Traditionally, a website’s homepage has been treated like a book’s cover. When designing a website, marketers imagine that most of a website’s visitors will pass through the homepage en route to their destination. This is bedrock conventional wisdom in the web design world.

New research indicates that it is (increasingly) incorrect.

A major shift is occurring in user behavior – and people are now bypassing the website’s front door at a striking rate. The new data are compelling – and have major implications for the design of all websites, including those of law firms.

The Data
Studies of content-heavy news sites are showing that homepage traffic is dramatically declining. For example, in 2012, fewer than half (48.8%) of the visits to NYTimes.com started on the homepage. The Wall St. Journal reported, less than 40%. Meanwhile, Yahoo.com saw a 24% drop in homepage traffic. Fascinating.

Law Firm Websites
Naturally, we were curious about the trends occurring on our law firm client websites. So, we conducted our own study. What we found was remarkable.

  • On average, only 39% of the traffic enters through the homepage.
  • That’s a 17% decrease just within the last year. Nearly every law firm website we manage has experienced a significant decrease in traffic entering through its homepage.
  • The greater the number of visitors to a website, the smaller the percentage that came through its homepage. For example, a client with over 25,000 unique visitors a month had only 24.5% of its traffic entering the website through its homepage.

Sideways Surfing
So, what’s driving this decline? “Sideways surfing.” People are entering content-heavy websites sideways. They’re clicking on links in social media posts, emails, and Google searches, to be taken directly to content deep within a website (like a bio, or an article, or a case-study). The confluence of two major trends – content marketing and social media – are the driving forces behind sideways surfing.

Website Design Implications
So, does sideways surfing mean that the homepage is dead? Definitely not. The homepage is still, by far, the most trafficked page on your website and thus deserves special attention. However, we still need to rethink the website’s content and features, to account for diminished homepage traffic. Here are two recommendations:

  1. Let your content brand you.
    Traditionally, websites have relied on graphics (and key messaging) on their homepage to brand the firm as sought-after experts or world-class specialists. Given that users are bypassing these homepages and heading straight to content pages, firms need to focus more on producing great content that will help brand the firm: richer bio content, more (and better) case studies, better articles and blog posts. Content pages are where people are landing, and we need to put our best foot forward.
  2. Eliminate the dead ends.
    If someone clicks a link and reads a great article posted on your website, you would like for the person to then click around, read more articles, and learn more about your firm. If a visitor reads an article and then immediately leaves your website, it means that the marketing value of this piece is minimal. Unfortunately, most law firm website content pages are lonely dead ends that encourage visitors to leave.
  3. So, how do we solve this? Many lessons can be learned by observing content websites like NYTimes.com – which is packed with compelling teasers and pop-outs that offer related content in order to keep you surfing there.

Time to rethink the homepage?
If fewer people enter the website through the homepage, does that mean that it’s time to rethink it? Perhaps someday we’ll recommend this. However, right now it’s not clear how it should change. So, we would argue that before firms radically change their homepages, they should focus on how to make every other page into a better landing page. Sideways surfing is here to stay. Just think about it – what was the path that brought you to this blog post?

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Law Firm Mobile Traffic Up 243% In The Last Two Years

by Robert Algeri on January 29, 2014

We recently analyzed the website traffic data from all the law firm websites that we host and maintain. This revealed that in the last two years (January 2012 to January 2014), mobile traffic had increased a whopping 243%.

At the risk of being obvious – that’s a big number. But taking a closer look at the data brought some fascinating insights:

  1. For some of our clients, nearly 20% of their traffic comes from mobile users. This means that 2 in 10 people visiting their website are doing so on some type of mobile device (a phone or a tablet).

    The data align with our predictions. Last year, we found that slightly more than 1 in 10 visitors use a smart phone or tablet device to visit law firm websites. As the graph below shows, there’s been steady upward movement. We feel that it’s safe to assume that four years from now, the percentage of people accessing your website via a mobile device could be nearly 40%.

