Think like a client
Too many law firm websites function as online brochures, talking on and on about the firm and its “features” – its history, its practice areas, its attorneys and its news. Research shows, this is not what visitors are interested in.
Potential clients are interested in “benefits” rather than features. They want to know that you have solved problems like theirs, for businesses in their industry, successfully in the past. They want to know that you will answer their phone calls, staff their matters correctly, provide them with ongoing education and bill them appropriately.
“Organize your website around client industry and client needs, not your law firm organization chart,” said Walsh. “Potential clients also want to work with a law firm that is a good cultural fit,” said Walsh. “After all, law is relationship-based. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through on your website, and don’t confine personality to the careers or bio section. Let potential clients know what it would be like to work with you over the long term.”
One great way to demonstrate client-orientation is through the use of client matter or case stories. “Use short, vibrant stories to showcase your firm’s professional values and the way you solve problems,” said Walsh. “These can appear in many places – in bios, in practice area descriptions, on industry pages and in dedicated ‘experience’ sections.” Of course, you must get client permission to use these stories.
The new graphic website
Today’s online news, content and social media sites are rich in graphics. Take a look at Facebook, Flickr or Pinterest. Carefully consider USA Today, or the homepages of CNN.com or MSN.com. Today’s effective law firm website should also use graphics.
Photos are an important element, as long as they are original (not stock) and reflect the firm’s unique message. Imagery is central and defining. Photos should do more than simply break up blocks of words.
Photos are a good way to demonstrate client-orientation. Make ample use of photos of clients, their businesses and their industries. Photos of lawyers that appear on their bios are often stiff headshots. Instead, use a less-formal photo that provides additional information about the lawyer’s personality and interests.
“But don’t limit yourself to photos,” said Walsh. “There are many interesting ways that other types of graphics can be used to display information. Why present a dense page of unreadable text when a list, chart, table, map, diagram or illustration could present the same information in a much more interesting and compelling way? Online elements like surveys, questionnaires and “games” invite user interaction.
Think Outside the Box
“On the websites we design,” said Walsh, “we often use handwriting and drawings. We create diagrams on whiteboards. We arrange a collage of personal and professional items on a lawyer’s desk or on a bulletin board, and use that picture on the lawyer’s bio.”
In a website designed for a law firm composed of lawyer/scientists, Greenfield/Belser used the layout of the periodic table of the elements to organize information on the site. “This resonates strongly with the firm’s clients in the scientific community,” said Walsh.
Color, motion and sound also grab attention. “Online color is free,” said Walsh, “and yet many law firms fail to make full use of it. In the age of YouTube, visitors to your website are used to video and animation. Although eight minutes of a talking head can be deadly, 30 seconds of a professionally done video can be extremely effective.”
Webinars, seminars and presentations should be recorded and made available on a law firm’s website. “We recommend building a ‘mini-site’ for a special event within the main law firm website,” said Walsh. “This includes information about the benefits of the event, the presenters and the topic, as well as links to useful resource materials.”
Certain items lend themselves to be broken out or placed in sidebars as graphic elements for special emphasis. These include case stories, client testimonials (print or video), fast facts, awards, accolades and rankings. This sort of information disappears when it is buried in paragraphs of text.
Keep online content fresh
Previously, law firm websites content consisted mainly of words and pictures. Today, they include a vast range of content, from illustrations to webinars to video.
No matter what the type of content you are posting, however, one rule remains the same. It must be kept fresh. Each time you add new content to a law firm website, it “shakes” the web and attracts the search engine spiders to take a new look.
“Words will always be an important part of law firm websites,” said Walsh. “We just have to be more careful how we use them. On the Internet, people read 25 percent slower than they do on paper. Plus, they scan rather than read. You cannot present them with a dense block of grey text and expect them to read it carefully – or at all."