10 things you must know before creating a lawyer website

One look at most lawyer websites in India and you can see there is a lot that’s left to be desired: designs from the 1990s, unstructured layouts, poor choice of stock images, a lack of simple and easy navigation system and a complete disregard to the fact that websites need to be mobile friendly. On top of that, most websites have poor choices of title tags and content – something that reflects the Indian lawyer’s compulsion of talking/drafting in paragraphs instead of sentences.

Run a Google search for “Lawyers in Delhi” and you will see a list of websites; all poorly designed, difficult to comprehend and usually grandstand. And if you are browsing any of these websites on your mobile phone, it just turns into a nightmare. It comes as no surprise that most lawyers haven’t come to appreciate the importance of a website – because the few who have, haven’t done it right and certainly haven’t benefitted from it.

Let’s take a look at some of the essential considerations that must not be ignored while setting up a website for a lawyer or a law firm. While each of these topics deserve a dedicated post on their own, I am limiting myself to introducing the concepts so it can be used as a checklist if you are looking to put up a website together.

1. The Architecture

Just like a house needs a blue-print before its constructed, a website also cannot be put up without one. Whether you are an individual practitioner, a small firm of 8-10 lawyers or one of the legal giants with hundreds of lawyers; if you do not have a clear understanding and vision of how your site will shape up before your developer/agency starts working on it, you would waste a lot of time, money and energy without accomplishing anything substantial.

A website’s architecture is the basic layout sans the design elements. While working on the architecture, one decides the different pages that the site will have, what content will go on which page and how that content will be aligned with the different images, menu bars, header, footer, logo and any other elements you want to put on a particular page. It also includes the manner in which a user will be allowed to navigate from one page to another, no matter which page the user lands on first.

You can either ask your developer to come up with the architecture and then give him your inputs or you can give it some thought and simply make a hierarchical chart in MS Word/Excel that lists each page.

2. Keywords

Before we talk about keywords, we need to remember one very important aspect of search engines. A website does not rank for a particular keyword or phrase; a page does. Google, Bing and Yahoo will return a particular page of your website which their algorithm will determine to be the most relevant one for a query. Therefore, you do not want to pick too many keywords (corporate law, criminal lawyer, family lawyer, estate planning, business contracts etc.) for one page itself. What you should do instead is pick a list of keywords and then try to dedicate one page to each category. That would improve your ability to get more pages in search results.

Two tools that you should check out for keyword selection are “Google Adwords Keyword Tool” and the “Keyword Tool” which tell you the number of searches Google receives for a particular term. This would help you understand what terms people are using to find lawyers online and you can plan your keywords better.

A word of caution: Keyword Research is important but do not stuff your content unnaturally with the keywords. Google and other search engines have gotten much smarter as figuring out if you are unnaturally trying to stuff your page with keywords and can penalize you by removing those pages from their index.

3. The Meta Tags

Meta Tags are information about your pages that you give to search engines. These include the Title of your home page and every other page, a 1-2 line description of what the page is about and the URL of the page. Most lawyer websites either have the same title throughout or just use the page-name as titles. Meta-tags are your best opportunity to tell search engines in clear words what the page is about. So, if you have a “Practice Areas” page on your site, you do not want your Page Title to be “Practice Area” or “Practice Area – Ashish Arun”. This, in itself, is not giving any relevant information to search engines. If you are a divorce lawyer, you would rather use a Title Tag that says: “Divorce Law Practice Areas | Ashish Arun”. Another way could be to use your geographical location in the title tag: New Delhi Divorce Law Practice Areas | Ashish Arun. While there are many ways to skin a cat, you do not want to miss out on using relevant keywords in the Title Tag, Meta Descriptions and the URLs.

Make sure that no two pages have the same title tag or meta description as duplicate content is usually frowned upon, is confusing for visitors as well as search engines and leads to a low ranking on search engines.

4. Content

Content is king and this cannot be stressed upon enough. No matter how snazzy or cool your website looks, if your content lacks substance, it is not going to be of any help. Authoritative descriptions, the correct usage of grammar and spelling and naturally written content are the three parameters, which should always be kept in mind while writing anything online.

