Tips for an effective law firm website

Dan Heilman
BridgeTower Media Newswires

When was the last time you took a long, hard look at your practice’s website? If the answer is not lately, then it’s likely that prospective clients aren’t even stopping by for a cursory look. A properly executed and maintained website can mean the difference between productive new business and the gem of a client who got away.

While building and maintaining a website is more of a do-it-yourself affair than ever thanks to programs such as WordPress, it can be easy to fall into the trap of creating a website based on what you like.

“People start at the wrong place by saying, ‘I like that website,’ and then emulating it,” said Dan Erickson, director of business development at Plaudit Design in St. Paul. “A website is supposed to be for your customers, not a place to put pretty pictures that appeal to you.”

“As self-serving as it might sound, I don’t suggest any professional service provider build his own website,” said Tim Anderson, owner of Webaloo in Stillwater. “Some of the tools out there are good, but I wouldn’t advise a lawyer to build his own website any sooner than I would try to practice law as an amateur.”

According to Anderson, a self-built website often tends to look like … well, a self-built website, with clumsy graphics, rough navigation and irrelevant content.

“A homemade website tends to either look overly templated or chaotic. Things don’t work together,” he said.

Competence and value

Erickson said the primary goal for a solo attorney’s website is to convey competence and value. “Think of what the goals of the client are, what they need,” he said.

Never mind vague platitudes and slogans. Exactly what services do you offer? Where are you licensed? How can you be reached most quickly? Your customers want only the most useful information, so put it on your home page.

“Make those concepts the focus of your design,” Erickson said.

“The biggest thing is content,” agreed David Dew, executive member at Afixia in Inver Grove Heights. “Stay away from legal jargon that someone looking for your services might not know or care about.”

An online ad service such as Google AdWords can help you get a handle on what kinds of search terms customers are looking for when they’re looking for a lawyer in your practice area.
“Nobody will search for your name,” said Erickson. “Do some research to find out the search terms that might turn into leads.”

Keep in mind, though, that as tempting as add-ons such as Google AdWords might be, the results they bring might not be any more effective than traditional means of advertising. Google uses more than 100 factors when it ranks websites based on search terms, so an overabundance of content could mean your site gets lost in the shuffle.

“If your website isn’t appearing on page 1 of Google with certain search terms, AdWords might not be the answer,” said Anderson. “People often don’t click on AdWords results because they know it’s advertising. They’re more likely to click on organic results.”

Later for SEO

SEO — search engine optimization — is often bandied about as a magic word among business websites. But according to Dew, some consultants will use promises of SEO results that often don’t pan out. If you turn to an outside company for SEO consulting, make sure they’re doing on-page SEO, which optimizes the draft code of individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines — as opposed to off-page SEO, which refers to links and other external material.

“If a company sends you SEO analysis of your site without your asking, consider it spam,” Dew said. “SEO is good for organic searches, but as an industry, it’s pretty gray.”

Finally, and perhaps most important, Erickson advises that you look at a website not as a chore to be finished, but as a single component in an overall, ongoing marketing plan. That’s where professional designers and copywriters can come in handy.

“There’s a diversity of ideas that you get when you bring in a team of professionals to design your website,” he said. “It’s just a fact that you’ll miss things if you try to do it all yourself. It minimizes the value of your marketing dollars.”

“In the end, you want your site to contain a call to action,” said Anderson. “Remember that the ultimate goal is to get the person visiting to call or write for more information.