Creating a new website for your law firm, whether you’re opening up a new practice or updating a dated law firm, can be an immense task. I’d love to say that following this guide will allow you to put together a successful and profitable website in your spare time. It won’t.
However, in this series, I will walk you through the critical steps of putting together an effective website. Some of those steps inform you to go get help from someone else. Unless you’re a veteran computer programmer, a marketing expert, and a practicing, there’s a lot that’ll probably be over your head.
Don’t worry about it. In this four-part series, you’ll learn the basics of setting up a website that, as part of your overall marketing plan, will help convert visitors into clients, and give you a competitive advantage in your market.
In my experience, there are four types of law firm websites:
Call to Action-centric
This website has one goal, to get you to perform one specific action. It could be clicking on a link, it could be dialing a phone number, it could be participating in a contest. Regardless, you know exactly what that one thing is, no matter where you are on the site.
This website is less direct than the Call to Action-centric site. The company operating this website knows that its prospective clients aren’t going to make up their mind in 8 seconds. It might take days, weeks, months or even years. The goal is to make sure that, through providing information and demonstrating expertise, when the time comes, the website visitor thinks of this company first.
The Electronic Billboard
For a long time, sadly, this was the go-to standard for law firm websites. You know what I’m talking about – a website with photos who may or may not (emphasis on may not) actually work at this law firm. Clicking on an attorney bio brings you immediately to a “Greatest Hits” version of that attorney’s law school experience.
Nowhere do you find information about filling the clients’ needs. Instead of talking about “divorce,” the site talks about “family law.” Contact information is difficult to find. Font and coloring is outdated. Worst, most of the website is an ode to the attorney. This is not the new law firm website you need.
The Ghost Town
What’s worse than a website that demonstrates it’s age through it’s content? One that you don’t even have to read to know how old it is! These websites have broken links, list attorneys who no longer even practice law, and have outdated contact information.
Which Law Firm Website is Right for You?
Since I assume you want your website to be successful, we’re going to deal with the first two types of websites. Depending on your law firm’s business goals and your practice areas, your website will look more like one of the images above than the other.
However, knowing which one it’ll be will take some work.
Your new law firm website must fit within your law firm’s overall marketing strategy…
… so you need to have one.
What type of website does your law firm need? The kind that will attract the type of visitor likely to be in need of your law firm’s services and, once on your website, the kind that will convert them from “prospective client” into actual client.
Your website doesn’t convert people into clients on its own. Rather, it should work as a part of an integrated marketing strategy. If you haven’t taken the time to set up your law firm’s brand, now would be the right time. For some tips, check out my recent post on law firm branding.
You’ve got your branding down, so let’s figure out who you’re going to be trying to draw to your website:
1) Understand Your Market
You would never consider going to trial without preparing (or even knowing what type of case you’ve got). Treat your website the same way. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, particularly when the upside is generating a lot more business! So before you run off to a marketing firm demanding a shiny new website, do your homework!
Identify Your Target Audience
So, who are you trying to reach with your website? I mean really trying to reach? Not just the people who you want to think your website looks nice. Your family will tell you the site looks good regardless. I’m also not talking about the general population. Sure, you’d love for everyone who visits your site to become your client, but it ain’t gonna happen.
I’m talking about the people who have needs that your law firm is uniquely placed to meet. They just may not know it yet.
Knowing your target audience is critical. The primary consideration for EVERYTHING your website does or has is based on what your target audience. Who are they and what are they looking for when they come to your website? You need to understand their needs and their motivations in order to reach them.
I strongly recommend hiring a digital marketing company to look at your marketing plan from your potential clients’ perspective. You have blinders that are nearly impossible to overcome. You have about 8 seconds to convince your website’s visitors to engage, so making sure you understand what will cause your audience to engage is crucial.
Research Your Competition
Unless you’re a digital marketing expert and a web designer, along with the whole “being a lawyer” thing, you’re probably not going to come up with an effective, cutting-edge website on your own. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of examples of both good and bad websites out there. They belong to your competition. So check them out!
What are the other law firms in your practice area and geographical area doing? Make a list of things that you like, and things you don’t – what works and doesn’t. In addition to learning more about the law firms you’ll be competing with for limited resources (clients), you may see some designs that catch your eye.
There’s nothing wrong with putting your own twist on someone else’s good idea (provided you’re not actually running afoul of copyright law, Robin Thicke-style).
Even better, make a list of the things you don’t like. Just like things you enjoy, it’s likely that your prospective clients will be turned off by similar things as you. However, this is one area where you really need to double check with your marketing experts. Particularly because there will be a number of things that you feel aren’t “lawyerly” enough for you. Some will be very good points, some won’t, but you’re probably going to need non-lawyer eyes to truly tell the difference.
Establish Your Unique Selling Proposition
You know who your target audience is. You’ve figured out (hopefully) why they decided to visit your website, and what they’re looking for, and come up with a strategy to get them to engage. You know what your competitors are doing, and you know who and how you want your website to emulate.
So how are you going to convince your potential clients to pick you over your competition? What makes you the right choice for them? The answer is what makes you stand out. It’s your unique selling proposition.
Hire a Marketing Expert!
This first part of creating your website is NOT easy, and you shouldn’t expect to be able to do it alone, or even within your law firm. I would strongly recommend retaining a reputable digital marketing company to help with this part. Every subsequent step in assembling your new law firm website is built on this first step. It’s pretty damn important to get it right.
2) Set Measurable Goals
If you start asking around, you’ll get a lot of different opinions about the “right” way to set up your new law firm website. In reality, the only way to know for sure is to try it for yourself. As you go along, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. If you’ve set yourself up to do so, that is…
Align your Law Firm Website with Your Overall Business Goals
Unless your website is one of the two ineffective types of law firm websites I discussed above (The Electronic Billboard or The Ghost Town), the purpose of your website is to help you generate business. Therefore, your website’s goals should align with your overall business goals.
You understand your audience (thanks to the work you did earlier). You know what your target audience is looking for when they come to your site, and you really want them to become actual clients. How effective is your website at bridging that gap? Or, in industry terms, does your website convert?
Just like you built your website as part of your marketing plan, you must build it as part of your business plan. You want your law firm’s business to grow, and you’ve taken the time to determine what that means. If your new law firm website isn’t designed to achieve those goals, what use is it?
Understand Your Prospective Clients’ Unique Needs
If your a personal injury law firm, it’s likely that your website’s visitors have an immediate need. They’re hurt, they know someone who was hurt, and they need help. (Very few people research PI law firms so they’re ready when their doctor a outages the wrong foot.)
On the other hand, if your target audience is corporate counsel looking for an external law firm, you’re likely playing more of a long-game. They need to be convinced of your expertise, and likely need ammo to convince others within their company.
Just like the examples I showed above, does your website cater to the needs of your prospective client? It’d better!
Define Success with Measurable Goals
You’re not in business to give money away, so any money you spend needs to do something for you. In business, it’s referred to as ROI (“Return On Investment”). So what are your goals for your website? And how do you know if you’re meeting them?
So what does it mean to you to have a “successful” law firm website?
The general goal of your website is to convert prospective clients into actual clients, even if it’s only one per year. So how do you expect your website to help you achieve that business goal?
Your goals need to be two things: 1) quantifiable and 2) measurable.
A goal is quantifiable if it’s success or failure can be shown in a statistically significant numeric format. Goals that can only be measured by voluntary participation (such as a survey on your website or in an email) are highly unlikely to be representative, and therefore not statistically significant. I would also strongly suggest only picking data that is anonymous.
A goal is measurable if you have a continuous and comprehensive right and ability to collect, aggregate, and analyze the related data. As far as your website is concerned, anything that can be measured using Google Analytics or similar programs fit into this category. Click-through rate on your call to action, downloads of articles from your blog, views of an instructional video; all these are commonly used metrics for websites.
Be wary of any measurement, however, that relies on the action or analysis of a third-party, particularly for free. If you don’t own the data, you might find that one day, it just isn’t there anymore. (Just ask all the people who used LinkedIn polls!)
Coming in Part 2: securing the best domain name for your new law firm website!