ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WEBSITE DESIGN FOR LAW FIRMS

Dan Holt
This guide is written by Dan Holt. Dan has been involved in SEO since 2009, has managed over 300 SEO campaigns, and been featured in many of the world’s largest SEO blogs including Moz, HubSpot and Search Engine Journal

Overview

No matter whether your law firm is consumer or corporate, boutique or large, premium or exclusive, your website will already be playing a central role in the position, reach and engagement achieved by your brand. For law firms, a great website can be a huge USP.

Having a strategy to turn this asset into a competitive edge for your firm, is one of the most important things your marketing function will ever do. Hopefully, this short guide will help!

Planning and launching a website in the legal market can be separated into the following stages:

  • Audience analysis
  • Digital strategy
  • Platform (CMS) selection
  • User journey mapping
  • Wireframing
  • Design
  • Usability testing
  • Hosting and security
  • SEO
  • Analytics
  • Test launch and iteration
  • Ongoing management

Overview

Audience analysis

Before any planning begins, we first need to ensure we fully understand each of the key stakeholders, which can be broken down into:

  • Priority customer profiles
  • Employees of the firm
  • Partner brands

It’s essential that for each of these segments we have a clear sense of:

  • Their primary drivers, expectations and fears
  • The digital channels on which they spend the majority of their time
  • The content with which they most readily engage
  • Their level of technical insight in the services offered by your firm

By capturing this information early on, it’s going to make every decision thereafter so much informed and impactful.

For example, it may be that one audience profile is C-Suite executives, who are busy, impatient, driven by commercial factors and frankly not interested in the minutiae of your product or process. Meanwhile, you may also be selling into the same companies from the “bottom-up”, via those doing the execution, who are far more likely to be interested in the details. Understanding these contrasting groups is essential if your website is to offer a great experience for each.

We also need to give some thought to those responsible for website management – how technical are they? Should the site be built in such a way that allows a large number of non technical individuals to make small changes, or will there instead be a small number of technical employees who will be able to change just about anything? Or perhaps the management will be entirely outsourced? These questions are so easy to neglect at the outset, but will have profound implications later on.

Digital Strategy

As important as a law firm’s website may be, it’s crucial to keep in mind that it is ultimately just one of many channels, and should never be conceived in isolation. Some of the important considerations include:

  • How will the website interact with the search engines? What keywords will the site be targeting and how will they be grouped together within landing pages? Which of these landing pages will form part of the primary user experience and which will sit more discreetly behind the scenes?
  • Will we use the website traffic as a source of data capture for our email strategy? If so, what’s the hook? And where will this hook exist – on static calls to action or on light boxes that appear on certain key areas of the website, like the blog or resources?
  • Will the website showcase any video? If so, will the video be hosted directly on the website or will we embed code from third party platforms like YouTube or Vimeo?
  • How will your customers interact with your website? With web design for law firms, you need to make your content as easily accessible as possible to all possible facets of your audience.
  • Do we require any social media channels to have live feeds within the website?

By answering these questions at the outset, you will ensure that the website not only performs well in its own right, but also strengthens the broader activity across all these complimentary channels. This is a core fundamental for effective website design for law firms.

Platform Selection

The first decision to make is whether this should be on an open-source CMS (Content Management System) or on a bespoke build, and to be honest, this isn’t really a debate at all. There are various misconceptions surrounding the security and performance of open source platforms, but there’s a good reason why 95% of businesses now use them. All of the so-called ‘weaknesses’ only exist if the site is poorly developed and managed, which would also be true for any custom build. 

The most popular open-source CMS (by a mile!) is WordPress. Again, this is not without good reason. At its most basic level, WordPress is an outstanding system that should provide your firm with absolutely everything it needs – again, assuming the website built on it is done so by experienced WordPress developers who adhere to best practice.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of WordPress is the simple fact that you are free to work with anybody you like. You are not tied into the original developers, but rather the management can be passed either to your internal team, a new agency, freelancers, or anyone else that you decide to involve. In the long term, this freedom and flexibility is not to be underestimated. Having the ability to totally control your content is imperative for web design for law firms, as legislative changes happen extremely frequently. People expect legal services to be both bespoke and high quality, so accuracy of information is critical. 

