As Content Pilot and Right Hat gear up to conduct the AmLaw 100 Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices research for 2012-2013, the two companies have combined forces and released the latest list of “must-have” attributes for your law firm website. This has been substantially overhauled from the 2010 list.
“Mobility” is a new Foundational Best Practice this year – one of the most fundamental changes to the list, which will never include more than ten Foundational Best Practices. Apple’s first iPad release caused a major spike in mobile access to law firm websites. In fact, it was the tail wagging the Smart Phone dog – until that time, phone access of law firm websites was minimal. It increased exponentially as a result of tablet popularity. As we further fell in love with our Smart Phones' ability to manage and run our lives, our desire for a true mobile interface for the law firm website couldn’t be assuaged with a site that was just “mobile-friendly.”
My Content Pilot predecessor company, Deborah McMurray Associates, started this ambitious research in 2005 to give firms a roadmap for their website redesigns. Knowing that firms were collectively spending millions and millions of dollars on their websites and not making clients and other visitors any happier, I was determined to push firms and their design/development companies to raise their standards, and be more thoughtful and disciplined as they approached these projects.
Using American Lawyer's AmLaw 100 list of firms as our research group, we have conducted the research in the following years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and now 2012. The research team has reviewed many of the AmLaw 100 sites every year; so we have a history of improvement – or in some cases, missteps – for these global firms.
I will frequently blog and tweet about our research findings over the next few months (and I’ll highlight top-scoring firms in each category), so stay tuned. Jeff Yerkey, Web + Interactive Director at Right Hat will also blog and tweet to get the results out.
1. Communicating Your Message
1.1. Clear and differentiating positioning strategy
1.2. Practice and industry focus are apparent.
1.3. Geographic reach is apparent (one office or 40 offices, etc.).
1.4. Contact info is clear and easy to find
1.5. Site features foreign language translations
2. Graphics and Design
2.1. Bold, branded layout style, grid and use of white space
2.2. The site Uses CSS@FONT-FACE web fonts to further branding design.
2.3. Strong imagery reinforces the brand, and is fresh and unique. It effectively advances the story about the firm and what it does.
2.4. Site makes good use of HTML5 instead of relying on Flash
2.5. Site is optimized for equal to or greater than a 1024-pixel screen resolution.
2.6. Site is mobile friendly – all elements of the site can be seen and navigated.
3.1. Global and local navigation styles are consistent—visitors don’t have to relearn navigation in different parts of the site.
3.2. Global navigation uses mega-menus or other cascading navigation that gives visitors a deeper look inside and 1-click access to pages (for all or the majority of global nav sections).
3.3. It is easy to navigate-and-select across multiple devices (desktops, tablets, Smart Phones).
3.4. Cross-linking promotes easy horizontal travel from one section of the site to another (bios to practices to articles to news, etc.).
4. Lawyer Biographies
4.1. First 150 characters of the bio are current, compelling and relevant for SEO benefit.
4.2. Overview paragraph – first 2-3 sentences are descriptive of the work the lawyer does and the types of clients the lawyer represents.
4.3. Bio does not use Mr. or Ms. Lastname throughout – it uses the lawyer’s first or nickname.
4.4. Current photos that convey personality.
4.5. Full contact info is easy to find and links to v-card.
4.6. Bio includes links to social media profiles and pages.
4.7. Bios list and crosslink to practices/ industries, articles/ news/ events.
4.8. Bios include detailed experience and matter lists.
4.10. Associates have full biographies.
5. Content (Other than Biographies)
5.1. Visitor/client-focused content has consistent language use and is specific.
5.2. Content is organized intuitively, by services and expertise clients buy, not how the firm is organized.
5.3. Practices and industries are broken out separately. Geographic regions is a bonus option.
5.4. Descriptions include experience specifics, including client names or descriptions of clients.
5.5. Video and multimedia content is available, and is relevant and current.
5.6. News/press pages are current and written for maximum PR benefit.
5.7. Publications/articles/events are well organized and are easily sorted by topic and author/speaker.
5.8. Site has a statement of core values.
5.9. Site illustrates firm’s commitment to diversity.
5.10. Charitable and civic commitment is described and evident.
5.11. Pro bono commitment is described in detail, highlighting stories and specific matters.
6. Interactivity and Social Outreach
6.1. Client extranet is offered and accessible.
6.2. RSS feeds throughout the site.
6.3. Alumni center or link to alumni page on LinkedIn or Facebook.
6.4. Newsletter subscribe feature and other info sign-up.
6.5. Links to firm/lawyer blogs on home page, bio, practice and other relevant pages.
6.6. Offers educational Webinars and podcasts.
6.7. The site links to social media sites and has an active and current presence on these sites.
6.8. Share functionality is present throughout the site.
7. Site Search
7.1. Site offers full-site keyword search.
7.2. Advanced search link appears on all pages and enables visitors to narrow or refine the search in multiple ways.
7.3. Search results are clear and well organized: Most relevant content categories appear first.
7.4. Utilizes modern search technology features: type-ahead/predictive, “did you mean,” highlighting of search terms in annotated results, exact phrase.
7.5. Site offers multiple searches, including detailed lawyer search, news/ publications/ articles/ events searches, law school alumni search in careers.
7.6. Site offers a separate experience search.
8. Site Optimization and Online Awareness
8.1. Online Awareness: backlinks, link popularity and PageRank for landing and details pages.
8.2. Strong, properly structured HTML content on the home page and interior (H1, H2, H3 etc. for headings and subheadings, doc type, no image-based navigation or other text, etc.).
8.3. Data feeds from external sources (blogs, social media, videos, etc.).
8.4. HTML sitemaps are present and include all pages organized with appropriate hierarchy.
8.5. Smart URLS with appropriate syntax used in all sections.
8.6. Metatags, page titles, keywords and meta-descriptions are correctly used and placed, and utilized throughout site.
8.7. Images have alt tags that provide alternative text when images can’t be displayed.
9.1. Site is especially designed for mobile devices.
9.2. Content, navigation and touch targets are simplified for smaller screens and emphasize the information most often used on mobile devices.
9.3. Content is enhanced for mobile convenience (e.g., mobile content includes nearest parking garages/lots, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, wi-fi hotspots, ATMs, metro stops, etc.).
9.4. Site links back to main site from all pages.
9.5. Mobile design furthers the firm brand.
10. Site “Hygiene” and Usability
10.1. Site perfectly functions on all modern browsers – IE7 and newer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox.
10.2. Ability to collect and bind PDFs together.
10.3. No error pages found on spot check.
10.4. No broken links or images evident with spot check.
10.5. Major section pages print and email easily.
10.6. Site offers dynamic print to PDF option on most pages.
10.7. Copy and content have been checked for spelling and grammar.