by Jabez LeBret
On a snowy, cold weekend in Chicago, a small group of industry experts, marketing executives, and outsiders crammed into a conference room on the 14th floor to determine the winners of this year’s Your Honor Awards presented by the Legal Marketing Association. Conversation moved fluidly from tense to humorous to determined as the group of judges broke into their pre-assigned categories and completed the process of selecting the winners. Each judge had already spent somewhere between 25 and 40 hours or more working through the submissions.
This year, for the second time, I had the honor of being one of the judges for the website and advertising categories. When it comes to websites and client engagement, the five lessons that I am about to share may be the most important five lessons for law firm marketers for the next several years to come.
No. 1 Communicating Your Brand Is a Challenge
Discovering your brand, by committee, with more than one ulterior motive in the room, discovering your brand is extremely challenging. When looking over the submissions, the challenge of delivering your brand messaging surfaced in various ways.
Rotating Banners: There is a cliché that “if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything,” and this holds true for your brand messaging. If your messaging is diluted with too many different directions, the core of your brand becomes fractured. Rotating banners are an easy solution to the following difficult conundrum:
“We are a firm that has many practice areas, serving different industries, and we want everyone to feel connected to our home page.”
However, the moment you break down and decide to put three, five, seven rotating banners, each with its own special industry or market message, you have failed your clients. The reason is simple: no one waits around to see if his or her banner is going to be next. When users get to a website, they are there with a purpose. This might be to find more information about a partner, read more about your firm, or discover the practice areas or industries you serve, and they are not going to wait around for the information they need. Having a rotating banner is like making someone wait through three different lines at Disneyland before finally getting to go on the ride.
When users get to a website, they are there with a purpose.
This becomes very apparent when you look at time on site and conduct heat map testing on your website. It should not surprise you that users have short attention spans and prefer not to wait. We have tested this over and over at GNGF, and there is no question that rotating banners are an ineffective way to communicate your multiple practices.
There is also a psychological reason not to have a rotating banner. Without going into too much detail, brain scans show that users get distracted when presented with a rotating banner, and, as a result, your conversions decrease. You can read more about that here on Tim Ash’s blog.
No. 2 Think Client First, Then Work Backwards To Your Firm Objectives
Before you decide to launch into a new website or advertising campaign, it would be wise to start with your end user and work backwards. Your job, as a law firm marketer, becomes easier when you speak from the client’s perspective. This angle of communication allows for easier and more positive results.
If you start from the eyes of your clients when communicating to your senior partners and marketing committee, the conversation is less likely to deteriorate towards “But what about my practice area?” or “Well, Jim has been here the longest so his group should be the most highlighted.”
In order to create a complete communication strategy around your clients’ needs and wants, you should start with building personas. Each of your main focus areas can be broken down into ideal target clients. From there, you begin assigning characteristics to each persona. Where did they go to school? Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they golf or prefer going to the park? What age are they? Do they save or spend? Think of as many differentiating characteristics as you can.
Now, force-rank your clients by industry or practice area depending on your preference. When ranking your clients, think about what kind of clients you would like more of in the next three years. Are there practice areas or markets you are looking to build up?
Are there practice areas or markets you are looking to build up?
Once you have built personas, you have two ways to integrate those into conversations. (And this does not have to be an either or thing—you can do both.) There will be some characteristics that are shared among your personas. Those are your 30,000-foot descriptors. Then there are practice areas or industries you are focusing on that are your more detailed descriptors.
Both sets of descriptors provide you insights as to what that type of person would like to see when visiting your website. Here is a simple example: the corporate director of finance visiting a law firm website is going to want to see different information, have different navigation, and need access to different areas than someone who is looking for an estate plan. Both may be potential clients, but each needs to be communicated to differently.
If you are in a meeting attempting to determine how you should structure your website, what the home page should look like, what images and copy should be seen first, and how the website should function, you can communicate from the future client’s perspective. This way, it sounds less like you are pushing your own opinion but rather the client’s opinion instead.
“I agree that we need to represent all practice areas. However, our strategic objective is to gain more people in a finance role and those clients need to get _______ information when they land on our home page.”
Speaking from this side of the fence will help your firm to avoid making some major messaging and design mistakes.
No. 3 Your Content Needs To Be Available When & Where Your Clients Are
We are talking about ensuring that your firm’s information is available to your clients, prospects, and partners on whatever device they are using whenever they are researching your firm. Somehow, there are still law firm websites that are not getting built with the mobile user in mind.
Somehow, there are still law firm websites that are not getting built with the mobile user in mind.
So far in the legal space, mobile access to law firm websites has already hit 29 percent of incoming website traffic and that number is rising every year. Recently, Kevin O’Keefe wrote an article that concluded that over 70 percent of Am Law 200 firms’ blogs are not mobile-ready. This is less an issue of meeting some search engine requirement and more an issue of user experience.
Just walk into a conference room before the start of a meeting and look around the room; everyone is happily reading away on his or her mobile device. It is almost impossible to buy a phone these days that does not come with access to the Internet.
