THROUGH THE YEARS OF WORKING with attorneys and law firms, we’ve assessed hundreds of websites, parsing out the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are some of the common mistakes we’ve seen, with suggestions to fix them.
ONE: Hiring the wrong type of service provider. Hiring someone who does not understand your industry, business model, your goals, your brand, nor your intended audience to design your website. A “website design” is not just about creating a good-looking site, it is about extending your brand message out to the world and enticing prospective clients to become actual clients. Are there cheap options for getting a website design “done”? Sure, there are many. But if you are serious about your practice growth, this is one area in which you should consider making a reasonable investment.
Fix it! Hire a professional creative agency or marketing consultant to help you develop a strong brand and message first. Then have your site designed by professionals who understand how to support your overall brand, message and objectives.
TWO: Trying to D-I-Y. Even worse than hiring the wrong professional is trying to do-it-yourself, unless the very service you are selling is website design. Why? Because you can make more money doing what you do best than you will save trying to learn all the ins and outs of website design.
Fix it! Do your due diligence and research, invest in professional help and trust them to do their jobs. Make sure you have an agreement in writing, set clear expectations and communicate often. Most important: Be willing to take expert advice. Experts will know more about how to execute what you need than you will. Trust them. If they don’t do the job they committed to do, fire them. Spend your time doing the work you do best and getting paid accordingly for that work. Though it may hurt to pay upfront, in the end, you’ll save—and make—more money than if you try to learn all you need to know about this ever-evolving industry yourself.
THREE: Not understanding the objective of the site. As the business owner, you need to have a very clear understanding of what you plan to accomplish with your website. One of the biggest—and costliest—mistakes attorneys make with their websites is not having a clear, identifiable purpose for the site at the outset. It is not enough to say: “I want my site to promote my firm.” You must be able to specifically identify your target audience (Hint: It is not “everyone.”), and get crystal clear on exactly what you want them to do when they get to your site. (Hint: “Hire me” is too vague and broad.)
Fix it! Your professional marketing and design team should help guide you in how to execute your vision, goals and objectives for your site. However, it is your firm and you need to be crystal clear about your vision. Every marketing effort you make should support that vision. Know exactly to whom you are speaking and what action you want them to take. For example: “My prospective clients are business owners with at least $500,000 in annual revenue, and when they get to my site I want them to feel compelled to join my e-mail list so I can market to them directly via e-mail.”
FOUR: Improper site planning. Site planning includes everything from the layout of the site to the colors, to the message and content, and everything in between. While the design itself does require some artistry, a website designed to generate leads for a business must be planned around that objective and every element designed to support it.
Fix it! If your marketing and design team does not first discuss the objective of the site with you and help guide you through the process, get a new one. You must start with a plan. It does not have to be overly complicated, nor should it be detailed, necessarily, but you must all be on the same page about what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it.
FIVE: Poor navigation. Have you ever been to a site and you can’t find the answers you need so you just kind of keep poking around hoping you will stumble upon what you’re looking for? If you have, it’s likely you were experiencing poorly designed site navigation. It is the job of the business to guide visitors through the site, to lead them where you want and need them to go.
Fix it! Fixing poor navigation is not easy once it is done, so it is important to address this at the outset. What do you want your prospects to do first? Second? Third? And so on? How do you want them to engage with your site? Have you clearly developed a plan for this? Are there multiple points of entry to each section? Are there too many so that now it is confusing? Did you use words in your navigation that are catchy and cute, but not meaningful to your prospect? (For example, saying: “We Rock” instead of “About Us.”) Be clear, do not give too many options and put your navigation in the order you would like for prospects to move through your site.
SIX: Focus on the business and not the customer. This is a BIG one. We see it a lot, especially with law firms. Newsflash: Your prospective client is not going to your site to read all about you. Your prospective client is going to your site to learn more about how you can help them. It’s typical for service professionals to focus on their credentials, accolades, and accomplishments. While it is okay to include this information if you think it will be persuasive (most likely it is not as much as you think it is), the emphasis should be on how this is a benefit to the client.
Fix it! Shift the focus from your credentials and accomplishments to what you can do to help solve your prospective client’s problems. Why should they choose you to solve their problems and not someone else? (Hint: it is not because you have an advanced degree.) Show them how you’ve solved other clients’ similar problems. Give examples of success stories. Include testimonials from satisfied clients. Provide solutions to some of the less complex problems right on your site. Remember the objective of your site and be laser-focused on accomplishing that objective.
SEVEN: Poorly written content. Even if you think you are a good writer—perhaps because you have a degree in English or have written for several professional journals— trust me, unless you are a professional copywriter with training in how to write persuasive sales pages, you should NOT be writing the copy for your website. There are a lot of tricks to the copywriting trade you likely do not know. Maybe you will save a few bucks by writing all your website content yourself but, in the long run, you are going to cost yourself thousands of dollars!
Fix it! Hire a professional copywriter with experience in writing persuasive copy for businesses such as yours. Even if you have to correct some of the subject matter because you are the subject matter expert, a professional copywriter still is necessary for a business website if the objective is to help your business attract and convert ideal clients.
EIGHT: Too much content. People are busy, busy, busy and they do not have time to read everything on your site. They just won’t do it. In fact, if you overwhelm them with too much content, they will do what we in the industry call “bounce,” meaning they will hop off your site and onto another.
Fix it! Get to the point. Include just enough content to get the job done—to guide them to your solution, to persuade them to engage with you and your business. A professional copywriter can advise you on what is too much. Heed that advice.
NINE: Not enough content. Of course, there is the opposite problem: not enough content. This is an issue for two reasons: 1) You have to write enough to get the job done. Unless you are in a highly visual business like, for example, professional photography or graphic design where you can get away with fewer words because you let your visuals do the talking, you will need to be able to communicate with words exactly what you can do to help solve your clients’ problems and what they need to do next; and 2) You need a certain amount of words on each page if you want them optimized for search engines. More on that later.
Fix it! At a minimum, you should have a 300- to 500-word paragraph per page. There has been quite a bit written about the optimal length of content to encourage engagement and search engine optimization. It appears the most favorable results fall in the 1,200 to 1,500 words per page range. You may or may not need this much. Some people think no one will read this much, but research indicates the opposite. Also, according to Google, 1,500 is the optimal number of words per page for search engine optimization.
TEN: Poor quality photography. Poor quality photography is the difference between “hack” and “professional” and it can ruin a website. In particular, if you are the brand, as so many professional service providers are, please, please, please, have some professional photos made! No, don’t use a snapshot or the photo you had taken five years ago or at your last job. I have yet to meet a client who is not camera shy. Most of us don’t like the way we look in pictures, even if we are gorgeous. However, you cannot let that hold you back! Other people do not see you the way you see you. Think about your own friends and acquaintances. When you see a photo of one of them, dressed up and looking professional with a welcoming smile on his or her face, how do you respond to that? It is the same with you.
Fix it! The key to a good photo of a person is to plan ahead. Take the time put together an outfit that sends the right message to your prospects (for instance, the general public expects lawyers to wear suits because that is what they see on television), get your hair and make-up done just before the shoot (men: get a good cut and trim, skip the makeup if you want), and hire a professional photographer with experience in taking photos of professional service providers. Most professional photographers will have portfolios online so you can view their sites and see what kind of work they do. If they specialize in taking pictures of babies or weddings, skip them. Go on to the one who has experience in capturing the personalities of business owners.
ELEVEN: Generic photography. This is a word about stock photography. It is okay to use stock photography. In fact, there is a lot of great stock photography out there. BUT, you must not overdo it. If you do, your site will look very generic and boring.
