Less than one second. That’s all it takes for a visitor to form an opinion about your website. Depending on how your site performs or how it visually appears could mean the difference between a future client or not.

Does your website need a facelift? Or maybe a complete overhaul? Whichever the case, use the tips below as a checklist to ensure you are providing the best user experience for your visitors.

There is something to be said for making a good first impression. Make your website count.

Write in plain English.

Lawyers have their own specialized language, necessary for legal briefs and arguments. But when writing website content, consider your audience. Who is reading this? Who do you want to be reading this? Clients, prospects, potential hires, referral sources, members of the media, opposing counsel, and others will visit your site, so your message and tone should be crystal clear and consistent. Your voice can be professional and authoritative, but still approachable.

While keeping your prose readable, also include visuals to help break up any wall of text. People are increasingly accustomed to consuming content visually – infographics, videos, and other ways. The message in these visuals must also be easy for your website visitor to understand. If the purpose or meaning of a graph or infographic is confusing, you risk losing your audience.

Emphasize video.

Yes, we just said that visual content is becoming more and more important. According to HubSpot, having a video on your landing page can increase conversion rates by more than 80%!

However, don’t just post video for video’s sake. Make sure your videos serve a purpose: think about what could help your audience. If you hear one type of question from your clients again and again, consider a brief FAQ video that answers the question at a high-level and exhibits your knowledge on the subject-matter. This will also result in humanizing the attorneys at your firm. One well-thought-out, high-quality video is better than a dozen random, irrelevant ones.

Personalize the user experience.

Personalization is the practice of customizing a user’s experience of your website based on their past behavior or what you know about them. A familiar example of this is how Amazon presents each user with recommendations based on information they gather.

You are not likely to do this on the scale of Amazon, but the idea is similar: you want to present users with relevant content, so they stay on the site longer, interact with the site, and ultimately contact your firm, via email, phone, form, chat, text, or submitting an RFP.

Visitors have come to expect personalized website content. We’ll say it again: know your audience.

Make sure there are no dead-ends.

Guide the visitor through your site. Don’t leave them wondering where to go next; rather, usher them to the next relevant page or piece of content. If a visitor comes to the end of a page and has to choose where to go next, they could leave the site altogether.

Avoid that by offering related content. For example, on a legal alert page about changes in tax law, include links to bios for tax lawyers who work in this area, links to other tax law legal alerts, and finally links to descriptions on the tax practice and other practices that folks who need legal tax services may also need.

We can take cues from e-commerce sites that sell you a smoke alarm and suggest that you might also be interested in 9-volt batteries–get the two-pack while you’re at it!

Capture visitor data.

Professional services are rarely (if ever) an impulse purchase, so prospective clients may visit your website several times before they decide to contact you. Having a form to collect user data, in exchange for valuable and relevant free content, is a great way to start channeling your prospects.

However, forms can also be roadblocks for visitors, so make sure they’re not too onerous to fill out and the content is worthwhile in exchange for the visitor’s contact information. Consumers have become more wary of giving out personal information. Establish your credibility by managing expectations. Let the visitor know what they will gain from downloading the resource.

Deploy fresh and timely content on the homepage and news/articles/blog pages.

Make sure you’re not featuring an article from January 2020 talking about strong job numbers and soaring employment. (Whoops! We’ve actually seen this.)

Institute a quarterly review to ensure content on static pages–Home, About, Careers, Diversity, etc.–is accurate and timely. Additionally, use your content calendar to help keep the website content fresh and up-to-date. If you don’t have one handy, you can adapt our social media content calendar to keep your writing on task. Having relevant and timely content is one way to establish credibility with users. If you give a user value, you gain their trust and communicate your authority on the topic.

One other thing: consider dumping the carousel. I know, I know, the carousel is visual, it moves, it’s eye-catching. But, also, its frequent movement can make people think it’s an ad, so they may ignore it. Moving elements can have a negative impact on accessibility, especially for those with motor skill issues. Many people can have a hard time reading all the text before a slider advances. Since each slide’s content is only visible some of the time, content may easily be missed.

Focus on web accessibility.

Consider this: 1 in 4 people are living with some sort of disability. Be it auditory, cognitive, physical, or otherwise, these disabilities impact how a person visiting your website is able to navigate and interact with the information you are sharing. If clients and prospects can’t access content that is important to them on your website, what does that tell them about your priorities as a firm?

Connect content across the site.

All content should be neatly organized and tagged by attorney, practice, and type, so related content is automatically filtered and presented together–possibly on a practice area page. These pages essentially become a one-stop-shop for a topic, but the beauty is that the website visitor will not stop, they will keep clicking through.

For example, if there is a litigation practice area page, in addition to the titillating description of your firm’s practice, also include the following: bios of your litigators, industries in which they practice litigation, related legal alerts/news/blog posts on litigation, matters and verdicts from your litigation practice, quotes and testimonials, and related practices or sub-practices that clients and prospects hiring litigators may also be interested in.

But these should not just be listed on the page, your 2021 website should dynamically present the relevant, related information because it’s all categorized and tagged in the content management system of the site.

Make sure your site’s navigation is mobile-friendly.

Think about how many times you pick up your mobile device every day. You are not alone: about 60% of searches are carried out on mobile devices. So you already know that your law firm’s website must have a mobile-friendly design, but how can you optimize your design for mobile navigation?

Think “thumb-friendly.” Touch targets are any on-screen element that someone can click, touch, or interact with in some way. Size matters here: some users may have a harder time tapping smaller buttons, which can be an accessibility issue. You want users to be able to navigate your site with ease. Google recommends building mobile pages with a minimum touch target size of 48 pixels with a properly set viewport. And touch targets should be spaced about 32 pixels apart, both horizontally and vertically.

Your mobile site is not simply a smaller version of the same website layout on desktop. Elements should be rearranged, reorganized, and even reimagined for use on mobile devices because your real estate is much more limited than on a full site, and bigger touch targets are one design element to focus on.

Bonus: In addition to design, review your Google Analytics reports to see which pages are viewed most on mobile, and focus on those first. Bios with live phone and email links and locations with easy links for directions to the offices are even more relevant when not tied to the desktop. The screens are smaller and so are the attention spans of folks on mobile–imagine what distractions they might be facing, so you need to cut to the chase. To that end: keep labels as short as possible; limit the number of options in mobile menus; consider what links need to be included to help visitors complete priority tasks.

Finally, consider search as part of the navigation. Website visitors are accustomed to searching for exactly what they are looking for and don’t want to trudge through menus and pages to find it. Again, think of Amazon and Google.

Build a website for voice search.

Smart speakers and virtual assistants are changing the way we live and the way we search for information online. In fact, it is predicted that this year, over half of all searches will be done via voice. I use the voice feature on my phone every day for search, texting, and other messages. It feels faster, easier, and more convenient to talk when I’m on the move, rather than stopping, taking off my winter gloves, and typing something. I prefer it even if I’m home, but elbow-deep in cookie dough–just like the commercials!

But search is more than just talking into your phone. The value within voice search is the way the search algorithms have evolved to assess the intent of the search performed and provide the result the searcher really wants. Isn’t that what we all want–someone (or something) who knows what we’re looking for?

The best way to make your website friendly for voice searches is to utilize search engine optimization best practices. The keyword research and tagging serves as the same metadata to communicate the website and page content to smart speakers as SEO.

Many of these recommendations boil down to putting yourself in the shoes of your website audience. Providing value to the website visitor in exchange for their time, making their experience easy by presenting relevant content in an intuitive way, and designing and developing a site that is accessible to everyone are the keys to your best 2021 website.