Has Your Firm’s Site Become the Oh-No House on the Block?

Every block in America has one – the house that all of the neighbors hate because it’s unkempt, cluttered or just plain ugly. It’s the “oh-no” house; the one that everyone claims is bringing down the value of the neighborhood and will one day make their homes impossible to sell. I’m sure your home doesn’t fall into this dreadful category but your firm’s website, like so many others, very well may. While your site doesn’t sit on a block per se, it does sit in a row with countless other attorney websites in the search engine results pages and it’s being judged against those that surround it.

In my line of work, I’ve reviewed thousands of attorney websites and have uttered “oh no” more times than I care to remember. Far too often, these firms, like your seemingly indifferent neighbors, dismiss the appearance or their websites, but prospects and referral sources take notice.

So how do you know if your website is one that passersby encounter with a look of disgust and instant judgment? Here are some red flags that visitors look for when assessing neighbors and attorney websites:

There is always that neighbor who could be featured in an episode of Hoarders. And just when you think that yard can’t hold one more Christmas decoration, they mount a 23 foot inflatable Santa on the roof.

Law firm websites also get cluttered. If you have three different navigation menus (with subpages of subpages), ten paragraphs of copy on your home page, 9 quick link buttons and 7 photos in your home page header – you definitely have an oh-no site.

When developing your site, keep it clean with just one navigation menu and one level of subpages. Remember that while you might have a lot of valuable information to share, no one is going to care if it takes them 10 minutes to find what they’re looking for.

When discussing layout and navigation structure with attorneys, I always ask them to identify what they want a visitor to do when they arrive on the firm’s site, and then work to create a yellow brick road that leads the visitor to take that action. Make sure your yellow brick road is easy to follow or you’ll lose folks along the way.

One of my neighbors has converted an old toilet into a planter. Okay, he gets a few points in my book for originality but they’re quickly discounted when I walk out of my front door and have to stare at his former throne. This same man has pink flamingos along the path to his garage. Tacky is an understatement.

While most attorney websites don’t feature bathroom agriculture, far too many contain cheesy stock images, comical taglines and a clashing color scheme. Truth be told, tacky sites are usually the result of poor design work and occur when an attorney outsources the project to his kid nephew (even if he is the family’s prized computer wiz) or try to go at it alone with limited knowledge of Photoshop and coding.

Your website is your virtual storefront. You can cut costs in a lot of different areas of your practice but don’t skimp on your website. You only have one chance to make a first impression, make sure it’s a professional one.

Ever been tempted to go mow your neighbor’s lawn because you doubt they’ve ever even seen a weedwacker, let alone own one?

The overwhelming majority of oh-no attorney sites that I’ve encountered are outdated. If you haven’t updated your site in a few years, your visitors are likely to wonder whether your firm is still in business. Of course, this applies to the copy but it also applies to graphics and technology on the site. A photo of a man dressed in bellbottoms and a tie-dye shirt dates your site just like a visitor counter does.

To ensure that your site is kept up to date, take time to develop a long-term content strategy; this may include a blog with regular posts or even a news page where you link to popular stories each week. Just make sure that this strategy adds value to your site and is not just filler text to give the appearance of a dynamic site; site visitors know the difference, don’t insult them.

Now that we have identified the most common offenders, let’s get down to the harsh reality-why it all matters? Well, let’s be honest, what do you think of your oh-no neighbors? If you’re like many, you’ve probably never gotten the chance to know them because you passed judgment and don’t care to. And believe me, I don’t blame you. I’ve done it too. I have never taken time to get to know my toilet farming neighbor. It’s just human nature. If a visitor comes to your site and is instantly turned off, they’re not giving your firm a second chance. This is true even if most of your business is through referral sources. In the internet age, once someone hears your name, they’ll Google you and if they don’t like what they find, they easily can and will look elsewhere.

Just as it’s important to keep up your home, your office and your appearance, it’s equally important to keep up your practice’s website or you too will induce unwanted “oh- no” reactions from prospective clients and colleagues alike.

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Dolores Obrien

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