Can Your Clients Find What They Need on Your Website?

mazeEver gotten so frustrated by not being able to find what you needed in a store that you just walked out? Don’t let that happen to your web visitors!

I was struck by an article in MarketingProfs by Leigh Duncan about her bad experience at an Apple store. Although generally a fan of Apple products, Ms. Duncan described her experience in this store as “bad,” but she turned lemons into lemonade by writing an article about her experience which she says contains some good lessons for anyone managing the retail merchandising experience.

But what does any of this have to do with a law practice? Not only does Duncan’s experience contain great lessons for retailers, but many of those lessons are applicable to law firm websites as well.

Here are some of Duncan’s highlights about her experience, and I’ve added my thoughts about how they relate to law firm websites:

Navigating the store was difficult and annoying. How is the navigation on your website? Are the navigation buttons large enough to read? Are they easy to find? Is it clear what those navigation buttons ‘point’ to? Are those buttons consistently labeled on all of your pages? Are the navigation buttons located in the same place on each page? Can your clients find their way back to the home page easily?

Navigation isn’t limited to the navigation buttons. Does your site include links to other resources or other pages on your site? Is it obvious that links are links? Do all links look the same?

Ensure that signs are not out of sight or difficult to read. Does your site contain sufficient signage? Is every page clearly labeled? When your web visitor arrives at your site, are there clear signs that indicate that they’re in the right place? Are the titles or headlines on each page sufficient to alert the visitor exactly where they are on your site?

Signage is particularly important on a home page or particular landing pages to which your web visitors are directed. Studies have shown that web visitors decide in only a few seconds whether a site is likely to provide them with what they’re looking for. If they have to guess, or take time to figure it out, chances are they’ll be gone before you know it.

Don’t make it difficult to get help. Duncan suggests that stores should provide customers with visible help, possibly in the form of employees that greet customers as they arrive. Your website should have virtual help conspicuously available, too. Is your contact information easy to locate on the site? Can your website visitor contact you from any page? Is there a way that visitors can ask questions? Does your site provide visitors with the information they’re seeking? Is there enough information on your site for visitors to feel comfortable with you and your firm?

Are you directing your web visitor through your site, suggesting the ‘next step’ on your site that they might want to visit? You’re not there in person to direct them the way you would be if you were giving a potential client a tour of your office, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to guide them. Make sure your website guides your visitor where you want them to go. And don’t forget to include a call to action so that your visitors know what to do; encourage them to contact you!

Don’t make visitors ‘work’ too hard find what they need. How much are you making your website visitors ‘work’ to get the information they need? If someone comes to your site looking for information on a particular practice area, how many ‘clicks’ does it take for them to get there? Can they tell at a glance how to obtain this information? Is it easy to read the information?

Is the layout clear and uncluttered? Is the font large enough to read? Is it clear? Do the colors contribute to the impression that your site is trying to create? Do they blend into one another, making text difficult to read? Are they too jarring?

Is your site organized in a logical way? Are the names of your links and navigation buttons easily understandable to your average web visitor/potential client/referral source, or are other lawyers the only ones that would understand the titles and links? Would your average client easily understand your text without you there to explain it?

Let people get in and out easily. Are there barriers to entering your site, such as flash introductions or graphics that take a long time to load? Most visitors are likely to click away, rather than put up with the wait or the introduction when they’re looking for information.

Although audio can be an effective addition to a website, audio which plays automatically when a website loads can be distracting and annoying, particularly when the web visitor reaches your site during work hours, when they don’t want to ‘announce’ their presence on your site, or don’t wnat to disturb others in the area.

Don’t place congested areas close together. Although your website won’t have problems of congestion and crowding the way a retail store might, visual congestion is an important consideration for law firm websites. Too much visual clutter can tire and confuse visitors, making them more likely to click away from your site. The eye needs a place to rest – is there enough white space on your web pages to encourage visitors to keep reading?

Remember your ‘customers’ when designing your website, and consistently review your site to ensure that it is continuing to meet the needs of those customers. And remember also that where your website is concerned, your customers include not only potential clients, but also current clients and referral sources, among others. Make sure you make their ‘visit’ to your virtual office on the web is a pleasant experience, and one they would like to repeat.

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Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices

P.S. Found a mistake or a bug? If there’s anything that bothers you about this site, I want to know! Send me an email at I want this site to be not just a resource, but a refuge for lawyers. I want you to be comfortable here.  So if there’s something that bothers you, please tell me!