A professional website needs to be functional, look good, and be search-engine friendly.
By Martha Chan, Marketing Consultant to Family Lawyers and Divorce Professionals
Over the past decade, I have built and reviewed numerous websites for family lawyers and have seen many mistakes made over and over again. These are some of the common mistakes I’ve seen repeated on hundreds if not thousands of websites:
1. The website does not deliver on the business objectives
Far too often, a webmaster designs a website without understanding what exactly the intention and purpose of the site are.
Before your site is designed, your webmaster should have a business strategy discussion with you, so they can understand what your objectives are and recommend the best way to accomplish them. Is the main purpose of your site to generate clients? What is the main message you want to convey that will distinguish you from other family lawyers? And where will you put that message? Should your site be a resource to generate repeat traffic, and how will you accomplish that?
When you are asked to evaluate a site, it should be based on how well the site delivers on these objectives, not just on whether you like the look of it or not.
2. The site is all about the law firm and its lawyers
Contrary to common belief, the website is not about your law firm: it is about serving the interests of visitors and prospective clients. So a site that keeps saying how great your firm is, or how great your lawyers are, is weaker than a site that speaks to client needs, and how your firm satisfies those needs.
If your bio is full of initials and all the titles you have accumulated, help visitors understand how these titles could be relevant to them. For example, if you are a Super Lawyer, explain what that is, how you got it, and how it will help your clients.
And how many pictures of your boardroom, or your office building, do you think visitors to your website (who are going through a divorce) are really interested in seeing?
3. The website address does not belong to the law firm
Some lawyers’ websites have addresses like this: www.lawyers.com/ABClawfirm or www.martindale.com/ABClawfirm. If you have one of these, you do not have your own domain name. Your website domain name or URL is as important as your firm name, so make sure you have one to call your own, so you can take it with you if you decide to move the hosting of your site to another company.
Isn’t it simpler to tell someone your domain name is www.ABClawfirm.com? And when you have your own domain name, you can have your own e-mail account that ends with your domain name, such as JaneDoe@ABClawfirm.com. This e-mail address is much more professional than JaneDoe@aol.com. And every time you give out your e-mail address, you will be promoting your website address.
More importantly, you can consider having a domain name with a keyword, such as “divorce” or “lawyer” in it.
4. The firm doesn’t own the site design – and they don’t know it
There is nothing wrong with having a site built using a template. Just make sure you know that up front and know you cannot take your site with you. If you don’t have your own website address as discussed above, check and see if you own your site design.
5. The firm is paying too much
You are paying too much if you paid thousands of dollars to have a simple website built using a template; if you pay hundreds of dollars every month just to have your site hosted; if your site has no content; or if your site is poorly organized, poorly designed, poorly written, and not search-engine-friendly.
6. The design is not visitor friendly
Your site design isn’t user-friendly if the visitor can’t tell where they should go to get what they want immediately – that the navigation buttons are not self-explanatory or that they are laid out differently from page to page.
Your site may look great on the big screen in your office, but have you checked out how it looks on the small screen of a laptop?
Your design isn’t user-friendly if the pictures take up half the screen so that the visitor has to scroll before they can get to the information they want. Those impressive big pictures can become so annoying that your visitors may leave and go to another site. Surfers are impatient. Aren’t you?
Speaking of surfers being impatient, have you seen a site with a flash introduction that you couldn’t wait to skip? Or a site with pictures and letters that wouldn’t stop moving or take “forever” to load? Or a site where certain parts didn’t display because of the Firewall? If you can keep your site simple, you don’t have to worry about these issues.
7. The text is not visitor friendly
Your prospects and clients are not lawyers, so keep the jargon away from your website. There’s plenty of time for that after they have become your clients.
Try talking to your prospects and clients in the first- and second-person. Use “we” and “you and your spouse,” instead of “the parties” and “the file.” Your prospects and clients likely do not relate to “the parties” or “the file” – that’s jargon to be used in the written contracts/settlement agreement. If they are going through a divorce, why stress them out any further with terms that they don’t understand and that aren’t necessary.
Most lawyers are skilled writers – but not when it comes to copywriting or writing web content. The text on your web pages needs to be direct, impactful, and loaded with keywords. Visitors will glance at the page and decide in two seconds or less whether to read more or leave. Why not let a writer interview you and write your marketing material? You’re a professional, in law. Focus on your practice and leave the writing to a professional writer.
8. Some content is for lawyers rather than for laypeople
You might have heard that “Content is king.” The saying should be, “Relevant and interesting content is king.” We’ve seen websites that receive new content daily or weekly, but it’s not designed for clients – it’s designed for professionals or other lawyers. Unless one of your website objectives is to be a resource to other professionals, don’t accept this kind of content, even if it’s free. Almost none of your prospects or clients want or need it.
9. The site lacks content and/or is under construction
If you have a website that shows “coming soon” on most pages and all you have is a page of your bio full of initials or information copied from a profile listed on a website, it probably does not do anything for you. Adding useful information and resources to your site on a regular basis will: bring more people to your website, increase chances of them returning to your website, enhance your image and credibility, and increase the chances they’ll contact and retain your firm. Having useful information on your site will increase the chances of people forwarding your site to other surfers, and the chances of getting referrals.
10. The site is not search engine friendly
If your site is not search-engine friendly, the chances of surfers finding it when they are searching for information or a family lawyer are low. You can spend thousands of dollars a month to have your site optimized. You need to determine whether you will get the return on your investment.
11. The firm selects keywords based on personal feelings
Most people choose keywords based on what they think should be used. There are tools that help you put some science into your keyword selection. These tools tell you how many people used that keyword to search for websites within the past month. Having that information will help you prioritize which keywords to use. Of course, judgment and experience matter as well.
12. The site looks dated and/or amateurish
It’s critical that you have a great website, in order to have a constant flow of high-quality clients. Your website speaks for you when you are not there to speak for yourself, so it needs to be credible.
If your site was built years ago, then congratulations – you were probably ahead of the times. However, it might look dated now because technology and website-building software have improved and changed a lot over the years. Maybe it’s time for a revamp.
If a friend or relative builds websites for a living, go ahead and use them if you are paying them. But if they don’t do it for a living or you are not paying them to build your site, you may have to wait a while, and your family law practice can’t wait.
Don’t just hire a coder who has no sense of design. Your site will function, but it will have no appeal. Don’t just hire a designer who has no sense of search engine requirements. You will have a great-looking site that cannot be found on search engines. You need someone who attends to all three elements: functionality, looks, and search engine friendliness.
Martha Chan is a marketing expert for family lawyers and divorce professionals. She is a co-owner and Vice President of Marketing for Family Lawyer Magazine, Divorce Magazine and Divorce Marketing Group, a marketing agency dedicated to promoting family lawyers and divorce professionals. She is the co-host of a monthly marketing teleseminar for family lawyers and co-author of The Essential Marketing Guide for Family Lawyers. She has served as a marketing consultant to many Fortune 500 companies and countless family law firms over the past 30 years. She can be reached at 866-803-6667 x 136, or email@example.com.