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A simple guide to legal website hosting

By PracticePanther

The number of potential clients searching for legal services exclusively online continues to increase. In 2018 72 percent of respondents to Thomson Reuters’ U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey said they consulted offline sources; this year, that ticked downward to 68 percent. Any law firm that wants more clients needs to have an online presence. Every firm without a high-quality website is losing clients since relying on word-of-mouth is no longer an option. Legal website hosting basics are essential for every firm to know – from choosing a hosting platform to search engine optimization.

What is website hosting?

Website hosting is renting or purchasing space on a server to host a website. All the images, content, and code that make a website is stored in this space, which is then accessible through the World Wide Web. To better understand it, think of website hosting like online real estate. People rent or buy a home to live in and that home is attached to an address so it can be found.

But with web hosting, a website’s address is called a domain name or URL (uniform resource locator). Then that URL is connected to the server space, using DNS (domain name system. Once it's all connected, search engines index the site and then it’s accessible on the internet.

Fortunately, setting up hosting doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. Many hosting platforms simplify the process or even set it up for the site owner.

Choosing a legal website hosting platform

When it comes to hosting platforms, there are many options to consider. Each platform offers multiple plans with varying features. Deciding which is the right one should be based on a few different factors. 

Purpose and planning

Every hosting service has different capabilities, features, and services. That’s why deciding the purpose of the site is an essential first step.

So, consider what the site will need to do before looking into hosting services. Will it need to host multiple email inboxes for lawyers? How many pages does it need to host?

Another thing to think about is the goal when a potential client lands on your website. This should help answer some of the questions above. Knowing this information will also help when choosing a hosting plan.

Build or buy a site

One of the next things to consider is who will build and maintain the site. For do-it-yourselfers, ease of use should be a priority. Most hosts provide some sort of website builder in the hosting plan. However, these site builders all vary immensely in how easy they are to use. Some simplify the process so anyone can quickly build an aesthetically pleasing site. Others cater to the technically inclined and require coding in HTML.

There are even some drag-and-drop site builders available. Some products, like WordPress, utilize plug-ins that can change the building interface. Services like that make the process more user-friendly for novices.

Depending on what the site needs to do, the possibilities are limitless.

How to set up hosting

The next issue is deciding how to set up the website hosting. Just like with building the website, hosting set up varies by platform.

Most domain name sellers like GoDaddy and NameCheap also offer hosting. Although the platforms are typically more limited, the DNS and domain are connected as part of the purchase. As such, the simplest way to set up hosting is to purchase it when buying a domain name. This option is ideal for do-it-yourselfers because of the ease and convenience. All the complicated setup is completed, leaving only the page build to handle.

The other option is using an independent hosting service such as BlueHost or HostGator. This option leaves the site owner to attach the hosting space and domain. It isn’t extremely complicated to do, but it is a more hands-on setup than GoDaddy or NameCheap. YouTube has countless tutorials and walkthroughs that simplify the process.

This host setup is primarily ideal for people with time, skill, or tech interests. The main upside to hosting companies like this is storage and features. These companies offer more features, optimizations, site security, and storage than other domain sellers do.

Plans and cost

No matter which hosting option you choose, they all offer a wide selection of prices. Your firm should base this decision on your needs, features, and overall budget. Website hosting prices can vary drastically for standard service and the more advanced types, like dedicated hosting, can be very costly. Fortunately, most platforms offer lower rates to first-time customers.

However, cost should never be the deciding factor when selecting a plan or type of hosting. It all comes down to what best suits your firm's needs.

Plan options

There are different hosting plans intended to cater to different needs. Therefore, knowing the purpose and needs of the site is essential. Most hosting plans include a set amount of storage on the server, but that storage is shared by the site’s pages, photos, and content. Then storage is further used up by email inboxes for people in the organization. So, the larger an organization is, the larger the required storage.

Depending on the hosting service provider, there are many optimizations available. Some providers may include a few optimizations in the hosting package. Others offer them as addons for an additional fee.

Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) improves a website’s location in search query results. By improving it, a website climbs closer to the top of the search results. The higher on the list a site is, the more traffic it receives.

Good SEO ranking is crucial in lead attraction, but when it comes to SEO, not all hosting services are created equal. Some even limit a website’s ranking, making SEO an important consideration when choosing a hosting platform.

Legal website hosting doesn’t have to be complicated.

There is a lot to consider when choosing a legal website hosting service. No two platforms are built the same, so it’s important to identify what your law firm’s specific needs are in a website and use that to guide your decision. You’ll also need to consider skill level and the amount of time you have for setup.

With this guide and a clear plan of your firm’s needs, you’ll be on your way to holding a domain in the digital space.

Missouri Bar members receive discounts from member benefit providers who specialize in website hosting and SEO, including Brilliant Practice by Biztourage, Digital Age Marketing Group, and Zola Creative. Missouri Bar members have access to more than 60 member benefits.

PracticePanther is a proud Missouri Bar member benefit provider. Missouri Bar members receive a 10% discount for a year on PraticePanther’s law practice management software.

Members interested in learning more about opening, building, managing, protecting, or winding down a law practice have access to the experts at Affinity Consulting at no cost through email or unlimited 30-minute virtual visits. 

Reprinted with permission of PracticePanther. Originally published here.