Key Considerations When Auditing Your Site
How do you know if your website is effective? Well first, let’s preface this by stating that “effective” can mean different things to different people and different firms. It all depends on your goals and strategic initiatives. The best way to make that determination is to evaluate your site in relation to some of your firm’s specific goals.
For example, if your firm’s marketing efforts are focused on positioning attorneys as thought leaders in particular industries, look at the amount of traffic on your blog pages, the open and click-through rates in your emails, and the number of inbound links, social media shares, Google search rankings, etc.
From a broader perspective, the most basic assessment of your site is determining whether or not your visitor can immediately understand who you are, what you do, and how to get to the information they are seeking – or the content you want them to find.
With this in mind, you can audit the effectiveness of a firm’s site from three general perspectives – design, technology and content. All three must work together in order for a site to be truly successful.
You have an opportunity in the way your site is designed to make a positive impact on the user experience. You must look at your site from the eyes of a prospective or current client. Is your site user friendly? An intuitive navigation structure, with an established hierarchy of information, helps create a flow that guides the viewer’s eye through the site based on the information you have deemed most important.
Is your logo, arguably the firm’s most important branding tool, prominently displayed, and do the visuals support your firm’s brand? Or, do they feel disjointed, cluttered and confusing? Responsive site design is important in creating a seamless brand experience across desktop and mobile devices.
Many successful sites embrace visual trends through the use of engaging “hero” images, card-based layouts and modern photography. Otherwise, a firm risks their site feeling dated or impersonal, especially through the use of yearbook-style headshots on its attorney bio pages.
Your clients often express how important relationships are with individual attorneys when making decisions on hiring outside counsel. That’s why many firms are making a concerted effort to “humanize” their attorneys. Bio pages that use larger, more personable photos in environmental settings facilitate initial connections by demonstrating that the firm’s attorneys are approachable, experienced and focused.
Search engine optimization (SEO), and the way search engines, namely Google, rank sites is constantly evolving – and your site needs to evolve with it.
In addition to providing a seamless user experience, sites that are programmed responsively are preferred by Google and its search algorithms. That makes a huge impact on what’s presented to users searching on mobile devices.
Successful sites also use title tags that are keyword-rich, unique and under 70 characters that support the content of the page. Each page should have header tags properly classified (<h1>, <h2>, etc.). Check to make sure all images have ALT tags, which is also helpful to visitors using assistive technology, low-bandwidth or high-security connections that may opt not to load images and some mobile devices to view your site.
Search engine-friendly URLs, a homepage featuring keyword-rich HTML content and unique meta descriptions should be assessed.
Users have come to expect “Print Friendly” and “Email this Page” buttons, particularly on practice area and attorney bio pages. Database-driven information in the site such as these, can be integrated through the content management system with the firm’s designed marketing paper, allowing staff to quickly and easily print content in a proposal-ready format. This feature provides a single point of access to the firm’s web and print bios.
Do you have a site map? Is the firm logo on all of the site’s interior pages linked to the homepage, and does the site utilize breadcrumb navigation? Is the search functionality predictive and optimized for attorney search inquires? Are the firm’s social media accounts and blog pages integrated into the site, and does the site have social share functionality?
There are many other components to look at from the tech angle, many of which require specialized training in HTML/CSS coding to analyze. It’s best to have your in-house or outside technology provider take a look at your site and make sure it is functioning at an optimal level with the latest technology and meeting the standards set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
When analyzing your firm’s existing content, look at your firm’s practice area descriptions and attorney biographies. They should be unified in tone and written in consistent and concise language that resonates with your current or target clients. Content must effectively demonstrate the attorney’s (or firm’s) expertise in a given area through concrete experience and thought leadership examples, like articles, presentations, whitepapers, infographics and similar content.
As buyers of legal services get more and more sophisticated, they are looking for evidence to back up a firm’s claims through its narrative. They hone in on copy that validates capability claims and look for evidence that shows a firm is immersed within an industry. Firms should make a concerted effort to offer as many examples of related content as possible and encourage viewers to dive deeper into the website to learn more. The days of cookie-cutter, “fill in the firm’s name here” descriptions have long since fallen by the wayside.
Consider posting different types of content, such as video, to engage your visitors. Encourage viewers to interact with your website, whether it’s sharing a news item through social media, signing up to receive future email alerts or downloading the most recent whitepaper. Do your best to avoid “dead end” pages that don’t tease the viewer with additional content that may be of interest to keep them engaged.
A website acts as both a powerful branding tool and an information hub, and therefore requires a balance between content and form that encompasses succinct and streamlined content, a hierarchy of information, a cohesive brand identity and aesthetic consistency. Each component of your website must work together to achieve the ultimate user interaction with your firm.
As you step back and evaluate your site from each of these perspectives, try to be as objective as possible. Pretend this is the first time you’ve ever seen it. Because this can be very difficult to do given your familiarity with the site, it is often well worth engaging someone from the outside to take a fresh look. This external perspective can help you identify your site’s shortcomings early on in the process and put you on the right track as you begin to plan its evolution.
By Ashley Smith, Business Development Manager, Herrmann Advertising | Branding | Technology for the March/April 2016 issue of Capital Ideas.