Legal services don’t spring to mind when you think of industries that have been transformed by the web. You’re more likely to cite retailing, where the product itself or the purchase of the product has become just as or even more convenient because of the internet.
Having spent some time in online retailing, I can tell you there’s a lot that law firms can take from retailers; in terms of understanding target audiences’ online behaviours and making the most of the digital platforms available to convert leads into purchases.
Ok, so the purchasing motivations may differ between legal and retail ‘consumers’, but the web, combined with social media, does provide a significant opportunity for law firms to generate a demand for legal services. The web offers potential clients the ability to locate expertise; it can help them determine which expertise and services they need; it can help them confirm the decision making process; and the web ‘delivers’ potential clients at their actual time of need. And with the first port of call for prospective clients being a firm’s website, it’s beyond critical that law firms need to ensure their sites are ‘spot on’.
Problems with law firm websites
As the central component of their online or digital marketing strategy, law firms often see their website as a platform to showcase the firm’s capabilities, to outline the specialist skills of individual lawyers and to share information. But the common complaint I come across is law firms being dissatisfied with their site’s performance as a lead generator.
When I look at their websites, there are common failings. Often, law firm sites haven’t been updated recently or regularly (some for a number of years!) or have been poorly designed. Searching for and navigating service lines is the biggest challenge as they tend to be listed by the firm’s internal structure, and not in a way that highlights the problems as experienced by the potential client.
For example, simply checking out the website of a top 40 law firm, ‘debt recovery’ services are listed under ‘Services for businesses’ > ‘Banking & finance’. Obviously a service line internally managed by the banking & finance team. That’s fine. But would a potential client look for debt recovery services under ‘Banking & finance’? Probably not.
I also find that many firms are adding new content to their website with poor consideration for other tactics that can help improve the visibility of their web pages, such as optimisation (SEO) for keywords and phrases or paid search. This I find is down to lawyers writing content and then being reluctant to ‘tweak’ it to maximise search effectiveness. This highlights a knowledge or skills gap about how search engine optimisation works and the benefits it can bring.
What results from this is that many potential clients with an immediate need will ‘bounce’ the site after being unable to determine whether the law firm could solve their problem. Nothing on the home page would help these visitors determine whether the firm had the expertise they were looking for – or how to find it. Leads lost.
The retailing perspective
Retailers operate much differently and do a great job when it comes to the efficiency of their websites. They pay the same kind of attention to their websites as they do to their overall marketing strategy. They really care about the experience of their customers, which translates into an efficient website that gives customers an enjoyable, positive and rewarding experience, making them want to engage by buying more online or visiting the stores.
Retailers recognise their audience are value-driven, tech-savvy and willing to engage across multiple device types. Retailers recognise that consumers’ expectations regarding product, thirst for content and overall experience continue to grow which keeps them on their toes and continually rethinking digital offerings. They realise that effective online sales is down to simplicity. Customers buy products from websites with clear product offers, streamlined check-outs and user-friendly features.
Retailers also continually invest in their online assets. Search engine marketing and optimisation, analytics, video-rich content, continuous site designs are key strategies for engagement, conversion and retention.
I recognise that retailer and law firms are poles apart in the grand digital scheme of things. But are they really? Since both have the same expectations of their websites: to generate leads and conversions.
Here’s some considerations for law firms:
1) Understanding perspective: design your site for the client, not for the partners
When you take a look at a leading e-commerce brand such as Amazon, you will find a necessary constant. They design their site with the buyer in mind. When you hit the homepage, it’s straight into products they are offering. It’s straight into promotions they are running. The site is comfortable, the layout and product offerings are often based on previous site visits or relevancy and searching the site is easy. Calls to action are prominent and the shopping process is navigated very simply.
Law firm clients seek more information online than their retailing counterparts. Legal services can be complex so a higher standard of information is sought. Firms need to display useful service descriptions, informative testimonials, enticing industry relevance and an easy path to communication with your firm is important. Law firm websites, like retailers, ought to emphasise usability more, not less, because they are often helping users to accomplish more advanced tasks and research more specialised services.
