PaperStreet has helped over 1,450 law firms in the past 17 years. In the last three years alone, we’ve won over 50 awards for our eye-catching and unique law firm website designs. During that time, we have learned a lot about design and what it takes to achieve effective visual communication.
Check out our seven best practices for branding a new website that can help you stand apart in the crowded field and win awards.
Your brand may be one of the most important pieces of your site. Do you have a unified logo, messaging, corporate identity and brand usage guidelines? If the answer is no, consistent branding should be paramount to your firm. Often your brand will help determine the color, font, and photography of your website.
On the most fundamental level, your brand is what your firm embodies in terms of values, who you serve, what you do, and how you do it differently than your competition. Essentially, it’s why people choose you. If you don’t know or aren’t sure of your brand (as it’s possible for a firm to go through transformations and evolutions), a great idea is to conduct interviews and perform research that will help you determine your brand. We recently helped a large, national law firm by conducting interviews with a variety of people that the firm encounters from the shareholders to associates to their most trusted clients. It’s crucial to get a clear understanding of a firm’s brand before you can design it.
When PaperStreet develops branding, we choose fonts and colors, and craft messaging that all represent the brand itself or what the brand is aspiring to be.
2. Home Page
The website home page is our focus, first and foremost. This page holds a lot of weight in our book as it is your first impression for visitors. Did you know it can take only a few seconds to either capture your user’s attention or completely lose it? In a very short period of time, a visitor will make a judgment as to whether or not they like your site, connect with it and want to explore it further by viewing your subpages.
The home page should reflect your brand and clearly communicate what makes your firm different. Each firm is unique with its own set of goals and we aim to highlight that uniqueness in our custom designs. Some firms want to convey their incredible results by way of news stories or settlements. Others want to highlight their out-of-the-box thinking with creative/catchy messages and graphics. Other law firms focus on featuring their attorneys who represent the heart of their service.
Regardless of which route is best for your brand and firm, there should be some common threads in how it’s executed. We like to focus on clean typography, creative messaging, striking photography/graphics, simple navigation and easy usability.
3. Big Idea
The “Big Idea” is born from your brand, your website goals and, of course, creative thinking. In other words, it’s the theme that should be featured on your home page and consistently carried through the website and other marketing materials.
The Big Idea can take many forms. It might be one really strong tagline with or without graphics to match. It could be beautiful, candid photos of the firm in action showing how relatable the attorneys are or photos of all the cities you serve to show your extensive geographic reach. It might be utter simplicity with a ton of white space – think Apple. The Big Idea could also be a series of advertisement-type banners that all communicate a similar concept.
To speak a little more about messaging, in particular, we recommend getting creative with the message and photography. You can even A/B split test various messages or photos. So if there is an internal dispute on whether to feature a specific image or message on the home page or another, simply try both. Run each for a week and take a look at the bounce rate or users’ time on the site. One will eventually win (or be the same and you can prove both are fine).
We think having a Big Idea is essential to an award-winning site because you need that “X” factor to hook someone and rope them in. Additionally, having a consistent theme is key to building trust with a user and creating a confident-looking website.
4. Photos and Videos – Custom or Stock?
Most award-winning websites feature impressive photography. A great image can save a poor layout and site organization. At the same time, a poor image can ruin hundreds of hours of work on a brilliant overall site.
You need to make sure have a separate budget for photography (or that it is included in your web design proposal). If you are going for stock photography, then budget $30 to $50 per photo or video. If you are going custom, then the budget could be 10 to 100 times a stock photo budget (but can be well worth it).
We recommend getting great attorney image shots. Your clients are hiring your attorneys. Make sure everyone looks their best by hiring a professional photographer. Some of the new website photo styles are ¾ length bio shots or full-length bio shots. The old, stodgy dark gray and blue backgrounds with small headshots are considered dated now. Some of the best photos we’ve worked with involve either placing a cut out of the attorney photo on an environmental background or taking the attorney shot with a buttery, blurred background.
Stock Image Expectations
You can actually find awesome stock images these days. Gone are the days of gavels, desks, skylines, and boring images. If you have a creative idea, you can probably find a great stock photo to start with. At PaperStreet, we often take stock photos and edit them in some way to make them more unique and tailored to our concept.
Custom Image Expectations
If you can’t find the right stock image, then you can always hire a custom photographer to shoot exactly what you need. Custom photography is a great way to personalize your website to show the beautiful facets of your office space, your building and your attorneys. With specific art direction, you can make those photos tell a powerful story. You can also hire a custom illustrator to combine stock images into something really impactful.
An exciting new trend is playing videos in the background of pages and having those videos serve as the central theme for your website. Videos are a great way of combining a few different ideas in a compelling manner. They load quickly, look great and provide powerful animation.
Your bios are the second most important page on your site and the page your typical user will visit next after the home page. Bios should feature a cutting-edge layout, sharp, high-quality bio photos and a creative way to display the bio information. Some tips to help:
- Information – Put in as much information as possible on the bios
- Great Photos – Again, feature a great photo
- Tabs – Use multiple tab sections if you have too much content, but prioritize and showcase the best content above the fold.
- Items to Include:
- Brief Bio
- Practice Areas
- Cases/Wins/Verdicts/Significant Matters
- Community Involvement
6. Animation / Functionality
Animation and functionality are key to bringing your site to life. We recommend using it very thoughtfully and purposefully. On a basic level, animation and functionality should provide further usability to the visitor. For example, there should be hover states to buttons and links to show that something is clickable or moving arrows to guide you further down the page.
With the latest advancements in coding and technology, there are also incredible features that can be added to elevate your design to the next level. Animation can add a “wow” factor to your site and help amplify a big idea and your brand. Here are some of the latest examples we love:
- Logo Preloader – This feature allows the user to focus more on your brand before they enter into the site.
- Minimal Menu – Having a minimal menu gives a cleaner appearance to the site and there are some cool ways to have the menu expand open.
- Progressive Load – This is a subtle yet engaging functionality that has the page load as you scroll down, meaning sections of content can slowly fade up or move in from one side to the center.
- Custom Slider Animation – When telling a story and communicating your big idea, it helps to show multiple images and messages. The way in which the text or photo appears can make a big impact.
7. Unique Design
An award-winning website requires layouts and design elements that are notably different than a template. Most firms with a larger presence need and want a unique design which allows for more flexibility and creativity. Also, let’s be honest, no one wants to look like the “next guy”.
You know a unique design when you see it because it doesn’t appear cookie-cutter or common. All the factors mentioned above in this article contribute to a unique design. However, we felt it was worth touching upon some of the more overlooked or subtle items that can make a design different. Here is a little cheat sheet of tips:
- Incorporate Branding into the Smallest Details:
- Use your logo icon as a watermark on top of photos or behind text
- Use the shape of your logo icon where you can in the design, perhaps to highlight numbers or bullet points.
- Weaving in Custom Photos:
- Use a custom photo of the firm and incorporate it into the site in a different way than just dropping it into a rectangular or square photo frame.
- Create your own section of content just to highlight something about the firm and use a photo in a creative way
- Highlight Important Sections of Content with Design:
- Turn an ordinary bullet point or numbered list into an infographic or give the list styling a unique design
- Create a design just for a pull quote
Make an Impact
While an award-winning website brand can take a lot of thought and effort, the gratifying result is worth every bit spent. After all, your web presence is your face to the world and showing it well makes a huge difference. If you need help with your brand and website, PaperStreet is happy to assist.