Imagine that you’re driving to meet a lawyer for the first time. You arrive at their office, and it’s in a run-down and seedy-looking strip mall. The pavement out front is cracked, and as you enter through the smudged and dingy glass door, the peach-colored (yes, peach) paint in the entryway is peeling.
Inside, the furniture looks like it was salvaged curbside and the plant in the corner is on its last legs. Two of the fluorescent bulbs overhead are flickering, and their plastic covers are littered with dead flies. At this point, you’re already thinking: Why would I hire this person? Would a skilled and respected lawyer work in an office like this?
If your website is out-of-date, poorly-designed, and missing crucial elements, you’re giving every potential client on the web the digital equivalent of this depressing tour through strip-mall Hell — and that’s their first impression of you. So why do so many law firms settle for inferior and outdated website designs when they would never let their office languish in a similar fashion?
The Essential Elements of a Great Website
One of the most common reasons why attorneys neglect their website is that they rely on word-of-mouth and referrals for much of their business and have always seen the best results that way. Of course, this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: certainly, you won’t see compelling results from your online presence if you haven’t invested enough to build a strong website. (Keep in mind that “investing enough” isn’t simply a matter of pouring cash into your web build — you can spend six figures and get a clunker website from the wrong company, and you can also get a high-end website on a modest budget from the right one.)
What elements, then, do you need to see in your web build before you can feel confident that you’ve got that solid foundation? Below, we’ll list what we consider the 10 most important components of a successful law firm website.
- Appealing Visuals
The overall look and feel of your site is the very first thing users will take in when they visit your homepage. Compelling copy, strong headlines, videos — these all come after (and depend on) the user’s initial glance over your site design. Accordingly, your site needs a professional look and feel that speaks to your brand in an intuitive way and aligns with the expectations of your target audience.Your site’s fundamental visual appeal depends primarily on two factors: design choices (like color palette and layout) and images. What constitutes good design can be subjective, but whether design is executed competently is not, so professionalism and polish are the key concerns here. Your photography, meanwhile, should be high-resolution and attention-grabbing (in an understated way — no used-car-lot ad gimmicks). Avoid stock photography if possible, and try to populate your site with authentic, professionally-captured images that showcase your team, your office, and your location.In addition, we always recommend featuring videos on your site, including your homepage. The average web user prefers watching video over reading text, and video testimonials and FAQs can play a crucial role in reaching the many potential clients who simply won’t wade through more than a sentence or two of copy.
- Responsive Design
Responsive design refers to website layouts that adapt to the user’s screen size, platform, and orientation. It includes websites that feature a mobile version, but extends beyond that to include all types of devices and browsers.There’s no question, though, that mobile is the number one concern here: in November 2016, mobile internet usage surpassed desktop usage for the first time in history, with 51.3% of all website visits coming from mobile devices. More and more users are browsing the web using mobile devices, and they won’t bother with your site if it doesn’t display properly or navigate easily on their smartphone or tablet.
- Fast Load Times
Four seconds. That’s how long your website has in terms of loading time before 25 percent of visitors will abandon it and never look back. Every second of loading time sends valuable, hard-earned web traffic right down the drain, which means that a fast-loading site isn’t just a nicety but a necessity if you want to see positive ROI from your website and your digital marketing strategy.
- Intuitive and Comprehensive Layout
Evaluating your site’s navigation and overall layout is a critical step toward a better website, but it isn’t difficult: Just put yourself in the prospective client’s shoes and imagine arriving at your own homepage, interested in legal representation but with no prior knowledge of your firm or its website. Even better, ask someone to view your site for the first time in front of you and watch how they navigate through it without any direction, then take feedback about what they thought was smooth and intuitive and what seemed unnatural or clunky.In addition to being user-friendly, your site’s main menu needs to feature every important page on the site (dedicated landing pages and certain other special-function pages are the exception). It’s shocking how many law firm websites leave crucial pages off their navigation, requiring the user to stumble through the right path of on-page links to access valuable information. Generally, if it’s not in your site’s menu, you may as well delete the page altogether because it won’t make up a meaningful part of the user experience on your site.
- A Focused and Regularly-Updated Blog
You can build a wonderful site brimming with elegant design touches, compelling copy, arresting images, and pro-quality videos, but if you don’t publish new content on a regular basis, your user engagement will stay low and search engines won’t index your website often, which means your site will always face an uphill battle when it comes to achieving visibility in search results.Regular, relevant, and thoughtful blog content not only improves your performance in search, but it also gives you an opportunity to cultivate a following, position yourself as a thought leader, and double down on the practice areas that create the most value for your firm.
