Designing your law office’s new website is an exciting project to breathe new air into your practice and give it a serious facelift and establish its web presence. Yet we see new websites being launched for lawyers all the time and yet many of them are following outdated practices or none at all. We’ve made a list of tips based on these issues and distilled them into actionable tips you can use to make sure your new site launch is not only a success, but avoids some critical mistakes that may impact the budget or other unintended effects that a new redesign can have on your existing web traffic.
Determine your Level of Involvement
Before you start embarking on your firm’s new website, you should take a step back and understand how much time you have to commit to the project. If you’re just starting your practice, then you may have more time, but if you’re busy and established, you have other fires to be dealing with. Your practice’s new site is going to involve not only the design and development portion but also content such as copywriting for your pages and services, your attorney’s profile pages, images, potentially video and more.
All of this can be outsourced. Copy can be written by professionals who do nothing but write web content for lawyers. It will come at a premium, but it’s much likely less expensive than what you bill hourly and will be better written for SEO purposes as well as converting visitors into potential clients. So, before you start talking to a legal web design agency, consider what the scope of the project will entail for you and the marketers you work with.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect
You don’t want to open your wallet unless it’s going to provide value for you. One of the most important things for lawyers is ensuring their website makes a professional, first impression on visitors. We totally agree. However, there’s a line between professional and perfect and we recommend you stick on the side of professional. Your law firm’s website design won’t change dramatically over the span of several years, but you should be prepared to change elements and components around on a monthly basis. Some of these changes will be minor and some larger.
Ideally, you want to be testing and optimizing your website over time to produce as many new contacts and phone calls as possible. Until you test and experiment, you won’t know what will work best. Therefore, you’ll always be chasing perfection, so settle for a web design that you feel is 95% of the way there and try to squeeze that remaining 5% out over time.
Plan for Future Marketing Activities & Add Functionality into your Website Today
You may have many embers stoked in the fire and have plans to expand your law firm’s marketing campaigns down the road. We recommend that you make a list of all the different channels (e.g. organic search, social media, email, etc.) that you want to invest your advertising budget into and build in the functionality today that will make your website ready for those campaigns in the future.
Some of the things we recommend you should be setting up for your website during the development process includes:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Facebook Pixel
- LinkedIn Pixel
- An email marketing platform
- Blog and Article Pages (ready to publish)
You don’t have to start spending any money (except for the developer fees) on any of these tools to install them and allow them to start collecting data today. That way, when you’re ready to campaign with any of them, they’re ready to go. Additionally, it will be slightly cheaper to have your web developer integrate these into your site during the design process as a bundle then paying someone later to go back and do it.
Going DIY vs. a Professional Design
I know many lawyers that are hands-on and want to handle the design and development of their website themselves (even at some relatively large firms). Sometimes it’s going to be due to the fact that they don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a site design. Other times, they are trying to reach perfection and believe its the only way to do it is for them to do it themselves. Both are achievable, but I will mention that even with the best visual builders out there, a newbie can struggle with designing their own website (it always looks easier in the commercials).
It’s like someone who chooses between hiring a lawyer and buying a DIY divorce kit. The professional is (almost) always going to do a better job. So keep this in mind. Just like practicing the law, there’s a lot of nuances to deal with if you want to build your website yourself. Typically, a professional web designer will collaborate extensively with you to make sure you’re beyond satisfied with the final product. However, if for one reason or another you want greater control or save a couple thousand on your law firm’s site design, you can always opt to hire a freelancer or purchase a pre-built theme to install on your web host. We’ll discuss themes and templates more below.
Deciding Between Visual Builders vs. Bullet-proof Themes for In-house editing
Website technologies have come a long way since even a couple years ago. You have many options on the market to choose from. We’re going to outline a big decision you to consider when designing your law firm’s site. You have a pre-built website themes and websites that are integrated with visual builders.
A visual builder gives you much more flexibility to roll up your sleeves and design your web pages to your desired specifications. It can also speed up the development time dramatically. Whether you use WordPress, Wix, Squarespace or another web CMS, visual composers and page builders are available from a number of hosting and development vendors. At Zahavian, we use several page builders for many of our clients’ websites. They’re great, but there are drawbacks with the most prominent being increased margin of user error is higher, which requires debugging and testing.
