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Commentary: Top 10 Tips If You Really, Absolutely Must Design Your Law Firm's Website Yourself

G.O.A.L. Web Design / Matt Ryan / Co-Founder, Creative Director & Operations Manager Last Updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It's the year 2015 and I'm utterly incredulous at so much of what is still out there on attorneys' websites. So much rank amateurism pervades the websites of lawyers that it strikes me as nothing short of surreal. I want to help every last one of them but so many take such great offense when I lob a seemingly harmless bit of feedback their way.

So here is what I hope proves a pithy and insightful guide for every officer-of-the-court who has yet to publish a genuinely professional website. (By professional I don't merely mean the fact you paid someone, like your pimple-faced nephew or a kid neighbor down the block, a few sheckles to slop something together. Professional, as in the craftsmanship of the website, its ability to rank high on the first page of organic results on the world's major search engines, and its effectiveness in letting prospective clients know you're serious about your work).

Do not create a blog unless you religiously keep it current

Few things make as pathetic a statement about your law practice as having a blog that hasn't been updated for more than a week or two. I could not even begin to tally up the times I've clicked "blog" on an attorney's website only to see either no content at all, or the most recent item being years-old. Just delete the lifeless thing altogether if you're not going to update it. Dated content screams out that you don't care about your website, you don't care about your practice, and you don't care about yourself. Sorry, but it's true.

Do not use a Gmail, Yahoo!, or AOL e-mail address

It hurts my brain to still see professional companies using free e-mail accounts for their work correspondence. To write that this is common sense would be an understatement of gigantic proportion and an insult to common sense. But I see hundreds of instances of this idiocy on a daily basis. Ask yourself if Sandy Weil would have had his personal e-mail address on his company's website. Or how about Jamie Dimon. For the love of God, create an e-mail address that contains your domain name.

Do not post photos of your dog

I get it. I love my dog, too. I buy him $13 hamburgers, run winds-sprints with him every morning, keep him far, far away from second-hand smoke, and sleep with him in my arms. But I would never, ever in a gazillion years publish images of him on my company's website. Not on my bio page, and not my homepage with a cutesy tagline like "office mascot" or "office security." You are a professional company; act like one, for crying out loud. It's not endearing to have photographs of Duke or Gator on your company website. It's moronic.

Delete those free banners you're providing

If I see one more attorney with a "Free From Vista Print" or "GoDaddy Website Builder" graphic at the bottom of their website, I'm gonna put my shiny black SR9C in my mouth and pull the trigger -- really, really hard. Or in someone else's mouth. Not only does this cry out that you are cheap and unsuccessful in your professional life, and not only are you mucking up what should be a visually stunning page with a hideously ugly logo, but you're providing free advertising for a third-party.

Hire a real editor to read through your content

Exceedingly high on the list of atrocities that diminish the credibility of any publication is sloppiness. Typos, bad grammar, sentences that end in prepositions, missing or improper punctuation, run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, split infinitive verb forms, and anything that otherwise renders your content imperfect, will kill your chances of attracting new clients. Again, take yourself seriously and pay someone with actual experience writing and editing for the mass media to proofread your website.

Do not use your own photos

There are tons and tons of websites from which you can purchase crisp, high-resolution images for your website. Both for backgrounds and to complement your content. Yeah, it's cool that photography is a hobby of yours, and it really rocks that you nailed such a sick shot of the sun setting over the marina with your smartphone, but share those photos with your friends and relatives -- not with would-be clients and opposing counsel. Your pictures suck. Accept that fact and use Getty, iStock, Dollar Photo, or any of the others.

Do not use social media or website traffic counters

One exception to the former. But the latter is an absolute. Unless you have scores and scores of followers, likes, and inclusions, get rid of the social media counters. I see so often the website for a firm I know to be reputable and long-standing with an icon that displays how many Facebook likes it has. Or how many Google Plus circles in which it has been included. And the number is a big, fat, hideous "0." We're so well-liked and popular that we don't have a single, solitary fan on social media. What it more accurately says is "We simply don't have the energy or the resources to manage our social media accounts." Ditch it altogether. It's not helping.

Update the copyright year in your footer

Again, another no-brainer, dopey thing that more than half of the lawyer websites I see fail to do. I honestly believe it's best not to have a website at all if you cannot manage this most simple and basic of all tasks.

Make a mobile version

This is now an imperative. If you force potential clients to expand the screen on their smartphone in order to read your content, you're annoying them, royally, and they're going to look elsewhere for a lawyer. Our company now includes mobile versions of all of its new legal website designs. More than half of your website audience is using either a tablet or a smartphone. To altogether eschew them by only creatin a desktop-friendly version of your website would be flat-out asinine.

Finally, forget doing it yourself. Invest in your business and hire a real design firm

Whether it's G.O.A.L. Web Design or another one, just hire someone. You desperately need a web design company that has journalism, programming, SEO, design, and marketing savvy. Unless you have decades and decades worth of this expertise in your law firm among your partners, associates, paralegals, and administrative staff, you cannot go it alone.

Just a few components of thoughtful, effective website design follows. Fonts that are stylish and consistent throughout your entire website. Background colors that are bold, professional, and understated (read: no pinks, purples, greens, or yellows). Short column widths. Crisp images, crisp images, crisp images. No outbound links whatsoever. Lots of content and lots of intra-linking to that content. Keep your audience engaged on your website; don't send them to others.

A website should be a once-in-a-decade expenditure. Do it right the first time and it will do right by you. It will bring in new business and serve as a reflection of your integrity and the passion you bring to your work.

A professional website should be stylish, easy-to-use, and robust. It should compel folks to call and to hire you. A solo practitioner with a 3-page DIY website that contained images she stole and from which she didn't even have the mindfulness to remove the watermarks, asked me last week why she needed a new webite. I wanted to say, "because yours is an embarrassment. Yeah, I get that you don't have the money for a real website, but you know what? Find the money. It's that important."

But I obviously couldn't do that. It's my hope, she'll read this.

Matt Ryan serves as Creative Director and Operations Manager at G.O.A.L. Web Design. You can read Matt's professional biography, as well as those of the rest of the company's leadership, by visiting the Our Management page.