Almost every law firm has a website. Surprisingly, few have websites that provide a great user experience, are optimized for the search engines, and are able to maximize conversions. By following this comprehensive, step-by-step guide, you will be able to tick all these boxes and set your law firm websites apart from the rest.
Fifteen years ago, it was generally enough to have a ‘brochure’ style website that essentially acted as an ‘extension’ of your business card. The most switched-on law firms soon realized that websites could be doing so much more – not only providing information, but also actively generating leads and increasing the amount of paying customers through the door.
To achieve this, there is a process to follow. From choosing your domain name through monitoring what your visitors are doing, and tweaking it for improvements to conversions, your website needs careful planning in order to get the most out of it.
The below information clearly describes each of these stages and requires no technical knowledge to understand.
Choosing domain name & website hosting
If you already have an established presence online you probably have your domain name(s) registered, email addresses set up and a hosting platform sorted, so you can skip this section and proceed to the following sections, as required.
If you are a new law firm you may not yet have registered a domain name. This is a unique online ‘address’ such as yourfirmname.com that you will use to identify your business online. Users will type your domain name in as part of the URL they type into the web browser to reach your website.
You need a domain name before you can set up a professional-looking website and it will also form the basis of your email addresses. The domain name on its own will generally cost around $2 to $5 and often less if you pay annually.
How do you choose your domain name?
Remember that your domain name is going to be used on all your business correspondence online and offline – so take time to consider your options. For many businesses, the choice of domain name may seem obvious. It’s likely that Suncor Energy did not have too many sleepless nights about choosing the domain name suncor.com.
As a general rule, use the name of your business. It could be challenging for law firms because they often have long business names. Hence:
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP did not choose blakecasselsandgraydon.com. They chose blakes.com
- Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP did not choose oslerhoskinandharcourt.com. They chose osler.com
What does this tell us? That more goes into the selection process than simply repeating the business name and adding a ‘.com’ on the end. Essentially, you should select a domain name that is:
- Memorable – this generally means short and punchy
- Brandable – remember that it will be used in all marketing!
There is another element that you should consider: keywords. Some firms decide to incorporate their keywords into the URL, as this is given considerable weight by search engines. For instance, if you are a family law firm in Ottawa, you might want to register Ottawa family law.com as your domain name rather than your firm’s name. This could help boost your firm’s SEO, however it might be more difficult to find short and concise domain names like this nowadays.
If you don’t yet have a domain name registered, try brainstorming with your partners. Remember to keep the guidelines above in mind.
It’s usually best to choose a .com or .net extension after the name, as they are the most memorable for people. A .ca extension will identify your firm instantly as Canadian. A wide range of other extensions that identify the nature of a business are available (such as .tv), but none of these are currently suitable for legal firms.
Where do you register your domain name?
To register a domain name you need to use an official domain name registrar. The most popular ones are:
These companies not only register your domain name but can also host it, provide email addresses and host your website very affordably. More about that below.
Website hosting services
The other basic component you will need before you can set up a website is a ‘hosting service’. This connects your site to the Internet and makes it visible to users.
It’s highly unlikely that you will host your website on your own servers. Instead, your website will ‘rent’ space on a website hosting company’s server. Be advise: not all hosting services are equal and you generally pay for what you get.
The cheapest services may not be able to offer you the reliability or speed that you are after. These are both important factors that will affect the user experience. Consider paying $10-20 per month for a premium service rather than the $5 a month deal you might be tempted by.
Definitely avoid free web hosting, as there are likely to be space and bandwidth limitations. This generally means slow load times, and you may need to run ads on your site – all of which scream ‘unprofessional’. A slow-loading website that is ‘down’ for hours every month will drive visitors elsewhere.
So, the bottom line is: pay a few dollars more per month and get a quality service.
Choosing the right platform
Now you’ve got your domain name and hosting arranged, it’s time to start building your website.
Just a few years back, virtually all websites were built by specialist web developers with coding skills. This made it a time-consuming (and often expensive) exercise. With the growth of new, user-friendly platforms since the turn of the millennium, it has become considerably easier and cheaper to design a high quality website.
