How to Avoid the Common Mistakes of Law Firm Web Sites

On 16.03.10, In Internet, by Blake Houser

­­­­Do you know if your firm’s web site as effective as it could be? If not, follow these suggestions to avoid and correct the most common challenges in law firm web site design.

It is extremely puzzling to see such a high number of commonly flawed, practices often found on law firm Web sites. Typically we find mistakes ranging from poorly planned site structure, flawed usability, and serious search engine optimization errors. Most of these mistakes can simply be avoided, or easily corrected. This article should be of interest to you if you are in the process of building, redesigning or just looking to clean up your law firm’s Web site.

Incorrect Content Placement

Many law firms place multiple articles on a single Web page or in a single linked file with a solo link to navigate readers to the article. This is a good practice for an E-Mail-able Newsletter but not for a web site.  That tactic made its way onto the Web, but it’s a serious mistake for a several reasons, including the potential harm it can do to your search engine ranking, but more importantly for the challenge it will cause for your analytics.
Your Web site is a tool for disseminating information however it is an extremely important analytical tool as well. You can learn as much from your own publications by tracking how many views or hits each article attracts.  Having your content commingled negates your ability to adequately track what your visitors are looking for and it’s relevance to them.

Previously sending your newsletter to your client list, offered you one benefit, that is, building a subscribers list.  It offered no verifiable data on whether the subscriber was actually reading the information and more importantly if they found it beneficial unless they responded. Analytics has changed this variable. With the correct analytical tools, we now generate extremely important statistical data about your visitors, including:

  • How many of readers, daily, weekly or on a monthly basis.
  • Most visited content or pages.
  • Frequency of visits.
  • Unique vs. returning visitors
  • The number of pages each viewed.
  • Individual visit data i.e. the number of pages they viewed while on site.
  • Length of visit of your site and pages.
  • Bounce rate i.e., percentage of visitors that leave after entering the first page of your site.
  • Which page is the page most frequently exited i.e., from which pages visitors commonly leave or close out your site.
  • What is the typical visitor navigation path i.e., how do your visitors travel through your site.

By determining which pages, articles, content are attracting the most visitors you can then determine where to best allocate and target your future marketing budget. Understanding which articles are being read the most will offer you valuable information for your practice.  Which of your lawyers and practice areas generate the most traffic?  What articles are attracting your readers and are they short case oriented articles or lengthy in depth articles that provide practical advice?   The answers to these questions will help you in making prudent and informed decisions for your business.

Additionally learning information like is it more important to produce a short article on a timely topic quickly or delay it until a more thorough piece can be developed.  Do your readers spend time reading the articles with a clever title verses thorough content?

Most importantly, you want to know specific information like what articles send people to a specific lawyer’s profile and which do not.  What attracts visitors to become subscribers, and which of your articles lead a reader to submit a contact form.

As you can clearly see analytics can significantly impact your decision making on your site and practice.   Properly segregating and grouping your articles gives you an advantage to extract data that assists your marketing.  Lumping your content together prohibits you from identifying trends and potential clients.
Menu Bar Single Links

Similarly to the challenge of incorrect content placement is the practice of providing a single title link to a page that contains more than one article.  This is a serious site flaw of many law firm Web sites.   In fact it could be the worst. It can be found on law firm Web sites across the Country, typically in one of the methods listed below:

  • More (More than likely the worst title possible)
  • Archive
  • Current Newsletter
  • Click Here To Read

This practice is extremely harmful for a solid search engine optimization strategy.   Search engines (like Google, Bing, Yahoo…) will utilize the text of the link to help determine where a Web page ranks for a particular search. If the anchor text (the description of the title) does not convey any meaningful, distinguishing information, search engines particularly Google is less likely to rank that page highly for a strategic search. That’s true for external links (links that are pointing to your site from other sites) and internal links (links on your site that point to your other internal web site pages).

A professional search engine optimizer will utilize anchor text that describes the article’s content. When determining the content of your anchor text, first determine why the article is important to the reader. The answer must be your anchor text. For example; the anchor text for an article on the Florida Supreme Court Ruling on Web site advertising should be, “Florida Supreme Court issues decision on Florida Law Firm web site advertising”.  Do not get caught up utilizing unnecessary words for instance, “Update” or “Alert”.  Be cautious to not waste words, if some one would not use a particular word or phrase to search for an article on a topic, don’t place it in your link.

Web Publishing

Publishing on the Web is still developing.   Today reading your newspaper online is quicker and more efficient that reading it in hard copy form. Utilize this phenomenon to your advantage and steer clear of the print mentality when it comes to Web site publications.

