What makes a website successful?

It’s all about first impressions…

It’s a given: in today’s Internet-driven culture, people turn to the web first to research their legal issues. When looking for an attorney, you can expect that most users will typically visit at least a dozen websites before deciding whom to call.

So, how do you ensure that your website stands out from the crowd?

The answer lies in how your website starts the conversation with your users, anticipates their questions, sets the right tone through content and design, and ultimately establishes your credibility and builds trust in your capabilities and services.

Below are a few exercises to help you form a solid framework for your new website.

Speaking with your audience

The first step to ensuring your website is a success is to recognize that the focus of your website is not really you or your firm…the focus is really your audience.

Who is your ideal client?

How old is she? What does she do? What’s going on in her life?

Write a few paragraphs about your ideal client. Give her a name. Begin to think of her as more than an abstraction. It may help to find a random head-shot so that you have a concrete vision of her.

Imagine each step in the process of meeting her, engaging her, and working on her case. Refer back to her “bio” often as you continue through the process of crafting your website content and design.

By putting yourself in the shoes of your visitors, you can begin to think about how they will perceive your firm through your website’s content and design.

How will she find you?

Probably through a search engine. But, what would she type into that search engine to bring up your website?

Make a list of these keywords and phrases and keep it handy as you’re drafting the content for your website.

By writing with your visitors’ search habits in mind and peppering your content with the keywords and phrases that they might use to find you, your website will naturally be weighted to come up higher in the search engines’ results for these important terms.

What are her questions and concerns?

Your visitors, first and foremost, want to know: “Who are you?” and “Can you help me?”

If they don’t find clear answers to these questions within seconds of scanning your homepage, they will leave your website never to return.

Make a list of the common questions you hear from prospective clients when they call your office or meet with you for the first time. Then, as you’re writing your content, make sure you answer these questions.

You don’t necessarily have to answer all of these questions on your homepage, but the path to these answers should be easy for your users to follow.

By thinking from the perspective of your visitors from the outset, and anticipating and answering their questions, you will automatically gain credibility by assuring them that they are in the right place and that you can help them with their legal issues. A professional web writer can help you craft prose that is both engaging to your users and search engine friendly.

Evoking trust & credibility through design

Second only to content in welcoming your visitors and establishing your firm in their eyes is design. In today’s saturated webscape, a thoughtful, well-executed design can give your firm an edge over your competitors.

However, it’s important to note that design isn’t just about pretty pictures or your favorite color. Good design will be as effective at communicating your firm’s ethos and establishing your credibility as good content.

Again, let’s think about your ideal user…

How should she feel when she firsts visits your homepage?

What do you want to convey about your firm, mission or services?

Make a list of these more visual and emotional keywords and phrases and keep it close by as you work through the design process.

A professional graphic designer can translate your creative vision into a visual statement through intelligent use of color, typography, photography, visual hierarchy and stylistic treatments.

Putting the pieces together

The above exercises should give you a strong foundation for a successful website that speaks to your visitors through content and design and helps to assure them that your firm can help them with their legal needs.

A web professional or creative team can work with you through this process and ultimately help you bring your website vision to life.

Jessica Gore (www.gorecreative.com) is a graphic designer, website developer, Internet consultant, writer and photographer living in Alameda, California. She designed and built the CCCBA website in 2010 and developed the online version of CCCBA’s Contra Costa Lawyer magazine earlier this year.

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