Your sage expertise doesn’t deserve a shopping cart mentality.

E-commerce drives and dominates most “build-a-bear” websites.

You may be tempted to take a Saturday afternoon and follow the lure of a DIY site: that it will be inexpensive and easy.

A Few Familiar DIY Sitebuilders

  • Wix
  • SquareSpace
  • Weebly
  • GoDaddy
  • Simbla
  • Google

How do they keep their promise? 

Boilerplate websites.  DIY sites offer premade websites called Templates or Themes (interchangeable). The use of a Template is how a DIY service delivers the promise you can make your website the “fast” and “easy” way.

Unfortunately, the default is e-commerce* replete with shopping carts and the pop-up email subscription that helps build an email list.

Typically, you plug in your info. including a business type category, name, address, and phone.  The “category of business” often drives the theme with which your business is paired–by the service.

Guess what? There is no “forensic medical-legal” category, let alone your subspecialty. 

The categories are broad brush. Law or clinical medicine. You might consider either.

You now have a website that looks like many others.

Sometimes you can add personal elements and often you cannot.

The ease is seductive. Be warned: there are common mistakes medical-legal specialists make in using these themes, which can risk your reputation. 

You’re a niche specialist held to a high standard, with consequences.

A. One size does NOT fit all. Your expertise is likely technical and nuanced. If the website service starts with a questionnaire, be on the alert.

B. Dark Patterns.** Dark Patterns are features on a website that collect data using questionable methods, disguised in convenience and alluring deals for the visitor. I recommend you familiarize yourself with Dark Patterns to be an informed website owner. I explain more below.

C. Your website must withstand legal scrutiny.

If it’s on your website, it’s fair game on the stand.

This, not the Theme, must guide your website design.

Always review your site before “going live” to be sure you remove anything that compromises your reputation and/or cannot be defended during testimony. Articles and blogs fall in the same category:

If you say it, you own it. Be honest, scientific and smart. If you don’t know something for sure, state that. Never promise absolutes you can’t prove.  

“I want my site to reflect my practice and personality”

Generally, a Theme limits you to its aesthetic.

Don’t like the size of a picture? The font is weird? The theme requires a photo of a cantaloupe and that doesn’t speak to you on a deep level? Too bad. The Theme is in charge.

Clinical vs. Forensic.  Need a page just for forensic work on an otherwise Clinical site? Perhaps the medical-legal work calls for a more somber or conservative tone, one that is civilian in nature. You will want a spot for your photo in a business suit perhaps, rather than a white coat. The theme may not have the flexibility for such lane changes.

Themes lump professions together without subtlety. As stated, sites exist for doctors. Sites exist for therapists. Sites exist for lawyers. There is no theme that bridges clinical work and medical-legal work. 

Forensic Child Psychiatrist? Expert Witness about Veteran’s Administration treatment? Radiology?  Emergency Medicine? You will have to bend the theme to your will, defeating the “build a site in an hour” promise.

Domain names they own

Wix and Squarespace have free subscriptions and paid subscriptions. The free subscription has the word Wix or Squarespace in the domain name. DrJoe.wixsite.com/drjoe.com. This is unprofessional and amateurish.  FYI, your site will appear later in search results. Search engines recognize and factor in the Wixsite or squarespace.com domain, turning attention to the dedicated .com business name.

Website domain for a physician with squarespace

Plugging in visuals

Portraits

You are the focus of a jury and therefore images of you belong on your website. Most doctors do this with a headshot – usually a rectangle in, of course, portrait orientation.

Let’s imagine the theme only offers images that fit into squares (Squarespace comes to mind.)

You might get this:

You can resize it in Photoshop, but that learning curve is huge, defeating the usability promised by the Website Builder. (I have more than 20 years of experience in Photoshop and trust me, it is not intuitive!)

The media bundle

Skylines, Yoga Poses and Triumphant Mountain Climbers

What do these 3 have in common?

All are favorite “Hero Images” dominating the most ubiquitous designs. 

The problem is, these images don’t speak to the medical-legal practice. I talk more about this in a companion article Easy Fix: A Website Graphics Upgrade.

A word about Law and Skylines: Are you local?

Skylines have a place on your site if you want local attorneys to know you are local. The skyline might stop you from getting cases out-of-state; a legitimate consideration. When I take on a new client, this is a discussion we must have. Some doctors don’t want to travel, others do.