  1. Responsive design mobile functionality led to increased engagement on a law firm’s website. After a firm implemented responsive design mobile functionality, mobile traffic spiked and then remained elevated. The size of the spike varied for each of the law firm websites that we launched last year, but the sustained increase in mobile traffic was consistent. (We’ll monitor this throughout 2014 with the launch of another 4-6 responsive design-enabled websites.)

    Bottom-line: An easier-to-use website leads to more usage.

So what does all this mean for law firms and their websites?

  • First, law firms will need to cater to mobile users a lot more – and that means tailoring websites to accommodate the various devices that are accessing them. There are dozens of types of devices with different screen sizes. A firm’s website will need to adapt for each.
  • Second, links to content (articles, videos, blog posts, PowerPoints, etc.) get shared two ways: via email and social media. As a result, traffic often bypasses the homepage. A firm’s mobile solution cannot be limited to the website’s homepage if the firm hopes to engage users.
  • Third, it’s time to ditch the old “mobi” website solution and embrace something called responsive design. Good responsive design (there’s a lot of bad out there…) automatically adjusts the layout of each web page to elegantly fit any screen, regardless of the type of device that’s being used to view it – and also takes into account the context in which the page is being viewed. (More about this can be read here: Responsive Design for Law Firm Websites – 10 Questions Answered.)

Two or three years ago, our advice to our clients about how to address mobile functionality for their website was to sit tight – new technology would soon be surfacing. (Here’s a link to the blog we wrote in 2010.) Well, that moment has arrived. The technology has emerged. It’s called responsive design, and in the last year it’s matured to the point where it makes sense for law firms to embrace it.

 

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Recent Work: Six Websites We Love, and the Reasons Why

by Robert Algeri on January 28, 2014

We think that 2014 is going to be a sensational year for firms that are well positioned. In fact, when JDSupra asked us to share our thoughts on what the top priorities should be for law firms in 2014, our response was, to “prepare for the coming boom – and get your marketing in order.” (Here’s a link to read our thoughts and the perspective of other consultants serving law firms.) In short — the time has come to shed the recession mindset and get your marketing ducks in a row.

We’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with some forward-thinking firms in 2013 that share this mindset. The below highlights a few that have used their website to successfully position themselves for future growth.


Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer
Why we love this website – The firm is tops in Canada, especially in the oil and gas sector (it has been ranked #1 in Canada for deal count in six of the past seven years). Their new website effectively projects the aspects of the firm that make it special, while accenting them with the firm’s quirky “western” sensibility.


Hinckley Allen (re-launched in 2013 with new brand identity)
Why we love this website – Since the website launched in early 2011, the firm brought on a new CMO and a new Managing Partner. Their arrival was the impetus for a brand refresh (new colors, logo tweak, messaging). The changes were impactful.


Patterson & Sheridan
Why we love this website – Over the past decade, the firm had matured beyond being just a “patent prosecution” shop. They’ve evolved to become “IP strategic advisors” that assist some of the world’s largest technology companies. Their new website and refreshed brand reflect their new position in the marketplace – and give them the tools to grow further.

[Built with responsive design mobile technology.]


Kegler Brown
Why we love this website – Over the past decade, this 80-attorney firm in Ohio reinvented itself as a “global” law firm – and this has worked. We recently helped them overhaul their brand (and build a new website) that would help them compete with much larger firms. (Postscript: within six weeks of launching, the firm credits the website with bringing in a $58 million merger deal.)

[Built with responsive design mobile technology.]


Gilbert LLP
Why we love this website – The firm’s old website had pictures of motorcycles on the home page. They were pretty and reflected the chairman’s passion for riding – but, they didn’t help communicate the firm’s value proposition to prospective clients. The new website makes their message clear: “We are the global leaders in insurance recovery law.” Each design and messaging decision was made to help support that positioning.


