Web Design Questions

A white, rounded square logo with an abstract S-shaped design on a gradient blue and purple background.

We are often asked a bunch of questions regarding web design, optimization and everything else you can think about for marketing. Here are the top questions and answers. =====================

1. Tips for easy and effective Web site navigation.
Planning. Planning. Planning. Would you start writing an appeal without an outline? You need to outline your site navigation as the first step in the web site process. Start with a site structure that is in bullet or numbered format. Once you have outlined what content will be on the site, how people will move through the site, then the navigation falls into place pretty easily.


2. What qualities make a Web site aesthetically pleasing?
What qualities make a person aesthetically pleasing? Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder we often can just tell whether a web site is ugly or professional just by looking at the site. However, typically bad web sites have either (a) no planning, (b) no theme, (c) too many cooks in the kitchen, (d) bad photos / graphics, or a mix of all of the above. Aesthetically pleasing sites are properly planned by a design team. The law firm typically gives them overall goals and lets the design team do what they are paid to do…be creative.


3. What kind of content should be included in a Web site (newsletters, articles, news)?
Everything. Put as much as you can online. This includes firm bios, attorney bios, newsletters, articles, news, highlights, cases and more. Firms now can have extranets to interact with their clients.


4. How can you measure whether your site is effective?
It depends on the goal. If your goal is to increase revenue, then measure the revenue attributable to the web site through a system of contact forms, client signings, and good bookkeeping. If you goal is increase in inquiries, then track the inquiries from one contact form or from call in questionnaires. If your goal is simply to increase traffic, then any statistics package that is installed on your web server should do the trick. Of course, you must first set your goals for the site.


5. Should the site have a blog?
A web site should have a system that allows the firm to easily post articles, news, or events. Whether you call it a blog, a content management system, or an overworked web developer, the main point is that you should be able to update content easily, online, and in real-time.

The good news is that blogs and content systems are now cost-effective and easy to install. This gives all law firms the ability to post information without technical knowledge. Of course, you have to find the time to post information in your busy schedule.


6. What are the most common Web site mistakes?

No Contact Information
It’s already hard enough to get a potential client to your web site, don’t make it any harder for them to find your law firm. Put your phone numbers, address, and other contact information on every page.

Clueless Navigation
Ever been to a site with a bunch of pictures and no navigation text? Wait! Suddenly you scroll over the picture of a gavel and – poof! – “ABOUT US” suddenly appears. Then you scroll over the picture of a smiling woman and “OUR ATTORNEYS” appears. This is clueless navigation. By the time you scroll over all the pictures to see what they say, you’ve forgotten the title of the very first picture.

Bad Flash
Don’t you just love long Flash introductions that have swooshing text, such as “law firm,” “employment law,” “atlanta” and “new york”? Web research shows that 98 percent of Internet users click on the “Skip Introduction” button before the Flash presentation is through. “Nuff said.

This site can only be viewed in Internet Explorer 6.0, Flash 5.0+ enabled, on a 1024 px by 768 px monitor that has a refresh rate of 75mhz, 3.0 Pentium 4 processor, 256mb RAM, and 50GB hard drive, etc. etc. The last time we checked, a web site was NOT a piece of software you buy at Circuit City. All web sites should be cross-platform/browser compliant and should boot automatically.

Spelling errorz [sic] / Broken Links / Coming Soon
This is rookie-league stuff. Every web design program has a feature that checks for spelling errors and broken links. Further, you should never put a page on a site unless it has relevant content.

P o o r l y F o r m a t t e d T e x t & G r a p h i c s & C o l o r s
Would you put a 48pt title block on a pleading? How about rainbow colors for your letterhead? How about a spinning gavel in your courtyard? Then why would you use odd fonts, bad colors, and awful graphics on your web page?

Cheesy Music
If potential clients wanted to hear Jimmy Buffet, they’d drive to Key West and listen to him play. Why do web sites love to play cheesy music to entertain us while we learn about the intricacies of a homestead exemption?


