The year 2020 was one of major societal disruptions. No one has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has changed how we live in countless ways. Much of the changes that have occurred since last year will not be totally understood until the dust settles, but there are some things that are abundantly clear.
One thing we know for sure is that law firms and other businesses that hope to survive in the 2020s and beyond must have a strong digital presence. The rapid move away from brick and mortar and toward online commerce has accelerated during the past year, and lawyers who want to thrive in the years to come must be positioned to capitalize on this trend.
So, what does the rapid trend toward digitization mean for the future of lawyer websites? One word: everything. The website is the foundational piece to the entire Internet marketing puzzle, the hub that powers every other web marketing initiative. If you went into 2020 without a website, chances are that by the end of the year, you either had one or, at the very least, realized the need to get one.
Law firm websites of the future will literally do almost everything for attorneys and legal practices with regard to lead generation and client interactions. Through continually increased automation powered largely by artificial intelligence (AI) and similar technologies, the law firm website of the future will be able to:
- Greet prospective clients when they arrive at the lawyer’s website;
- Interact with prospects in real time about their legal issues;
- Give credentials about the firm, the attorneys’ experience, big cases they have won, etc.;
- Explain the legal process and give consumers a good idea of what to expect when they hire the firm;
- Answer frequently asked questions that legal consumers often have;
- Give clients a peek into the personality of the firm through photos and videos of the attorneys;
- Provide in-depth information about important topics related to the firm’s practice areas;
- Stay in touch with website visitors through automated follow-up contacts; and
- Book initial consultations with a client, which these days will often end up being a virtual consultation through Zoom or a similar platform.
The future law firm website will definitely be a digital version of a lawyer’s calling card. In fact, you now can put a QR code on the back of the calling cards you hand out to people you meet, allowing them to pull up a mobile version of your website. But the attorney website of the future will be far more than just a calling card.
In order to consistently grow your legal practice in the 2020s and beyond, the website of the future will be accompanied by essential elements (most of them automated) that will make your site run like a well-oiled marketing machine.
Although the technology has evolved and the tools and processes used in website marketing are more sophisticated than ever before, they are still implemented with the same primary objectives that they have had since the start of the Internet: traffic and conversions.
There is a lot that goes into building a website and much more that goes into building a strong online presence. But when you boil it all down, the two main things that a web marketing strategy is there to accomplish are to drive targeted visitors (i.e., legal consumers) to your website and convert them into paying clients. Everything else is just background noise.
Handing out your calling card with a QR code on the back is one good way to drive traffic to your website, but if it’s the only way, then your firm will be facing an uphill battle in the years to come. The future of law firm marketing is (mostly) online.
As more and more attorneys wake up to this reality, the digital marketing space will become increasingly competitive. For lawyers and law practices to generate consistent website traffic and convert a healthy percentage of website visitors into clients in the future, they will need a more comprehensive web marketing strategy.
This strategy starts with a properly designed website, but it also includes other effective legal online marketing strategies, such as search engine optimization (SEO), a consistent content marketing plan, and social media promotion. We will take a closer look at each of these areas and highlight some of the most important things that attorneys should know about website marketing in the future.
Law Firm Website Design
This year is something of a milestone in Internet history as it marks the 30-year anniversary of the world’s first website (https://www.history.com/news/the-worlds-first-web-site). Web design has come a long way in the past three decades, and today’s website is quite a bit more sophisticated and user-friendly than the first prototypes.
Back then, you had to be a computer geek just to build the most basic website. Today, we have open-source tools such as WordPress and Wix that allow even novices to develop and maintain a functional site. The good news is that developers are continually producing new themes and plug-ins to make the website-building process even easier.
In the future, websites (powered largely by AI) will continue to become more intuitive. Rather than the clunky and often-disjointed sites we have seen in the past, they will become smoother and more geared toward user interactions. Another way to describe this transition is that lawyer websites will increasingly resemble the user-friendliness of smartphone apps.
