According to a recent study by ComScore, 70 per cent of people using search engines include a location modifier, eg “solicitors in Manchester”, to find an offline business and 54 per cent of searchers use the internet rather than the phone book to find services.

However, it’s not just being found on search engines that’s important; it’s being found near the top of the search engine results pages.

Another report from Optify.net shows that when searching in Google, 36 per cent of people click the top result, 12.5 per cent of people the second result and only 9.5 per cent of searchers click results 3-10.

However, even getting to the top of Google doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get additional enquiries; you also need a website that encourages searchers to get in touch.

Website design

Make things easy to find. If you get it right, people will be able to find the information they want quickly and easily. What’s more, search engines will be able to locate and index every page of your site, and understand how the pages relate to each other.

If your law firm has a limited number of specialties, then include these in the top level navigation. For example, if you deal with specific personal services such as family law, wills and personal injury, then these subjects should be part of your main navigation, alongside About, News, People and Contact. You can then offer sub-pages in either drop down menu items or in a list within each section (or both).

If your firm is a full-service agency, splitting the site into two sections for corporate and individuals makes sense. You should also organise the information on your website from general down to specific, with every page relating directly to the subjects of the page above. For example: Personal injury, Accidents at work, Road traffic accidents, Holiday accidents.

The benefits of clear and consistent navigation where you create self-contained subsections (or silos) are twofold: the search engine can clearly see the main themes of your website and your visitors can easily find what they need.

Make your pages scannable. People have short attention spans when reading on the internet so make it easy for them to determine if they’ve landed in the right place. Use a clear page heading, labelled with the <h1> tag, short paragraphs, and, where possible, use lists and sub-headings. This also helps search engines as they scan headings to establish the subject of each page and understand how different blocks on the pages relate to each other.

Provide clear calls to action. People often won’t contact you unless you prompt them to do so. Make it obvious whether you want them to phone you or fill in a contact form. Add prominent calls to action both graphically and in your text at both the top and bottom of the page so that visitors never have to look far to find your contact details. If you have an online contact form, keep the number of fields to complete to a minimum.

Don’t surprise people. You need to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to get what they want. You might feel more creative using left-field functions and designs, but if visitors can’t find the information they require in the places they expect, they will find it with a competitor instead. And ensure that the design of your site is appropriate; the public expects a law firm to be professional and accomplished and if this isn’t conveyed in the site’s design it will put visitors off.

Consider your brand. The design of any company’s website must reflect the brand. Colour palette, photography, imagery and copy tone are just a few things that can help reinforce your brand.

Content, multimedia and search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques

Keep it simple. The number of solicitors who do not state they are solicitors on their homepage is astounding. If you are a law firm then tell people straightaway. You should also state as clearly and simply as possible what types of legal services you offer and to whom, and why they should choose you over your competitors.

You should do this on every page of your website because every page is potentially a landing page for a searcher (via Google) and the information needs to meet their needs. If you’re producing a page about clinical negligence, explain what types of clinical negligence claims you handle and why you’re the best at what you do. If you offer employment law advice to businesses, use your employment law page to explain what types of advice you can provide and the kinds of businesses you represent. Just be careful not to duplicate large blocks of text from one page to the next; every page should be unique.

Make your links descriptive. When you link between pages on your website, make sure that those links are descriptive, as the text you use tells both search engines and visitors what the main subject of the target page is. Calling a page “Divorce Law” helps explain where the user is being taken. Calling a page “read more” or “click here” does not.

Make sure you have a sitemap. Add an HTML sitemap to your footer which links to all the important pages on your site. This ensures that search engines can access every page easily rather than having to crawl several levels down.

Add people pages with photos. Just because visitors are on a website, it doesn’t mean they want to deal with a faceless organisation. Creating people pages with photos helps establish trust among visitors, showing them your firm is very real, approachable and has numerous experts at its disposal. You can show why your solicitors are the perfect people to take on a visitor’s case. Outline each lawyer’s skills and experience and structure the pages alphabetically, by department or job role. Case studies and testimonials can also help to reinforce trust.

Use the language searchers use. People search and browse websites using their own understanding of your services, so you need to use the same language they do when explaining how you can help them. By all means define legal terms, but write your pages in plain English as much as possible because if you don’t, search engines won’t connect the legal jargon you are using with the language searchers use.

Web users generally don’t have the patience to read long or complicated content. If they feel they can get the information they need quicker elsewhere, they will, so explain your services without using jargon, proving you can deal with people on their level – an extremely valuable quality.

Make sure the subject of each page is clear to the user and the search engine. Think about what searchers might type in to a search engine when looking for a law firm. They may search for a legal speciality (“conveyancing lawyers”) or a location (“solicitor in Birmingham”) or both (“criminal solicitors in Bristol”). Bearing this in mind, think about what the main search phrases might be for someone searching for the information contained on each page and make sure that they are tailored to those words.

Use these important “keywords” in your main heading and within your text – without sacrificing clarity or readability. Also make sure you use synonyms and other related words to account for web users searching for variations on a theme.

Link to the most important pages the most; that may be the top level personal injury page, or clinical negligence, for example. This helps search engines work out the hierarchy of your site and it can help the search engines ascertain which landing pages are most relevant for a specific search.

It’s clear that for a law firm to succeed in the online world, it’s not as simple as adopting the mantra “build it and they will come”. They won’t, unless you put some serious thought into how to beat off your online competition with the help of good web design and SEO.

Mindy Gofton is the Head of Search and Graham Allchurch is an SEO Copywriter at I-COM, an internet marketing agency specialising in online marketing and web development for law firms. They are running a free Web Clinic at JMW in Manchester on 12 October. You can sign up for this by phoning 0161 402 3170 or by visiting the site.

Email mindy.gofton@i-com.net.

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