Law firm website analytics show that visitors don’t read the content that we painstakingly create. Visitors are scanners – they efficiently scale the pages with their eyes in a big F pattern, catching a headline, keywords or infographics that catch their eye. We hope that something registers, and that there is some conscious or subconscious comprehension about our firm among this audience of legal service buyers.
As Jakob Nielsen said in a recent post about website reading (and I am paraphrasing), website visitors are paradoxical. Users go to websites for information (we know this – it’s what we do). But once they are there, they seldom read anything during a visit. There are numerous research studies that support this second statement and Nielsen lists three of them:
- In 1997, the world’s first study of how users read web content summarized the findings in two words: they don’t. Instead of carefully reading information, users typically scan it.
- In 2006, eyetracking research found that users frequently scan website prose in an F-pattern, focusing on words at the top or left side of the page, while barely glancing at words that appeared elsewhere.
- Recent research quantified this finding: given the duration of an average page view, users have time to read at most 28% of the words on the page.
Nielsen writes about “nanocontent,” which is essentially cramming as much important content in tiny spaces and segments as we can. Twitter is a nanocontent source, for example.
Write your lawyer bios with nanocontent in mind. I’ve recently been rewriting the overview paragraphs (first 150 characters first, then 150 words) of lawyer website bios, bringing the richest and most relevant keywords to the top. They’ll get seen at the top of the bio – they may not be consumed five paragraphs in.
Nielsen writes about the importance of being first. Without question, the material at the top of the page – your headline or title, your first sentence, your call-outs or infographics in the margin above the fold – is scanned, and if compelling, it will be read. 81% of visitors will read the first paragraph, but only 32% will read the 4th paragraph.
There are three things that convert scanners to readers, says Nielsen:
- Helpful Information Architecture that guides people to the source of your great content. Within this, we focus on Information Hierarchy – what’s most important on the page? What’s next most important? And so on.
- Effective, logical and attractive page layout that draws visitors in and keeps them engaged.
- Great writing.
All the website analytics that we track prove Nielsen is right. Buyers of legal services want to know three things from your website: what have you done, for whom you’ve done it and what you can do for them. They find lawyer biographies first and the majority of visitors stop there. If you have fully engaged them with a compelling bio, they may want to see the industry pages that align with their interests, and perhaps your practice pages. But the traffic that most practice pages receive across all websites we track is in the single digits — a terrible and sad statistic.
This is a great challenge and opportunity, however, for lawyers who are ready to rethink the structure and content of these pages – and who want to turn your scanners into readers.