Since the creation of our Content Center in 2012, we’ve provided website content consulting to law firms ranging from litigation boutiques to some of the largest firms in the world. We’ve learned a lot along the way, both in terms of process and product, resulting in many battle-tested best practices.
It’s no secret that law firm websites tend to be behind the times, technologically speaking, but that’s not an entirely fair characterization. When we work on sites for corporates or even other professional services firms, it’s striking just how comparatively complex law firm websites can be. They have a very high volume of pages, all with nuanced content requiring significant subject matter expertise. One wrong turn of phrase can cause a prospective client to lose confidence and move on to another prospective service provider.
Also, law firms tend to refresh their sites every 5-8 years. In web-tech terms that’s an eternity. When you add to the mix internal marketing team turnover, it means that most firms have to tackle the project like it’s the first time, every time. So, we’ve prepared a checklist of key content considerations that every law firm website redevelopment team should take to heart at the outset of their project.
1. Lawyer biographies are king
You may have a beautifully reskinned home page, a slick, contemporary logo and a catchy tag line, but your “front” page is not the most important one on your site. Not even close. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of law firm website traffic enters the site through bio pages. Law is still a people business and clients search for lawyers, not firms. That means every lawyer biography is more important than your home page. A well-written attorney biography will concisely present relevant expertise and draw visitors deeper into the site — to service and sector pages as well as other bios — for an intuitive and clear site journey. (For what it’s worth, the second-most important page is probably your locations page. It lets clients and contacts quickly find your street address in the cab on the way from the airport or their last meeting.)
2. Less is more
The days of rambling, 2000-word lawyer biographies that list every case, credential or capability under the sun are over. Clients hate them. We know of general counsel who have specifically disqualified potential firms because their all-things-to-all-people bios did not quickly and clearly articulate core areas of experience and success. Moreover, bios are now more likely to be viewed on smartphones than desktop computers, so brevity is the soul of marketing wit. Bottom line: Get to the point quickly, and draw visitors deeper into the site wherever possible through internal cross-linking.
3. Think content early
Often, a website refresh starts with a focus on design, branding and performance upgrades, leaving the conception and creation of content to the end of the process. This is a costly mistake. Design affects content and vice versa. Conquering the many devils in the details works best when content, style and format are developed in tandem with the new design and, if applicable, the new brand. When website content is left to the end it creates a process bottleneck that can cause launch date delays or even necessitate redesign.
4. Tone from the top
Perhaps the most important factor in gaining firmwide buy-in to a leaner content format is clear and unflinching explanation from the firm’s leadership of what is happening and why. We often help firm leaders craft the internal messaging that tells lawyers the ways in which their new bios will look different from their old ones and why it’s better for them. It can be a tough sell. When leadership is steadfast, lawyers tend to fall in line. When it’s not, let the cat herding begin.
5. Let style be your guide
A remarkable number of law firms do not have a comprehensive style guide that applies to all communications — marketing and business development materials as well as the website. Often, communications teams serving discrete groups work from their own script, or adapt broad guidelines to specific purposes. The result is an inconsistent brand and an online presence that’s hard to harmonize. Our first step is usually to create or update a house style guide that conforms to the firm’s brand as well as the latest SEO best practices. Writing well, and consistently, has a big impact on prospects finding you online.
6. One free pass
When creating a copy flow for any website content update, it’s essential to ensure the feedback from individuals falls within narrow guidelines. Lawyers have a great affection and aptitude for rewrites, but the back-and-forth of each round of revisions eats valuable time and runs up the cost. Establishing a clear and rigid copy flow that gives lawyers one chance to add their revisions — and limits their input to factual corrections only — keeps the process moving and makes it more efficient for all parties involved. If this process can be stressed by management, so much the better.
7. Make updates easy
Using an editorial template (IMPORTANT: Do not confuse these with design templates!) that provides clear guidance on what type of information to include in each section of a web page streamlines the content creation process and facilitates updates. Lawyers are always adding credentials to their resumes and practices may expand their focus. An adaptable editorial template makes it easy to include up-to-date information in the right place — a key to ensuring clients and prospects understand the most important attributes of each lawyer and practice.
If you listen to the experts, the next generation of business websites may live in virtual reality. But for the time being, we’re stuck with the good old World Wide Web, and its constantly evolving search algorithms. Following these best practices will ensure a fast and smooth website redevelopment process, and superior search results.
For more insight into developing effective lawyer biographies and other website content, talk with the Infinite Global Content Center team.