Design vs. Decoration – Which One Describes Your Law Firm’s Website?

Design vs. Decoration – Which One Describes Your Law Firm’s Website?

There’s an age-old distinction between what constitutes design and what is simply decoration. Whereas the former is reflective of function the latter pertains to aesthetic performance. I’ll admit, the distinction is a bit academic to say the least. In the real world, however, the two often walk hand-in-hand. An easy example might be a corkscrew. While a basic $3 model is almost exclusively functional, a $25 model from Rabbit leverages an innovative design while also trading heavily on its appearance.

Now, they’re not typically as fun to use as a corkscrew, but law firm websites also need a balanced mixture of great performing design and pleasing decoration if they want to compete online. The problem is, what dazzles attorneys from a décor perspective doesn’t always deliver potential clients as a functional design should.

If you’re evaluating a new look for your website, make sure that you’re assessing something more than just appearances. The functional design of your site is about putting your clients’ needs and behaviors first. A “hero” image, while not bad in and of itself, often puts your ego first.

Usability … Where to Begin?

The term “usability” is just about as loaded as “design.” So many concepts are rolled-up into this one that it’s tough to know where to even begin. Thankfully for attorneys, your target audience is a bit more defined than say, Amazon’s. Your law firm’s website doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. It just needs to deliver what your prospective clients want. That’s the answer to your usability question: What do my clients want to achieve by visiting my website?

Well, many of them want to see if you’re the lawyer for them. To that end, make it easy for your audience to find the information that will help him or her make that assessment. One very popular trend in websites right now is the “long scroll” format. These are the websites that have a very tall design with different content sections segmented by color. They grab people’s attention right now because they’re starkly different from their predecessors. Think about it, traditional websites often used a horizontal top navigation bar with sub-nav menus stacked vertically along the left side. Relevant content was hosted in the remaining portion of the screen. Users moved from page to page, often counting on breadcrumbs or persistent navigation menus to find their way through the site.

In contrast, long scroll sites are much more modern looking and seemingly easier to use. All they ask of the visitor is to simply keep scrolling. That’s why you see this same concept on Twitter and Pinterest, where the user experience is often one of content binging. Keep serving something new and the user will keep scrolling for more. This design is great for discovering content, but it’s not always the best for finding specific information.

This is not to say a law firm shouldn’t use this type of website. But if you decide to head in this direction, don’t lose sight of your audience’s goal. Imagine that you’re looking for help with a complex custody situation. You probably don’t have the patience to be “delighted” by some new discovery. You more likely want to know who to call and how quickly you can get in for an appointment.

Website Design and Speed

Speaking of moving quickly, we’ve come a long way since the old days of 56k modems and “under construction” gifs. But with great bandwidth comes great responsibility. The modern web is awash in sites that still load far too slowly to justify their content. Multimedia, excessive tracking, sloppy javascripting and more can place an enormous burden on browsers and servers.

You might love the look of endless scroll websites, full-screen images and reactive icons, but remember your audience. I doubt you have any prospects who are half as excited about parallax effects and animated statistics as you are.

Need two more reasons to keep speed in mind? Well, your client base is just as likely to view your law firm’s website on a mobile device as they are on a desktop computer. Mobile users are … wait for it … mobile. They’re on the go and will expect the same of your website. Let them down with an overstuffed website and their phones will be happy to send them to the next “lawyer near me” on the list.

Speaking of, search engines know when your site is slow. We covered this at length earlier this year in a white paper, but I’ll give you the broad strokes here. All things being equal, a slow loading website will not perform as well in search as a faster version. There are a lot of factors that influence site speed, but the design and decoration of your website – that is, the manner in which it is coded, and the content it delivers – are both at work in this equation.

Don’t just get noticed. Get found.

Good website design needs to include all manner of search engine optimization strategies. Yes, that includes keyword-rich content and consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) fields. But it also includes things like using a domain that actually makes sense for your law firm and structuring your website in a logical fashion. Remember, when search engines crawl a website, they have to be able to read and understand the content you’re presenting. That means using properly formatted text, accurately tagged images and logically organized folders – just to name a few.

You might even apply an old cliché to your site’s design: It is what it is. The content of a page on your website should match what its location and labels indicate. You don’t need a distinct page for every little thing, but consider what message is being sent by a page’s html title and by its location within your website. For example, which of the two URLs below would be a good choice for hosting your senior partner Amanda’s business approach to cross-cultural divorces?

  1. [lawFirmName].com/aboutUs/OurLawyers/Amanda-Pandanda/
  2. [lawFirmName].com/Services/Divorce/CulturalDifferences

The answer is B. Amanda’s approach may be unique to her, but a search engine isn’t going to know that. Reading about her approach on a bio page probably won’t yield great results from an SEO perspective nor will it play well to a human audience. The lesson here is a victory for common sense. Logically structuring your website content for human reader is more often than not the right play from an SEO perspective as well.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

It behooves any website designer to stay focused on the primary goal of the law firm they’re serving. If your firm relies on a high volume of clients and a short timeline from incident to resolution, then your website should focus on generating phone calls. Make your phone number prominent and functional for mobile visitors to call you in an instant.

A law practice that places a premium on thoughtful education to “make the sale” should employ clear, motivating calls to action throughout the site, and especially on those pages that focus on the bottom of the funnel.

Take full advantage of the conversion tools available to your law firm. Do whatever you can with your design to make your website visitors feel confident and capable when they take the next step.

These broad concepts aren’t rocket science. But they are precisely the sort of thing that can get overlooked when law firms take their eyes off of a website’s performance and focus solely on the aesthetic. At FindLaw, we focus on you. Your goals. Your firm’s sustainable success.

If you’d like to talk about your law firm’s website, get in touch with us today. We know how to design beautiful, high-converting websites that work with your overall marketing program to deliver the results your firm deserves.

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