Moss & Barnett
Why we love this website – (a) The main pages and the bios make an emotional connection – which is important because the firm found itself increasingly serving clients that reside outside of the upper Midwest, and (b) the CMS makes it extremely easy for the firm’s one-person marketing department to add rich media content like video, radio, PowerPoints and social media feeds, as well as add new bios, practice areas and pages to the website.

[Built with responsive design mobile technology.]

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Your practice area pages are awful. Should you care?

by Robert Algeri on November 8, 2013

When building a website, law firms typically dedicate significant time and effort to writing practice area descriptions. But is the effort worth it? After all, they account for less than 10% of traffic that occurs on a law firm website.

I recently shared my thoughts on this topic with the Legal Marketing Think Tank Committee during a 10-minute webinar entitled, “Practice Area pages are awful. Should we care?” Video of the webinar is below.

During this video, I explore the future of practice area pages — and suggest that there is, perhaps, a better way.

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#Positioning = a key to social media success for lawyers

by Robert Algeri on September 25, 2013

In a nutshell, positioning is about focusing on a niche in order to distinguish yourself in the marketplace.  Market positioning should be the first step in marketing anything.

Law firms – especially larger full-service firms — are typically saddled with broad, blurry positioning. This presents firms with serious marketing challenges – broad messages simply do not resonate on the social networks (or, for that matter, in any marketing channels).

So, if a law firm is positioned poorly, what should it do?  In the presentation below, I suggest that you can achieve business success by positioning your marketing around Emerging Issues.

On September 19, I had the pleasure of giving a 10-minute-long “TED”-like talk on #positioning at the Hildebrandt Social Media for Law Firms conference in NYC. Below is a video.

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Congrats to our client!

by Robert Algeri on September 18, 2013

Congrats to our client Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer! They were recently named as having “The Best 2013 Law Firm Website” by the Lawyerist, a blog about law practice.

We’re not pursuers of website design awards, and therefore we were surprised to learn that the website had been nominated for the Lawyerist contest. In fact, neither we nor our client knew that the website had been selected as a contender until someone sent me a note long after the voting had commenced.

It appears that each year, the Lawyerist asks its readers to nominate the law firm website that they think is “best.” The criteria for what qualifies as “best” are completely subjective, but it seems that the choices that the firm made regarding its website design, structure and functionality jived with the Lawyerist community.

The article by Sam Glover, editor of the Lawyerist, that announced the contest winner offered his thoughts on why the website won.

  • “Big, clear images that humanize the attorneys.”

    Because the lawyers at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer march to a different beat – we designed their website to reflect the firm’s unique culture. Working closely with the firm’s marketing director, Brian Feick, we determined what types of photos could be used to best capture the unique personality of the firm. We collaborated with a Calgary-based photography team, which shot a series of large, striking images that captured their culture.

    In addition to the homepage and other marquee images that appear, the BD&P website includes amazing attorney profile photos. Each attorney is posed to exude confidence. These guys and gals look great.

    (Kudos to Roth & Ramburg and Keli Pollock for their great photo work.)
  • “Easy site-search, including a search box that’s ‘front-and-center’ on the homepage of the website.”

    In building the website, we included a handy bit of functionality called “Facebook-style Predictive Search.” As you start typing into the search box, you are instantly offered names of Attorneys and Practice Areas that match the letters you’ve typed. The number of options quickly narrows as you type more letters, making it easier for visitors to find and learn more about the attorneys and practices.

Sam also offered thoughtful criticism of the website. He mentioned that the content on the bio pages is lackluster and “with all the personality BD&P is trying to show on the rest of the site… this seems like a huge missed opportunity.”

I agree – and I think that the marketing team at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer would agree as well. Prior to engaging Great Jakes, the firm had not spent much time focusing on its website, and thus their bios hardly contained any reputation-enhancing content. That will likely change.