Fix it! If you can’t afford to have a custom photo shoot (and most can’t or don’t want to spend the money this way), use only the best quality stock photography and limit the number of stock photos throughout the site. Use custom graphic elements, instead, which may be more affordable to create. Wherever you do use stock photography, make sure that the photos you select support your brand and message and contribute to the story you are trying to tell through your site.
TWELEVE: Outdated or incorrect content. Outdated content or incorrect content makes you look out of touch, disorganized and unprofessional.
Fix it! Update your content regularly, eliminating information that is no longer relevant or useful to your prospects. When you are creating original content, focus on creating evergreen content—information you know is unlikely to change over time, but that is still informative and useful to your site visitors.
THIRETEEN: Unprofessional videos. As with photography, it is easy to muck up a website with poorly planned, lit, filmed or edited videos. You don’t want your videos to look like you were shooting them in the back bedroom of your house. Nor do you want to look like a mobster in the witness protection program because of poor lighting. Sound quality is also important. If your video sound is tinny, prospects likely will bounce away very quickly and never get to experience all the really good content you provide.
Fix it! If you can, hire a professional to help you script, shoot and edit your videos. If you can’t afford it and want to record some videos right at your desk, at least invest in the right equipment— high-quality microphones, proper lighting and good editing software. Also, be mindful of your background and other distractions! You prospects likely will not think very highly of you if they see piles of laundry on the couch behind you while you are telling them about the importance of organization and time management.
FOURTEEN: Poor color choices. Everything from the words you use to the font choices to the colors on your site should support your brand message and attract your prospective clients. A traditional, buttoned-down real estate transaction law firm is going to choose very different colors than a spiritual healer and life coach. Be sure you understand the power, effect, and meaning of colors and use them accordingly. For example, did you know that red is associated with death in some cultures? Others—like the color blind—find red hard to read. Still, others think red is the color of passion and excitements. While it may be a great accent color for websites, in most cases, it should be used sparingly instead of as the main color. Also, be sure the colors you choose help your prospects easily read the most important information. High contrast, such as black writing on a white background is preferable to low contrasting color, such as white lettering on a pale blue background.
Fix it! Do your research. Understand the meaning behind colors—particularly among your prospects. (For example, you might choose a navy and white scheme with red pops of color to accent the most important information if you are targeting a traditional, conservative American audience interested in patriotism.) Make sure you use high contrast colors to make text easier to read. Lastly, keep your color scheme limited to two main colors for a more professional look, with one bright accent color, used sparingly, to emphasize the most important information or call-to-action.
FIFTEEN: No metrics or analytics. There are many, many ways to measure who is coming to your site, how they are getting there, how long they are staying, which content they find the most compelling, how they are moving through the site, what they do when they are on the site and much, much more. Google Analytics and HubSpot are two great ways to gather and view this data. Whatever you do, you absolutely must regularly review and make adjustments to your metrics. If you do not, then your site is really not much more than a fancy online brochure, and it is not going to help you generate the leads you desire.
Fix it! Research several options for metrics and analytics, and make sure you understand how to read and use the data you collect. As with anything, there are more expensive and less expensive options. Get the best you can afford because this, really, is the key to successfully using your site as a lead generator. Proper metrics and analytics provide invaluable insight into the minds of your prospects.
SIXTEEN: Jargon. Don’t do it. Don’t use jargon on your site. When talking about “time leveraging efficiencies,” “upleveling” or “practice areas,” you most likely are putting your intended audience to sleep. Attorneys are some of the worst offenders, particularly when we write blogs like we are writing briefs. But life coaches, therapists, fitness professionals and other consultants are guilty of this, too. Unless your prospects are your peers in the profession (and maybe even not then) steer away from industry jargon.
Fix it! Use clear, common and concise language. Instead of talking about your “practice areas,” discuss the services you provide. Instead of inviting people to “eliminate their blocks,” invite them to get crystal clear on what they want. No one is impressed by jargon or vague, meaningless terms. Everyone loves clear, direct communication.