Pre-built themes and templates don’t use builders. This means there’s much less flexibility after the design and launch of the website, which makes optimizing your site over time more difficult. However, these templates are much more like filling in the blanks every time you publish a new page or article. It’s much less prone to user error, so you can feel more confident with your in-house staff or lawyers publishing new content on your site without breaking things.
Use a CMS like WordPress
The top-ranking websites today on the net are constantly adding and updating content on their pages and posts. The most effective way this is done is through a CMS (content management system), such as WordPress – by far the most popular CMS, globally.
When you visit a website, your browser is reading and interpreting the programming language of the web, HTML (hypertext markup language). In the early days, most websites were built on static HTML files. This meant that you would code an HTML file, name it and upload it to your web host. Nowadays, many websites are dynamically programmed to include more sophisticated logic. Ultimately, the final output that your browser reads is HTML, but your web host and server is running more complicated, logic-based code that produces the final HTML result. This logical code is typically housed within a CMS system, like WordPress. We use WordPress for more than 9 out of 10 law firm websites and over 60% of law firm sites ranking on page 1 of Google use it too. There’s no cost to license WordPress and many content management systems and allows you to do things that you simply couldn’t with a static website without a good amount of webmaster and developer knowledge.
Bonus Tip – Don’t Use a Proprietary CMS
Some developers (especially legal marketing agencies) boast that they use a proprietary content management system developed by their company specifically for lawyers and firms. Tread with extreme caution before engaging with a firm like this. When you pay for a website developed on their CMS, it can lock you into their ecosystem and cost you much more if you decide to leave later on.
Match your Law Firm’s Site Design to Your Media Capabilities
Whether you’re looking for other legal web designs that you want to model your site after or a design proposes a web design for your practice, make sure that the design requirements are achievable.
Many of the most modern and award-winning designs these days depend heavily on images, graphics and videos embedded on the website. So beyond just the design and coding of the site itself, you should be prepared to shell out for professional photos, videos and graphic designs that complete and complement your firm’s website to the expectations of your law firm web designer and your partners.
Know What You’re Getting with Free and Paid Website Themes
For lawyers, especially solo attorneys and startup practices, you may opt to select from the many legal website templates and themes available around the web. So should you pay for a theme or just go with a free theme?
Is it necessary? No.
Is it worth it? Yes.
Our advice is spend the $50 or so to purchase a premium theme. Most of the premium themes and templates on the market are higher quality, more professional, offer better features, flexibility, documentation and more support. Many premium templates include 6 months of support, so if you have any issues, you can contact the vendor and expect a response from customer service. You’ll also usually get access to updates, which is important as your host and CMS are updated and require that your theme be as well.
Consider Your SEO Impact Before Starting
If you already have a website, then you’re probably already acquiring clients from organic search traffic. Re-designing your website can have a serious impact – either negatively or positively on your search engine rankings. We recommend that you take a few steps to measure the impact and minimize any negative effects of your law firm’s site redesign.
Install Google Analytics – Use Google’s free web analytics tool to measure how much weekly, monthly and quarterly traffic your website generates from web searches on engines like Google and Bing. This can be used as a benchmark to measure your site’s performance pre and post redesign.
Don’t modify your existing content – When going through a redesign, you may want to update or modify your website’s existing content, but now you’ll have to variables that are likely to impact your rankings and organic traffic. Instead, prepare new content for a later date, but just focus on the redesign for now. See how your new site effects rankings through on-page SEO and user experience.
Talk to your designer – Tell your designer that its imperative that their work doesn’t negatively impact your business. Let them know that if anything, you want to see a boost from the redesign and ask them how they’re prepared to tackle this challenge.
Get Inspired by Law Firm Websites the Same Size as You
If you’re engaged in having a say what you’re new design looks and are looking for inspiration, it’s easy to get a ton of ideas from other law firm websites and put together a wishlist. However, you should focus on only looking at practices that are approximately the same size as yours. For instance, a solo law firm or small practice should only look at what other small firms or themes designed for firms their own size. They should have roughly the same number of lawyers and staff as you. This will help you remain within a reasonable budget and also focus on goals that law firms your size set for their websites.
Redesigning your practice’s web pages can be an exciting process. With these 10 tips on how to approach your site design, you’ll be much better equipped to ensure that it’s a success and fits your firm’s overall marketing goals.