- Content-Rich Practice Area Pages
Practice area pages usually form the bulk of the content on most law firm websites, and with good reason. These pages are your chance to engage an audience that has a specific legal need and provide them compelling, targeted information about how your firm will handle their case and why you’re the right choice for them. If your practice area pages are skeletal or poorly-designed, all the website traffic in the world won’t translate to meaningful clients and cases.
- On-Page SEO
Thanks to the ongoing evolution of search engines, creating SEO-friendly websites is a more intuitive process than ever. Today, the overall quality and diversity of your content matters more than any other factor in determining how well your site performs in search results.That’s not to say, however, that you can just put up a big brick of superbly-written text and a few nice images and expect your page to start reeling in visitors. Technical details in your page’s coding and design, including meta descriptions, header tags, image alt text, and URL structure, communicate with search engines to tell them what your site is about and what visitors can expect to find there. These on-page SEO elements can’t make a bad page perform well in Google, but they can sink a good one if they’re not executed properly.
Calls-to-action, or CTAs, are the crucial hinge points in your content where you incite potential clients to take a desired action, whether it’s to call you for a free consultation or fill out a form to download a whitepaper. If your website doesn’t have strong CTAs, then you won’t be able to capitalize on the visitors you attract and convert them into leads and, eventually, clients.
- Lead-Capture Forms
Your law firm’s website should obviously feature the firm’s phone number in prominent fashion, but not every prospective client is ready or willing to pick up the phone. (In particular, data shows that millennials, who are rapidly coming of age as a legal demographic, don’t like to talk on the phone.) Information-capturing contact forms not only provide a way for these clients to reach out on their own terms, but they also help you gather information about the prospective client and send them targeted follow-up information via email that can inspire confidence in your brand and sway their decision on whether to hire your firm.
- Data and Analytics
If your site isn’t generating data about user behavior and overall traffic and processing it for you in a format you can understand, then it’s impossible to know whether your digital marketing strategy is achieving its goals and what aspects of it are creating the most value. Setting your site up to work with Google Analytics isn’t difficult, so if your site isn’t giving you real-time feedback through data already, stop flying blind and discover the intoxicating power of analytics.
- (Bonus): Ownership
This isn’t an element of your website, per se, but it’s something we feel the need to touch on because we’ve seen so many attorneys burned by it. If the digital marketing company you’re working with doesn’t guarantee you full ownership and control of your website, both throughout your relationship with them and after you leave, then you could be in for one incredible headache in the event you try to switch agencies or handle your marketing in-house down the line. Many unsavory companies will use various tactics to essentially hold your website hostage if you try to sever your relationship with them, making it difficult or impossible for you to transition the site to another marketing partner or begin maintaining it yourself.Before you work with an agency on a website build, make sure you get their guarantee that the site will be your sole property and that you’ll be able to transfer access to and oversight of it without a hitch. If possible, read online reviews and talk to colleagues who’ve worked with the company to make sure they’ll follow through on their promises. Your website’s viability and functionality should never be shackled to one specific marketing partner (not even if it’s us).
LaFleur Marketing: Creating Powerful and Affordable Websites for Law Firms
Building a website for your law firm can seem like a monumental undertaking — like staring at an acre of dirt and turning it into a home. Fortunately, the digital marketing experts at LaFleur excel at creating high-end law firm websites in a cost-driven, transparent fashion. We also give you full control over and ownership of your website when you build with us — even if you decide to work with another agency or take your digital marketing in-house in the future.
If your current website is missing some of the essential elements we’ve outlined in this article, call us today at 888-222-1512 or fill out our convenient online contact form. We’re happy to assess your current website and let you know what we could do for you as a transparent, data-driven legal marketing partner.
- Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Law Firm’s Website
- The Present and Future Impact of Millennials on Your Law Office
- How to Improve SEO on Your Law Firm’s Website Today
Heisler, Y. (2016, November 2). Mobile internet usage surpasses desktop usage for first time in history. BGR. Retrieved from http://bgr.com/2016/11/02/internet-usage-desktop-vs-mobile/
van de Rakt, M. (2016, June 10). The importance of quality content for SEO. Yoast. Retrieved from https://yoast.com/importance-quality-content-seo/
Work, S. (n.d.). How loading time affects your bottom line. Kissmetrics. Retrieved from https://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/