Why Great Design and UX is HUGELY IMPORTANT for Law Firm Websites

Search Engine Optimization with a “VP of Marketing” mindset continues to be Mockingbird’s business focus. We focus on generating high returns for our client’s marketing investments. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) encompasses a broad set of tactics that bring more visitors to our client’s websites. Mockingbird often supplements our SEO engagements with measured Pay-Per-Click and Display advertising campaigns. Our strategies widen the top of our client’s marketing funnel. But, what about the website visitors? How can we increase the likelihood that they start a contact through the website they’re visiting? The real people using a website can be forgotten with the focus on analytics, traffic numbers, and number of leads generated.

Enter Design and UX (User Experience).

Design and User Experience

Design has historically been a constant factor in marketing and business strategy. Your branded website needs to convey your firms personality and garner trust. People connect with good design – they know it when they see it. There is no scientifically proven “best” design, color, or font, but your web design should communicate your brand and connect with your potential clients.

User Experience (UX) might be an overly broad term… It combines many different skills and professions into a job that ensures people are having the best possible experience with a technology product. This can start at the top of the funnel with the copy of your PPC ad, all the way to the experience they have on the phone with your front desk. Every interaction with your law firm matters, whether it’s on a Google results page, on your website, or on the phone.

UX is becoming more important with every passing year and each technological advancement, so there’s a reason UX Designer is the fastest growing design position at large companies. UX designers are becoming CEO’s and company founders at a great rate because of their broad understanding of data, users, design, and business. You might be asking… “Why are you telling me all this? UX might be important for big product companies, but not for me… I just want people to find my website and call me!” But, there are a lot of design and UX wins to be had for law firm websites that can grow your business.

User Experience Improvements Increase Conversion Rates

If you could double the amount of calls you get from your website by testing and improving user experience – would you? Of course! If your website is missing some of these easy wins, making these changes could significantly improve your conversion rates. Many of these items overlap with design, UI, SEO, content, etc… But together they make up the entire User Experience.

Easy Wins

See below for easy UX wins, or as Conrad would say – “low hanging fruit”.


Do: Internal Linking. Don’t: Broken links, 404’s, broken images

Your website shouldn’t have any broken links! Images and/or broken page links will drive away visitors and potential clients. Internal linking or links to other pages from within your text content can improve conversions. A strong main navigation is important and a web design staple, but people navigate websites differently. Navigating to different pages should be effortless for your users – so provide them with more ways to do it!

Contact Information

Do: Easy to find, complete contact info. Don’t: Force one contact method or provide incomplete contact info.

Make sure your phone number is easy to find in your header! If they can’t find your contact information, how are they going to call you? Your site should include complete business contact information on your contact page to increase trust. Show that you have a real location, people, phone, fax, etc… Use simple calls to action, these will make visitors use your contact info.`

Contact Forms

Do: Use contact forms. Don’t: Require too many fields and overbearing security measures.

A strong contact form will generate a lot of leads. Your forms should have as few fields as possible, and as few required fields as possible. I suggest Name and Email as the only required fields. I would recommend against Captcha security fields – this can stop visitors from using your form. Try other security/anti-spam measures instead, and include a security message/disclaimer below your submit button.

Client and Peer Reviews

Do: Display reviews of your services, professionalism, and what sets you apart. Don’t: Create fake reviews or use reviews without permission.

Using select reviews from your clients and peers increases the trust level on your site. Real photos can take these to the next level. Visitors to your website will be more likely to contact you if they trust that your glowing reviews are real and personal.

Live Chat

Do: Use a subtle live chat. Don’t: Aggressively pursue chat leads with screen blocking popups, too much motion, and repeated offers.

Live chat can be extremely successful when used correctly, especially for certain practice areas. Everyone communicates differently; certain visitors will prefer a live chat option over any other contact method. However, don’t overwhelm and scare away your other visitors with overzealous chat options.

Original Photos

Do: Use professional, original photography. Don’t: Overuse stock photography or your iPhone office photos.

Professional photos go a long long way. A professional photographer will be capture your personality and law firm values. These images will communicate with your visitors on a personal level before they ever speak with you. Photos can make you look strong, powerful, friendly, professional, etc… Visitors are more likely to pick up the phone after feeling/seeing these emotions. Just reading your tagline isn’t quite the same.


Do: Write your own content. Don’t: Fill your website with daily “legal” blog posts and news rewrites, or hire a content writer without them ever speaking with you.

Legal is different. It’s hard for content writers without law degrees to write law firm website content.  Most law firm websites use cookie cutter, outsourced content. Bloggers are hired to vomit news rewrites weekly. Marketers can add calls to action and some marketing spins, but you are your best content writer. If you can write 10-30 fantastic pages about your services, experience, personality, and answer clients frequently asked questions – you’re a cut above the rest. You know your clients better than anyone. What is helpful to them? What questions do they ask you first? What do they need to know before they contact a lawyer? How much do your services cost? You can answer all of these questions on your website better than anyone else.

Other UX Factors

I’ve already covered the easy UX wins that you or your marketing team can easily take care of. But, that was only the beginning!

Load Times

Google has claimed that site speed and loading times are a search ranking factor. Having a fast website isn’t easy or simple. Big box website providers and templates are inevitably going to load more web resources than your site needs. There are some easy tactics that can move the needle, but getting the high speed scores requires a large budget and talented web developer. I would suggest testing your website’s speed, your score isn’t going to look impressive, but the tests will hint at areas for improvement. Try some speed improvement suggestions below:

  • Resize images and save for web with compression. Try Photoshop, Light Room, or WP Smush Plugin.
  • Minimize HTTP requests, move away from templates and big box providers.
  • Use a fast, managed WordPress host like WP Engine (this will take improve caching, compression, and security issues to name a few).

Responsive, Mobile Optimized Design

Many people searching for services are going to make their first encounter with your website on a mobile device. Your mobile website should easily communicate your value and allow easy navigation. Try a click-to-call prompt and measure the results!

Professional, Consistent Web Design

Your web design should provide a consistent professional feeling to potential clients. If your office provides a professional and friendly environment, front desk, and legal services – your website has to do the same.

UX – The Never Ending Process

Web technologies continue to evolve at an alarming rate. There will be new tools and methods a month from now. If you stay away from the bleeding edge and use data and testing to improve your website experience, you’re going to see conversion rates improve. UX is one of the best investments you can make in your business – from the search discovery experience, all the way to their first meeting with you, the attorney.

Dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertising to double your leads is insanely expensive. You might double your conversion rate, with the same old traffic, by spending fifteen thousand dollars on: a new website, UX testing/improvements, and a front desk audit. Choosing UX over advertising can mean a much better return on investment. However, make sure you watch out for vendors peddling UX Myths!

Where are the statistics?

Legal is a tricky industry. There are such differences between practice areas and geographic locations. I had a hard time directly correlating numbers from B2C and B2B studies to the legal industry as a whole. Work with your agency and their reporting data to find your “low hanging fruit” and areas with room for improvement. Below are the various studies that I have read and used as references for this blog post. Reading List:

There’s a ton of data in there all pointing to the same thing – UX is one of the best investments a business can make if they’re marketing on the web. 

To push the point home, here are some pretty graphs. Directly correlated or not, they still offer important insights. Sources – Adobe and Ko Marketing (listed above).

Graphs Graphs Graphs

Annoying Buyers Graph

Content Issues Graph

Content Sources Table

Design Value Graph

The End, Or Is It?

Investing in UX improvements can drastically improve your conversion rates. UX isn’t a cheap fix, or something that is ever finished. It’s not a one and done process. You should have the basics covered if you have a newly designed website, but there’s always room for improvement supported by research and data.

Talk to your agency, talk to your clients, test your product, make improvements, grow your business!

Law Firm Website Costs Graphic

Law Technology Today published my post on the Law Firm Website Cost Benchmarking Study we did for the American Bar Association.  You can read all of the goodies here.  BUT – they didn’t include my handy dandy graphic and so, in the spirit of a picture is worth a thousand words….

(Note – study size was 81 different law firm sites, built on the WordPress platform in the US.  Sites stuck on the Y axis – we simply didn’t have accurate turnaround time data for.)

Law Firm Website Costs

Design Matters

Great post from my friend, Greg Sterling covering a Vistaprint study on the importance of good design for small businesses.  I’ve often overlooked the design element, as most flagrant website issues we see are usually technical.  But getting someone to a site is only half (or perhaps less than half) of the marketing battle.

Design is a key conversion driver.

Screen-Shot-2016-05-06-at-9.41.42-AMAlmost half of the population would be discouraged from buying from a small business with a poorly designed website – which was worse than not having a site at all.  So drop that heinous, dated, big box, mass produced template in lieu of a design that lets you come alive.

And while we are talking small business…. remember today is the last day of Small Business Week.  Hope you were able to connect with many of the freebie educational events set up by the Google Small Business Team.

Squarespace vs WordPress for your Law Firm Website

Although it’s been around for a while, we’ve been hearing more and more about Squarespace lately. While it could be a great option for a portfolio or personal website, the real question is: can you use Squarespace for a law firm website?

Pros of Using Squarespace

  • Low cost – Squarespace websites run between $8 and $18 a month. For comparisons sake, using WordPress and hosting on WPEngine (which we recommend), runs $29/month. Although that extra $10 provides daily automatic backups and increased security measures, it’s still more expensive.
Squarespace Pricing
  • Ease of use – For some one with minimal tech experience, Squarespace is very user-friendly. It’s designed well and uses a drag and drop page builder, which allows you to see your changes in real time. WordPress, while still fairly intuitive, comes with a lot more bells and whistles.
  • Mobile responsive – While it’s not uncommon for site builders to be mobile friendly, it’s important. All Squarespace sites work on computer monitors, phones, and all devices in between. WordPress is also mobile friendly, but it’s theme/developer depenedent.

Cons of Using Squarespace

  • Lack of customizability – Squarespace pales in comparison to WordPress in terms of customizability, in both functionality and design. Do you need a multilingual site? Want randomized blog posts in your footer? Have a vision in mind of exactly how you want your site to look? Squarespace won’t work for you.
  • SEO limitations – Squarespace makes SEO basics possible, but certainly not easy. Titles and meta descriptions indicated as “optional.” URL redirects, absolutely vital if you ever do any site restructuring, are hidden in Advanced settings. In WordPress, using a plugin like SEO Yoast makes SEO basics easy.


  • Proprietary – Unlike WordPress, which is open source, Squarespace is a proprietary system. While this might not cause problems short-term, it could mean trouble down the road. For example, only Squarespace developers can create tools for their websites or help you if something goes wrong.
  • Image focused – While for some this may be a plus (think wedding photographers and chefs), this can be a limitation for the legal industry. Many law firms lack high quality images that represent their firm.

Should You Use Squarespace for Your Law Firm Website?

My final verdict? Squarespace isn’t a bad option, especially if you’re on a shoestring budget and have a couple free hours on a Tuesday night to build it yourself. You could do worse. But you could also do much, much better.

Assuming time and money negligible, a custom WordPress site will always be your best bet. It will allow you to do everything you want to do and differentiate you from your competitors. For more information, you can read up on our website build process here.

If a custom WordPress site isn’t in the cards for you this year, you may be a good fit for Echo. Echo is our alternative to Squarespace and other website builders. It’s a legal-specific templated site that gives you the SEO benefits of a custom WordPress site and the low cost simplicity of Squarespace. If you want to learn more about Echo, you can do so here.

If you are going to use Squarespace, here are a few parting nuggets of wisdom:

  • Utilize their 14 day free trial without changing anything on your current site to see how it works for you. Make sure you no index your site during this time so it can’t be found by search engines.
  • Purchase a new domain or link your existing firm domain (use lawfirm.com vs lawfirm.squarespace.com).
  • Utilize the Google Analytics integration. Squarespace provides their own proprietary analytics in your site dashboard, but should you ever move away from Squarespace, you would no longer have access to it. You are nothing without data

Have more questions? Need advice? Give us a call.

MobileAgeddon  – Mobilegeddon Happening Again?

Last week, Google posted an update to their Webmaster Central Blog announcing a mobile algorithm update rolling out in May of this year. The update is said to increase the effect of the mobile-friendly ranking signal in order to “help users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly.”

Google goes on to explain that if you’ve already made your site mobile-friendly, you shouldn’t worry:

“If you’ve already made your site mobile-friendly, you will not be impacted by this update.”

If you missed Mobilegeddon last year, I’m impressed. It was a big deal in the digital marketing industry and a very real example of how neglecting your online presence can impact your business.

With that said, the fallout from Mobilegeddon was lackluster at best.  Mockingbird can’t be the only SEO/digital marketing company that is feeling like a boy cried wolf.

Needless to say, we will be keeping a close eye on the impacts of this pending update and assess whether or not we can ever trust that boy again…

Is Mobile-Friendly That Important in Legal?

YES! In case you’re still not convinced that having a mobile-friendly/responsive website isn’t important despite Google making such a fuss, than consider this:

According to ComScore, people using a regular ol’ desktop computer to search peaked in 2013. Each following year, desktop searches have declined. I can’t imagine someone getting in a car accident, receiving a DUI, or seeking legal advice regarding a terrible work situation waiting until they make it home to start looking for a lawyer. Not to mention the effort involved in firing up the old Gateway computer (they don’t make those anymore) to start hammering on a mechanical keyboard (they do still make those) to find the perfect attorney.

I can, however, imagine them pulling out their awesome new Galaxy S7 Edge (which they haven’t turned off since buying it) to do a quick mobile search and call directly from the SERPs.

Overall vs. Google Desktop Search Volume in US (MM)

desktop search volume in us 2009 2016 bar graph

Graph Source: SEL | Data Source: ComScore

Final Thoughts on the May Mobile Update

If your legal website is responsive, give yourself a pat on the back. If it’s not, there’s no time like the present to make you and your law firm more accessible to the people trying to find you. If you need help, we’re happy to chat: 206-209-2125.

Now, if I were a bettin’ man I would put money on the possibility that Google might roll-out a similar update for a more secured web

Should Your Law Firm’s Website Have a Privacy Policy?

Short answer: Yes.

Medium answer: It’s best practice for you to do so, but not required by law unless you do business in the state of California and/or target children under the age of 13.

Long answer: Read on.

What is a Privacy Policy?

A privacy policy is generally a page on your website letting your users know how you collect and handle their information. It serves two main purposes. On one hand, it informs users on what is happening with their information so they can protect themselves. On the other hand, it allows webmasters to avoid potential legal issues.

Privacy policies serve a different purpose than a disclaimer, which are also good to have on your website. A disclaimer denies responsibility. For law firms, this usually means informing users that the content on your website is not and is not intended to be legal advice (and other statements along the same lines.)

Best Practices

  • Let users know what information you collect, whether or not that information is personally identifiable, and explain how that information is collected.
  • If you share user information, state who the information is shared with and how it is shared with them.
  • State that if you are compelled by law to disclose information, you will comply with such orders.
  • Give readers the option to correct, change or remove any personal information about themselves.
  • Include a last updated or effective by date.
  • Communicate if/when you’ll update it and how you’ll communicate changes.
  • If you’re not a lawyer or you outsource the writing of your policy, get it reviewed by a lawyer.

3 Tips for Writing Your Website’s Privacy Policy

  1. Don’t say you’ll never share user information with a third-party, because there’s a 90% chance you will. Do you have a web developer/marketing company working on your site? Third party. If you were legally required to share that information with law enforcement, would you? Third party.
  2. Write in plain English. Test this by having your non-lawyer non-internet marketer friend read it and see if they understand. If they have questions, answer them in your privacy policy.
  3. Put this bad boy on your website somewhere where users can see it. Add the page somewhere navigable, like your footer. Hiding your privacy policy in size 4 font or only making it accessible via sitemap doesn’t do anyone any good.

A Special Note for Lawyers

You should really probably have a privacy policy, because:

  1. You are collecting information about your users; you should tell them about it.
  2. You have the know-how to create a privacy policy without needing to consult someone else (other than perhaps your web developer to get it put online), so just do it.

Popular Legal WordPress Contact Form Plugin Giving Errors

A widely popular contact form plugin on legal websites has been scaring its users since it released its latest update on Feb 20th, 2016.

Contact Form 7, or CF7 for short, came out with a recent update that boasts a new “Configuration Validator”. This validator scans your contact forms and looks for common errors that prevent your form submissions from being sent properly. It seems that CF7’s developer was tired of answering/fixing common CF7 configuration settings. I don’t blame him.

Contact Form 7 Validation Errors

If you’ve recently updated this amazing WordPress plugin, you’ve probably notice a new notification prompting you to “validate your contact forms now.”

contact form 7 validation message

According to CF7, if you’ve setup your forms properly you’ll be all set. However, even if your contact forms are working, you may also see something like this:

contact form 7 configuration errors found screenshot

AGH! This is my nightmare. Errors. And a lot of them. It just so happens that errors on contact forms are my least favorite thing.

Here are two screenshots of the actual error on the contact form (both are on the ‘mail’ tab and related to the ‘from’ field):

contact form 7 syntax error screenshot

contact form 7 email address error screenshot

How Do You Fix Them?

Step 1: If you haven’t already, install and activate a plugin called Contact Form DB. It captures and stores all form fills (even failed attempts), which allows you to follow up with emails that don’t make it into your inbox. Always have a plan B! I also recommend sending the developer a couple bucks for the piece-of-mind that they’ve developed for you.

Step 2: Test your forms. Send an email through your website to make sure you actually get it. Be sure to check your spam folder.

Step 3: If you don’t receive the email, change the “from” field on the mail tab to what CF7 suggests: [your-name] <valid-email-address@yourdomain.com>

Step 4: Test it again.

Step 5: Check your SPAM folder.

Bonus: If you’re running event tracking to Google Analytics, you might as well smash two birds and verify this is working as well. No time like the present! I’ve also come across a really helpful write up on other CF7 validation errors, why they are happening and how to fix them.

Why Are These CF7 Errors Happening?

The internet is full of scammers and spammers. Just because an email says it came from conradsaamhashair.com doesn’t mean it actually did. There are many ways you can send emails on behalf of other people domains. Scary right?

On the other hand, sending emails on behalf of other domains can be extremely useful for you and your business. Perhaps your contact form or intake system sends automatic emails on your behalf. Very handy if you receive a lot of leads throughout the day. Technically, these aren’t being sent from your email, though it looks as if they are.

The trouble with setting up emails and contact forms exactly the way that CF7 suggests, is that it’s complex and involves you working with your IT/Email hosting provider (who probably knows nothing about websites). Surprise, email hosting and websites aren’t the same thing. To completely remove the risk of Spoofers sending emails from your domain, you need to use email-authentication settings like SPF and DKIM methods (read: contact your IT support).

Adding to the complexity: every email provider, client, spam filter, contact form and website content management system is different. Yay!

In short, you can setup the contact form to work… but if it’s not exactly how CF7 wants you to do it (since they’ve been forced to joined the war on spam), you’ll have to get used to some bright red errors if you choose to stick with what has previously worked.

CF7 Update Summary:

Updating your plugins immediately after a developer has released a new version is a lot like buying the first generation Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. Sometimes everything goes smoothly, and other times you go through three different phones before you get one that works. It also means that you may need to get used to a few new quirks along the way.

We recommend that you regularly test your contact forms (and call tracking numbers) to make sure you are getting your leads. You’ve got enough to worry about – those two items shouldn’t be on that list.

Use a backup system to your contact forms. We like Contact Form DB. It keeps a log of all contact form submissions, even failed attempts.

Understand that sometimes there are false positives. Just because a scanner says it’s broken, doesn’t mean it actually is. Oh, and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow even if it was best practice.

“Responsive Websites” – What They Are and Why Your Business Needs One

Do you know what responsive websites are? Does your business already have one? If so, this post isn’t for you.

Do you keep hearing about the importance of responsive websites and mobile search? Not sure if your website is responsive? Don’t understand what responsive design means? This post is for you!

What Is Responsive Web Design?

Responsive Web Design is used to make your website look good and be easy to read/navigate – no matter what device your visitor is using. This means your website’s content/design/layout is going to change based on the screen size/orientation/resolution of the viewers screen. A responsive layout will ensure a good user experience across all devices. Your visitors won’t have to pinch zoom on their phones or have trouble navigating to the content they’re looking for.

If you only visit your website on one computer, you would never know if your website is responsive or not. Below is an example of a strong responsive layout. Notice how different layout elements shrink, move, and stack – depending on the device.

Responsive Websites

Not every responsive website is the same. There are many ways to implement responsive design on a website. They require adequate HTML architecture, CSS media queries, mobile navigation options, and much more.

I Love My Website, Why Does It Need to Be Responsive?

If you have an older static website design, it’s probably very difficult to use on mobile devices. Ever looked for a restaurant’s menu on their website from your phone? I bet you’ve found it very challenging to pinch zoom and navigate to one of their most important pieces of content. If your business website is not responsive, I guarantee that your visitors are having the same problem.

The Importance of Responsive Websites

Responsive websites are one of your biggest keys to more website traffic and conversions. The search engines know if your website is responsive and what it looks like on mobile devices. Google is simply more likely to serve up your website in mobile search results if it uses responsive design correctly.

It’s Official: Google Says More Searches Now On Mobile Than On Desktop

If your website isn’t mobile friendly, I would estimate your mobile traffic is around 10-25% of all your traffic. We’ve seen that number spike to around 40-50% once a responsive design is implemented. That change is due to a huge increase in mobile search traffic once a website has responsive design. With the increasing number of mobile devices on the market, more and more people are searching for local businesses with their phones and tablets.

How Can I Tell If My Website is Responsive?

The quickest way to tell, is to pull up your website on your desktop/laptop and your mobile device and see if the layout is different. This should be happening on every page of your website, ensuring all your content is mobile friendly. Try checking more than just your home page and see what happens.

The more important test is Google’s Mobile Friendly Test. Try entering your URL into this tester on a few pages of your website. If you don’t see something like this… Mobile Friendly Test ResultYou should think about investing in responsive website redesign! You might also find some minor errors, like links that are too small. These kind of things can be easy for a web designer to change/fix and increase the mobile friendliness of your website.

What’s Next?

Google is working on a project called Accelerated Mobile Pages that will be rolling out in 2016. Their goal is to improve speed and quality of mobile websites and search results. From early examples, these pages look to be at the top of mobile search results. The earliest adopters will be major news outlets, but you can bet on this becoming and important feature for small businesses.

Automattic, the company founded by the WordPress platform founder, is already developing their AMP WordPress Plugin. This will allow WordPress sites an easier way to create Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages. Once the benefits of these pages are clear, you can guarantee Mockingbird will be implementing this on all our sites.

Be the Most Accessible Lawyer You Know

Advance on this post: I recently had the opportunity to design a website for a client that works with individuals and families that have experienced a traumatic brain injury. Different from our typical client, this pro-bono project was made possible by Mockingbird 1% for Good — part of our ongoing effort to make the world a little better for everyone.

This project has been a welcome doorway into the world of web accessibility. I quickly learned how little I knew, and how strongly the lessons I learned applied to the legal industry. Thanks to the patience and assistance of a great client, we were able to design a website that appeals and works for everyone, including those with disabilities.

Without further delay — or in case you happen to be a skim reader — please help yourself to any of these website accessibility tips. And don’t be shy, implement them and keep a sharp eye on your analytics.

You might be amazed how people engage with your website when they can see your content.

Why Legal Cares About Accessibility

Let’s just start with the easy stuff. People with visual, motor, cognitive, hearing impairments, or any type of disability deserve to be treated equally. Everyone should care about accessibility.

  1. It’s not being accommodating, it’s being decent.
  2. Do you have any clients who are elderly? Clearly, with age comes wisdom, but so too comes vision and cognitive changes.
  3. Do you have clients that have been injured in say, a car accident? The workplace? Affecting cognitive, visual, auditory, or motor impairments?
  4. All for one, and one for all. Designing with disabilities in mind only enhances good, classic, design techniques for everyone.
  5. Legally, it’s the law…well almost. You know the old Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and how it currently only requires government websites to comply with accessibility standards? Well times are changing. In some cases, the DOJ has ruled that all websites must comply with the ADA, even if the current regulations are not explicit.

These are some pretty convincing punch points. But now let’s get technical, so that we can start to make changes that are inclusive and a win for everyone.

Size Matters

cat working on computer
How does a screen reader work? Try installing and activating Chrome Vox, to view your website as a screen reader would. Now don’t cheat, close your eyes!

20.6 million people are estimated to be visually impaired in the US. Imagine you are blind or visually impaired, how will you interpret a website and its content? Even more important, how can you make critical decisions like, who to choose to represent you in a legal case?

caption: How does a screen reader work? Try installing and activating Chrome Vox, to view your website as a screen reader would. Now, don’t cheat, close your eyes!

Some people will use a screen reader. All the text, links and images in a website will be read out loud, from top to bottom. Some good practices here are to make sure all of your text is text, rather than images. Be sure to have a page hierarchy that makes sense: important, broad info at the top, clear navigation, and also clear divisions on the sections of your site.

Other people won’t need a screenreader, but will use a text-only zoom. This is set in their browser accessibility settings. To help them out, you just need to make sure that all your text can be enlarged without breaking your site. To test this, try opening your website in Firefox. Select Options, Content, Fonts & Colors and try increasing the font size. Is your site still readable and useable? Is all the content still on the page?

Color Matters

If you have a website, at some point, some designer, somewhere, has probably hit you over the head with the battle cry, color matters. I firmly agree, but not in the way you think. Better stated here, contrasting color matters. Genetic color blindness affects about 8% of all men and about 0.5% of all women.

color perception blocks
Cover one of the larger rectangles. Stare at a similar colored one directly next to it for 5 seconds. Remove the cover and note how the smaller rectangle appears to change color.

Contrasting color is a fascinating topic — placing two colors together can actually change the way you perceive each color (see image below). But color can also determine whether or not information will even be visible to people. To see what I mean, try running your website through various color deficiency filters to experience your site through different eyes.

Even people without visual impairments struggle with content comprehension when there is not sufficient contrast in colors. Changes in vision that occur with age can make it more difficult to read a computer screen as well. People experience reductions in the amount of light that reaches the retina, loss of contrast, and loss of ability to discern details.

So, what is the golden color contrast ratio that will magically allow more people to see your content (and thus increase your pool of potential clients)? Properly known as contrast ratio, the minimum current standard is a ratio of 4.5 to 1. Test your site’s color contrast ratio and adjust to make things readable. Many visually impaired users make use of highlighting as a quick trick to increase contrast and visual focus. Now, onto those lovely hero images you’ve got on your site…

Alt Text for Images Matters

With visual impairments in mind, alt text for images becomes very important. Rather than a tool for SEO or text to look at while the page loads, alt text may be the entirety of information that a potential client has to conceptualize, visualize and interpret your message. So, make it good!

Providing strong alt text can be helpful for both people with visual impairments and those with some types of cognitive disabilities. There are tons of articles on how to provide strong, descriptive, alternative text for images — so I’ll let you Google that for the complete list. But one I‘d like to highlight: don’t use the phrase “image of…” or “photo of…” in your alternate text as that is redundant information in an image tag.

A Side Note on Font Awesome

Let’s jump to an example where I felt sheepish. I have always been a fan of Font Awesome: scalable vector icons where you can easily change the size, color and other appearances. For a website mockup, I used a Font Awesome icon, over a button, over an image. I assumed that this layered approach would be good for multiple types of users on the site, and for providing good visual cues and separators. I also assumed, as a sheep might, that since Font Awesome is popular, that it would be well-versed in current accessibility practices. Well bah-bah-bad idea. Ok, done with the sheep thing, really.

I looked into font awesome accessibility, and the verdict is, it’s not that great — on it’s own. Their website says: “Screen Reader Compatible. Font Awesome won’t trip up screen readers, unlike other icon fonts.” Now this is fairly useless information, when there isn’t additional information to help us understand exactly how it interacts with screen readers.

There are many reasons that icons and font awesome are super handy for websites. Most browsers (used in conjunction with screen readers) expose CSS generated content through the accessibility layer. Meaning, screen readers may be able to describe your icon out loud. Using an icon on a button or call to action is good, just don’t forget to provide an alternate way for people to understand your content if the icon isn’t expressed.

So, general rule of thumb on this one: use CSS generated content only to supplement the design, not to create key page content.

Don’t Be Terrified: Best Practices Still Apply

That’s right, the world has not flipped over on it’s axis, oh wait, yes it has. But don’t worry about that, because all the great things that you are having your designer / marketing assistant / front desk person / nephew do on your website are still applicable to good, universal website design.

Great designs are built in a way that maximize aesthetic and functional appeal to everyone, regardless of age and ability. Wait now — you say you don’t have someone implementing great design, content, and accessible features on your website? Well, seize the day: call someone who cares about this stuff.

Or ruminate on this: how many potential clients are missing out on your legal services because they struggle to figure out who you are and how you can help them?