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You are very busy and have a lot on your mind. Developing a firm Web site has not made it to the top of your to-do list. It’s now time to do it. Consumers are coming to expect all businesses, including law firms, to have a presence on the Internet. The site is important for the entrepreneurial attorney looking to expand her client base. [FOOTNOTE 1] The Web site is a great platform to promote your firm. Marketing folks stress “product differentiation.” A well-planned Web site is an opportunity to illustrate what separates you from the pack. There are several promotional uses of a Web site. A Web site makes word of mouth referrals easy. Your brother-in-law tells his neighbor to just look up “greatlawyer.com” on the Web and there you are. When the neighbor goes to the Web site, she sees the firm in all its splendiferous brilliance, and has easy access to your contact information. Your firm is now way ahead of the competition and the neighbor becomes your newest client. Actively advertise the Web site by including the Web address on your letterhead, business cards and the firm-sponsored softball team shirts. Include a link at the bottom of all e-mails you send. Additionally, by using certain strategies, your site will appear in the list of Web sites when potential clients perform lawyer searches in Google.com, Yahoo.com and other search engines. WEB SITE FLAVORS The entry-level Web site is one page that lists your firm name, contact information and may include flattering, yet appropriately-serious-for-the-occasion photos of the firm members, associates and staff. This “Web-flyer” is a fine start until you are ready to expand to a “Web brochure” by adding biographies and tastefully highlighting credentials, accomplishments, and accolades. Kick it up a notch and BAM, the Web site is a consumer resource, the “Web newsletter.” Write some instructional articles about your area of expertise. Discuss important legal trends and developments. Ask and answer some “Frequently Asked Questions.” Or develop a “business-to-business” Web site with sophisticated technical information as a resource for other attorneys. This “Web treatise” will generate referrals and enhance your profile among colleagues. Whatever your Web ambitions, don’t be shy about cruising other law firms’ Web sites for inspiration. Lawyers have a long tradition of building on the ideas of those who have gone before. TOOLS FOR BUILDING THE WEB SITE Development of a Web site is interesting, fun and relatively easy. It does not have to be expensive — an attractive site with several pages can be maintained for as little as $5.00 a month. Start by getting your feet wet at www.register.com or www.godaddy.com. When you are ready for deeper water, dive into www.millenniummultimedia.net. Your dial-up or broadband Internet connection provider also offers Web site building services. Compare a few options to determine which fits best with your skills and budget. Generally a Web site package will include the cost of a Web address (a.k.a. domain name or URL). Be sure that the domain name is registered to you, granting the right of renewal, to avoid the risk of losing that name after you have established the Web site. To build the site, you can start with a wizard-driven construction method, which will prompt you to fill-in the blanks in a preset format. More advanced site-building tools include Microsoft’s FrontPage or Macromedia’s Homesite. DESIGN GUIDANCE Eric Lerner, Web designer at millenniummultimedia.net, offers the same wisdom that good litigators use at trial: “Simplify.” An overstuffed Web page creates visual confusion, which diminishes the effectiveness of the site. In addition, a crowded Web page will take a long time to download and the frustrated viewer will simply leave. A flicker of boredom and click, your potential client is gone. According to Lerner, “The majority of Internet users are still using a dial-up connection, and the rule of thumb is that your Web page file size should be no larger than 50K. The smaller you can make the file size of the page, the faster it will download and the more satisfying the experience for the viewer.” The exception to this rule is that business-to-business Web sites can assume users have a high-speed Internet connection and safely design more complicated Web sites, though visual clarity is still important. Limit the download time by reliance on crisp text, rather than images. Keep the readers attention by conveying your message with the fewest words possible. The bad habit of legal writing seems to be a philosophy that asks, “Why use one word when I can use three words that all mean the same thing?” Abandon that habit here. Also, be wary of crawling and blinking text, which seems neat, but is distracting for the user trying to absorb your message and find your links. Instead of cramming too much text onto one page, break content up into multiple pages — clicking on links is easier and faster than scrolling down the Web page. Photos are bulky graphic files that take a long time to download. Avoid them when possible, and for the images that you must have, use the GIFBOT “image optimizer” tool at www.netmechanic.com, which reduces the file size while maintaining picture size and quality. HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR FIRM To exploit the power of search engines such as Google and Yahoo, it helps to understand how these search engines work. Web guru Dave Gentile explains that the search engine ranks your Web site based on relevancy and popularity, which determines how far up or down the list your site appears in response to a search. The ranking formula is complicated and mind numbing, like the one used to determine your credit ratings. But there are strategies that can enhance your search engine ranking, just like you can improve your credit rating. Content of the site determines relevancy. When “New York criminal law” is typed into the search box of Google, the search engine will endeavor to provide the most useful sites on that topic. If the heading on your Web site’s home page is “We are a New York Criminal Law Firm,” the Web site will be more “relevant” under the Google formula, and will appear higher in the Google listings, than if the phrase appears only once, in the last sentence on the page. Popularity of a Web site is determined by the number of other sites that link to your site and the popularity of those linking sites. Your site ranking gets a boost if your colleagues include a link to your site on theirs (and vice versa). Linkshare.com and www.gotop.com are affiliate-marketing programs, which facilitate mutual host links among its members to boost search engine rankings. Our Web experts offer basic strategies to bring your firm site closer to the top of the list of a Google.com or Yahoo.com search. Make sure the site has been “indexed” (listed) by Yahoo and Google and other search engines. If your site does not appear at the top of the list when you search the firm name, manually submit it to the important search engines through the link found on the main page of the search engine, or use “Web site submission” software. Monitor your ranking at Google by downloading the toolbar at toolbar.Google.com. Build relevancy into the site during construction by putting a title on every page. The title is the most important text on the page for telling the search engine about the site. Learn more about how the different search engines calculate your rank at www.searchenginewatch.com, an excellent site for optimizing your Web site. Software tools such as Trailblazer provide additional strategies to enhance your search engine ranking. For a fee (pay per click), the Google “adwords” program will enable your site to appear as a “sponsored link” at the top of the list for the keywords you select. I’M NO GEEK So you went to law school because you fell asleep in math class and you understand words, not electrons. You can hire someone else to build and maintain your site. After reading this article, you now have the basic vocabulary and concepts of Web site construction. You’ve become an educated consumer, can evaluate Web designers, and have the know-how to talk to and work with the designer to create a successful site. Web designers can create whatever you want — from Web flyer to Web treatise. Web designers are like lawyers — they sell you their skill, experience and effectiveness. Investigate the designer’s recent work and reputation before you commit. The designer should provide an estimate of the cost of building the basic site. From there, like any construction job, the add-ons grow and the costs escalate. You’re ready to create your own Web site or find the right designer. Time to take some head shots and learn how to use the photo airbrush software to digitally melt away the pounds and the years for the official Web site photo. Laura Gentile is managing partner of Gentile & Associates in Manhattan and teaches at City University of New York School of Law. ::::FOOTNOTES:::: FN1 Be sure to review your Web site for conformity with ethical guidelines and mandates, issues of Internet jurisdiction and intellectual property protection.

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