Does My Law Firm Need a New Website?

Rumpled LawyerContributor: Barbara Drake, J.D.

Remember the time you had a big hole in the sleeve of your jacket, mismatched shoes, and ink stains on your shirt or blouse when you met with a client? Of course you don’t. That didn’t happen. You know how an unkempt appearance would adversely affect your credibility. Yet, if your law firm website design or content is outdated, you may be looking disheveled and worn to a lot of potential clients every day.

Your law firm website presents your image and brand to the world. It leaves a lasting first impression on everyone who visits it. Shouldn’t it be as fresh and professional as you are when you meet clients in person?

Your Website and Your Credibility

Before I joined The Modern Firm's writing team, I worked as a legal management consultant for 10 years, evaluating law firm websites as an essential component of marketing and business development. Many of those websites really needed attention.

Firms with neglected websites had something in common: When the lawyers were not practicing, they were too busy trying to grow the firm’s business to worry about how their website looked and functioned. Ironically, they were neglecting the website while spending time trying to do something the website could have helped them accomplish. Instead, the firm's outdated site was no help at all and may even have sent some potential clients away. Demonstrating the role of the firm's website—and the detriment caused by a flawed site—was the only way to get the lawyers to focus on the need to update the website.

As part of a project named Stanford Web Credibility Research, studies by Stanford University show that 75% of web users judge the credibility of a business based on its website. Other research and studies confirm the simple truth: how your website looks and works really does matter to your potential clients. What’s on your website can make the difference between a potential client contacting you or contacting one of your competitors.

Your website should be the cornerstone of your marketing and business development efforts. Paying attention to signals that it needs to be updated will help ensure that your website brings potential clients in, rather than turning them away.

So what makes a website unappealing to your potential clients? There are several possibilities.

Behind-the-Times Website Design

Websites are like cars: you can tell what year they were built.

Old Computer

Website design is like any other design industry: styles are constantly evolving and changing. In the twenty-plus years since the first law firm website launched in 1994, law firm website design has continuously undergone significant innovation. Even a website launched just a few years ago can look “old” compared to recently-launched or -revised websites of your competitors.

Appearance matters when you meet a potential client in person. Looking old or outdated online undermines your image and brand too. Stanford’s research revealed that website visitors react to a site quickly based on the visual design alone. Elements like layout, typography, consistency, and photos contribute to that first and lasting impression.

Just as the visual impression of your website can impact a potential client’s opinion, so can a lack of newer law firm website design features, like mobile responsivenessclient testimonials, a blog, or one-click contact options. More than anything else, having a well-designed, user-friendly mobile website matters. The majority of people looking at websites are using a mobile device—as is fully recognized by Google, which favors mobile-compatible websites in its rankings, thus making mobile readiness critical for SEO. But mere "mobile compatibility" is not enough to keep humans on your site (or to fully impress Google): the mobile version of a website should be thoughtfully designed.

Computer screen sizes

But it's not only how your website looks that can send potential clients running in a different direction.

Website Content Blues

The content of your website can be out-of-date, even if the visual appearance is not. Having dated information—like firm news, cases, a blog, speaking engagements, bio details, publications, and community involvement—showing nothing more recent than a year or two ago is an instant giveaway that you haven’t paid attention to your website. That could leave potential clients wondering if you show the same lack of attention to your work.

The Stanford group published a research summary, Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility, a list of 10 ground rules for building website credibility. One of the guidelines urges updating a site’s content often, or at least showing that the content was reviewed recently. Stanford’s research demonstrated that website visitors give greater credibility to a website that obviously has been recently updated or at least reviewed. As a bonus, when you regularly update your site, Google pays more attention to you too: newer content ranks higher in some searches.

But the content on your website does a lot more than provide up-to-date information.

The Write Stuff

Your content tells your story: it explains who you are, what you do, and why you’re better at it than other attorneys who do the same thing. The writing on your website determines how well your website accomplishes those tasks. It needs to draw in potential clients and make them want to talk with you. If online marketing is one of your website goals, it also needs to get the attention of Google and other search engines through topnotch Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Content NotepadSEO copywriting is a little tricky. Sometimes, it’s stringing together the right words, in the right order, in the right places. Other times, it’s making sure all your site’s content is consistent and unique. There are other writing elements that play into the complex SEO equation too.

SEO is about increasing your rankings so more potential clients come to your website. Good website writing does much more: it keeps those people on your website. One of the fundamental keys to keeping people on your site is making sure your written content is both useful and easy-to-use. Stanford’s research showed that those two attributes won credibility points with users—and that sometimes those virtues get lost amid efforts to tout accomplishments or impress visitors with fancy technology. Not only does keeping people on your site make them more likely to contact you, but "time on site" is one of the factors that Google uses to rank sites in search results.

When you are evaluating whether you should update your website, take a critical look at the quality of the written content. The writing on your site plays a huge role in how well your site fulfills the important goals of getting potential clients to your site, keeping them there, and getting them to contact you.

Security, Accessibility, and More ...

Now to get a little technical. Some other considerations that it's worth thinking about—or asking your current website host or IT profession about—include:

  • HTTPS/SSL security encrypts connections to your website, protecting the privacy of your users. This is a positive for marketing and client communication ethics and, as a bonus, Google gives higher rankings to websites with HTTPS/SSL encryption.
  • ADA website compliance: Is your website accessible for users with disabilities? (Accessibility also has SEO advantages.)
  • Hosting speed should be fast: Slow loading speeds can make people leave before they even see the site.
  • Backups: If something goes wrong, you want to be able to recover quickly.

Website Assessment Tips

Now you know how much your website matters and how it might be sabotaging your marketing and business development efforts. Are you ready to make an honest assessment of it? Here’s how you can get started:

  • Look at your competitors’ sites, especially those that rank high in Google search results. What do they have or do that your site doesn’t?
  • Navigate your website on your phone, then on a tablet and laptop, then on your desktop big screen. What do you see? Compare that to what it should look like.
  • Ask people in your firm—lawyers and staff—to give you candid opinions about your website. Encourage them to pin down concerns. Is it the appearance or lack of current information? Is it a problem with ease-of-use or helpfulness? Is the site lacking information that potential clients need to know? Is it pretty much everything about it?
  • If you're a solo practice, ask your professional colleagues, friends, and family to take an honest look at your site and tell you whether it truly reflects you and your practice.
  • Solicit your clients’ opinions. If they found you through your site, ask them what they think of it. If you have a client service initiative that includes following up with clients, incorporate questions about your website.
  • Keep your website on the radar. At the beginning or end of every year, when your firm does its annual assessment, make the website a topic. Sometimes, the discussion will be brief. Other times, the comments will tell you that it’s time to pay more attention to your site.
  • Take action. If your website needs to be updated, don’t relegate the task to the back burner. Many potential clients look at your website every day. Do you really want to keep sending them off looking for a site that does its job better than yours?

You can do all these things on your own—or you can check with us to see if we can help. Our team at The Modern Firm welcomes the opportunity to have a no-cost, no-obligation discussion about your website for current clients, as well as potential clients. If you’re a client with a recent website, you’re good for a while. If you have an older website and limited concerns, such as mobile responsiveness, we can work with you to upgrade and improve your website without the cost of a whole new website. Contact us to let us know how we can help.