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6 website pitfalls bringing your law firm down

6 website pitfalls bringing your law firm down

Possibilities for creative website design continue to expand daily. Code is becoming smarter, allowing designers to create interactive pages that compel visitors to take action. New thinking surrounding page structures and navigation provides alternative methods for displaying content that can be adjusted with high levels of specificity to meet the needs of a specific target audience. It is an exciting time for those working within the web design space. Websites are no longer limited by traditional structures or the need to produce long pages full of keyword laden text.

What you choose to do with the growing potential contained within your website can influence the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. A good online marketing strategy may drive traffic to your pages, but what visitors experience once they arrive will determine whether or not you have been wasting time and money. Seemingly small mistakes or miscalculations can lower conversion percentages significantly. Below are some practices to avoid when working on a new site or a redesign.

1. Loading pages. In some ways website design appears to be going back to the future. During the heyday of Flash-based websites, loading pages were relatively common. They have since rightfully faded away. But now that developers have the ability to create animations using javascript and HTML5, loading pages seem to be making a comeback.

Loading pages were not a good idea in 2004, and they are not a good idea now. Too much javascript makes your website heavy and cumbersome. The effects may be really spectacular, but many people will not see them. Our collective attention span has not gotten any longer; visitors will still click away if a page does not load within one or two seconds. Balance interactive elements with the need to present a quick-loading, enjoyable experience. And drop the loading page.

2. Walls of text. Websites that are primarily informational, as is the case with may attorney sites, can fall into the trap of displaying pages filled long paragraphs of text. Textual information does not engage visitors in the same way visual information can. Find a variety of ways to deliver information. Try mixing video, images, infographics and interactive slideshows with smaller amounts of text. In situations where several paragraphs of text may be necessary, break it up with headlines, blocks of featured text, pull-quotes or bulleted lists. Website visitors scan pages and are much more likely to pay attention to content that is visually varied and broken into easily digestible pieces.

3. Over-designing and ignoring visitor needs. In website design, there is such a thing as being too clever for your own good. When looking at the blank slate that is a website redesign, the possibilities can seem endless. For example, maybe using familiar words or phrases seems tired, why not invent your own? This can work in some circumstances, but those are generally more experiential apps that encourage users to explore and discover for exploration's sake. Your visitors do not have that kind of time or patience.

Design decisions can preventing visitors from finding the information they need or contacting your firm. Too much design can make calls to action less obvious. While a beautiful website creates a feeling of professionalism and allows you to connect with visitors on an emotional level, over-designed pages may prevent visitors from seeing important copy, sign-up forms or phone numbers.

4. Poorly thought out responsive layouts. Responsive design is the practice of creating pages that adapt to the size of a visitor's device. Responsive design eliminates the need to build mobile-specific sites; a responsive website will flow naturally into the layout that best fits the user's screen. For the most part, this presents visitors with a positive experience.

However, poorly planned responsive layouts can fail to address some visitors' needs. Be aware of how users on smaller devices will perceive links. Since there is not mouseover, links must be obvious. Remember that people on a phone are likely to take different actions than those on a tablet. Understand that not all large images or slideshows will adapt well to the smallest screens. All of these considerations and more must be taken into account as the desktop site is being built – not as an afterthought.

5. Focusing only on the home page. You want your website's homepage to be a showcase that directs visitors to easily find the items they have searched for and, hopefully, contact your firm. It is easy to spend a lot of time creating a masterful home page while ignoring inner pages. But in reality, people visit a variety of pages. A check of Analytics will likely show that a surprising amount of traffic never lands on your home page at all. The rise of conversational search makes it more likely a searcher will be directed to a page other than your home page, increasing the number of people who will click straight through to a secondary page. That experience must also be positive.

6. Confusing navigation. Simplicity in navigation is always a positive goal. You never want your visitors to have to think about navigation. The flow should be intuitive. Label navigation items clearly. Plan page contents carefully to avoid causing visitors to make too many clicks. Use breadcrumb navigation to provide a clear path back to previously viewed pages. And always use language that plainly states what users can expect to find from page to page.

Embrace the challenge of combining design with simplicity and interactivity with functionality. Make choices based on your understanding of your potential clients' needs. Sometimes understanding what to leave out is just as important as knowing what to include.

Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend holds two bachelors degrees from Indiana University and an associates degreee from the International Academy of Design. As Art Director for Custom Legal Marketing, her work has been awarded Webby Honorees, WebAwards, Davey Awards, Muse Awards, W3 Awards, and many others. She is also a contributor to Entrpreneur Magazine through the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.