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Back to basics: 10 essential website functions all firms should monitor

Back to basics: 10 essential website functions all firms should monitor

Technology provides myriad opportunities for your law firm's website to stand out. With a little creativity, your team can build a site with engaging features, helpful pages and modern design. Animations? Interactive content? The sky is the limit.

What you choose to include, of course, hinges on whether a particular feature advances your law firm's SEO goals. Does that animation help your visitors or confuse them? Does that image make the page design or just make it load slowly?

Technological advances are often impressive, and you should take advantage of technology if it benefits your firm. However, with everything your code can do, it is easy to lose sight of the nuts and bolts of website functionality. And basic functionality is what determines whether your website helps or harms your firm's goals.

Maybe you have just launched a new site, or maybe you have been maintaining the same site for some time. Either way, it is always a good idea to check the basics. Do your links work? Can visitors fill out your forms? Do you have good meta descriptions? These technical details contribute to your site's usability, and they should be regularly monitored.

Get back to the basics by ensuring your site has all of these essential elements.

1. Redirects

Check your website regularly for broken links. Links will become broken if off-site content moves or is removed, or if you edit or delete urls on your own site. This is a natural part of the web ecosystem; pages come and go. However, broken links erode user trust and make visitors question your professionalism. How can this firm help structure my business if it can't keep links working?

Broken links can also make it impossible for a visitor to complete a task. You may run a fabulous PPC campaign, drive traffic to your landing page and then lose the leads forever if the conversion links don't work.

If you are using WordPress or another content management system (CMS), plugins are available that will crawl your site and check for broken links. You can also conduct a manual review. When a broken link is found, either remove the link, or, if applicable, redirect it to newer content.

2. Meta descriptions

The meta description is the snippet of text, usually around 160 characters, that appears beneath the url in your search engine listing. The meta description is free advertising. It is your chance to present a summary that encourages users to click on your listing rather than the others.

example of meta description text

As free advertising, your meta descriptions should not be left on the table. Make sure they are relevant and address a visitor need. If you can, add an emotional hook. Avoid throwing in too many keywords and instead talk directly to your potential clients.

3. Working navigation

Navigation can suffer the same fate as textual links. Pages move or become obsolete, and navigation must follow. In addition to making sure your navigation works, check regularly to ensure that your top links still take visitors to your most relevant pages. You may need to add or remove links in order to direct visitors to your best performing pages. Simplicity in navigation is key. Don't throw everything at a visitor at once. Instead, direct visitors strategically to your most valuable pages.

4. Image optimization

Images should at a minimum be optimized in two ways. Check for:

a) Image compression: All images should be exported for the web and compressed to the smallest usable size. Large images can negatively affect page load times, which is unsatisfactory to both Google and your visitors.

b) Alt text: Alt text provides the browser with descriptive (alternative) information about an image. Alt text should explain the image and its function on the page. For example, if you use an image as a link, your alt text should tell visitors the image is a link, and to where. People with visual impairment who use screen readers will have alt text read to them, which enhances your website's accessibility.

5. Calls to action

Website calls to action are critical to lead generation. Each page should contain a clear CTA relevant to that page.

Attorneys are not typically shy about calls to action. In fact, at times lawyers may be a bit call to action overzealous. Each page should have a limited number of calls to action. If you give a visitor too many options, he or she may become overwhelmed and not make a choice at all. Be sure that each of your calls to action is clear and specific and directs visitors to make the choice that is most valuable to your firm within its context.

6. Up-to-date contact details

As a user, one of the most frustrating oversights is a lack of easily accessible contact information on a website. Some visitors will welcome filling out a form, but others will want to talk to you directly. Your phone number should be visible on every page, in text and not in an image. This is especially critical for smartphone visitors.

Other visitors may use your website as a resource for an address or driving directions. Are you taking them to your current office or an old one? Contact details should also include information about hours and whether office visits are by appointment only.

Use schema markup on your contact information. Schema markup describes your content to search engines. Google looks for this markup when creating local listings.

local listing example

7. Working forms

Can visitors actually submit the forms on your website? Sometimes errors — particularly captcha errors — can prevent a form from being submitted. Are submissions going to the correct email addresses?

Always test forms regularly. Also, make sure any required input fields are clearly marked and that error messages for incorrectly filled fields are obvious.

8. Analytics

Every professional website should monitor visitors. Google Analytics is the leader in this field; it is free, relatively easy to use and highly customizable. Google Analytics provides a wealth of data about your visitors. You can see who is on your website in real time, and the data help you understand what advertising campaigns and individual pages are over- or under-performing.

9. Readable content

Much digital real estate has been spent extolling the benefits of quality content. Of course, content is important. Your content must answer questions, offer benefits and be clearly directed at potential clients, not other lawyers.

Technically, however, visitors need to be able to read your content. Is the font big enough? Is the space between lines large enough to make the lines easy to read but not so large that paragraphs float apart? Are you using a background color that makes copy hard to read?

line height 2

Leading example from:

To accommodate online readers, your content should also be broken into short paragraphs and separated with subheads and bulleted lists. Website readers scan, so your most important information should be at the top — in your headlines and the first sentence of each paragraph.

10. Information about you

This is not a technical detail, but it is important nonetheless. Bio pages are some of the most visited pages on an attorney website. Your potential clients want to know with whom they will be working, and they are interested in more than a bulleted resume list.

Tell a story with your bio. Why did you go to law school? Why do you practice in your niche area? What are some of your formative experiences? Give readers an opportunity to connect with you on a personal and emotional level, and you will give them a reason to contact you.

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.