Human beings are built to size each other up quickly. While we’re repeatedly told from a young age to look beyond the surface, first impressions carry a tremendous amount of weight and influence on our decision-making, even when we’re presented with lots of evidence to the contrary. This is doubly true in the online space.
That’s why, as a law firm, it’s critical to nail the design of your website from the outset. A website is the foundational piece of your law firm’s online presence, your best opportunity to make a strong first impression and increase your client base.
Your legal team may already have a website up and running, but is it properly designed and optimized for conversion? If not, your message isn’t being heard and your audience is flocking to your competitors instead.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a well-designed law firm website. What works on a corporate law website will not necessarily be appropriate for one centered on family law – each legal sector has a different demographic to satisfy.
If you’re going to persuade your audience that you are the right firm for them, you’ll have to be conscious of several things, including the tone and style of your site as well as the type of content you provide.
As busy legal professionals, with time and budget constraints, this may seem like a tall task.
That’s why the experts at the Mike Agency have compiled this handy guide on what makes a good law firm website. In it, we break down your initial considerations, the seven most important tips for increasing your client base as well as some of the more finite details of delivering a great online presence.
Understanding law firm website visitors
Before you can design an exceptional law firm website that drives web traffic, you first need to understand your target demographic. Who are your visitors? What are their main concerns, their expectations? If you can identify this right off the bat, you’ll be able to provide them more of what they want and less of what they don’t – a strong baseline for all human interaction on the internet.
This process will obviously vary depending on your law firm’s specific legal niche and the type of client that you’re looking to attract. It goes without saying that a potential client seeking out personal injury services looks very different from commercial clients dealing with intellectual property concerns. We recommend developing some client personas so you can really get into their head space.
Identify your firm’s unique value proposition
Once you know who you want to target, you need to establish how your firm will win them over – your unique value proposition. A value proposition defines the tangible benefit you deliver to your clients over other attorneys. It’s reflected in everything that you do, from the design of your website to the pieces of content you publish.
If you’re struggling to identify what you bring to the table, do the following exercise:
- Pinpoint how your services solve your audience’s concerns. Instead of fixating on what features your firm provides, home in on the benefits they offer the end user.
- Position yourself as the provider of this value. Using your website, position yourself as the provider of this unique value to clients. Display it prominently on your home page and throughout your site.
Prepping your site with an audit
Armed with a unique value proposition, the next logical step for a law firm is to evaluate its current website offering (if you’re starting from scratch, you can skip this).
You’ll want to run a content audit to see if your site aligns with your unique value proposition. At the bare minimum, this involves compiling a list of all pages and content, with content type, URLs and page titles clearly denoted.
Your goal with this audit is to take one of several actions:
- Is the content relevant to your audience, current and search-optimized? Keep it.
- Is it relevant but outdated and/or not optimized? Update it.
- Is it not relevant? Delete it.
There are several audit tools out there to expedite this process, such as Google Search Console or Lighthouse, that will give your firm actionable insights and keep you ready, since benchmarks, metrics and algorithms are constantly being updated.
This requires a little technical know-how, so if you don’t have an in-house web team, the web development experts at the Mike Agency are standing by. We’ll review your law firm’s website, page-by-page, and provide some easy-to-follow recommendations.
Best practices for law firm website design
Now that you’ve laid down the groundwork, here are seven key practices you should follow when designing (or redesigning) your law firm website:
1) Keep it clean, practical and unique. Your law firm website is the first impression of your brand, so make it a memorable one. Every aspect of the visual design, from the colours to the typeface, should be consistent with the image you want to create.
You are after all the sum of your efforts. If you take a cookie-cutter approach, don’t be surprised if your target audience sees you as a cookie-cutter firm. When in doubt, minimalism and a professional feel are preferable for a law firm website. Seeing as visitors only read 28 per cent of the words during an average site visit, less is definitely more.
We recommend incorporating a large “hero area” on your homepage – essentially a block of image and/or text – to capture user attention and set the tone for the rest of the experience. Make sure you also have a professional logo design as well as a clear call to action (CTA) on your homepage, ideally visible above the fold.
Keep in mind, the best law firm websites are updated on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to have an accessible content management system, so that employees can refresh things as needed.
2) Showcase services and attorney bios. You’ll want to ensure that your practice pages are ranking well in search results. Why? Research shows that when visiting a site, users tend to go to the practice pages first and then to attorney profiles and About Us pages.