WordPress has several distinct advantages over other content management systems, including:

  • Open-source – WordPress is an Open Source platform that has an enormous developer-base. It is the world’s most used and recommended CMS platform – with WordPress now powering 37% of all websites on the internet.
  • WordPress Security – Because WordPress is the most deployed and extended content management system it is also the most frequently updated. WordPress issues updates to the core CMS platform every month – and these updates include security patching and feature enhancements. WordPress is often criticised for being insecure to common threats. Competitor CMS solutions will say that they are attacked less – or that their coding is ‘different’ and thereby more secure. However, our experience of common CMS solutions such as Drupal and Joomla has led us to believe that none are as secure as WordPress can be.
  • Ease of Use – WordPress is really simple to use. Administrators, Editors and Publishers can easily create new pages, manage existing page content and develop blog posts within the intuitive administration interface. This is especially helpful for law firms that want to continually update and add new content to expand their services. 
  • WordPress websites can be built in a modular fashion. As a result, if a user ever needed to create a new page they could build it by selecting from a number of predetermined modules without needing to worry about it looking different to other pages already on the site. Again, this is hugely beneficial in web design for law firms to ensure that there is a consistent look across the site that accurately reflects the branding and identity of your law firm. 
  • Fully Responsive – everything on WordPress can be fully responsive for all screen sizes, from large screen desktops to tablets and smartphones. There will be just one website – not a ‘mobile version’ of the site. The responsiveness will be applied to the design, and will adjust  all content as the screen size changes.

User Journey Mapping

The purpose of a user journey map is to align the navigation and experience of the website with the goals of the various user groups, also known as “actors”.

There are the following components within any journey map:

  • The actor – the actor is the person going through the journey. It’s likely that for most law firms there will be multiple actors (including employees, customers (which will likely in turn be segmented by job role, seniority and sector) and other stakeholders for the business) so distinct journeys will need to be mapped for each of these actors.
  • Scenarios and expectations – these describe the goals and intents of the actor as they arrive and progress through the website.
  • Phases – these describe the nature of the different stages within the journey. For example, for a corporate law firm, there may be a long research phase, followed by discovery and engagement and then hopefully adoption and expansion, while for a consumer law firm there may be more emphasis on emotive elements, such as inspiration and support.
  • Mindsets and emotions – for each stage there should be a corresponding set of emotions triggered by the information. Being clear on this emotion is critical if you’re to use it as an effective driver. For example, someone researching a will may be overcome by worry at the discovery stage, and therefore a smart law firm will mitigate that worry by providing lots of information and assistance.

Note – an important distinction to understand is between journey mapping and experience mapping – the former is concerned with your specific law firm, website and product line, while the latter is business/product agnostic and describes their experience at every stage of solving their problem, regardless of whether or not a phase relates to your firm.

It’s also really important to ensure that you are accounting for all levels of digital ability when commencing website design for law firms. Your customers and clients are likely to be from a diverse range of backgrounds, educations and ages, and consequently, it’s imperative that you don’t neglect to make your site as user-friendly to all audiences.

Design and Testing

Wire-framing

Once the user journey has been sufficiently planned, the next stage is to turn this into a comprehensive wireframe for the site. A wireframe is essentially a skeleton of the website that prescribes the exact placement of every link and key message, from the main navigation to the layout of each key page. However, it is completely separate from the design and provides little sense of what the site will look like aesthetically. 

The main advantage of the wire-framing stage is that it’s a fast way to confirm that everyone is on the same page before the design element begins, thereby avoiding costly redesigns. In regards specifically to website design for law firms, this means that you can map out all your services and offerings in one place, giving you a clear indication of the user’s roadmap through your website. It also allows your firm to highlight any potential user journey pitfalls when it comes to accessing information so you can mitigate or prevent this. 

Visual identity

Whilst we are focusing here specifically on a website build rather than a branding exercise, the former does to some degree demand that the latter has been performed in the not too distant past. From this the following should be provided:

  • Typeface – clarity around the exact typeface used to represent the law firm across all marketing collateral. Often a firm will have one for large scale header copy, and another for body copy with a greater emphasis on legibility.
  • Colour palette – most firms will have a range of colours used to portray their brand personality. Needless to say that for the purpose of website design for law firms this step is of profound importance as it helps to establish and identify the unique makeup of your brand.
  • Imagery – perhaps the most frequent problem from a visual perspective among legal websites is the generic imagery so often used. Establishing some clear parameters for image selection so that they communicate something distinctive about the firm is one of the hardest elements of branding, and also one of the most important aspects of website design for law firms.
  • Logo and other iconography – finally we have the logo itself, along with any other related iconography that the law firm might use to represent their brand in different contexts. Like the McDonald’s M or Nike Swoosh, this emblem should be the visual personification of the brand and will be front and centre of the new website design.

With all these elements defined, the website design process becomes a relatively simple process – we are merely overlaying this visual identity onto the wireframe. The design process is no more complicated than that, as a good website is all about providing an intuitive experience, and that comes from predictability and adherence to common practice.

