The digital age is in full swing.  Law firms can no longer survive on referrals alone, and thus must build online business channels using branded websites that can be found by users browsing the internet.  This brings on a new and relatively unfamiliar challenge that many law firms must face – standing out online in a sea of competition. You must treat your website as the front door to the firm’s practice.  If the path to your firm’s practice is riddled with obstacles, how can a prospective client find you? Because we see so many sites that can benefit greatly from even just small changes, the team at ONE400 has compiled some website optimization tips for your law firm practice that are meant to increase your firm’s online presence.

(This website optimization tips blog is available for download as a PDF white paper.)

Why Do You Need A Good Law Firm Website?

The legal landscape is changing rapidly, and you don’t want your firm to be left in the dust. Over 75% of clients look to the internet when looking for a legal services provider but putting up a website is just the beginning. Optimizing that website for the optimal visits and conversions is what will distinguish your firm’s website from your competitors’.

Signs of Good Website Design

User Experience:

Your website should lead a user through your site with ease. Users should be able to find the exact information that they are looking for without much confusion.  It is important to have a navigation bar or menu with a comprehensible layout on every page. Broken links, inability to find relevant content, poorly written copy, and low quality images will send potential clients running.  Site speed also affects consumer behavior; approximately 47% of people expect a website to load in 3 seconds or less. There are several tools available online to determine your sites loading speed. Speak with your web developer if you find that there is room for improvement on any of these issues.

Cross-Platform Responsiveness:

People use multiple devices to access your site including their iPad, iPhone and computer.  A client may check your site at work, then again at home on her personal device or tablet.  All of these devices have different sized screens so your site has be to able to account for this. If your site is not responsive, your website will not be sized appropriately for mobile viewership. Mobile-friendly websites have large sized text, no sideways scrolling and optimized navigation bars.

On April 21st, 2015, Google released a new ranking system for mobile websites that boosted mobile-friendly websites.  Here is an example of a non-responsive website versus an optimized mobile website.

Signs of Good Website Design Mobile Friendly Test

Software Technology to Push Decision Making:

New technologies make online client engagement much easier.  Incorporating software on your site can help boost contact rates, and ease users into converting.  For example, using an appointment scheduling tool that syncs with a lawyer’s calendar has proven to be more effective than a simple contact form.

Search Engine Optimization:

Now that you have a summary of website design elements, let’s talk about optimizing your website for search engines.  This process will make it easier for Google and other search engines to find and index your site so that you will appear in search results.  The goal of website optimization is to rank well for search terms that are specific to your firm’s practice so that more potential clients end up on your website.

How Do Search Engines Work?

A search engine is a program that searches a database based on terms or keywords specified by a user. The engine populates results relevant to search terms into a ranked list.  The most popular search engines are Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Duck Duck Go.  The goal of a search engine is to provide results for the websites that contains the phrase a user searches for, and that are relevant.

Relevance is determined by algorithms that sort websites based on congruity.  These sites are then ranked several ways including by date or popularity.  These algorithms have evolved significantly over time, and contain hundreds of variables.  No one knows exactly what makes up the algorithms and the variables are constantly being changed by search engines.Before the progression of these equations, website owners were able to fill their site copy and titles with keywords and phrases they wanted to rank for – the more keywords, the higher the site would rank. In the past five years, Google, the most popular search engine, has advanced its algorithm so significantly, that this type of practice is virtually useless.

Step By Step Guide to Website Optimization

Google Analytics Installation:

Google Analytics is a free website analysis service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic.  It is the most widely used web analytics service on the internet.  You can track many different types of user data using Analytics such as user behavior, time spent on site, and conversion rates.  All of this information can be compiled into custom dashboards within the platform, below is an example of a 30 day custom dashboard built for a client that tracks visits, organic traffic, popular pages and blogs, social media conversions, conversions (with top converting pages), and a pre-determined lead value.

google analytics installation custom dashboard

This information is useful in a number of ways, and it is essential that it is installed on any website. Once you create a Google Analytics account you will need to place a small piece of code on your website that allows the software to track user behavior. Make sure the code is placed within the header of your website.

After your Analytics installation is complete, you can track data and user behavior to make informed decisions when it comes to your website.

