The only way potential clients can find your website is through your web address – your domain. Many lawyers have web hosting accounts chock-full of domain names as they see it as a defensive competitive strategy to own and hold domains against their competitors. Indeed, this can be a smart tactic. However, knowing which one should be your firm website’s primary domain is a decision that deserves a little more attention and strategic planning.
How to choose your law office’s domain name? There are a number of considerations that should be weighed in choosing your primary website domain, including:
- URL Length & Contents
- Branded vs. Keyword-rich
- Marketing Strategy
- Extension (.com, .co, .lawyer, etc.)
- User Experience
In order to determine what’s best for your law firm, we will look at each of these factors, give domain name ideas and examples to illustrate our arguments and back them up with some research and statistics our law firm marketing agency has conducted and compiled respectively.
1. URL Length & Contents
Studies by search engine optimization specialists and researchers have found that shorter and more descriptive URLs have a slight SEO performance advantage over longer and/or less contextual links. The table below illustrates the point.
Let’s assume that we are working with examplelaw.com
|examplelaw.com/pages/123456.html||Bad||1. The URL is obfuscated |
2. Provides no context or relevance to what the web page is about
|examplelaw.com/divorce/||Good||1. URL is very short|
2. Provides a clear description that the page is about divorce
|examplelaw.com/utah/divorce/||Good||1. URL is short|
2. Gives further context on the legal service and the geo-location of page (i.e. “Divorce in Utah”)
|examplelaw.com/divorce-lawyers-in-utah.html||OK||1. URL is descriptive and keyword-rich (i.e. what someone would search for in Google)|
2. Longer than it needs to be
We can see different examples of page URLs and how there are multiple ways to go about structuring and optimizing them to get even slight advantages over competitors.
But what does this necessarily have to do with your website’s domain name?
Let’s use another example, for any of your Boston Legal fans out there: We’ll look at the domain strategy for Crane Poole & Schmidt.
As their domain contains all name partners, it’s quite long. This means that all of their URLs (for all pages on their website) are going to consequently be much longer. Based on the show’s advertised practice areas, they may have pages for:
- Civil litigation → /civil-litigation/
- Criminal defense → /criminal-defense/
- Commercial litigation → /commercial-litigation/
- Medical Malpractice → /medical-malpractice/
As we examined in the table above, these would make reasonable search engine-friendly page URLs for their website. However, the domain name makes all URLs longer than they necessarily need to be.
“cranepooleandschmidt.com” is 24 characters long, whereas
“cpslaw.com” is only 10 characters in length
That’s a savings of 14 characters in every URL on their website – which when a massive firm such as theirs gives each web page they wish to rank in organic search a 14 character advantage.
That means all else being equal, “cpslaw.com/civil-litigation/” has a better chance of ranking on page 1 of Google than “cranepooleandschmidt.com/civil-litigation/”.
What If I Already Have the Longer Domain?
Not a problem.
If you already have a domain akin to “cranepooleandschmidt.com” and have the ability to purchase a shorter domain such as “cpslaw.com” or “cpslawyers.com”. Then you can do something called a 301 redirect to transfer web traffic from your current domain to your newly desired domain (in real-time).
What’s a URL?
URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) are how information and resources are stored and retrieved on webpages on the world wide web.
Every URL contains a domain name, however, depending on the subdomain (e.g. “www.” which comes before the domain) and subfolders or pages appended after the .com (e.g. “/services/civil-litigation/”), you will be taken to a different page on the website.
2. Branded vs. Keyword-Rich Domains
In the world of SEO, there are several classes of domain names for you to be aware of:
- Branded domain names
- Exact match domains (EMD)
- Partial match domains (PMD)
Here’s a table that explains each to give a better understanding.
|Branded domains contain the name of the law firm (i.e. “Norton Law”) or the name partner(s)|
|Exact Match||1. Personalinjurylawyersnyc.com|
|These have no trace of the firm’s brand or name. Instead, they match what someone would typically search for in google (e.g. “personal injury lawyers nyc” or “divorce lawyers texas”)|
|Partial Match||1. Nortonlawyers.com|
|Partial matches are a combination of a keyword-rich domain and the law firm’s brand.|
This can help with search engine rankings and may make sense if the firm is specialty boutique practice – focusing in that area of law.
Branded, EMD or Partial? – Search Engine Optimization Considerations
For years, EMDs have been used to rank sites easier and with less effort than branded domain law firms. This is because the URL gives a signal to search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) what a web page is about. Therefore, when the domain is exact match, it contains the target keyword to rank for and will appear as part of the overall URL for every single page on that website.
We conducted a study in 2019 to get an idea of whether these domain names still had an advantage over branded domains. We found that exact and partial match domains had 24.6% fewer referring domains than brand-only domains (average 215 versus 285) to rank for the same, primary keywords. As links are still one of the most important components of modern-day SEO, this stat represents a massive divide.
However, in the same study we found that websites with EMDs ranked for fewer keywords and generated significantly less traffic than their branded and partial match counterparts.
So our recommendation – from an SEO perspective – is to put your brand first. Choose a branded or partial match as your website’s primary domain.
This tip requires you to perform some careful thinking, planning and thought experiments instead of straightforward, actionable guidance to implement, like other sections in this law firm domain guide.
Put yourself in your market and ideal client’s shoes. If they see your domain in the search results, on a social media post or advertisement, TV commercial or radio ad, how might they perceive your practice?
Short, branded and direct domain names usually win this battle.
4. Your Law Firm’s Marketing Strategy
So far, we’ve discussed how the domain length and type impact your firm’s search engine rankings. We will build on this throughout this short section, seeing how both may tie into your firm’s marketing strategy and impact your decision on choosing a domain.
Boutique vs. Full-Service
If your firm is a full-service practice, then the best type of domain to use should definitely be branded. This means that you can include a keyword such as “law”, “attorney” or “lawyers” in the domain, however it won’t be overly rich with keywords. This means choosing a domain name for your website should be pretty straight forward.
Using the example of Crane Poole & Schmidt again, here are some different ideas for the full-service firm domains:
Note: Domain names are all case-insensitive. We use camel-case above for legibility only.
If your firm is a specialized practice (a.k.a Boutique firm), then you could use any of the domain names above. In fact, many boutique attorneys do. However, you could take advantage of the SEO factor and also demonstrate to potential clients your specialization within the domain name, such as:
Regardless of whether you’re a full-service or specialty firm, another way to modify your domain is by including your firm’s target market location either on the state, city or county level. If we consider the marketing impact of this addition by isolating the effects of organic search (i.e. Google and Bing), then here is most desirable to least desirable:
- City (e.g. Fort Worth)
- State (e.g. Texas)
- County (e.g. Tarrant)
This is due to the fact that typically more people search for a lawyer by the city, rather than the state. The state name or abbreviation can still be an excellent component to your domain name and really dial in the relevance of your practice.
Note: Having the County in the domain name is a very distant third place. It’s rare that people search by county frequently enough to make it worthwhile. We strongly recommend researching this or consulting with a law firm SEO expert first.
Here are some domain name ideas with a location modifier included:
Mix and match elements of your web address as you see fit. Our general, advice for this is that while City names are more highly searched then states and territories, we recommend opting for the state name or abbreviation in your domain name rather than the city name. It’s the best fit for domains – highly specified, but doesn’t cut you off at the knees for potential clients outside of your target city. It also gives you a lot of room to expand into new markets within the same state later on.
5. Extension (.com, .co, .lawyer, etc.)
In the early days of the internet, there were only a few domain extensions (technically known as TLD – Top-Level Domain) to choose from, according to TechRadar:
Since then, it had expanded to country-specific domains, such as:
The list goes (much further) on…
And now we have domains for different professions and industries. Those specific to lawyers are:
So there is a lot of variety at the extension or TLD level when choosing your domain.
Which TLD should you choose?
Google says that they treat more or less all domains equal, with the exception of several classes of extensions including country-code domains and industry-specific. This would mean that .net and .org domains have the same chance of ranking as a .com. However, there are human factors that we should also consider, which plays a massive role in search engine rankings and the image conveyed by your law firm.
|.com||4||– Most commonly known and trusted||– Most difficult to find available due to popularity||Strong buy – best for all applications, geographic areas and practices|
|.net||4||– Good for email||– Human bias against, may produce fewer clicks in search results, which will negatively impact organic rankings||Avoid – .net has the appearance of being old, may attract fewer clicks and search rankings due to bias against it|
|.co.uk||6||– Specific to the United Kingdom|
– Searchers will know from the domain alone that this is a UK-based business
|– Country limited and not appropriate as primary site TLD for multinational firms beyond the UK||Buy – when your firm is strictly located in the UK or the website will only serve for UK-based offices, barristers and solicitors|
Avoid – when your firm is seeking to appear in search results outside of the UK or non-UK relevant searches
|.ca||3||– Specific to Canada|
– Only 2 characters, making it one of the shortest TLDs available and saving valuable URL length real estate
– Users will know this is a Canadian law practice
|– Limited to search results relevant to or within Canada|
– I.e. a Canadian immigration firm with a .ca domain may not appear as high in foreign search results (which is critical for most immigration specialists)
|Buy – When only serving clients in Canada and attracting searches primarily related to regions within Canada|
Avoid – If attracting clients or business from outside Canada, could have serious negative impact on search traffic
|.associates||11||– Could be good for branded domains (“Ellis & Associates” could use “ellis.associates”)||– Long domain extension means URLs will be longer|
– Holds little to no search keyword value. No one includes “associates” in their search when seeking a “divorce lawyer in kansas city”
|Avoid – Unless there is a strong, clever marketing reason to use this extension, the bad outweighs the good|
– People who see this in search results can identify legal relevance
|– Long domain extension means URLs will be longer||Consider – No recommendation to buy nor avoid. Pros and cons must be weighed for your firm’s marketing strategy|
|.law||4||– Shortest TLD available for law firms|
– Puts law in domain name without additional length for “com” or other generic TLD
|– Not keyword-rich (relevant, but not rich)|
– Searches that are best to target typically look include “lawyer”, “law firm”, “attorney” or their plural forms; not law.
