Content Pilot announced that it has begun the research for its next study, “Global 50 Law Firm Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices.” This is the 6th such study, which focuses on identifying and establishing foundational best practices that matter to visitors, and that, based on client interviews, move the needle with buyers of legal services.
Deborah McMurray (that is, me) created the research in 2005, believing that the legal industry desperately needed a roadmap for improving law firm websites. Law firms were spending millions and millions of dollars on their sites and not making visitors any happier. I analyzed the then-AmLaw 100 firms based on ten Foundational Best Practices (FBP), each which had several defining attributes. These were selected based on broad web industry best practices, known expectations of visitors, and stated goals and desires of buyers of legal services.
After I founded Content Pilot in 2006, I transferred the responsibility of the research study to the company, and hired or recruited subject matter expert volunteers for different segments of the research. After the initial Study, Content Pilot has sponsored the last four AmLaw 100 studies, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2013 – and there have been numerous articles and presentations about the research results for the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), ILTA, ALA, ABA, TerraLex, Lex Mundi and other organizations. Content Pilot is a strategy, design, content and technology company that serves the legal industry and other professional services firms.
In 2016, we wanted to go even more global and see how the largest international firms are doing, so we are analyzing the AmLaw Global 50. The research will be conducted during June 2016 and the findings will be ready by September 1, 2016. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a free copy of the Executive Summary.
The Ten Foundational Best Practices change with each new study, as do the attributes under each one. Although there are certain important features and functionality that remain constant from year to year; I have noted those by each FBP below.
The ultimate goal has always been to make visitors happier, have them spend longer on your site and to view more pages each visit. Ultimately, the goal is for them to contact you with a specific question, issue or opportunity. Your websites should drive revenue – and adhering to these Foundational Best Practices is one way to help that happen.
The AmLaw Global 50 law firms will be analyzed based on these 2016 Ten Foundational Best Practices:
Communicating your Message (in the #1 position on every previous study)
- Clear and differentiating positioning strategy, feel and brand
- Practice and industry strengths are easy to see when you land on the site
- Geographic reach is obvious
- Contact information is easy to find, such as a link on each page
- Site features foreign language translations (enough detail in other languages & relevant coherent information)
Design (A part of every study, but the attributes are a mix of repeat and new)
- Bold, distinctively branded layout and style
- Strong imagery reinforces and advances the firm brand and “story” – and is fresh and unique
- Site is responsive with deliberately designed views for phones, tablets and desktop
- The design is uncluttered and presents an intuitive information hierarchy
Navigation (Also a part of every study, but different defining attributes)
- Global and local navigation styles are consistent. The visitor doesn’t have to relearn new styles throughout the site
- It’s easy to navigate across multiple devices – the navigation remains intuitive and easy to use regardless of device
- The site does not use multiple expand/contract features that hide the most valuable content (i.e., experience)
- The site has a Global Footer with relevant clickable links
Professional Bios (Formerly called “Lawyer Bios,” but we have expanded it to include other important professionals)
- First 140 characters of the bio are current, compelling and relevant for SEO and reader benefit. Is the reader immediately engaged in the meatiest content?
- First 2-3 sentences of the Overview are descriptive of the lawyer’s practice, the type and size and industry sector of clients represented, and the geography of the practice
- Bio does not use Mr. or Ms. – it uses the lawyer’s first or nickname
- Photos are current and consistent – they convey personality…the firm’s and the lawyer’s
- Full contact information is easy to find
- The professional is highly accessible: social media links, email this page, print, vcard, they list their assistant/contact info
- Bios crosslink to practices/industries/news/events, etc. Firms get points off if they list articles, etc. that don’t link.
- For lawyers and other timekeepers, bios include detailed experience/matter lists that are well organized with line breaks, sub-heads, etc. Avoids repetition of words and phrases, particularly at the beginning of bullet-points; e.g., Represented, Advised, etc.
- Page design supports elegant content organization that enables visitors to quickly scan and consume what they want – e.g., containers, boxes, heads and sub-heads, bullet lists, etc. No long, dense, unbroken blocks of text
- Associates and professional staff (such as the CFO, CMO, COO, etc.) have full biographies
Content (other than bios) (The same category as the 2013 Study, but with revised attributes)
- The content is visitor-focused – not “it’s all about me” – and is available in multiple languages (note how many languages per firm). It also faces the client (e.g., describes benefits to the client, not just the firm’s features.)
- Page content has a clear information hierarchy and is well-organized for today’s scanning reader (i.e., uses sub-heads, bullet lists, containers and boxes, and the like).
- Practices and industries are broken out separately – by the services that clients buy. Geographic regions is a bonus.
