It’s all about the first impression. For most potential clients, your website is your shopfront. Does it belong on Oxford street or skid row? This guide will help you find out.
Step 1 – Google your firm
The first step is to search for your firm in Google (I’m sure you don’t need a step-by-step on this!) both on your laptop or desktop PC and on a mobile device. If you have a tablet and a smartphone, then search from both devices as rankings and user experience can be very different from device to device. This lets you see how your site is presenting to users when they search for you. While we’re probably well used to seeing this page and thus take certain elements of it for granted, however many elements can be manipulated to a certain extent. The effect of this is to create a more favourable impression in the mind of potential clients.
Anatomy of a search engine results page
Below is an example of a result from a Search Engine Results Page for a hypothetical firm which we’ve annotated to explain its key features.
1) The Google “Knowledge Graph”. This section aims to provide factual information about people, places and things, right within Google. What’s within the box can dramatically vary based on the type of search carried out (ie navigational or transactional) or what is being searched for (a law firm, a movie and a person will all yield different results).
In this instance, we can see images of the office and a map listing, reviews, opening hours and so on – these are broken down into more detail below.
2) Your firm’s name and reviews. It’s worth checking to see if the name is correct and formatted correctly (you’d be surprised…) and (perhaps most importantly barring egregious errors in the name), that reviews are present and positive. Having positive reviews appear here and next to your main results improves “click-through rate”, ie the number of people who click through to your site from search. You can download our Google review template here.
3) Map Pin. Make sure that your firm has a Google “my business” listing and is shown on the map. Anyone visiting your office for the first time is likely to use this to find you, so it pays to keep it right! It also pays to make sure that the “See outside” image is accurate – Google often shows a less than flattering view!
4) Your firm’s address and opening hours. Check that the address is correct (again, you’d be surprised…), that the opening hours are correct and that the telephone number is correct.
5) Reviews from other sources. As mentioned above, Google will pull information from other sources. In this case, it has pulled through Facebook and Yell reviews which have been sought as part of this firm’s overall strategy.
6) Reviews themselves. Google will pull through the text of reviews (good and bad!) to give users an idea of what your firm is like. We mentioned above that you can “manipulate” search results to a certain extent but with bad reviews, prevention is far, far, better than cure. Once a bad review is up it can be hard to remove.
7) People also search for. This shows other businesses people who have visited your site have searched for. This gives you an insight into who your clients think your competitors are, and it lets you check their online activity out!
8) Google Ads. This is a “pay per click” Ad targeted at this firm’s brand name. While this may seem counterproductive, it allows them to own a piece of key SERP “real estate”, builds trust in the user and, as a result, increases click-through rates.
9) The number one spot. The most sought-after position in digital marketing. While you *should* appear first for your brand name, it’s possible that you may not. We have, for instance, come across law firms who are pushed into position 2, 3 or further down for searches relating to their brand because of news reports mentioning them, similarly-named businesses in other areas (one client of ours vies for position with a footwear brand and a restaurant in some searches!)
There are three elements here: the URL, which should take care of itself, unless you’ve moved your site recently, the title (here in blue) which should be your firm’s name and the short description. The description should be succinct and capture what you do and where you do it.
10) Related pages. If your page is set up correctly, then the related information should pull through automatically. This can include your best or most popular pages. As you can see, this snags you a whole chunk of prime Google real estate.
11) Second organic result. In this case; it’s the firm’s Facebook page. As you can see, this firm has proactively sought 5-star reviews which show here and in the next three results.
13) More organic results. This time, a directory listing. It pays to check if these are present as they send powerful signals to Google about your domain.
Step 2 – Google yourself (and others)
The next step is to carry out a Google search for your name (add the word “solicitor” or “lawyer” if you need to narrow it down. Check what appears. Your bio on the firm’s website? Great (provided it’s up to date and accurate!). Your LinkedIn? Great, with the same caveat as above. Your Facebook or Twitter? Again, great if they are appropriate for professional consumption! What about articles you’ve written, cases you’ve been involved in and so on?
Do the same exercise for some of your colleagues. There’s a fair chance that anyone who has instructed you in the past will do this (individual bios are always among the most viewed pages on a site) and check things as are good as they can be, in line with the above.
Step 3 – Sweep your site
Now on to your website itself. A critical examination of function, design, layout and ease of use (from a potential client’s perspective) can unveil all sorts of quick-win improvements. It can be easy to get caught up in the “look and feel” of the homepage based on instinct, but we’re going to go a little deeper.
Start with the homepage but also open a sample of other pages including your blog, the main people page, some sample bios, a service page (ie your Wills page), your testimonials/reviews page and the Contact page.
Here’s what you should be looking for:
Readability and accessibility
Does your website load quickly?
PageSpeed is a ranking factor in Google; people have less patience now than ever before, so a slow site is a sure way to lose potential clients.
Is the text legible, easy to read and well-spaced?
While the colour scheme and layout might seem stylish, it must still be easy to ready on a variety of devices for the majority of people. Is there sufficient contrast between text and background?
Are there add-ons – and are they working?
Times have changed, but there was a fashion a few years ago to have all sorts of bells and whistles. If your site still has Flash plugins or other functionality which requires time to load, people are likely to leave. Particularly if they don’t work or look dated
Are your images correctly tagged?