Although it is much easier for attorneys and other business owners to build their own website, building a site that will become the cornerstone of a successful digital marketing program is still a challenging process, especially if you have never done it before. Whether you decide to build the website yourself or hire a professional to do it, you should understand the important characteristics that embody a well-constructed website that will stand the test of time.
Fast Website Loading Times
Digital consumers have very short attention spans, and who can blame them given the endless number of online interactions they could participate in? For this reason, your website needs to load as fast as possible, which these days ideally means from one to three seconds. If it is any slower than that, your bounce rate (the number of visitors who abandon your site to chase the next shiny object) increases dramatically, and it becomes a negative ranking factor in Google and other search engines.
Just as having a website is no longer optional in 2021, the same holds true for a mobile-friendly website. It has been a few years already since the number of mobile-based web searches (those that originate from a tablet or smartphone) overtook the number of searches performed on a desktop computer. And today, Google and other search engines will penalize your site if it does not have a responsive design that looks natural and is easy to navigate on a mobile device.
Responsive design is the current standard for mobile websites and pages, but a future trend with some sites will be toward accelerated mobile pages (AMPs). AMPs are distinguished by a lightning bolt icon next to the URL in a mobile search query.
The lightning bolt is indicative of the accelerated loading speed of an AMP, which is great for user experience and also provides more favorable search results for the website owner. The downside of AMPs is that, in order to achieve “lightning-fast” loading speeds, they must be stripped of elements that would bog them down, such as videos, contact forms, and heavy images.
AMPs are very good for pages that are primarily text and light images, similar to pages of an e-book you might read on an Amazon Kindle. For a lawyer website, their best use would be for informational legal blogs that have only one or two light images at most on the page.
The Right Images, Style, and Mood
This is where the “art” of web design comes into play. A lawyer website that will be successful in the future needs to have the right mix of images, colors, text, video, and other visual elements you may want to add (such as micro-animations). The goal is for the website to be aesthetically pleasing and to set the right tone and mood for your targeted audience of legal consumers.
If you are building your own website and you are not sure what you want, there are plenty of other examples out there to “borrow” from. Look at some of the websites your competitors are building and take note of what you like and don’t like with each of them. This will help give you a good idea of how your own website should look.
Be careful about the temptation to build a “fancy-looking” website. These days, it is possible to have just about any type of design you want, but if you build something with a bunch of bells and whistles that is too confusing and difficult for visitors to navigate, then this exercise becomes counterproductive.
The lawyer websites of the future will require as little work as possible for visitors to find what they are looking for. Forward-thinking web developers realize that a website that is simple and straightforward to navigate is one that visitors are more likely to engage with and spend more time on. And the more time they spend on your website, the better the chances that they will end up becoming a client.
Quality content is and always will be a critical element of a well-constructed lawyer website. Your website can look great and be easy to navigate, but if the content is not coherent, compelling, engaging, and easy to read, visitors will be turned off.
Have you ever seen web pages with huge blocks of text that take up nearly the whole page? You might enjoy reading pages like that, but I can promise you that the vast majority of your potential clients do not. If I run across a page like that, my first reaction is to hit the “back” button.
The content you put on your website should be professional. You are a lawyer, after all, so you are expected to know how to write well. But you also need to make sure that your content is readable and that it is not too technical for the average layperson to understand.
Most online consumers will not read a page word for word. Instead, they will scan the article in hopes that they will find the information they are looking for. Make it easy for them by including lots of subheadings and bullet points where appropriate and creating paragraphs with no more than three sentences in each.
Make sure your content is understandable to your targeted audience. Think like a consumer and try to come up with the best way of wording your article so it makes sense to readers and they can relate what you are saying about their particular legal problem. Try to strike a conversational tone that makes readers feel like you are talking directly to them.
Here are some other important tips with regard to the content you should have on your website:
- Create attention-grabbing headings. Your headings and subheadings should grab the reader’s attention and give them a compelling reason to keep reading.
