Can you save money building a website yourself?
What every expert should know before diving into a ‘DIY site-builder’ like Wix or Squarespace
You may be tempted to take a Saturday afternoon and follow the promise that you can make a website that’s inexpensive and easy. Let’s look at the options.
What is a DIY website building platform?
A DIY website building platform is a service you sign up for online, with pre-manufactured tools “anyone can learn,” to build their own website. For example,
- Prepackaged designs (called Themes or Templates)
- Artful display for a product or service
- Image library
- Arrangement of “blocks” like a picture or a CV, menu customization, contact forms, etc.
- Features like “sign-up” boxes to acquire email addresses.
- Premade Font and color combos.
- Shapes to hold your words, pictures, portraits, clients receiving services (squares, circles, trapezoids)
The biggest, and feistiest, competitors are Wix and Squarespace. You’ve seen their online or tv ads showing snazzy websites and testimonials from the happy novices whose site produces massive profits. FYI, here’s how they pay for that tv ad: In 2021 Wix reported income of $1.3B and Squarespace announced a profit of $783M.
How does the Website Builder Make Money off a “Free Service”?
Is it really free?
At first, you will be offered a free account. The price quickly goes up.
You’ll soon find that a monthly subscription of $29.99, provides the truly valuable things: a dedicated website domain name like drjones.com or backpainexpert.com, and a host of necessary services like…hosting. (Hosting is the engine that makes your website “live.” Lingo defined in the Glossary.)
The free account allows the service to advertise on your site. Ads are removed from paid sites. On a free site you agree to relinquish control over something important. The paid site gives you more control.
Thrifty? $29.99/month costs you almost $800 after your site’s second year. Wix and others have notoriously bad SEO. SEO is the art and science to improve your site’s ranking in a after a Google search. Bad SEO means your position never changes or gets worse. After 2 years, your site might be on the same Google results page it was on Day 1. On the other hand, WordPress.org is the platform of the vast majority of serious websites. It is free. Building the site isn’t.
It takes about 2 years for a maximized WordPress site to appear early in searches. By comparison, your Wix subscription didn’t buy you much. By year 2 you’ve spent $1600, the price for a web developer to put together a basic site that moves up the rankings year after year.
It’s more than just cost
It behooves you to understand how a free account can get an expert witness into ethical and legal trouble, and web design choices to help avoid pitfalls.
Unmasking the methods that make the site easy to build
What is E-Commerce?
“E-Commerce” is the industry of products sold online. E-Commerce does not reflect service industries, academic sites, or organizations.
Unpacking the e-commerce Template
The #1 e-commerce templates for Wix contain optional:
- shopping carts and “click to add” purchase buttons
- Filters or search bars for products, by size, color, price, availability, reviews, etc.
- a check-out interface
- pop-ups that, generally, provide an incentive in exchange for the user’s email address. The e-commerce template may require you, the web designer, to deselect or manually remove this feature. If you don’t, because you didn’t know you should, you give a negative impression to attorneys.
Pop-Ups Function to Build an E-Mail List; Not Communicate Professional Knowledge or Med-Legal Experience
The most common pop-up asks the user to provide their email. In e-commerce this is a legitimate tool to promote sales and new products. However, you are an expert witness, not an e-commerce business.
Why do people care about mailing lists? Let’s look at the sale pitch and journey from pop-up to income–for a shopping site.
The Wix tv ad showed an adorable couple selling home made cupcakes, from the sophisticated website they built one day.
Fast forward, the tv ad is now from Constant Contact or Mailchimp. The cupcakes are selling like hotcakes. Let’s sell MORE cupcakes.
Those enchanting small business owners are ready to turn their modest DIY site into an email marketing powerhouse and start building cupcake factories, and maybe a few offshore bank accounts. The tv ad now show them hovering around a computer to see their emails turn into sales. Click. They gleefully watch their products fly off the virtual shelves.
Who is reaping the profits? Mailchimp sold to Intuit in 2021 for more than $6B; Constant Contact sold for $1B in 2015; now privately held.
A medical-legal opinion is not a product, nor is it for sale.
Your user is a lawyer who values his or her privacy and their client’s confidentiality. They know a thing or two about identity theft and malware. They will never sign up for your “free” subscription.
