Fundamentally a website is a collection of related webpages belonging to a single domain. In a law firm context – a firm’s website is central to the firm’s digital marketing strategy in that it is connected to every other digital element that underpins all the firm’s online activities to create an integrated online presence.
In a fundamental sense the promotional aspect of digital marketing is about influencing, encouraging and enticing target audiences to visit a website, where they would then ideally be converted into clients.
A thoughtfully designed website is important, not only because you want to attract visitors but also because it can support email, Pay Per Click (PPC) and social media marketing.
Obviously it is important to optimise content and design for search engines too
Done well, a website offers organisations a number of benefits:
- Continuous online presence
- Content hub (hosting marketing content in one place)
- An increase in the pool of prospective clients by attracting new visitors through successful SEO
- Measurable performance eg through Google Analytics to track visitor behaviour
Websites for Law Firms – Why and how are they relevant?
The vast majority of law firms will already have a website, albeit many of them could be improved.
Because a website is often the first time a visitor has contact with a firm, it creates an important first impression. It should be used to help your firm define its place in the marketplace, to capture the interest of target audiences, convert this into tangible leads, build relationships and promote key messages.
Using a website as a marketing tactic
The most logical and helpful place to start is to make a thorough assessment of your firm’s current website if you have one. You need to gauge the extent to which it represents your firm, what it offers, and how effective it is at supporting lead conversion.
Start by taking an objective approach. What do you see and think when you visit a site for the first time? Now consider what visitors are seeing and thinking when they visit your site for the first time. For example:
- Does this site make me feel welcome?
- Does the site look professional?
- Can I find what I am looking for?
- Does the website give the impression of a credible firm?
- Is this a firm I can work with?
This exercise will help you keep focus on the needs of your visitors, so that ultimately your site is designed to meet those needs.
There are several factors that distinguish a poor legal service provider website from an exceptional one. They are:
Accessibility: how easy is it to access your website?
Often there are two barriers to users accessing a legal service provider’s website:
- Technical barriers, such as browser compatibility. Technical barriers can be resolved. If updating or replacing a website it is critical that the developer is clear about the browsers you expect it to support. With the growing use of handheld devices to access the web, it is becoming increasingly important to offer compatibility with mobiles and tablets. For example, a simple design with a single-column interface and sparse use of images will work well with such devices.
- Users’ ability barriers, such as language or sight problems. Legislation requires all websites to be accessible to visually impaired and disabled users. Accessibility to your site can be improved by good design such as colour schemes that make viewing easier for the visually impaired, and by incorporating intuitive navigation. People with more severe visual impairments rely on screen readers (on mobile and desktop devices) to read aloud website content.
Usability: how ‘useable’ is your website for visitors?
Your firm’s website must be easy and intuitive for visitors to use. They should be able to find their way through the site from the page on which they have landed. Consider the following to improve your site’s usability:
- Utilise standard web features consistently across your site, such as positioning your logo in the top left hand corner, and identifying hyperlinks with blue underlined text.
- Site structure is also important. This must be influenced by your target audience’s needs, and not by your organisation’s internal structure. The site must be easy forvisitors to use, helping them to find what they are looking for quickly..
- Use the site’s navigation as a helpful tool. A visitor should be able to tell where they are on your site in relation to the rest of the site at any one time. Breadcrumb links, clear page titles and URLs and menu changes all help. This is especially important if visitors are not coming to your site via the homepage.
- Web page content should capture visitor attention quickly. Visitors should be able to draw from the first couple of paragraphs the main thrust of the page content, in order to decide whether to read more of the page, click to another more relevant page on the site, or click away from the site altogether. Try to present the content in a way that is easy to scan, by using headings, subheadings and bullet points to break up text.
- Invest in a mobile-friendly version of your site.
Searchability: how easy is it to find your website via search engines?
Appearing towards the top of search engine results is essential if you expect to use the internet as your primary source of business leads.. If your website is to move up the search result rankings then search engines must see the entire publically visible website, index it fully, and decide it is relevant for its chosen keywords.
Discoverability: how easy is it to promote your site’s content through social sharing?
Make it easy for visitors to share your site’s content – text, images, video etc. Include relevant icons and hyperlinks to encourage social sharing on each webpage for example LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit.
Relevancy: is your website relevant to your target audience?
Your website must be relevant to your firms’s target audiences. Often the challenge for law firms is that they have a mixture of business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) service lines.
