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Law Practice Management
Beware These Nine Costly Mistakes When Creating a Home Page for Your Law Firm
Phillip M. Perry
You can’t afford to have clients ignore your Web pages, so avoid these nine common mistakes.
Mistake No. 1: Hyping the Firm Instead of Serving the Client. This is the most common error and turns off clients the fastest.
"The biggest mistake is to use the Web page as an electronic form of a press release," says Howard P. Henson, account executive with The Internet Learning Center in New York. "Instead, consider the Web page as a way to meet the needs of your client. The whole essence of success is to get people to add your Web page to their electronic address books."
Once they do that, they will be back again and again to retrieve information from your site. And that word "information" is the key to success. What people are looking for is information that will help them make more money in their business, become smarter buyers of your services, or lead more productive or happier lives.
The secret is to think communications, not selling. Here’s how to decide what to communicate:
• What are the most common questions asked by your clients? Put the answers on your site.
• What general advice can you give clients in your specialty area? Here’s where it goes.
• What timely information can you share with your clients? Examples: deadlines for filing forms, pending changes in the law, new personnel at your office.
Mistake No. 2: Segregating the Web Page from Other Marketing Efforts. Your Web page will not be effective if it is seen as separate from your law firm’s traditional marketing tools.
"Look at your page as a line extension of the marketing channels you are already using," says David M. Edwards, associate consultant at Redwood Partners in New York.
Create the same echo effect as you do, for example, when your radio spots echo a statement in your display advertising. On your Web site, echo the efforts you are making to reach out in other media.
Suppose you are giving a speech to the chamber of commerce. Invite browsers to register. Announce upcoming seminars. Ask browsers to sign up for a monthly electronic newsletter.
Tag your Web site address on your business cards, letterheads, and all of your promotional materials. Tie everything together as much as possible.
Mistake No. 3: Creating a Stodgy Home Page. Make sure the opening page is a winner. You have perhaps five seconds to convince the browser to stay at your site.
"Your home page is like a store front," says Eric J. Berrios, director of interactive services at Erin Edwards, a Web page consultancy in Glen Head, New York. "It is the first impression people get of you. It has to stop people in their tracks."
To turn browsers into loyal clients who come back for more, consider how you can condense the points made in this article into one dynamic opening page.
• Emphasize client benefits by offering links to useful pages. Example: "Click here to see the most important legislation that relates to premises liability."
• Refer to offerings made in your other promotional efforts. Example: "You may have heard us speak at the recent seminar. Click here for a report with vital follow-up information."
• Keep a low profile by using a small graphic and modest-sized firm name. Get the browsers’ eyes focused on words that relate to their needs, and promise really helpful materials on your attached pages. Do anything to keep that visitor from clicking past your site!
Mistake No. 4: Designing a Confusing Web Page Structure. If your site is difficult to maneuver, your client will become frustrated and click out.
Avoid creating Web pages that are more than two levels deep beyond the home page. That’s confusing. The browser can get lost completely.
Design your opening page to include a clickable index of additional pages. The browser who wants to access one of these pages can always return to your home page easily if you include the words "return to home page" at the bottom of each of your pages, along with a link.
Mistake No. 5: Designing "Slow" Pages. If you really want to irritate your clients, create pages that take up to a minute to download.
Take a tip from Alan W. Runfeldt, senior projects manager for the Internet Group at Net5.Net, a consulting firm in Rohnert Park, California: "If you make people wait more than 20 or 30 seconds to download a page, you will be trying their patience and losing visitors."
One way to speed download time, says Runfeldt, is to keep each page under 10 kilobytes, including graphics. "A very important warning to those not experienced with using the Web: Avoid large graphics," Runfeldt says. "Remember to allow an average of 10 seconds of download time for every 10K of data transferred. Be especially wary of graphics-only pages."
Mistake No. 6: Failure to Engage the Client. Create as much interaction as possible with visitors to your site. Start by personalizing your site. Include information about the individuals at your firm. Sites without this information seem cold and fail to excite clients.
Include a form that allows the client to send you messages. Ask for feedback on your site. How can it be improved? Made easier to use? What information would the client like to see added to your site? This can set up a dialogue and make the client feel much closer to your business. That alone can stimulate a return visit to your site.
Include an invitation to "Please send us a question." When the client clicks on this invitation, have a message form pop up. Be sure to check your e-mail at least once daily.
Edwards suggests going an extra mile to get clients really involved with your site. "Every site should include a survey. You want to find out as much information about your visitors as possible. What is their age? Income? Interests? How would they like to benefit from visiting your Web page?" Listen to what visitors say and improve your site constantly.
Mistake No. 7: Failure to Update the Site. When clients return to your Web site, they expect to see something new. If they are disappointed, they will remove your page from their electronic address book.
Update your page at least once a week. You don’t have to do something elaborate. But include a newsy item, or something that will help your clients. Announce "What’s New This Week." When the client clicks on that statement, a page pops up with the new material.
Include a statement such as "This is an interesting place to be. Bookmark it now and come back in six days when we update it."
Mistake No. 8: Omitting Links to Other Sites. Including links to other sites is considered good form and a courtesy to clients. Include links that will extend the information you have in your site. Consider especially any links to legal information from the state or federal governments. By all means, offer to include links to the Web pages of your clients.
Mistake No. 9: Keeping Your Site a Secret. Publicize your site! People won’t check into your site until you send out invitations.
• Mail a press release about your site.
• Include your site’s address on your business cards, stationery and advertising.
• Ask other Web page owners to include your site as a link; in exchange, offer to link their site to your page.
• Register with http//www.submit-it.com, a service for publicizing sites.
• Register with all services that offer awards for best sites.
Phillip M. Perry is a New York freelance writer who specializes in business and finance.
This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared in Law Practice Management, November/December 1996 (22:8).