When writing about website design for lawyers, it’s knee-jerk for us to say that the most important thing is staying focused on the purpose of the site — which is to convert visitors into clients. But, at the same time, that goal can only be carried out to its fullest when you understand the possibilities available, as well as the viability and practicality of each. That’s why the best designs are created when there is a marriage between principle and possibility.
It’s not primarily about what’s flashy, or the newest trend, or what the other guys are doing. It’s about accomplishing the end goal of growing your firm via the digital space.
And yet, while the principle is certainly true, there are still an infinite amount of possibilities that you could include on your site to help accomplish this goal, complicating the attainment of it. What if that new flashy animation actually would help increase conversions? Or would it just slow down your website, and ultimately not be worth the cost? It can be tricky, and some level of data or testing (if data doesn’t already exist) is often required.
So how do we shuffle through the noise and focus on the stuff that really matters?
By staying grounded in the things that we know work, and getting those things just right. On top, we’re always keeping our eyes wide open to potential new trends (which is reflected in this post), but only insofar as we are convinced through data and rationale that they actually work.
To help you understand some of the key ingredients we focus on, following are the 10 most important things for law firm websites, as well as some thoughts on how to fine-tune them to perfection.
You don’t want to mess these up.
01. Calls to Action
A call to action (CTA) is simply where you ask your visitors to take a specific next step, usually in the form of a button (with text such as Free Consultation) that leads to a contact page or pop-up. You want to make it as easy as possible for someone to get in contact with your firm, removing any potential friction that could make them frustrated or hesitant. (Which is why online contact forms exist in the first place.)
That being said, most law firms end up watering down their calls to action by including too many, or not having any at all – both of which can push prospective clients away.
It’s immensely important to know when and how to ask someone to get in touch with your firm. If you do it too much, or too aggressively, you’ll seem desperate and/or pushy, which turns users off. On the other hand, if they want to get in touch and have a hard time figuring out how, that can be just as big of a problem.
In other words, it’s largely about balance, and it depends a great deal on the many other components of your design. CTAs need to be tailored to your firm’s website, with each of the many variables available all working together to encourage your online leads to convert. Some of these variables include:
- Placement positioning: Is the CTA easy to find? Do users’ eyes gravitate toward it when they first open your website?
- Placement frequency: How often are you including CTAs? Sometimes you only need one per page, but more than one can prove useful in some situations.
- Size: The size of your CTA button depends on a few factors, including how busy the rest of your page is. If there’s a lot going on, you’ll want to have a big button that stands out so it’s obvious to users — whereas if your site has a clean, trimmed down design, a big button would be distracting and seem pushy, and so should be kept to a smaller size most likely.
- Text: On top of making sure that the copy resonates with your users, there are also some more nuanced typeface decisions to make that can affect the look and feel of your CTA. (Read more of our thoughts on typeface below.)
- Color: Your button needs to stand out, but not stick out like a sore thumb. This has a lot to do with the primary colors of your website, and understanding which colors they interact well with. (We’ll also discuss colors in more detail later on.)
There’s no one-size fits all CTA strategy, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to do it. Not only that, but CTAs aren’t just about making it easy for prospective clients to contact you. Truly great CTAs encourage them to contact you.
02. Compelling Imagery
When choosing images for your site, there are a couple of big things to keep in mind.
First, it needs to be high-resolution and aesthetically pleasing, especially if the image is being used as a banner or “hero” shot on your homepage. Blurry, poorly-formatted images will have an immediate negative impact on the majority of your site’s visitors. So just don’t do it. Ever.
That being said, imagery – like CTAs – isn’t just about not making a bad impression. Ideally, it makes a great impression. People process images roughly 60,000 times more quickly than text, meaning that it can really set the mood and feel for your site.
That’s why we encourage every single one of our clients to use original, professional photography that showcases the attorneys themselves, as well as shots of the city (including cityscapes and landmarks). So, when local, prospective clients visit your site, not only does it appear professional, but it also adds a local flavor that they can make immediate associations with, encouraging them to trust you and your services.
It’s just absolutely vital that when using stock images, they are picked with care, helping to accomplish the goal of building trust and credibility with your users. Sometimes you really can accomplish that goal with stock photos, when you find images that reflect your practice and fit within the design of your site.
But at the same time, let’s be honest – they’ll never replace the benefits of original, professional photography done right. People are hungry for authenticity, and you should give it to them.
Does anyone remember the infamous Dan Gilbert “Goodbye, LeBron James” open letter from 2010? Gilbert was – and still is – the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he wrote and published this open letter right after LeBron announced that he was moving to the Miami Heat. The letter was an impassioned appeal to all Cavaliers fans, with Gilbert calling LeBron a deserter and claiming that they didn’t need him (oh, how things have changed!). The problem? He published it in Comic Sans font.
The Internet just couldn’t believe it. Cleveland fans were appalled. Everyone else was laughing.
And while this is an extreme example, it speaks to how important typography is, as well as how some people underestimate its importance (lookin’ at you, Mr. Gilbert). There’s nothing inherently wrong with Comic Sans, of course. The problem was that it didn’t reflect – in any way whatsoever – the content of the letter. In fact, it completely rubbed against it.
That’s why, when choosing fonts and other typographical features (like weight, size, etc.), you need to focus on what best reflects the intent of your content.
Not only that, but it needs to be consistent (with strategic variations), supporting the overall consistency of your brand and services.
Look, we totally get it. You’re checking out the competition, and they have this nifty drop down, or a cool animation that activates when you scroll down or hover your mouse over an icon. And you think: I WANT THAT. Fair enough.
But then you see something on a different website and think, I WANT THAT, TOO. And so on and so forth, ad absurdum.
Well, it may very well be reasonable and good for you to have some of those things on your website. Many new trends and innovations are truly very useful and can have a positive impact on your conversion rate.
But before you drink any artificially-sweetened beverages, ask yourself this question: Would this feature actually help my clients convert?
And then ask yourself another question: Does it fit into what what’s already on my site?
The truth is that while it’s great to have a lot of credentials and service benefits to give your clients, it only makes sense to implement new things when it’s proven that they’ll help users convert. Many site owners gravitate toward the hoarder approach, just adding everything to the site that think might be useful. Buttons, icons, badges, bulletpoints, drop downs, animation, videos, infographics, more drop downs, etc. And they feel awesome, because everything even remotely relevant is there, eliminating the chance of overlooking something that could be the deciding factor for leads.
But the user, the prospective client – when they open the site, the only thing they feel is overwhelmed. They are cognitively distracted, overloaded, and will probably just think that your site looks sloppy.
And though that was the long way around the matter, that’s the importance of whitespace. In fact, some say that whitespace is THE guiding principle to good site design. We tend to agree.
What exactly is whitespace? Just what it sounds like: space on your page where there is nothing. It allows your users to focus on the things that really matter for converting, while keeping the impression open and calming.
There’s this popular myth that’s been floating around for some time, claiming that people don’t read online.
Obviously that’s not true (at least hopefully not, since I’m writing this…), with platforms like Medium taking off to the extent that they have.
Nevertheless, there is an iota of truth behind the myth. As we said earlier when discussing imagery, people process information visually much more quickly than when reading. So, it’s not that people don’t want to read. It’s just that they don’t want to read if there’s an easier way to ingest the information they want or need.
This is especially relevant for attorneys and their websites. When prospective clients are researching law firms, they overwhelmingly search out information specifically about the attorneys themselves. They want to know, can they trust you? Most people pick up a lot of this information (trust signals) through tone, body language, and a sharp haircut – all of which you can portray through video, but not through words or images.
Therefore, including videos of you on your site not only provides visitors with the information they need to begin to solve their immediate problems, but it also helps build trust, as you have an opportunity to show them that you’re only human after all.
As the digital space becomes increasingly crowded, it’s becoming much more difficult to truly stand out and show how your brand is different from the competition. A great website helps, as does lengthy content, social media, strong value propositions, etc. However, so many attorneys also have these strategies as part of their online marketing efforts, begging the question: How does a law firm really stand out in the online world in 2016?
One way some attorneys are doing this really well is by highlighting the story of their firm, including how their own personal narratives play into their practice.
As discussed above, prospective clients looking for an attorney online put a lot of stock in their evaluation of the attorney’s trustworthiness. And, without question, one of the best ways to build trust with prospective clients is to have elements of transparency and authenticity in your online presence, whether that be about yourself personally, about the mission of your firm, or some other unique aspect of who you are that visitors can connect with.
While much of this might seem primarily relevant to copy, there are in fact many ways in which design plays into how you tell your story on your website, especially as it relates to imagery, navigation, and homepage layout.
For example, say your firm’s primary USP (unique selling proposition) is your rich history and tradition. Many sites in this position say that their firm has a great tradition – but they don’t show it. You could include photos of past partners, of the firm from years ago (especially if still in the same building), and who knows what else. The possibilities are endless.
The point being, you need to highlight what’s unique about your practice – about why you exist, and why that makes you the best lawyer around.
If you’re uncertain of how to tell your story – or even what it is – ask yourself some questions:
- What makes me totally unique from other firms in my market?
