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This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 of “How Do You Measure Up?” appeared in Of Counsel’s June 2020 issue. It discussed how buyers of legal services buy today, the critical reasons that lawyer biographies drive so much traffic to your law firm website and why they need more of your attention, and the value of an elevating strategy that fuels all aspects of your website in a cohesive, purposeful and business-getting way. – Editor, Of Counsel
Writing this during the coronavirus pandemic, remarkably we are seeing short-term (and potentially long-term) winners emerge inside various industry ecosystems. Certain industries are facing existential challenges; some will accelerate with surprising results and others will see devastating short-term losses but will see a bright long term because business models and buying behaviors will fundamentally and permanently shift. An example in the third category is one of the sectors in FinTech – payment systems. According to CBInsights, “payment companies in hard-hit verticals” (e.g., retail, restaurants, in-person entertainment) are facing life-threatening blows, but long term, “e-commerce payments are expected to boom to top of accelerated secular shifts.”
Similarly, and as reported in virtually every legal industry blog post and article, law firms are seeing short-term winners and losers in their workload. During this global health crisis, visitor traffic to law firm websites is, in a small way, indicative of what future buyers of legal services want and need from their law firms in the short term – and as a result of this, perhaps we’ll see secular growth in the long term. We analyzed Google Analytics to unearth visitor trends in ten of our clients’ websites (nine were law firms and one was a major regional accounting firm headquartered in California) during two six-week periods: pre-COVID (January 5 – February 15, 2020) and during COVID (March 15 – April 25, 2020). Here is a snapshot of the results:
|Analytics Studied||% Change During COVID over Pre-COVID||Worst Website Performer||Best Website Performer|
|Total Sessions (Visits)||+94%||-27%||+448%|
|People Page Views||-3%||-75%||+151%|
|Practice/Industry Page Views||+20%||-41%||+94%|
|COVID Content Viewed/top 50 Pages||N/A||-.14%||+69.6%|
In “How Do You Measure Up? Part 1,” I mention that practice and industry pages of law firm websites earn a “paltry four to six percent of total website visitors,” compared to bios, which receive 45% – 75% of all visits. But, in our analysis of the ten firms, during-COVID practice/industry page views were up an average of 20% over the pre-COVID period. And one firm’s views sky-rocketed by 94%.
You can also see that total visitors and sessions increased by almost 100%, but session duration didn’t increase or decrease during COVID compared to the pre-COVID time period. And views of People pages declined by three percent with the pages viewed per session declining by 19%.
Practice/industry pages are a short-term winner during our pandemic because visitors are hungry for content from trusted advisors who can help them navigate this very personal crisis. These aren’t the COVID-specific pages, either – we analyzed those separately as you can see in the table. Buyers of legal services working from home without the long commute and without the usual distractions (albeit there were different ones) had more time to specifically find and read content about the services you actually provide.
One More Stunning Discovery
Some lawyers might argue that social media is always a loser. But in a pandemic whose effects unify our global citizenry, it has come out as a big winner. And the analytics prove that for professional services firms that carefully crafted, curated and posted up-to-the-minute relevant content on their social media platforms, it brilliantly worked in driving qualified traffic to the firms’ websites.
Law firm social media content during COVID that was self-promoting in any way was swiftly judged as tone-deaf and inappropriate. That included posts about any type of awards won and even the rank-and-file industry and practice updates. Success during this difficult time has required compassion and empathy for employees, clients, referral sources and all others first, then it has taken authenticity and insight into what your audiences really want and need to know to help them survive and hopefully thrive.
We are still in the middle of this, so there is opportunity here for you to quickly shift what you are doing to ensure that your firm won’t be a short- or long-term loser – at least as it relates to your website and social media presence. I speak and write a lot about today’s “3Rs,” which are reputation, relationships and revenue. Everything your firm does should drive all three. Many law firms will see their 2020 budgets fly out the window, so “revenue” will take a back seat to “reputation” and “relationships” this year. Seize the chance to elevate your reputation as the most insightful guide for prospects and clients during this challenging time. Open your heart and invest meaningful time in relationships, caring about their concerns in the most authentic way. You may not get paid for that investment today, but the longer-term reward of loyalty and a meaningful shared experience will be golden.
2020 Trends and Insights Based on the AmLaw Global 50 Results, continued from Part 1.
Content (Other than Biographies – Foundational Best Practice 05
Content Pilot’s “AmLaw Global 50 Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices” research study analyzed 71 attributes for each of the 50 websites, with 11 of those attributes dedicated to Foundational Best Practice (FBP) #5 – Content (Other than Biographies). The total score of all 11 attributes was 83.0 on a 100-point scale, or “good.” This was marginally up from the 2016 Study, which saw a total of 81.2. The lowest scoring global firm on FBP 05 in the latest Study was 61.0, or “fair.”
The first attribute is “Content is visitor-focused (not “all about me”) and is available in multiple languages. Only one firm scored 100 on this attribute – Eversheds Sutherland US. The average score of all firms was 76.9, and it declined from the 2016 Study. Here is your first DO: Your content is more engaging and interesting if it’s not always about you. Do turn the mirror outward and focus on the pressing needs of your prospects and clients. Eversheds Sutherland also ranked #1 on FBP 05.
Another attribute to which firms of all sizes can adhere is “Page content has a clear information hierarchy and is well organized for today’s scanning reader (i.e., uses sub-heads, bullets, sidebars, containers and boxes).”
Why should law firm lawyers and marketers care about information hierarchy?
Based on the analytics that we track, visitors are spending less time today on law firm websites than in 2016. Here’s how this breaks down: 1) their overall “dwell time” is less, meaning fewer total minutes per person; 2) they are spending less time than ever consuming practice and industry pages (except for the during-COVID deviation noted above) and 3) they are consuming fewer pages per visit than our analytics showed in 2016.
This means that your most important messages about who you are and what you do must be in the most prominent position of your page hierarchy or they won’t get read. The reasons practice and industry pages are largely failing for firms of all sizes relate to both content narrative that is too rambling and long, and poor page design. In spite of this, AmLaw Global 50 firms scored “excellent” on this attribute with an 88.7 average.
Your Experience is the First Currency you have as a Lawyer and Firm.
Attribute #4, which focuses on “service descriptions include experience specifics,” is another critical piece and we mention it throughout the Foundational Best Practices and the White Paper as well. (Download your complimentary copy of the White Paper at https://www.contentpilot.com/amlawglobal50websites2020/) Your experience is what makes your firm distinctive: you handle a specific issue with particular subject-matter variables for a certain person and client organization in a unique way in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction. No other firm will handle this matter in precisely the same way. New prospects must be able to evaluate you based on your experience – this is the “short-list test” that you must pass before you can ever get hired.
If your major competitors are offering experience details on their websites and you aren’t, your firm is at a distinct disadvantage. Do be consistent and diligent in keeping it current. Do name clients (with their permission, of course) or use a descriptive alias. Ten Global 50 law firms scored 100 on Attribute #4. Because listing experience is such a table-stakes component of practice and industry descriptions and excellent examples are hard to find, I am listing all ten here: Dentons, Hogan Lovells, Jones Day, King & Spalding, Paul Hastings, Akin Gump, Winston & Strawn, Orrick, Covington and McDermott Will & Emery.
Design – Foundational Best Practice 02
The Global 50 firms in our latest Study were much improved on FBP 02 – Design over the 2016 Study. The average of all 50 firms was 78.8 (“good”) compared to 54.8 (“fair”) in 2016. First, I want to focus on what has dramatically improved:
- Most recent AmLaw Global 50 redesigns have adopted the “magazine-style” layout that gives visitors a lot of readily available content choices.
- Design on mobile devices has significantly improved. In 2016 we called it a “missed branding opportunity” when the mobile version was an inferior skeletal version of the desktop site. But in the latest Study, the average of the Global 50 firms was 84.0, “good,” (compared to 41.0 or “poor” in 2016). Only one firm in this Study did not have a responsive website compared to 20 firms in 2016.
So, What Is “Magazine-Style” Design?
Website planners and designers must anticipate what visitors want to see based on who your firm’s buyers are. Since visitors don’t read (they scan), the magazine-style layout gives them more choices within eye-shot and control over what they choose. Based on the analytics we track, this multiple-story layout on your home page (try it on interior pages, too) results in longer engagement and “dwell time” on your website.
Home-Page Carousels and Scrolling
In the 2010 Ten Foundational Best Practices Study, we observed a proliferation of home-page “carousels,” which were a rotating series of images and headlines. They became increasingly popular post-recession (when visible law firm positioning strategies were abandoned in favor of “we do everything for everybody” claims). They are politically popular inside firms among practice group leaders who all have a chance of being “featured” for three to five quick seconds before one panel rotates to the next.
Ten years later we are seeing far fewer, which is positive because visitors ignored most of the images and news since they were all firm-centered, plus they have a negative impact on Google’s ability to crawl a website. They also slow down site speed and don’t render well on mobile devices.
