Can Your Clients Find What They Need on Your Website?

mazeEver gotten so frustrated by not being able to find what you needed in a store that you just walked out? Don’t let that happen to your web visitors!

I was struck by an article in MarketingProfs by Leigh Duncan about her bad experience at an Apple store. Although generally a fan of Apple products, Ms. Duncan described her experience in this store as “bad,” but she turned lemons into lemonade by writing an article about her experience which she says contains some good lessons for anyone managing the retail merchandising experience.

But what does any of this have to do with a law practice? Not only does Duncan’s experience contain great lessons for retailers, but many of those lessons are applicable to law firm websites as well.

Here are some of Duncan’s highlights about her experience, and I’ve added my thoughts about how they relate to law firm websites:

Navigating the store was difficult and annoying. How is the navigation on your website? Are the navigation buttons large enough to read? Are they easy to find? Is it clear what those navigation buttons ‘point’ to? Are those buttons consistently labeled on all of your pages? Are the navigation buttons located in the same place on each page? Can your clients find their way back to the home page easily?

Navigation isn’t limited to the navigation buttons. Does your site include links to other resources or other pages on your site? Is it obvious that links are links? Do all links look the same?

Ensure that signs are not out of sight or difficult to read. Does your site contain sufficient signage? Is every page clearly labeled? When your web visitor arrives at your site, are there clear signs that indicate that they’re in the right place? Are the titles or headlines on each page sufficient to alert the visitor exactly where they are on your site?

Signage is particularly important on a home page or particular landing pages to which your web visitors are directed. Studies have shown that web visitors decide in only a few seconds whether a site is likely to provide them with what they’re looking for. If they have to guess, or take time to figure it out, chances are they’ll be gone before you know it.

Don’t make it difficult to get help. Duncan suggests that stores should provide customers with visible help, possibly in the form of employees that greet customers as they arrive. Your website should have virtual help conspicuously available, too. Is your contact information easy to locate on the site? Can your website visitor contact you from any page? Is there a way that visitors can ask questions? Does your site provide visitors with the information they’re seeking? Is there enough information on your site for visitors to feel comfortable with you and your firm?

Are you directing your web visitor through your site, suggesting the ‘next step’ on your site that they might want to visit? You’re not there in person to direct them the way you would be if you were giving a potential client a tour of your office, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to guide them. Make sure your website guides your visitor where you want them to go. And don’t forget to include a call to action so that your visitors know what to do; encourage them to contact you!

Don’t make visitors ‘work’ too hard find what they need. How much are you making your website visitors ‘work’ to get the information they need? If someone comes to your site looking for information on a particular practice area, how many ‘clicks’ does it take for them to get there? Can they tell at a glance how to obtain this information? Is it easy to read the information?

Is the layout clear and uncluttered? Is the font large enough to read? Is it clear? Do the colors contribute to the impression that your site is trying to create? Do they blend into one another, making text difficult to read? Are they too jarring?

Is your site organized in a logical way? Are the names of your links and navigation buttons easily understandable to your average web visitor/potential client/referral source, or are other lawyers the only ones that would understand the titles and links? Would your average client easily understand your text without you there to explain it?

Let people get in and out easily. Are there barriers to entering your site, such as flash introductions or graphics that take a long time to load? Most visitors are likely to click away, rather than put up with the wait or the introduction when they’re looking for information.

Although audio can be an effective addition to a website, audio which plays automatically when a website loads can be distracting and annoying, particularly when the web visitor reaches your site during work hours, when they don’t want to ‘announce’ their presence on your site, or don’t wnat to disturb others in the area.

Don’t place congested areas close together. Although your website won’t have problems of congestion and crowding the way a retail store might, visual congestion is an important consideration for law firm websites. Too much visual clutter can tire and confuse visitors, making them more likely to click away from your site. The eye needs a place to rest – is there enough white space on your web pages to encourage visitors to keep reading?

Remember your ‘customers’ when designing your website, and consistently review your site to ensure that it is continuing to meet the needs of those customers. And remember also that where your website is concerned, your customers include not only potential clients, but also current clients and referral sources, among others. Make sure you make their ‘visit’ to your virtual office on the web is a pleasant experience, and one they would like to repeat.

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Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

Have You Forgotten the Most Important Aspect of Your Website?

