Virtual Impression: The Structure of Conversion
BY Kristen Friend STAFF CONTRIBUTOR
Law firm marketing is a process. The formula that produces results for one law firm may not be exactly what works for another. In order to generate the most effective strategy, attorneys and their marketing teams must continuously ask questions and monitor outcomes.
Using a creative mix of solutions to drive people to your firm’s website is a critical step in any marketing plan. But investing time, effort and money into getting found but ignoring website layout can hamper conversion.
Imagine your firm has just opened a new office. It had been well advertised and people are coming in. Attorneys are regularly busy with consultations, and the office is a hive of activity.
Then, after a few weeks or months, your firm comes to an uncomfortable realization. Prospects are still coming in, and the rate at which new people visit has not tapered off. But you are not getting new cases. The level of activity in the office has increased substantially without adding any real revenue to the firm’s bottom line.
No firm with any desire to stay in business would ignore such a glaring disconnect between office visits and new clients. Attorneys would look for answers as to where the process is breaking down, and would likely solicit feedback from clients, prospects and colleagues. The firm’s method for actually closing the deal, turning visitors into clients, would have to be modified.
The same holds true for an attorney website. Law firm marketing companies often get calls from attorneys who believe they have a great website, the problem is just that no one can find it. The reality of the situation may be closer to, “I have a website, some people are finding it (but not enough), and it is not converting well.”
The last part is the hardest to admit. A firm may have put a lot of time and effort – and most importantly money – into creating its website. Surely, if more people would just land there, cases would begin pouring in. The reality is that may not happen. Attorneys should treat an incongruity between web traffic and the number of cases a website produces as seriously as they would if the same were happening with face-to-face consultations.
Attorney websites should be structured for conversion with obvious calls to action, easily available contact forms, intuitive navigation, and an overall layout that directs users to take certain actions. All elements should be strategically placed. If a website is structured in a confusing or obtuse way, or if important information is hidden, users may click away instead of calling.
Copious amounts of research have been done on the viewing patterns of website users. Some of the results are unsurprising. People tend to look more at items toward the top of the page and above the scroll. Headlines grab attention. Others are less intuitive. For example, large images do not always grab a user’s eye. Sometimes, they are ignored almost entirely.
While some general conclusions can be drawn about browsing habits, the most valuable lesson to be gleaned from available research is that design choices matter. The fleeting amount of time a law firm website has to engage a potential client makes it all the more important to thoughtfully place the most valuable elements so users are directed to them immediately.
Choose pictures wisely.
Website design has for some time been trending toward large, screen-filling images. Larger images, intuition says, will immediately grab a user’s attention. In some cases, this is true, but the amount of attention an image garners may be less related to its size than its subject. Users respond well to pictures of people and are particularly drawn to faces and eyes. People are also drawn to contrasts or unexpected elements within a picture, while photos of common subjects are easily ignored.
Using larger images in attorney website design makes the site look modern and professional. It is a trend that is likely to continue. However, as with all marketing, doing something just for the sake of doing it – creating a photo-intensive site because it is a trend – will not produce results. Images should be chosen judiciously. For example, since users tend to follow the eyes of people on screen, the subjects of a primary website photograph can be used to direct prospects to a call to action button. Or, an area of contrast within a photograph could be placed immediately next to a contact form. The key is recognizing that graphics exist to produce results, not just to look pretty.
There is no substitute for a good contact form.
The days of blocky, unattractive contact forms are long gone. Forms can be styled in a myriad of ways and can even be used as a unique design element. Contact forms on attorney websites are critical. A form should be placed prominently on every page and be preceded by a headline that directs users to fill it out. A well-placed, well-designed contact form is a law firm website’s most useful feature.
Structuring a website for conversion also involves giving consideration to the actual words on the page. Beginning with the navigation and working through the headlines and body copy, what a law firm says on it’s website – and where is says it – is important.
Some years ago, web designers decided that people would be interested in exploring a website with clever links and cryptic buttons. Sites began popping up with menus telling them to “engage” or “become a citizen” or “prepare for liftoff.” What does any of that mean? The problem is, nobody knows.
People come to an attorney website looking for information. Do not make them guess where to find it. Primary navigation, containing the site’s most important links, works best at the top of the page. Within all website navigation, tell people exactly what you want them to do. If you want people to sign up for a newsletter, tell them to sign up. If you want them to schedule a consultation, tell them to talk to an attorney. Be direct. Be specific.
Headlines are equally important. A site’s main headline, its largest piece of copy, is one of the most regularly viewed items on the page. Make sure it is clear and to the point. Use it to explain briefly what benefit your firm offers to clients, and keep it focused on results. It is also helpful to have the headline lead directly into a call to action, prompting the user to contact your firm.
Do some analysis of your own website.
Online resources like Crazy Egg, http://www.crazyegg.com/, allow website owners to create a variety of visual maps that illustrate user habits. These maps reveal what people are looking at when they visit your site. The results can be surprising. (Show images of actual heatmaps here)
If your firm would prefer a more hands on approach, you can conduct your own usability tests. Have people who are unfamiliar with your website sit down and take a look around. Observe what they do and where they click. Encourage criticism. If you want honest feedback about your firm’s website, express that you are thinking of making some changes and ask for suggestions. Be sure to present yourself as an open observer. Eliciting the involvement of an impartial party, like a designer or copywriter, may also be helpful.
You may find that your website works pretty well. Or, you may discover that users do not know what to do with certain page elements. They may be clicking on things that are not actually links and missing things that are, or focusing on less helpful items and skipping over important information. You may find that your content is confusing, or that people are not sure exactly what your primary practice areas are. All of this information, while sobering, can be used to help build a more effective website.
Pretty websites must produce results. Attorneys increasingly rely on their websites to serve as brand ambassadors – to speak to prospects before attorneys get a chance to. A website must be structured to do its job and deliver new clients to your door.