Back in the early 1990s, when websites were new and shiny marketing tools, many law firms didn’t think they needed one. Maybe they thought websites were a passing fad like scrunchies and bell-bottom jeans. In the late 1990s (amid the dot-com bubble) websites moved from “nice-to-have” to “must-have” for lawyers. It was about that time I stopped asking lawyers in presentations I would give to raise their hand if their firm had a website. What a silly question—everyone had a website! And if they didn’t, they certainly wouldn’t admit to it in public.
Aside from delivering exceptional client service every day, your website is your single greatest marketing tool. I am amazed when I look at some law firm websites that appear to have been built in the 1990s and haven’t really changed since. This article is focused solely and exclusively on what you can do to bring your website up to 2018 standards and what those of you with rocking websites can do to improve even further your web presence.
Start with the Infrastructure
The days are gone when your teenage niece could build you a new website as part of a school project. Websites today are highly technical and generally involve advanced coding and programming to produce the user experience you want your visitors to have when they visit your site. Although some website platforms flaunt their simplicity (e.g., Wix and Squarespace), they often lack the tools necessary to fully optimize your site. The good news is that because of sophisticated web development tools such as the Genesis Framework, building a sophisticated and visually appealing website is easier now than it has ever been before. That said, you still need to hire a professional website developer to turn your dreams into reality. We strongly recommend supporting your local community by hiring an independent website developer in your area who has a strong track record of building other sites for professional services firms.
As you know, there are myriad companies such as FindLaw, Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell—and many more—that build websites for lawyers. These companies generally collect monthly fees and, in turn, promise to advertise your site on their site and have been known to promise high Google rankings. In a recent panel I co-facilitated for Minnesota Lawyer and the Minnesota State Bar Association, small firm managing partner Davis Senseman of Davis Law Office said, “When we decided to build our website, the first thing I told the website developers was to look at other law firm websites, then to design something totally different for us!” Davis added, “Too many law firm websites look and sound the same. We wanted to convey our uniqueness by having a very non-traditional legal website that featured our kids, our animals, and active video clips.”
Bright idea: Talk to a local website developer and ask them to give you an honest assessment of your current website. Look at some of the websites the company has developed and be open to letting a professional give your website a face-lift!
Security Matters: Add an “S” to your HTTP
You may wonder why some website URLs begin with https:// and others use just http://. Sites that use “https” are secure websites. They have purchased a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate and had their website host implement it on the server level of their website. You will notice your bank, health care provider, and many other subscription-based services will have an SSL Certificate. It’s likely that soon you will, too.
A recent change in cybersecurity best practices has resulted in an overhaul of how Google treats SSL certificates. Google not only rewards websites with SSL Certificates by granting higher search engine rankings, but later in 2018 Google will penalize sites that don’t have an SSL Certificate by publishing a warning icon when a visitor clicks on a website without one. Google is simply trying to protect you and the visitors to your website from malicious folks and cyber-bots seeking to cause harm to your website. Make sure you are on the right side of the SSL Certificate discussion. Talk to your website developer about purchasing and installing an SSL Certificate on your website. It’s generally $75 to $100 per year and may nominally increase your website hosting fee.
Bright idea: Interested in reading more about SSL Certificates and their importance? Read this post by one of PSM’s website developers, Michelle R. Wheeler: SSL Certificates: What They Are and Why You Need One.
Content Is King: Make it Count
I know. You’re a lawyer. You write for a living. You can most certainly write engaging content for your own website, right? Not at all. Developing compelling content is an art that needs to be crafted from a knowledge and understanding—a synthesis—of the value you bring to your clients. The writing must convey your firm’s values through a clear tone and unified “voice” throughout your website. Writing website content is not just a matter of communicating facts about you and your firm, it’s about telling the story of why you practice law, what drew you into the practice of law, what your clients think about you. Your content should also provide specific examples of the types of cases you handle and your representative experience.
Unless you have a college minor in creative writing, please don’t write your own website content. There are some fabulous writers out there who will be better able to tell your story. At my firm, we will not build a website for a law firm that does not also want us to create their content.
Bright idea: Spend some time looking at law firm websites. Most of them will say the same things about being client-focused, results-oriented, and cost-effective. Make a point of having your writer create content that is different than all the other law firms.
