Each morning I read law.com’s latest report about an AmLaw 100 firm’s profits or revenue drops in 2009 over 2008. American Lawyer Media is building anticipation with this tactic as it leads up to its May 1, 2010 release of the AmLaw 100 financial report.
The release of the AmLaw 100 firm names has been a banner day for Content Pilot since we started analyzing the Web sites of this body of firms based on “Ten Foundational Best Practices.” Read more about our history with this initiative in past blog posts. If you want to access the last White Paper, you can download it here. And for a list of the 2010 Ten Foundational Best Practices, read my December 31, 2009 post.
Over the next few days, I’ll dig in to the remaining nine of the Ten Foundational Best Practices (I wrote about the first Foundational Best Practice, “Communicating your Message,” on February 2, 2010). As soon as the AmLaw 100 list is released, my team and I will spend nights and weekends climbing in to these Web sites, analyzing them based on the attributes that make up each Foundational Best Practice. Remember, these are the “foundational” elements of a Web site — the must-have features and functionality that ensure your visitors will have a great experience.
Now, back to Foundational Best Practice #2 – Graphics and Design. The attributes within this FBP are:
- Web site uses consistent graphics/color/imagery that adhere to a clearly established design style.
- Typography is uniform, legible, Web-compatible and complements the overall Web design.
- Layout is effective in its use of page real estate.
- Site is compatible with mobile devices.
- Site and page load times are minimal.
- Site adapts to different screen resolutions.
- Site is compatible with most popular browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari, AOL)
This has nothing to do with how “attractive” we think the site is. In fact, in years past, certain of the highest scoring sites didn’t have our favorite design. We stay away from subjective criteria, focusing only on the most objective measures. The best design in the world won’t conceal inferior usability or inaccessibility. Focus on the attributes here first, then wrap great design around them.
You might wonder why site and page load times are still an attribute in 2010 (I asked the same question in 2006). The old answer was that foreign law offices had slower Internet connections than U.S. firms. Four years later, that shouldn’t be the case. Heavy (or even moderate) Flash can cause sites to load more slowly. A site dense with large images can also slow load time. Visitors today are an impatient bunch (how many seconds will YOU wait for a site or page to load?) – don’t risk visitors dashing away while your bios or practice pages are still loading . . . loading . . . loading.
Screen resolution is less of a hot button issue these days, because we are still full into the 1024×768 resolution era. As soon as designers get on the next resolution bandwagon, 1280×800 or even higher, there will be more wrangling among law firms and their Web site designers.
“Mobile compatibility” doesn’t mean that a firm is offering a redesigned, pared-down site for mobile access. It means, how easily can a visitor access data from your main Web site on a smart phone or other mobile device? According to Jakob Nielsen’s July 20, 2009 “Alertbox,” the results of a mobile usability study were “miserable.” He says, “The phrase ‘mobile usability’ is pretty much an oxymoron. It’s neither easy nor pleasant to use the Web on mobile devices.”
Nielsen sites four main usability hurdles:
Small screens. Small screens mean fewer visible options at any given time, requiring users to rely on their short-term memory to build an understanding of an online information space. This makes almost all interactions harder. It’s also difficult to find room for multiple windows or other interface solutions that support advanced behaviors, such as comparative product research.
Awkward input, especially for typing. It’s hard to operate GUI widgets without a mouse: menus, buttons, hypertext links, and scrolling all take longer time and are more error-prone, whether they’re touch-activated or manipulated with a teeny trackball. Text entry is particularly slow and littered with typos, even on devices with dedicated mini-keyboards.
Download delays. Getting the next screen takes forever — often longer than it would on dial-up, even with a supposedly faster 3G service.
Mis-designed sites. Because websites are typically optimized for desktop usability, they don’t follow the guidelines necessary for usable mobile access.
Nielsen also had his group sites that had been specifically redesigned for mobile devices. The satisfaction rate went from 53% for a full site to 64% for a mobile site. I was surprised this satisfaction percentage wasn’t higher.
For law firms who want to create a dedicated mobile site, focus on the information that your visitors would most want, and use your Web site analytics to determine what that is for your site. Lawyer bios, certainly, and perhaps deals/cases/experience, and/or practice/industry descriptions. And if you are frequent publishers of alerts, newsletters, etc., include that with RSS feeds.
But ask, what phones should you support? Nielsen notes that the accessibility success of “regular” feature cell phones is the lowest at 38%. Smart phones is higher at 55% and touch phones (like the iPhone) are 75% successful. Support the phone/devices that your lawyers most use, and that your clients most use.
Nielsen concludes by saying that “designing for mobile use is hard.” But it’s an important consideration for huge law firms that serve global clients. When designing your new Web site, ensure that you think through it.