Making customers hunt for products is usually considered bad in retail marketing. The longer it takes someone to find an item, the more likely it is that they'll get frustrated and go somewhere else. This tension does have to be balanced with the desire to expose customers to as many offerings as possible. But there's a difference between walking past rows of cookies to get to the milk and not being able to find the milk at all.
Many law firms with multiple practice areas have websites that try to be everything to everyone. If the only impact you want your website to make is to pronounce, "We do lots of stuff," then that may be OK. If it's a well designed site, you may get the "we're big" or "we're a full-service firm" message across. The problem is, most clients of legal services aren't that focused on the size of a firm or how many practice areas it has. They have a specific need, probably have very detailed questions, and want to know if you can handle their exact issue. For those clients, knowing that you're "full-serviced" is not helpful.
Stuck in the Shallow End
Check with your webmaster. I'll bet he/she confirms a statistic that's pretty much been accepted as an industry standard: 50% of all visitors to any website only look at the home page. Yep, they peek in the front window, and if they don't see exactly what they're looking for, they move on down the block. These visitors are stuck in the "shallow end" of your site. They don't read the detailed, nuanced bios of your attorneys. They don't see the list of premiere clients. They don't subscribe to the newsletter or check the calendar of events. They don't even use your "search" function to see if their issue is mentioned once or fifty-nine times on your site.
Why is that? Pattern recognition. A firm's homepage gives users a very quick glance into your organization. If there are no indications that you have what a visitor is looking for, they'll move on. The human brain is insanely efficient at processing pattern data. Experienced Internet users (with a fast connection) can scan 30 homepages from a reference site or search engine listing in one minute. If something doesn't pop up and grab them, they move on. It's not efficient to go looking any deeper into sites that aren't immediately useful. Without conscious intent, our brains know that the site most likely to bring us what we need is the one that looks the best at first glance.
So what is the answer? How do you turn rapid-fire-surfers into clients? What makes someone stop and take notice of your fabulous capabilities?
For some firms, microsites provide the answer.
A Mall is Just a Collection of Boutiques
Boutique law firms have a marketing advantage in some ways. By focusing on one or a few related practice areas or industries, they immediately narrow down the amount of "chaff" a potential client has to paw through to get to the goods. If your firm concentrates on SLAPP law, the defense of dental malpractice suits or exotic animal law, chances are your site is already pretty specific.
But if you've got a couple hundred – or even a dozen – lawyers, chances are you've got a "general" law practice, the overall description of which will not attract many viewers past your front page. And simply calling yourself "full service" doesn't help. Everyone who purchases legal service knows that there are a wide range of "full service" firms, some of which truly are, most of which just wannabe.
So instead of putting everything all together in one shop, making it hard for people to see what they want, you can put different practice areas into their own stores. For a potential client, the view will be very similar to that of a specialty or boutique firm. That's the concept of a microsite; a web site that deals with a very specific practice area industry or issue. And if you've got a large firm with dozens of deep areas of expertise, there's no reason not to develop a dozen microsites.
Cheap and Easy Meets Fast and Friendly
Web site hosting has gotten so inexpensive it's essentially free. Many hosts charge $10 or less per month to host a basic business site. For example, the hosting company 1&1 offers 1,000 megabytes of web space, 150 email accounts and the registration of three domain names for $9.99/month. That's more than enough for hundreds of pages of text, newsletters, presentation and media files. You don't even need to be a web-guru anymore, either. Many hosts include a web-based design package that allows neophytes to create an attractive web site by simply making choices from drop-down menus and filling in their own content.
The point is, cost isn't an issue anymore. Neither is time. If you've already got a ton of articles, bios and white-papers on your general information site, you can simply port it over to one or more microsites. Remember – the goal is to look like what the client is seeking. It's the opposite of camouflage; the less you look like the background of similar firm sites, the better.
Keys to Successful Microsites
1. What's in a name? A bunch. In the world of toll-free numbers, a "good" number is golden. If you want someone to call you, which do you think will stick in their memory more: a string of semi-random numbers, or 1-800-[Insert Memorable String of Letters Here]. The same holds true for your site's domain name, but even more so. Not only will a good site name be easier to remember, but search engines will give better results if the object of a search is actually part of your name. Examples (none real, as of this writing):
These are all domain names that state quite clearly what a user will find there. And it's not absurd to think of someone typing "contested wills," or "michigan property law" into Google.
How do you figure out a good name? Keep it as simple, direct and on-topic as you can. Come up with a two or three word description of what you do. Then work that into a site name. To find out if a particular name is available, visit any one of a number of domain registrations sites, including www.verisign.com, www.register.com, www.mydomain.com, etc. Many domain hosts will also register your name as part of the site set-up process.
Right now you shouldn't expect to pay more than $10 per year to pay for a domain name. Yes, there is a yearly charge. But if a provider is quoting you anything higher than ten-bucks, look elsewhere. Some hosts are charging as little as $5 or $6/year, and some even include it as part of your hosting package.
What do you do if the perfect name is taken? Get creative:
- Incorporate the name of your city or state
- Put the word "your" at the front (www.YourContestedWill.com)
- Change word form; www.HipReplacementLawyer.com, www.ContestAWill.com
I would advise against getting a .NET, .US, .TV etc. version of a domain that's already taken for .COM. You may end up driving traffic to a competitor.
Also be sure about the legal marketing ethics rules in your state. Putting the word "expert" in your domain name could get you in trouble with your local Bar Association.
2. Put details on the homepage. Forget about the "welcome mat" style page that simply says, "Here's our site – come on in!" Remember; half the people aren't going to do more than look at your homepage. For all of the following suggestions, start on the homepage and work your way in.
3. Strong titles and teasers for articles. Get a catchy headline and a sentence or two with up there with a link to the rest of the article. It doesn't hurt to repeat the few key words you're using to describe this practice three or four times on the homepage. It will help you in the search engines and reinforce with surfers that "this is the place I’m looking for." Titles should feature a "call to action." Examples:
- "How you can avoid paying the new inheritance tax."
- "Are your disclaimers really protecting you?"
- "The 10 worst mistakes you can make in a contract."
These types of headlines will draw readers in.
4. Pictures of people: The human eye is programmed to respond to pictures of people. We are better at analyzing facial characteristics and physical feature data than any other kind of recognition. Pictures that show emotion are best. Don't just have the generic "two businessmen shaking hands" picture; that's like putting up a big sign that says "We're the same! Keep on surfing!" Use close-ups of faces that are related to the nearby information. If an article features answers, have a picture of someone looking refreshed and informed; smiling. If there's a worrisome issue, have a worried face.
5. Interactivity: Invite participation immediately. People respond more when they are offered a chance to take part in marketing. Doing something also leaves more of an impression. Not to mention that you can offer options for participation that are, in and of themselves, wonderful marketing. Make sure that there's a "Subscribe to our free newsletter" link on the homepage. Have a poll – people love to be asked their opinions. Offer a freebie of some kind. It can be a white-paper in PDF format or a set of handy reference tools. If there's a way to present a calculator or test of some kind, do it. For example, "How healthy is your HR compliance program? Take our 5-minute test and see how your programs stack up to the new regulations."
6. Have your contact information everywhere. Put your email address and/or phone number on every page, including the homepage. Nothing is more frustrating to a potential customer than to find an interesting site that seems to provide the right fit, only to search in vain for how to reach you.
Beam me up to the mother ship
And if you're worried that this "slice" of your practice won't appeal to clients who need a more "full featured" firm, by all means include a link back to the main site. A small link or a button on the menu; don't scare away the fish who are just starting to nibble at your content.
I would suggest that the style guidelines for both sites be the same (i.e., colors, fonts, etc.), and that the tone be very similar. If your microsite is hip and groovy, but your main site is mondo-serious, you'll turn people off. Pick a format, pick a personality, and stick with it.
Ancillary Benefits of Microsites
Besides (hopefully) attracting more and deeper viewers, a microsite also provides an excellent way to measure the response to other marketing campaigns. If you're sending out 2,000 invitations to a seminar, create a microsite just to take the RSVPs and provide directions, pre-read materials, etc. You'll know very clearly how well your advertising materials drove traffic to the site.
Microsites are also an excellent "excuse" to get your practice group or firm to concentrate on what clients of this service are really looking for. Call up the clients you have now and tell them you're working on the site and would like their input as to what would attract them and keep them from clicking out. Get ideas for site names, article topics, etc. These are the people you want to attract; a microsite provides a great opportunity to sit down and chat with clients and really get their feedback. Which is the best marketing tool there is.
Your gigantic, full-featured web site may do a good job of showing off how much you do. But if people don't get past the front door and into your kitchen, they'll never get a taste for your specific services. Try setting up a microsite (or several) to focus visitors on your key practices or industry specialties. Like the "Sunglass Hut" at the mall, you won't leave potential customers guessing as to what you're good at.