Quick: Websites are your billboard to the world

Keywords Jon Quick / Opinion
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By now you realize that a website is an integral part of your law firm business. Right? OK. Progress noted. And all you have to do is “build it and they will come,” right? Wrong.

Today’s smart attorneys know the critical importance of a great website. They know it should be one of their major investments for branding and communicating the services and spirit of today’s law firms. They also know that a great website is never complete.

“Staying current with social media and website marketing is of utmost important. If your social media isn’t used or your website contains old and outdated information, clients may get the impression you don’t handle matters in a timely manner,” said attorney Rebecca W. Geyer, the current president of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation.

My company has been specializing in marketing for law firms for almost 10 years, and as I listen to client needs during the initial working relationship, I still hear, “Well, I think we have a fine website, but no one seems to ever mention it, nor do we seem to get much business from it, even though we invested thousands of dollars to build it.” That is a problem. Yet, it’s a resolvable problem.

Let’s discuss the common issues with law firm websites and see how yours stacks up.

Domain name: Before you even start to build your site, do some serious thinking about your domain name. Be sure that it relates to your firm, is simple enough to be easily remembered and does not contain words that are easily misspelled. You should also be sure it’s not too similar to other domain names. To protect yourself from any confusion, consider buying additional available names that people might associate with your firm. For example, if the name of your firm is Braunjosh, Friedrich, Alexopoulos & Nikolaev, it would be understandable that you might shorten your website domain name to bfanlawfirm.com. While you’re at it, purchase bfanlawfirm.net and others that people might type in the address bar by mistake, and have your webmaster point all the names to your main site. You won’t go broke. Domain names are cheap.

Design: Your site should be eye-catching and impactful without being out of character for your law firm. Use colors that blend well and use photos and graphics that are sharp and attractive. Try to differentiate your site so it doesn’t look like others in your practice area, and use emotion to draw in your visitors. If you’re a personal injury firm, for instance, consider images other than the cliché use of an ambulance and a car wreck. Also make the website easy to navigate so that the user can quickly find the information they are looking for, and have links to your contact information on every page.

Realize that your website will create the first impression people have about your practice. Don’t skimp on one of your most important tools – invest in it. Oh, and about that staff picture? Skip the one of all of you lined up wearing black and looking at the camera with stern looks on your faces. Humanize yourself and look approachable.

Content: Keep the text to a minimum. Write short paragraphs and use headings and bullet points – no one is going to read lengthy paragraphs. Also be sure to watch the use of “legalese.” Keep your content consumer friendly and relate it to the emotions of the visitor. Use the word “you” and show customers you understand what it’s like to be a victim, whether it’s by being involved in a contentious divorce or a life-altering vehicular accident. Communicate to visitors that you are the leader, and make your website the “go-to” site for the best information about your practice areas.

Remember ethics: Realize that, ethically, you must be in compliance with the rules related to law firm marketing when creating a website as much as you would be when creating any other form of marketing.

Compatibility: Many times, your website will be viewed on a smartphone, so be sure your site looks good on smartphones and other devices. Also, confirm that your site works on popular web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari.

Video: The use of video on a website is almost a necessity for maximizing its effectiveness. There is no question your site will be viewed more often, and visitors will stay with you longer, if there is video. People would much rather view a great video than read paragraphs of the written word. Note, however, that your video must be well-produced or the opposite effect will occur – people will quickly tune out.

Tracking: Utilize a tool like Google Analytics to track how many people come to your website, where they come from, what they look at, how long they stay and what keywords they use to find you. This data can be invaluable when analyzing the effectiveness of your site and can guide you in making improvements to it.

SEO: The critical importance of SEO, or search engine optimization, is so often overlooked and misunderstood. To put it very simply, SEO is a technique that helps your website appear higher in the search engine rankings when someone searches for a law firm in your practice area. Your goal should be to appear on the first page of a search engine, as people will not often look further than even the second page. SEO is almost a “science” and too complex to fully discuss here. Just realize you need this and, without it, even the most beautiful websites will be seen by far less people, which means you are losing potential clients.

Content update: Again, a website is not a “set it and forget it” product. You may have an attractive site, you may have spent thousands of dollars on it, but it’s worthless unless you keep it current. I can cite an experience with a well-known attorney whose website basically stopped at 2002, when she spoke to a bar association. The last blog she wrote was written a decade ago. Where has she been the last 15 years?

Your site should reflect the current state of your practice area. Also, in addition to fresh and up-to-date text, you need to update your graphics and videos from time to time. Not only will this help make you the “go-to” firm, but it can dramatically help your SEO – not to mention your reputation.

In the words of local attorney Josh F. Brown, who has totally mastered the art of creating effective websites, “Not maintaining it, keeping it fresh and relevant to your target audience is a big mistake that can result in a lot of missed opportunity. Your website is your personality, brand, and billboard to the world.”•

Jon Quick is the president and founder of Carmel-based QPR and Marketing, specializing in marketing for law firms. With over 25 years of experience in media, Jon is a former manager with CBS and Emmis Communications. He can be reached at 371.432.0309 or by email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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