Lawyer Website Mistakes
It used to be that when someone was in the market for an attorney, they let their fingers do the walking through their local Yellow Pages. Now however, more and more individuals and businesses locate a law firm to work with by surfing the Net.
If you’re an attorney therefore, it’s increasingly important that you have a presence on the Internet and that your web site do a good job of marketing your firm. At a minimum that means that your site should:
• Be well–designed
• Be easy to navigate
• Feature helpful, well-written copy. At a minimum the copy should describe the services your firm provides and your professional background and experience as well as that of any attorneys who may work for you.
Overall, your site should convey a sense of professionalism and competence.
With these web site criteria in mind, I recently spent a day visiting the web sites of various consumer bankruptcy attorneys. I was not impressed with what I found. Okay, a few sites met my standards, but the vast majority were bad, if not downright awful. (By the way, bad web sites are not exclusive to bankruptcy law firms; I’ve seen plenty of other kinds of law firms with bad web sites too. So even if you’re not a bankruptcy attorney, you may want to read on.)
As I visited the attorney web sites, I jotted down the various mistakes I saw. Then I reviewed all of those mistakes to identify the ones that occurred most frequently. The result is this list of fifteen. Study it carefully if you don’t have a web site yet, but are planning one. And, if your firm already has a site, look it over. Is your site guilty of any of these mistakes?
• Tiny type. Steer clear of type that is so small it almost hurts your eyes to read. Another readability tip: Don’t cram the lines of type on your site too close together. Put some white space between them.
• Type that is so light, it’s barely readable. For example, have you ever tried to read pale yellow type on a white background? Enough said.
• Overly bright or fluorescent colors. I’m sorry, but these colors simply don’t look professional.
• Too much information. Don’t feel like you have to share on your web site everything you know on a particular topic. Too much information is overwhelming. Your site should convey the most important facts, address the issues your clients ask about most often, and provide information visitors can use.
• Poorly written copy. I was surprised to see so much bad writing on the sites I visited! Poorly worded sentences, overly long sentences, sentences that seem to have been stuck into a paragraph for no rhyme or reason, even grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors.
Bad web site copy reflects badly on your law firm. If you can’t write crisp, clear sentences, hire someone to write the copy for you. And if you insist on writing your own web site copy, have a professional editor go through it with a “fine toothed comb.”
• Paragraphs that are way too long. Shorter paragraphs are more apt to hold a reader’s interest than paragraphs that go on and on and on.
• Copy written in a passive, not an active voice. Here are two sentences that convey the same information. The first sentence is written in a passive voice and the second has an active voice:
“Your paperwork will be reviewed by an attorney with our firm.”
“An attorney with our firm will review your paperwork.”
The sentence written in the passive voice is more formal and stilted, while the second sentence – the one written in an active voice – reads more like how we speak. It’s more informal.
One of your goals with a web site is to start establishing a relationship with a potential client -- gaining the trust of that person or business. Copy that is less impersonal --- more active – does a better job of that than more formal copy. Your web site copy should not have the same tone as a legal brief!
• Overly technical copy. You may understand all of the legal terms and jargon on your web site, but most visitors to the site will not. Write in plain English, not legalese.
And here are more mistakes to avoid:
• Copy that reads too much like an advertisement. I saw way too many sites where every page, regardless of the purported subject of the page, was nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to urge visitors to contact the firm. If your site is virtually one big sales pitch, you risk conveying the message that you’re more interested in getting clients and making money off of them than helping clients resolve their legal problems. A more effective marketing approach is for your site to clearly convey to visitors that your law firm has the skills, experience and commitment to help them.
• Keyword stuffing. Don’t try to cram every key word you can think of that’s related to your legal practice onto a single page of your site. Not only do all of those words stuffed together look like silly gibberish and make you appear unprofessional, but also Google hates keyword stuffing. So if you do it, it will hurt, not help, your search engine results.
• Headers that make no sense. Here are a few examples I saw on one of the sites I visited: "San Antonio Automatic Stay Attorneys" and "San Antonio Credit Card Debt Lawyers, Texas Credit Counseling Attorney." I realize that some attorneys use these nonsensical headings in an effort to improve their search engine results, but the headings detract from their sites.
• Too much going on. Some of the sites I visited were so busy that it was difficult to know where to focus and where to find the most important information. For example, some sites had busy backgrounds, competing videos, multiple buttons and bars, and a wide variety of type styles and sizes -- all on the same page! I am sure I am not the only person who responds to all of this busyness by moving on to another site as quickly as possible. The lesson? Keep your site simple. The more you try to do on a particular page, the less impact you will have. Less is definitely more when it comes to web site design.
• No order to the sequencing of tabs on a navigation bar. Think about how you organize the tabs on your navigation bar. Make it quick and easy for visitors to find the information they need!
• Locating your main tabs below the fold. Put your main tabs – the ones that take visitors to the parts of your site that you really want visitors to see, like your services, your bio, your contact information and your home page, above the fold, not below it. It’s okay to put links to the less important areas of your site in a less visible place – below the fold, in a sidebar, or in pull-down menus within the main tabs -- but your main tabs should stand out and that means putting them above the fold.
• Placing social media buttons at the bottom of your home page. If you want visitors to your site to click through to your Facebook page, Twitter page, and so on, then put the buttons for those sites above the fold where they are most apt to be seen. If they are towards the bottom of the page, many visitors to your site may not scroll down far enough to see the buttons.
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