“To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

I like to start off my relationship with any client by discussing their purpose – not just the purpose for the individual project or problem we’ll be working on together, but the client’s overall purpose for their firm. It’s an integral part of every firm’s mission, which means that the purpose should guide all of the firm’s activities. A firm’s website is no exception. Unfortunately, many of us don’t give too much thought to the purpose of the website beyond wanting it to be a way of getting clients.

Purpose needs to be considered not only for the website as a whole, but also for each element on the site, and particularly each individual page. Each page of your site must have a specific purpose. If you don’t know what that purpose is, and what you want your clients or website visitors to do as a result, how do you expect them to know?

When people are searching the web, they want information, and they want it quickly. They don’t want to have to think. If your site is too hard to navigate or they can’t find what they want or understand your message in a very short period of time, more likely than not they’ll click away and look for someone else that can help them. That means you have to lead your web visitors around and tell them exactly what it is you want them to do. Where do you want them to go after they read your home page? Do you want them to read about your practice areas? Look at client testimonials? Sign up for your firm newsletter? 

Sure, there’s a navigation bar, and web visitors are free to use it. By why not tell them what you think is the next, most important step in their visit to your site? You wouldn’t have clients just wander around your office to discover things for themselves, would you? Of course not – you give them a personal tour of the office, pointing out the things you think will make the most difference to them. It’s the same with your website. Be your web visitors’ personal tour guide. And make sure you know and clearly convey the purpose of each and every element on your site.

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If you liked these articles, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and you’ll receive new articles in your in-box. The articles in the newsletter are not available to the public – the only way to see those articles is to receive the newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Does Your Website Forget About Your Clients?

Your firm just finished its next generation website. It’s got new colors and sophisticated looking graphics. You’ve finally posted bios of all of the lawyers in the firm, complete with photos and contact information. You’ve outlined your practice areas. Your site promises clients a broad range of experience, quality service, and superior results. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that although you may think your site is ‘cutting edge,’ many law firm websites fail to reach even a portion of their potential. Frequently, they are no more than on-line versions of a firm’s brochure or Yellow Pages ad. One way this manifests itself is in the firm’s failure to address or consider the clients’ needs and interests on the website.

Passing commentary about experience and service, without more, leaves the client out of the equation. Law firms miss a huge opportunity when they go to great lengths to describe their accomplishments or experience but fail to explain in concrete terms how those things help the client. Vague representations about ‘results’ don’t tell the client anything of significance.

Try looking at your website from the perspective of your clients. What are they looking for when they come to your site? Don’t think about what you want them to know – think about what they want to know. Or, if you must, tell them what you want them to know, but then make sure you tell them why it is (or should be) important to THEM. Why does your experience matter to the client? In what way?

Does your site provide useful content to your clients? Is it a resource that they will return to over and over again? Are you providing information that affects them and their business or the issues that affect your representation? If you’ve written an article or given a talk that would be of interest to your clients, why not re-purpose it as an article on your website? Do you give talks or presentations to clients? If so, putting a list of topics that you’ve spoken about, or that you are available to speak to clients about, can be another way of letting clients know you’re there to help them, and that you’re on top of the latest issues that affect them.

What else are clients looking for from your site? Do you have the basics, like directions to your office? Is it easy to tell from your site who a client should contact if they have a question? Is the navigation on the site clear and easy to follow? 

Is the copy on your site easy to read? Can the reader scan (as many web readers do) and still get the important points of your message? Does the text engage the reader, or is it so dry and boring that they’re likely to click away? Are there examples and statistics that demonstrate to the client that you know what you’re talking about? Examples of past successes, testimonials or case studies can go a long way to demonstrate that your firm is the one they should choose – or stay with. 

There are lots of things to think about when writing and designing your site. Your website shouldn’t be all about you – don’t forget to consider your clients.

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If you liked these articles, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and you’ll receive new articles in your in-box. The articles in the newsletter are not available to the public – the only way to see those articles is to receive the newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Is Your Packaging Distracting From Your Message?

I’ve talked before about making sure your website (and every element on your site) has a specific purpose, making sure that your site is focused on your clients and their problems, and showing your customers where to go on your site. Another concept which is related to all of the above is the concept of distraction. Is your site too busy? When looking at the pages on your site, is it unclear where to look first? Are there too many things competing for a visitor’s attention? Is it hard to read the text on your site?

