The Ultimate Lawyers' Guide To Website Marketing

Running a small or solo law firm is hard work, and the attorneys who run them often find themselves stressed out and exhausted from trying to fit everything that needs to be done into their work week…which often stretches to seven days. Unsurprisingly, one area that frequently gets short shrift under these circumstances is website marketing. It can be hard to justify spending the time on non-billable work when time is short, but ultimately, website marketing is a market-driven demand. Having an effective website is no longer optional, and having a website that is little more than a digitized version of a printed brochure is not effective. Whether the prospective clients of a given firm are businesses or consumers, there are some proven strategies and components that will help convert prospects to paying clients.

What a well-designed website does for a law firm

To people who aren't familiar with the principles of web design and marketing, the features that make the difference between an effective design and one that ultimately fails to produce marketing results and client conversion may not be readily apparent. That's actually the point; a well-designed website will catch the attention of prospects and keep feeding them bits of relevant information and building their trust and confidence until they're ready to schedule an appointment, all without giving them the impression that they're being herded into the clutches of a predator that often comes with a more aggressive sales tactic. An effective website for a law firm establishes and expands the firm's expert reputation and perceived value among its most likely clients.

  • Logo & Visual Branding – Creating an effective marketing website begins in the seemingly smallest of elements: the logo and visual branding package. A visual branding package is a set of guidelines specifying things like what fonts, sizes, colors, and variants of the logo are approved for use in what situations. The reason for setting these guidelines is that visual branding depends heavily on consistency. Visual branding is really medieval heraldry for modern applications. Like a heraldic device for a king or household, a company's logo needs to stands out and be immediately and accurately identifiable. Stop for a moment and think about famous logos. What comes to mind? Most likely, they're logos with extremely clean and simple design, which makes them memorable and instantly identifiable, even if the companies' names didn't appear with them.
  • Many small companies, not just law firms, give in to the temptation of commissioning a budget logo to save the bottom line. Unfortunately, this can often prove to be false economy. There are many ways in which a cut-rate logo can end up costing a company significantly. To begin, graphic designers, even those who work cheaply, need to make a living, so if they're making logos at deeply discounted rates, they're going to have to spend less time on each design. Some of that time should have been spent on researching whether their proposed design is, in fact, distinctive enough to stand as a unique identifier. A quick Google search of law firms will yield a shockingly large number of sites bearing the scales of justice as part of their logo. Those firms have given away a significant opportunity to make themselves recognizable.
  • Another way designers can shorten their production time to meet a price point is to use stock images or templates to create a logo. Some of those images and templates are public domain, some come from a paid database, and some are elements that the designer created but re-uses in multiple projects. These logos are never going to fully serve their purpose as a unique identifier. An ideal logo is designed in a way that could be updated in the future with minimal changes to retain the visual branding power it builds over time.
  • Sales Funnel – Most attorneys don't like to think of sales as part of their job descriptions, but in a small firm, it very much is. Good website design can make successful sales much easier and less time-consuming. Website design includes much more than making an attractive layout with a good logo. One critical element of web design is creating a sales funnel that walks prospects from awareness to interest to a decision to "buy" and, finally, to take action such as making direct contact with a person who can complete the closing process with the new client. Many firms use social media to feed prospects into the sales funnel of their website. There are many strategies for using a sales funnel, but the first step is understanding what it is and why it's a critical element. Then comes understanding what matters to prospective clients of a given type of law firm and creating the right kind of sales funnel to attract their initial interest and build their confidence.
  • Lead Generation – Creating an effective sales funnel in a business website effectively makes the website function as an active part of the sales team. Another smart functionality to build into a law firm's website is lead generation. This uses a device such as a white paper or an e-book, known in this case as a lead magnet, to get prospects to provide their contact information for further follow-up. This is an especially useful tool because it walks prospective clients through a self-selection process before they provide their contact information. They will only provide their information if the website succeeds in demonstrating to them that the firm has something to offer them in their particular circumstance.

The importance of mobile-friendly design

Not too long ago, it was a reasonable assumption that most important online research like finding a law firm would be done on a desktop or laptop computer. The market has shifted, however, and today's law firms need to expect that a significant number of prospects – the specific percentage depending on the firm's most likely clients – will be searching on a tablet or smartphone. Mobile- friendly web design is now a factor in Google's Search Engine Result Page (SERP) ranking algorithm. Websites are penalized in the SERP rankings if their design doesn't meet Google's requirements for mobile-adaptive response. Sites that conform to Google's guidelines earn a boost in SERP rankings. Although it sounds quite simple, the correct implementation of mobile- friendly web pages involves a wide range of considerations from page-load speed to security matters, and there is more than one way to address these issues. Choosing the best implementation for a specific practice and the search habits of that practice's likely clients is a careful balancing act between function and cost. It's worth getting a professional analysis and consultation before making any firm decisions.

SEO is much more than cramming keywords into posts

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most misunderstood (and incorrectly used) practices in the history of marketing. Search engines, typically with Google in the lead, develop algorithms that try to deliver consumers the best, most relevant content for their search terms. They do this because consumer confidence and traffic define the advertising rates they're able to charge, and dominating the search engine field is a high-stakes proposition. For business websites, this means that keeping up to date with the latest ranking signals is necessary to achieve page-one SERP results. Isn't page two or three good enough? According to a study by Moz.com, Google users click on a page-one organic search return 71.33 percent of the time, while pages two and three combined get 5.59 percent of all clicks. In fact, this study found that the top five results on page one of organic SERPs garner 67.6 percent of all clicks.

Achieving page-one SERP rankings for the most relevant search terms for a given law practice requires an understanding of some basic principles used by search engines to judge the worthiness of a site and its content. It's also important to keep in mind that most things that can earn a boost in ranking for a website can, if done wrong, also earn a penalty. Keywords, one of the best-known parts of SEO, are a perfect example. If a site uses relevant keywords in a way that sounds like natural writing aimed at human readers, the site will likely get a boost in its SERP ranking. If the site's content stuffs in every possibly related keyword and repeats them all three times in a 200-word page, the search engines are going to judge the site as "spammy" and penalize its ranking.

Fresh content and the originality of the content are also ranking signals, so while it may seem like a good idea to publish content in as many places as possible, doing so actually damages the SERP ranking of each site that publishes that content. Continually publishing well-written and accurate content helps a website build both a solid SERP ranking and a reputation as an authoritative source.

A firm's website is its online "Personality"

Everything on a law firm's website, from the color palette and logo to the quality of content and frequency with which new content is published, contribute to the public's impression of that firm. More importantly, when the content on a law firm's site accurately appeals to people who are most likely to become clients, that site will be more effective at walking those people through the sales funnel, providing them with the information they need to build confidence and to make a decision to take further action toward retaining that firm's services. Investing in an effective website with quality content is one of the best marketing decisions a law firm can make, because that website can expand the firm's brand recognition dramatically while establishing its attorneys as authoritative voices in their areas of practice.

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