Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Your Law Firm Website

LLRX presents an article about law firm websites which starts with, well, the painful truth:
For those of you lawyers and firms with websites, though, I’m going to make a broad, sweeping generalization – they stink. I know you’d like to think I’m talking about everybody’s site except yours, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that yours does, too.
For the most part, I agree with the article. I am indifferent to some of the points - I don't think it's a big deal, for example, if a firm posts attorney pictures in B&W and have seen it done well and tastefully on a number of sites (with tasteless garish pictures on some sites that prefer color). I do, however, take issue with a couple of the author's assertions.
How often should your content change? At least once a week. And by that I mean that everything on your home page should be brand new at least once a week. So you can do a whole turn-and-burn every Monday, or you can rotate out 1/5th of your stuff every weekday. Is that a lot of work? Sure. But nobody said being relevant and attracting clients to your firm would be easy. Your alternative is to keep being boring and stuffy. It’s entirely your call.
A law firm should strive to continuously add new content to a site, but it's a bit much to insist that the whole site should change on a weekly basis. Part of the calculus should be why you expect clients to come to your site. If you are expecting the same group of clients and potential clients to come, over and over again, change can be very good. If you are anticipating that your firm's site will primarily be recruiting new clients who haven't seen the site before, "change for the sake of change" can be unduly burdensome, and if it also involves reorganizing your site or changing the content of pages key to your search engine traffic, it can harm your search engine ranking. A static, encyclopedic site can do a lot more to generate business (and, should you choose, other forms of revenue) than an ever-changing site. (And I've seen quite a few high-content, frequelty updated sites suddenly become neglected, as the sponsoring lawyer or firm realizes that it isn't generating clients or is simply taking too much time to maintain.)
So you need to put as much interactivity into your site as possible. Studies have shown that websites with games are the most “sticky” of any on the Internet. And while I don’t suggest that you put a Vegas-style gambling panel on every page of your firm’s site, I do suggest that you think about your site as a chance for interaction, rather than just a table to lay brochures on.
Certainly, some of the author's suggested interactivity, such as online calculators or (secure) intake forms, can be helpful to a firm's client recruitment and practice. Again, though, it is important to consider the type of client you are targeting with the site when deciding which forms of interactivity are likely to work for you. If you don't have a lot of time to devote to your site, but have a lot of clients who are interested in results that might be determinable through an online calculator or similar automatic feature, such a feature can be a good addition - in fact, if it is appealing to potential clients, given that the time investment is in creation and not maintenance it would be a good idea to add such features even in the unlikely event that you have tons of spare time. But if the interactivity requires a time commitment from your side, don't bite off more than you can chew. It is better to have a boring site than to have your first interaction with certain clients be a disappointment to them.
If your firm isn’t blogging, it needs to be. Blogs are to PR what email was to letters and desktop publishing was to the print industry. Blogging is public relations on steroids and a sugar high at the same time. And I mean that in a good way. And blogs are perfect for law firms.
Well, not necessarily. Blogs can be a good way to get effective ownership of certain keywords in search engines - name a blog after your desired legal keyword or phrase, update regularly, and there's a good chance you'll do well under those keywords in search engine results. Blogs can also be sufficiently interesting or authoritative that they are read by a number of clients and potential clients on a regular basis, informing or reminding them of your expertise. But blogs are something of a "here today, gone tomorrow" form of publishing - archived pages on blogs tend to fall out of favor with search engines, even as the new content may continue to get good search engine results. Also there is no guarantee that, just because you blog about a legal subject and do it well, that your blog will be read or that it will garner return visits.

If you are posting quality articles to your law firm blog, it is probably a good idea to post articles to a static, well-indexed article archive on your site, and quote a few paragraphs to your blog with a link to the article.

Remember this - the biggest advocates of law firm sites were the people selling those sites, and for the most part those sites stink. Now, with that market relatively saturated, many of the same people acknowledge that legal websites mostly stink and are pitching "blawgs."

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