Google Webmaster Tools:

Webmaster Tools goes hand-in-hand with Analytics and is another important data collection tool for your rankings success.  It allows webmasters to check if their site is being indexed in search engines, and provides tips to optimize the visibility of a website.  Webmaster Tools will also provide a list of broken links to within your website, which is incredibly useful for ensuring a great user experience and spotting issues that could impact your ranking.

You can also submit a sitemap (discussed later) directly to Google that it will crawl.  Even if you feel you won’t don’t know how to use Webmaster Tools, you should be aware of it’s existence and become familiar with the basics.  Lastly, Webmaster Tools gives you keyword insights into your user’s search behavior. There are several online tutorials and marketing firms that will train you on this platform.

Pair Google Analytics to Webmaster Tools:

Pairing your Google accounts will give you the benefit of both services integrated into one place.  This provides combined information of searching habits as well as traffic.  This simple step is often overlooked in marketing, and takes less than five minutes to implement.

Once you have set up Analytics and Webmaster Tools, login to your Webmaster Tools dashboard and select your site.  Click on the gear icon in the top right and select “Google Analytics Property.”

pairing analytics and webmaster tools how to

Select save and you are finished, you can access additional Webmaster Tools features in Analytics and vice versa.

Create Goals in Analytics:

If you have an executable call-to-action on your website, such as a contact form or appointment scheduler, you want to be able to track the number of people who complete the action.  You can do this by creating “Goals” within the Analytics platform.  There are many different types of goals, and we encourage you to track all of the relevant ones using unique names to make sure you aren’t mixing data.  Below is the full list of trackable actions.

create goals in analytics to track conversions

Value of Lead Setup:

As you complete your Goals, you have the option to set a “lead value” – the amount of monetary value a single contact has.  Calculating this number will take a few months of data to determine but is simple math. We have included an example below.

Assume your monthly advertising budget is $2,000 for PPC (Pay per click) and social media advertising.  From that budget, you are able to acquire 5 new leads a month. Out of the five leads you receive, three of them are viable, and one of them hires you for $5,000 initial retainer.

From here you will first need to determine your cost per acquisition (CPA). To figure this out using our example all you need to do is divide 5 (total leads) by $2,000. Your total CPA is $400.

Next you want to determine your lead value. The lead value is determined by dividing the retainer by the number of leads it takes to gain one paying client – in this example the lead value is $1,000 each ($5000/5). This means you have a 20% close rate, and this would also be the approximate value of every conversation you have with a viable lead. Once you have this number in your head, calculating how much you need to invest in advertising and your expected return is much easier to determine.

Verify Contact Form is Working:

Imagine a user decides to take action on your website, submits her information, and the form is broken – or worse, the contacts are not being forwarded to you.  Test your contact form and information several times before launch.  If you notice a dip in conversions, this is a good place to start.  Potential clients have dozens of options when it comes to attorney services, don’t turn them away before you can even schedule a conversation.

Now that you have Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Goals, and a functional contact form, you have built the foundation for your website to be successful.  Next, we will look at some more technical level Search Engine Optimization essentials that relate to on-page optimization, and how it affects search rankings.

Meta Titles:

Meta titles alert search engines to what the content on a specific landing page on site relates to.  They are the first thing a user sees when your content appears in search results – it is essential that they are optimized for both Google and your clients.  Failure to set meta titles will cause Google to automatically populate them, which can lead to frustration by your users.  Here is an example of what Meta titles look like in search results:

what are meta titles how do they help my website

(Titles underlined in red)

Meta titles are also very important for social media because they represent the text that will be automatically pulled from an article when it is shared. Moz and Google recommend you keep your titles under 55 characters for proper display.

Meta titles can either be edited from your Content Management System (CMS) or from the backend code of your website.

Meta Descriptions:

Meta Descriptions are similar to page titles, but are longer and provide more information to a user.  They are your website’s “elevator pitch,” allowing a user to see why they should choose your website over competitors.  Using the “Best Briefcases” search from above, I have highlighted sample Meta Descriptions below in yellow:

what are page descriptions how do they help my website

Using this example you can look at how other webmasters are writing their Meta Descriptions and borrow inspiration.  The first result focuses on solving a user need for a briefcase by proving a list, while the other results focus on customer reviews.  The common denominator here is the perceived value of the briefcases – you can apply this to your firm’s descriptions by adding value to pages.  For example, when writing a Meta Description for divorce law, instead of writing “We provide family law services to the Los Angeles, CA area,” try “Let our attorneys relieve the stress of divorce from your plate.” The latter speaks to the pain points of the users searching for your services. Remember to follow best practices when writing your page descriptions and titles.

