Website Design Tips for Law Firms and Expert Witnesses
By Aaron Larson
- Load Time
- Your Front Page
- Background Images
- The Surfer's Computer
- The Surfer's Monitor
- Placement of Key Information
- Register Your Page
- Use Meta Tags
- Reciprocal Links
- Offer Original Content
- Plan for the Future
While many law firms invest a considerable amount of money in the design and development of their websites, lawyer websites tend to be among the worst on the Internet. Too often, lawyers will put up a website with little or no informational content beyond the location of their offices, one-paragraph biographies, and possibly a picture or two. Very few sites offer what users really need - quality, original informational content, and easy access to the lawyer's street address, telephone number, and email.
The amount of time people must wait for your website to load will significantly affect how many of them stay to use your website. Be careful about your use of graphics -- some websites utilize very large graphics or animations on their front pages, which can take a minute or more to load for dial-up users. Although more and more people have broadband, you don't necessarily wish to discourage potential clients who continue to use dial-up Internet access from using your site. Also, beware of eye-catching java applets, which can take a long time to load and may cause certain browsers to crash or hang. Your page should load in no more than twenty seconds for users on a dial-up connection, and almost instantly for broadband users.
Please keep in mind that many of your users will not click through to the second page of your website unless they see an appropriate link on your front page. If you are selling accounting services, your front page should either describe those services or have a clear link to an interior page that will describe those services. You should also include contact information on the front page of your site. If you want to have your front page be a fancy graphic (or graphics display) with a "click here to enter" link, be aware that you may have already lost some potential clients. Your front page should include substantive links to interior pages. You don't need to eliminate your attractive front page, as long as you remember that your front page can be both attractive and functional. Designing a "splash" page - an "entry" page (or "welcome mat" for your site - is an art. Most "splash pages" are very poorly done, and drive people away. All flash animation splash pages should include a link to skip the animation and go directly to the site content.
Some websites utilize background graphics which make it hard or impossible to read the text on the page. If you use anything more than a subtle, neutrally-colored texture, make sure you know what your webpage looks like through both Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator, on both PC and Macintosh Platforms.
The intensity of your graphics will vary on Macintosh (where they will tend to appear brighter) and PC machines. Additionally, text size will vary, with text tending to appear slightly larger on a PC. If you are carefully paginating your text, make sure that the pagination works on both platforms.
Also, recall that different users have different sized displays. Your page should display well on a smaller monitor, as well as a larger monitor. If your graphics or text wrap, because you are assuming that your reader has more than 800 horizontal pixels, your website will seem quite unimpressive to many potential customers. Speak to your web designer about a design which is compatible with multiple browser widths, or which ensures that key content is visible without horizontal scrolling on lower resolution settings.
If there is information on your webpage that you want your readers to see, put it where they will see it without having to scroll down the page. While scrolling is more common now that people have become used to the internet and to reading articles online, many readers will nonetheless close a page if they don't see something that immediately grabs their attention.
If you want people to come to your page, you need to give them the tools to find you. You must register your site with the major directories and search engines. The most important "pay for inclusion" directory is Yahoo! (annual fee). The most important "pay for better placement" services are Yahoo Search Marketing and Google AdWords (although your paid links may appear as "sponsored links" or even acknowledged as advertisements) . The most important free directory is The Open Directory.
Your expert witness or legal support service page can be listed for free in ExpertLaw's directories.
Search engines utilize programs called "spiders" which will explore your website. The information sent back to the directory is used to control where your website appears in user searches. Most search engines look for information about your site in the page title and in "meta tags." "Meta tags" are invisible to your readers, but can make or break your "rank" in search results. Run a search on Google for "meta tags" to find copious tips on how to write and implement them for your page.
If you are in an organization with a website, or you have found a website
that links to pages such as yours, ask the webmaster if they will link their
page to your site. Popular links pages can generate a lot of traffic. Be cautious,
however, about engaging in link-swapping schemes which are meant to artificially
boost the link popularity of a site. While they can improve traffic to your
engines, and can potentially result in a loss of rank or even in your site
being excluded from search results.
Run searches on the search engines that you think your client base might use, then look for quality resources in the top ten results, and politely ask them to add links to your page. Remember that, no matter how good your site, not everybody will want to link to you, and you may never be able to achieve a top ten ranking. (Look at the raw numbers on your search result -- it is not unusual for tens or hundreds of thousands of pages to "match," and only ten can be in the top ten.) Being one link away from the "top ten" isn't at all bad.
One of the leading factors in attracting Internet users to your site, in keeping them on your site, and inspiring them to contact you as a possible lawyer or expert, is the original content you offer on your website. Original articles can bring in large numbers of potential clients through search engines, who will search using keyword combinations you cannot possibly anticipate. You can never go wrong adding strong content to your website. The best part is, it may only take you a couple of hours to draft a few short articles for your site, but those articles will continue to attract potential clients around the clock, as long as they remain on your site.
You don't need to have 100,000 visitors per day to be successful. When it
first went online in 1997, my legal webpage was receiving about ten hits per day through its Yahoo! listing - and I received several requests for legal advice or assistance per
week, and a decent case every few months from that listing alone. If you are
seeking clients for professional services, quality means a lot more than quantity.
The cost of being on the internet, even if you have your own URL (http://www.YOURNAME.com), is one of the cheapest forms of advertising available. By establishing a quality presence now, you are building for the future. The Internet continues to grow at an astounding pace - and its importance as a source of sales and clients will continue to grow.
Copyright © 1998-2011 Aaron Larson. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you believe you may lawfully use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article under the Fair Use exception to copyright law, except as otherwise authorized by the author of the article, you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.