SEVENTEEN: Blogs with no purpose. Don’t blog just because you think you need to blog because “everyone else is doing it.” Remember what your mother used to say: “If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you?” (We hope your answer was “no.”) Blogs are great for people who love to write and actually know how to write a blog in a voice that is appealing to the target audience. Also, blogs can do wonders for driving traffic to your website, but not if they are pointless, boring or not written well. Of course, they won’t do much for you at all unless you learn the importance of sharing and then commit to doing so consistently.
Fix it! If you love to blog, by all means, do it. Just make sure 1) you speak in a language your prospects understand (no jargon!), 2) you learn how to write in the best style for blogging (no legal briefs, please!), 3) you blog consistently (make a calendar and stick to it—at least twice a month but up to four times a month is preferable), 4) include only useful, valuable information to help your clients solve their problems and 5) share your blogs in all the places your clients hang out!
EIGHTEEN: Overstuffing keywords. If you want your site to be optimized for search engines, then you do need to have an understanding of how search engine optimization works, the keywords your prospects most likely will use to find your site and good long-tail phrases. However, gone are the days when keywords were king. In fact, overstuffing your site with keywords actually will work against you now. You might even be penalized by Google for doing so.
Fix it! Get your design and SEO consultant to help you create a list of keywords and long-tail phrases, then make sure these keywords and phrases are included on each page of your site and in all the right places, such as in headings and subheadings. Also, make sure all the photos you use on the site are tagged properly. Avoid the temptation to “stuff” too many keywords in the site to the point where your content no longer makes good sense to the reader.
NINETEEN: No keywords. Not having any keywords is worse than overstuffing your site with them. You really must understand how your prospects will be searching for services like the ones you offer if you want them to be able to find you.
Fix it! It’s not that difficult to come up with your keywords and phrases. There are many tools available to help you conduct keyword research. Use more than one if you can, but it is not necessary to use more than two or three. Again, rely on your consultant to help you, as this is his or her area of expertise. While he or she may not be an expert in your subject matter, your consultant will understand how to use the keywords search tools and SEO plug-ins to get the best results for your site.
TWENTY: Links and buttons that don’t work. This is a rookie mistake, but easy to make. Make sure you have someone check all the buttons and links on the site to make sure they work the way they are supposed to. While links are very important for search engine optimization, you want to make sure any links open up a separate tab because you want to keep visitors on your site as much as possible.
Fix it! Broken links and buttons to nowhere are an easy, easy fix and an important part of quality control. Have someone go through every page of your site and check all the links and buttons. Fix the ones that aren’t working right or that close out your site and send people to another site instead.
TWENTY-ONE: No testimonials. These days, social proof is everything. People want to know if other people have used your services and whether they liked working with you and getting the results you were able to provide. Testimonials on your site and on referral or social sites are a great way to let your clients speak for you.
Fix it! Ask! It is as simple and as complicated as that. Timing is everything. When your clients are at their happiest with your work is the best time to ask them for a testimonial. Make it super easy for them—maybe by sending an email with a link to where they can write one, or maybe by suggesting some ways you feel you have helped them most and asking them if they agree. Most satisfied clients will be happy to give you a testimonial you can use on your site if you ask them. Also, be sure to ask if you can use their headshot to go along with their testimonial. People love to see who is recommending you. You may or may not want to offer a link from your site to theirs as well.
TWENTY-TWO: Ineffective testimonials. Not all testimonials are created equally. Be sure you ask for very specific feedback in your testimonial requests. If a client testimonial can share actual results—“X helped me increase my ROI from X to X”—it is going to be much more powerful than something like—“I liked X, he was very nice.”
Fix it! One great way to get that kind of testimonial is to follow up with a client sometime after you’ve worked with them to see if you can ask them some specific questions about their results. So if you are a life coach, you might call and check on their progress after a few weeks of working with you, asking them very specifically about the results they had planned to get (you already likely will know this) and if they’ve been able to achieve those results based on your guidance. Ask for numbers. Numbers are incredibly powerful tools of persuasion. This type of interview also may give you an opportunity to continue your work with the client.
