Checking out the Joneses
This post is the first in our new “Preparing for a Redesign” series. Over the course of the series, we’ll be sharing some of the advice and suggestions that we provide to firms who are planning a site redesign.
Laying the groundwork for your new site – even before you’ve identified a partner to design or build the site – can help you generate excitement within the firm, build momentum on your own team and, ultimately, work through the redesign more easily and efficiently. Today’s post suggests starting with a comparative site review to inspire new strategies and get the ideas flowing.
It’s often hard to know where to start when you’re facing a website redesign. In a typical scenario, you know a redesign is needed, but your immediate attention is drawn to tactical issues, such as business cases, budgeting, scheduling and vendor selection. Paradoxically, those questions often lead back to beginning: what do you really want to accomplish with a redesign? And how do you get going without getting tied up in loops?
One simple and straightforward option is to take a look at how well your current site compares to the marketplace. Placing your site literally next to others can give you invaluable insight into how you need to position your firm competitively, address the needs of your audience and achieve your business development goals. In our experience, this exercise provides excellent material to help you solidify your business case and get the effort off the ground.
Step 1: Pick Relevant Comparisons
First, think about the right sort of comparison points for your site. Obviously, not every good website, or even every good legal website, is necessarily a good comparison for your firm. Our clients frequently look to the following sorts of sites:
- Peer Firms
These are what we call “the guys across the street.” They are the firms that your lawyers think of first when it comes to off-the-cuff benchmarking. Often a “peer” firm is a firm of similar size with whom you directly compete; sometimes the comparison may be more aspirational.
- Competitor Firms
We recommend thinking about competitors as a separate category from peers. When we help firms investigate their market position, we often discover that firms are competing against targets that may not really be “peers” in the more general sense. This is particularly the case when we assess particular industries or practice areas. Using a tool like Monitor Suite can help ground your competitive assessment in concrete data.
- Key Clients
Comparing your site to the sites of your clients can help you measure how well you are meeting their expectations. Though client organizations may not resemble the structure of a law firm, it’s a great way to start thinking about how you may want to shift the design, content or technology offering on your own site.
- Industry Resources
It’s a commonplace of legal marketing that clients don’t think in terms of legal practice groups; they operate businesses within one or more industries. Consider looking at prominent sites within your firm’s key industries. They will give you insight into how your clients are used to finding, accessing and using critical business information.
We recommend keeping the number of comparison sites to a manageable range, which in our experience is anywhere from 5 to 15.
Step 2: Conduct the Review
This is the fun part. Once you have your comparison sites chosen, assemble a team of people to review the sites collaboratively. It’s neither necessary nor even always helpful to include all the key website stakeholders. You’ll have a more engaging and fruitful experience if you instead choose people who you know have a passion for design, technology or marketing – regardless of their position or rank.
Use a projector or teleconference screen to bring the sites up so people can look at them together. Your goal in this exercise is to gather impressions and inspiration, so plan to move quickly through the comparisons. There’s no reason the entire exercise should take more than one or two hours in most situations. Have someone designated to take notes so you can lead the discussion forward.
You’ll probably find that certain themes or points will repeat themselves during the discussion. We find it best if you allow the team to focus in on areas that immediately or organically draw their interest. You can use questions like the following if the discussion lulls or becomes too one-sided:
- How well expressed is the brand on each site? Does the identity strike the right balance between client alignment and market differentiation?
- How “current” does your site look and feel in comparison? Many aspects of the site may help form this impression; can you discern whether your redesign needs to focus on creative design, content offerings or technical features?
- Is the content organized in a way that suits the expectations of visitors? Are the main categories immediately recognizable and comprehensible? How does each site label or identify content?
- How easy is each site to use? Is critical content immediately available? As you browse, do you have a clear, consistent understanding of where you are in the site?
- What does each site do to promote important information?
- Are there any features or design treatments on the comparison sites that the team likes or finds intriguing? Even if you don’t plan on copying features directly, this information can provide critical inspiration to your design partner.
- How is imagery used on each site? Is it compelling? Does it support the messaging, brand, or content?
- As you complete the review, which sites are the most memorable or distinctive for the team?
Step 3: Analyze the Results and Set Goals
Once the review is complete, take some time to review the outcome and notes. Identify repeated themes and key information to take forward:
- Good and compelling sites, particularly among peers and competitors, can help you build the business case for a redesign project among the partners. Even if you don’t conclude that your current site is very far behind, you can use insight from the review to articulate new opportunities to differentiate and position your firm ahead of the curve.
- Content and information architecture comparisons will provide you with a better understanding of how much work your internal team may need to contribute to a new web project. Refreshing your content is as important as refreshing the design, but it obviously requires more work on the firm’s part. Think about which areas could benefit the most.
- Site features or technologies that you find important or intriguing can help you refine your RFP and vendor selection process. It’s certainly fair to ask for reference sites or other examples of how your potential vendors have provided similar solutions.
- Visual preferences will help you guide your design partner on the process of transitioning your brand to the new website. Sometimes simply letting your designers know which sites you like, and which ones you didn’t, helps them narrow in on the right sort of visual treatments.
Finally, make sure you are open to keeping the conversation going with the team. Build on the excitement by having your team members list or sketch out what they would like to see on your redesigned site. Continue to share interesting examples or comparisons with each other. Even though most redesigns rarely accomplish every idea generated at this stage, you will have a much better understanding of your priorities and will know how to guide your vendor to the most critical areas once the redesign formally begins.