Since the first .com was registered in 1985, .com domain extensions (short for “commercial”) have become the standard. This highly recognized symbol is called a Top Level Domain (TLD). Other common TLDs include .net, .gov, .edu and .org. For law practices, it used to be that if you didn’t get the highly prized “statepracticearealawyers.com” domain (for example, newyorkdivorcelawyers.com), you were .SOL.
Recently, however, many new TLDs have been released, including .law, .lawyer, .attorney and .legal. There are actually over 1,200 TLDs currently available. And, of course, now everyone wants to know whether switching to these new domain extensions is the silver bullet for bringing in business. The short answer is… not exactly. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother with them at all. There are other considerations beyond the impact on lead generation that need to be looked at. A TLD can also affect your firm’s branding and trademark—for better or for worse.
So let’s address everyone’s first big question…
Do legal TLDs boost search engine rankings?
Many believe that “exact match domains” (EMDs) help websites rank better. For example, if a potential client searches for “New York divorce lawyers,” then “newyorkdivorcelawyers.tld” (any TLD)—or “newyorkdivorce.lawyer,” using the newer .lawyer domain–would be exact match domains. However, Google did an update several years ago that began removing exact match domains as rank criteria. This is because Google, in an effort to provide high-quality content to its users, has sought to weed out keyword-laden spam sites. MozCast, a website that tracks Google algorithms, monitored EMD data between 2010 and 2012 and found that EMDs impact on rankings was in decline. Data from 2015 indicates that although there is a correlation between EMDs and rankings, this is likely due to other content related signals, and not some algorithmic bias in favor of EMDs.
Another theory is that Google may favor industry-specific TLDs over more generic counterparts like the .com. However Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s Webspam team, refuted this in 2012, stating that “Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”
And, not much has changed from Cutts’ initial projection. Last summer, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller shared that the new TLDs wouldn’t really have any advantage or disadvantage in search.
So if getting a ‘vanity URL’ isn’t going to get you ahead of the pack in Google search results, why bother?
Your Law Firm URL is your brand…
If you are an existing firm, you probably already have a recognizable brand–and you’ve probably put a fair amount of effort into putting your website out there. Switching to a new TLD just risks confusion—not to mention a lot of reprints of any promo materials you’ve got, from business cards to billboards.
On the other hand, if you are a new practice on the verge of purchasing a domain, getting a legal TLD might help you establish your brand. Decades ago, lawyers coveted phone numbers like 1-800-NOT GUILTY. Today, a legal TLD might just be the modern day equivalent—memorable.
Another consideration is that if your practice name is trademarked, impersonators might capitalize on it and damage your reputation. For example, if you have a trademark for “New York divorce lawyers,” then securing www.newyorkdivorcelawyers.law and related domains might be a good investment to protect your hard-earned reputation. Some of the larger firms, including Skadden and DLA Piper are already registering their legal TLDs.
Are Legal TLDs a Good Investment?
Legal TLDs can be expensive compared to .com names, which sell for around $20. For example, “newyorkdivorce.lawyer” is currently selling on GoDaddy for $3,499.99. Now add on .law, .attorney, etc. if you’re thinking of purchasing URLs to protect your brand, and suddenly it’s not a low-cost endeavor.
Unless you have a brand to protect, or you are just starting out with little equity in an existing law firm URL, switching to a TLD probably doesn’t have the ROI you’re looking for—either for lead generation, or your branding.