- Be purposeful in the use of video. Make sure you are strategic with the types of videos you put on your website. The best videos to get a visitor’s attention are FAQ videos answering questions about common legal issues you have dealt with and testimonials from satisfied clients.
- Distinguish yourself. Every law firm website should include an “About Us” and “Why Hire Us” page. These pages give you a chance to brag a little bit about yourself, tell your story, and tell readers why they should retain your services. Be real and authentic, and communicate why you are passionate about the legal profession—this helps establish an emotional connection with your readers.
- Remember on-site SEO. Build your web pages and posts around popular keyword phrases that your audience is searching for. This helps you come up higher in the search results. Just be sure not to overuse keywords and/or force them into sentences where they make no sense—Google is way too smart for that these days. You should also include other on-page SEO elements such as metadata (e.g., tags, titles, descriptions) and proper linking structure.
- Include calls to action (CTAs). Your website should make it clear to visitors how they can become your clients. Otherwise, they will just leave after reading what you have to say and go on to the next website. Include a clear and straightforward call to action (e.g., “contact us today for a free consultation”) at least once or twice on each page and post.
- Communicate empathy. You may have heard the saying, “they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” A large percentage of consumers make purchasing decisions based on emotion, and your website should strike an empathetic tone that leaves visitors with the feeling that you understand what they are going through, and you are here to help.
One note of caution with regard to website content: Most states’ rules of conduct prohibit the use of the words “expert,” “specialist,” and other terms that may be misleading or suggest a certain outcome in a client’s case. Instead, use terms such as “experienced,” “skilled,” and “knowledgeable.”
Calls to action are essential for today’s websites, but for the websites of the future, immediate engagement will be a requirement. A growing number of firms and other businesses have already recognized the value of having a live chat service on their website, and this trend will accelerate going forward.
Chatbots that can engage website visitors in real time are important because they allow visitors to get help with their legal issue immediately. Having a chatbot on your lawyer website enhances your credibility with targeted prospects, and it makes them feel that they are receiving a higher level of service. Because of AI and other advanced technologies, the capabilities of live chat services are continually improving, and they are quickly becoming one of the most cost-effective online lead generation tools available.
Website hackers are getting smarter and more sophisticated all the time, and, these days, every website that is not properly secured is vulnerable to an attack. Security is especially important for lawyer websites because legal consumers who engage with attorneys online often provide confidential and sensitive information about their cases using contact forms or live chat. Whether you build the website yourself or have someone else do it for you, security needs to be a top priority.
Be sure your website has an SSL certificate to protect the data collected as it is transferred from your website to a server. If a website has an SSL certificate, its address will start with “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP.” An SSL certificate is among the most basic security measures for lawyer websites of the future.
Here are some other important website security measures:
- Use strong log-on passwords that include several unique characters.
- Use a web application firewall (WAF) to prevent automated attacks that often target lesser-known websites such as those of solo and small law firms.
- Update your website regularly to the latest version of your theme and plug-ins.
- Back up your website regularly so it can be restored quickly in the event of an attack.
- Disable or remove plug-ins and features that you do not use.
- Have your website frequently scanned to detect malware, viruses, and other security issues.
Future SEO Trends for Attorneys
SEO goes hand in hand with law firm websites because it is the best way to drive targeted traffic to a website. You can have the greatest website in the world with all the features and characteristics that we have mentioned above, but if nobody is visiting your site, it doesn’t do you any good.
SEO has evolved tremendously over the years. In the early days of the Internet, search engines were easy to trick with tactics such as building spammy links and keyword stuffing. But, as noted above, Google’s algorithms are far more sophisticated these days, and web developers can no longer get away with manipulative tactics like these.
What Google and other search engines have always wanted (and will always want) are search results that are relevant and helpful to the user. A positive user experience is what keeps people using their search engine, and this is never going to change.
Attorneys and law practices should create web pages and blog posts with quality content that integrates keywords naturally and gives readers useful information about the term that they have just searched for. Google also tends to favor longer form (“foundational”) content with pages and posts that often well exceed 1,000 words.