Purchasing a legal service is a very personal experience. Clients want to know what service they can get and what kind of engagement they will receive. By clearly outlining your services (with client testimonials wherever appropriate) and including detailed attorney profiles that convey their personalities, you offer that reassurance.
The most important thing to remember is that you should write everything on your website in plain English instead of using legal jargon, as this will frustrate the user and deter them from your services.
3) Provide in-depth, authoritative and well-structured content. This is the meat and potatoes of any great law firm website. With the right website content you’ll be able to rank on the first page of search engines , which will help real people find you; once they’re on your site, it ensures that they stay there and don’t leave prematurely (increasing your bounce rate).
What kind of content should you provide? You need to step into their shoes and understand who you’re creating content for so that you can tailor the type and how you create it. It should be easily digestible (devoid of complicated legal jargon) and focus in on the “Why.”
For example, if your niche is in corporate law, we recommend using a more formal business tone and home in on longer-form content to showcase your legal expertise. If you’re specialty lies in family law, you’ll want to communicate in a softer, human tone with concise website content to reflect the immediacy of your clients’ needs.
Crafting service pages
A law firm should build out its website by creating separate pages for each service that it offers, with city modifiers (i.e., Toronto Car Accidents, Toronto Slip and Fall, Toronto Catastrophic Injuries, etc.). Since this is one of the first things that visitors click on when choosing a legal practice, it is important to rank high.
Once you’ve created these additional pages on your law firm website, you’ll need to optimize them for on-page search engine optimization (SEO). The goal is to help the engine understand what each one is about and determine how relevant it is to the searcher. For more detailed information on optimizing your website content for SEO, check out our tips on perfecting your law firm’s SEO strategy.
4) Practical navigation and search functionality. When users visit, they should be able to key in and find exactly what they want, especially if you have a larger, content-rich website.
Include a search feature. If someone is visiting your site, more than likely they are looking for specific information. If it is too difficult for them to find what they want, they will become frustrated and leave your site.
Keep things consistent throughout your site. Every page should have a similar overall layout and design. Why? When people find your site organically through a search, they will likely land on one of these and not necessarily your home page.
Most people are unlikely to read entire pages, so it’s important to keep all your content short and snappy. Create a great experience by:
- Having good headlines and subheadings that grab a visitor’s attention.
- Including clearly label action buttons and links that meet expectations.
- Don’t be afraid to showcase images and graphics that prospective clients can relate to.
Ensure your practices are as prominent as possible in the navigation bar on the home page, as this signals more authority to the Google algorithm. However, don’t clutter your navigation menu with too many pages as this will have the opposite impact. We recommend adding a sidebar instead to each individual page, so that the user can explore topics deeper at their leisure.
5) Technically sound and responsive. It is important that everything on your law firm site works and loads as quickly as possible. People have short attention spans and even shorter levels of patience when browsing online – don’t make them wait.
The longer it takes a page to load, the more likely it is that potential website visitors will close that page and take their business elsewhere. According to Vendasta, bounce rates are highest for mobile shoppers, compared to desktop users. The average webpage takes approximately 88 percent longer to load on mobile. Make sure your site can adapt to fit any screen or device size.
To maximize your success, you’ll want to rethink the way your website looks. On average, a law firm website contains 15 to 20 pages and has the standard sections such as “Home,” “About Us” and “FAQ.” This may be fine starting point, but it doesn’t consider all the sub-specialties of most legal practices – in our experience, personal injury and criminal defense offer the most.
The more complex you make the design of your site, the stronger the infrastructure needs to be behind the scenes to support it. We recommend picking a good host and not over complicating things, to avoid those unnecessary headaches.
6) Don’t obsess over your website domain. It is important but make sure that it isn’t too long. Keep it simple and easy for users to remember and type. We recommend using natural-sounding names. Due to an update in the algorithm, you no longer need to have exact word matches to your law firm’s name in order to show up in search engines.
7) Understand your limitations. Creating a great law firm website takes time, effort and a budget. There is a direct correlation between how much you put it and the quality of your website content. The more valuable the content, the easier it will be to gain contact information from prospects and drive brand awareness to your site.
To see the best results, don’t take shortcuts. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, outsource the work to legal web design experts such as the team at Mike Agency.
Deep dive on website user experience
The user experience is a crucial part of website design that is often overlooked by most law firms.
