Web Design For Lawyers: Think Process, Not Price
As part of the process to identify a web development agency to design a law firm website, in-house legal IT departments may develop a RFQ or RFP. Smaller firms may call peers for a referral or search the footer credits of their favorite websites.
These are logical first steps, but the attorneys in charge of the project should also focus on the most important aspect of any web design project – content and inbound marketing.
Having an online presence for your law firm is not enough. Here are 10 important tips to help generate more traffic to your website.
Tip 1: Understand and articulate your firm’s strengths
Larger firms may be able to offer high levels of competency in many practice areas. Smaller firms may specialize in just a few. The question becomes what information to feature, and what should take a secondary position.
Rather than seeing a law firm’s website as an “online brochure”, it makes sense to go through the process of building “buyer personas” to articulate and prioritize key communication points for website content. Buyer personas are psychographic profiles enhanced with demographic data. Buyer personas will help you understand client pain points, challenges and needs. Persona development helps you to focus your messaging.
Tip 2: Develop a plan for inbound marketing and SEO
Developing buyer personas will also help identify the keywords and search phrases your potential clients are using to find law firms like yours.
While being rated a “super lawyer” in your practice area, or listed in Martindale-Hubbell or state and local law publications and directories can be valuable, you’re often an unwilling victim of alphabetical sorting. If your firm names starts with a “Y” for example, potential clients scanning listings may never get to your name.
Develop a list of the most popular keywords and phrases and integrating those terms thoughtfully into your site and blog content. Set aside a budget to test pay-per-click ad programs. Pay-per-click can go a long way to helping you be found more easily and combat the challenges of directories.
Law firms should also take advantage of YouTube videos to boost search ranking. Video content that complies with the rules of your state Bar can be used to explain:
- How cases may be handled
- How the court system works
- Explain the appeal process
- Jury selection
- Practice areas
- and more
Helpful content is what people are ultimately after through online search. You should strive to be ranked highly for search keywords and phrases your ideal clients/prospects are using. To ensure your plan is working, define specific goals and measure your progress on a regular basis.
Tip 3: Show off your best asset
If your firm focuses on a plaintiff or defense work, reporting on the results or status of recent cases may be a good way to showcase your abilities. If your an appellate attorney, writing about pending laws, or aspects of a previous ruling may be an effective way to engage a web visitor. Whatever your strength, it’s important to use your web content as a showcase.
If you’re using primary area of your website (a home page for example) to present a photo of the firm’s office space or group portrait of partners, a content review and evaluation is in order.
Tip 4: Make sure your law firm’s positioning message is plausible
When an individual or organization begins the process of choosing a firm to represent them; a firm’s past case experience, specialties and track record can help to put potential and existing clients at ease. In addition, the personalities of the firm, their biographies, firm fee structures, and the involvement of associates vs. partners may also play a role in the decision-making process.
Occasionally, newer firms will want to present their legal practice as taking “a new approach” to an age-old profession, or that “their practice does things differently”. While this may be a clever way to set a firm apart from competitors, it also raises the issue of credibility.
Be sure to test your messaging on existing and potential clients to make sure it speaks to their primary concern. Your web designer should be able to create mockups to test assumptions.
Tip 5: Hire a reputable web “development” firm
In today’s market, it’s fairly easy to find firms or freelancers who can creating stunning pages with code and the latest Photoshop tricks. The look and feel (interface) of your website is actually only a piece of the website design process. Many web designers leave even the most basic SEO work as an extra, or ignore it altogether.
This trend has given rise to “SEO specialists” who promise to makeover your site and get your firm to first page of a particular search engine’s results. The question is not if you can get it to Page One…the question is for what set of keywords and phrases. These specialists could be using the right techniques, but may not be investing enough time in learning about what makes your law firm unique.