In redesigns, the long, scrolling home page has mostly replaced the carousel. In our website design work, lawyers either love the long scroll or vehemently oppose it, but there are practical reasons to consider it:
- In usability and user-experience focus groups and tests, visitors claim they want a greater sense of control. The scrolling home page gives them this, enabling them to travel at their own pace and consume more content without clicks.
- Scrolling home pages increase visitors’ dwell time and potential engagement with your content. They pick and choose things that interest them.
Finally, to conclude FBP 02, here are a few design-related Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do choose fresh, unique imagery that builds your brand and helps you tell a better story – and is more evocative for your visitors.
- Do aspire to simplicity — it works in your favor. Visitors want easy and clear access to information, and they want it fast.
- Do design “consumables” on each of your pages. That is, use containers and boxes to effectively organize information. Callouts, sidebars, infographics, video and podcast features, and containers will get more attention than the long narrative text – the smaller bits of information will be easily consumed. Use them.
- Don’t be afraid to choose and use bold colors – they add energy, personality and excitement to your brand.
- Don’t change the page layout and grid from section to section. It is jarring to visitors and creates a bumpy user experience. Typically, the two sections that are exempt from this best practice are Careers and News/Events.
I am also writing this article two weeks after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis and during the protests that are blanketing America and beyond. While I frequently speak and write about recognizing unconscious bias, it seems more urgent now than ever before. Beware. When working with your designers, consider ALL your audiences and ensure that you are presenting your firm as open to all of them. Design, imagery and content must all be under the unconscious-bias spotlight.
Equity, diversity and inclusion are critical for business recovery, yet there is a risk with COVID-19 that the focus on EDI will inadvertently recede as a strategic priority. This is when unconscious bias can creep in. Use the list below to confirm how comprehensive your critical review of design, imagery and content choices must be:
- gender identification and expression
- native language
- skill sets
- weight and height
- sexual orientation
- physical features
Site Hygiene + Usability – Foundational Best Practice 10
This FBP measures the irritating little things that get in the way of a visitor having a perfect experience with your website. Compare it to having spinach in your teeth or pet hair all over your dark suit. Like these everyday fails, your visitors can’t unsee an annoyance on your website. Sixteen firms ranked “excellent,” tying with a score of 87.5. They received 100 on seven of the eight attributes – all but complying with the ADA accessibility standards. The lowest scoring firm received a 50.0, or “poor” on FBP 10.
Is your Website Accessible to People with Disabilities?
This is the second FBP Study where we tested website compliance for those with disabilities. No law firm scored 100 on FBP10 – because all firms failed the W3C WCAG 2.0 & 2.1 accessibility requirements. We used Siteimprove’s Accessibility Checker (a helpful tool you can download for free at siteimprove.com/en-us/accessibility/what-is-accessibility). If you don’t comply with all the criteria, your site has “failed.”
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility website (boia.com) has improved in the last couple of years and is now a rich resource for law firm leaders and website planners who want to expand their knowledge and understanding. According to BOIA, over a billion people worldwide have a disability, and according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 U.S. adults has a disability. This includes your clients and prospects. The overwhelming number of all websites are inaccessible, which presents an opportunity for these powerful global law firms – and for your law firm – to step out and set the right example.
In January 2019, Beyoncé’s company, Parkwood Entertainment, became the defendant in a class-action lawsuit alleging that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 2019 federal lawsuits filed reached a record number of more than 11,000 – all because of inaccessibility to digital assets, a/k/a websites. They can also be filed in state courts.
Bottom line: Err on the side of inclusiveness and comply with at least the standards that we used in Content Pilot’s analysis – W3C WCAG 2.0 & 2.1 – Level A. The WCAG 2.1 is a series of measurable success guidelines for developers and designers, including:
- Perceivable: Available through sight, hearing or touch.
- Operable: User interface and navigation must be operable and compatible with keyboard or mouse.
- Understandable: User-friendly, easy to comprehend.
- Robust: As technologies and user agents evolve, the content needs to remain accessible.
In Closing . . .
Beyond the enhancement of specific features and functionality that are expected today, with this Foundational Best Practices data and insights global, national, regional and local law firms now have:
- Access to data on how to create a better and more rewarding experience for your visitors.
- A snapshot of how leading law firms are doing and an understanding of how your firm can better compete.
- A practical roadmap to view your website more strategically and to plan your website investments more thoughtfully.
Following the guidelines within the Ten Foundational Best Practices, visitors to your website will:
- Have more fun engaging with your strategy and content.
- Quickly find actionable information they want and need.
- Easily see comparative differences in strategy, scope and reach between your firm and its competitors.
- And most importantly, have a desire to return to your site to find out more.