Today’s guest blog was contributed by Sommer Jacob, founder of Studio North. She is a designer and a marketing and brand consultant with 20 years of experience that includes designing websites for attorneys and law firms.*
A website is often the first resource prospective clients use to determine whether or not a law firm will meet their needs. Websites give them a snapshot of the experience, specialties, abilities, people, services and reputation your firm has to offer – often times long before they meet you or your partners, making them far more important than traditional means, like a business card. Within seconds, a visitor decides whether to stay on your site or jump to another site that is more attractive, user-friendly and informative. This could mean the difference between hiring you or another firm. If you don’t have a website, you are not fulfilling a client’s need to research you or your firm, and your image runs the risk of being determined by one disgruntled client who posts a complaint somewhere on social media.
Where do I start?
If it’s such a good thing to have a website, why don’t more law firms have one? Why doesn’t yours? It may be a comfort-level issue. Perhaps websites are not your specialty. You don’t know where to start. It’s an inconvenience and time consuming, and it may seem full of challenges that you don’t know how to resolve. That’s why choosing a good website designer can be a tremendous help! A good designer works with you to reduce the complexity and help you overcome what you see as challenges. She or he can help you determine your goals for the website and create a call to action that will invite your visitors to follow the roadmap that is most beneficial for you. You will end up with a website that captures the attention of visitors and engages them long enough to learn more about what you can do for them.
How will prospective clients find us?
Though visitors may come to your website via other media, such as a law list, LinkedIn, Facebook or a Google search, you shouldn’t assume that any one of those resources can entirely take the place of a website. You can’t do much to control the look and feel of a standard social media platform. Their format is pretty consistent with limited opportunities to costomize your page. Because you have very little control over the look and feel and do not own the space, you are building something on “borrowed land.” With a website, you “own the property” and can create something that truly represents the way you want your firm to be seen by your potential clients. You can “invite people in” and give them a chance to really get to know the members of your firm, what you stand for and what you’ve done to help existing clients.
On the other hand, you are missing out if you are not promoting your website on other media, including print and as part of your signature line. That’s an important way that you will drive traffic to your site. Ask your designer about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and what key words and links you can use in your content to get your website to rise to the top of a search page. Although you are the “subject matter expert” and will provide the initial text, a good designer will help you edit your content to enhance the copy, to be sure it meets compliance standards and that it contains key words prospective clients are searching on.
Is Compliance an issue?
Creating a website for a law firm can be much different than for another type of business, because of the need for ethical compliance. Every state has different “Best Practices” that need to be adhered to. For example, you have to be careful about the way you endorse your company or yourself. To say that you are the “best attorney” is not considered “professional conduct” by the American Bar Association. When you are looking for a website designer, be sure to ask if they are aware of the ways in which you must be ethically compliant within the industry. It’s not unethical to promote your firm, but you have to be strictly honest and not make false or vague promises. The focus should be on how you can serve your clients. Testimonials and reviews can help to build trust and credibility, and there should at least be links to them on the Home Page.
How can a website help build or protect my Online Reputation?
Today, your reputation lives on the Internet, meaning it isn’t just about the word-of-mouth reputation you’ve achieved. Recent studies show more than 90 percent of consumers use the Web to research people, companies and products before buying, and 80 percent make decisions based on what they find. If a disgruntled former client is slandering you and your business online, it doesn’t matter how strong of a word-of-mouth referral you’ve been given. Potential clients probably won’t take the time to evaluate you and your firm’s services any farther—they’ll do business with your competitor instead.
Building and protecting your firm’s reputation begins by “owning” your name and also your firm’s on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and of course your own website. There are many other key websites you should also get listed online with, such as Yelp and the Better Business Bureau. It’s also recommend you protect partners and other key attorneys’ online identities by having simple personal websites with their names, i.e., http://www.YourName.com.
The second critical piece in building your firm’s online reputation is having a “first-party reviews” system within your firm’s website. Asking your clients to write a testimonial for your website, as well as giving you a “5-Star Review,” is power in today’s Internet. Testimonials will help to increase your prominence in search results, as well as to build a protective shield around you when negative comments arise online. One negative comment is easily overshadowed when people see 20, 40, or more positive comments.
What should be the goal of my website?
You will also want your designer to go through a discovery process during which he or she learns enough about your specialties and goals to be able to create a website that moves your firm in the desired direction. For example, if your main goal is to turn a visitor into a paying client, the Home Page on your website would look different than if your goal is to tell them more about the background and experience of different members of your staff or to inform them where and at what time they can find you. It is important to direct your content toward the client you are hoping to attract and help via your website.
Will our website work on phones?
Simplicity and ease of use is a given for a law firm’s website. When people are looking for an attorney, they might be coming from a place of stress, angst and possible intimidation. They might even be in crisis mode. Being “User-friendly” and giving the visitor a good experience is more important than flashy graphics or video. Even though you are the content expert when it comes to the text on your sight, you need an expert to help you eliminate unnecessary legal jargon and to create the best possible user experience for your site visitors. Simplicity also makes it easier for your website to appear and function the same way on cell phones or tablets or on any other platform.
I want the “website of the future”!
Websites are changing to embrace the future of communication and marketing. The “website of the future” is an education piece that is responsive and appears consitantly across a variety of platforms. It’s about creating interest and credibility around a specialty and the users experience. Content is stil King, and can mention your achievements and successes, but that shouldn’t be the main focus. Again, it’s important to have someone who will help you to determine your goals and make your website a significant tool to achieve them. The more personal and approachable your firm and the members of your team seem, the more clients will feel they can reach out to you for the help they need.
by Sommer Jacob, Studio North
- 2720 E. Broadway Ave. | Bismarck, ND 58501
“Studio North designed a fantastic website for my law firm. The talents of Sommer Jacob are incredible, on every level. Her ability and creativity are outstanding and her final product is a work of art. Should anyone need or desire a website for their business, I would highly recommend Studio North.”
The National List of Attorneys
As a forwarder, you can always turn to The National List of Attorneys to help you find an attorney specializing in debt collection, who has been vetted to meet your specific needs. Call us at 800.227.1675 or visit our website at www.nationallist.com.