With the advent of search engines, most people stopped writing content for website visitors and instead, started stuffing their pages with keywords for search engines. Initially, the search engines thought that such pages with a high keyword density must be relevant for that particular keyword and those pages ranked high on search engine result pages. However, this started to turn into abusive practices where pages were created with a lot of keyword stuffing only for ranking and the user experience was totally ignored.

With time, the search engines got smarter and started to recognize such abusive patterns. Google updated its algorithm to include content quality as an important parameter and many low-quality websites were hit badly. Now, we are back to the time when quality content and user experience take prominence over ways to fool search engines into ranking your site higher than the rest.

When it comes to lawyer websites, the content is mediocre to poor at most places. Either the lawyers are passing on the task to write content to a junior or an intern or they are just not paying enough attention to it. If you are serious about your online presence, you cannot overlook the content. The mantra is: Write. Review. Edit. Edit. Edit. Proof. Publish.

Unfortunately, website development firms in India know little about content and more often than not, it results in a website that fails to communicate the right message or any message for that matter. The whole focus in building a website shifts to the design, layout and technical features and content just falls through the cracks.

Today, when everyone is connected to the internet through laptops, desktops, mobile phones and tablets (24.3 crore people in India have access to internet) and there are more websites than ever for everything under the sun, it becomes really important that the message being conveyed is clear, concise and to the point.

5. Content Management System

Because most lawyers are not expected to have a good grasp of technology and many are looking to get the cheapest solution out there, they fall in the trap of settling for a static website without a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is basically a software that runs your website and allows you to easily edit, add and delete pages on your site.

Always ask your developer to create your website using a CMS as it will not only save you a lot of money from all those minor edits you will have to run to the developer for, you will also have the flexibility to edit it in real time and add new articles, news updates and additional pages.

There are many open source and free options like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal etc. which you can use; WordPress being my favorite. All these platforms are more than capable of handling any lawyer website, no matter how many pages or features you are looking at.

6. Images

Images constitute a very important part of any website. Images help you convey the right message, attract user attention as well as make your site look elegant. However, the biggest problem with images is that most websites, especially law sites, do not use the right images or do not use them in the right manner.

The first goal is to identify the right images – which in itself is not trivial as most lawyers do not have the time or energy to do a photo shoot in their office or have an agency click pictures for their website. In such a situation, most web developers turn to stock image websites like ShutterStock, iStockPhotos or Getty. However, more often than not, the images selected are not in line with either the website content or the target audience.

Each image that you use on your site should not only be closely related to your line of work, it should actually become a part of the content. If you are an Indian law firm, putting up images of white people in suits on your home page will not only be irrelevant, it will also look stupid.

With the advent of high quality mobile phone cameras, you can actually take good quality pictures of your office and your team, instead of using stock photos. The more real your website images are, the more credible you will come across. If you must use stock photos, a good idea would be to head to http://www.imagesbazaar.com/ where you can get stock photos for Indian audiences.

7. Design

For a long time, websites were designed for desktop computers. Then, laptops came and the screen size didn’t change by much. Then came wifi, faster data connections, smartphones and tablets and suddenly, websites designed only for desktops and laptops were not easy to navigate or view on smaller screens. The new standard in cross-platform designs is responsive width design which basically adapts the website to the browser screen width.

With mobile penetration increasing at a faster rate than ever before, the importance of a clean, responsive design is paramount. Google recently started showing if a website is mobile friendly or not in its search results and may be using it as a ranking factor as well.

Responsive designs have now become the standard and if your designer/web developer suggests otherwise or tells you that it will add to your website budget, you need to look at other options.

8. Visitor Engagement

When your website gets a visitor, that is your first chance to engage him and make him take an action. An action can be in the form of leaving a query on the website, giving you a call, share your website or a specific page with friends/colleagues or simply signing up to receive newsletters and announcements from you. Therefore, it is important to offer a contact form, your contact details as well as a subscription form where users can specifically consent that you send them information such as legal updates, firm updates or any other announcements that you may have in the future.

Depending on the information you want to gather, you can ask them for their names and email addresses and create a mailing list which can be used to create a following of people who are either interested in the areas of law you practice or are looking for legal advice. You can also use this mechanism to send sector specific updates to different set of clients.

