Once upon a time, a client-in-need would flip through the Yellow Pages in search of a lawyer that gave off a competent appearance – with “appearance” being the operative word. These days, a lawyer’s business card is their website, which is precisely why your online presence should be at the forefront of your client strategy. Discover how small/medium law firms and solo practitioners can play the online ‘court’, and win.
How to Build an Online Presence in a Day
In 2012, the legal research firm LexisNexis released a study in which they showed that 76% of Americans use online resources to find an attorney, with 53% using online resources to validate a lawyer’s credentials following referrals from friends and colleagues. In order for a law firm or solo practice’s online practice to succeed, several different online presences must collaborate and corroborate each other: A firm’s website will under-perform if it has no search engine presence or legal database it is attached to, just as a lawyer’s social media presence is moot without a professional website to lead prospective clients to.
- Your Website: The prospect of spending thousands of dollars and countless hours building a website is unpalatable for many new firms. Thankfully, free alternatives abound. IM Creator offers dozens of professional, user-friendly website templates that can be used to build your firm’s website in a few hours, for free, and with no web designer or programmer needed. Its simple “drag & drop” editor lets you add your own content instantly, and websites built using our service are search-engine friendly.
- Legal Directories: After search engine queries, legal directories are (according to LexisNexis) the second most popular way clients search for, validate, and select a lawyer. Once your website is up and running, make sure to link it to all directories you are registered with, as well as others that are relevant to your practice. Properly completed directory profiles also help boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), as they create connecting threads to validate your online presence.
- Social Media: Many lawyers (and especially those who have worked in highly competitive “big” firms) maintain a love-hate relationship with social sites like LinkedIn. Nevertheless, LinkedIn provides further credibility to your online presence by linking your work to past clients and legal contacts. Creating a link between your firm’s website and these social media sites also allows future clients to search for personal and professional connections you may share.
Design for Legal Practices
On average, internet users spend about 5 seconds on a website before they decide to read on or “bounce” (online marketing terminology for a user who leaves the page before engaging with it). The “visual language” of a website conveys the tone of the practice it serves, and forms a significant part of a visitor’s first impressions.
- Branding Basics: If you invest in any aspect of your firm’s branding, make it your logo. As we’ve seen, spending money on building your website is rendered unnecessary with a free online website builder, but you may still benefit from paying a designer to help you create a basic visual language that can be used as the aesthetic basis for your overall web design.
- The Language of Colors: Much has been written about the branding message that colors portray in design. Law firms too must look the part they play, as clients tend to prefer sober, monochrome color-schemes in grayscale and navy blue that yield images of a business suit, not a hawaiian shirt. Context is important, though: In specialized legal fields such as family law, a website’s color scheme should reflect the kind of problems it is dealing with. In this case, a more muted palette of pale greens or blues softens the aesthetic tone of the site, and gives the impression that the firm is sensitive to the personal issues at hand.
- Just Put Down the Stock Photography: Clients tend to want to put a face to a name when they are selecting a lawyer to work with. Instead of scouring the web for stock imagery, consider using a professional headshot or photo of your office. If you do need some stock photography to add further visual interest to your page, though, IM Creator have created IM Free, a tightly-curated database of relevant images that are free for commercial use.
- Don’t Overcrowd: The best websites don’t overwhelm visitors with content. Website templates from site builders help effortlessly manage the organization of your website’s content, but it’s still important to continuously recite the “simplicity is key” mantra as you add content to your website.
- How to Organize Your Site: With such a short initial time-frame to grab a user’s attention, it’s important to know what information should be relayed to prospective clients first. Web users from Western countries tend to start at the top left of a page then read left to right and down, meaning that the upper two-thirds of your page should contain basic information such as what you specialize in, a “call to action”, and a reason for users to explore further.
- Where to Place Your Call to Action: Your “call to action” is your first point of contact, and a crucial piece of content on your site. For most law firms, this may simply be a phone number and email, but contact forms are also easily implemented and increasingly popular. Your call to action is best placed prominently on your site, either in the top right corner or about a third of the way down the page on the right, where visitors’ gaze naturally flows to.
- The Importance Information Curation: Just like your LinkedIn page, clients want to know that you are active in the legal community. The front page of your website should contain links or summaries to any legal articles you have published, as well as relevant news about your firm that will lend further credibility. This includes membership to legal societies, presence on legal directories, and any other professional markers.
But beware: nothing degrades a website’s credibility more than out-of-date information. Social media widgets help to relieve the task of manual updating; with IM Creator, you can drag and drop live social feeds anywhere on your site, so that anything you post to LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, or Twitter will echo on your own site.
- Testimonials: According to LexisNexus, 57% of people who used the internet to search for a lawyer checked a lawyer’s ratings and reviews, and 65% of those who did found them to be moderately to extremely influential in their decision. Encouraging existing clients to add reviews to legal directories and social sites LinkedIn is important, but many clients also look for testimonials on your website.
- Geolocation: Adding a Google Maps widget to your website increases your SEO, but also helps prospective clients search for you locally. Google’s Places for Business automatically syncs all your key information – including your address, contact details, office hours, description, and ratings – onto one Google-synchronized page that will appear as soon as your name is searched for, or when a query like “law firms in my area” is inputted.
- A Note on Costs: Few lawyers speak about the costs involved in legal advice upfront, but it can be helpful to add a page on your website describing how legal fees are determined, and whether or not you offer any free initial consultation.
Free Tools to Track Your Progress Online
Once you’ve synchronised your website with your social profiles and membership to legal directories and societies, there are a number of ways to track how your online presence is affecting the growth of your law practice:
- Google Analytics: Perhaps the most comprehensive yet straightforward of data analytics tools on the market, Google Analytics is free to use, and comes with real-time tools to track the number of visitors to your website, where they are coming from, how long they spend on your site, and what they are clicking on while there.
- Hootsuite: Hootsuite aggregates all your social media profiles into one account, so that you can synchronise and keep track of your social media presence. Instead of updating news to LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook one by one, Hootsuite also lets you schedule news that will be sent out to all your social media profiles at once.
- WooRank: WooRank instantly reviews your website for its SEO ranking, then provides you with a list of recommendations to help you figure out how you can improve. WooRank also offers visitor data and social media tracking, but it also helps you to figure out things like SEO keywords and backlinks, as well as any inconsistencies in setup of your site.
The Internet Doesn’t Care about Size
The internet carries with it a powerful message: No matter how big or small your business is, a successful web presence leads to professional success. Creating a name for yourself has never been so straightforward – and inexpensive – even as competition is steep. Small firms and solo-practitioners don’t need a fancy office or a team of management and branding gurus in their trail. All they need is a well-designed website, and their name in all the right (online) places.