If there are too many things competing for your web visitor’s attention, it distracts from your message. Since most web surfers are looking for information, make sure your site doesn’t compete with the valuable informatioin and education you’re providing on your site. You don’t want to divert your clients’ attention away from the real value of your site – the content you’re providing.

Packaging is important in any marketing materials, and particularly with a website. If the site isn’t attractive, your web visitors may not stay to read your content. But there’s a definite line between attractive and distracting, and that’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Some web site owners like to ‘show off’ by using every “cool trick” at their disposal, regardless of whether that tool is appropriate for the particular site. Don’t fall into that trap.

Your website, just like your brochure, the quality of your work and the way your receptionist answers the phone, affects the impression others have of your practice. It’s important to ensure that you make that impression a positive one. Lawyers are in the relationship building business. Those relationships are built on trust. Your website needs to convey that you can be trusted to advise your clients and to help them through their difficulties. If your website’s ‘package’ is distracting or leaves visitors stranded, chances are that it’s detracting from your image as a trusted advisor.

Here are some distracting elements to watch out for on your site:

  • Text in all caps. Placing text, even headlines, in all capital letters is difficult to read.
  • Text blocks that are too large. Long lines of text are difficult to read. Most web visitors are skimming (at least initially), and large blocks of text can be overwhelming or intimidating and can cause visitors to click away from your page or site. Break up large text blocks by adding subheads, or even just making the first few words or the first line of each paragraph bold, so web visitors can skim through the text and still get the main points. If you capture their interest, they’ll read the rest.
  • Broken links. Make sure your links are all working. Nothing is more frustrating than clicking on a link in a website that doesn’t work.
  • ‘Fancy’ buttons and links or unclear navigation. Make sure your buttons and links look like buttons and links on your site. There are certain conventions on the internet, and changing them around just confuses visitors. Since underlining on the web is used for links, don’t underline text that isn’t meant to be a link.
  • Sideways scrolling. Scrolling down to read text is something most web surfers are used to, and are willing to do. Scrolling sideways is frustrating and distracting. The text in a newspaper, book, or magazine doesn’t go all the way across the page – neither should the text on your site.
  • Sites that look good only in one browser. Make sure your site works in all different kinds of browsers. Check colors especially – the color that looks beautiful on your browser may be jarring in another browser. Don’t assume that everything looks the same. There are some colors that are considered ‘web safe’.
  • Distracting backgrounds. Trying to make your site look different by using a patterned or colored background? Does it make it difficult to read the site? If it does, ditch the background.
  • Inconsistency between pages. Your site should always look like your site. All of the pages on your site should look consistent – they should look like they all belong to the same site. Navigation should always look the same and be in the same place on every page, so visitors alawyas know where to find what they’re looking for.
  • Graphics that take forever to load. Is that graphic really important to your site? Can you make it load faster? If it takes too long, many web visitors will just give up and go somewhere else before your site even loads.
  • Blinking text. Some law firm sites use blinking text, thinking that it will draw visitors’ attention to an important piece of text. The problem is that even after visitors read the ‘importan’t blinking text, they’re distracted by it, and it prevents them from concentrating on the rest of your text. There are other ways to draw attention to important text by the use of placement, white space, headlines and other techniques. Blinking text just distracts from the rest of the page.

Although your site must have quality content that brings clients and prospective clients to your site and builds credibility, the packaging is important, too. Don’t let distracting packaging overshadow the content on your site.

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If you liked these articles, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and you’ll receive new articles in your in-box. The articles in the newsletter are not available to the public – the only way to see those articles is to receive the newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

 

Are You Educating Your Clients and Prospects?

EducateEducation is key to attracting prospects and keeping current clients. Is your website a tool for educating your clients? Does it contain articles written by you or others in your firm? Does it explain relevant areas of the law? Your website is a place that prospects and clients often get a first or second ‘look’ at you – you’ve given someone a business card or met them briefly and they’ve gone on your website to ‘check you out.’ Or they’re looking for a particular kind of lawyer or researching a legal problem on the internet and they’ve come across your site. What is it that they’re looking for? They’re looking for good information.