And if they want a 50% discount? Hard pass. Not because you want to earn more money, but because the attorney is treating you like a fire sale where your opinion has a pricetag.
This is the opposite of the serious medical expert witness’ ethical and professional foundation: objectivity.
In fact, the pop-up itself blemishes the serious tone of an expert’s credentials and experience.
True Story: a Pop-up FAIL
I went to the site of a Forensic doctor and was immediately disrupted by a huge, red pop-up.
Did I want to subscribe to the newsletter and learn interesting new things about beauty?
How did this happen?
> This expert probably liked the look of what was actually the Theme for an aesthetician style site. (I know because I dug into the Code, which revealed the problem.)
>They didn’t confirm whether they were using a services-oriented website or an e-commerce website. They needed the former, they chose the latter.
> They did not remove or “de-select” the pop-up option from a template.
FAQ: Do I need an email list? Maybe the Pop-up for an email is a good thing.
There is a risk/benefit assessment when you ask your visitor to provide their email.
I believe the benefit is negligible and the risk great, but not everyone agrees with me. Whether a direct mail approach is a good marketing option is not addressed in this article. The impression on your website that you have a direct mail program, however, is relevant.
You don’t want to drive away site visitors before they’ve learned who you are, your credentials, your expertise. That result defeats the purpose.
Lawyers don’t hire experts because of what’s in their spam folder.
How many of Mailchimp or Constant Contact’s customers were medical device liability experts? In my experience? -0-. I’m being generous.
Service Industry Model
What is a “Service Industry” Model?
Service industries address everything from yoga studios to dentists, dog walkers to daycare. Anyone who is selling labor and professional expertise is a “service industry.” There is no distinction between a chef and a medical-legal specialist in psychiatric factors in a homicide.
The focus of a Service Industry theme will generally be
- A picture of the service’s brick-and-mortar location, and associated map
- 5 star reviews
- Images that show the service being performed
- The happy customer
- An interface to make an appointment or reservation
When you sign up for a DIY website-builder, what can you expect first?
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. Don’t forget: you are a service industry.
Guess what? There is no “forensic medical-legal” category, let alone your subspecialty. The nearest theme is usually a clinical medical practice. Clinical work and medical-legal work are very different. In fact, if there is any impression you are offering treatment, you will cross a line that subverts your reputation for an unbiased, arm’s length examination and report.
Another thought is a Law Practice model. You’re getting closer. You will, however, have to fight what lawyers are offering their own clients (legal representation) which is different from your services. The #1 benefit, in my opinion, is you gain access to a library of legally relevant images. It’s a lot of work to get a ‘scales of justice’ thumbnail…
The Site you Now Have
You built the site yourself and it does everything right. You’ve figured out how to remove the pop-up, made a menu that navigates medical-legal information, removed the appointment scheduling tool. You’ve selected appropriate images that go with important information. What’s next?
After You’ve Built Your Site
You now have a website that looks like many others. Hundreds of thousands of websites are created every day, many on a DIY website platform. A tiny number address a niche profession. Frankly, it doesn’t get much more niche than a forensic medical-legal consultant and expert witness.
Such a practice is essentially a unicorn. This is as it should be.
An expert witness is retained because he or she knows something most others do not. A medical-legal consultant is skilled at communicating technical information within the confines of the law.
The website of such a person communicates this high standard of practice.
A. Dark Patterns. Dark Patterns are features on a website that collect data using questionable methods, such as pop-ups described above, or back end data collection (think Cambridge Analytica.)
Congress has considered several Bills to scrutinize and restrict the use of Dark Patterns, like Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act.
I recommend you familiarize yourself with Dark Patterns to be an informed website owner. I have seen websites by medical-legal experts that contain dark pattern features. I find some doctors are unaware the feature exists on their site or are considered unethical at the least.
B. Your website must withstand legal scrutiny. I’m going a little off-topic here. While this article is addressing DIY websites, it is worth noting that your website design should reflect and underpin your reputation.
Design and interactive features on a website can also become fodder on the stand if they raise questions about your objectivity, ethics or motives.
You do need a website, but I recommend working with a consultant who understands what is at stake, how the user-attorney-will navigate the site and solves in advance any problems that could arise on the stand.
