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The Top 5 Website Blunders (21st June 2013)

Every firm should have a website, but astonishingly so many don’t.  Of those that do, many reflect their firm poorly.  Websites work for you 24/7 and you should want the website to do your firms “heavy lifting”. It should cost only a couple of thousand dollars starting from scratch.  That’s all we charge!  In the past, when a friendly Accountant referred a client to your firm, the client would automatically contact you due to the “strong” referral but today anyone who is referred to you, even if it is from a trusted advisor, will not only look at your website first, they will often research their legal issue ahead of any meeting and come to the first meeting well informed. 

Has it occurred to you how many people may have been referred to you, only to be put off and not make contact, because your website doesn’t portray your firm as it should? You will never know.

We look at law firm websites constantly and find that even well run law firms make blunders.  Here are our top 5 (note there are many more!):

1. Web pages being introspective - it’s not really about you

Firms often launch into how good they are at certain fields of law and are self-congratulatory page after page. It is not about you. We believe websites work best when clients and potential clients can assess whether you are the lawyer for them of if your firm is. How do they do that?  Not by being told you are the firm for them, but by you showing them.

Demonstrate to the viewer that you know about a certain field of law by providing details and relevant content.  Most sites have a meaningless amount of text, in fact most just list or describe what work is undertaken. They are too brief or too lazy to add good content.  This gives no confidence to a referred client and does nothing to showcase your depth of knowledge.  You should demonstrate this by writing about relevant issues and set out helpful tips for clients.  You need to look at your website from the reader’s perspective.

By doing this you are showing that you are willing to offer help and provide goodwill, because you have put it on your site without asking for anything in return.  To the solicitors who think that providing details on your site will result in potential clients not needing to use your services, we say two things.  First, clients should not be treated as mushrooms.  What do you expect people to do - merely accept that? No way! They will keep searching the internet until they find the information they seek (that’s what the internet is all about and isn’t that how you use the internet?) and if you don’t provide it, it will be found on your competitor’s site.  Second, even if you do lose a tiny group of people who do just as you fear, do you really want to work for them? They are the D grade clients. Leave them for someone else to look after.  Putting it another way, you will gain far more than you lose.

2. Shocking photo selection (or no photos)

Just because a mate tells you the photo of you with a beer in one hand and a shotgun in the other brings great memories of a weekend you will never forget, doesn’t mean that your clients and referrers will understand it or even remotely like it. They may gain a wrong impression by the image projected, particularly if they don’t know you at all.

So, be mindful of the old saying that a picture tells a thousand words. The best option is to get someone with an interest, or better still, professional training, in photography to take some shots in the office of you and your other solicitors and key staff.

We recommend the background be plain, not law books for example, because the photo becomes too busy. Be looking into the barrel of the camera (without squinting) and let’s see some teeth and a small smile. It doesn’t matter if you do not think you are naturally beautiful, because it is not a beauty contest. Web viewers do need to think that you will help them in solving their legal problem/s though. Viewers want to trust that you will act skilfully for them. That is the image you should project!

Also, so many sites we review don’t have any photos of the solicitors.  This automatically puts you at a disadvantage.  As we say above, it’s not about looks so get over it.  Rightly or wrongly clients like to see the person and make their own assessments before they retain you or your firm.

A final word on photos; ask a trusted person to help select the final photo options rather than doing it yourself.

3. Not specifying the type of work you want to attract to the firm

This might sound too basic to botch, but it happens all the time.

If you don’t want to do Dividing Fence Disputes then don’t talk about them on your website.

Conversely, if a particular area of law produces premium fees and gives you a competitive edge over other law firms, then promote it front and centre.  We have actually had partners say to us that their firm’s greatest profit came from a certain area of law, and in the same breath, conceded that the website had absolutely no mention of it! 

We often hear about what a firm actually does and does well or what their major areas of law are, and then when we examine the firm’s website it shows the firm in a different light. The website has to be consistent with the firm’s Business Plan and Marketing Plan so that it is co-ordinated. (You do have those plans, right?).

4. Being too modest in the Bio

We often meet practitioners who candidly mention that they are confident of being able to do certain work because of their experience. When pressed for details they then go into specifics that establish that they have achieved so much, held wonderful positions, assisted associations for example and have worked on challenging matters successfully. All of this said modestly. Then they mention all the things their partners have done and you get the same impressive feeling.

Yet when you look at their bios on the website these details are so understated or non-existent it is meaningless.

The bio is that part of the firm’s website where you need to talk about yourself. Firms often make the mistake of talking about themselves for the entire website and going all coy in the bio where it really matters. You need to do the opposite.

Talk about what you can do for your clients and potential clients in your website but in the bio part talk about you. Not boastfully but you need to sell the fact that you should be the lawyer the web viewer should contact for their legal problem.

If you say you have 20 years’ experience then back that up by setting out some substantial or significant work you have done in that field.  Describe what you have done so it makes sense to the reader. If you have given lectures on certain fields of law that gives you credibility and it shows you are up-to-date. Set out what you do.

You need to say something about yourself as well, so if you are a golfer or a stamp collector, include that. It shouldn’t be front and centre but it needs to be there.

A photo should be next to your bio as well.

A final word about your bio - mention football teams or political parties at your own peril (and I don’t care what team it is or what party it might be). If it’s part of your DNA and you can’t stop yourself then go ahead, but understand you will lose work because of it.

5. Out-of-date content

If you were to look at the websites for five competitors we bet you will find stale or out of date material. This is the case even for professional, well-managed firms. Why? We believe that most firms genuinely forget about their website once it initially has been completed.

The Partners forget that the “Newsletter” page that they thought was a great idea (and it is) will regularly be updated because they were so enthusiastic about their new site, solicitors would be lining up to submit newsletter articles. But reality kicks in and everyone is doing their legal work and time goes by and oops it has been two years and newsletter #1 dated all that time ago is still there all by itself announcing some new piece of legislation which is no longer new at all. Let’s hope the savvy clients don’t notice that, because we have been saying how cutting edge we are all over other parts of the website.

And the Christmas photos of 2009 should not now be in “News”…put them in “Archives” where they can be found if someone really wants to see them, or rename News to be something more appropriate.

We work with firms on their websites all the time and now offer a hosting service as well as our ongoing maintenance.  If you need some help call us.  The accompanying short video explains more.

Peter Heazlewood