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In recent years, the Internet has progressively been serving as a great equalizer, giving both large and small firms increased access to a growing client base.

According to a recent study published by Hubspot, 78% of Internet users in need of a product or service conduct research online. And firms can no longer assume that those online users are young. In 2012, the Pew Research Center conducted research that examined the change in Internet usage between 2000 and 2009. It found that 74% of all adults 18 or older, as of December of 2009, are regular visitors to the online world. This includes 81% of adults 31-49 and 70% of adults 50-64. Although no statistics are yet available for 2012, it is safe to assume that usage is only continuing to increase.

Law firms currently face a difficult challenge resulting from a combination of economic conditions and online marketing realities. The Great Recession hit attorneys a little later than it did the economy at large. While the United States is technically in a recovery, demand for legal services has sustained a continued slump over the past two years. At the same time, the number of firms launching new websites, redesigning outdated websites and generally augmenting their web presence continues to grow quickly. But dour assessments aside, there are things your firm can do to elevate your online presence above the blah binary of predictable website design. Thinking dynamically helps keep your website working for you.

Thinking Dynamically

Law firm websites are evolving from static sales brochures to frequently updated, dynamic publishing platforms. Good attorney websites have blog content that is regularly updated, take advantage of automatic postings and feeds from social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and consider the needs of the user when providing timely, relevant content. The aforementioned Hubspot study also reinforces the importance of using your firm’s website as a publishing platform. The study examined the effects of regular website updates on brand exposure and found that businesses that blog get 55% more web traffic. The value of timely content is clear.

Thinking dynamically involves implementing strategies that establish your firm’s expertise and positioning your attorneys as leaders in their fields across multiple platforms with relevant content. Getting prospects to your site is critical. But it is not the end game. Thinking dynamically also includes creating an engaging user experience that prompts calls and conversion.

Inviting HTML5 to the Party

Steve Jobs declared HTML5 to be the future of web and application development years ago. In 2010, after Jobs confirmed publicly that the iPhone and iPad would not support Flash, Wired Magazine leaked some choice quotes from a source at an Apple Town Hall meeting, including Jobs’ assessment that, “No one will be using Flash. The world is moving to HTML5.” Despite protestations from Adobe and some accusations from critics that he was acting like a child who refused to play nicely with others, it is increasingly looking like Jobs was right. HTML5 is increasingly being used to create interactive, responsive website environments. Internet Explorer, the perennially incompatible browser that never grows tired of using outdated standards, is finally offering support for HTML5 in IE9. This should only work to increase developer experimentation and performance improvements.

But enough with the technical jargon, why does this affect me?

On May 22, 2010, Google’s logo was a tribute to the classic Pac-Man game. Thousands of hours of productivity were lost as users discovered that the Googledoodle was actually an animated, playable version of Pac-Man. The doodle was created entirely with HTML5, no Flash needed. It was a glimpse into an interactive, accessible, Flash free web.

HTML5 and CSS3 make things possible. While your firm does not have to be concerned with the mechanics of your website’s programming language, it is important to understand how the improvements and innovations in technology can help your firm achieve its marketing goals. Harnessing the potential of new features offers several advantages for your firm. It enhances user experience by adding more interactive features, speeding up load times, handling rich media like video without bulky plug-ins or third party applications and improving form design and function. And it makes your website smarter and easier for search engines to read. There are benefits from the perspective of design and SEO.

The key consideration when deciding what elements to incorporate into your firm’s website is the effect that your choices will have on prospects who are using your site. If you would like to incorporate an interactive element like a slideshow, determine how that feature will bring value to visitors. Flash-free slideshows are an excellent addition to the browsing experience, but the pictures and headlines must focus on the needs of your target client. Do not simply use interactive features because they are neat. Make them work for you. Users have come to expect responsive websites. They expect a certain amount of acknowledgment that they have done certain things. Responsive websites encourage users to take action and to spend more time on a site getting to know your firm. User feedback ranges from smaller effects like rollovers and drop down menus to more complicated interactive features like slideshows, galleries and even 3D animations, all of which can happily be done without the use of bulky Flash.

Your firm’s website is at work for you 24 hours-a-day,7 days-a-week. It is a valuable advocate and proxy, often communicating with prospects before you have had a chance to speak to them in person. And, as a bonus, it will continue to do its job without complaint while you are asleep, on vacation or at trial. Ideally, your website is functioning at optimum efficiency, converting visits into calls and prospects into clients. But you cannot just assume that this is the case. Your website is ambivalent – it will work for or against you without giving it a second thought. Thinking dynamically, and focusing on relevant content and user experience will help ensure your website is working for you.

About Author

Kristen Friend is the Art Director at Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She is also a multi-award winning designer of law firm websites and has been recognized by the Hermes Awards, WebAwards, Horizon Interactive Awards, W3Awards, IMA Interactive Awards and Webby Awards.

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