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Bar News - June 18, 2010

WordPress – the Swiss Army Knife of Website Tools


What if there were a way to manage your online presence – website, blog, social media, and search engine optimization – with a single, easy-to-use program that sits on your server rather than out in the "cloud" you can’t control? No, it’s not a dream; it’s WordPress and it’s free.

Gene Quinn, a 1995 graduate of Franklin Pierce Law Center who practices intellectual property law in Virginia, uses WordPress – an open-source software package that can be grafted onto a website – for, chosen this year as one of the American Bar Association’s Top 100 Blawgs.

"What’s great about WordPress is that you’re not beholden to a tech person. Once it’s up and running, there’s very little maintenance to be done," Quinn says. "You can get a really top-notch website operating for a few hundred dollars [in setup costs]."

The interface that allows you to add and revise the website is simple, says Quinn. If you have ever used an office document editor like Microsoft Word, editing Web pages and writing blog posts in WordPress will pose no problem.

"It takes a little getting used to, but [the system] walks you through the user process," he says, "If you have an hour to devote to it, you will get the hang of it." And, Quinn adds, it’s dummy-proofed:

"[WordPress] makes it really difficult to screw up your site. It saves you from yourself. You have to want to get to a place where you can mess something up."

WordPress Basics
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Essentially, WordPress is a software package that is downloaded to your website server. This software then becomes the management system for all of your online content, including Web pages with attorney profiles and practice areas, blog posts, contact information and other material essential to an effective online presence.

WordPress began in 2003 as an open-source – tech-speak for free and modifiable – blogging platform. Today, more than 200 million websites are powered by WordPress’s free technology – including numerous NH law firm websites, ABA Top 100 Blawgs, and legal information sites. Large companies like The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard and NASA, are powered by WordPress as well.

Search Engine Optimization
The most compelling reason to use WordPress, says Quinn, is that it creates websites that are easily indexed by search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Using WordPress, says Quinn, can save you a lot of money on search engine optimization consultants. In fact, he says that he once hired an SEO consultant to optimize his WordPress site only to have his rankings drop.

If you have a website already, you’ve likely heard of search engine optimization (SEO). Essentially, it’s a process of making your website more attractive to search engines. Everyone wants his/her website to show up first or at least on the first page of search results when users type certain keywords, like "nh divorce lawyer" or "coos county attorney," into search engines. WordPress provides an express route to effective SEO, Quinn says.

"WordPress creates a whole footprint for each thing you write," Quinn says. "And any lawyer writing regular blog articles about his or her practice area is going to be generating the proper amount of optimized material."

Your blog articles are the foundation upon which your online presence should be built. These articles serve as the raw material – about you, your firm and your business – that you will distribute to the rest of the world with WordPress.

The WordPress content management system is innovative in that it allows you to easily install free online applications that can automate tasks such as creating interactive contact forms, or posting your blog material to social media websites.

Automating the process of disseminating your content through different media enlarges your online presence. That improves your SEO efforts since search engine optimization relies on the size of your online network. That network can consist of your website, listings in online directories, social media presence and other communication formats. WordPress can integrate everything automatically.

For example, say you write an article about common bankruptcy questions. With a static, non-integrated website, you (or that tech consultant you pay by the hour) uploads your article and it resides on your website waiting to be found by search engines. With one of the many free social media applications available, WordPress will take your article and post it to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, and any other social media sites you may use for your online marketing.

"The tech people make this stuff seem like black magic when it’s really not," says Quinn.

Getting Started
While WordPress is easy to use, setting the system up will likely require technical assistance from someone knowledgeable in basic Web design. Other than the initial setup, however, there are very few costs associated with maintaining your site.

For those looking for something in between complete freedom and stringent outside control, there are many companies that will set up WordPress, customize it, and even host the site, all while giving you the freedom to update and manage the site by yourself.

Esquire Interactive offers WordPress websites specifically for lawyers. Its WordPresq theme – or site template – can be customized and branded for individual firms. Jeff Lantz, CEO, says that his company tries to avoid the common traps associated with Web development companies by charging only for the setup and customization of the WordPress template – which, he says, includes branding and marketing – and for hosting the website if the law firm doesn’t want to do it independently.

"WordPress users can literally save thousands and thousands of dollars because they can manage almost all types of changes to the website. The cost savings are immense," says Lantz.

Learn more about using WordPress for your website.

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