Most professional business websites still use web designers, but it is now possible for anyone with a little technical nous to build one.
Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are available web design platforms that require little to no coding knowledge. The ease of use of these systems allow businesses to manage their own content; though many still enlist professional help.
What are your platform choices?
Technically, there are many to choose from. But it’s difficult to go past the three most popular platforms: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.
- WordPress – which accounts for around 26% of the internet
- Drupal – which accounts for around 2.6% of the internet
- Joomla – which accounts for around 2.2% of the internet
Is it best to stick with WordPress?
Drupal is popular amongst experienced coders and Joomla requires some technical know-how to master. WordPress is the go-to platform for most businesses predominantly because it is:
- Very simple to use – even for beginners. It’s no more difficult than using a word processor like Word.
- Highly customizable – many different ‘themes’ are available that allow you to get the look and feel you want from your site; there are also a wide variety of plug-in tools that allow you to add extra functionality to your site (such as contact forms or subscription forms).
- It’s FREE to download and install (though so are Drupal and Joomla).
When you add the support community behind WordPress, which can help you solve any problems you encounter, it is difficult to look beyond the platform for building your website.
In fact, some of the largest sites in the world use WordPress – including Facebook and eBay! But it is equally well suited to a small law firm just starting out.
Planning your website’s structure: architecture and site map
It’s very important to plan the structure of your website well before you write any content. Simply piecing a website together as you go will result in a poor user experience, poor search engine rankings, and therefore poor sales results.
Firstly, you need to form a clear picture of what you want your site to achieve. Is it going to serve mainly as an informational site for visitors to learn about aspects of law? Or a site that actively generates leads and sells your services? Or something else? Most law firms will hope to drive traffic and generate leads for their business.
By creating a sitemap upfront, you have a clear vision of what your site will look like and how the users will navigate their way through it. ‘Sitemapping’ is considered a core competency of user experience-based website design. This means that you should effectively address the need of your visitors, have a logical ‘journey’ through your website, and have all their primary goals met.
Sitemapping creates a complete roadmap for how users will interact with your site. Note that it’s not always best to simply follow the layout of other law firm websites – as many of them are not well designed.
Important considerations for your sitemap include:
- How will visitors get from the home page to other pages on your site – for instance the services pages?
- TIP: never consolidate your practice areas into one service page. This practice is bad for usability (long confusing pages) and also for optimization.
- What main buttons will feature on your menu bar and what will the dropdown options be?
- What content will each page contain? i.e. main topic, purpose and what you are targeting.
- Keep to one keyword per page (or two at most). A common misconception is that a page can be optimized for multiple keyword phrases. Separate practice areas out with their own pages so you can optimize each page for different keywords.
A relatively new option is an attorney ‘microsite’. This is a ‘website within a website’ that is useful for individual attorneys that are not attached to a particular law firm. An attorney can create a ‘microsite’ with their own navigation system and their personal information, including a bio, educational material, blogs, articles and practice areas.
Crafting your content
You have the ‘skeleton’ of your website – your sitemap. Now it’s time to put some ‘flesh’ onto those bones – your content.
Content is everything your visitors will read when they land on your website. Needless to say, it’s critical to get it right. Get it wrong and your visitors will be staying for just a few seconds, before leaving for a competitor’s website. This could also affect your website’s ranking in search engines.
So how do you go about generating great content? Fortunately there is a wealth of information about how to do this – and we’ve condensed it into some key guidelines below:
- Know what makes your customers tick
The key here – like with all marketing – is to define your targeted audience and their interest. Generally if they have reached your site through the search engines they need answers to specific questions. Incorporate this information into your content and you will be more likely to press their emotional ‘triggers’ and get them thinking ‘these people understand me’.
- Write for your customers – not other lawyers
Legal lingo is often ‘gobbledygook’ to your average reader. Avoid using technical legal terms and simplify concepts wherever possible. Use clear, concise language to retain customer’s interest on your site.
- Try to grab AND maintain attention
The structure of your content is important. Attention spans online are generally low and most people will only scan read. To maintain attention and interest, you should:
- Use short sentences
- Break up chunks of texts with clear, concise, and compelling headers and sub-headers
- Use bullet points, images and video wherever possible.