Meds and Yoga? Is that the message behind your Forensic Practice? (Images from Squarespace; aptly named)

Change is hard. Ultimately, it is difficult to change out the imagery if it is bundled with the Theme. There may also be rules such as a landscape orientation lock on the hero image. Pixel dimension requirements and file size are restricted by the theme’s coding and performance goals.

Don’t let go of control over your images! Visual elements that are content-relevant and engaging are powerful tools. It’s worth it to ensure you can tweak a theme to use your own photos and graphics.

What you need to know about free plans

Who’s advertising on your site? A free plan might allow advertisements to be placed on your site! Read the fine print.

Wix, Squarespace, worpdress.com (not to be confused with wordpress.org), offer free plans that allow them to advertise on your site. One esteemed doctor was appalled to learn her website had been running ads chosen by the DIY service for years.

You are not in the Retail business

Because DIY website design has been a popular trend for the past 8+ years, they reflect the explosion in online retail fueled by consumer habits and at-home shopping during the COVID pandemic. This is not your business model.

I went to the site of a Forensic doctor and was immediately disrupted by a popup.

Did I want to subscribe to the newsletter and learn interesting new things about beauty?

That really happened.

Whatever you do, if you choose a DIY option, proof it, proof it, proof it.

Ask friends to run it on their computers–does it look the same? Is anything cut off? Ask them to proof the content!

Marketing with a website is too important to mess up.

Substance / Knowledge / Experience are your stock-in-trade. If the DIY service doesn’t have a method to present your substantive content, then hire a web developer who knows what they’re doing and, just as important, knows what you do. 

Dark Patterns

There are nefarious dangers to using someone else’s website template.

Dark Patterns are elements on a website intentionally designed to collect data, force behavior, or even defraud users. They function by withholding website access in lieu of a trade. Withholding access may be temporary (you can click off the option), or unbreachable (pay wall like a newspaper.)

The user is trading their personal information.

  • Sign up with your email and get 10% off and free shipping. Since you cannot be purchased, this is unnecessary and dangerous to  your reputation.
  • Free trial that requires a credit card. 
  • Blog modules with a place for “comments.” To leave a comment, one must sign into your site with an email. 
  • Subscription request to receive your newsletter. (Does one exist?)
  • Missing. The boilerplate is missing a Privacy Policy. If you do business in the EU, it must be GDPR compliant. It is good practice to state you do not sell data. If you use cookies, opt-in and opt-outs are necessary.  FYI: you don’t need cookies.

If you are not careful, your website may collect data you do not want, and could harm your reputation.

If a DIY Site Isn’t for You

If you are reading this blog because…DIY isn’t working out for you, there are other options.

Look at appealing websites of your colleagues and attorneys and ask them who developed their website.

This has the added benefit of opening a conversation with colleagues and attorneys with no strings attached. When you have some names:

  • Get references from any prospective web developer and a CV. 
  • Place limits on the cost and scope, with deadlines for reassessment if the work isn’t going as planned.
  • Collaborate closely. 

If you can’t get any leads for a web developer, there are options like Upwork, which offers access to web developers all over the world. You describe what you need and developers bid for your job with a letter, portfolio and, if you ask, a CV and references. 

A DIY Site is Better than No Site or a Bad Site

If you have a website already, whether you built it yourself or not, take a look and ask others:

Does your site communicate that you are actively, currently in forensic practice?

Does it communicate FIRST what is most important?

Is it easy to learn your phone number and email? Is your area of medicine immediately obvious?

If you have a site that’s dated or confusing, update it. If a DIY option is your only option, then go for it. But if you can build something more substantial, it is my experience, calls will follow. 

This site bears the hallmarks of HTML, a programming language carbon-dated to 1995-2007(ish). It was inflexible and becomes distorted in contemporary browsers. HTML is not responsive to the mobile viewer. Such sites may appear distorted and unreadable on a phone. HTML forces content into one long central column or may push content to the upper left. Text is usually too small to read. 

*E-commerce is product-driven where the consumer is “consuming” something. Arguably, attorneys or the justice system are “consuming” your knowledge, but your website is not the place to have that philosophical conversation.

**Legislators, the FCC, and Courts are all scrutinizing consumer protection in light of Dark Patterns used on websites.

Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Nationwide

Email go@forensicexpertpro.com or Call (415) 302-9589

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