Below are some future SEO trends that attorneys should be aware of when developing their web presence:
- Semantic search. AI is allowing search engines to increasingly think the way humans do in order to understand the searcher’s intent, the context of their query, and the relationship between the two. By creating quality content that is relevant to your targeted keyword phrase, your pages and posts should receive favorable treatment from the search engines. One thing that could help you better optimize your content going forward would be to include theme words and phrases that are closely related to the keyword phrase you are targeting.
- Local SEO. The Yellow Pages are dead, and more than 97 percent of all consumers are now looking for local services online. Lawyers who want to compete online in the future will need a well-optimized profile on Google My Business.
- Voice search. Voice search is already getting big, and it is going to be huge in the future. Tens of millions of households have devices that are connected to Amazon’s popular voice-powered assistant Alexa or a competitor, and virtually every smartphone has voice search capability. This technology allows users to ask more specific questions, and it would be wise for attorneys to have a lot of content that answers common questions and does so in a conversational tone.
Before we wrap up this overview of SEO, it is important to discuss two additional topics. The first is link building. Link building is still an effective SEO strategy, but you need to build high-quality backlinks from websites with high domain authorities for them to be worth anything. Second, we should touch on the most popular alternative to SEO: paid traffic.
There are numerous paid traffic sources these days, the best-known being Google pay-per-click (PPC) and paying to boost the reach of a Facebook post. Paid traffic provides nearly instant results, while SEO takes time to build. Paid advertising has its place, and we use it sometimes, but buying traffic can be very expensive, and you only get the benefit of that traffic one time. With an effective SEO strategy, you can maintain the organic search results you have built for months or even years to come, and this is why we believe SEO is generally a better approach.
Legal Content Marketing in the 21st Century
We have already talked a lot about content in the previous sections because quality content goes hand in hand with a great website and an effective SEO strategy. But, beyond that, there are nearly endless ways that attorneys will be able to use content to drive targeted traffic to their websites in the future. Here are some examples:
- Producing regular monthly blog posts around legal topics and questions that targeted consumers are likely to be searching for;
- Doing a weekly or monthly podcast about popular topics in your practice area;
- Live streaming a video podcast on your YouTube channel, Facebook Live, or an alternative;
- Implementing a marketing automation campaign using an e-newsletter sent to email subscribers to maintain prospect/client engagement;
- Writing an e-book that you can sell or give out to email subscribers with helpful legal information that showcases your expertise; and
- Issuing monthly or quarterly press releases announcing something newsworthy or addressing a timely legal topic.
This is just a sampling of the countless ways digital content can be used to reach legal consumers on the web. The possibilities are endless.
The Future of Social Media for Law Firms
Social media promotion has become an increasingly used strategy for attorneys and law practices to drive targeted visitors to their websites. Being active on popular social media platforms allows lawyers to engage and connect with their target audience in a more informal setting. Social media engagement helps to create brand awareness, establish authority/thought leadership, and enhance SEO efforts.
As the technology improves, social media will provide even more opportunities for lawyers to promote their practice. Facebook still reigns supreme for now, and LinkedIn is considered the standard for establishing business credibility. But there are numerous up-and-coming platforms such as TikTok and Clubhouse that provide inexpensive mediums for attorneys to hold conversations with legal consumers.
The Verdict on Future Lawyer Websites
Predicting the future is always a risky proposition, but as we discussed above, the overwhelming trend toward digital commerce is undeniable. For attorneys and law firms of the future, this means two things primarily:
- For your practice to survive in the 2020s and beyond, you absolutely need to have a website.
- For your practice to thrive in the years to come, your website marketing campaign needs to capitalize on emerging technologies in order to effectively drive targeted traffic to your site, and your website needs to have the characteristics and tools in place to convert these visitors into paying clients.
The technology will continue to evolve, and the website of the future will continue to become more modern, more intuitive, and more in sync with the needs of the user. But whatever the future holds, the two fundamental principles above will never change.