Budget season is in full swing or possibly even winding down if your firm is ahead of the game. You are likely budgeting for a number of important marketing and business development-focused projects for next year. Is one of those projects a new website? If you answered yes, you’re in good company. Generally speaking, companies update their websites every three years. In legal services, the timeline can be similar, but often other firm-wide initiatives and priorities can force your website project to the back burner.

One way to help keep your project top of mind with executives and key stakeholders is to set a realistic expectation of how much it will cost, and how the process will work. This article will focus on the cost component, and how to set a realistic budget, considering all contingencies, that will help drive your website redesign conversation.

Step 1: Evaluate your website’s purpose.

Is your firm’s site a validation site? Are you hoping to create more leads and conversions from website visitors? Has the site’s purpose changed in the past several years? Going through an exercise to define your website’s mission is a great way to ensure all team members are on the same page and understand the goal of your project.

Step 2: Do your research.

Having spent 12+ years in-house a two large firms in Philadelphia, I can confidently tell you if you don’t know and, frankly, understand the landscape of providers and tools in the market, your project will wither on the vine. This means proactively connecting with agencies and service partners to keep up to date on the latest trends. (Pro tip: please do this for all of your marketing technologies, not just websites. The time you invest in understanding the relative universe of marketing technologies will pay dividends.)  Your executive leadership will expect you’ve taken the time to become well versed in the benefits of WordPress vs. Drupal vs. Sitecore, etc., and that you are prepared to justify your recommendation.

Start to gather information on costs related to:

  • Annual Hosting
  • Website design
  • Development
  • Content migration
  • Content writing and development
  • SEO optimization
  • Any special technologies
  • Related branding services
  • Ongoing maintenance and support

Step 3: Define the scope.

Will your redesign be part of a larger brand refresh? Is it an opportunity to revisit some key brand elements, such as your logo or color scheme? A redesign need not necessarily mean a whole new look and feel – it may simply mean putting a new polish on a trusted visual brand depiction.

Also consider what information is currently being conveyed via your website, and how you see that changing as you move to a new site. Are in-person events a large driver of prospect conversion? Then perhaps “firm events” needs important placement on your home page. Or maybe thought leadership and by-lined articles are a key component of your attorneys’ business development strategy and should therefore be featured prominently.

Ultimately you need to take stock of where you want to invest your time and to what degree. If there is something you love about your current site and it’s working for you – don’t change it for the sake of change. But if there are things that could look/work/feel better – plan to fix them.

Step 4: Stay in your swim lane.  

Understanding the difference between “must haves” and “nice but not necessary” is critical to success in any website redesign project. Not only does this help define what is most important to you, it also helps prioritize your project goals. It may be that not everything happens in phase one of your redesign project. It’s ok to get through the planning phase with a clear roadmap for how your website will grow and evolve.

Step 5: Get prepared.

Controlling development time is crucial to staying on budget for your website redesign project. Making sure all necessary elements are ready to go or are at least being actively reviewed and taken care of is critical to keeping to your timeline, and by extension to your budget. Some ways to control the development timeline:

  • Gather all brand assets. This includes all logos, brand colors with related PMS, RGB, Hex #s, etc., and any other documentation related to your brand’s visual style.
  • Audit your content. Will everything that’s on your current site move to the new site? Are any practices changing? Does your firm offer any new legal services that need to be included? Now is the time to take stock of what’s ready to go and what requires writing and editorial review.
  • Define your target audience. Keeping a laser focus on your intended website audience is critical to ensuring you are designing with it in mind.

Step 6: Don’t just budget for the project – plan for the investment.

Last but certainly not least, you must budget for the ongoing costs associated with hosting and maintaining your website. Hosting is the monthly, quarterly, or annual fee to host your website off-premises.

Equally as important as hosting is the ongoing effort to keep your website up to date – both in terms of basic information and functionality, as well as with the newest website technologies. Developing this plan should be part of your website development project. An effective website maintenance plan includes:

  • Software and plugin updates. It is critical to stay up to date with security patches to prevent security breaches and site failures, and ensure the best overall user experience for site visitors.
  • Content. Content is key and if you aren’t creating a steady flow of it, or at minimum keeping critical information on your website up to date, why bother to invest in a website refresh in the first place? Driving visitors to your site is a critical aim of your content development plan. If you or your team are unable to develop and/or manage the production the content, make sure you’re budgeting for a service partner who can for you.
  • Uptime monitoring. Effective monitoring platforms will notify you when the site goes down as well as when service is restored.
  • Traffic reporting. Perhaps the most critical part of website maintenance is a view into who is visiting your site, along with their related details. Investing the time to understand a traffic platform such as Google Analytics or Lead Forensics is the best way to gain insight into your online presence.

The best way to ensure your website redesign actually makes it onto your firm’s project list is following these steps and being completely prepared to justify your firm’s investment.