A website is your firm’s face to the world—what will make yours distinct?

  • November 23, 2017
  • Ann Macaulay

They say you have half a second to make a good impression on someone. The same goes for your firm’s website, says Dave Taillefer, director at legal marketing company ICONA in Calgary.

Very few lawyers consider that first impression when they go about building a website, he adds.

The vast majority of potential legal clients look at several lawyers’ sites before they choose a lawyer. Even if they’ve been referred by a friend, most will check out the lawyer’s online profile before deciding whether to hire that person.

That means that a strong, content-rich website can’t be an afterthought for small and solo practitioners hoping to build up their client list.

Here are a few things to consider before setting html to screen:

Who’s going to build it and design it?

The cost of a good web designer usually starts at about $10,000 and can go up quickly – it’s pricey, but remember that while anyone can build a website, not everyone can do it well. Will yours look professional if you do it yourself? It should be a consideration in your start-up budget.

What are you going to use for content?

“Just because you built a website doesn’t mean they’re going to come,” says Taillefer.

Content – copy writing, graphics and messaging – is key to presenting value. The higher the quality of your content, the more professional you look, says Taillefer. Even the use of a certain font can send a message to the reader.

When developing content, keep in mind why users come to your website in the first place: they need legal assistance. Write for your audience, not for your peers.

“From search engine to website, the user basically has simple questions that they’re trying to get an answer to,” says Taillefer. Family law clients, for example, will ask things like whether they will get to keep their home or see their children, while criminal law clients are wondering whether they will have a criminal record. The site should be able to answer those types of questions.

West Vancouver design firm fSquared Marketing has won several awards for law firm websites, including Oyen Wiggs and Edwards, Kenny & Bray. The firm’s chief digital officer, Rob Foley, advises lawyers to keep copy at a grade eight level, “not because people can’t read higher, it’s just they don’t have the time.”

SEO is your friend

Search engine optimization means using words that people are likely to type into a search engine when looking for a lawyer. “Most people don’t go past page one of the search engine results page and those that do probably won’t go past page two,” Taillefer says. “So if you don’t exist on page one or page two, you’re probably not going to attract visitors from search engines.”

Website copy writing takes both the search engine and the end user into consideration – and the best writing appeals to both. “That’s an art form,” says Taillefer.

Foley adds that in any large market there are probably hundreds of personal injury lawyers, for example, all competing for the same business, so it’s unlikely that a potential client who Googles “personal injury lawyer Vancouver” will see your name at the top of the page. That’s where SEO writing comes in. “If you write a really good article about some aspect of what you know about personal injury that is specific to a particular use case or user, then that’s how they’ll find you.”

One advantage for solo practitioners is that larger firms tend to be generalists so they dilute their presence in search engines.

What are your goals for your website?

When he meets with new clients, Taillefer first finds out the lawyer’s goals for the site – is it to attract new clients? Substantiate referrals? Get more calls?  He offers strategies, including a value proposition and branding, then a photo shoot. A criminal law firm may want to convey a confident or aggressive look. “We’ll attend that shoot and make sure we’re getting what we need to get a particular message across,” he says.

Using the new logo, brand, copy and headings, Taillefer then designs the site for both desktop and mobile. He points out that someone looking for a criminal lawyer might be looking on their phone, while someone going through a divorce is likely doing a lot of research and is using a desktop.

Inspiration for the style of a site can come from a variety of websites, including banking or personal services firms, says Foley. “Look at what they’re doing in terms of how easy it is to navigate, how information is easy to find, and how there shouldn’t be any dead ends. Give people the opportunity to keep browsing through your site.”

The bottom line? “People are looking for fast-loading websites with solid content and that subtle difference is what will differentiate most lawyers’ sites,” says Taillefer. “Don’t get clever and make it a bit of a labyrinth or a maze to get through.” 

ICONA’s Website Rules

1. Don’t wait until the last second—give yourself time, knowing the process can take anywhere from two to four months to get a website up (planning, photography, copywriting, design and development, launch).

2. Don’t take your own photos: A professional bio photo goes a long way. Especially for a boutique firm, a professional photoshoot can really convey the brand and voice of the firm. (Photography doesn’t need to mean a “headshot”—an environmental shot can showcase the team and individual lawyers in a real environment.)

3. Don’t disconnect the pieces—your firm logo, your website copy and your photos should all be the same voice, and reinforce your brand. Look for a marketing agency that understands this, has experience with law firms and understands the nuances of the field of law. 

4. Don’t launch your site and then forget about it—think of your website as a digital marketing piece. It’s a brochure for your firm, but unlike a print brochure, you can watch it, test it, tweak it—your marketing agency can watch what is working, what visitors are clicking on, what makes your phone ring. 

Ann Macaulay is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink