Uptime Legal

The Website You Want vs. The Website You Need

Shiny objects are distracting. Shiny objects on websites are a costly distraction. When law firms are looking to build up their virtual real estate with a new website, they often want the most interesting-looking elements from other firms’ websites. This is regardless of the function these elements serve. Firms assume that because another firm is doing something with their website that they have a good reason for doing so. Therefore, the firm should copy the other website.

“This firm has an email subscribe pop-up on their homepage – they must have a good reason for having it there. Let’s add one on our site.”

Soon, you see multiple law firm websites copying each other’s bad ideas. Not sure if you believe that? One real-world example is the homepage slideshow. In 2012, a lot of law firm websites were featuring image slideshows on their homepages. The problem?

Slideshows are distracting, so much so that there is data suggesting how bad they are. They hurt your visitors’ experience because:

  1. the human eye reacts to the slider movement and takes away focus from the rest of your content
  2.  it’s too many messages on multiple slides
  3.  people skip things that look like banners.

Beyond this, law firms assume, when it comes to a website, there can never be too much of a good thing. Then you end up with a crowded, confusing website that frustrates your potential clients and colleagues. These distractions add up, and can ultimately lose you potential clients.

The Site You Want vs. The Site You Need

When building a new law firm website, the impulse is to build a site you want, rather than build a website that is suitable for your firms’ goals.

For instance, a firm that practices complex litigation or commercial real estate does not likely need an aggressive website with pop-ups, a big contact form and calls-to-action.

Keeping it simple: Your firms’ goals and audience should dictate your website design.

A firm that wants to market to referrals needs to build an elegant, modern website to appeal to referrals. A firm that wants to generate new business from the Internet needs a website with aggressive marketing. A firm that wants the best of both worlds needs to strike a balance between the two.

Websites For Referrals

Websites for referrals need to be built with an understanding of how referrals are going to navigate your website. When someone gets your business card and a recommendation, they will most likely do their due diligence on you. The recommendation is powerful social proof. If someone says, “Here’s a lawyer I recommend,” the potential client should already have some confidence in your abilities. But, they will want to do their due diligence first. They will visit the URL on the business card to check up on you before calling. Lawyers are expensive, and the client needs to know that you will be able to skillfully handle their matter. While on your website, they will look up your bio, and check out your listed practice areas to see your relevant experience. Once they check off those boxes, you can then expect them to call.

So, a website geared towards referrals should have several focal points:

Attorney Biographies

Spend a lot of your time working on your bios because this is where your referred client will go after visiting your homepage. Referrals are most always made to specific attorneys, not to law firms, so these potential clients will be looking for your bio page. They want to know that you have experience in their specific type of matter. Your bio should be a narrative, with examples of successful cases you have handled. If you are a criminal defense lawyer, highlight your 15 years experience working in the DA’s office and how you “know how the other side works.”

Practice Area Pages

Referrals want to know that you have very specific experience dealing with issues that are identical to their matter. Because most clients believe that their situation is unique, they want to know that you have related experience and can handle their matter. Ideally, they want to know that you have handled a matter identical to theirs. So, your practice areas should be broken down granularly, with each type of matter getting its own page on your website. If you handle probate, write about handling specific things like kinship hearings and contested wills. That will make the potential client comfortable that you have relevant experience.

Clean Layout

A website geared towards referrals does not need flashy animations, but it should look modern and professional. The site should be mobile-friendly, because a majority of web traffic is coming from mobile devices. Because your visitors really are just coming to your site to check in on your firm, they do not need to be bombarded with marketing messaging that would be better-suited for visitors with shorter attention spans.

Websites For Marketing

If your website is looking to generate new business, your audience is different. New visitors to your website via marketing will probably have never heard of your firm before. If they clicked on an advertisement or search engine result or directory listing to get to your site, the visitor has no positive or negative initial opinion of your firm.

Unlike a client from a referral, who already got the seal of approval from their colleague, someone coming from a search engine does not know that your firm is especially adept.

And, the visitor may be evaluating many different law firms, so your site needs to, in a very short period of time, capture their attention, build trust, and get them to reach out to you. Otherwise, they’ll hit the back button in their browser and find somewhere else.

What your marketing website needs to focus on:

Blog Content, Ads, and Landing Pages

 If you are looking to get traffic, you will need to build up your website as well as your presence on the Internet outside of your website. While a referral-oriented site can exist on its own, a marketing website is interacting with search engines and advertising platforms. You will need ads that drive people to specific landing pages that correspond to the advertisements. You will also need articles and content on your site to get organic traffic related to your practice areas.

Aggressive Calls To Action

Visitors to websites via ads and search engines have a very short attention span. They cannot be made to visit a contact page to find your phone number or fill out a contact form. This is especially because someone who clicks on an advertisement looking for a lawyer has a great sense of urgency. They need to speak with a skilled lawyer right away. If there is not a quick way to contact a lawyer, they will get frustrated and leave instead.

Social Proof

As mentioned above, your visitors will have no allegiance to your firm. They don’t know why they should trust you rather than anyone else. Because of this, your website needs to display social proof. This exists in the form of testimonials, awards, verdicts and settlements. Any validation of your firm’s abilities by a third-party to show that you are skilled. Why? If you write about your firm’s greatness, it comes off as self-promotional; if a third-party boasts about your firm’s greatness, it’s valid.

Final Thoughts: Avoiding Self-Destruction By Committee

One last thought, a warning, really. From someone who has seen this too often: when your firm is looking to build a website, avoid a huge decision-making committee. With a committee, your website can easily end up looking like a Picasso painting because of so many different voices. Too many cooks in the kitchen, and such.

“I really want a slideshow on the homepage”

‘But we need animated transitions to different pages.”

“I saw this one element on Apple.com that I really like, even though it has no place on our website.”

“My practice area should be more prominently featured than our other practice areas”

“No, my practice area should be featured more prominently. Not only that, but we should have a lot of stock images of businesspeople, and maybe some gavels and a courtroom!”

With a committee, things snowball as everyone wants to be happy in having their concerns addressed. And then no one is happy. If your firm is larger than a solo practice, multiple people are probably giving input, whether it is solicited or not. Ultimately the best thing you can do if you have a committee is to have a decision-maker with the final say, this way you don’t end up with a website that looks more like a collage of elements that don’t work together.

About the Author

Andrew Cabasso is a practicing attorney and VP of Web Services at Uptime Legal where he runs JurisPage, an Internet Marketing firm specializing in online presence solutions for law firms including website design, SEO, and search marketing. He has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers and The Complete Guide to Attorney PPC. Follow Andrew on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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