Don’t strand your users. Help them find their way.
Stories are engaging in part because they show how a relatable character solves a problem. And for the most part, people give storytellers wide leeway to add twists, turns and surprises that enhance the telling of the tale.
At some point, however, too many unpredictable, inconsistent, unrealistic or overdone plot points will break trust and turn the reader or listener off. Good stories have a flow. Bad stories break trust.
Your firm’s website tells a story — hopefully a compelling one. But yours is not the only story to consider. You must also try to understand your users’ stories. They need to solve a problem, and your website is how they get to their solution.
What problem are your users trying to solve?
Your website visitors need something from your firm. This might be one, or a combination of, the following:
- · Information about a legal topic for research purposes
- · Information about your firm
- · Information about an attorney or attorneys
- · The need to hire an attorney
- · The need to understand a specific type of case
- · The need to know whether they should hire an attorney for a specific issue
- · The desire to check up on a reference they have received
Which of these things are your visitors most often doing? What information are they most curious about, and how does that relate to the problem clients are trying to solve? Your firm can answer this question through a combination of experience, onboarding and analytics.
For example, your attorneys probably know through their years of interacting with clients what types of anxieties and questions they have when hiring a lawyer for various types of cases. Consider interviewing attorneys and staff to uncover the likely cache of knowledge about your website users that already exists within your firm.
Analytics will also shed a light on what topics people are most searching, what questions they are asking and what pages they are reading.
What will dash your users’ expectations?
Once you have an understanding of your visitors and their stories, you will be better able to address and prevent website troubles that will cause their journies to have an unhappy ending.
1. Feeling cheated
Always respect your visitors. Give them answers without treating them like children. Do not state the obvious and call it helpful information. This will leave a reader unsatisfied and distrustful of your firm.
Another thing that can cause visitors to feel cheated is being pulled into a topic that seems relevant only to be given a tone-deaf sales pitch or an answer that doesn’t satisfy their needs. For example, many attorneys have FAQs on their website, at least one of which takes the form:
Q. What can I expect from “x?” (Meeting, case length, process, etc.)
A. It depends, call us!
This is not helpful and likely even harmful, if your goal is to build trust with visitors and prompt them to call you. Instead, try the following:
a) Answer all questions honestly.
b) If you cannot answer a question ethically, do not pretend you are going to. Avoid posting the question and answer altogether.
c) Let the user know from the beginning they are reading sales copy. In the intro to any page content, you can advance your firm as the solution to the problem being discussed. Then, when a sales push is made at the end of the page, it does not seem so jarring to the user.
d) Integrate case examples or testimonials that illustrate what you are saying, so the sales pitch is understood to be an integral part of the content.
People expect certain actions to have certain results. They expect to find menus and a search at the top of a page. They expect links to be distinguished from surrounding copy. And, especially on mobile devices, they expect microinteractions to indicate the action they have taken, like clicking a button, has produced results.
When you remove the consistency from your website by breaking the norms, visitors are unlikely to take the time to stick around and learn a new system. They will click over to another site with comforting familiarity and end up calling a competitor.
Inconsistency can also strike a website when elements, like menus, are positioned in familiar places, but are not the same on every page. Broken links and unfamiliar scrolling actions, for example, can cause an unpleasant interruption in a visitor’s interaction with a site.
3. Making the hero work too hard
If you assume that the visitor is the hero of their story, then it makes sense that the hero be victorious. Victory may be filling out a form rather than slaying a dragon, but victory is the outcome, nonetheless. If your site throws up too many obstacles, victory will not be possible. Some barriers to success include:
a) Long intake forms. Each field lowers the chance a visitor will complete the form.
b) Long forms for free stuff. People expect to enter a name or email for a free download, but they will not tolerate more than one or two field requirements.
c) Hidden content, or content that is not obviously linked to.
d) Poor search functionality.
4. Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting beliefs or actions. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable. It places a visitor in a state of mental conflict — one that people will likely try to escape.
Cognitive dissonance can be created on a website when the proposed intent of a page does not match the reality of its content. Some examples include:
- · Statistics that don’t fit into the page narrative or seem unrealistic
- · Content that seems to be there only for the sake of SEO
It can also be created when a firm tries to sell itself as elite, but pages have typos, use poor quality images, or contain obviously dated images that make the site seem low-quality.
And, cognitive dissonance can occur when the formatting of a web page breaks the flow. For example, strange bolding in the middle of sentences or lines of content that are too close together pull readers out of the narrative and force them to focus on the physical words themselves.
Any website issue that pulls a user out of the experience can be detrimental to a future relationship with that user. Understanding your visitors’ stories and expectations can help your firm anticipate issues and provide a smooth journey from visitor to client.