Usability testing

The development team can include four levels of testing throughout the project, from testing initial design concepts for usability through to final pre-live and post-live testing for performance and security:

  • Usability Testing
  • Device and Browser Testing
  • Performance Testing
  • Security (Penetration) Testing

For large projects we recommend commissioning independent testing solutions to deliver on these tests throughout the project, when appropriate. Testing in this way ensures that the website really delivers to specification, allowing users to easily find and digest content, interact with the website and calls to action, as well as experiencing an optimised, high performing content experience. Testing also ensures that the website is compliant with usability guidelines, data protection laws and is hardened against hacking and other threats.

SEO

For most law firms, ensuring the website performs well in the search engines is of absolute top priority. Whether your firm operates in a corporate market or sells directly to consumers, the majority of customer journeys will begin with a search into Google. Furthermore, unlike other digital channel activities, there is a strong compound dimension to investment in organic search that means you are really building an asset over time.

There are several components to ensuring your law firm has a really strong presence in the search engines:

  • Basic on-page optimisation – from title tags and image alt tags to URLs and keyword density within body copy, the absolute minimum that your site must do is ensure Google is able to index and make sense of the key phrases you’re targeting.
  • Maximising overlap between content and user intent – we call this broad relevance. So what proportion of the expectations that a user may have when they make a particular search query do your organic landing pages offer? If the answer is “more than any of the competition”, then you’re in a great place to steal that top spot. For example, if your firm sells wills and someone searches for “Wills solicitors in London”, then ideally there would be a page on the site that would communicate everything from the technical details of your wills to pricing and Location information through to the specific details of the solicitor that heads that function within the firm. This way it’s unlikely that whatever’s going through the mind of the user, won’t be catered to by the page in question.
  • Internal linking – while a new website design isn’t going to build your domain authority, you can use this opportunity to better channel that authority throughout the website. The key is to identify those pages that have relevance to your key landing pages, and provide in text links from the former to the latter.

The most important thing from an SEO perspective, however, is to ensure your URL structure is protected, so if the development is going to change that then all old URLs must be redirected to the corresponding new URLs. The implications of getting this wrong are profound. You could literally lose all your search engine traffic overnight.

Website management:

Platform management planning is incredibly important, especially when changing platforms. Above all, we need to consider the following:

  • Secure login pages – we need to ensure security measures are taken to the WordPress login page such as Google ReCaptcha, Google Authentication and alternative login URLs where necessary.
  • User roles & permissions
    • WordPress has a number of predefined user roles such as Administrator, Editor and Author.
    • We can customise the permissions for each role to determine which users are allowed to perform each task in the backend of the CMS. If required, we can also edit the predefined user roles.
  • Importing login details
    • Importing login details from old platform to new will involve sharing login credentials which will need to be done securely.
    • We suggest password protected spreadsheets such as Excel documents encrypted with a password and uploaded to a secure folder in Google Drive or Teams.

Performance reporting

One of the main arguments given for law firms investing the bulk of their marketing spend in digital avenues is the increased measurability. Unlike many traditional channels that provided my direct tracking, the vast majority of online marketing provides clear attribution.

The challenge is in knowing what to track, as it’s easy to get lost in a sea of data. For most law firms we would recommend focusing on the following metrics:

  • Website enquiries, along with financial attribution per channel – whilst we need to appreciate that enquiries are a lagging metric and an over focus on those in the short term can undermine the brand and engagement metrics that will ultimate drive the enquiries in the long term, it should go without saying that the first thing any tracking should provide is a clear sense of what’s bring in your qualified leads. As part of this, you should be able to see a clear breakdown per channel so you can see how your investment in each is paying dividends. However, it’s worth reiterating that unless your campaign is direct response in nature, a fixation on enquiries over the first 6-12 months could prove highly counterproductive.
  • Organic traffic to key landing pages – while it’s tempting to obsess over specific rankings, for the vast majority of legal services the traffic comes in through far too many keywords for those specific rankings to tell a full story. Instead, you want to concentrate on organic traffic into the landing pages that correspond with those priority keywords. This will also help block out all the long tail blog and resource traffic that offers so little direct value.
  • One core brand metric – by including a brand metric you will get a sense of what business is likely to be in the future, rather than just the month in question. However, selecting the right one can be a challenge. Our suggestion would be to focus on one particular engagement metric on the channel that you believe allows you to most effectively engage with your audience. That could be email opens, or LinkedIn company followers, or even website engagement if most people come direct to site.

Alongside your headline digital metrics, many forward thinking firms will also identify a north star that provides a strategic guiding light for all their decision making. A north star should provide a strong sense of current and future revenues, be aligned to the vision and values, and reflect the quality of the user experience. For many firms that may be something like the average customer lifetime value, but ideally it would be connected to a more specific product point of difference.

version="