Blog Post

Beyond the Basics:
6 must-haves for cutting-edge law firm websites

6 comments

Is your law firm considering a new website this year? If so, you’re probably compiling a wish-list of features for your new website. This makes sense.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the typical wish-list doesn’t offer much value. Why? Because wish-lists tend to look backwards. The typical list is focused on addressing the deficiencies of the firm’s old website. As a result, the list is full of features that were state-of-the-art three years ago, like responsive design and audio/video capabilities.

If you’re looking to move your website beyond the basics, read on. We’ve compiled a list of six features that we consider must-haves for any firm that’s looking to build a cutting-edge website today.

1. Next-generation site-search

Law firm websites have become huge in recent years. Unfortunately, this means that it’s often impossible for users to find what they’re looking for. There’s just too much information to wade through.

The answer to this problem: better site-search.

If the term “site-search” makes you shudder in horror, you’d be justified. In the past, the site-search box on a law firm website has been a one-way ticket to usability hell. But times have changed. The best websites now include next-generation site-search technology that has solved the problems of the past (and includes lots of neat new features). Here are a few examples:

  • Predictive search – This feature offers search results to users in real-time (as they are typing). It’s quick. And users love it.
  • Tools to manipulate results – The best site-search tools allow you to manipulate search results to match your marketing goals. For example, your top patent litigator can be set to appear first when “patent litigation” is searched (even if the search algorithm naturally places her third on the search results page).
  • Smart matches – Leading websites use “fuzzy logic” to produce accurate search results even when there isn’t a direct match. For example:

    • Misspellings: “Emploment” will return results for “Employment”
    • Partial words: “Auto” will return results for “Automobile”
    • Plurals: “Books” will return results for “Book”
    • Suffixes and prefixes: “Work” will return results for “Working”
    • Accents: “Zoe” will return results for “Zoë”

2. Integrated blogs

Blogs often contain some of a law firm’s most powerful marketing content. Unfortunately, all this valuable content resides on blogs that are totally separated from the website (i.e., separate server, different technology, different look). We call this the “hub-and-spoke” model. Users hate the hub-and-spoke because it forces them to click back-and-forth between the firm’s website and its blogs. This compromises user experience, reduces levels of engagement and makes user tracking very difficult.

Because of its obvious deficiencies, the hub-and-spoke model is fading away. Leading web development firms are now building blogs into a website’s CMS and navigational scheme. Not only does this improve usability and tracking – it allows visitors to view the full text of an attorney’s blog posts from within his bio. Considering the large amount of traffic that goes to an attorney’s bio, this is a huge benefit.

3. “Recommended content” teasing

Law firms seek to drive as much traffic to their thought-leadership content as possible. Unfortunately, users typically exit the site after they finish reading a piece of content — even if they liked it! Why? Because the user hit a dead end.

The most advanced law firm websites are designed with no dead ends. Just like NYTimes.com, these next-generation sites offer visitors “related articles” as well as related events, related case studies and related blog posts (among other types of related content). The goal is to keep visitors on your website, consuming your content for as long as possible. This helps build your brand. And it improves user trackability.

4. Better attorney bio UX (user experience)

In recent years, it’s become clear that the majority of website traffic goes to attorney bios. And as a result, legal marketers have focused on building out attorney bios – and bios have grown dramatically in size.

Unfortunately, most attorney bio pages aren’t designed to properly handle this volume of content. The result is a sub-par user-experience in which visitors are constantly being pushed to other sections of the website to consume content that is listed on the bio. We’ve dubbed this the “ping-pong effect.”

The most advanced law firm websites are now designed to eliminate the ping-pong effect. If you’re redesigning your website in 2016, you should select CMS technology that has solved this problem. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Are you forced to click away from the bio to read an article?
    • The best websites allow you to read an attorney’s articles without leaving his or her bio.
  • To read an attorney’s blog post, are you sent to a separate blog?
    • The newest websites allow you to read the full text of an attorney's blog posts without leaving the bio.
  • If an attorney has a podcast or video, can you consume that content from within his or her bio?
    • You should be able to.

5. A “beyond-the-homepage” strategy

On average, less than 40% of law firm website traffic comes in through the homepage. For large firms, this number is closer to just 20%! Instead, website visitors are now clicking links from Google, emails and social media — and heading directly to content deep within your site, such as an article or news item. This trend towards deep-linking means that a typical user’s first impression is not the flashy, carefully crafted image you project on the homepage.

Does this mean that the homepage is dead? Definitely not. Your homepage is still, by far, the most trafficked page on your website and thus deserves special attention. However, you also need to focus on what users experience when they deep-link directly to a content page. Is the page well branded? Does the content reflect well on your firm? Is the page a dead end — or are you offering other related content to keep users on your site and experiencing your brand?

6. Advanced user tracking

Technologies now exist that will allow you to track website visitors by name. You read that correctly: you can now track visitors by name.

A website that is specifically designed to work in tandem with these tracking tools can be used to nurture new business leads. And this means that your website can play a major role in developing new business. Progressive law firm marketers are now positioning themselves to take advantage of these new technologies.

This is a big topic, so we’ve written a 15-page whitepaper about it.

What else?

Did we leave any cutting-edge must-have website features off the list? If so, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comments

6 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Joseph Packer says:

    Hey Dion – great post. I’m happy to see #3 “Related Content Teasing” on your list. I’ve been preaching about content teasing for a while. I’d consider it to be a must-have for any website serving original content.

    Conspicuously absent from your list is the Hamburger Nav. Lots of new websites seem to have this. Was it left off on purpose?

    • Dion Algeri says:

      Thanks Joseph. The hamburger was definitely left off on purpose. I’m not a big fan.

      First, a little background. The “hamburger” is the three-line menu icon that you often see on mobile sites. It gets its name because it looks roughly like a hamburger on a bun. The hamburger was once strictly used on mobile websites. And recently we’ve begun seeing it on regular desktop website design (like here and here).

      Designers love, love, love the hamburger because it hides the ugly clutter of a navigation bar. So, the early adopters of the hamburger (on desktop sites) have mostly been design agencies, fashion houses and other businesses for whom visual impact is considered to be a primary goal of their website. More recently, a few corporate sites (and even some law firms) have adopted the hamburger.

      The problem with the hamburger is that it slows down navigation. It takes 2 clicks (minimum) to get anywhere on the website. It also makes you think too much as you navigate around. Some consumer websites that have deployed the hamburger navigation have since reversed that decision after seeing traffic fall (even for their mobile site!). If you want to read more about problems with the hamburger, check out this great article.

  2. Jon Holden says:

    Great post Robert. Now if you could only go beyond tracking visitors and post subliminal thoughts into their minds that ensure they hire your firm, that would be next level stuff.

  3. Pietro Izzo says:

    Interesting angle, and not only for law firm websites, for sure 😉

  4. Veronica Williams says:

    Thanks Robert Algeri. I always enjoy your thought leadership. I was surprised that conversion events, or calls to action didn’t make it on your list. I know its a little harder with a law firm website than for those in other industries, but still seems to be a contributing factor to SEO rankings. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  5. chandan kumar says:

    I appreciate you for that kind of information, it is such a nice information.

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