The BD&P website was built to include Attorney-Microsites – functionality that allows for multi-page attorney bios. Essentially, each attorney (and practice area) has a small, highly customizable website that fits seamlessly within the firm’s larger website. New pages, with any type of content, such as PowerPoint presentations, video, podcasts, blog posts and Twitter tweets, can be added to suit the business development needs of each attorney.

Change at law firms is often a bumpy road full of fits and starts. But I suspect that over the next few months, as the firm’s attorneys grow more comfortable with the tools at their disposal, the BD&P bios will evolve from being one-page resumes into repositories of reputation-enhancing information. And that makes sense – the bios are a perfect place to express the firm’s uniqueness. It’s also the area of the website that is drawing the most traffic. 

We are delighted that our client’s website was awarded this distinction. Thanks to the Lawyerist community for validating the firm’s decision to depart from design aesthetics traditionally found on law firm websites. And kudos to the attorneys and marketing team at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer for being brave enough to explore some new ideas! You look great.

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Who’s afraid of website data migration?

by Robert Algeri on August 27, 2013

Does the phrase “data migration” send chills up your spine? Would the fear of moving content from your old website to a new one hold you back from pulling the trigger on a website project?

If you nodded “yes” to either of those questions, you’re not alone.

The topic of data migration can be scary for marketers. Simply put, trained communicators are not database jockeys, and the prospect of ones and zeros flying back and forth can cause discomfort. But comfort level aside, should the fear of data migration warrant the keeping of a crummy website?

What can go wrong?
Everything, right?! There’s a chance that data could get lost, or content could end up in the wrong places, causing countless hours of aggravation for the marketing department…

Or not.

Professionals who do this all the time are well practiced in the art of handling the various challenges associated with data migration. But how can marketers be assured that their migration won’t go awry

How to do data migration
Data migration is not rocket science – or magic. At its simplest, it can be summed up as matching database fields from the old website, with the new. The actual act of migrating data (also called “data mapping”) can vary in its level of difficulty, depending on the condition, structure and size of the firm’s current website database. But irrespective of how old your website is or how it was built, the basic steps involved are the same.

Here’s a simplified version of the process that we use at Great Jakes:

  1. Analysis: The first step involves requesting a “data dump” of all the text content of the website and of the headers for each data table. We analyze the data to determine how much of the migration can be automated.

    We also investigate whether it would be more practical and/or cost efficient to not automate the migration and instead configure a “data-entry” website to have the data manually moved from the old website into the new. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it’s not unusual that we end up recommending a combination of automated data-migration and “data-entry” website methods. It all depends on how the old website’s data are formatted.

  2. Transfer setup: The next step involves planning the “field-mapping” – writing the appropriate scripts necessary to move the data into the proper fields of the new website.

  3. Migration: A month prior to delivering a finished website, we migrate the data from the old website to the new, using data from a second data dump that contains all of the most current content (text, photos, PDFs, videos, presentations, audio files, etc.).

  4. Testing: Finally, we rigorously review the data migration results to ensure that everything moved as planned.

Better the devil you know – right?
While the steps outlined are straightforward, data migration is a time-consuming but doable process. Consequently, larger websites with more data will require more time to analyze, set up, migrate and then test.

So, the best way to ensure that everything goes smoothly is to take a peek under the hood. Have a pro examine your existing website. They might find some issues, like embedded tables or miscellaneous image files tucked in strange places. You’ll probably need to make some decisions about how to migrate these items. But most likely, they’ll probably find that the hurdles to moving the content are a lot lower than you might think.

Don’t let those two little words “data migration” keep you from advancing your firm’s business goals! There’s too much to be gained from having a properly conceived website.

Good luck with your migration!


Hat-tip to my friend Nancy Slome, a Web marketing consultant who inspired me to write this post. Nancy provides consultation services to law firms of all sizes on a variety of topics, including data migration.

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Just a few months ago, when I spoke at the 2013 LMA conference about a new mobile technology for websites called “responsive design,” I was afraid that no one would know what it was. Since then, the term “responsive design” has entered the legal marketing lexicon.