This means you need to enable your content—all of your content—to be viewable on any device. If you are producing a thought leadership blog and sending out email announcements to your list…what device do you think people are most likely to view that email and read that article on? Data shows us that users are moving to mobile first access for web content at an alarming rate.
Now you shouldn’t ignore the search engines either. Google, among others, has requested politely that websites be built in responsive design. This is for a number of reasons; responsive design eliminates the issue of duplicate content and allows for flexibility across all device sizes. Thus mobile, or m-dot, coding is not a viable alternative for law firms.
The bottom line is this: your users want your content, and they need it to be available on their phone, tablet, and desktop. With pricing pressures and a decrease in client loyalty, making your clients wait to get home before they can read your content is going to cost you dearly.
No. 4 Success Is In The Details
Exactly like a lawyer should never submit a brief with spelling errors, your website needs to be polished. The number of law firm websites with spelling and grammatical errors is few, but the attention to detail is what separates a mediocre site from a great site. These details include a number of factors that involve design, usability, and access to information.
…attention to detail is what separates a mediocre site from a great site.
Your law firm website should be easy to use. It is lazy design to force the user to move around, scroll, or search for the way to navigate, get to information, or contact the law firm. It is really odd how many law firms make it difficult to contact them for no apparent reason. They hide the contact information deep on a contact page or in the footer, and they force the user to work to contact the firm.
When looking at a large number of law firm websites, it is apparent that the missing details are not consistent. This means you should consider setting up a quality control step in your process. Have someone walk through the site with a fine-tooth comb, clicking and navigating through the site to find what is broken.
The problem here lies in your agency. As a law firm marketing department, your job is to approve things, guide the process, and provide the information needed for an agency to create your website. In the end, your agency should be responsible for creating a product without mistakes. This certainly includes design mistakes.
Your challenge as a marketer is to step back from the situation and attempt to look at the website from fresh eyes before launch. The biggest challenge here is that you have been working through iteration after iteration and seeing the little mistakes becomes increasingly difficult unless you put yourself in the correct mindset. Pretend you are viewing your law firm website for the first time, and ask yourself if it meets the following minimum requirements:
– Easy to navigate
– You quickly understand what the firm does
– There are no mistakes (images covering copy, lines through graphics, buttons moving to strange places when the window is resized, etc)
– It looks good on a mobile and you can access all the information
– Images all load quickly
– Contacting the firm is easy
Doing some user experience and user interface analysis will help you think about how to approach your website from a different perspective and thus uncover most the minor mistakes that add up. The worst thing about minor mistakes is just that—they do add up.
No. 5 You’re Paying Too Much Or Not Enough
This may be the most difficult thing to determine; how much money should you be spending on a website project?
Included in this number should be soft cost (your time), additional expenses (photography, etc), and branding with development. There is no question that law firms are paying way more than market value for many of their projects.
Your law firm website project is not as complex as some people may be telling you. From inflated design costs to exorbitant development cost, most law firms are getting ripped off.
Your law firm website project is not as complex as some people may be telling you.
For some firms, for whatever reason, choosing the most expensive option is seen as a point of pride. That sounds just silly to me. Smart business decisions are something to be proud of and spending $140,000 dollars on a website that is clearly an $80,000 dollar website is highway robbery.
Stop spending so much money on your law firm website. Period. For over 95 percent of law firms, there is no need to invest that amount of money.
There are also some firms that are spending way too little money. If you are building a successful online campaign or building a new website and spending less than $40,000 dollars, you are way underinvesting. To build an effective website, it requires a minimum amount of fingers on keys and smarts. There is, of course, a cost to this, similar to the cost of hiring your firm. Too many corners are cut when law firms try to get by on the lowest budget possible.
Moving forward, as marketers in an industry that wishes it didn’t have to market at all, it is our duty to help the decision makers understand the impacts of these mediums. Your senior partners may not use Facebook, or they may not see the value in having a mobile website because they don’t use their phones to research things, but your clients do and this is why it is so important. Ultimately, we want our clients to respect us, believe in us, refer us to their friends—our job is to make all that happen without barriers. Your web presence is a major piece of that puzzle, and getting it right can be the difference between that next big referral calling or not. And that is worth taking up the challenge.
Sometimes you need to talk about this stuff. Feel free to give me a call. 513.444.2016 just ask for Jabez LeBret
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Jabez is co-author of the best-selling legal technology book Online Law Practice Strategies. He is an international technology expert who has delivered CLE presentations at the Alaska, Washington, Ohio, Florida, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado,Washington State, Maryland and Indiana State Bar Associations, the ABA and LMA, plus over 50 other bar associations. Jabez writes a regular business and technology column for Forbes and is also an contributor to the ABA Journal and NBC Chicago. He is also co-founder of the legal marketing agency GNGF winner of the 2014 Best Place to Work by the Cincinnati Business Courier and runner-up for Business of the Year by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. He loves coffee and is a craft beer enthusiast.
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