- Service descriptions include experience specifics, including client locations, names or alias descriptions of clients (answering the questions: what have you done, for whom have you done it and where?)
- Video and multimedia content is featured, produced well and short
- The landing page for news/articles/events, etc., is well organized and easily sorted by topic, author, date. Nothing is listed that isn’t linked to a details page
- The site has a statement of core values that relate to clients, the profession and the markets the firm serves
- The site highlights its commitment to diversity and inclusion
- Charitable and civic commitment is described and evident. Does it highlight the leadership shown by the firm and its lawyers?
- Pro bono commitment is described in detail, highlighting stories and specific matters.
- Does the site use every landing page as an opportunity for value-to-client messaging? For example, does the professional’s page say something about the kinds and quality of the people who work there? Does the contact us page say something about how accessible these people are?
Interactivity, Engagement and Social Outreach (This was added in the 2010 Study, but the attributes continue to evolve)
- Client extranet is offered and accessible.
- The site includes a link to an alumni community (LinkedIn or a separate website).
- Includes a newsletter subscribe feature, event registration, other sign-up opportunities.
- Links to firm/lawyer blogs on home page, bios, practice/industry and other relevant pages.
- Offers educational webinars, videos, podcasts
- Site links to social media sites and has an active/current presence on these sites.
- Share functionality is present throughout the site.
- Site offers PDF “Binder” or “Build a Brochure” functionality.
Site Search (A part of every Study, but the attributes have evolved as buyer expectations have changed)
- Site offers easy-to-find full-site keyword search.
- An advanced search link or option appears on all pages and enables visitors to narrow or refine the search in multiple ways.
- Search results are clear and well organized, and the most relevant categories (bios, experience) appear first.
- The site offers predictive, “did you mean,” highlighting search terms in annotated results, exact phrase searches.
- The site offers a separate experience search.
Site Optimization and Online Awareness (Also a part of every Study – as search engine features change, so do our attributes)
- High-quality backlinks and link relevancy throughout the site.
- Strong, properly structured HTML content on the home page and interior pages (H1, H2, H3, etc. for headings/subheadings, doc type, no image-based navigation or other text, etc.).
- There are content feeds from external sources (blogs, social media, videos, etc.)
- HTML sitemaps are present and include all pages organized in a clear hierarchy.
- Smart URLs with appropriate syntax are used in all sections.
- Page titles, meta-descriptions and natural keyword usage are used throughout the site.
- Images have alt tags that provide alternative text when images can’t be displayed.
- Tabbed bio and practice/industry pages all have the same page URL
- Utilizes correct schema mark-up throughout the site.
- Site speed: Fast page load – less than 4 seconds.
Mobility / Responsive (This was added in the 2013 Study – the question then was simply, “Is there a dedicated mobile site?” The AmLaw 100 average for this FBP in 2013 was 34.5 – some of the mobile sites were so poor that they scored low, even though the firms had them.)
- Brand integrity/personality is not lost on smaller devices.
- The user experience is superior regardless of device.
- There are intuitive, well-spaced navigation tools.
- Content and images resize correctly and information hierarchy is maintained.
- Mobile site is available in non-English languages – with the ability to return to English.
Site “Hygiene” and Usability (This has been the 10th FBP since the very beginning, but the attributes have blossomed a bit since the 2013 Study.)
- Site functions perfectly on all the latest browsers.
- No error pages are found on spot check.
- No broken links or images are evident with spot check.
- Pages print and email easily.
- The site offers dynamic print to PDF option on most pages.
- Content has been checked for spelling.
- All appropriate domains are active, including https.
- The site meets the W3C Level 1 accessibility standards.
Each attribute is scored on a 100-point scale and each attribute is reviewed and scored separately. For example, Site Hygiene and Usability has eight attributes – each will be scored, and then we will average those scores to get the total score for that Foundational Best Practice. Once each FBP has its average score, those will be added together, divided by 10 and that will be the law firm’s total score.
The scoring methodology and ranges have remained the same since the original 2005 Study.
- Excellent: 86-100
- Good: 71-85
- Fair: 50-70
- Poor: 26-49
- Unacceptable: 0-25
You might be interested in how law firms have fared in past studies — not great, is the short answer. The AmLaw 100 firms in the past five studies have had a lot of room for improvement. In the 2013 Study:
- 2% of the firms scored “Excellent”
- 23% scored “Good”
- 69% scored “Fair”
- 6% scored “Poor”
- And, no firms ranked as “Unacceptable”
We have our fingers crossed that the Global 50 websites will perform much better in the 2016 Study!
Special thanks to Leigh Dance, President of ELD International, who is serving as our global adviser.