This poses a challenge for legal service websites because they often have to serve these two audiences together using the same marketing communication.
If targeting consumer markets, law firms will want their website to:
- Reinforce the brand
- Gain the consumer’s trust
- Build consumer loyalty to the brand
- Show that the legal service meets the consumer’s need
- Differentiate their legal services from competitors
- Make the consumer’s decision-making process quick and easy
- Creating a pleasant overall online experience
- Provide quality customer service throughout the decision-making and purchasing process
For B2B service lines, targeting is usually focused on a very limited audience.
For example, a law firm providing employment law services might be able to serve a client company with thousands of employees. However, only a few of those employees in the Human Resources department are the target market. Indeed, it may just be one person, being the decision maker… But in a client company with only five employees, and no Human Resources department the target is almost certainly going to be just one person.
B2B marketing is more relationship-based, with contact made with target audiences over time and sales typically taking longer to nurture and secure. As such, B2B sites emphasise:
- the brand
- understanding clients’ issues in the context of their industry
- that they can provide a solution to a problem
- leadership in their sector of legal service
- visitors should take action by making contact
Your website – a credibility checklist
A law firm will only prosper if it is credible, and that credibility should be reflected in the provider’s website. Professional services are usually intangible, so the only way for a potential client to judge a provider is by the external impression they give. That is why the look and feel of a website is particularly important.
The basic requirements of a website are:
- Error free: typos, content errors and technical glitches (such as 404 errors) create a negative impression; they look sloppy and unprofessional..
- ‘Look and feel’: the site should look look professional and visually appealing.
- Create fresh content: a firm’s website is usually the best place to host all of its content marketing outputs such as blogs, articles and whitepapers. This type of content, added regularly, should give audiences reason to visit the site, and will help with search engine optimisation.
- Be authentic: your website needs to reflect your firm’s ethos and approach to client service. This will affect every element of the site, from content (tone, subject matter, format), to layout, structure, calls to action etc. Display contact details prominently: clear contact details improve users’ access to the firm’s services and help build confidence..
- Be informative and personal: target audiences will use your website to gain an insight into your organisation and how it operates. Include an ‘about us’ section to cover off this information. Also include employee pictures and/or profiles, so that clients can visualise who they are dealing with.
- Use testimonials: by including client testimonials you can cultivate trust amongst potential clients.
- Promote awards and endorsements: feature logos of awards your organisation has won, or of associations you are connected with.
- Keep it updated: a news section that is not regularly updated is damaging. Similarly, it is important to update website content regularly to demonstrate that your firm is active.
Selecting and briefing a web design agency
Choosing the right supplier
- Carry out a competitive tender process considering suppliers with varying professional services experience to challenge the way you present yourselves digitally.
- Select a supplier that appreciates the key drivers behind the project.
- Your agency must be willing to invest time to build relationships with your stakeholders from the start. Building these valued relationships will make a huge difference as the project progresses.
Engage with your internal and external audiences
- Hold workshops with employees, clients, intermediaries/ key referrers and suppliers to scope out what functionality they expect now and in the future.
- Identify early any expectation gaps between what the project will realistically be able to deliver. For example, if users will be accessing the website on mobile technology, consider if and when a mobile version of the website is possible.
A clear and consistent structure
- A straightforward navigation is essential to enhance your user experience as well as supporting Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which is where your website appears in search results on sites such as Google.
- Identify your main target audiences, their needs and their particular journeys through the site. The goal of any website should be to lead users efficiently to the information they are looking for.
Be techno savvy
- Consider how future proof your site is avoiding costly licensing or technical lock-in as you do not want your investment go out of date. Open source technology may be an efficient solution.
Content is king
- Carry out a detailed content audit reviewing, documenting and evaluating each page to see whether the content is still valid, well written and user-friendly. What purpose does the content have? Does it help your chosen audiences to reach their end goal?
Measure it all
- As with any change project, identify what KPI you will be accessing post-go live: is it the number of users? The time on each page? Conversion events? Capture these KPI before go-live and then assess on a regular basis post implementation to ensure that your website is meeting the objectives you set at the start.
Given its significance in the digital marketing mix, websites should be considered before any other element of the digital marketing strategy.
- Successful websites have a strong focus on user needs.
- Websites should be built to be accessible, usable, shareable and search engine optimised.
- Design should enhance user experience and guide a visitor seamlessly through a website, as opposed to distracting visitors from their goals.
There are several factors that distinguish a poor legal service provider website from an exceptional one. These are: