Taking a Content First Approach to Website Design

The main goal of a law firm’s website is to create a solution that meets their target audience’s needs and encourages conversions by getting visitors to contact the firm. Understanding your target audience and your firm’s business goals is the driving factor behind website content. We want to convey your firm’s narrative in a way that’s clear, concise, and emotionally appealing to potential clients. Below are key reasons why your firm should start every website project with a content first approach.

Tackling content first helps shape design and saves time.

Agreeing on content structure helps eliminate two major obstacles: creating new content to fit the design AND needing to edit old content to fit an updated design. Both of those events are avoidable if you create a design with content in mind. This can cut down on rounds of revisions where you may end up making small content changes and allows the designer to present your content visually in a way that appeals to the user’s emotions and conveys your firm’s story.

A solid content plan speeds up the workflow of the project.

Frequently, the biggest road block when creating a new website for a client is waiting for content. Establishing the structure and content needed before the design eliminates this obstacle so you don’t end up waiting on content decisions when the site is almost ready for launch. Developing a plan for content at the start of the project will help clarify who will be creating new content, when it needs to be created, and how that content is going to be structured before anything is designed. Instead of waiting in the middle of a project, we establish this up front for an optimal workflow.

A content first approach makes for a better user experience.

When the design is built around the content, the user has a consistent experience across the website. All practice areas look uniform and aren’t structured differently, location pages have all the necessary content for Google My Business and are displayed the same. We want the user to know they are on a location page or a contact page, not guess because one office’s content is displayed differently than another. Uniformity not only helps speed up the website because there’s less code, but when users navigate the site everything reinforces one uniform message about your firm. With a content first approach, we know what to display from mobile to desktop and how the content will scale in different views and sizes.

Content planning provides scalability and structure moving forward.

Often, content will be managed post launch by someone in your firm. Having the content structured and following an outline helps scale the website in consistency and design. Someone who wasn’t present during the design process can manage the content afterwards without missing a beat.

In short, a lot of the difficulties that pop up during the design and development process can be mitigated if you spend some time planning out what you want to convey with your website, and more specifically, what type of content you’re going to use to communicate that message.

Jeffrey Zeldman Quote on Content in web design

Quote from Jeffrey Zeldman, a legend in the web design world.

Tips to Make Sure Your Website Is Accessible

What is Web Accessibility?

What does the word accessibility mean? A quick Google search on “Accessibility” yields a result from Wikipedia stating, “Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities.”

Google search result for Accessibility

 

Why Does It Matter?

The overall goal of web accessibility is to ensure that a website’s content and functionality is visible and can be operated by anyone. As a business owner you want to make sure that your website can be used by all of your potential clients. In order for you to reach the widest audience possible, your website has to be accessible.

What kinds of disabilities are we talking about?
  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Visual

Accessibility doesn’t always pertain to individuals who have disabilities. Web accessibility also includes:

  • Mobile devices, smart watches, smart TV’s, etc
  • Aging individuals
  • Individuals who are experiencing temporary disabilities like a broken arm
  • Individuals with situational limitations such as being outdoors where there is bright light or in a library where they cannot listen to audio

How to Ensure Your Website is Accessible:

Listed below are some simple steps you can check to see if your website is accessible on a basic level.

Page Titles:

Page titles are a short description of a webpage. They appear at the top of the browser as well as in the SERPs. They are used by screen readers as well as bookmarks and favorites. Make sure that you have a title that sufficiently describes the content on your webpage.

 

Title tag for Mockingbird website

Alternative (alt) tags:

Alt tags are used to describe an image when an image fails to load. They are also used by screen readers for users who may not be able to see the image. You can check to see if an image has alt tags within your content management system. Make sure that all alt tags are descriptive and specific.

Headings:

Headings are important for the overall structure of the page. Headings are ranked from H1 to H6 with H1 being the most important. Headings are also crucial for people who cannot use a mouse. Headings provide structure for people to navigate through the webpage with a keyboard or a screen reader. Make sure all pages within your website has an <h1> level heading for the title of the page. For more information regarding headings and how to correctly use them, check out Yoast’s outline on how to use headings properly.

Contrast:

It is easy to overlook something as simple as color when it comes to accessibility. Color contrast is important to keep in mind when designing a website. People who have impaired vision may not be able to read content on your website if the colors don’t comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). To check whether your website follows the WCAG guidelines, you can use a contrast checker.

Check Your Site

The simple steps above are just the tip of the iceberg when in comes to web accessibility. Use this outline to quickly check if your website meets some of the basic requirements for digital accessibility and be certain that your website can reach the widest audience possible.

 

To read more into web accessibility, check out any of the websites below.

https://www.w3.org/WAI/

https://webaim.org/

https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/web/

 

How to Assess the Success of a Website Redesign

Not all website redesigns are created equal. In many cases, updating a website is the obvious starting point for addressing technical issues, modernizing design and usability, or updating your brand. Done correctly, a new website should offer a boost to your overall business.

Key metrics to look at when assessing whether a new website is successful:

  • Site speed
  • Organic traffic
  • Usability
  • Conversions

Each of these metrics can be tackled by answering the questions below.

How do technical benchmarks compare against your previous site?

By analyzing site speed, on page scripts, image optimization, outdated plugins, and even the platform the site is hosted on, you can get a pretty accurate picture of whether the new website offers an improvement over what you had before.

Unless you’re adding massive new functionality or downsizing your firm, there shouldn’t be any reason to take a step backwards in terms of site speed or hosting. Moving your hosting platform can potentially tank your site, and developers with no understanding of how search engines actually work can build a nice looking site on a terrible foundation.

Ideally, your new website should only show improvements or equivalencies when it comes to technical benchmarks.

Site Speed Before and After
The dramatic improvement in site speed between old (above) and new (below) is one key indicator a recent redesign was a success.

Are more people finding the site organically?

Although it’s not uncommon to see a dip in traffic following the launch of a new website, one of the best indicators that things are going well in the search engines is an increase in organic traffic.

All pages you’re trying to drive traffic to should be indexed in Google (and the search engine also rans) and getting visitors. Post launch increases in organic traffic are a great indicator that smart decisions were made during the website redesign process.

Do potential clients find it easier to navigate?

You want your new site to be as easy to use as possible. Prospects shouldn’t be struggling to find information or get to the appropriate internal pages. Without using tools like Hotjar to monitor user sessions, the best way to gauge the performance of your new website is by comparing bounce rate, average page views, and time spent on site against the previous iteration.

If people are less likely to leave, looking at more of your content, and spending longer on your new website, that’s a great indicator that things are going well.

How do your conversion rates compare with the old site?

Even if traffic is up and people are spending more time interacting with your new site, it’s not a true win if they’re not requesting your services. By comparing the old site’s conversion rates against the new one you’ll get an accurate picture of the incremental improvement between the two.

Regardless of traffic, if a higher percentage of visitors are reaching out to learn more about whether your firm can help them, it’s a strong signal that your redesign improved your ability to generate new business.

Is it helping you achieve your business goals?

The ultimate goal of your redesign is to get more business. This can mean more clients, higher value clients, or even a shift in which portion of your practice you’re trying to prioritize. Although it’s not always directly tied to driving revenue, that’s definitely the most common goal.

Very few firms are effectively tracking marketing on a cost per client level, but even if it’s only being looked at on a cost-per-inquiry basis, reducing the cost you pay for each qualified lead shows the money you spend on a website redesign was an investment rather than an expense.

Summary

Website redesigns can be extremely expensive and failing to take a data driven approach is a great way to burn money and create massive frustration. Projects of this scope should be approached as an investment in your business and any good agency will work with you to measure the results of their work, continue to refine and improve post-launch, and push for decisions during the redesign process that will not just “look nice” but actually help your firm be more successful.

5 Popular Web Hosting Companies Vulnerable to Simple Takeover Hacks

Security vulnerabilities are nothing new when it comes to tech. Every day, we are increasingly and often unknowingly putting ourselves at risk for digital intruders. Doorbells, hot tubs, baby monitors, Facebook, Google+ and yes, website hosting companies to name a few. The consequences include potential access to your accounts, sensitive information, or worse.

