“I moved from Justia to WordPress and did not lose ranking and love having my own WP site. The key is keeping your good links. Also migrate to a good host like Synthesis and use a good theme provider like StudioPress. Also use the Yoast SEO plugin.”
~+Robert Ottinger1, owner of OttingerLaw.com2
Any time you move a website, there are a whole bunch of things that can go wrong. As it relates to SEO, if you aren’t careful you can wipe out a lot of hard-won first page rankings.
Here is what attorneys need to consider:
The types of redirects, the URL structure, the domain name, and existing links to your site are all elements that need to be handled with care when moving a website.
Any time you move a website from a proprietary website provider like Justia, you or your developer have to take into account all the technical back-end stuff to make sure the site functions in the same way that it did on Justia’s platform.
In other words, there’s a lot of moving parts. Someone that knows what they are doing may have an easy go of it. Someone that does not will most surely cause unintended issues with your site and your search rankings.
Whether you are checking out your options or deciding to make the move to a WordPress site, this post is all about the experiences others have had as well as a checklist of things you need to do in order to make a smooth transition to a clean WordPress installation.
This post is not meant to be one-sided and unfair but practical and factual.
You can learn only so much from a company’s website, so to get more details about Justia’s services, we did what any other person would do to find out more. We called them.
After speaking with a consultant at Justia, I was able to glean the following positives from what I might get with the service.
Justia assigns a consultant to your firm to assess your needs, such as if and how you would like to promote your site and how you would like the site to look.
In this regard, all you have to do is tell them what you want; they take it from there. They show you a mock-up once it is ready, and if you pull the trigger, they launch it for you.
For busy attorneys, this is a major plus because they have a professional service just getting things done for them.
It’s typical of agencies to handle the design and programming of a new site however they may not handle other logistical components of a website build like setting up hosting, installing security certificates, or registering a domain name. Justia handles all that for the attorney.
They Handle the Technical Stuff
With a traditional website, you (or whomever you hire) sets up hosting, a domain name, and all the back-end stuff that goes along with having a website. Like we mentioned before, Justia does that for you.
The benefit is that this is all part of the package meaning not only do you not have to worry about it but everything will work seamlessly together.
When those tasks are carried out by different parties, it’s easier for mistakes to happen because a person configuring one part of the process may not know what another professional is doing.
Common SEO Features Baked Right In
If you build a site using some other agency or freelancer, they may or may not build your new site in a way that is optimized for search. After all, designers and developers are not marketing people and don’t always think of those things.
Justia sites offer responsive design right out of the box (great because Google already launched their mobile-first index).
Since mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor, you don’t have to worry about that one.
Their team also uses best practices for building out pages and keyword placement during the development process and although there is much more to SEO than that, at least you’re off to a good start.
Use Your Own Domain
If you have a domain you would like to use, you can transfer it over to Justia, which is a plus. They can help you handle that process as well.
This is especially helpful since transferring domain names from one registrar to another can sometimes be much harder than it needs to be. We’ve seen registrars that are not responsive or not know what they are doing which turns a simple task into a nightmare.
Write Your Own Content
Justia will sell you content for your website (more on that later) but claims you can opt not to buy content and write your own. Having the ability to purchase content is a nice feature as long as it works out and is high-quality.
They Update Back-End Coding
Justia will take care of pretty much anything that is really technical. For instance, if you want to handle your own content production but do not want to deal with the nuances of coding, they will do it for you.
Your Website Is Yours
If you are worried about getting your website files back after you term of service is up, you don’t have to. People familiar with Justia report that it is easy to get your files back if need be.
The following are some things that may become troublesome down the road. It’s important to point out that depending on your firm’s goals and future plans for web hosting, marketing, and development, these may or may not be cons.
No Hosting by Itself
Yes, Justia handles your hosting, but you are essentially locked into its service. Unlike a traditional hosting service, you are paying for not only space, email, and other technical features but also an overall marketing, development, and hosting package.
So for example if you already have a company doing paid advertising, SEO, email marketing, or other similar services, you’ll be doubling up on those efforts.
You are required to purchase a one-year contract (more on that too), and you cannot purchase just hosting. So, for example, if you want to take away marketing services and host only a website with Justia, that is not an option.
You will have to commit to one year with Justia for development and marketing services. A commitment of this length is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many marketing and web development companies contract out for a year or more.
Of course, long-term agreements for marketing services are relatively standard, even if you aren’t doing something web-based. The only issue with this scenario is that lawyers are locked into a website and marketing agreement.
If in six months they decide that the marketing services are not producing the returns they had expected, they cannot revert to just hosting. The pain here is not so much that you cannot get out of the contract, it’s that leaving the service means migrating everything away from Justia which is a big job.
Picking Up and Moving Can Be Painful
The sales rep I spoke with claimed you can get a copy of your website after your one-year term is up; however, it is not as easy as setting up shop on another server.
It’s great that you can get a copy for free (especially because some other services charge you for it), but you will need some help moving your site (more on that in a moment). Conversely, if your site is built by an agency or freelancer and you part ways with him or her later, you do not have to worry about moving your site.
An External Blog
I have heard of instances in which Justia allowed a blog to be part of a website, but in general, Justia provides a blog that is not attached to the main domain.
I’ve had the experience with some of my clients that a Justia blog is on WordPress but the main site is hosted elsewhere.
This presents an issue for a variety of reasons:
What Does the Founder Say?
In a recent and running thread5 from which many of the quotes in this post are gleaned, Justia founder Tim Stanley shares some of the innovative services the company has for its clients.
One qualm that has been mentioned is that Justia is not doing a lot of off-site SEO. To that Stan says:
“Okay, let me run through a few things.
First we do a lot more than just host sites. We do a lot of off-site SEO and also assist with onsite SEO. Currently we have a big push of integrating all of the clients’ social media (if you are a client, please fill out the document and send it back if you have not already). We also gave detailed webinars to our website clients on Google+, G+Business/Local/Places, Facebook, LinkedIn and content writing. We have helped setup thousands of Facebook, Twitter and Google Places and Google+ Business pages. We have helped clients on mergers of Google Places with Google+Business. There will be additional Webinars this spring, and they will be good — clients should not miss them. We will be adding some just for blogging clients as well.
A few more things we do, in a somewhat random order based on the thread of this G+ post.
Google+Local Business & Places Pages
We were not late on this. We have been helping clients for years on setting up Google Place pages and have worked with them on merging these with Google+Business. We had a Justia webinar on G+Local Business pages last spring. All our website clients received multiple notices about the webinar, including a more detailed introductory email (it was not offered to blog only clients – sorry +Ron Miller ). We did not do the G+Local Business webinar in 2012 because Google was having real issues merging Google Places pages to G+Local Business pages, and it did not make sense for our clients to risk having problems by getting them focused on that before Google was ready. See http://j.st/gp for what was going on with G+Business in late 2012. We had to help some clients who had merged their Google Places and G+Business back then, and it required multiple contacts with people at Google to get anything fixed. Again, I think our timing of the Spring of 2013 was the right time to more formally present this to clients.
Yellow Pages – Name Address Phone Distribution, Updates, Verification
Our site and directories markup and distribution of NAP info is really good, and does help with Google Maps/Place/G+Local. We have direct relationships with all of the major NAP data companies and are a trusted source of quality local information. We consistently update and verify the NAP information which is then used in the major data providers and our own directories as well as distributed to Google and many other portals and yellow page sites (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo! and thousands of other sites that use this info). This is not something we are behind on. The information provided to these NAP providers includes the URL of the website, which is also distributed to 100’s of other real yellow page Websites. Our data is also used by a number of other websites directly for building out their service directories. Obviously we also do submissions to free editorial sites as well.
We have helped our clients with social media. As stated above we have had multiple webinars on G+, as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. For blog clients, we have helped setup Facebook and Twitter accounts and automated their feeds into their pages. We have helped many clients setup G+ individual profiles and have worked to encourage them to participate.”
Some of the elements Stan mentions in this quote are classic off-site SEO tactics8 that are still effective. We’ve gone through this quote in 2018 and many of the approaches are still relevant (having consistent NAP, having a presence on GMB (Google My Business) which was formerly Google + Local).
Even for non-lawyer-specific SEO companies, business listing profiles, directories, and social media are standard link- and presence-building strategies.
Webinars are also extremely helpful. Justia sets up social profiles but does not necessarily maintain them with content for clients (understandably, as that process is tedious and time-consuming). Not to mention awkward for any business when they are not involved in the day-to-day culture of a firm.
When you can educate your clients, though, and let them know what they can do on their own to help market their practices, you are doing them a great service.
Perhaps the most pressing question many attorneys ask is whether their hard-won rankings in search will be affected by moving from Justia to WordPress.
