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5 ways to use storytelling to enhance website effectiveness

5 ways to use storytelling to enhance website effectiveness

Storytelling is integral to branding, marketing and design. Stories are compelling, and they move people to act in a way that raw data cannot.

The psychology of stories

Marketers have long made the claim that every brand needs a good story. And a growing body of scientific evidence now supports this assertion. According to psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock, reading fictional stories changes the way humans process information. The more absorbed people are in a story, the less likely they are to notice mistakes or factual inaccuracies. Conversely, when people are reading data-driven articles, they are more likely to see flaws.

Because of this phenomenon, fiction is in many cases more persuasive than an authoritative article specifically written to influence people. When we are reading dry facts our guard is up. When we are absorbed in a story, we can suspend disbelief.

This is not to say that attorneys should start writing apocryphal stories about themselves online. Obviously ethics and good sense prevent this. However, understanding how stories influence people can help your firm create a more effective website and marketing strategy.

Tell a good story

Your website should tell a story that rings true from the visitor's perspective. And that story must be consistent, both from page to page and from the experience of your website to the experience of working with your firm. Here are some tips for building a site with a story that is persuasive and memorable.

1. Establish your website's purpose. Before beginning any wireframing, design or copywriting you must first understand the function your website serves. Ask yourself: Why do I have a website? Answers can vary. One firm may want a site that validates its reputation and status. Many visitors to this site might come from offline referrals. Another firm may want a site that aggressively seeks to bring in new business. This site might be coupled with a bold online marketing plan.

Once you understand your site's core objective, you can begin to establish what you want the outcome to be for visitors. Ultimately, most firms want visitors to contact them. Other goals may include downloading an ebook or sharing links and site content. You may have multiple actions you would like visitors to complete. Providing multiple paths for action is a workable strategy as long as actions are prioritized and the user is led through each in a logical order.

Decisions have emotional components. You want visitors to trust you and feel good about your attorneys. You want them to be confident and feel empowered to take action. These emotional connections drive action. As you build your narrative, you will begin to see how purpose, action and emotion work together. This will help you make decisions about the specific language and graphic elements you want to incorporate.

2. Add personality. Law firms are often reluctant to interject personality into a website for fear of appearing unprofessional. As a result, many attorney websites read in a similar way, with little to distinguish one from another.

Your law firm should have an overall personality — a set of emotional characteristics that people can easily associate with you. Often, this will naturally match the personalities of your attorneys. Your website's design and copy should convey this personality.

On an individual level, each attorney has a personal story. Tell visitors your story. Why do you practice law? What are some of the significant steps in your journey that have helped turn you into the attorney you are today? Prospective clients are far more interested in these details than they are in knowing what papers you have had published or what judges you have clerked for. That information is abstract and inaccessible to non-attorneys while personality is relatable to everyone. Be as open and genuine as possible.

3. Create a logical journey. Websites often move from a large, encompassing message down through supporting content as the visitor scrolls. An overarching message is revealed in the site's header. From there, visitors can either scroll to learn more or navigate to a secondary page. Your site's layout should make either action easy to take.

At this point, having prioritized content will pay off. You may choose to feature a certain item, like a bio, or show off a practice area you would like to grow. The journey will become apparent as you build a hierarchy of information. When a visitor can move along their path intuitively, you will increase time on site and likelihood of conversion.

4. Break content up into digestible pieces. People scan websites rather than reading them from top to bottom. They look for points of interest that are relevant to them. As they scan, visitors may read only the first one or two words of a sentence and the first one or two sentences of a paragraph.

Your pages, and in particular your home page, should be designed to work naturally with your users' habits. Section content into short, easy to scan pieces, each with a distinct theme. Through this configuration, visitors can transition easily from point to point. They can quickly discern the subject of each section and decide whether that topic is important to them.

Pages that are designed for scanning flow much more naturally for readers than those that rely on paragraph after paragraph of text. Think of each section of content as a piece of your story. Reveal more about your attorneys — the characters — and your services and the experience clients can expect from your firm bit by bit. This creates an atmosphere of discovery, which is much more engaging than a wall of text.

5. Add interactivity. Interactive elements and hidden content serve two functions. Tucking some content away and revealing it only when a user acts (scrolls, clicks, hovers) helps keep a layout clean and easy to read. You are able to present a lot of helpful content while not bogging the visitor down with too much copy.

Additionally, interactivity makes the visitor a part of your story. As a user interacts with elements on the page, he or she essentially becomes the narrator, deciding what to uncover and where to go next. This is empowering. It gives the user a sense of purpose and a reason to stay on the page.

Stories tap into a natural human propensity to learn through experience, and storytelling moves people in a way that rational, fact-based claims cannot. Attorneys can take advantage of this idiosyncratic human characteristic and build websites that are more likely to move visitors to action.

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.