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Law firms have, for the most part, accepted that having a website is a necessity.

While some firms may need to start from scratch with a new website design project, many firms own domains that are more than a decade old, and are interested in creating a more modern look for a site that already has some sort of search marketing strategy in place. It is important that the process of refreshing the website’s look does not negatively affect the site’s ranking. It is a waste of time, money and effort to end up with a beautiful site that no one can see. Consider the following when getting started:

Use the development tools at your disposal. Most firms want their website to look professional, contain interactive content like slideshows and video, present prospective clients with helpful information, convert and rank well. In the past, adding design features like Flash, video or text within images meant that parts (or all) of a page were hidden from search engines. To compensate, many websites succumbed to opposite problem, cramming pages full of text to try to achieve better rankings, often to the detriment of design.

When a search engine is indexing your website, it is looking for information. The more information you give it, and the better that information is organized, the more likely you are to see positive results. Since word-laden pages are no longer required, clean design can flourish. HTML 5 gives developers the ability to add interactive elements and more effectively tag and categorize content for web crawlers. Use these tools to help achieve good design while enhancing SEO efforts.

Avoid duplicate content while programming. Google has made several highly publicized changes to its algorithm, some of which are aimed at discouraging websites from publishing duplicate content. Older websites may have issues with redundant content as a holdover from a time when the conventional SEO wisdom said the more the better, even if it is repetitive. If your firm is already putting time into updating the look of your website, you should also be taking this opportunity to make sure your content is fresh and unique.

But, even completely new content can become useless if the development site is not hidden from search engines. While a new website is being programmed, it is likely sitting on a development server so the code can be reviewed and tested. If Google indexes the test urls and then sees the same content on the newly launched site, it will assume – since this content is the most recently published – that everything on your new website is duplicate content. Your site will have set its own duplicate content trap, one which could easily have been avoided with a little attention to detail.

Organize pages with a natural flow. While people attempt to parse the mystery of what makes page content “good” in the eyes of a search engine, Google has continuously stated that pages should appear “natural” to real people. It should read like it was written for a human, and the site should be organized with the user in mind. As a part of their ranking algorithm, Google is looking at a site’s page hierarchy and trying to judge whether there is an obvious flow from main pages to subpages, and an obvious assignment of relevance to the most important content. A well-organized website lets users know what you expect of them, allows them to navigate to information more effectively and encourages conversion.

According to developers at Google, it should also help your site’s performance with search engines.

Pay attention to the mechanics. Once your new website is ready, there are some last-minute technical details to address. Make sure all of your old urls are redirecting to the corresponding new pages so that search engines do not have an index of broken links. Have a good sitemap, both public and xml – remember Google is looking to see if you are making navigation easy for your users. Be sure to test your code and make sure it is compliant in all browsers. Code errors can slow down a website, making it both onerous for visitors and less likely to rank well. Lastly, make sure to transfer any analytics code so that you do not lose tracking data once the site is live.

Good design can work hand-in-hand with search marketing. As long as everyone involved in the project is cognizant of the effects design and programming decisions can have on a site’s ranking, the transition should go smoothly.

About Author

Kristen Friend is a staff contributor for Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She has covered political stories on radio stations like WMNF in Florida and has had her work broadcast by Free Speech Radio News (FSNR). As an Award Winning Art Director, Kristen has been recognized by the WebAwards, Davey’s Award, W3 Awards, Webby Awards, and others for her work with law firms.

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