A recent report by Paulos Yibelo, an experienced security researcher, found that five popular web hosting companies were easily hacked by one or more means:

  1. Bluehost
  2. Dreamhost
  3. HostGator
  4. OVH
  5. iPage

Paulos identified dozens of bugs that vary in severity and allow hackers access to sensitive information, full account takeovers or both.

Given the importance of security, it’s worth noting that the article says the vulnerabilities have been fixed. That said, it may be time to invest in a higher quality hosting company, especially if you use a popular content management system (CMS) like WordPress.

Leaving WordPress Drops Traffic by 44% (and Tangentially, Why Mockingbird is Awesome)

Sometimes our clients leave us. And it always makes me sad…especially when they move to a different provider, who insists on them paying for an “updated” website and locking them in for a multi year contract. Especially, when they were already on a very good, well built WordPress site. But it’s even worse, when this website redesign underperforms.  Immediately and drastically. Our ex client, experienced this as a 44% decrease in website traffic that rolled out immediately after her new site launched. No new content, no changes in backlink profile, no changes to her local tactics or platform. Just a new website on a vendor’s proprietary platform, that frankly can’t compete with her, ahem, “old” (and in this case, the site was about 4 years old) WordPress site.

In the off chance that this was a random change in tracking infrastructure, we further validated the data above in Google Search Console – the results mirror the significant drop in search traffic – 44% in fact – once the law firm migrated away from WordPress.

Take this as yet another example of the value of a well coded WordPress website, which intrinsically outperforms proprietary platforms.

Now, not all WordPress sites are created equal – in fact many of the widely available and utilized templates are extremely poorly coded from an SEO perspective. (This is the part where I tangentially brag about our developers’ collective coding prowess.) And not all WordPress sites are fast – great hosting (in our case, WPEngine) is important – efficient code is important – expertly compressed imagery is important. In our case, we tend to obsess over those things. Now our ex client is seeing a 44% drop in her website traffic.  And because she is heavily dependent on the web for client development, presumably a 44% decrease in business. And it’s a real shame if she’s locked in for a multi-year commitment. I’m not saying you have to work with us – just be aware that platform matters. I apologize if this comes across as bitter…and yes, there’s a little bitter taste in my mouth…but I hope you can avoid the same mistakes she made, even if it’s not with Mockingbird.

How To Market to People Who Hate Lawyers in One Easy Picture

I just bumbled across the Browne Law Group while doing some competitive research in the greater Phoenix, AZ market. Sometimes I see work that I wish we had done, that I wish was mine so we could point at it and tell you…we’re awesome. And this is one of those sites. (But we didn’t, so I can’t.) Instead, I’m sharing this to try to inspire your mind to think beyond typical lawyer branding and positioning.

And let me tell you, this might not work for you. Your lawyerly sensibilities may be completely insulted by law books turned into a dumbbell, or triceps that are bigger than your thighs.

But you are totally wrong.

The anti-lawyer lawyer branding speaks deeply to prospective clients when evaluating a lawyer. You either love him or hate him. And because of that, a prospect’s consideration set when selecting a counsel among the entire legal market gets split in two: the anti lawyer vs. everyone else who pretty much all look the same. For those of you who live under a rock, the legal profession suffers from an overall negative perception among the general populace. So, being the non-lawyer lawyer seems like positioning with extremely broad appeal. And as a side note – it’s more than just killer branding and content – the underlying code on the site is solid as well.

I’ve been writing about this for years – prospects want to hire people who happen to be lawyers, instead of lawyers who happen to be people. Stop spending so much effort branding yourself as a lawyer and instead work on letting the person behind you shine. As for me…”hire lawyers with tattoos not combovers” kind of resonates with me (have you seen my melon?)

It’s not our work, but I wish it was. Byron – when you stumble across this post, know that I wish you’d fire your agency and give us a call. But don’t. You don’t need to – they are really good. But to anyone else, who has the guts to pull some real genuine branding (with or without ink), give us a call.

Rumor Mill: FindLaw transitioning sites to WordPress????

UPDATE: A second, well placed and completely unrelated source has corroborated FindLaw’s intent to migrate to WordPress.

On the phone with another law firm prospect today who told me her FindLaw rep had told her that they were transitioning websites from the proprietary FindLaw platform to WordPress. Now, this would be a major change in the online marketing world for lawyers and something that would really shake up the industry. I received two competing perspectives on this after I posted on Facebook:

Not surprising. Everyone has been leaving for years for their own WordPress sites so strategically it’s probably their only move. Be interesting to see how it pans out for them. – Shelly Fagin

 

We’ll see. My guess is this is just an instance of the FindLaw rep not knowing anything. You could honestly put 20 of them in a room together and still not have the cumulative web knowledge to update a paragraph on their own proprietary system…   – James Eichenberger*

Now – the theoretical economist in my believes that Shelly is right. Having spoken to perhaps a hundred FindLaw clients in detail over the past decade, the long term, captive nature of the proprietary platform and contracts is something clients resent. No one wants to be beholden to a vendor, especially when cheaper, better alternatives exist. This has been, perhaps, the primary reason we’ve easily been able to score deals with FindLaw clients. (To be 100% fair, I did lose one client back to FindLaw about two years ago and that eats at me like maggots feasting on a forgotten hamburger.)

Alternatively, the pragmatist in me suspects James is right…I just can’t see the impetus to move with the market, while you can still squeeze a little more profit (and captive clients) out of your big box brand recognition.

So – in the comments…anyone from Minnesota care to weigh in and let us know?

* – and oh, hahahahahaha I went to link out to Shelly and James’ respective sites, only to find I couldn’t find anything for James, so I moseyed on to his Facebook profile looking for a website (and a lawyer in need of serious SEO?), but no…James’ Work and Education on FB…

Oh James – a beer on me should you ever find yourself in Seattle.

 

How to Inadvertently Hide Your Content (And Gut Your Site) with Pop Ups

Got another call from a lawyer whose website, he thought, was underperforming. A quick review of the site shows why….

While the site is visually fine, note that all of his practice areas display as pop ups on the same URL…the individual practice area content doesn’t actually exists at his URL: http://grenierlawgroup.com/practice-areas/. (Note below – the URL for this practice area is stuck at /practice-areas/, as is all their other practice area content.

And you can see that Google can’t find any pages about specific practice areas:

I’ve seen this with attorney profile pages as well. So…when you are DIYing (and you really can) your websites…be sure that all of your content has a page (read: distinct URL) on which to reside.

It May Not Be Our Fault, But It’s Still Our Problem

In our lobby, we’ve recently installed The Mockingbird 10 Commandments – a list of simple principals through which we operate our business.  Every time anyone enters the office, they are reminded of the way we do business. (And yes, that’s a beer tap in the picture, and yes, I deliberately included it to communicate tech-nerdy, progressive, kind-of-out-there online agency.) One of my favorite commandments is the following:

It May Not Be Our Fault, But It’s Still Our Problem.

We worry about anything and everything online (and frequently offline) that may impact our clients’ business and take ownership of those issues, even if we had nothing to do with them.  One awesome example is the uptime monitor we built to ensure all of our clients’ sites are up and running – and we simply get pinged if there’s an issue. I suspect none of our clients actually know that we do this on their behalf, but we do. (It’s also fun to give a heads up to clients who leave us for a cheaper solution when their site goes down, but I digress.)

And when things go down – we’re the ones who deliver the news – which brings me to Commandment #4:

Proactively Deliver Bad News

So when our client (who is still on a third party

host – yet another reason to work with WPEngine, but I digress again) had their site go down at 4:28am this morning, we got pinged.  And we got on it.  And we are solving his problem – we found his hosting provider, notified them of the problem (turns out a bunch of their sites went down and they were unaware).  We’re working on getting his back up relaunched asap.

Even though it wasn’t our fault… it’s still our problem.