Becky Simms, managing director of Reflect Digital, sets out the five big mistakes she sees too often on law firm websites – plus a whole lot more. (Updated 7 October 2020)
Your law firm website is a golden opportunity to attract clients and set out what makes you special.
No doubt creating the perfect website isn't easy. But just by avoiding common mistakes you are already halfway there – and well ahead of many of your competitors. How many of these problems apply to your firm's website?
The big five website mistakes
1. The lawyer-centred website. There's a natural tendency to talk about ourselves and what interests us. Successful websites take the opposite approach – they focus on what interests clients and they use language clients understand.
2. Lowest common denominator. Your website focuses on avoiding mistakes and keeping everyone in the partnership happy. The result is bland and does little to differentiate you from other law firms.
3. Confusion. There's a lot to say about your firm, but squeezing together too many different messages dilutes their impact and leaves potential clients confused about who you really are.
4. Mobile unfriendly. Visitors to your website are more likely to be using mobile devices than computers. Modern websites must be built using 'responsive' design (so that they work on all the common browsers and devices). Otherwise visitors aren't seeing what they should and you are missing out on potential clients.
5. What next? The primary purpose of your website is to get clients to call you. At a minimum, you need to make it easy – with clear contact details visible throughout the site. Better still, include clear calls to action that encourage visitors to make contact, with tracking so you can monitor where the leads are coming from.
"Clickable phone links make it easy for mobile users to call you right away"
Ian Gandy, head of digital, Travelers
Web content weaknesses
6. Unstructured text. Visitors don't generally read websites the same way they read books – they scan it looking for key phrases and links to the information they are after. Use short sentences and paragraphs. Break up long pages with subheadings.
7. Thin content. If your website is nothing more than a list of services and locations, while your competitors are offering genuinely useful and interesting content, who will clients prefer?
8. Basic mistakes. It's all too easy to make spelling and grammar mistakes or leave outdated information on the site. But will clients trust someone who makes these kinds of mistakes?
9. Inactivity. A typical website project begins with a burst of enthusiasm which fizzles out once the site has been completed. Worse, firms sometimes start a blog or news section – only to leave it in place with the latest entry two years old. Inactivity like this gives visitors no reason to return, and creates the impression that your firm isn't actually doing anything.
"For each page of your website, ask yourself what is the single key message it is trying to put across (and is it succeeding)?"
Chris Davidson, business development director, Moore Legal Technology
10. Cluttered pages. As with the text, your aim is to convey simple, clear messages. Overactive pages don't do that.
11. Poor organisation and navigation. Visitors want to get to the right information, quickly. They aren't interested in learning how your site works – they expect it to be intuitive. A well-planned site architecture, consistent use of page templates and the right terminology all help.
12. Weak (or missing) search. It's the same principle of helping visitors find what they want. In larger sites, search is essential – and it should be intelligently designed so that visitors can find the right content even if they use the 'wrong' search terms.
13. Weak images. Clichéd images of the scales of justice or a dartboard (to show that your lawyers 'hit the target'); photos of lawyers that look like mugshots from a school yearbook (or posed in front of their law books). The message? We're boring, unimaginative lawyers.
14. Distractions. Flashing or rotating images don't work well – they're typically a sign that you couldn't work out what your message should be. Clever design tricks (eg parallax scrolling) seem exciting and clever but distract the user.
15. Annoyances. Pop-up windows and autoplay videos (with sound) force themselves on unwilling visitors. Instead, encourage visitors to choose their own journey through your site.
16. Missing links. Linking your website with the firm's social media accounts is a simple way to encourage visitors to engage with you and share your content.
"The partners should set the goals for the new website, and agree the budget – but then stand back.Your marketing team, and the agency you hire, can then propose expert solutions and designs to meet those"
Trevor Sather, WordPress consultant, Square Eye
17. Missing opportunities to integrate. Your website and user experience can be more automated than ever in an extremely customer friendly way if you have the right integrations. This might be with a CRM, an email marketing platform or other internal systems. The name of the game is improving efficiency and offering better contact and information to your clients.
18. Slow load. If a webpage takes more than a couple of seconds to load, visitors give up and look elsewhere. Large image files are a particular problem for mobile browsers. Overcomplicated website technologies and inadequate web hosting arrangements can also cause issues.
19. SEO. Basic search engine optimisation is a must. If your website team don't understand all the technical details, get some expert help.
20. Accessibility. Having a website that isn't properly accessible (for example, if visitors use a screen reader) isn't just failing your visitors. As a law firm, it's an embarrassment.
21. Contact systems. If the website's aim is to encourage potential clients to contact you, it's equally important to manage how you respond to enquiries. If you deal with private clients, that could well include evening and weekend website visitors.
22. Cybersecurity. Every website is at risk, law firm websites perhaps more than most. Being hacked is embarrassing; data protection failures are even worse.
23. Marketing. You can't just create a website and expect visitors – and new clients – to rush to you. An active marketing plan is essential.
24. Analytics. If your website isn't set up to generate useful data, you are working in the dark. Analytics are a crucial tool for understanding what works and how you can improve.
"For services such as conveyancing, being the first law firm to respond can be the key to winning new clients"
David Opie, managing director, Today's Media