To rank higher on search engine results (SERPs) and limit your site’s bounce rate, you need to incorporate a more user-focused approach to your search engine optimization (SEO), web design and development. Of course, content is and will always be king; but if users don’t enjoy visiting or using your law firm website, nothing else will matter.
Google page experience update
Aware that similar scenarios are leaving countless users frustrated, Google recently changed a very important algorithm to give preference to law firm sites that are user friendly. The Google Search algorithm was recently updated to incorporate new page experience metrics as search ranking signals for websites. In the words of the developers, the page experience is: “a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.”
In layman terms, these page experience metrics evaluate your site on a technical level, homing in on its usability, page load speed, overall design, mobile experience, navigation and user sentiment.
The goal with this update was to move the conversation away from traditional on-page SEO strategies, such as keyword density and page metadata towards more advanced strategies that encourage the best possible user experience (UX).
Impact on Google search results
We can all agree that visibility is essential for any successful law firm, especially if you’re in such a competitive market.
To reach the broadest possible audience, you’ll have to do your due diligence and meet the criteria for good UX. Competition for the top of search rankings is fierce after all, so just having relevant content won’t cut it.
If your law firm site is lacking in any of the aforementioned departments (i.e., page load speed, mobile friendliness), your Google web rating will suffer and you’ll receive a lower volume of traffic, leads and total conversions from your website.
But this shouldn’t come as a surprise – it’s in Google’s best interests to push forward the best-performing sites. If you, the user, are consistently able to find what you are looking for, the more likely you are to trust the quality of Google’s search results and use it again in the future.
A win-win for everyone.
So, to achieve those higher Google search rankings for targeted keywords and topics, your site must be technically optimized to support the best possible UX – even on mobile. To get there, you’ll need a firm grasp on how page experience works, and the way page experience is measured behind the scenes by Google.
What is the page experience criteria?
According to research, as of August 2020, less than 15 per cent of websites met the Google Page Experience Guide benchmarks. Considering the impact of not meeting these minimums, it’s clear that there are a lot of site owners out there sabotaging their own search results.
To avoid incurring the wrath of google and playing catch-up to future updates, you’ll want to do some page experience optimization. Here are the key components of page experience you need to be aware of:
- The page’s mobile friendliness, including responsive design and accessibility.
- How quickly the page loads, no matter the person’s internet connection.
- The visual stability of your page content in web browsers, based on performance metrics called Core Web Vitals.
Moreover, due to the overwhelming popularity of mobile devices as search tools, Google prioritizes the mobile page experience for indexing and ranking. This means that both your desktop and mobile experiences need to be on par if your law firm wants the best possible SEO performance.
Just make sure you’re patient and give yourself enough leeway, as this isn’t something that you can do overnight. The overall optimization process for all page experience signals can take 15-40 days or more, depending on the volume/severity of your site issues as well as how many pages are being updated. On top of that, there is an additional 28-day turnaround to see the impact of these changes.
Breaking down the key performance metrics: Core Web Vitals
There are three performance-oriented metrics, known collectively as Core Web Vitals, that make up the meat and potatoes of page experience. Core Web Vitals quantify the subjective UX based upon Google’s criteria for an optimal browsing experience. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, so we’ve done our best to break things down into digestible morsels:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). Provides a more accurate way of measuring when the main content on a web page is loaded, rendered and visible to users. The largest content on any given site needs more data to be rendered – usually images, as they are heavier than text. Good LCP occurs within the first 2.5 seconds, while poor LCP is above 4 seconds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). Measures visual stability of your web pages based on how often the layout shifts unexpectedly during the browsing experience. If this happens a lot and users are consistently losing their place on a page (typically from a dynamically resizing third-party ad or widget), they’re experiencing bad CLS. A CLS score under 0.1 is considered good, while anything above 0.25 is considered poor.
- First Input Delay (FID). Measures how long it takes for a web page to respond to the first user interaction such as clicking or tapping a link or button. During FID, the page has loaded some of its content but isn’t completely accessible due to additional background processes. Good FID is under 100 milliseconds, while a poor experience clocks in above 300 milliseconds.
But there’s more…
Outside of the Core Web Vitals, there are a few additional performance markers that you need to keep in mind as a law firm to score highly in this Google page experience update.
We’ve mentioned it before, but don’t overlook your web page loading speed. The faster the load time the better. Google factors in light, initial content like text and buttons as well as the rendering of heavier page elements like images and videos. Work closely with your web development team to optimize your loading performance.