9. Social Media Integration

Several books have been written on Social Media for lawyers and with the amount of time everyone is spending on social media, it will be suicidal to create an online presence but not link it to your accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and most importantly, LinkedIn.

Using services like HootSuite, you can automatically post any new content to all your social media accounts. If you are creating a lawyer website, it will be advisable to create a separate page for your law chamber/firm and keep your personal and professional posts separate. You might want to share your professional posts with your personal circles, but the other way round is not advisable unless you are leading the life of a sage. Drunk and crazy pictures with friends are not things you want to share with your professional circles.

10. Sitemap and Analytics

Once you are done with the above steps and are ready to take your website live, ask your developer to set up accounts with Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. Google Webmaster Tools lets you see how often Google is indexing your site, is it finding any errors, are any of your website pages not accessible to the Google crawler and if there are any health issues with your site with respect to malware or hacking attempts. You can also see how your page is doing in search results, for what queries your site is coming up in searches and what percentage of those people are clicking on your site and not the other 9 results on Google’s result page.

Analytics is also a very useful tool provided by Google. It involves inserting a small code in each of your website pages and you can track the number of visitors, their locations, the amount of time they spend on your site, the pages they come to, the pages they exit from and how they found your website. Google also provides you this data in realtime so you can also assess the number of visitors right now on your site.

If you have covered these 10 points while planning/developing your website, you can be sure that your site is designed and structured better than 90% of the websites in the world. Beyond that, you will need to continue working on your website and generate concise, relevant and targeted content if you want to stay on top of the search result pages and actually make your website work favourably for your practice.

7 reasons why you need a website for your law practice

Lawyers in India have either ignored or are not prepared for the digital world. While almost everyone is online personally, their practices aren’t. The few lawyers and firms who do have websites, have mostly failed to capitalize on the opportunities that the internet presents. If you have been looking for reasons why you should get a website for your practice, here are that should help you convince yourself and your colleagues.

1. India is online and so are its litigants and businessmen

When was the last time you didn’t Google something when you needed some information – about a product, a service or a professional? It’s hard to remember. But isn’t it different when it comes to legal issues and lawyers? Are people really going online to find lawyers?

Let’s look at some of the numbers:

Every month, Google receives 1300 searches from India for the phrase “law firms in Delhi”. When we expand the data to include the whole world, this number goes up to 1900 searches per month. For “divorce lawyer”, there are 240 monthly searches every month from the Delhi NCR region. Further research revealed the number of monthly searches from Delhi as 340 for “criminal lawyer”, 200 for “immigration lawyer”, 170 for “injury lawyer”, 210 for “accident lawyer”, 80 for “property lawyer”, 70 for “Canada immigration lawyer”, 50 for “business lawyer” and 100 for “employment lawyer”.

What do these numbers tell us? Just one simple thing: people are looking for lawyers online – not everyone – but quite a few. And with the proliferation of broadband and mobile internet, this number is only going to grow.

Run a search for any of these terms and see what comes up? Is there any chance that some of these 1500+ people looking for a lawyer in Delhi are going to find some information about you? If the answer is no, a website is your first step towards turning it into a yes.

2. It doesn’t cost much to get one

In fact, you can get one for free. WordPress.com and Google Sites are two of the best services to set up a free website online. However, you will not get your custom yourname.com domain and hence, it is always a better idea to get your own personalized domain and host your website there.

I have been using GoDaddy to register all my domains and to host all my websites, including this one. It costs 600/year for one domain name and hosting plans start from Rs. 125/month. This also includes custom email addresses and email hosting. With little research, you can find much cheaper services but I would advice going with a reliable company as you do not want your website being unavailable frequently due to a shoddy service provider.

3. Its easy to set up

If you are not technologically challenged, you can create a GoDaddy account, buy a domain name and hosting, install WordPress as the platform to run your website (GoDaddy and several others offer a one click installation of WordPress), pick a theme (the look and feel of the website) and have it up and running within 30 minutes. Yes – it doesn’t take more than that to set up a basic website.

However, it is always a good idea to have a professional set up the website and customize the layout and design to make it consistent with your stationery, name plate and any other branding materials that you may have.