- Try to grab reader attention and maintain it. Note the way this article is written and try to emulate it.
“80% of people will read your headlines.
But only 20% of those people will read the rest of your content!”
- Take your users on a ‘journey’
Your content should work together with a clear and well-defined site structure to provide a user ‘journey’. Try to guide them through your site with clear calls to action.
Call to action is an instruction to move on to the next step, such as ‘Find out more’, ‘Sign up here’ or ‘Download the PDF here’. Also, make sure that the user is never more than a click away from useful articles, FAQs, and other resources they may need.
- Engaging content
Legal content could be difficult to digest for many people. It is important to find ways to make it easier for your readers. There are a few great ways you could do to make your content compelling:
- Storify your content – Use stories and analogies to make the information more memorable.
- Provoke engagement – Ask questions to spark interests and responses.
- Visualize your statistics – Use quotes and diagrams where applicable.
- Showcase your success – Provide case studies and testimonials to back up your statements.
- Relevant content – Ensure that your content is up to date, original, informative and relevant.
- Create a blog section – Publish articles that answer any questions or concerns of your visitors. Blogging is a great way to improve your user experience and gain more traffic from search engines. This practice has been proven to be a success, however it could be time consuming and require lots of resources.
- And whatever you do…
…do not fall into the trap of writing content only for the search engines. Not only this will likely get your site penalized by the search engines; it will also do absolutely nothing for your visitors. This will result in low conversions and low leads for your business.
Remember to put your audience first when it comes to content, and then optimize it for search engines.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: how can I possible do all that with my legal firm to run?
Yes, providing good quality, regular content does take time; but outsourcing it to professional content writers enables you to focus on what you do best – while they do the same. Cutting corners is nearly always self-defeating, as poor quality content will result in low traffic volumes and a poor conversion rate.
7 web design tips to maximize usability & conversions
“Most websites don’t have a massive traffic problem; however every website in the world has a conversion problem.”
Source: Bryan Eisenberg
As suggested already, one of the biggest mistakes that a law firm (and, indeed any business) can make is to prioritize search engine optimization (SEO) of their website over usability and conversions.
Yes, SEO matters. That’s what brings you the traffic. But if that traffic is not looked after when it arrives, it will not remain very long.
Consider a business that is located right in the middle of the high street in a major city. The amount of foot traffic is huge with people often popping in to see what it is offering. Now, imagine if, when they enter the premises, nobody is ever around to answer their questions, there are no brochures to take away, and they are not even sure what the business does. It’s not great for the bottom line of the business and, chances are, it will close down quickly.
The same applies to your website. When visitors arrive you must enable them to find the information they need quickly and easily. This means optimizing your site for usability – sometimes called ‘experience optimization’, and that will lead to more conversions (ultimately sales).
Don’t make this common mistake in your law firm:
“Companies typically spend $92 to bring customers to their site, but only $1 to convert them.”
Source: Eisenberg Holdings
Let’s look at some quick and easy ways you can ‘invest’ in your website design, to help convert more visitors.
1. Display the phone number in your website’s header
There is no excuse for not making your contact telephone number prominent on your website. Make it easy for potential clients to pick up the phone and book an appointment by displaying the phone number in bold in the header of your website. That way it appears on every page.
2. Include a ‘call to action’ in the header
We mentioned ‘call to action’ earlier. Get your writer to create a ‘call to action’ representing the main action you want your visitors to make, and again include it in your header. This could be ‘Book an appointment now’, ‘Call us now for a private consultation’, ‘Get your FREE initial consultation’ etc. etc.
3. Develop a consistent global navigation system
Not only that you need to show all the top level sections/pages of your website from the home page; this information should be available on every page. This means that your visitors will never be more than a click (or maximum two clicks) away from where they need to be.
4. Include Testimonials/Case Studies
Most businesses benefit from a strong portfolio of case studies and testimonials. Legal firms in particular may find it difficult to relate important legal concepts without case studies. Testimonials focus on the results that previous customers have achieved, effectively demonstrating credibility and success. Increasingly, video testimonials are used as these can add authenticity to customer experiences.