WordPress Plugins:

If you have a site built in WordPress there are a number of tools that can help even the newest WordPress users with titles and descriptions.  A useful plugin we recommend is Yoast SEO.  Yoast will help you set keywords on individual website pages, and then optimize content to match.  You can also directly edit Meta Titles and Descriptions within the Yoast plugin.

Yoast can also help with other tedious website optimization tasks such as verifying Google and Bing Analytics if you can’t access the HTML side of your website to add the Analytics script. It also can populate an XML sitemap for you and place it directly on your website.

XML Sitemap Setup:

If you do not have a content management system (CMS) that has an integrated SEO platform, you may need to manually create a sitemap.  The most common types of sitemaps provided to search engines are written in Extensible Markup Language (XML). An XML sitemap is a list of web pages on your site that should be added to Webmaster Tools for the various search engines.  A sitemap also allows web crawlers like Googlebot intelligently crawl your site.

If you do not have a software plugin that can automatically create a sitemap you can either outsource the task to an agency or use an online tool that will populate a list of pages.  It is also important to keep the sitemap up to date, creating a new sitemap every time any new content is posted.  Make sure you resubmit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools anytime you update it.  Here is an example of our XML Sitemap for your reference.

HTML Sitemap Setup:

An XML sitemap is created to cater to search engines. An HTML Sitemap helps users navigate your site.  Both are lists of pages, but an HTML Sitemap outlines the structure so that visitors can find any webpage quickly.  Ideally, the HTML Sitemap link is placed in the footer of a website.  For a good example, please see Apple’s HTML Sitemap: https://www.apple.com/sitemap/

Robots.txt Setup:

The robots.txt or Robots Exclusion Protocol (REP) is a hidden text file on a website that is created to instruct crawler robots how to index pages on a website.  This file can be created from your website’s back-end, outsourced, or created with a plugin like Yoast.  Your robots.txt file also alerts crawlers to what pages on site should not be indexed, which can be very useful for sensitive or irrelevant pages.

This is how robots.txt should be written:

User-Agent: *
Disallow: /pages-to-dissallow/
Sitemap: (Link to XML sitemap)

For a good example, you can look at the ONE400 website: http://one-400.com/robots.txt

The “Disallow” section is where you would block access to pages.  In our example, we have chosen not to index /wp-admin/ pages because it would be related to the backend CMS of our website.

URL Structure:

Are your URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) pretty?  An example of an “ugly” URL is: www.example.com/p=4672. Your website is a landing page of information, and should be organized as such.  You should give your URLs meaningful structures that make sense to users.

For example: one-400.com/contact leads to our website’s contact form.  This information is not only clearly stated by the URL, but is simple in case a client wants to verbally refer our website.  URL structure also helps slightly with SEO rankings, as they verify the content on a given page is related to the title and copy.

If you plan on reworking your existing URLs you will need to do 301 Redirects from your old pages to the new URLs.

301 Redirects:

301 Redirects alert a server that the location or name of a URL has changed.  These are very important for overall website health, especially if you are changing anything on site.

Imagine you change your blog structure and this affects your URL structure.  You may not think much about it but later realize every previous link to your blog is now broken.  This is very frustrating to a user, and will lead to a high abandon rate.

The process of writing 301 Redirects is performed on a website server level.  Once you have added the 301 code to your website, when a user lands on the old or broken URL, the code redirects them to the new page as determined by the webmaster.  Below is an image example of this process from Moz.

how do website 301 redirects work flowchart

If you do not know how to write 301 Redirects there are many online resources, or you can outsource this process to professionals. This is a fairly technical process that can have  major traffic and user experience implications so unless you have a technical background you may want to call on the experts for this.

Conclusion:

This list is a step-by-step guide of the bare minimum steps you should take to optimize your website.  This is a great place to start if you have an interest in Search Engine Optimization, or feel that your law firm website is not ranking as high as it should.

Remember, you don’t need to master everything on this list, but you should make an effort to understand it because the internet is impacting the way you acquire clients. Making sure that your website is maintaining all of the best practices will be sure that you retain a competitive presence online for years to come.

If you have any questions about this article, or would like help optimizing your website, please contact ONE400 – we are here to help.

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