While capitalizing on digital advertising is important, having too many intentional interruptions on your site is a big no-no. Frequent pop-ups or interstitials across the whole page can ruin good UX, especially when the user is on a mobile device with limited space.
Speaking of mobile devices, you’ll need to prioritize mobile usability. Google pulls all your content for indexing and ranking from the mobile version of your site. For good reason too – in Q3 2020, mobile devices generated 50.81 per cent of global website traffic! To score well in mobile search results, you’ll need to:
- Use modern and widely available web technologies to avoid mobile usability errors and ensure broad compatibility.
- Choose a well-coded responsive design that factors in different device screen sizes.
- Make sure your page text and visual elements are formatted accordingly, so that the content is legible and easy to interact with.
An effective law firm website also needs to offer a secure browsing experience. To avoid security issues, choose a secure connection (HTTPS) and leave out any malicious or deceptive content like malware or phishing attacks. If you’re not sure if you meet the safe browsing standards, it’s always good practice to run a safe browsing website check every so often.
As you’re going through the design phase, compare your law firm’s website to your competitors. Can everyone, regardless of physical capability or know-how, make use of every page on your website? During Covid-19, as more and more people began relying on digitally connected legal services, this wasn’t always the case.
There are a few small things you can do to make your site more accessible and improve the page experience, including:
- Adding more descriptive links.
- Utilizing an intuitive URL structure.
- Providing keyword-rich alt text in images.
- Catering to the impaired with audio or video transcriptions (including your keywords).
While it may not seem like much, it goes a long way to improving the page experience and pushing your law firm up the SERP rankings.
►What should be included in a law firm website?
There are a few basic elements you must have on your website. These include:
- Home: As one of the first pages users visit, it’s the best place to capture your audience’s attention and make a great first impression.
- About: This page should communicate your mission, vision and values as well as what makes you unique from other law firms in your legal niche.
- Profiles: The profile page is about the lawyers at your firm, why they do what they do, who they do it for and how they can specifically help clients. Each one will list any awards, previously successful cases and so forth, that demonstrate the personality of the lawyer and the firm.
- Services: The Services page is all about the services your firm delivers and how they benefit your clients.
- Contact: One of the most important pages on your website, the Contact page gives your visitors the opportunity to reach out to you for more information.
►How can I improve my law firm website?
A law firm website should be two things: both functional and accessible to all. When creating your website, it’s critical to remove any and all barriers that may keep your users from having a great user experience. Law firm websites that don’t work drive potential clients to the competition, reducing the number of leads received.
- Easy navigation. Your website navigation should be easy to understand and follow. For example, each page title should meet visitor expectations.
- Clean sitemap. A sitemap is a visual map of all the pages on your website. Including one helps search engines crawl your website, boosting your search engine optimization and helping your site rank higher.
- Intuitive. Your website visitors want to find things quickly, without having to scroll forever. Be mindful of the length of your website pages and keep scrolling to a minimum.
- Search functionality. If your visitors are looking for something specific on your website, they’ll often look for a search bar. A simple search function helps them find the information they need fast.
- Mobile-friendly design. In Q3 2020, mobile devices generated 50.81 per cent of global website traffic. Make sure your law firm website design is responsive, meaning it fits the screen size of different devices automatically.
►What makes a good law firm website?
Since the legal industry is highly competitive, it is vital to stand apart from competition. One of the most effective ways to do so is through great website design. For most firms, website design is not a strong suit, with many being antiquated and ineffective. Good law firm websites give prospective clients a place to connect with you online. Not only are they easy to navigate with services clearly laid out, but they provide an effortless, client-centered experience while projecting a strong, clear brand.
►Is website accessibility important?
Having an accessible law firm website is key for connecting with any and all potential clients, from those with poor vision to people with mobility concerns. During Covid-19, as more and more people began relying on digitally connected services, this wasn’t always the case. While it may not seem like much, it goes a long way to improving the page experience and pushing your law firm up the SERP rankings.
There are several technical ways to make your website accessible. For example, you can make certain design choices, such as contrast checking the colour of your text versus the background of a page or taking colours into consideration for those who are colour-blind.
Need more help? Consider hiring a professional. The experts at the Mike Agency have helped numerous law firms over the years with their website design, content creation and legal marketing needs. Contact the Mike Agency today to speak to our team of qualified experts and schedule a free consultation, so you can focus on what matters – winning cases and running your law firm!