Ten years ago, law firm websites were simply a place where clients or prospects would go if they needed a firm’s address or an attorney’s phone number. The website’s main goal was to convey very practical contact information.
Since then, client needs – and, as a result, legal websites – have changed. Today, your website needs to provide an experience of what it’s like to work with your firm. By taking advantage of the right tools, channels and technologies, you can use your firm’s website to showcase your client services, demonstrate your experience and differentiate your firm in the competitive market.
Designing a website that shows clients both the advantages of working with your firm and your firm’s level of expertise begins with knowing who your clients are.
The truth is, your website markets your firm to a number of different people. Most likely, that includes current and potential clients from various industries. To successfully reach out to each of them and make a solid impression, you need to customize the experience on your website so that it serves their unique individual needs.
Your website shouldn’t be designed around your firm’s internal organizational structure; it should make it easy for clients to find your qualifications and other key information, regardless of how your firm structures itself. This process involves moving from a “here’s a quick look at what my law firm is about” focus for design and content to creating an experiential website that says to users “we understand your issue, and here’s what my firm can do for you”.
General counsel, by definition, are generalists, not specialists. Before they decide to outsource a matter, they typically perform their own research to help them scope the issue. This is the ideal time for your firm’s website to provide value. If it can help general counsel to identify the various attributes of their particular issue, then your firm creates a qualified impression on them. And, when they move from scoping the issue to hiring counsel to help solve it, your firm is well positioned to win the work.
Likewise, you want your site to convey a sense of authority; first impressions matter. A recent survey of general counsel found that, when evaluating lawyers, the level of effort and seriousness of their firm’s web presence conveys plays a significant role in the selection process.
THE RELATIONSHIP CYCLE
It’s vital that your firms find the best way to get information to the right people at the right time. All current and prospective clients are not the same – and they don’t want to receive the same information in the same way. Granted, it’s pretty difficult to make a website that’s designed for an anonymous user all things to all people. But it’s not impossible.
The process really starts with understanding where the user is in the relationship cycle. To build a sense of value, trust and loyalty among clients, you need to create a holistic, long-term client experience.
The relationship cycle directly connects your marketing goals to each stage of your client’s decision-making experience, providing a comprehensive view of how your relationships affect business development (see Figure 2).
The way you present content differs depending on where the user is in the cycle. Your potential user may just be trying to get the lay of the land and see how your firm works. A seasoned client may be passively checking to see if you handle matters in an industry it is thinking of expanding into.
To better understand your audiences’ needs, try analyzing your site’s metrics to gauge current site visitor behavior, and using that data to build a set of user profiles (also referred to as personas).
You may notice, for example, that a certain amount of people who came to your real estate practice page also connected with the task construction law page. Could real estate topics be of interest to an entirely different audience? What else does the firm know about buyers of real estate services?
Crafting these personas is an important part of understanding how content and clients interact.
Creating a topic-specific blog or website can help your firm and its lawyers to demonstrate their expertise and ability to solve potential client issues. This makes it easy for clients or prospects to find information related to their unique needs, but it also opens up the opportunity for the firm to then cross-promote its experience in related areas.
Another approach might involve creating a section of your firm’s website for insights and using it to package content based on the personas you’ve created for different users. Thanks to advanced technology and capabilities in content management systems, you can then use information about individual users to dictate which topics they’re presented with.
For example, perhaps a person visits your website who you know is the CEO of a client organization. You can serve this user with topical content that’s relevant to his or her needs, such as doing business in emerging countries or creating a strategy for protecting his or her organization’s assets.
That kind of packaging can help clients to think more broadly about what your firm offers.
KEEPING IT FRESH
Traditionally, law firms have approached the evolution of their websites in a bi-modal fashion. Firms spend a lot of time, effort and money on getting a website up and running, don’t do anything to significantly refresh it for five or six years and then start the process all over again with another full redesign.
Outside of the legal industry, that process has really changed. Organizations are starting to understand that, if you continually update your website, you’ll end up spending the same amount of money, but you’ll be able to show value throughout the five-year period.
Websites today are living, breathing entities that need to adjust to meet the changing needs of audiences. As an added benefit, by improving your site’s functionality, you will automatically improve the user experience.
You’ll also be improving your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Google and other search engines now factor in changes to a site and content freshness when they analyze sites to deliver when users conduct a search. The more you update your website and its content, the higher visibility you’ll get.
CONNECTING WITH CLIENTS
In the past, firms assumed that clients would easily find their digital communications if they just put them on their websites. However, that’s not necessarily true anymore. It’s not good enough to just have a website; to be successful, you need other arrows that direct people to your site.
Blogs and social media sites are increasingly driving traffic to websites. Social media channels in particular have allowed companies and firms to engage with customers in places other than just their websites. The good news is that it is self-reinforcing: the more traffic you drive to your site through social media and other outlets, the more it drives users back to those external channels, where your clients are on a regular basis.
Social networks can also be a major asset in determining user activity. Hits are great, but they don’t tell you anything about your users’ behavior. You want to know what they’re thinking, which content they find valuable and how they interact with it. With social media, you will know immediately what type of content is of interest to people. If they like or share it, you can see that you've caught someone’s attention the second you post an item. By following reactions to their social media posts, you can determine which content belongs where on your website.
Your social media activity can also help drive potential clients to your site through search engines. In recent years, Google began placing more of an emphasis on website structure and social media referrals; they are important factors that can help to increase your SEO.
Yet, social media is often a missed opportunity for law firms. You may have created a LinkedIn company page and have amassed 4,000 followers, but if you haven’t posted anything, what value are you deriving from it? Equally, even if you only have 100 Twitter followers, you should be actively sharing content in that forum. It’s important to ensure you’re not missing out on an opportunity to connect and engage with your followers.
It’s also important to understand which channels work for different types of content, or even different target audiences. Some clients may now get all of their news from Twitter; others may passively follow you on LinkedIn, which they check frequently. Practice groups should think strategically about which messages they want to put out, what content would support those messages and where that content should be placed. Website content and social media updates should always deliver value and authentically represent the firm.
PLAN YOUR ATTACK
Social media isn't the only outlet that you can use to identify user patterns. It’s also important to find out where your audience is and to be a part of that network, at trade shows, informational websites and other venues.
Consider where general counsel in a specific industry would go for information about a topic on the web. Identify which major associations potential clients belong to and what annual conventions they attend. Know who influences your clients, and how. You want to be a part of those conversations so that you can understand how to customize your approach to clients.
Once you know who you are addressing, where to reach them and what to say, it’s crucial that you find a way to consistently reinforce your firm’s high-quality specialized services. The key to success is careful planning to ensure you execute your strategy in a timely manner.
Consider on a yearly basis the key themes that your firm wants to promote, what content you want to develop and how you want to distribute it to reach the right audience. This may sound simple, but it takes a coordinated, integrated approach. Create an editorial calendar. If you know you can schedule an attorney to speak at an industry event, get him to write an article about the topic after the event to continue the conversation. Map out the sequencing, cadence and distribution channels for your content.