Below is the second of two posts (here’s a link to the first post) that address some of the questions that we’ve fielded about responsive design for law firm websites. If you have others, send them our way. I’m happy to share our knowledge.

  1. What’s the risk if we punt on this and do nothing for the next few years?
    Responsive design is new, but in short order (read: the year 2014) it will become odd to see a new law firm website not have it. But aside from keeping up with the Joneses, the big risk is that you might be undermining your other marketing efforts. We’re predicting that within two years, 40% of the traffic that happens on your firm’s website will derive from mobile devices. (And that’s a conservative figure. ) If a large percentage of visitors to your website are unable to find the information that they seek, what will this mean for your firm?

  2. Should we add responsive design to our current website?
    If you’re developing a new website in 2013, it’s a no-brainer to include responsive design. But deciding to add it to your existing website should not be automatic. It could prove to be a bigger challenge than expected.

  3. Is there an advantage to be gained by being among the first law firms to embrace this?
    Early adopters will enjoy a competitive advantage due to the frustration experienced by users of law firm websites that have not been designed this way. But the big benefit is a more engaged potential client.

    The goal of a law firm’s website should be to help attorneys demonstrate their experience and expertise. The content that they produce is one of the primary ways that this is done, and a responsive website makes it easier for that content to be found, consumed and shared. Execute that formula often, and new business will result.

  4. Does it help with SEO?
    Yes. In fact, Google has specifically said that responsive design “is Google’s recommended configuration.” The main reason is that websites built with responsive design have a single URL. Below is a paraphrase of why Google says a single URL is better.

    • A single URL makes it easier for your users to interact with, share and link to your content.
    • It helps Google’s algorithms assign the indexing properties for the content.
    • Google’s crawlers need to access your pages only once. This improvement indirectly helps Google index more of the site’s content.
    • The load time of your website is faster when users need not be redirected to a different version of your website. Google considers this a page rank factor.


    To read Google’s recommendations in their entirety, click here.

  5. Other than law firms, what companies are using responsive design in their websites?
    Disney.com, BBC, Microsoft, Harvard University, Starbucks, Time Magazine, Sony and the Boston Globe are just a few of the entities that have embraced responsive design. There will be many more before the end of 2013 – including the soon-to-launch new website for the New York Times.

If you would like to see a demonstration of how we’re implementing responsive design for mid-size and large law firms, please contact me. I’m happy to share with you examples as well as discuss some of the more challenging aspects of implementing it.

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It’s been a few months since I spoke at the 2013 Legal Marketing Association conference in Las Vegas. My talk was about the new mobile website technique known as “responsive design.” Since then, I’ve fielded many questions about it. I thought that it would be helpful if I share a few. Please feel free to email me with more.

  1. What exactly is responsive design?
    Responsive design is a new coding technique that adjusts each page of your firm’s website to fit any size screen, automatically. Regardless whether someone is viewing your website on an iPad, an iPad Mini, an Android “phablet,” a Kindle, a smart phone, a desktop computer or some other device, the technology will adjust your firm’s website to display perfectly.

  2. Why does it make sense for law firms to have this?
    The simple answer: your client’s behavior has changed. Take a quick look around – every business professional, regardless of age, consumes content on some type of mobile device. Many of us have more than one.

    Quick facts:

    1. Global mobile data traffic grew 70 percent in 2012. By 2014 – or 2015, by some estimates – mobile internet usage is expected to surpass internet usage via a desktop or other fixed-location device.

    2. Great Jakes recently analyzed the website traffic for all our law firm clients and found that mobile traffic had increased a whopping 101% in the last year.

    The preponderance of mobile devices has altered the “content journey” for visitors to your website. It is now common to begin reading an article, viewing a video, or perusing a presentation on one device, like an office computer, and continue researching on another, like an iPad or smartphone.