Qualities that you can consider when researching web design firms for your project:
- Research and Creative Brief process are used to define goals
- Content Strategy as a priority
- Ability to create a Site Map of content and navigation
- Understanding of your business model
- Custom tailored design solutions instead of off the shelf templates
- Content development services – writing and design
- SEO and search marketing are used as an integral part of the project
- Programming approach is based on need and functionality
- Hosting fees are separate from development costs
- Can scale project team and process to project size
- Inbound marketing expertise – generating leads through online activities
- Stability, experience, responsiveness
Tip 6: Beware of the “template” approach
There are website design and build services that specialize in serving the legal community. Over time, they’ve developed experience at quickly understanding what your firm may want and need. If the approach is custom tailored, there’s a better chance the solution will be effective for your firm. They may borrow design thinking from a previous project but apply it in a new way for your firm.
On the other hand, if the content or design they’re recommending has been duplicated for other law firms with a minor word or firm name change, then you may not be getting the full value of a website design or SEO work.
Some web designers may offer an off the shelf template to help control design costs. The reality is that:
- The savings may be minimal
- The template may restrict the layout of content
- Manual updating later may add costs
- Modifications may be difficult
- Templates generally are not exclusive – your website may end up looking eerily similar to another firm’s.
Tip 7: Continually update and add content
Developing content for inbound marketing purposes takes at least 10-15 hours a week for a small to medium-sized business. Why? Because search engines index content on a regular basis in an effort to deliver what people need and want.
Strategically adding branded content will increase your chances of being found by your ideal clients through online search. Firms who believe that “they are busy enough” or “don’t have time” need to consider that their competitors are making the time and seeing results.
Internet marketing consultants suggest that you can reduce this amount of time by redirecting your efforts to commenting and posting in social media and even “scraping” content from other authors. The idea is that you are leveraging someone else’s work by sharing valuable content and building your brand as a trusted adviser. This strategy is effective in some cases, but nothing is as powerful as generating original high-quality content.
Successful attorneys are usually busy, and so the idea of spending time developing content as opposed to working cases is not practical. To solve the problem, law firms can consider outsourcing the writing (there are plenty of legal minds who are now freelance writers) to adding in-house staff, or making content development an additional responsibility for new associates.
Tip 8: Focus on quality content that fills needs
What determines quality content? It’s content that helps answer people’s questions, illuminates complicated issues, dispels myths, etc. Your reaction may be that your knowledge is worth something, and you are not in the business of teaching others how to do your work. Perhaps true, but to write a blog, or comment on a post does not require that you “give away the farm”. You can help others and still create demand for your services. The average length of a blog, or white paper is hardly enough to fully address any subject and every issue.
As an attorney, and ideal goal is to create a content strategy around your unique practice areas and skill sets. For example, if your specialty is insurance defense, what information would a large insurer be looking for? What phrases would they use to find that information? The goal is to align your content with their queries.
Tip 9: Evaluate your efforts on an on-going basis
Once your site is launched, it is important monitor the effects of your work with an analytics tool. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools provide insights about site traffic, page visits, bounce rates, search queries and more. It doesn’t take more than a few weeks to start to see trends and opportunities, and allow you to identify problem areas such as duplicate page titles, meta descriptions and broken links. You may be able to contract with your design firm for monitoring and analysis services. If you’re working towards higher rankings, depending on your search terms, it can take several months and the on-going addition of new content in order to see results.
Specialized online marketing tools such as Hubspot’s inbound marketing dashboard can help you manage content distribution and get detail on website visits, prospects, leads and customers to quantify your efforts.
Tip 10: Look for areas to improve
In the service industry, maintaining your online visibility is an on-going activity. If you are monitoring your site through an analytics setup, you are learning about areas that are working well and those that need improvement. It’s easy to see the traction you get with a blog that is on target, and then build on those successes.
For more information on website design, SEO and inbound marketing, give us a call or read about using online search to identify a design or inbound marketing firm.
About the author: Tom Weinkle is a founder and partner of Vortex Communications, a graphic and website design firm who offers graphic and WordPress web design, build, troubleshooting and training services along with search optimization, social media and inbound marketing services. Based in Miami, Florida, Tom has over 25 years of experience in visual communications for the healthcare, medical, law, accounting, software, financial services and banking industries.