Search Engine Optimization: Demystifying the Art of SEO
Another important reason you need to hire experts to write for you is search engine optimization (SEO). There are two distinct types of SEO we use with our clients. The first type, called on-site SEO, takes place when the website is being built. Your SEO team will conduct an analysis of your current website and that of your direct competitors. They will identify keywords and phrases visitors use to find your website online. They will then analyze how your site is currently ranking on Google for these important keywords and phrases. Armed with this information, your professional copywriter will create content for your website based not just on what you do, but how people find you (and firms like yours) online. Every page of your website needs to be written with SEO in mind by strategically using the keywords and phrases that will attract clients to your website in the future. In addition, your website developer should use a special SEO plugin to optimize the content on your website while the site is still being developed. This is also where meta-tags and meta-descriptions are created. What are these meta-descriptions? They are the summaries that appear when someone finds a page of your website online:
The second type of SEO is what we call post-launch SEO, which includes building links to and from your website to other reputable websites, adding schema markups (snippets of HTML code used for SEO), and optimizing your website through search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. The more links you have to your website, the higher your organic search engine rankings will be. If you are interested in the nitty gritty of SEO, read this blog post by one of our PSM consultants, Sally Kenny: “Making Sense of SEO—Tricks, Tips, and Lingo to Know.” This post also discusses the difference between paid and organic search results.
Who Are You? Your Clients Really Want to Know
Biographies are the most-visited pages on law firm websites. Your website bio should literally be a walking, talking summary of who you are, what you do, your philosophy about practicing law, and myriad other fun facts. Remember, your clients want to see you as the human being you are, not as “a suit.” Show them through creative writing (remember the professional copywriter we have been discussing?) what makes you unique as a lawyer.
We like to view lawyer website biographies as mini-websites featuring everything about the lawyer. To that end, we encourage you to use creative methods to convey a lot of content. Consider the biography of the owner and president of Schaefer Halleen, Lawrence P. Schaefer. Having drafted and built hundreds of attorney bios, we recommend the following for your website biography: Make your biography a one-stop-shop to learn everything a visitor can about you by including:
- your photo with contact information (including direct dial and e-mail link)
- brief biography (including what you do when you are not practicing law)
- links to personal social media sites
- representative experience and case results (of course sanitized and focused on the type of client, their issue, your approach, and the result)
- articles published
- presentations delivered
- awards received
- board memberships
- volunteer organizations (and your role)
- client feedback
- client service philosophy
- links to blog posts you have written
- news and media coverage
- videos of you
- cross-links to other service pages on the website
What Can You Do for Me? Why Service and Practice Area Pages Need to Rock
Every law firm website lists the services they offer clients. Let’s make sure your service and practice summaries engage people and pull them in to learn more. People who are really interested in hiring you will pour through the content you have on the area they are interested in. For this reason, more is better. As you review the current content on your service pages, are you engaged, or are you met with dry content with bullets listing specific services delivered? If your content isn’t engaging, it’s time to bring that writer in again to amp up your practice area pages. Set a goal that every practice or service area page will include:
- basic summary of the service (at least 500 words of written content)
- who you serve and the value you bring to clients
- service-specific representative experience/case results
- blog posts specific to the practice area
- client feedback and testimonials, from clients you have represented for this service (unless your ethics rules prohibit this)
- video or written questions and answers related to the service
- a call to action to schedule a consultation
Bright idea: Consider adding pages for client focuses you have or industries you have expertise in. Look at Lawrence Schaefer’s website again. Note the client focus tab. You can see in this section, content is written with several unique audiences in mind. This is a very powerful marketing tool. For example, the physician and medical professional content alone has generated millions of dollars in revenue for the firm.
The Big Picture
Your website has a massive impact on your success in private practice. Potential clients, referral sources, and even search engines such as Google will judge you based on the design and content of your website. Don’t let them down.
To reward you for sticking with me and reading this article, I’d like to present you with a unique offer. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will conduct a free, no-strings-attached website audit. We will look at the content, design, and underlying code and provide recommendations on ways to improve your website. I know you’re busy, but investing in your website will deliver the highest ROI you could hope for. Having a website that uses current best practices is not only the right thing to do; it will generate a steady stream of A-level clients into your practice.