The truth is that when you move a site from anywhere (even from one host to another), there is a risk of losing positioning in search.
If you follow best practices, though, your rankings should be fine.
Precisely how your SEO could be at risk depends on what you do during the move. For example, domain age and configuration can have an impact on your rankings (although these are minor).
Will those be changing in any way? Your URL structure is the most important component to pay attention to. Google indexes URLs (saves them) and if you change that location of a page, Google does not know how to find it any more and may drop it from search results.
Those URLs need to be redirected.
You also have to think about how your new site will perform. Will the new configuration be as good as or better than the old one in terms of page load speed and information architecture?
“Any platform can be migrated to another without issue as long as everything is handled correctly (assuming you own the domain and not Justia). We recently migrated a Joomla site into WordPress for a client, and it is doing extremely well in search.
It’s important to remember that a correct migration should also be seen as a chance to ‘modernize’ the site. We’ve seen quite a few migrations where people essentially try to recreate the exact same site (in terms of look, feel, etc.) There’s no need for that, and, in fact, trying to reverse engineer an outdated site into WordPress can actually lead to performance problems that will hurt the site in search.”
Sometimes, new or migrated websites can exhibit strange behavior in search. A lot of SEOs call this the “Google Dance” however Google’s search results don’t really work in the way that this term references any more. Basically it referred to fluctuations in where websites fell in search.
This can happen even if a site’s architecture remains completely the same and is just moved from one server to another.
Most of the time, though, architecture changes with new sites, especially those moved from one CMS to another, as is the case with a move from Justia to WordPress.
It can take some time, but a website that has been moved properly will eventually fall back to where it was before in the SERPs.
“Having conducted around 10 such migrations, I can tell you from experience that there is almost always a temporary dip in traffic as search engines get reacquainted with your site. The traffic recovery delay will depend on how well the new site is optimized relative to the old site. New sites typically mean new architecture and new ways for the search engine bots to enter and navigate through your site.
One tip: Ensure that as your developers create the new site that it remains password-protected and not accessible to search engines. You want to reduce the risk of duplicate, incomplete, or incorrect content in the public domain.”
Since these two services offer support for databases and are run on CMSs of their own, transferring everything over should be pretty straightforward…as long as you ask the right questions.
Justia claims that after your service period is up, you can request a copy of your website.
You should request a copy on a disc as well as a copy of the database associated with your website. The database will contain all your URLs and other settings that are important for transferring to a WordPress CMS website.
Here’s a little tip that you probably already know as an attorney: Get confirmation in writing that you will be able to get a copy of the source code for your website if you want to transfer it down the road. An email should suffice.
A website is sort of like a house of cards. As long as it remains undisturbed in its original state and changes to its foundation are done rarely and with utmost care, everything will be fine.
When you try to transfer to a new location, it does not always rest on the carpet in the same way, and many things have to be tweaked for it to look as it did before you moved it.
Half the battle is knowing what you need to have in place before migrating a site from Justia to WordPress.
If you already owned your domain name before you hooked up with Justia, you are in luck. Using it on your new website will be just a matter of changing DNS settings.
If you had Justia purchase your domain name for you, there may be some issues with using it on your new site. You will have to finish out your one-year contract with Justia before you can lay claim to the domain name. Otherwise, Justia will maintain ownership of it.
If you cannot get a straight answer about who is the rightful owner of the domain name (or you just do not know), there is an easy way to find out.
Step 1: Go to www.networksolutions.com/whois14 (note that there are many “whois” information providers; I like this one because it’s easy to use).
Step 2: Copy and paste your domain name into the search box provided (just the “www.example.com” part of your domain without slashes, colons, or anything else).
The URL I used that generated the search results below is a known FindLaw client. Findlaw apparently owned the domain.
Justia provides its own hosting. If you plan to migrate a site away from Justia, you will need to set up a hosting account. This is a service that stores all the files, images, etc. that make up your website.
Hosting is pretty cheap. Most services charge around $70 to $100 per year or less for basic packages. If all you have are pages with images and content and perhaps a blog, you do not need anything fancy.
WP Engine is a premiere WordPress hosting platform. They make migrations extremely easy and provide all of the back-end tools you’ll need to run a WordPress site.
