The Internet is changing the way individuals and businesses research products and services, and expanding the options for lawyers looking to develop and retain clients. In 2001, 72% of Americans used the Internet. [i] Sixty-three percent of Americans research products and services online, [ii] and an equal percentage expect that a business will have a website that gives them information about a product they are considering buying. [iii] The Internet offers law firms an efficient way to communicate with prospective and current clients.
Elements of an effective online presence for law firms include:
- A compelling design,
- Informative content, and
- Robust traffic.
A law firm's website should reflect the firm's identity and support the firm's messaging. The design need not be flashy. In fact, being too flashy can be counterproductive. For instance, using flash on a website can make it more difficult for search engines to index the site, which will negatively impact traffic. Or putting too many graphics on the site can make loading too slow for the majority of the firm's potential clients.
A professional website should have a professional looking design. Law firms should cater to the audiences they want to reach. For instance, an immigration practice may want to offer versions of its site in multiple languages.
Make it easy to communicate with your firm. Include contact information on the front page of your website in a prominent position. Contact information should include both online and offline options so clients and potential clients can choose their preferred method of communication. You may want to set up a separate e-mail address or phone number for your website communications to make it easier to sort and track these leads.
Navigating a website should be easy and intuitive. A site-wide search on every page of the site will make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for. Interactive drop down menus can prevent clutter and ease navigation.
Content should support the firms messaging and demonstrate the lawyers' understanding of the issues as well as the firm's desire to help clients do the same. The Internet enables you to assemble large quantities of information at a low price and update the information 24/7. So, I encourage firms to take advantage of these opportunities and include articles and FAQs to demonstrate your firm's experience. Firms can create touch points with existing clients with options such as e-mail newsletters or extranets.
It's essential not to ignore the basics. In a survey of FindLaw users, we found that practice-related information, and attorney biographies, specifically demonstrated experience and years of experience, were important factors in choosing a law firm. Writing content can be time-consuming, but can be managed. The content on a website can serve another valuable purpose beyond demonstrating your firm's strengths. The more relevant content you have that is visible to the search engines, the easier it will be for prospective clients to find your site via search engines, which should result in higher traffic to your site.
A Web site will not do much for your firm unless people are visiting it. This is where traffic comes in. There are a few key steps firms should take to generate traffic. Optimizing your site, so that search engines can find it is very important. The search engine optimization process is a bit technical and can be time-consuming, so your firm may want to consider outsourcing this activity. At the most basic, the process includes submitting your website to search engines. Web designers can prepare the code behind the Web site so that the search engines are more likely to index the content and the results are more likely to come up higher in the search results that are desirable for your firm.
In addition to search engines, you should submit your site to online directories. FindLaw offers a free profile listing for every firm. You can sign up or update your listing any time. The FindLaw lawyer directory contains over one million listings and offers enhanced paid listings for those firms that would like to receive more visibility.
Online directory usage has been growing at a rapid pace for a variety of reasons. First, there is an increasing awareness of online directories. Second, we have seen continued growth in households going online. Finally, online directories have functionality far superior to print directories. Online directories are searchable as opposed to only being browsable, and online directories are more current than print directories because they can be updated quickly and easily.
Choose an easy to remember URL for your firm and put it on your business cards, stationary, collateral and other forms of marketing. Broadcast your Web address to make it easy for those looking for more information about your firm to find it.
The Web provides a fantastic opportunity for law firms to communicate with potential and current clients. Firms should be proactive in drawing visitors to their websites and provide visitors with a compelling design and informative content once they reach the site.
1UCLA Internet Project 2003
2Jupiter Research, September 2002
3Pew Internet and American Life Project 2003