    Additionally, the articles, news, event descriptions, videos and other content that your attorneys are creating are being shared online via email and social media (like LinkedIn) – two of the most-used applications on mobile devices. Not having a website with responsive design means that all that shared content will be difficult to read, resulting in less engagement with the firm. In short, without it, marketing the firm will become increasingly more challenging.

    If your firm expects its content-marketing efforts to grow, then responsive design makes sense. It will make the experience of consuming that content much easier.

  3. What does it look like?
    Here are examples from our clients Moss & Barnett, one of the 10 largest business law firms in the upper midwest, and Patterson & Sheridan, an intellectual property law firm that serves many of the world’s largest technology companies. As you visit each on a smartphone, iPad and desktop, you will notice two things about the content of the website:

    1. The content that you’re looking for, whether it be video, text, audio or graphic, will be where you think it is, regardless of the device you use to access it. The only difference is that the format will have adjusted slightly to suit the size of the screen being used to view it.

    2. The experience is smooth. Starting to read an article on your smart phone and then finishing it on your laptop entails no frustration and does not require a magnifying lens.

  4. We have a mobile website. Isn’t this good enough?
    The “mobile website” was conceived in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. It was designed to work on one type of device: smartphones. But in 2013, there are dozens of types of mobile devices, each with a different screen size, and all being used to view your firm’s website. Additionally, mobile websites are often slimmed-down versions of the main website. That means that content that appears on the firm’s main website might not show up when users view the mobile website.

    In contrast, a user viewing a website crafted with responsive design sees the same website on their desktop computer, iPhone or any other device. That’s a far more satisfying user experience.

  5. What’s the argument against building our next website with responsive design?
    The arguments are a bit muddled and seem to boil down to the fact that implementing responsive design is not easy. You need to work with professionals that will carefully consider the user experience for each page on each device type.

    There are some use-cases that apply to other industries (like retail) for why a mobile website or a mobile app might make more sense than responsive design. But for law firms, responsive design makes sense for many reasons. Among the biggest is that users of your website (clients and potential clients) have become less conscious of what device they happen to be using. Brad Frost, a leading voice in the mobile responsive movement, said it best:

    Mobile users will do anything & everything that desktop users will do, provided it’s presented in a usable way. Assuming people on mobile “won’t do that” is a losing proposition. Don’t penalize users with missing content & features.

    Your website visitors want the information that they’re looking when they want it – regardless of how they arrive on your website. That’s the fundamental driver of responsive design.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this piece…

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One more “must-have”

by Robert Algeri on June 25, 2013

In my previous blog post, I outlined four “must-have” functions that should be included in any law firm website that’s created in 2013 or 2014. But it occurred to me that there’s one more thing that I would recommend. It’s not functionality per se (which might be why it gets overlooked). It involves crafting your website to avoid what we call the “ping-pong effect.”

The term “ping-pong effect” describes a website behavior that moves visitors away from the attorney-bio or practice area and to some other section of the website (like the “publications” section). Here’s how it occurs:

  • Someone visits an attorney’s bio, or a practice area section, to research that person or service.
  • They click a link to an article, video, case study or other type of content to learn more about the attorney or practice area.
  • They find themselves whisked away to another section of the website.

What’s wrong with the above scenario? We know from looking at user stats that if someone leaves the attorney-bio or practice-area page, they’re not likely to come back. That’s a shame because there’s probably a lot of other information that the prospect could gain if all of an attorney’s reputation-enhancing content was located in one place – ideally their bio.

The above scenario also makes for a needlessly frustrating user-experience. Since the invention of the website, designers have learned (and relearned) that the easier a website is to navigate, the more likely that users will engage with it. Ping-ponging through the website in search of content is not a good user-experience.

The ping-pong effect is one of those issues that slowly becomes more acute as firm websites grow in size. But if addressed, it leads to a far more useful website for prospective clients.

Click here to see a visual representation of what to avoid: The Ping-Pong Effect.

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