For over a decade Lawyerist has published its annual selection of the best law firm websites. Until 2020 I was part of the judging, so I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to make the top 10. I can’t guarantee that everything I include in this post will be part of the judging criteria in the future, but it is what mattered while I was judging.
If you want to see your law firm website among next year’s winners, here are seven things you must do.
Disclaimer. I design websites, including for law firms, and I still have an ownership interest in Lawyerist.
1. Use Clear Calls to Action
Is there a crystal clear call to action on every page on your law firm website?
A call to action is exactly that: a prompt to do something. For a law firm, visitors generally want to hire you or learn more about you, so your call to action should make it obvious how they can hire you, and it should be easy to find a link to learn more about you and your firm.
For most firms, your primary call to action should be your phone number or a link to your contact form or appointment scheduler. It should appear on every page of your website. And on the homepages, use a “hero” layout to give visitors the clearest possible path to their (and your) desired action. Here is a great example from 2021 winner Lisa Feldstein:
Notice how the hero takes over the homepage and makes the call to action abundantly clear: contact Lisa. The Get in Touch button links straight to her email address. The phone number in the header gives visitors two alternative ways to contact her: text and phone.
Whatever your call to action is, make sure it is prominent and clear. Nobody who visits your website should have to go digging around below the fold to find out what to do if they want to work with you.
You can draw the visitor’s eye to your call to action button with a unique highlight color that you don’t use anywhere else on your website. You can even animate the button so it pulses or wiggles when the page loads—just enough to get your visitor’s attention.
Don’t overdo it. A little highlighting or animation goes a long way. Obnoxious colors, flashy animations, and pop-ups that obscure the page are more annoying than effective.
2. Make Your Law Firm Website Responsive
Does your website adapt to any size screen, from big desktop monitors to older phones?
For most websites, between one third and two thirds of visitors will be using a phone or tablet. Your law firm website should be designed to work equally well whatever size or shape of screen someone is viewing it on.
Use the “rule of thumbs” when designing your website, especially when designing interactive elements like forms. In other words, make sure everything works just as well for someone using their thumbs on a phone or tablet screen as it does for someone using a keyboard and mouse.
The easiest way to check your website’s responsiveness is to simply resize your browser window from wide to narrow. But it is still a good idea to visit your website from a variety of different devices to see how well it works on each of them. You can also ask friends with different devices to visit your site while you look over their shoulder.
3. Speed it Up
Does your website load in less than two seconds? One second?
Websites that take a long time to load don’t feel good to use. Sluggishness subtly discourages visitors from sticking around. This is even more true for phone visitors, who are likely to go back to TikTok if they have to wait very long for your website to load.
How fast? Instantaneous means a delay of less than 100 milliseconds, according to Robert Miller in his classic 1968 paper, “Response Time in Man-Computer Conversational Transactions.” As long as the delay is less than one second, it still feels interactive according to Miller. After that, users start losing interest. Miller found that a 2-second response time is a good target.
However, humans can identify images they see for as little as 13 milliseconds. (Source.) Miller found that 100 milliseconds was “instantaneous,” but I know from personal experience that in online gaming a lag of 100 milliseconds or more starts to hurt my performance. And games become unplayable as the lag approaches 300 milliseconds.
In short, faster is better. Nobody expects a website to be as fast as Overwatch or Call of Duty, but Miller’s 2-second target seems a bit high for the expectations of modern users. Aim to get your loading time under two seconds, and faster if possible. It probably isn’t very realistic to expect your website to consistently load faster than 500 milliseconds, but it is possible to get under one second.
Use GTmetrix to test your website’s loading speed and see detailed information on what might be slowing down your site. You should also test your site using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool since your SEO ranking is affected by how fast your site appears to Google.
4. Make it Accessible
Is your website accessible by people with disabilities or other challenges?
More than a quarter of the US population has a disability. (Source.) People who are blind or have difficulty seeing may need to use a screen reader, braille display, or a high-contrast color scheme. People who are hard of hearing need closed captions for your videos and transcripts of your podcasts. People with cognitive impairment may need simplified content or assistance understanding it.
Other people may have different challenges, like slow internet connections or old hardware, that make it difficult to access your website.
A well-coded website meets or exceeds the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) so everyone can use it.
Use the WebAIM WAVE tool to evaluate your website’s accessibility. The WAVE tool doesn’t check everything—it doesn’t do a readability analysis, for example—but it is a solid starting point.
5. Use High Quality Images
Does your website have great photos, especially of you and your team?
Few things distinguish a website more than great photos. One of the main reasons people visit your website is to “meet” you, after all, and photos are the best way to show them who you are.
To get great photos, hire a professional photographer for a photo shoot every five years or so. (It doesn’t do any good for people to see a photo that looks nothing like the person they will meet later.) And don’t feel like you have to stick to headshots in front of a neutral backdrop. Get photos that show off your personality.
I think 2021 winner Andy Haugen’s profile is a great example of how to get away from the standard yearbook-style photos and show some personality.
You can incorporate video, too. Video can be a highly effective way to introduce yourself to potential clients—as long as you are able to be authentic on camera, with good production value.
Ask your photographer for a variety of poses and crops, including headshots and full-body photos, posed and casual, and square, portrait, and landscape crops. Get a photo of your whole team together, too!
This will give your web designer more options to work with when creating page layouts.
6. Optimize it for Search Engines
Is your website easy to find?
Search engine optimization (SEO) means helping search engine algorithms understand your website so they can help people find what they are looking for. SEO is complex and constantly changing, but there are two key fundamentals: content and links.
Your website’s pages need to be clear to search engines, which must make some (reasonable) assumptions in order to understand them. For example, search algorithms assume the page title describes the content of the page, and also the words in other headings, the first words on the page, and any word or phrase that occurs a lot.
Incoming links also help search engines understand your pages. If someone creates a link to your page with the link text “personal injury settlement strategies,” search engines assume that is what your page is about. It also suggests your page is a good place to learn about that subject.
Of course there are many details and caveats, local SEO, and more, and that’s where SEO gets complex. But at a minimum your website should be the first or second result when someone searches for your name or the name of anyone else at your law firm. And if SEO is a significant part of your legal marketing strategy, your website should rank at the top for your target keywords.
Use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress to help you understand how search engines are likely to understand your pages, and improve them accordingly. Use the ahrefs Site Audit or the Moz tools to get a broader understanding of your site’s SEO profile.
I also built a free WordPress plugin, Little Free Archive Freshener that helps you keep your pages fresh. You can use it to regularly look for opportunities to improve your pages’ SEO performance.
7. Make Your Law Firm Website Stand Out
Does your website make you look good?
You can do all of the above and still wind up with an unremarkable website. A great website—one that’s likely to make it into Lawyerist’s top 10—should also make you look good and help you stand out from the crowd with bold colors and a polished design.
Looks are subjective, but it pays to hire a professional web designer. We had a couple of DIY websites make the top 10 over the years, but almost all of them have been done by professionals.
Most web designers tend to have a fairly consistent design aesthetic. The best way to know if you are likely to be happy with a designer’s work is to look at their previous work. Don’t expect something radically new and different.
Don’t Forget to Enter the Contest!
Lawyerist usually begins calling for submissions after January 1st. Keep an eye on Lawyerist’s social media channels for the announcement!