While WordPress is not the only platform for a website, I find it very easy and stable to use. You can create new pages, publish new articles and edit the existing content yourself and will not have to run to the IT guy every time you need to make a small change; and its perfect for solo practitioners as well as a firm with hundreds of lawyers.

4. It gives you a platform to establish yourself as a thought leader

The easy part got over with creating the website. No website, without the right content, is going to do you any good. While a professional look and a neat design are important, nothing is more important than writing great content.

You need to identify a few (two if you are feeling adventurous, otherwise just one unless you are a law firm) areas you would like to focus on and make sure that your website becomes a go-to resource for anyone looking to get information about a particular topic. It won’t be easy but it won’t be impossible either.

The good thing is – there are only two law blogs in India which can be called “authoritative” in their true sense: SpicyIP and Corplaw Blog. (Please suggest any other blogs that I have missed in comments and I will be happy to include them after a review). This means – all other areas of law are wide open for you and you could very well be the next most known name on a particular type of legal issues.

Try looking at emerging areas of law where the law has not been very clearly interpreted by Courts yet. Jeremy Bentham, the guy who tormented many of us in Sociology and Jurisprudence classes in law school, famously noted, “the power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law” – and its your time to grab that power and make good use of it.

5. It allows you to provide guidance to people who are in the pre-retention phase of their legal problem

Remember looking up the symptoms online the last time you had a fever or a toothache before you visited the doctor. With the Internet on our fingertips, we have access to more information than Einstein ever had. Be it a product we want to buy, a restaurant we want to go to or a car we are looking to buy, we tend to run a quick search and read about it before making a decision. And there is no reason to believe that people aren’t doing the same with legal issues.

Let’s look at the graph below:

Trademark Lawyer Search Data - Google

That’s the number of people searching for trademark registration process and trademark attorneys/lawyers across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore every month. As we can see, far too many are interested in knowing the registration process than finding a lawyer.

If you are a trademark lawyer, you want to engage the 4000 odd people when they are seeking information on the trademark filing process. Your article should not only informative, it should create a certain level of confidence in your ability to get it executed if the person decides to contact your eventually through your website. And this idea is applicable across the board – no matter what legal issue your prospective clients are researching.

If they derive the basic knowledge from an article you wrote, they are more likely to contact you when they finally decide to seek legal help. The process will take time, but you will certainly see a rise in the number of inquiries you receive.

6. Works as your 24×7 virtual office

A website provides you with an avenue to offer a 24×7 avenue for client engagement. A lot of times, clients are looking to seek information about your practice area, the kind of work you do and the ways in which you can help them with their legal issues. They also want to understand if your practice is good fit for their needs. A professional website works as your reception desk that is open all the time.

By including your website URL on your letterheads, your business cards and other stationery, you can lead people to your website where they can find all this information at their convenience – no need to schedule a phone call or an appointment, no need to dress up for an introductory meeting, no need to worry if you are missing out on leads because you cannot be possibly present at your office 24×7.  I am not saying you can sit back and relax once you have a website, but it will go a long way in increasing the number of people who get exposed to your area of work.

7. Helps you acquire new clients

Heather Morse, a legal marketer in the U.S. (yes, lawyers are allowed to market and advertise in the US), writes about the lifecycle of getting a new client. It goes something like this:

Lifecycle

Writing blog posts is not advertising and it goes a long way in establishing yourself as a credible professional. The more exposure you get and the more credible you appear; the better your chances of acquiring new clients become.

The bottom line is, a website is going to be an indispensable resource for a lawyer or a firm in India. If you do not have one, you are going to miss out (you already are) on a lot of opportunities. If you are already drowning in work and do not have the time to take up new cases, then you may have wasted the last 8-10 minutes reading this article. But if you want/need more work, you needed a website yesterday.

I look forward to your comments and feedback on this post. In my next post, I will discuss how to identify emerging topics to blog about and the traits of a search engine friendly blog post.

If you have any questions regarding how search engines and websites work or there is a specific issue you would like to me to discuss in one of my posts, please drop in a line (either by email or through the comments section below) and I will be glad to cover it. So long.