5. Engage in real-time ‘live chat’
Live chat on your website demonstrates a willingness on your law firm’s part to provide immediate assistance – and will set your business apart. In terms of customer service, it’s difficult to beat. Of course, you don’t need to invest in your own customer service department – you can outsource it to one of the many companies now specializing in this area.
6. Add a knowledge base and FAQs
Many people struggle with legal matters. How about adding a knowledge base of resources that can help your visitors understand more about legal processes? Also include a page answering all the most common questions you get asked by clients. This all adds to the ‘stickiness’ of your site, improves the user experience, and makes it more likely that they will pick up the phone.
7. Add a face to your business
Nobody wants to deal with a ‘faceless’ law firm that is going to make them feel intimidated. Use real photos of the key personnel in your team and include them on your ‘About’ page(s). This shows users who they will be dealing with and will help to make them feel more at ease. Don’t be tempted to use stock photos of lawyers meeting with clients, as this looks very impersonal.
Mobile-friendly: responsive websites
A website that is not optimized for viewing on mobile devices is not very useful these days. Why?
“Mobile devices now account for nearly 2 of every 3 minutes spent online.”
In other words, if you don’t make your website mobile-friendly and viewable on all devices (from the latest iPad to the oldest Samsung smartphone), you are turning visitors away. The reason being mobile is how most of your visitors will be accessing your website. What does this all mean for your website?
- Visitors can find all the information they need quickly and easily – whatever mobile device they are using
- Text is minimal, easy to read, and broken up by headers into clear sections
- The steps a customer needs to take to complete a task are stripped down to the bare minimum
- ‘Call to action’ buttons are large enough for fingers to touch to complete an action (rather than using a mouse)
- Forms are simple and only request information that is absolutely necessary – with auto-fill fields utilized wherever possible
‘Responsive web design’ means:
- The website automatically fits to the screen-size, regardless of device
- It uses the same URL and the same code as the main website. Whether the user is on a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile phone, the display should adjust according to the screen size
- You only need to maintain one version of the website, instead of two
Law firm websites may not be asking users to buy anything directly, but mobile-friendliness is no less important than for an eCommerce site.
Usually the website is designed to encourage a visitor to make an appointment or contact the firm for more information. This ‘journey’ still needs to be made as simple as possible for the visitor to complete on mobile devices – so make sure that contact forms and telephone numbers are clear and simple to access.
“Using RWD enabled Baines & Ernst to optimise its site experience across different screen sizes without creating multiple websites. They noticed that visitors visited 11% more pages on their site per visit and mobile conversions grew by 51%.”
Google Developers – Mobile Friendly Websites
The SEO factor
Did you know that more searches are performed on mobile devices than desktops now? SEO is not the only factor that says you needs a mobile-friendly site; it’s worth noting that Google also uses mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor. So, unless your website is mobile-friendly, it will be hit with lower rankings in the Search Engine Results Pages.
Google provides a free tool for checking the mobile-friendliness of your site: The Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
More on SEO tactics for law firms can be found on our “Law Firm SEO: Definitive Guide”.
Marketing your website with additional tools
Nearly everything we have covered above concerns best practice for promoting and marketing your law firm through your website.
Search engines will drive traffic to you naturally, if you follow the steps outlined above. Besides SEO, there are also other marketing tools that you can use to actively market your site and drive qualified traffic there:
Building a database of prospects and customers, and communicating with them regularly is the best way to keep your law firm front of mind. This will result in having the prospects come to you when they need your services.
One of the best ways to do this is to produce a monthly or quarterly newsletter with with original, informative and relevant content and updates. Through this you can promote your website and keep your audience across what’s new.
Targeted email marketing campaigns are effective ways to generate more interest in your services through your website. The key is in creating ‘drip’ campaigns that capture the attention of your readers, engage them, build trust, and lead readers towards a desired action over a period of time.
- Latest offers – Are you offering free consultation, discount service for students?