TWENTY-THREE: Videos that start automatically. Just don’t do it. You never know where your prospects will be when they are viewing your site. What if they are on a conference call with their boss and some clients and are absentmindedly browsing when they hit your site? If your video starts automatically, instead of pausing it, they are more likely just to pop off the site. An automatic video is just bad etiquette. Don’t do it.
Fix it! Make sure when your videos are embedded in your site they are set so that they do not start automatically. Also, allow your prospects to control the video start, pause, stop and volume. The more in control they feel, the more likely they will be to listen to all your content.
TWENTY-FOUR: Flashy design elements that serve no purpose. We don’t see as many sites these days with Flash—that fancy but useless artistic virtual entryway into a site. Thank goodness. What we want to do is create a site that is easy to get to, easy to navigate and easy to understand. What we do not want is a site with barriers to entry and a reason for people to leave before they even make it in the front door. These days we are seeing more and more sliders and really large photos, and maybe even videos above the fold of the site (the top half of the site before you start scrolling). While this can be very visually appealing, make sure you are not wasting valuable site real estate with something that does not help your site visitor and prospect.
Fix it! Make sure that every element of the site adds value, serves your potential client, and communicates your brand message, particularly any visuals or content on the top half of your site before you start scrolling down. If you are going to use a photo or video, make sure it is relevant and compelling. Do not use anything in this premium spot that will detract from your stated objective—your call to action.
TWENTY-FIVE: Not having an opt-in and enticing lead magnet. You really, really must consider the value of creating an e-mail list of your site visitors and prospective clients. What this will do is allow you to contact these folks on an ongoing basis through e-mail marketing, to continue to share information about the problems you solve and the services you can provide.
Fix it! The key to developing this all-important e-mail list is to develop an enticing “lead magnet.” This can be a free report of highly useful information your prospect needs or wants, or a free video course where you teach something your prospect would love to learn, or maybe even a tangible product like an actual book you’ll send through the regular mail. Think about what you would like if you were in your prospects’ shoes. Better yet, call up some companies or people you would like to target and ask them what they might like to have for free from you. The key to all of this, of course, is to ask for their e-mail address in exchange and permission to continue to send them the information you think they may find valuable and interesting.
TWENTY-SIX: Not updating your site regularly. If you want your site optimized for search engines, you must update your content regularly, adding valuable content. Otherwise, the search engines will think your site is out-of-date and no longer relevant. Also, if you do not update your site, you are giving no reason for site visitors to return to your site. The more you can get them to engage with you via your website, social media or in person, the more likely prospects will become clients.
Fix it! It is not that difficult to create new content for your site on a consistent basis. One of the best ways to do this is to create an editorial plan for the year that sets out all the new content you intend to publish. If you like to write blogs, go ahead and write several at one time, but then drip them out over time on your site. Or, if a video is your thing, plan one full day of shooting, and create 10 to 15 videos at once that you can upload every other week. There are many easy ways to get fresh, relevant content on your site. The key is effective planning and then having a system in place for executing.
TWENTY-SEVEN: Not developing an effective plan to drive traffic. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but “build it and they will come” does not actually work that way— not in brick and mortar businesses and not in online businesses. One of the worst things you can do is to build an amazing, beautiful and thoughtful site and not have a plan in place to attract clients to your site.
Fix it! Sit down with your marketing consultant or creative agency and create a plan for attracting clients to your site. Decide whether you should host webinars, create Facebook ad campaigns, have a way for people to sign up to be on your list every time you speak in public, develop a pay-per-click campaign, or send out direct mail. There are many, many ways to drive traffic to your site. Some will make sense for you and your business and some will not. Most likely, you won’t be able to do them all, either because of time or money—or maybe because some won’t work for your prospects. Making a list of options and prioritizing that list is critical. Don’t just jump on the first option. Think it through and ask the opinions of professionals.