Why Most Lawyers' Websites Stink

law arrghI have recently been working with a number of UK-based law firms to help them understand how to make their websites more discoverable and better able to generate new client enquiries. It has given me an insight into this industry and a way to hear about the specific challenges they face in growing their practice.

One common issue they have is finding ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. A potential client searching for perhaps, “divorce lawyers in London” (a term used by approximately 500 people every month on Google UK) will find no less than 30 matching firms on the first page of Google alone. The client is looking for a firm that matches their needs and a quick way to distinguish one from another.

Visitors need to feel reassured within 3-5 seconds of landing on a website. Until they are reassured, they will not click, read large blocks of text, or even scroll down the page. If you find this hard to believe, I suggest you spend a few minutes observing someone using your website for the first time. Alternatively, you could use mouse-tracking software to replay the behaviour of every new visitor to your site.

Within the small portion of your landing page visible to them on their laptop, tablet or mobile phone, visitors will be looking to answer the following questions:

 

1) Do you actually provide the service I am looking for?
e.g. Are you really a lawyer that specialises in divorce and is based in London?

People know that Google’s algorithm is not infallible. They first thing they want to establish is that your firm is relevant to their search and that they will not wasting time on your website. If you fail to confirm your relevancy to their search as soon as they land on the site, they are highly likely to click the back button to view one of several other search results.

Below is a fairly typical result from the website www.fishermeredith.co.uk – this page currently appears on Google UK for the search “divorce lawyers London”:

what do you do

This page doesn’t make it at all easy to discover that Fisher Meredith are in fact “divorce lawyers in London”.  Is it obvious to the layman (within a 3-second time-span) that “family law” also encompasses divorce law? There is also nothing on this page to suggest that they have an office in London or where in London that might be. Far easier to click the back button and try another website rather than spend more time on this site in a (possibly fruitless) attempt trying to establish that Fisher Meredith meet my needs.

 

2) Why should I care about your firm?

So let’s assume that I have landed on your web page and that you have made it clear that your firm offers advice on divorce matters and also has a London office. My next task is to try and gain a sense of why  I would contact your  firm over all the other law firms that are just one back-button click away. What is it about you firm that makes you differ from your competitors? For many firms, this seems to be an aspect of their marketing with which they most struggle.

If you spend a little time looking at the websites of divorce layers in the UK, you will see the same generic claims made repeatedly:

  • “We aim to minimise conflict”
  • “We provide pragmatic, sensible advice”
  • “We have years of experience”
  • “We provide excellent client care”

These statements do little more than state the obvious. Why would you ever consider using a divorce lawyer that didn’t offer these benefits?

Understanding how your firm differs from your competitors is probably the most basic requirement for successfully marketing any business. Until you have established how you differ and how you can communicate your differences to your target market, your website serves as little more than a business card informing people how to contact you.

Think about the airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. If you flew to the U.S. with each airline while wearing a bag over your head you would barely be able to tell the their service apart. What each offers in terms of the type of aircraft, quality of food, in-flight entertainment and customer service is almost identical. And yet, they way they communicate their brands could not be more dissimilar.

Virgin Atlantic convey brand values of sexy, glamorous, hedonistic and non-conformist: virgin

 

British Airways conveys brand values of tradition, Britishness and trustworthiness: ba

 

3) How can I trust you?

I get the impression that some law firms don’t feel the need to convince online visitors that they are trustworthy and reputable. Perhaps they believe that gaining a law degree immediately places them beyond reproach? (ahem).  Prospective clients will need to feel reassured that you have experience with cases similar to their own, that you will not overcharge them for your service and that you will be supportive, knowledgeable and available to them when needed.

Many firms attempt to address this concern by making generic claims e.g. “We know that divorce can be a difficult and stressful time for your family. Our lawyers are experienced, knowledgeable and available whenever you need to discuss your case”. Such claims do little more than clutter your website will large blocks of text that nobody will ever read. Just like banner ads on a website, visitors have developed a selective blindness to meaningless, self-promotional claims.

To be taken seriously, such claims should be made by a third party, backed up with evidence and presented in a succinct form on the landing page of your site. Trust signals might include:

  • Client testimonials
  • Partner profiles and photographs
  • Citations
  • Social proof (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.)
  • Evidence of pro bono work
  • Free advice and online content relevant to their needs
  • Charitable affiliations

 

4) What do I do next?

Once the above 3 questions are addressed, the final step is to steer the visitor in a clear and simple manner towards the next page they are next most likely to want to see. This may be the “contact us” page or a page with more detailed information about a service you provide.

 stint

Reducing clutter

Lawyer’s websites are commonly text-heavy and cluttered. They are often written using language that, while it may be understood between lawyers,  appears dense and technical to the layman. In a recent study the single factor that had the most influence on improving online conversions was to reduce the amount of text on the page and having a simple, clean and uncluttered website. Give your visitors detailed information only when they request it.

Take a look at the example below from The Wilkes Partnership. When we consider the fact that the average visitor will spend less than 5 seconds before deciding whether to stay or go, this large block of dry, clichéd text will do little to encourage them to behave differently.

clutter law

 

Why people visit a lawyer’s website

Online visitors have come to your website for one of the two following reasons:-

1) They know who you are and they just need to contact you

2) They have a problem that they need to solve and want to know if you can solve that problem.

At this point, I would have loved to show you at least one example of a law firm displaying best practise in this area. After several hours of Googling, I struggled to find any  law firm’s website that met all of the requirements mention above.

The closest I could find to an appealing home page that manages to balance professionalism with personality is the example below from Harrison Pensa:

 2013-12-13_083115

You really don’t need a marketing department, an external marketing agency or even a consultant like me to make improvements to your site; this isn’t rocket science. The process starts by asking yourself some very basic questions about your practice:

  • Why am I in business?
  • What is my promise to my clients?
  • Who do I want to serve?
  • How do I differ from my competitors?

By answering these questions honestly you can then start to develop a marketing strategy that will affect every aspect of how you communicate and interact with your target market. In almost every case, the starting point to improving your marketing is to go and speak  to your clients.

If you are happy to rely solely on word of mouth to gain new clients, that’s absolutely fine; but do be aware that you are the person responsible for limiting the growth of your own practice.



If you would like to hear more about how law firms can improve their online marketing, please follow me on Twitter and I will notify you of any new updates.


Addendum: I should perhaps mention that my interest in divorce lawyers is purely academic. I have no intention of parting company with the lovely Mrs. Richman. I can but pray that she doesn’t look through my web history and draw the wrong conclusions!