Firms need to recognise that keyword research is crucial for successful design. This is important as keywords are key to understanding the behaviour of clients who are frequently buying legal services and what they are searching for. For retailers, search engine visibility has long been a proponent of the power of integrating insights from search engine optimisation into the web design process. Keyword research improves client understanding, and client understanding leads to a better website. Not only will services be easier to find once users arrive at your firm’s website, but content on your website will be easier to find via the search engines as well, therefore, keyword research should be one of the tools that is used at the very start of any law firms internet marketing project.
2) Test, test, test (and test it again!)
Many firms design a website and then consider it ‘job done’ for 3 years. Some firms leave it for 5 years. Firms have to get out of this habit.
Retailers spend millions to ensure that shoppers not only come to their sites but that they also stay and make purchases. They continually ‘tune up’ their sites to optimise online sales through A/B, multivariate testing and behavioural targeting which are effective and immediate methods to increase sales volumes, improve conversion rates and boost lead generation. They also use testing to continually define the fundamentals and basis of their site design. They continually test to improve customer journeys and experiences to improve conversion rates.
Of course many firms’ websites are not driving millions of product transactions – but the law firm website still plays an important role in the purchasing cycle. Firms need to take a leaf out of the retailers’ site and focus on site navigation and page layout, promotional copy, placement and layout, calls to action, landing page layouts, homepage design and forms. They need to test to ensure they work.
Google Analytics should be the law firm’s first port of call for testing. Firms can check bounce-rate levels. Monitor entry and exit pages and use tools like Google Analytics Content Experiments. which can help firms test how well various pages are working in getting website visitors to accomplish specific goals such as hitting calls to action links or filling web forms.
Retailers recognise that changes or updates can negatively or positively impact on conversions – hence their continuous business process of testing. If firms do not test – they will never know!
3) Super search capabilities
For retailers optimised search has been proven to lead to higher conversion rates and sales. They recognise there are two types of customers: those that know what they are looking for and those who don’t mind spending some money but they don’t really know what they need. This is very similar for law firms too.
Search functionality enables visitors to easily locate your services based on certain parameters— leading them down the relevant path to become educated on exactly what they are looking for, for initial questions to be answered and to make contact.
Additionally, any website user who is engaging with search on your law firm site probably knows a bit more about you—so offering that user more sophisticated searches can help speed up the process. With sort and filter functionality, you allow users to dive deeper into your services and resources, understand their choices and know that you provide the services that they want!
4) Allow service reviews
Allowing for product ratings and reviews from previous buyers can help retailers sway uncertain customers or provides them with reassurance that they are buying into something special. Many law firms already ask clients to write case studies, or endorse via a press release. There is no reason why law firms shouldn’t consider asking for a ‘service review’ in a similar retailing fashion—and display it accordingly on your site.
However the comments are displayed, it provides an immediate signal that others have used your firm and rated a particular service line.
Those client logos and testimonials you have littered amongst your site have suddenly come to life. And they encourage visitors to look to longer, text-driven reviews for more service line information and insights. Connect this to a form or “Contact Us” link, and you’re not only getting service line endorsements but improving lead generation too.
Law firm ‘offline’ marketing tactics still account for a higher proportion of the marketing budget compared to online or digital activities. That balance is beginning to change as firms recognise that they can widen their reach with digital and measure the effectiveness of specific activities.
The reality is that law firm clients’ web user experiences are falling short of the far-superior retailing buying experience. Law firm sites that don’t aim to play catch-up sooner rather than later will risk losing business, and budget. Your website is often one of the first touches a prospect makes, so don’t waste the opportunity to capture—and convert them—for a deeper conversation.
His passion for marketing and client acquisition has developed into a 20-year career, working for some of the leading professional service firms in the UK.
Graham can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile: 07484 644846.
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