“We have helped plaintiffs recover billions of dollars”
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.
Design emphasis on a statement can make it pop and really get you in hot water. A brightly colored shape behind the quote, or an animation as it fades in or swipes from one side.
For example, these quotes are found on real websites:
“Let our testimony be the reason you win your case”
“We have helped plaintiffs recover billions of dollars”
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.
You know the template you want to use. What’s next?
“I want my site to reflect my practice and personality”
Generally, a theme limits you to its aesthetic. To change it you will need to override it. Common thematic conundrums are color and imagery presets. Pink and grey with a fat picture of a handbag would be typical. The handbag is easily replaced with a photo of another product in e-commerce themes.
Perhaps you’re a psychologist. You choose a “services” theme tailored to psychotherapy.
We see a happy person on a mountain top; they’ve overcome life’s travails with your skilled help. Next up is your photo and a calming turquoise and white color combo.
Going for the legal angle? Choose a theme for a law firm. If there’s an ambulance or massive 800 number, you might consider another choice.
Not your style? The sitebuilder likely has some flexibility. There is, however, a learning curve to adapt a theme to your needs.
Balancing a single site that is both Clinical and Forensic
Doctors sometimes want a page just for forensic work on an otherwise Clinical site. The medical-legal work calls for a more somber or conservative tone, 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.
Domain names the DIY Builder Owns
The free Wix or Squarespace subscription has the word Wix or Squarespace in the domain name. DrJoe.wixsite.com/drjoe.com. This is unprofessional and amateurish. Further, search engines like Google and Duck Duck Go recognize and factor-in such a domain.
Plugging in visuals
Companion article Business Portraits Worth a Thousand Words
You are the focus of a jury and therefore images of you belong on your website. Most doctors do this with a headshot in portrait orientation, like the image on the left below.
Let’s imagine the theme only offers images that fit into squares (Squarespace comes to mind.)
Your left image can become distorted to look like the right image:
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!)
A solution is to start with a square photo. Ask your photographer to provide a square crop option, “optimized for the web,” the lingo that means it won’t slow down your site loading time.
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.
A COVID Exception With Long Term Application
DIY website design has been a popular trend for the past 8+ years.
During the heat of the COVID Pandemic an explosion in online retail was/is fueled by consumer habits and at-home shopping–for everything from delivery food to surgical consultation.
Medical-Legal Experts are impacted too.
You might find that some “services industry” website Themes now have an “e-commerce” flavor as a result of the “home delivery” trend–whether the delivery is by Zoom or phone.
Flexible Use of Your Online Services
Everything, including services, are offered online. Your site should make it clear what lines you draw and those you will and will not cross virtually. This is subtle.
You might benefit from an online service model, if you can accommodate online IMEs or testimony. In some medical-legal services you might appreciate overlapping features like the ability to schedule a video meeting on Zoom or other service, directly from your website.
If a DIY Site Is Not 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.
You’ve been given the names of a few web developers. Reach out:
- Get references and a CV.
- Ask for sample sites and view them with others.
- Ask how they set up the site. Make sure they don’t use Wix or Squarespace! WordPress.org (not .com) and a legitimate hosting service are usual for a serious website.
- Are they an Independent Contractor or a larger website team? What are your contractual obligations to them?
- Establish how you will be billed. Be wary of flat fees. It isn’t unusual, but go into the cost with your eyes open.
- If you are using an intermediary service, like Upwork, confirm everyone knows the fees and who will pay what. Upwork keeps a percentage of the fees taken out of the website developer’s pocket. They charge you a fee to use your credit card.
Ready to hire?
- Place limits on the cost and scope, with deadlines to assess the work. Visiting cost on a regular basis is reasonable. Approving more fees for features you feel you need is natural and best discussed as you go.
- Don’t pay for the site up front.
- Collaborate closely.
Upwork offers access to web developers all over the world. You post your project and describe what you need. Explain your level of familiarity with website development and the extent to which you need explanation and collaboration. Post it. Website designers / developers bid for your job with a letter, portfolio and, if you asked, a CV and references.
A DIY Site is Better than No Site or a Bad Site. Best Practices.
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.