A lot goes into choosing the perfect domain name for your law firm. Some considerations include which name is going to be most memorable, how search engines will rank you, and what ethical rules apply.
Anatomy of a Domain Name
Before deciding what domain name makes sense for your firm, let’s make sure we are speaking the same language. First, there is the top-level-domain (TLD). The TLD in
lawyerist.com would be
.com. While .com is by far the most popular TLD, there are many other options available (most of which I would strongly recommend you avoid using):
Recently, ICANN, the organization responsible for introducing generic top-level-domain names, lifted its restrictions on TLDs. Now ICANN is permitting 400+ new domains including .lawyer and .attorney. The .lawyer and .attorney TLDs are only available to lawyers and law firms, so non-lawyers cannot squat on them. That means you could conceivably own the domain
[practice-area].lawyer. That being said, many of the good .lawyer and .attorney domain names (e.g. bankruptcy.lawyer or newyorkbankruptcy.lawyer) are expensive.
After the TLD there is the second-level domain (SLD). For example, the SLD for “lawyerist.com” would be “lawyerist.” This is the part that most people fret over when choosing a domain.
Choosing the Right Top-Level-Domain
The simple answer is to pick a .com since it is the TLD that everyone instinctually types in their browser bar.
“But most of the good .com domains are taken … ”
Yes, this is true. It is terrible. We all should have bought domains in 1996.
You can purchase the .net or .org variation of your preferred SLD if it is available, but you are going to lose some traffic to the .com variant. When people get your business card or learn from a referral source about your web address, it is very likely they will attempt to visit the .com site first.
It is a habit. Do not blame your clients.
.Lawyer and .Attorney TLDs
With ICANN’s approval of .lawyer and .attorney TLDs, you have landed on a new continent with a ton of available real estate. It’s basically the manifest destiny for lawyers on the Internet.
[practice-area] .com was taken,
[practice-area].lawyer may be available now. And you may get some small search engine visibility benefit from the exact-match domain. When people search in Google for bankruptcy lawyer and your website is
bankruptcy.lawyer, Google may give a small boost in your website’s visibility over any other bankruptcy law firm website that does not have the words bankruptcy or lawyer in their domain.
While their is a search engine benefit, you may not want to use exact-match keyword domain name over your firm’s name if you plan on expanding into other practice areas. For instance, how are you going to market
bankruptcy-lawyer.com after your firm decides to start doing personal injury?
TLDs and Cybersquatters
Another popular question I get is whether you should purchase other TLDs in addition to the .com. Generally, the best defense is a good offense. If you register the .com TLD, you do not want to deal with cybersquatters who purchase other TLD variants of your SLD. Even if you are in the right, it is not worth the headache to have to fight off a cybersquatter. Domain names cost roughly $10 per year. If you buy a few variants, you will spend $40-$50 per year and save yourself a dispute with a cybersquatter.
But for many, a cybersquatter is unlikely to show up. If your domain is particularly unique (e.g., an uncommon last name + practice area + law or law office .com), you probably do not have to worry about someone taking other TLDs. Especially if you have the .com TLD. It is unlikely your client is going to type in your unique SLD and then type in .net instead of .com.
The exception is if you have a common last name (like Smith). In this case, you should buy the TLD variants, because another lawyer named Smith might try to use it.
Choosing the Right Second-Level-Domain
Here are the common SLD combinations that most people look at when choosing a domain:
As you can see, there are a lot of SLD combinations. And yes, most of the good ones are already taken. Unless you are in an incredibly specific niche, nearly every practice area SLD is also taken. That means most lawyers will have to resort to a combination.
If your goal is search engine visibility — showing up as the number one result in Google when anyone types in
[practice-area] lawyer — you may want to have practice area, location, and/or law-related keywords in your domain.
As of January 2015, Google’s search engine algorithm gives a slight advantage to exact-match domains. What this means is, all other things equal, if two websites both market themselves to bankruptcy clients, and one website is
[firm-name].com and the other is
bankruptcylawyer.com, the URL that mentions bankruptcy lawyers will show up more prominently if a prospective client types into Google bankruptcy lawyer.1
Using your firm’s name for your domain is a classic standard. It makes sense. If you expand to other practice areas, you will not have trouble with rebranding. The only drawback is the lack of visibility that you might otherwise get from an exact-match domain.
Does the Length of My Domain Matter?
For search engine purposes, you can have a longer domain. It is not a problem. As most quality SLDs have been taken, if you are trying to fit keywords into your domain (e.g. newyorkpersonalinjurylawyer.com), you will likely need a longer domain.
But long domains are difficult for clients to deal with. One solution is to purchase a shorter domain for business cards and email that redirects to your long keyword-enriched domain name.2
Should I Buy Multiple Domains?
Once a week I get asked, “Should I buy more than one domain for my firm?” My response is always, “What are you going to do with the second domain?”
The reason people ask this question is because of the belief that just by owning a domain, you will receive more traffic and search engine visibility. This is largely untrue. But, if bankruptcy.com becomes available, purchase it because people may naturally type in
bankruptcy.com to their web browser if they have bankruptcy-related questions. If you are not going to build up the additional domain with additional content (such as a blog), it is not going to help you drive traffic to the first website.
Buying a second domain to redirect to your main domain will likely do nothing for you in terms of search engine visibility. The Internet is not an Ouroboros.
Is Your Domain Name Ethical?
You may be surprised to learn that having a particular domain name can violate your jurisdiction’s ethics rules.
First, it is always permissible for a law firm to use the firm name or initials of the firm or some abbreviation as its domain. This is never an issue.
The scenarios to consider:
For these scenarios, I am relying on the jurisdiction of New York, a state that is particularly stringent when it comes to law firm advertising. Paraphrasing Sinatra, if you can be ethical there, you can be ethical anywhere.
If your domain does not mention the firm name but mentions a practice area, it is permissible so long as each page on your website mentions the firm’s actual name.
Your domain itself cannot engage in the practice of law. What this means is you cannot have text on your website that reads “Contact realestatelaw.com for a consultation” unless you clearly and conspicuously mention the actual firm name on your website.
Do not create expectations with your domain name. Calling your firm
successful-personal-injury-lawyers.com is going to create an expectation with your clients that you will not be able to live up to.
Similarly, you cannot make claims or statements about your abilities that cannot be supported. Using comparable characteristics is generally impermissible unless you can prove they are true (but this is most likely not feasible). A few examples would include
Coming up with the right domain is not an easy task. There are a lot of considerations, from the appropriate TLDs and SLDs to the ethics issues involved. With this information, you are on the path to domain name glory.
Originally published 2015-02-12. Republished 2016-10-28.
Featured image: “Concept of businessman choosing the right door.” from Shutterstock.
One word of caution: the recommendation for exact-match domains may be short-lived (we should revisit this in one year). Exact-match domains used to get very high visibility for particular keyword searches. That value Google places on keywords appearing in your domain name has diminished significantly in the past few years. Google is constantly updating its algorithm to provide its visitors with more relevant search results. Google is aware that exact-match domains may have more relevant content than other websites that are not exact-match domains. By this time next year, it is feasible that there is no distinct advantage of having an exact match domain. So, two newly purchased domains like,
[firm-name].com would be on equal footing in search visibility. ↩