02 November 2011

Cyberspace November 2011


Web sites
You’re a (or part of) a small firm, and you’re busy. Does your firm have a web site? Can you articulate the goal of having it? Who maintains it? Who is responsible for each piece of content on it? Has the content been carefully designed so that it achieves your goals?

Web sites can have many functions: an electronic white pages so your clients can look up your contact details; a yellow pages so potential clients can find you based on your location or expertise; a place to provide information on areas of law to current and potential clients; and a portal for communication between clients and lawyers. Understanding why you have a web site will help you ensure that you have the right information on it. Let’s say that you use it to provide contact details only (and that’s a perfectly acceptable use) - does it have all your details? How about a Google map?

Have you thought about how it looks on a mobile phone? Many web sites are simply unusable on smaller screens. It’s easy to have a web site that detects the type of device in use and formats the content appropriately. For mobile pages you might take care so that on appropriate devices a user can simply tap your phone number to call, or your address to switch to maps or a GPS. Avoid large images, background images, and technologies that don’t always work well on mobiles, such as Flash.

Design

Getting some marketing and design advice will assist in getting the best out of this important marketing tool. Don’t talk to a tech person - speak to someone with a proven track record in design. Make sure it’s clearly laid out, free of clutter and uses fonts and colours that make it readable to all types of human conditions.

Consider what your core messages are, and what images (no clichéd images, please) might be appropriate to provide an attractive and appropriate presence. Don’t have an annoying landing page that does nothing except require someone to click on it -  and they often cause problems on a mobile browser.

Information

If you want to give clients some basic grounding by linking to other sites, such as, say the NSW Fair Trading home page (http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au), then make sure that link opens the page into a new browser window, rather than replacing your own.

What are your core competencies? Consider writing a primer for your clients to read before they come in to see you - it will help them be a better client and save you time on routine matters.

Content value

Don’t clutter the site - don’t add anything unless it has a purpose and enhances the core messages. Consider “search engine optimisation” which, although often spruiked by unsalubrious types, can be very important if you want to come up in a search “Newcastle small business lawyer.”

Diarise to review your site at least every month. Make sure all the content is owned by someone, and that they understand it is part of their job to care for it. Make it easy to add and alter content by using a quality content management system.  A CMS, whether commercial or open-source will assist in SEO, avoid technical errors and eliminate broken links.

Process

To get going: How much money and time do you want to spend? Do you need to get someone to do everything for you, or can you (recognising you’re a lawyer and not a marketer or technologist) contribute? Some people may be able to go to a reputable hosting company, register a domain name, and have a CMS running within an hour. There are many of these (eg www.dreamhost.com) who offer tools that require low-medium technical skills for a quality self-service site. You may find that a blog alone is all you need (eg: http://blog.calvin.it).