A good website will have the images tagged with an appropriate name which make sense to users and Search Engines alike. Visually impaired visitors will use these tags to understand the image, and so will Google. To find out if your images are tagged, right click and click “save as” (don’t actually save it though). The name your PC attempts to use is the “tag”. If it says something like “img1.jpeg” rather than, say “Divorce Lawyer Birmingham”, then it should (ideally) be changed.
Branding, identity and trustworthiness
The first question a potential client will ask is “who are you?”, then “can I trust you?”, then “can you do what I need?” It’s vital these questions are answered quickly. If you suspect that people are leaving the site quickly, you can check your “bounce rate” in Google Analytics.
Is it prominently placed in the top left? Is it sufficiently high-resolution?
Is it prominent, obvious and does it neatly encapsulate what you do and what your USP is?
The 5-second rule
Web designers talk of the “5-second rule” – that is, you have 5 seconds to make a great first impression. In reality, it’s probably closer to 2.1 seconds but web users are fickle, and you need to get your message across quickly. Can you understand what your firm is about within 5 seconds of viewing the homepage?
Calls to action
Are there prominent calls to action in key positions? Is the telephone number displayed prominently without the user having to scroll down? Can you see a Contact page? Is there a clear prompt to the user to take action, eg “call us now”, “read more”, “click here” etc? Is there a contact form?
Are staff bios in place? Are photos current?
This is a critical component of trustworthiness – people pages. These are almost always the second port of call for users, after the page which relates to the service they need.
Navigation and structure
Once people have formed an impression of who you are and what you (and hopefully stayed on the site!) they will begin to navigate the site. The question is can they do so easily?
Is your main navigation easily identifiable?
Can users find your main menu (or menus) quickly and easily? Is it easily readable?
Is it laid out in a way that makes sense?
One of the main criticisms we have of many law firm websites is that they are laid in a way that reflects the firm’s structure, rather than according to what users want. Does your navigation lead the user down a path to find the right solution for them, or does it simply present your practice areas in a list?
How many different menu items are there?
How many levels of navigation are there? If you are getting past seven menu items and have more than two levels of menus dropping down, it’s time for a rethink.
Usability and functionality
Does your logo link to the home page?
A small thing, but one users will expect.
Are links easily identified?
Is it obvious which words in the text are linked? Are there an appropriate number? Does every link use appropriate text (ideally, the link should be eg “divorce lawyers” not “click here”)
Do all links work?
An important one for both user experience and search engines. If links return a “404 page not found” error, then immediate remedial action should be taken as this is harming your site. You don’t have to manually click every link – a tool like Screaming Frog (free and paid versions available) can do this for you.
You’ve heard it before – content is king – and we want our kingdom to be consistent, optimised, organised, easy to skim through and to meet Google’s various guidelines.
Are headings clear, distinctive and optimised?
Most people will simply skim read online. Ensure your headings stand out and use phrases similar or identical to the keywords you want to rank for.
Are colours and fonts consistent?
Fairly self-explanatory, but make sure all pages have a consistent look and fee.
Is it in-depth, on-brand, clear and explanatory?
Does it comply with Google’s guidelines concerning being in depth (700–1,200 words is optimal) and expertly written (correct and free from typos)?
Are page titles explanatory?
Does the little title which appears in the browser tab reflect the content of the page? It should be succinct, contain keywords without being spammy and closely reflects the page content.
Are URLs meaningful and user-friendly?
There’s debate about the usefulness of having keywords in URLs, but making sure they are readable by people is generally good practice. Having www.yoursite.co.uk/family-law is preferable to having www.yoursite.co.uk/article/030200-1303092,00.html
Is your blog up to date?
Has new content been added? Does the content which has been added reflect your firm’s overall strategy?
Step 4 – Check your rankings
While rankings are important, they are only one part of the mix. Rankings can vary from search to search based on your browser history, location, type of device and so on. It’s also important to remember the “long tail” of rankings – we all want our site to rank for our main keyword (Criminal Lawyers Liverpool, for example) a well set up site will rank for myriad other combinations of keywords such as questions. Often these are more transactional in nature and thus more desirable.
That caveat aside, it’s relatively easy to check your rankings. You can, of course, simply Google your chosen keyword and note where you rank. However, as above, your browser history or location can affect this. For instance, a search for “best Italian restaurant” will show a selection of eateries near you, not the restaurant objectively regarded as the best Italian in the world. (Google assumes you’re hungry and looking to eat, rather than carrying out research!)
There are some useful tools to assist with checking rankings. Some allow you to check rankings on the fly, some to check them in bulk, and others even to track them over time.
It’s important to understand what you want to rank for. It’s relatively straightforward to get a site to rank for a very specific keyword which won’t generate traffic – they key is to ensure that the keywords you choose are desirable and profitable. The tool AnswerthePublic gives an insight into the type of things people are searching for.
Further steps you should take include: 5) Check how the site has performed over time with your site’s Google Analytics; and 6) Think about what else you could be doing – eg what would you expect to see in other industries or when you are researching a purchase?
For details of these steps and the full online Checklist, go to http://bit.ly/moorechecklist.