Uncategorized — 15 August 2013

Developing a website for your practice can be overwhelming and downright stressful. You must carefully select your developer and hosting team, decide on graphics, create a powerful call to action and consider SEO best practices. While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of terms used in website development, we’ve narrowed down a few of the most important ones in our web design alphabet to help you identify and remember the most important components of building a powerful online presence.

A  Analytics 

Quite simply defined, analytics is the discovery and analysis of significant patterns in data. When it comes to evaluating website success and making improvements to enhance the visitor experience, it’s absolutely critical that your firm has a significant data set. Google Analytics is a free service which provides site owners with a detailed understanding of traffic patterns, visitor behavior and conversion rates. All practices should ensure that they have a tracking system for their websites installed from the day that the site goes live. Equally important is setting goals for your firm and having regular reviews of your Google Analytics data to ensure you are meeting, or exceeding, benchmarks.

B  Blog
Over the past few years, legal blogs have become increasingly popular as a medium through which individuals can communicate their thoughts on a wide array of issues. When utilized correctly, a law blog can help you attract new clients, keep you connected to current clients, establish you as an authority in your respective areas of practice and assist with search engine optimization. When developing an online presence for your firm, consider adding a blog to your website, or hosting a blog on an external platform, as a tool to drive more traffic to your site. As you develop your blog, make sure that you have a content strategy to ensure regularity with posts and include tools, such as email and RSS subscriptions and social media sharing widgets, which will help you to connect with visitors.

C  Copy
As you step into the world of web development and SEO, you’ll likely find that most consultants have different views on the importance of certain site elements but they all agree on one thing – copy is singlehandedly the most important component of your site’s success, both in the eyes of the search engines and visitors. As you work to make your website a resource for prospective clients, current clients and colleagues, be sure to develop a unique page for each of your practice areas (no, a bulleted list of them just won’t cut it). Each attorney should also have his/her own profile page. Furthermore, keep in mind that your home page is an SEO hot spot and in many cases, the first thing that a visitor sees; spend significant time on this page, drafting quality copy and creating a concise message that speaks to your prospective clients’ unique needs.

D  Disclaimers
One of the primary purposes of attorney advertising is to provide information on legal services available to the public. However, in providing this information, there is an inherent risk that visitors may perceive this as legal advice. If your site contains information pertaining to your area of practice, you should consider adding a disclaimer which is visible, or can be accessed, from every page on your site. The disclaimer should explain that the information obtained at the site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You might further explain that visitors should consult an attorney for advice regarding their individual situations.  If you consider any client endorsements, past verdicts, information on certification or expertise, bona fide ratings or fees, you might also consider adding an appropriate disclaimer pertaining to that specific information which may be considered misleading to some visitors.

E  E-newsletters
While e-newsletters are generally not found on a website, they are an important part of a comprehensive online marketing strategy. If you are developing a new site, consider incorporating monthly (or weekly e-newsletters) which provide valuable information to contacts. Use these e-blasts to highlight the resources available on your website and encourage site visitors to sign up for this publication with a simple form on your website.

F  Forms
To give site visitors more ways to connect with your firm, you should add user-friendly contact forms throughout the site. These forms should ask for minimal information and should be prominently placed to encourage submissions from site visitors. All submissions should  be sent immediately to your firm for follow up and also stored in a secure database (more advanced content management systems offer this feature).

G  Geographical Targeting
Attorneys often say “I want to rank first among all bankruptcy attorneys in my state”. Yes, you and every other attorney share that goal. With millions of attorney websites, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll rank on the first page in a national or statewide search. If you narrow your geographical focus and build a quality website, you have a much better chance of being found. When optimizing your site, make your focus as narrow as possible. Focus on your town or county and ideally on just a few select, and intertwined, practice areas. And remember, it’s better to be found by 20 new clients on page one for a local search than by zero prospective clients because you appear on page 27 of the search engine results for a statewide search.

H   HTML 5 Animation
For years, Flash animation got a bad reputation in the world of web design; the sequences couldn’t be interpreted by the search engines and were largely inaccessible on most mobile device. As a solution to these issues, HTML5 has emerged as the new standard for site development. This new language provides for an animation method that does not rely on Flash. HTML5 compliant animation can be viewed across all modern, and future, browsers and devices, including Apple phones and tablets.  If you’re considering animation on your firm’s website, we strongly recommend that HTML5 be utilized.

I Images
A professionally designed site with quality photos is a critical part of establishing credibility with a prospective client or referral source. Far too often, attorneys choose photos they like without giving much thought to the ideal client and what images will resonate with him or her. Before you sit down with a graphic designer or go at it alone, take some time to identify the types of cases you want to attract through your website and identify what questions and emotions come along with them. In doing so, you can design a site which speaks to your target clientele and not necessarily to the partners’ preferences. You should also review your state’s Rules of Professional Conducts for guidelines on images; some prohibit the use of actors so certain stock imagery may land you in hot water.

J   JavaScript
JavaScript is a computer programming language which can be integrated into standard HTML pages allowing for dynamic, interactive webpages. If you’ve never heard of JavaScript, you should probably consider hiring a professional website developer who can help you with the technical end.

K  Keywords
You can’t talk website development or SEO without mention of keywords. Simply explained, keywords are terms or words identified by the search engines when visiting your site. These keywords are used in providing a Google user with sites that match his/her search query.  Adding keywords to content throughout your web pages can improve its ranking, but overusing them can actually jeopardize your site. When drafting content for your new site, write for your client and not for the search engines.

Also a note about meta keywords
While Google once used these as one of their many ranking factors, the search engine leader has since discounted them. Do not fall victim to SEO consultants who insist you invest in a strategy which includes meta keywords; they are ineffective and may actually tip your competitors off to the strategy you’re employing.

L  Loading Time
When selecting a website host, it’s important that you ensure quick loading times of sites on their servers. A slow loading time may be a major deterrent to website visitors (especially those with slower internet connectivity or surfing the web on their mobile devices ) and may negatively impact your site’s SEO.  In selecting a host, test out some of their sites. If after typing in the URL, the site takes more than 15 seconds to load, you may need to look elsewhere.

M  Meta Tags
Code optimization, which is one component of on-site optimization, has little to do with what the user sees and consists of meta tags which include title, keywords, descriptions and robot tags. Years ago, meta tags were an integral part of a sound SEO campaign but in recent years their significance has largely diminished. Google has publicly stated that meta keywords carry no relevance and meta descriptions are now solely used for the visitor (they will see this below the link to your site in the SERPs), not your site’s ranking. Meta titles are still important but they are just one piece of a much larger SEO puzzle. Instead of spending hours pondering the different meta tags you will use, devote your time and resources developing unique content and a site that is user friendly.

N Navigation
Many experts argue that the navigation structure of your firm’s website is just as important as your content or graphics. After all, what good is your site if visitors can’t find what they’re looking for in a timely manner? In developing your website, make sure that your navigation menu is easy to read; the text for each page should be large, well spaced and not overwhelming. There should be just one level of drop down menus and subpages (your subpages should not have subpages as these become just too cumbersome to navigate through).You should employ a hover effect so visitors know exactly where they are on the site and consider adding a smart links menu on each page which take visitors to corresponding information within your site.

O   Open Source & Other Content Management Systems
When developing a new website for your practice, you must consider how it will be updated in the months ahead, after it is placed online. There are many platforms which run on open source solutions. Some of the most common ones are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. While this software is generally user-friendly and allows for minor tweaks to the content, more complex changes or even the integration of third party software can prove to be incredibly challenging. When selecting your website host, carefully evaluate the CMS which will be used for your site and whenever possible, select a CMS which was developed specifically for attorneys as these tend to have more favorable functionality to meet the unique needs of the legal industry.

P   PageRank
When researching the many strategies used in search engine optimization, the term “PageRank” is sure to come up. Quite simply explained, PageRank generally measures how many, if any, websites provide a hyperlink back to your website.  In essence, search engines interpret these link-backs to your website as an endorsement of your website’s credibility and relevancy.  When determining where links to your website should be placed, it’s important to remember that link building is not a numbers game. It’s better to have 5 links from relevant websites than to have 685 links from sites that have little or no relevance. As you grow your online presence, identify a few key sites which are well-respected and rank well, and think of creative ways to get a link back to your site. This might entail contributing a blog post with your contact information or offering a resource for visitors which the site master is happy to post as an added benefit.

Q  Questions
Legal advertising should serve two purposes: 1) educate the general public about legal services available to them and 2) promote your services to the community. In providing a valuable resource to educate prospective clients, you must first identify the questions that your prospective client is likely to have and then set out to address these concerns. These questions should be taken into consideration when it comes to messaging, design and content.