Popular hosting companies with easy-to-use interfaces (that are good for WordPress) include :
There many hosts out there. The one thing you should not do is shop based on price. Instead, look at the services the host provides. Services you will need to have for a WordPress site include:
• Support for the latest version of PHP
• Support for the latest version of MySQL
• .htaccess support and the mod_rewrite Apache module
Ask a potential host if it has these features. If it cannot answer, odds are you should look somewhere else. The hosts listed above all provide support for WordPress.
A Copy of WordPress
Sometimes, hosts will have links to WordPress.org, where you can download a copy of the open-source CMS. If you cannot find one or would like to download it yourself, you can download a zip file from WordPress.org15.
Many mainstream hosting providers also have one-click installations of WordPress that make it super simple to set up.
Here is the tricky part, and it’s where most of the work in transferring your site may come into play. Justia uses a proprietary CMS system, so odds are their theme files will not be compatible with WordPress.
One strategy you can investigate is finding a theme that looks similar to the layout your website already uses. You can then install it and have it modified to look like your old website. Alternatively, it may be a good opportunity for a face-lift on your site.
A Word on HTML Scraping
I have seen some posts out there guiding attorneys to have someone scrape content from your Justia site if you do not want to pay to get the content and design code or if you cannot get them for whatever reason.
As an attorney, you know full well that your hands are tied on any intellectual property; however, HTML and CSS do not always fall into that category.
Even though you can have these things copied, that doesn’t mean you will get all the code necessary to make your new site look like your old one.
Sometimes (and often with CMSs), HTML code is built by server-side processing code like PHP (which means that all the code is processed on the server and that users cannot see it when they try to view the source code of your website).
This code cannot be scraped from the internet because it cannot be seen by people or software programs. Only the output can be scraped (typically text or image content). It is seen only in the original HTML files that make up the site.
In other words, scraping all the visible HTML may not produce the same site as you would think.
Your best bet is to get the original source code files from Justia so you can pass them along to your developer or rebuild the site on your own.
Getting Your Team Ready
Unless you plan to do coding and design work yourself, you will have to get a reputable developer and/or designer to help you. Let’s explore the intricacies of why this is necessary.
Architecture of a Website
A website is basically a bunch of files all linked together through references in code. In the most basic traditional websites, HTML framework holds things like text, images, and code for a browser to interpret.
Those files must reside in a specific location for a browser to find them and render them on a screen (just like your computer looks for files on a drive when you request them).
When you request a copy of a website from Justia, the locations of the files contained in that copy are often different from what they will be once the copy of the site is installed somewhere else. For instance, images in those files might be stored in a folder called “images/justia-cms/yourlogo.jpg.”
Once your website is installed on your server, that file (“yourlogo.jpg”) will have to be stored inside a folder named “justia-cms,” which will in turn be installed in a folder called “images,” in order for a browser to make your logo appear on a web page.
Typically, when websites are moved, file paths change. A developer will have to dig into the code and change file paths so that images show up, styling looks as it is supposed to, and all the things the site did before still work.
If your developer is not a designer, you may also want to have a designer look at your site and tell you how to make it look like the one you had with your previous service.
Designers are good at noting little details like drop shadows, gradients, placement and size of images, fonts, and other tidbits that laypeople often overlook.
A lot of your styling and imagery for your website will be ingrained in the code, so a designer may not be as necessary as a developer when setting up the site on a new server.
Keep in mind that while you had your Justia site, links were built to it and search engines indexed your pages. It is important that those links and indexed pages still take users to the pages they are expecting to see.
“In most cases, you’ll want to maintain site/URL structure as much as possible. Try to avoid breaking links that require redirects. Usually, I recommend having a migration map that dictates URLs, page titles, meta descriptions, page content, etc.”
~+Gyi Tsakalakis18, owner of AttorneySync.com19
Your URL structure will have the largest impact on ranking in search as well as how successful (or unsuccessful) your move is.
If you have a new site built and none of your URLs are the same as the old ones or none get redirected, you will lose traffic from old placements in SERPs.
If you change your URLs, those pages will no longer be reachable from those links. People will hit error pages, and your traffic will drop. As a best practice, you should make your URLs exactly the same as your old website.
If you cannot do this for whatever reason, you will need to redirect old URLs to new URLs. The following are some best practices for redirecting URLs:
Moving your site from Justia can be a smooth process if you know what to expect. As long as you set up a migration map with the same title tags, URL structure, descriptions, etc. complete with necessary 301s, your SEO should recover after a temporary drop. If you need help with the migration of your website, contact us today21.