If your website is just an online version of your brochure, you’re missing an opportunity to establish credibility and show your prospects and clients that you are experienced and knowledgeable in your area of the law – not by telling them, but by showing them.

I’ve talked to lawyers who balk at this idea at first, because they’re afraid they’ll be ‘giving something away’ either to prospects who will read the information on their site and try to do it themselves or to adversaries who will get an insight into how they work. But the reality is that the prospects who will tend to ‘do it themselves’ probably wouldn’t hire you in the first place, and if they did, they’d be the kind of client you probably wouldn’t want anyway. More often, prospects will look at your site and all of the information and educational materials contained there and they’ll conclude that you’re the one they want because you understand their problem.

As for adversaries, the educational material that will be posted on your website shouldn’t be a potential threat. It will express your personality and some of the general points of law or recent cases that have come down in your area of the law, but won’t give away your strategy or novel legal arguments that haven’t already been used. Adversaries can learn a lot by reviewing previous decisions, by talking to others with whom you’ve had cases in the past, and by reading motions, filed court papers or published jury verdict information. All of that is public information, and is already available.

Educating your prospects helps you, too. It gives them a bit of background, a little of the information you’d be giving the during the initial consultation or first telephone call anyway. It will reinforce the points you’re trying to make when you do meet with them, and it will make that initial meeting more comfortable for the prospect, who will already be familiar with some of what you’re saying.

One of my favorite concepts (that I’ve learned from Sean D’Souza of www.psychotactics.com) is, “give the idea, sell the system.” You can put a lot of educational information, articles, case studies and commentaries on the current status of the law on your site and not touch ‘the system’ – that elusive thing we call attorney work product. But in order to establish yourself and to instill confidence in your prospects and clients, it makes sense to educate them. They’ll see you in the role as the teacher and advisor, the one who they want to lead them through the legal minefield.

By the way, this principle applies throughout your representation – not just in your marketing or on your website. Continually educating your clients about the changing status of the law, how it affects them and their business will keep them coming back – and referring others to you.

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If you liked these articles, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and you’ll receive new articles in your in-box. The articles in the newsletter are not available to the public – the only way to see those articles is to receive the newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!

Are You A Good Storyteller?

Are you a good story teller?

Most good trial lawyers know that telling a story is the best way to get their point across to a jury. But many lawyers forget that storytelling is an essential part of their everyday practice. Even attorneys that will never see the inside of a courtroom can benefit from being good storytellers.

The February issue of Entrepreneur magazine contains a quote from Jeffrey Davis, Founder of Mage, LLC: “All businesses that grow have a story. The more powerful the story, the more it draws people into the organization.”

What’s the story of your practice? Are there specific reasons why you decided to practice in a particular area of the law? Did you decide to pursue adoption law because of difficulties adopting your child? Did you decide to pursue criminal law because you witnessed an injustice? What about your firm? Did its founders have a special reason for coming together?

When others understand or can relate to your story, they feel they have more of a stake in your practice. They’ll be more willing to help the firm succeed. Share your stories with your staff and your clients and create a more powerful connection.

Storytelling is an essential component of marketing, too. Mark Silver of Heart of Business puts out an e-zine, and this week’s edition was entitled “The Healing Power of Marketing.” His main article was all about telling stories in your marketing – and particularly connecting with your target market by telling their stories.

Everyone likes to feel that they’re not alone – that someone understands them and their problems. Storytelling, at its heart, is a way of connecting people with similar experiences. Have you ever listened to the lyrics to a song and thought it was written just for you? If you have, you know what it feels like when your experiences or you feelings are validated, when you feel understood. That’s storytelling. And it’s compelling.

Marketing that conveys an understanding of the client’s problem, and a real solution to that problem, is effective. In order to do that, you must be able to tell the client’s story as well as your own.

Don’t forget that listening is an important part of the equation, too. Listening carefully while clients tell their stories demonstrates empathy and commitment. It helps you tell their story effectively to the court, opposing counsel, claims adjusters, the trademark office, etc. And building a greater understanding of your clients’ stories helps convey to future clients that you understand them and their needs and that you can help them, too.

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If you liked these articles, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and you’ll receive new articles in your in-box. The articles in the newsletter are not available to the public – the only way to see those articles is to receive the newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Want to learn how I can help you? Learn more about the products and services I offer by clicking here.

Allison

Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com. I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!