DWW.com - Boutique Intellectual Property & IT Law Firm Launches The First Legal Sector Website Built With Drupal 8
Deeth Williams Wall is a specialized law firm focusing on intellectual property and information technology law. Not only does the firm have experienced lawyers, but their team has an impressive mix of computer science, engineering, and “hard” science degrees appended to their job titles.
Their team is smart, experienced and ready to think outside the box to position their firm in a crowded marketplace.
The Playing Field
I’ll be frank - The legal practice isn’t exactly a sector which tends to be innovative when it comes to technology or marketing. DWW is based in Canada which is dominated by the “Seven Sisters” Law Firms which are monolithic organizations each with hundreds of lawyers. You’re going to see a lot of greys and blues in the sister’s websites, and they often feel stark, and clinical.
DWW has 25 lawyers and the last thing they needed was a “me too” approach on their website. Their firm is specialized and their website needs to be specialized as well.
After our initial brainstorming sessions we focused on 3 main goals for the site:
Content Strategy: People First - Emphasize the team at every opportunity.
Design Approach: Have personality, be friendly, be human, be memorable.
Editorial Process: Creating & distributing content must be easy and/or automated.
Legacy Wordpress Site
DWW was running a wordpress website. They have produced a remarkable amount of content including about 2500 articles on law and legal news. Unfortunately their legacy site had some technical problems that harmed their performance in search engines. We needed to keep all that great content, while dramatically improving the site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Technology Platform: Drupal 8
We built a conference site, and our company site in Drupal 8 (D8) and knew it would be a great fit for DWW. Like any technology choice there were trade-offs. By using beta software, the initial build progressed slowly compared to a Drupal 7, but in the long run knew we’d be building a more sustainable platform with a longer lifespan.
We launched the “Minimum Viable Product” website in mid-July focusing on the new art direction along with SEO improvements. We have a road map of planned features and A/B testing for aspects of the site. As time (and Drupal 8) progresses we have applied small incremental updates to dww.com.
Challenges working with a Drupal 8 Beta
Working with beta software certainly provided some challenges. There were some bugs, but most affecting the site have now been fixed as Drupal 8 moves closer to a stable release.
Many of the contrib modules we normally use in a Drupal 7 site simply didn’t exist. But I have been pleasantly surprised to find the features available in Drupal 8 dramatically reduces the need to use contrib modules at all.
Only 3 Contrib Modules Needed!
The 3 contrib modules we used were Token, Pathauto, and “Simple XML Sitemap”, (The “regular” XML sitemap module was not yet stable). In comparison our typical Drupal 7 websites would include 30+ contrib modules for a site of similar scope.
Benefits of Using Drupal 8
Drupal 8 provides some killer features which really helped accomplish our goals for this project.
Content Authoring Experience
Drupal 8 includes a great content authoring experience out of the box. Inline editing, file asset management, and systems for simplifying the content UI are included by default. These systems were very easy to change for our specific editorial requirements. Accomplishing this in Drupal 7 is certainly possible, but it’s a heck of a lot more work.
Drupal 8 includes support for <picture> element out of the box. This is a new HTML spec that allows a web browser to load small images on small screens, and large images on larger screens. This is a critical component for making mobile-friendly websites load fast.
Flexible Template Engine
We’re picky about how HTML and CSS are coded in our websites. Drupal 8 has a very flexible template engine called TWIG which would allow us to easily and very precisely control the markup generated by Drupal. This allows us to easily implement 3rd party tools and libraries into the site without the need for a Drupal contrib or custom modules.
Migrating 2500 Articles from Wordpress to Drupal 8
Drupal 8 includes a framework for migrating content into your website. This framework can be extended to import content from older versions of Drupal CMS’s. Currently D8 only supports Drupal 6 migrations with a “point and click” interface so we needed to improvise a little.
Drupal 6 to the rescue
Because we had a few thousand articles in Wordpress, we created a disposable Drupal 6 website to “stage” the content. Drupal 6 has a number of aging, but very reliable tools for migrating wordpress websites to Drupal 6. Once we had the content in Drupal 6, migrating all that content to Drupal 8 was literally a 45 minute job.
SEO Improvements with Schema.org Metadata
Schema.org outlines a specification for adding special metadata to you website to allow search engines to better understand your content. Specifically, you can tell search engines whether a chunk of content is describing a member of the firm, news about law, or a specific service offered. This improves a website's SEO and allows search engines to customize how your search results appear with rich snippets.
Drupal 8 supports schema.org out of the box, and with it’s flexible template engine, we were able to customize the metadata even further. Here’s an example from the Practice Areas page.
he tool shows the following metadata for the page:
An “Attorney Type” business
That has contact info (Address, Tel, Email, etc)
Social Media Accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
Has a Logo
Offers Services including:
(and so on)
Automatic Email Newsletter Generation
The articles written by DWW are distributed in a bi-monthly email newsletter called e-tips™.
The Old (Manual) Process
DWW’s content team sent articles in word docs to the IT department. They in turn loaded each article into the website. They then copied each article into their email system, applied some formatting, and then deployed the newsletter.
The New Process
With the new website the DWW content team enters content directly into Drupal and tags the content to belong to a specific e-tips issue. The e-tips content is automatically generated and formatted for the newsletter. IT does a single copy n’ paste from Drupal to the email system to create the newsletter.
This system saves time, and reduces the chance of errors. It was built very quickly using D8 core views module, and some simple theme templates.
Hootsuite RSS Feed for Automating Social Media
We also wanted to automate the distribution of articles to social media channels.
The content team simply flags content for Social Sharing and fills out a few extra fields. This is published to a customized RSS which is read by hootsuite.com, and is put in a queue which the content team then schedules for distribution to their social channels. The process can be fully automated. In this case DWW wanted more control. The content is automatically added to a queue which is moderated and scheduled by the team.
The site has been successful achieving our project goals. DWW.com is a memorable, and highly functional website. We’ve be able to automate a number of content workflows while greatly improving the site’s SEO performance.
Our analytics show a major improvement in the bounce rate, along with a very significant increase in the average time spent on the site. By no means is the site complete. We’ve identified further design and SEO improvements; however, we have created a good base site that will serve DWW for years to come.
Drupal 8 Is Now Our Default Platform
Drupal 8 has allowed us to implement several very customized features for dww.com. We launched the site in Drupal 8 Beta-10 and have since upgraded to Beta-16. Most of the bugs we experienced no longer exist.
Unless there’s some specific Contrib module required for a project, Drupal 8 is our new default platform.