R  Resources
Once you’ve identified the key questions as described above, you can create a great resource center for clients and prospects alike. Resources may come in the form of blog posts describing changes in the law, a toolkit for new clients or a page of links to local organizations that may be of help to your site visitors. In creating a valuable online hub for your prospective clients, you establish credibility and ideally a sense of comfort which will lead site visitors to contact your firm.

S  Social Media
Over the past few years, the use of social media in legal marketing has skyrocketed. Attorneys are now actively using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to share their expertise and connect with other industry experts and clients. While social media networks are independent of your firm’s website, there must be some kind of strategic connection for optimal results. If your firm is utilizing social media, be sure to include prominent links to your various accounts so visitors can connect with your firm. Similarly, use social media to drive traffic to your site; with the right engagement and valuable resources on your website, this is easily accomplished.

T  Testimonials
Strong client testimonials have the ability to set your law firm apart from your competitors and can serve as objective evidence of your competence and commitment to client service. In fact, research shows that adding testimonials to your marketing copy can improve response by around 30%. It’s important to note that some states have very strict guidelines on including client endorsements in advertising materials. If you do decide to include testimonials, be sure to review the Rules of Professional Conduct for your jurisdiction and review all appropriate ethics advisory opinions.

Your website’s domain name and the unique URLs for each site page are important for your site’s success. When selecting a domain name, you want to choose one which is easy to remember and spell. Whenever possible, keep it short and memorable so that contacts can easily visit you online. While exact match domains were once a very significant factor in the ranking process, Google has largely moved away from that trend. When considering a domain name, keep this in mind and make it less about the keywords and more about the visitor. The URL structure in the site is also important for SEO. Make sure that each URL is dynamically optimized and whenever possible, include your geographic location in select URLs.

V   Visibility
The goal of any law firm’s website is to enhance visibility of the firm on the World Wide Web. As you develop your site, it’s important that you keep this purpose in mind and take steps to drive traffic to your website. This should be achieved through a combination of on-site optimization, a dynamic content strategy which makes your site the focal point of key information and a number of off-site promotional activities like including your URL in your email signature, stationery, local advertisements and in all attorney and firm profiles, online and off.

W  White Hat SEO
Over the past few years, the major search engines have taken great steps to improve the quality of their results by rolling out new algorithms to ensure that sites with good content rank well and are easily found by web surfers. They have also made it a priority to penalize sites that use deceptive practices to game the system and achieve better ranking despite being of poor quality. These practices which run afoul of Google guidelines are known as Black Hat SEO. Those marketing techniques which do closely abide by these guidelines are known as White Hat SEO. If you are considering hiring outside help for SEO, closely examine their practices. If some of their suggestions don’t make sense to you or seem in any way untruthful, go in a different direction as your site may suffer major penalties from their unfair practices.

X  XML Sitemap
A sitemap is the most efficient way for webmasters to  inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. Sitemaps are most commonly seen as XML files and contain a list of all URLs along with metadata for each. Although a site with a clear and easy-to- follow navigation menu does not need a sitemap for success, it is good practice in website development to create and submit one to the search engines when a site is first launched or undergoes significant changes. Once your sitemap has been created it should be submitted to Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Y  YouTube and Online Videos
Given the rise in popularity of video on the web, it’s no surprise that more and more attorneys are using this form of media to promote their services and allow prospects to hear directly from the attorneys and, in some cases, even from past clients. If your firm is looking to strike a chord with prospective clients and allow your voice to be heard, you should consider creating professional videos which showcases your commitment to clients and the unique benefits that you bring to the table. To share this video, you should upload it to YouTube. While it’s usually thought of a simple video site, YouTube is actually the second most used search engine in the world. The site gives your firm the option to embed the video on your website while still tracking all views and providing you with key analytics for viewer behavior.

Z  Zall to Action
We know, we know…it should be a call to action but you try to think of a web development word beginning with the letter z.  Simply defined, a call to action is a message or graphic which incites visitors to take a certain action. If you’re looking to generate new business, you may want visitors to sign up for a free consultation or, if you’re putting on a series of seminars, you may just want folks to sign up online.  Whatever the end-goal, your call to action is what will help you get visitors to take that critical step. Far too often, firms fail to develop a call to action which creates intrigue while delivering value to prospective clients. In creating a strong call to action for your firm, first identify your target audience and then develop a specific call to action which appeals to this group. Make sure your call to action receives prominent placement on the site so it’s conspicuous to all prospective clients and colleagues.

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Dolores Obrien

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