Your law firm needs a website, but how do you pick a domain name for your web site? What exactly is a domain name?
Your web site address is also known as an IP (Internet Protocol) address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and looks like this http://184.108.40.206. Instead of typing a series of numbers which are difficult to remember, you can register an easier to remember domain name which becomes associated with your IP address. For instance, lawyer-advertising-blog.com is the registered domain name for my new blog, which is about lawyer advertising. When you type that domain name, the domain name servers on the Internet know that you’re looking for http://220.127.116.11. You can register multiple domain names, all pointing to the same web site. I registered LawyerAdvertisingBlog.com, which, when you type that into an Internet browser address bar, will forward to lawyer-advertising-blog.com.
Your domain name, should appear on your business cards, law office letterhead, and any advertising you may use. When choosing a domain name, follow the following guidelines:
1) Ownership. When you register a domain name, make sure that you are the registrant of the domain name. Frequently, web site design firms will register the domain name for you and will register it in their name rather than in your name.
2) Hyphens. There have been a lot of misunderstandings about whether to use hyphens in a domain name. First of all, the domain name you advertise must not have hyphens. The domain name without hyphens is the domain name that everyone will type in the address bar of their Internet browser and the domain name that you should use in print and advertising. The reason that some people say that you should have a domain name with hyphens is to force the search engines to see keywords in your domain name so that your web site does better in search engine results. The bigger search engines can now see the individual words even without hyphens, however, smaller search engines may not and even the bigger ones may see a word differently than you want the search engine to. Thus, the importance of hyphenated domain names has diminished, however, if you wish to use a hyphenated domain name, as I did above, you can set the DNS or domain name servers to the hyphenated domain name, but you should also register the unhyphenated domain name which you will forward to the hyphenated domain. As previously stated, the unhyphenated domain name is the one that you will use in print and advertising and is the more important domain name.
3) Extensions. Domain names are available with various extensions, for instance, .com, .net or .org and various new extensions. If it’s really important to you, you can take domain names in any or all of the extensions, however, if you take only one domain name, you need to register your domain name in the .com extension. The .com extension is to domain names as 1-800 is to toll-free telephone numbers. Virtually everyone will assume that your domain name is a .com. Additionally, many people will simply type your domain name without the extension or the http://www. and then press control/enter. If you didn’t know that you can do that, try typing lawyeradvertisingblog in the address bar of your browser and then press control/enter.
4) Choosing. Choosing a domain name is a lot like choosing a name for your company or law firm. Ideally the name should be short, easy to spell, easy to remember, and good for branding.
5) Web site domain names and Attorney Ethics. A website name is an address, not a trade name which is prohibited. Advertise your web site name as an address, a means for people to find your web site, not a trade name. Lawyer advertising using words that describe the lawyer or the lawyer’s services in boastful terms which are not quantifiable, provable, or create an expectation of an outcome which cannot be guaranteed, are unethical. Web site domain names and vanity telephone numbers using these words can violate legal ethics. Make sure that your web site name avoids use of certain words which could create a potentially incorrect expectation in the mind of the consumer or violate one of the other ethics rules. Both web site names and vanity telephone numbers should not imply that you are better than another lawyer or that you can accomplish something for the audience that may not actually occur. Use of words such as “BEST”, “TOP”, “FOREMOST, “LEADING”, “WIN” and similar words in a vanity telephone number or web site domain name could create a misleading expectation in the mind of the consumer and will violate ethics rules in most states. For instance, 1-800-LEADING, LeadingLawyer.com or BestLawyer.com will violate ethics rules by implying that you are the leading lawyer or best lawyer. The question is by who’s standards are you the best and leading in what? 1-800-WIN-XXXX will imply that the person who becomes a client of the firm will win money when, in fact, that may not happen and even when it does, it’s an award for just compensation, not a winning. Likewise, WinningLawyer.com or WinningCase.com will also violate ethics. Laura Hodes in her article for the ABA Journal entitled Vanity Phone Numbers Make Your Firm Less Forgettable, quoted Will Hornsby, an expert on lawyer advertising and staff counsel in the ABA Division for Legal Services, who said that while there is nothing unethical about vanity numbers, “1-800-I-WIN-CASES would be unethical because it is making an unsubstantiated claim, creating unjustified expectations that can be true but still be misleading.”.
6) Top Level Domain vs. Sub-Level Domains. You must have your own domain name. Do not under any circumstances use a free hosting service, since your domain name will not appear in a browser address bar (with a free hosting service it will look like yourlawfirm.freehosting.com). It’s sort of like typing your own letterhead on a manual typewriter.