- What do my prospects care about when they are in need of my services?
- What’s causing them the most concern about hiring an attorney?
- What’s my elevator pitch?
- What’s the overall purpose and mission of my firm?
Have you ever looked closely at an ad or website and wondered why they picked those colors? If there was some reason for their using blue instead of red, hot pink instead of orange? Well, we can’t speak for other agencies, but with our design work at Black Fin, we take choosing color palettes very seriously.
It’s been proven that people make subtle emotional and psychological associations with colors, and color theory has been a big topic in marketing for some time now. You may have heard that the color red provokes hunger (hence why so many restaurants use red in their branding) or that green elicits a sense of healthfulness.
But it goes a lot deeper than that. It’s not just about picking one or two good colors, it’s about how each of the colors work together to create a consistent, visually appealing experience for your users. Especially when it comes to highlighting the most important parts of your site – like calls to action – the color you choose can have a significant impact on its successfulness.
08. Simple Navigation
We’ll just call it a dead horse at this point (though an extremely important dead horse!):
The #1 most important thing for your website is that it encourages users to get in contact with you. And while it may seem like there are dozens of things that could do that, the truth is that your visitors come to your website looking for some pretty basic information, including:
- Who are you?
- What do you practice?
- Are you trustworthy and good at what you do?
- How do I get in touch with you?
And you may be asking: But I thought I wanted to have as much content on my site as possible to boost my SEO and provide my visitors with as many answers as possible?
While that is true, and the general theory is the more (high-quality) content the better, keep in mind that everything on your site doesn’t need to be present in your primary navigation. Content can be siloed off, findable only by visitors who have already expressed interest in information on X topic – whether that be information about the firm, biographical information, specific practice area info, etc. You don’t need to have every single thing on your site smack users in the face as soon as your site loads – if they’re interested, and it’s laid out intuitively, they should be able to find the content they want.
In the end, websites that delight us as users tend to have simple, easy to use navigation patterns. Getting the visitor the information they want without cognitive overload or confusing them is a big key to bumping up conversion rates.
It can seem like such a small thing.
You spend months getting your site’s design perfect, with everything working exactly as you had imagined. But there’s a problem. Leads aren’t picking up. Your bounce rate is high, and few people are converting on your site.
In many cases, especially with a new website, the problem may come down to site speed.
And while it may seem unjust, since getting your site speed up may mean cutting out some things that you really like, it is a legitimate trump card. The evidence is just too conclusive that a slow site will absolutely kill you.
For example, even Google has had to deal with the difficult reality of site speed. In 2012, they toyed with the idea of providing 30 results per page, instead of 10. When they asked users which they preferred, the majority picked 30. Seems like a no-brainer, right?
But when they began to test the change, they saw traffic decrease by 20%!
How did that make sense, since users said they would prefer 30 results? Quite simply, it increased the load time for their search results page by half a second. HALF OF ONE SECOND. So they nixed it and went back to 10. Just like that. Even though users said they preferred more results, the data told them that the speed that was sacrificed to make it happen wasn’t worth it. As it so happened, people cared about speed more.
You should take a similar approach with your site. It needs to be fast. Really fast. Your users will thank you and search engines will reward you. Because, as it so happens, Google’s search algorithm in particular takes load speed into account, and it could certainly impact your rankings.
This kind of goes without saying in 2016, but your site needs to work on all devices. Not just on desktop, iPhone, and iPad, ALL devices. With mobile searches now surpassing desktop searches, it’s really a no-brainer that your site has to be beautiful and accessible on more than just desktop computers and a few of the most common cell phones.
However, this is easier said than done. At Black Fin, when designing websites, we use tools like Screenfly to monitor how sites are displaying on various devices, including desktops, cell phones, and tablets, ensuring that our clients’ websites are displaying consistently across the board. It’s not just about checking a box labeled “RWD.”
And it’s really important that this is taken into consideration from the very inception of your website. The only way to be truly device agnostic is to utilize and plan for responsiveness in your design — it’s not something easy (or cost-efficient) to accomplish after the fact.
Not Sure about Your Law Firm’s Website? Get in Touch with the Experts at Black Fin Today
If you’d like to speak with us about your site – whether it’s brand new or in need of a big change (or both!) – get in touch today.
Also, if you’re pressed for time or just don’t prefer cold-calling “experts” you don’t know, we would gladly perform a thorough analysis of your website, free of charge. To share our thoughts, we’ll produce a 30-minute custom screen share video of us reviewing your site, dissecting the pros and cons and giving you some actionable steps for improvement – even if you never work with us.