Building a successful website for a law firm can be a tough case to take on. And when it comes to getting it right, some legal sites are guilty of bad taste, while others are just downright negligent when it comes to sound design.
A recent study of the U.S. legal services market revealed that 58 million consumers sought legal representation last year and almost 80% of them used the internet to search for a law firm. That’s 46.4 million potential customers searching for a law firm to represent them and that’s only the US market.
The study recommends lawyers to build a “robust website” designed to attract these customers and generate more leads for their firm. But when we talk about building the perfect “robust website” for a law firm, what are we really talking about, and what makes legal websites different from other sites?
We spoke with industry experts and along with Vintage’s experience of building great websites for law firms to share what it takes to create the perfect legal website. Although there is no “one size fits all”, there are core do's and don'ts when it comes to building legal websites.
Update: we have prepared a short presentation with key insights from the article.
Preaching What You Practice
Your website is your window shop front to the world. You should think of the search engine as the high street and your website needs to do everything it can to attract any passersby and encourage them to step in.
The jumping off point when building any site is to ask who you are trying to reach. For a legal website this means understanding who your potential clients are and speaking to them in a way that they will understand and engage with.
A law firm's website should show any potential clients the area of law you specialize in and it should do it as quickly as possible. This avoids wasting a user's time and high bounce rates for your site.
"If you would not satisfy visitors' needs quickly, they will continue their online research and end up reading your competitor’s website." - Oleg Karapuzov
Oleg Karapuzov, User Experience specialist at Vintage, said that this initial process of understanding who the potential client is involves a lot of research and investigation into the law firm's market. And the best way to start is to build User Personas.
“It is important to know who are your customers and what are they looking for on your website,” said Karapuzov. "If you would not satisfy their needs quickly, they will continue their online research and end up reading your competitor’s website."
Not the Regular Setup
Legal websites differ from other sites not only because of their audience but their overall structure. Lead generation is what’s key for lawyers and leading the user down the correct path to reach out to the firm is what’s defines a successful law firm website.
Olga Shevchenko, Art Director at Vintage, says that “many web studios have no experience working with legal websites, and they try to apply general marketing rules on everything they work with. However, the marketing laws are somewhat different for the legal field.”
"Legal clients prefer to work with personalities, not with companies" - Olga Shevchenko
She says that there are two features that make legal websites different from your standard setup: your team and content that proves you are experts in your field.
“Legal clients prefer to work with personalities, not with companies. You have to give them what they are looking for: tell them about your company's top specialists, provide their photos in a way that people will trust them, describe their biographies, position in the company hierarchy, explain where and on what they worked in the past and what results they brought to their clients,” says Shevchenko.
Content should stand as a testament to your experience. Keep an eye out for new laws, produce analytical content describing how this law will affect people and how to adapt for them.
Critical 5 Second Test
A law firm site needs to be able to pass the critical 5 second test. If customers are not able to determine the practice areas and land on the page they are looking for in less than 5 seconds then they will leave.
“Research studies which demonstrate that visitors to websites take a very short amount of time (in some cases a fraction of a second, as little as 50 milliseconds) to judge the quality of a website”, states Useful Usability.
Ask a friend who has never seen your website to do the 5 second test. Let them open and scroll down your website for 5 seconds. Then ask them to list what they have seen and read. Are these the things you want for your customers to remember?
It’s not enough for you to say that you are experts and market leaders in your legal practice area. What matters is what people say.
We talked with David Bitton, CEO of PracticePanther.com, who told us that a lot of new business comes from client referrals and that a well designed law firm site should leverage these referrals by emphasizing what clients think about the firm.
“For a legal site, good web design comes from having an added emphasis on client testimonials, whether written or through video, showing how happy clients are from your service. So when a prospect comes to your site, you immediately build credibility with that prospect and give yourself a better chance of them contacting you about your service.”
Change is the Law of Life
Web standards are in a state of constant change. Once upon a time Flash was all the rage but these days Flash is considered a taboo because of the slow load times and poor user experiences associated with it.
Bitton told us that “with increasing use of technology in the workplace, lawyers are always looking to gain an edge by being able to harness this technology to help them be more efficient and make them more money.” And he should know.
Over half the search enquiries made online are done on mobile devices. This means your site needs to be responsive. The websites that Vintage are launching today are designed for tomorrow. By being ahead of today’s competition your site will attract customers today, tomorrow and well into the future.
SEO and Legal Websites
Having a beautifully designed site with perfect navigation is useless if it doesn’t get the traffic it deserves.
In order for search engines like Google to index your site it needs to optimized for search. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it’s known as, involves helping search engines to determine what your website is about so they can decide which users to direct towards it.
Your law firm’s website should embrace core SEO best practices by including title tags, descriptions and headers tags based on keywords associated with your practice areas and what users are searching for when they want legal representation in these areas.
Hire a Copywriter
One spelling mistake and your credibility goes out the window. Spelling mistakes are common occurrences online but it does little to inspire trust in legal representation if you can’t spell. We all make mistakes and uploading content to a new site can be a confusing task. The only real way to ensure that you’re in the clear is by hiring an editor or copywriter to either produce your content or give it the once over before it is published.
Like most things in life, it’s often not so much what people do right but what they do wrong that hurts them most.
Your legal website shouldn’t look like a copied template but instead speak to your audience and allow your brand to stand out from the crowd.
You should avoid legal jargon and think about the content your target audience want to see.
Failing to regularly update your site. If a site looks abandoned then potential clients will associate your firm with being out of date and out of touch.
The smart money's on investing in a well-designed site for your law firm. “Many attorneys are hesitant to invest time and resources into expanding their online presence because of limited budgets or questions about the return on investment. But as the survey shows, lawyers who lack a robust online presence could miss out on significant new business opportunities,” Livingston says.
Check List: Improve your Website's Effectiveness in 60 Minutes
Are you a lawyer? Follow these 5 simple steps to check and improve your law firm’s website:
Schedule a meeting with your sales manager, support manager and a secretary. The secretary is important because they are the ones who talk to clients and it’s possible that they are more in touch with the day to day needs of your clients.
Working together, compose User Personas. This document should contain descriptions of each type of client, a list of information that they expect to see on a law firm’s website in the first place, and a list of their preferences when selecting a law firm.
Take a look at the Homepage and check whether it has the information that your clients expect to see. The chances are it doesn’t.
Scroll down the page or make 3-4 clicks and see whether your website clearly shows that your firm satisfies the “average customer criteria.”
Define your action-plan and find someone to delegate it to. It might be your marketing manager, experienced assistant or your web agency.
Author: Michael Thomas Keys is an industry analyst and market researcher at Vintage. He has a Master’s degree in law from University College, London and works in digital media.
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