7. Tips for search engine optimization.

Relevant Content
Content is king. Search engines rank web sites higher if they offer relevant content that contains such words or subjects. For your law firm to be found, your site needs to offer authoritative information on your practice areas. Do this by adding articles, newsletters, alerts, profiles and anything else that is relevant.
Quick fixes like jump pages, cloaking or hiding content will hurt rankings
While unethical tactics do not hurt anyone like a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), search engines view these techniques just the same. Each search engine company has its own team of inspectors that regularly ban web sites that use these spam techniques. Use these techniques at your own peril. They may help you in the short term, but eventually you will be caught and your site banned.
Edit your Meta Tags
Meta tags are HTML-coded information that search engines look at when crawling on your web site for information. In the simplest form, meta tags consist of a title tag (although technically not a meta tag, its the most important tag), a description tag, and keywords tag. To optimize the web site, your firm should decide on the most important words to place in title, keyword, and description tags. In addition, your firm should create different meta tags for each page of the web site. This will allow each page to be indexed differently by the search engine.

As stated by Google, the best way to ensure a top listing is for your web site to be linked to a lot of other web sites. This is known as link popularity. We encourage clients to seek out links with related companies. We do not recommend creating spam links or linking to spam sites that artificially boost your web sites rating, but receiving quality links to your site will boost its ranking.

Register your Web Site
To capitalize on your firm’s link popularity, meta tags, and content, your web site needs be registered with the top search engines and as many other web sites as possible. However, submitting is easy and if your web site has been on the Internet for more than a year then likely all search engines have already included your web site in their directory. Finally, there’s no need to submit your web site to 1,000 plus search engines as almost all web traffic comes from a handful of search engines (Google, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, and Ask.com)


8. Should law firm sites include attorney contact information and e-mail addresses, just the firm’s general contact information, or fillable generic forms to send to the firm?
It can include all of the above, or it can include none of the above. It really depends on the law firm. Some firms promote a cultural of allowing clients to contact partners and associates (whether its electronically or via the phone). Other firms shield information and only have a direct point of contact with a senior partner. If your firm is open and wants calls or emails to anyone, then post everyone’s info. If your firm wants a single point of contact, then put the partner’s info or generic contact info for the firm.


9. What do you think is overkill on site?
Flash introductions. Don’t you just love long Flash introductions that have swooshing text, such as “law firm,” “employment law,” “atlanta” and “new york”? Well, I don’t and since web research shows that 98 percent of Internet users click on the “Skip Introduction” button before the Flash presentation is through, then neither does anyone else. This is because most Flash introductions are time-consuming and have no purpose other than to put in some more cowbell (i.e. something that is not needed, but fun). In web design it is important to remember, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Whenever considering adding more cowbell to your site first ask: How is this helping my potential client?


10. What law firm Web sites do you think are successful and why (give a few examples)?

PaperStreet web sites, of course. Actually, any web site that meets its goals and stays on budget is a successful web site. The problem is that most web sites do not define their goals.

DallasJustice.com – Law Office of Michael Lowe
Michael Lowe, a solo practitioner has received over 1000 inquiries per year for the past two years. This is not hits, but actual inquiries directly from the web site.

WTHF.com – Watt Tieder Hoffar & Fitzgerald
The new firm was able to brand itself as a construction only law firm with a new logo, web site, and advertising campaign.

FRC-Law.com – Fowler Rodriguez & Chalos
The New Orleans based law firm was able to update its web site online, in real-time from its Miami office, thereby telling employees and clients (many of whom are oil, gas and shipping companies) how to contact the firm during the hurricanes.


11. What steps should you take and what questions should you ask when choosing a design or Web consulting firm?

General Ideas
Set a goal. Both in time, budget, and what you want the web site to achieve.
Contact as many designers as possible. You will receive a variety of quotes, timelines, and technologies.

Read, read, and re-read your proposals. Ask questions about the quotes, timelines and technologies. Read more articles online about the technologies and understand what you are getting from each designer. An informed client is always a happy client.

Go through each designer’s portfolio. Every designer has a few good sites, but look at all of their sites. If you like the overall work of a designer, then most likely they will produce something that you are happy with.

Narrow your list down to three teams and either have additional in-person interviews or phone interviews. Note that a design team does not have to be local. Web design teams typically work great via email and the phone.

Specific Questions
What is the timeframe?
Costs? How do you bill? Hourly? Flat Rate? Monthly? Payment Method?
Will the firm own the copyright in the design?
Will we be able to maintain the web site after launch?
What is included in the design fee? What is additional?
What is included in the hosting fee? What is additional?
What is included in the search engine optimization fee? What is additional?
What other services do you provide? Advertising? Print? Logos? Content? Photos?
Do you have any conflicts of interest?
What should be my expectations in new inquiries, traffic, clients, and image

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