Most mid-size to large law firm websites cost tens, and often hundreds, of thousands of dollars. They take anywhere from 6 to 18 months to design, develop and launch. On top of the financial investment, huge amounts of internal hours and resources are devoted to most law firm website projects.
And for what?
Other than temporary, fleeting spikes in website traffic following the launch of a new site (often driven by email marketing and PR investments), can most firms point to any meaningful metrics that justify the massive investments made in their websites? In my experience, and in countless conversations with frustrated in-house marketing professionals, the answer is no. Even in situations where increases in traffic are sustained, more visitors rarely turn into more clients.
That’s a big problem. Because, after all, shouldn’t the objective of a law firm website be to drive new business and revenue? Of course it should.
In other industries the website is the business. But for some reason, many in the legal industry have complacently accepted as fact the notion that a website should simply serve as an “online brochure;” something that’s necessary in order to have a professional “online presence,” but not a strategic and tactical tool to fuel the bottom-line.
Law firm websites will never serve as ecommerce tools, obviously, so what can be done to make them more of a core business asset, as opposed to a shiny digital brochure? There are three pieces of low hanging website fruit that are ripe for the picking.
One of the most important functions that a law firm website should serve (but most don’t) is to express a strong brand identity.
When firms begin a website redesign process, the first thing most do is search for inspiration (or, if you want to get fancy with the jargon, engage in “benchmarking”). Benchmarking is fine, but it’s typically done for the wrong reasons. The goal shouldn’t be to produce a new website that benchmarks favorably with one’s competitors. It should be to radically differentiate from one’s competitors. A new law firm website should create a monopoly around a point of differentiation that positions the firm as significantly and substantively unique.
This requires a strategy-first, not design-first, approach to building a new website. A design-first approach results in much of what you see today in the world of law firm websites – a huge homepage photo with some meaningless text over it. More large photos, and anodyne adjectives sprinkled throughout the site. A sea of sameness. A prioritization of conservatism over courage.
Great law firm brands are courageous – they stand for something. Too often, law firms try to stand for everything, resulting in a muddled message on their websites that is easy to ignore. Standing for something is not easy, however. It requires a firm to make difficult decisions, and decide not just what it does, but what it does not do. In other words, “full service” is not a point of differentiation.
What it takes to create a compelling brand strategy is beyond the scope of this post. But crafting a powerful and differentiated brand is critical to answering the question that every potential client has, and that too few law firm websites can clearly answer: Among all of the available alternatives in the marketplace, why is your firm better positioned to help us overcome a particular challenge, or capitalize on a particular opportunity, that we face?
Answering this question takes time and courage. It should be the first step in any website project. Brand strategy first. Then structure and design.
The ultimate objective of a law firm website should be to generate leads for new business. The best way to build a lead generating website is to focus on building a good email list.
A good email list should consist of past and present clients. Clients that you’ve done work for before, or that you’re currently doing work for, are the best sources of new business. It’s far easier to get work from existing clients than it is to develop entirely new business.
But no firm can afford to stand still, so building a pipeline of new business opportunities is critical. And despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, an effective law firm website that focuses on capturing the email addresses of site visitors can help accomplish that.
Here’s the formula: (1) Create awareness among your target audience; (2) offer them something valuable in return for them relinquishing their email address; and (3) continue the conversation with them over time in order to build a relationship that ultimately results in new business.
One of the best ways to offer visitors to a law firm website something valuable in order to generate leads is using “lead magnets.” Few law firm websites leverage the power of lead magnets.
A lead magnet is something your target audience wants that you can give to them for free in exchange for their email addresses. What form a lead magnet takes is up to you – it may be a whitepaper targeted to a particular industry, an ebook, a webinar, or a comprehensive checklist, to name a few options. The idea is to create something valuable and relevant as a starting point for a digital conversation.
An example of a lead magnet is the “Personal Branding for Lawyers – Self Assessment Workbook” that I make available to visitors of my own website who subscribe to my blog.
All law firms should create something similar – targeted to their own target audiences – as a lead generation tool. If someone is interested in you lead magnet content, and is willing to opt-in to your list to receive it, it means they’re probably interested in hearing more from you on the topic.
Continue to engage your subscribers with fresh content. Email them valuable insights you publish on your own blog or other outside platforms. When a reader experiences a problem or has an opportunity in an area that you have written on, you’ll be high on that person’s list as someone who possesses the requisite expertise to help overcome the problem or seize the opportunity. While your reader may not be ready to act immediately, continued thought leadership will keep you top of mind, and when the time is right the relationship will shift from reader/writer to client/attorney.
Before that shift can happen, however, you need to have them in your ecosystem. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to create a lead magnet that results in new opt-ins to your email list.
In today’s saturated marketplace of ideas, many law firms struggle to create content that connects with audiences suffering from information overload. Faced with this challenge, legal content creators have three options: give up, trudge on, or get strategic.
To develop valuable, informative and entertaining content, you need a content strategy that leverages your firm’s collective brainpower and experience, while taking into account your resources, finite as they may be. As the old adage goes, it requires working smarter, not harder.
There is an important place in every firm’s content marketing strategy for breaking news and updates – a temporal approach to content. But the foundation of your content pipeline should be evergreen content. Evergreen content is content that stands the test of time. It remains relevant. It’s the best way to generate content ROI because it allows you to produce more content for less work, research and cost.
Here’s the formula for creating law firm website content that generates ROI: Quality + Timelessness = Evergreen
Content that remains popular over time, and that ranks highly in search engines, is genuinely helpful and actionable. Your clients – and prospective clients – face common challenges that you help them overcome through your work. By pinpointing those common pain points (and opportunities), you can produce evergreen content that will generate steady traffic and establish your expertise.
A Strategic Approach to Building a Law Firm Website
Law firm websites require a big commitment of time and resources. They serve as the foundation of a firm’s marketing engine. Unfortunately, many law firm websites fail to accomplish these critical marketing objectives: creating brand awareness, generating leads, and generating revenue.
By focusing on brand strategy, creating a compelling lead magnet, and writing evergreen content, a law firm website can be transformed from an online brochure to an online business asset that drives growth and positions a firm and its lawyers for business development success.
Ready to dig deeper and position yourself for success? If you’re new to my blog, take a moment and download my free Personal Brand Building Workbook that will help you assess your strengths and begin projecting them to the marketplace. If you are a current subscriber to my blog, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy.