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Web Design 101: If You Build It, They Might Come

by Peter Boyd, Esq.

Every once in awhile, I receive blank stares from lawyers after I tell them how much a good web site will cost. "There is no way we can pay $3,000 or even $5,000 for a web site," they'll say.

Even if they realize the costs are justified (because it can take over 50 hours of work to design a web site properly) they'll argue they simply cannot afford the price. What some people fail to realize is that if the web site generates one new client in its first year, then it will have paid for itself. And in truth, a properly designed site will attract many more clients than that, while also creating a professional image for their law firm.

Instead, attorneys often try a "compromise" technique - spending $999 for a template of ten pages that they can put online themselves. But lacking design and internet marketing background, they unknowingly create sites that are unprofessional and unhelpful - thereby losing potential clients.

While we recommend hiring a professional design team, for those of you trying to do it yourself, the following is a list of basics that all web sites should have, or not have. By following our advice, we hope that we won't have to add you to our list of horror web sites.

1. Help for Lazy Clients
OK, maybe "lazy" isn't the best term. How about: extremely busy with better things to do than scroll through endless pages of promotional material in a fruitless search for your phone number and address." Contact forms allow visitors to send your business more information with less effort. Put one on each page and you will find that even the laziest - busiest - people will contact your firm.

2. . . . and Justice For All
Don't put any animated images of a flag rippling on your home page. Don't use music. Don't have a cheesy tag line. Make your web site look professional. Your web site should not just be text and links created in Microsoft FrontPage or even worse, Microsoft Word. Adding photographs and other graphic design elements enhance to the web site's appearance. Normally this requires the keen eye of a graphic designer. However, if you can't afford a web designer or graphic artist, then there are plenty of template-based designs that you can purchase cheaply and modify yourself.

3. Write Good . . . err . . . Well
Offer users something relevant and they will come to your web site. Your web site should be both informational and lively. At a minimum, your copy text should explain what your firm does and how it will help the potential client. Feel free to throw in a few war stories, but don't sing your praises too much as it will just become tiresome and insincere.

4. I am not a Number!!!!
Collect information about your users. At the very least your web host should provide you with monthly web statistics. Take ten minutes to analyze these statistics each month. You would be surprised what you can learn from the habits of your visitors. You might think the most important thing is your firm's history. Of course, visitors are probably only reading your latest news release. On the high-end you may want to install tracking software or create a database web site that allows users to log-in. These resources provide even greater detail into the movements and habits of your web site visitors.

5. Basic Training
Start with the basics. Listing your firm's credentials, practice areas, offices, employment section, and attorney biographies is a start. However, providing relevant articles, newsletters, bulletin alerts, links, statistics, and other information educates and impresses a client. You will also notice a dramatic increase in web site traffic and search engine placement when you add in relevant content on your practice areas. Once you have a solid web site, feel free to add in a monthly newsletter, discussion groups, chat sessions, and even a client extranet.

6. Optimize
"If you build it they will come." That may have worked for Kevin Costner, but not all lawyers. Once you have built your web site you need to optimize it for search engine placement. While it can be time consuming to correctly optimize a web site yourself, search engine optimization it is a must. After all, why even have a web site if no one can ever find it? If you don't want to pay a professional to optimize your web site, feel free to read our previous newsletters.

7. Advertise
If your firm does not wish to optimize the web site for search engine placement, buy your way into the search engines. Your firm may wish to consider an Internet marketing campaign with banner advertisements, key word buying on Google, newsletter links, and other forms of targeted Internet advertising. In addition to buying advertising, you should get free advertising. Place your web site domain name on all forms of your current advertising materials, such as business cards, newspaper ads, telephone book listings, radio ads, television, etc.

8. Keep in Touch
You may think that you're on the top of your clients minds. However, often that trademark legal brief or revision to their contract is low on their priority list. A great way to keep in touch, and remind them to bring more new business your way, is through a quarterly newsletter. A monthly newsletter is even better. Collect email addresses through the web sites contact form or have a dedicated area where visitors can sign up for your newsletter. In your newsletter, spread the word of your good deads and notable legal decisions or events.

9. . . . and Something New
If the last time you updated your web site was in May 2001, please don't advertise that on your web site. Spend a few minutes each week to add something new to your web site. If your firm wins a big case, settles a dispute, hires a new attorney or even signs a new client, then put it on the web site. Not only will it make your web site look more up-to-date, but it will show that you simply care about your firm's image.

10. Ask Around
The best way to develop a professional web site is to ask your clients, friends, and other lawyers what they would want on your web site. Often we find that attorneys simply sit down in a "technology group" and focus just on what they think their web site should do. However, you will find a great deal of ideas in your clients and friends outside of the legal field. Ask 'em questions and see what they would like. They might surprise you.

Quick List of Things To Do
- Add some Contact Forms
- Create a Professional Design
- Provide Relevant Content
- Review your Site Statistics
- Optimize
- Advertise
- Newsletter
- New Content
- Update...Update...Update
- Create basic sections (below)

Basic Web Site Sections
- Firm's credentials
- Practice areas
- Attorney Biographies
- Employment Area
- Offices
- Contact Forms
- Search/Sitemap
- Legal/Privacy Policy

Advanced Web Site Sections
- Newsletters
- Bulletins
- Seminars
- News
- Client List
- Resources Section
- Client Extranet
- Chat Sessions
- Forums or FAQ's
- Informational Products
- Alliances
- Bookstore
- Downloads
- Training

About The Author

Peter Boyd, Esq. at PaperStreet Web Design. Located in Miami, FL, PaperStreet Web Design has extensive experience developing, redesigning and optimizing law-related web sites. Our expertise can save you time and money while increasing your firm's business traffic.Contact us and we can easily redesign your web site to impress clients and get profitable results. Feel free to contact Peter Boyd at PaperStreet Web Design, or 954.523.2181.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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