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Tune Up Your Web Presence

By Kari Santos | Dec. 2, 2014


Law Office Management

Dec. 2, 2014

Tune Up Your Web Presence

What to consider, whether you want your site to have better SEO or look more current.

If you ask W. West Seegmiller when his personal injury law firm's website was last upgraded, he'll tell you it was yesterday. In fact, TheSeegmillerLawFirm.com is updated daily with new blog posts and often with videos, and it got an overhaul last summer. Seegmiller, of Newport Beach, says he realized the website needed a constant flow of fresh content if it was going to appear high in search results - and impress potential clients as a resource for legal information and help.

Several factors are making it more important than ever for firms to keep their websites as current as possible. Foremost are the increasing popularity of handheld devices, growing reliance on websites for marketing, and continuing improvement in Web technologies. Whether your goal for your site is to be more visible to search engines for lead generation, to function better for all users, or simply to look better and more current, here are technologies and design trends to consider.

Pick a Platform
The first decision is about your site's innards. Complex commercial websites are usually built with HTML, Java, or ASP, but that means a programmer will be needed make any changes or updates. An alternative that has become popular with small and even medium-size firms is WordPress, an open-source software that originated as a do-it-yourself blogging platform. Typically, a professional initially redesigns a firm's website using WordPress. Then, the firm's staff takes over, maintaining the site and adding content through WordPress's email-like interface. Because it is easy to use, WordPress has become the standard for firms that want this level of direct control over their websites.

Lisa Kobayashi, a sole practitioner specializing in immigration law in Sacramento, knew her website wasn't showing up in searches or otherwise drawing visitors, and her clients and other callers were all referrals from other attorneys or past clients. So she hired Creative California. Josh Rubin, owner of the Sacramento agency, says he recreated the website using WordPress so it could hold more content and be optimized for search, but he retained elements of Kobayashi's branding - her logo and mission statement, for example.

Google search results now give more weight to fresh, original content than on the quantity of keywords, Rubin says, and a site's home page has the strongest influence. So he included tabs for each of Kobayashi's practice specialties on the front page. Some already link to articles, and the agency will write more with Kobayashi's collaboration over time.

Be Versatile
Another reason to update a law firm's first- or second-generation site is to incorporate "responsive design," which makes sites function well on any device. That is, instead of forcing visitors who are using a mobile phone to squint at tiny type, turn the device sideways, or "click here for the mobile site," responsive design ensures that every user sees a readable and useful version of the site at the same URL - no matter what device they're using. A bonus: Having a single URL also improves search engine results.

"Any time a Web design company starts designing a site, they should automatically be doing the mobile design as well," says Christopher Young, CEO of the agency Digital MKTG in San Diego. But it's up to lawyers to identify which information is the most relevant to show on a mobile device's small screen.

Learn Design Trends
The rapid rise of mobile devices has led to important changes in website design as well as function. Simplicity is now in, influenced by updates to the Windows and iOS interfaces, which are navigated using simple squares of color instead of buttons shaded to look three-dimensional, says Peter T. Boyd, principal of PaperStreet Web Design in Florida. "The trend is to simplify the website so users know exactly what to click on."

Karin Conroy, founder and creative director of Conroy Consults in Irvine, says single-page, scrolling websites - known as long pages - are increasingly popular. Web designers used to advise their clients that most visitors wouldn't know or want to keep scrolling down a landing page, but she says most people are now sophisticated enough to know they should keep reading. Plus, on a mobile device it's much easier to continue by scrolling than by clicking through from one page to the next several times.

Incorporate Multimedia
Including a variety of visual media along with text makes a website look nicer and provides visitors more ways to absorb information. Video can make a narrative more compelling than text. Seegmiller's site, for example, includes clips of personal injury clients talking about what happened to them, experts discussing topics such as dealing with grief, and lawyers explaining how to handle a hit-and-run accident (though he notes that ethics rules bar them from giving legal advice online).

Creative use of photography also can draw attention. "Attorney websites with stock photos of happy people shaking hands are a dime a dozen," says Rubin. His agency recommended that Kobayashi forgo attorney photos altogether; instead, an extreme close-up of cherry blossoms evokes her Japanese heritage and reflects that she speaks Japanese fluently. The secret to using more traditional photos, says Conroy, is to unite and integrate them with a clear visual style. Designers can easily add style by turning color shots into black-and-white or by overlaying a color or texture: "Right away, they're not going to look so generic."

An invitation to a live phone chat also can be engaging. A pop-up window informs every visitor to Seegmiller's website that they can chat any time of day or night with a customer service representative. The firm developed the scripts the answering service uses, and Seegmiller says one third of its incoming calls now are answered after hours. He says the live chat pop-up increases conversion rates (from inquiry to client) because it immediately engages visitors. But he did acknowledge that several people in focus groups characterized the pop-up as "annoying but useful."

Susan Kuchinskas covers business and the business of technology for publications that include Scientific American, Portada, and Telematics.

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Kari Santos

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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