|Consider – No recommendation to buy nor avoid. Pros and cons must be weighed for your firm’s marketing strategy. “Law” will be good keyword for informational, but not as advantageous for people hiring a lawyer today as .lawyer or .attorney would be|
– Shorter than attorney
– Many target searches include “lawyer” or plural form, so gives a slight advantage SEO-wise
|– Still adds character length to all URLs over .com, .law and other shorter extensions||Consider – No recommendation to buy nor avoid. Pros and cons must be weighed for your firm’s marketing strategy. Good as a secondary domain, but not necessarily as your primary.|
– Potentially strategic for the right brand name, similar to associates (e.g. “Smith Legal LLC” could use domain “smith.legal”)
|– Searches containing legal are mixed (“need legal advice” searches are good, “legal aid” typically are undesirable)||Avoid – While it is relevant, lawyer, law and|
Bottom line on TLDs – If you have read through the comparison table, then you may be wondering what ultimate advice we would give. Here is a short summary of best practices:
- .com is most desirable and widely accepted as legitimate and current over a “.net”
- Only use country or region-specific domains (.co.uk, .ca, .mx) when your firm wants to attract clients within that country. Immigration lawyers for instance would want a .com domain rather than a .co.uk, even if they’re a UK-based business, since they’re trying to attract clients from abroad
- Law-specific domains (.law, .legal, lawyer, .attorney) are typically more expensive since registrars know attorneys have more dough to spend (see image above). Availability for these domains is typically higher, since many .com names are taken.
- .lawyer and .attorney have keyword-richness which gives lends a slight advantage in organic search rankings
- .law is good for relevance and shortest among all law-related domains
- .legal is good for relevance, not as good as the aforementioned TLDs in terms of slight SEO advantage
6. User Experience
We’ve saved the best for last. This ties it all together and gets you to think about the overall performance of your website’s domain. User experience is important for:
- Search engine optimization
- Online marketing
- Top of Mind advertising
- Call to actions
- Defining your target audience
When someone is looking for a lawyer like you or at your office, you want to ensure that potential clients and your website visitors
- know that you’re the right firm for the job
- Can find your firm online easily
- Can recall your domain with ease
- Not mix it up with a similar domain
Your domain name can either help with this or hurt it. When prospects see your domain in the search results, your domain can either convey expertise, trust and local authority or appear to be random or a runner-up.
Law firms that heavily invest in brand advertising should use a domain that includes their firm’s name and is a branded asset. If they see or hear on radio, print and television ads “ABC Law”, your firm should use a call to action in all of its ads (i.e. “Visit www.abclawyers.com today to schedule a free consultation”). This builds brand awareness and takes the guesswork out of how to find your firm. They simply have to type in that domain they heard in the CTA into their web browser and go. On the contrary, if you have a domain that is too long, this makes it harder to recall and get your ad audience to take action on.
There’s a lot of information to process in this article on choosing a domain name. Some of the information here, after your first read, may even seem to contradict other points and examples. Yes and no. It’s not a straightforward decision. However, has any decision you’ve made for your practice’s success straightforward and fast to make?
Choosing the best domain for your website takes careful deliberation, weighing the scales on all points that we’ve detailed here. Here’s a quick summary of what we would give as *general guidance*:
- URL Length & Contents – All else being equal, shorter is better.
- Branded vs. Keyword-rich – A domain name with your firm’s name (or name partner’s initials) is better long term. Having a keyword like law, lawyer, attorneys as well strikes a healthy balance.
- Intent – How do you expect people to view your domain in relation to your actual business?
- Marketing Strategy – You can modify your domain to include a specific area of law, city or state to define a more targeted market.
- Extension (.com, .co, .lawyer, etc.) – If you can, .com is best in breed among all generic extensions and most widely accepted.
- User Experience – How do you want people to use your domain, support your brand and perform in your marketing campaigns as a whole?
As mentioned before, this is general guidance and it certainly isn’t “one size fits all”. Use the tables and information in this guide to evaluate what’s best for your firm. If you really don’t know what’s best, domains are relatively cheap so you can purchase a handful of them, get started with one and always have the ability to change it later.