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   Nov/Dec 2001


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[Web Site Strategies] WHERE IN THE WEB

By Deborah McMurray

If your site is not attracting visitors, it is not working for you. In other words, it’s a waste of money. Know who you’re looking for, how they look for you and how to keep them coming back for more. 10 tips.

Law firms of all sizes are making huge investments in their Web sites. In many cases, a firm’s Web site is its single greatest marketing investment. Yet what return on this investment can firms actually expect? Anecdotal evidence suggests that most law firm managers don’t know. And while most marketing directors believe that the firm will achieve significant ROI from a Web presence, they struggle with how best to measure a site’s success. What, indeed, is key to a successful Web presence? It all starts with defining a strategy.

Who Are We? Who Are They? How Do They Find Us?

It’s easy to identify the law firms that have a focused Web strategy. Their sites effectively convey the firm’s points of differentiation. They cite distinguishing features. They identify and reinforce a market position. They express the firm’s unique culture and its personality. Last but not least, firms that are successful on the Web know their target audiences—and how to attract these audiences to their sites.

Some firms make huge investments in their sites without answering these key questions:

• What image do we want to convey (traditional, contemporary, edgy)?

• Whom do we want to attract (individuals, specific industries, legal professionals)?

• What do visitors want to find (industry expertise, practice areas, individual lawyers, job information)?

• What type of connection will visitors use (DSL, T1 line, cable, 56k modem)?

• How will prospects find our site (browser, directory listing, search engine)?

That last question is critical in attracting your target audience. "People really don’t browse anymore," says Patrick Giagnocavo, a Pennsylvania-based Web consultant with ZillNet ( www.zill.net). "They type in words at a search engine and go from there." To ensure good results with search engines, Giagnocavo says, "You need text. Computers can’t index images and they can’t index flash files—only text."

Keep this in mind when you design and redesign your Web pages.

Top 10 Ways to Pull Them In

Here, with input from Patrick Giagnocavo, are the best ways to help people find your site—and to encourage repeat visits.

1. Have an easy URL. Your domain name should closely resemble your firm name. If, for example, your firm name is Snow & Snow LLP, don’t use www.sslaw.com. No one will find you. Use snow.com or snowlaw.com. The Web is a critical piece of your positioning and branding mix. Your domain name must be a part of it.

2. Put your domain name on everything you print. Include the firm’s URL on all your stationery, brochures, practice descriptions, directory listings and advertising. Make sure it is on firm members’ resumes and business cards.

3. Fill your site with current, relevant content. Include lawyer resumes that tell stories about cases and clients, articles that show industry expertise, white papers and speeches of interest to your targets. While you want to take advantage of the Web as a two-dimensional interface, be conscious that content needs to drive your site.

Be careful not to put the focus on heavy graphics and flash animation. Yes, flash can be quite effective—if it has a defined purpose. But resist the temptation to add it just because it seems interactive and innovative. It can be very slow, and visitors don’t appreciate waiting for the show to end.

4. Take a test drive. Using a 56k modem, dial up your home page and time how long it takes to load. If it takes longer than 8 seconds, it’s taking too long. Run the same timing test for all pages on your site.

(Want to see the impact of a site that takes too long to load? You’ll find an example at www.paulhastings.com. Using twirling phrases, audio and video, every major section of this site includes a movie download. With DSL, it takes 20 to 25 seconds to download. With a 56k modem, it could take a dozen or more minutes. Who waits for these downloads anymore?)

5. Don’t use GIFs to display a lot of text. A search engine will not index your important points if they’re in GIFs. And again, images take longer to load than text.

6. Know what keywords bring traffic. Use the Web server feature of "referrer field logging" to capture what search keywords visitors are using to find your site. Run these same keywords at the search engine to determine your ranking. Any competent Webmaster or system administrator can extract this information for you.

You can use this same feature to track the number of visitors coming to your site from your firm’s online directory listings.

7. Don’t use legal jargon. Even corporate counsel and referring lawyers would rather read English than legalese. If you have to use a term of art that doesn’t translate easily, go ahead and use the legal term but add a simple definition on the same page. This could also increase your search engine ranking.

8. Analyze your conversion ratio. A conversion ratio is the ratio of contacts versus sales. If you have contact with 10 prospects and end up with one client, your conversion ratio is 10 percent. There are a number of factors to consider when analyzing how your site’s working. For example, if you get 100 hits from an online directory, how many visitors go to a second and third page after loading your home page? After loading the "Contact me" page, how many prospects actually complete and submit the contact form?

You can obtain this information by browsing your Web server logs.

9. Put central info on every page. There are thousands of lawyer sites. Prospects narrow their searches in as many ways as they can. Geography is a popular search, so make sure you include your city name somewhere on each page.

10. Continue to keep your site fresh. Add new and relevant content regularly. Keep it up-to-date and dynamic so your visitors will return.

Anticipate, Plan, Budget

Finally, remember, wherever the Web is today, it will be somewhere else tomorrow. Visitors’ expectations and habits will change. Anticipate what your audiences will want. Then plan and budget to provide it.

SIDEBAR:

DIRECTORIES, BANNER ADS AND PORTALS: TO USE OR NOT TO USE?

DEBORAH MCMURRAY

Online directory listings. Does it pay to list your site in legal directories? If so, which ones? Among legal services buyers, 77 percent still use martindale.com, according to a 2001 study conducted by Greenfield/Belser and fgi Market Research ("Finding and Working with Lawyers on the Web"). Listing your site with Martindale-Hubbell is easy and inexpensive, so, by all means, do it. The same study reports that 56 percent of buyers also search law.com to find firms, so put that one on your list, too. In addition, you might want to list with West Legal Directory, which is often used by referring lawyers and prospects.

Banner advertisements. Are they really worth the hassle? Banner ads for law firms and many other companies have been largely ineffective. Basically, visitors aren’t clicking through to see what’s on the other side. One analysis suggests that it’s because advertisers have forgotten about reinforcing their brand—they are focused only on the banner. The 2001 Greenfield/Belser-fgi study also found that banner ads do not move people closer to your site.

Portal sites. The pros versus cons? Portals started out as gateway sites, but they have morphed into destination sites. The great appeal of a portal is that it aggregates audiences by demographics, buying patterns or business needs. It’s easy to focus your strategy and create content that interests your portal audience. Portals are a marketer’s dream. However, the downside comes in the work required to build and maintain relevant content, particularly for smaller firms with minimal or no marketing departments. Don’t take this on without a strategic business and staffing plan, and talented content-creators willing to take charge.

Deborah McMurray (mcmurray@couchmoney.com ) is a strategic marketing consultant to the legal industry and principal of Deborah McMurray Associates in Dallas. She is a co-author of the forthcoming book The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet (American Bar Association).