- Certifications that your lawyers have earned
- Latest news – your firm’s sponsorship, donations, community involvement, etc
- Recent case studies – make it relevant to your audience to trigger them to contact you
Posting high quality content to a blog and then sharing on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+) allows you to include links to your website and drive more traffic there. Ensure to post content that reflects on your brand and promote your brand standard. Avoid posting unsystematic content that gives unbalanced images for your firm.
Response to your audience in a timely manner to make sure all questions addressed by your followers are answered immediately.
Marketing Automation Platforms
Some companies are starting to use ‘marketing automation platforms’ that take a lot of the ‘grunt’ out of marketing your website. They allow you to market to multiple channels (email, social media etc) at the same time and automating the most repetitive tasks. While this may reduce the demands on your marketing team, this software is generally only used by the bigger firms.
Through your CRM system
By gathering customer data and building your customer relationship management
(CRM) system, you are able to develop relationships and focus on marketing strategies that target customers’ specific needs. This should drive more targeted traffic to your website.
Monitoring and analytics
After traffic starts arriving at your website and you run a few marketing campaigns to retain a steady flow, it might be tempting to think you’ve made it.
It’s a great start if you are getting traffic, and even better if that traffic is converting into phone calls, appointments, and new customers. But it’s not the end of the journey for your law firm’s website. It’s just the beginning.
The most successful businesses continually monitor and analyze their websites, making improvements and tweaking them to improve results.
“Companies whose conversion rates improved last year are performing, on average, 50% more tests and using 47% more methods to improve conversion. Plus, successful brands and companies have seen huge wins.”
Google Analytics is an excellent, free Google tool can help you monitor what’s happening on your site. Once you sign up, you will receive a code to paste on your website, and within a few hours, you can start measuring all sorts of user activity there.
It is easily the most popular web analytics service used on websites, and new features are frequently added. For your law firm website, the most important metrics to focus on fall into three broad categories.
- Firstly, you need to measure how visitors are engaging with your website.
- Secondly, you need to know where your traffic is coming from and where it is going.
- Thirdly, you need to measure conversion to see whether visitors are actually doing what you want them to do.
- Bounce rate – the percentage of single-page sessions (a high bounce rate is an indicator of poor relevance, poor content, or a poor user experience).
- Exit rates – the percentage of page views that were the last in the session (this tells you which pages on your site are least effective).
- Time on site – a measure of how long visitors are spending on your website (visit duration). A long time on site is generally indicative of high quality, relevant content, and good usability.
- Sessions – what interactions a visitor does on your website within a given time frame. For example a single session can contain multiple screens, page views and social interactions. This is helpful for you to understand how users interact with your website.
- Top pages – which pages are visited most frequently by users, in any given time period? This can be an indicator not only of relevance and quality – but also accessibility.
- Search queries – which Google search queries generated the most impressions for your website? This is important for your keywords and SEO.
- Channels – which marketing channels are driving traffic to your website: Organic search? Email campaigns? Social media?
- Sources – specifically where is your traffic coming from? Google search? Facebook? Twitter?
- Geographic locations report – a general view of impressions and clicks by country.
- Goal completion rate – a measurement of how effective your campaigns are at getting visitors to complete a specific marketing goal (e.g. subscribing to a mailing list).
- Goal conversion rate – a measurement of the total number of goals completed by visitors to your website.
By focusing on the above you should be able to develop a clear picture of what’s happening on your website – and where the tweaks need to be made.
If you want to generate more leads through the web, the above guidelines are designed to help you do that.
The most important concept to understand here is that it takes considerable planning and research to get your website up and running. It also takes considerable monitoring and following up to get it performing. The writing of the content is the ‘easy’ part in between!
Start by registering a domain name and hosting service, and then researching your platform options. Then you need to plan your website’s structure and develop a site map. Meanwhile, keyword research should have identified the keywords and phrases that you need to craft your content around.
Hire a professional copywriter to write your content, and make sure that your site is optimized not only for search engines – but for your audience, usability, conversions, and for mobile users.
Then promote your website and get traffic streaming there, so that you can measure how your customers and prospects are interacting with your pages. Only then will you know what’s working – and which aspects needs to be improved.