Dating Publications:

Always date your publications.  Your information is critical to people and in the legal arena issues can change rapidly.  Having dated publications is essential.   Do not leave publications undated and make sure you are specific with your dates. Your potential clients may be researching a topic or specialty area that your firm specializes in.  Incorrect or outdated information will harm your credibility.  Keeping your information dated and new on your web site will keep you one step ahead of your competitors. Your site will become the standard and respected site for information.

Publication Sorting:

Do not attempt to be fancy.  A publication is an article with pertinent information for your visitors.  If you want to utilize Newsletters then utilize them for what they are e-mail or snail publications.  All of your articles should be sorted in a data-base that is easily searchable by date, topic, practice area, and the industry it pertains to.   Do not force your visitors to search through a point and click maze of frustration, they will not stay for long.

Search Functionality:

Make sure your site has a simple search function tool.   This search functionality must locate all pertinent articles with a minimum of words typed into the search tool.  Visitors get irritated with zero search results especially when they know the article actually exists.  When no search results are returned always have a message that offers a contact that can assist the user to locate what they are looking for.   This will assist you in gaining respect and a reputation for helping the visitor.  You will be shocked by the amount of additional contacts you will receive by utilizing this practice.

For the Techie in all of us!

I recently heard a friend call himself “Nerdless” a reference to being overwhelmed by the technical aspects of life.  But let’s face it the technical aspect of life is here to stay and there is a bit of techie in all of us.  Here is the point of this section, get it right the first time so you do not waste time, money and effort.

Let’s start with Redirects, that is if you are working on a redesign of your site try not to redirect your URL’s, if possible (example: keep yoursite.com/my-great-store.html the same). The URL is the acronym for Uniform Resource Locator.   When you redesign your site it often leads to redirecting the URL’s that you have in place.  Clean URL’s are an important aspect to optimization of your site.  Have a professional make sure your URL’s are clean.   For example: Rockin-Law.com/newsletters.php?article_id=1234 should look like Rockin-Law.com/article-name.html for SEO and Usability purposes.

When you decide to make the change and use Search Engine Friendly URL’s then you will need to redirect the old URLs. You do not want to have your existing links go to a 404 (error) page. This can be accomplished using a 301 Redirect. I suggest hiring a professional to take care of technical matters like this, but in any case, we shall explain. To perform a simple 301 redirect from one static page to another you can use this method:

  Redirect  301 directory/oldurl.html http://www.yoursite.com/directory/newurl.html

Now, things get a little more complicated when you add URL variables. Many database driven websites pass information in this way so I suggest that you obtain professional help. If you can’t redirect from the old version to the new version you should at least redirect the old page to a similar page or category (i.e. redirect yoursite.com/blue-legos-are-great.html to yoursite.com/legos/).

Article Archives. If you utilize a data-base for your articles you will never have this problem.  Your service is not the Library of Congress.  There is no need to archive articles.  It creates challenges with links that people already have to your site.  For instance a simple bookmark will come up empty for the return visitor.  In other words one of your visitors likes an article on your site and places a bookmark on it to return to yet in the mean time you have archived the article it now has a new URL so the old link comes back with the dreaded “404” error.

  http://www.Rockin-Law.com/publications/article.html

and then you move it:

  http://www.Rockin-Law.com/publications/archive/article.html

It is the same challenge we discussed with a site redesign, it will harm your search engine position and create inactive URLs.

Unclean URLs. You want your URL’s to be as clean as possible.  Think of it this way; make them so that you could recite them over the phone with ease.   You do not want to be attempting to get someone to understand something like this:

http://www.Rockin-Law.com/article_id?=574&cat=74564_/?... 

You will not only lose people on the phone but unclean URLs will get lost in the search engine ranking.

Title Tags. A title tag is the Web page title. Search engines utilize it for the title page as well.   It is your choice; however it should describe the contents clearly and as short as possible. Law Firms often make the mistake of utilizing title tags of the home page for all Title Tags.  This is may be good for the Home Page but is very ineffective as the page title for your Legal Articles page! This practice will assist you search engine rankings and it should not take a professional long to correct.

Pop-Ups. Many people do not like pop-ups and actually will prevent them.   However, many Law Firms utilize this tool for articles so they are launched in a new window.  Typically they are activated using JavaScript.   One other challenge to this practice is that some search engines spider will not track JavaScript.  Therefore you will not have that page indexed in the search engines.  There is no real benefit of using this technique therefore you are better off not utilizing it.

Finally, always look for referrals for any professional you hire to assist you with your Search Engine Optimization and Redesign of your Web site.  Make sure you can verify the info via analytics tools and third party sites like Compete.com or Quantcast.com.

Blake Houser

Client Relations Manager at The Wells & Drew Companies
About the author:
Blake Houser is Client Relations Manager at Wells & Drew. In addition, he is the third generation in this family-owned speciality printing business.

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