to your blog content via email)
• Contact form for WordPress16
• Wp SmushIt17 (For speed)
• W3 Total Cache18 (For speed)
All of these plugins are free of charge.
Step 5 Adding Content
Part of customizing your site that is pretty much the same no matter what theme you have is adding content in the form of pages. You can start creating pages by clicking on the “Pages” link in the left navigation menu.
Once you have created all of your pages, you can create a menu to link them all together. Go to Appearance then Menus and you should be able to build a basic menu out of all the pages you’ve created. You can also make menu items that are external links if need be.
With a CMS like WordPress, it is easy to build a fully functional and professional looking website for next to nothing. All you need is a little know how and time to set things up.