Saturday, June 29, 2013

Best Web Design Practices for Law Firms

In a recent post from the Bear Creek Web blog, we examined a specific client vertical and key points to consider when designing a new website.  Law firms need accurate and quality representation online, and a quality website is a large part of this.  Here is the post from the blog:

Lawyers and legal firms have unique needs when it comes to web design. Like other professional service providers, law firms have to sell an intangible product – their experience and expertise in the legal field. However, lawyers also face the unique challenge of not being able to provide guarantees to their potential clients. Overcoming these obstacles requires careful web design and content decisions that put clients first.
Here are our top five tips for law firm web design to showcase your expertise and bring in more leads:

Law Firm Web Design Tip 1: Design for the User

When potential clients come to your website, you want them to be able to find the information they need, fast. With the competition literally only a click away, you can't afford to waste the time of your website's visitors. Gain their attention and build trust by:
  • Designing your homepage to provide immediate information about how you help your clients
  • Creating website navigation that is easy to use and is labeled logically
  • Organizing your website in a way that is intuitive to laypeople (and not legal experts)
  • Adopting a client-centric focus for both design and copy

Law Firm Web Design Tip 2: Answer Questions the Right Way

Chances are good that when someone needs legal help, they have questions about their situation. As a legal professional, you probably have heard many of the same questions repeatedly. While it can be tempting to put all of these questions into a FAQ section on your website, you risk missing out on a major opportunity to connect with potential clients if you go that route. Instead, consider:
  • Creating blog posts around each topic/question – this allows you to provide a thoughtful response that will boost SEO, demonstrate your expertise, and give potential clients an avenue to respond
  • Creating whitepapers/ebooks around common issues – if you collect information from people who download, you can follow up to answer questions and offer your services

Law Firm Web Design Tip 3: Localize & Specialize

Having a great user experience and helpful information is only part of the picture. You also need to think about how your website appears in search engines. If you are creating good content around the topics that your potential clients are searching for, this will help your search engine rankings. Other ways to be sure you show up in search are:
  • Create your Google+ page and include location information for your law firm to help you get found in local search
  • Include your location information on your website, both on specific contact pages and in other areas such as the footer
  • Include individual pages on your website about the specialties you cover, both for SEO and informational purposes

Law Firm Web Design Tip 4: Show & Tell

Trust is an important deciding factor in choosing a law firm and one that you must capitalize on to grow your client base. While the majority of trust may come from initial consultations and one-on-one interactions, there are many things you can do in terms of web design to build trust:
  • Professional Affiliations (when they pertain to your legal expertise)
  • Accreditations
  • Relevant Awards
  • Client Testimonials
  • Describe successful legal outcomes (with the proper disclaimers)
  • Educate potential clients on what to expect during the legal proceedings
  • Link to places where potential clients can find more information
Law Firm Web Design Tip 5: Invite Contact Explicitly
Contacting a lawyer can be a stressful proposition, and potential clients likely have different preferences for initiating that first conversation. Don't limit your contact information to your contact page – having a simple web form on multiple pages can increase the chances that your website visitors will reach out when they need help.
Likewise, tell your website visitors to contact you, and encourage them to ask questions via your blog or social media channels (if you have adequate support that will monitor those areas). For mobile websites, enable click-to-call functionality so that people can call you on the go and don't have to fill out a form.
When potential clients have an easy way to contact you and are told exactly how to do so, this reduces hesitance and can increase leads.
Putting the pieces together for successful law firm web design can be complex, but if you take it a step at a time and remember to focus on the needs of your clients, you will see greater ROI from your online investment.
If you need help designing a web site for your law firm, we're here to assist. Get in touch with us and one of our helpful design experts will be happy to walk you through the first steps.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

UX Design Tips – 3 Tips for Designing Websites for Real People

When designing a website many businesses forget the most important part:  The visitor.  Here is an in-depth post from our seattle web design blog on how to avoid skipping this key ingredient to your web presence:

Positive user experience is an essential component of successful website design. However, designing for end-users can be challenging because of the multiple methods that people use to consume online media. In today's mobile driven world, people expect UX designs to be fast, responsive, and intuitive. Meanwhile, business objectives demand that users successfully engage and convert regardless of actual design elements.
Meeting these (sometimes seemingly divergent) expectations requires diligent planning and execution based not only on best design practices, but on a thorough knowledge of the platform that will be used to present your information.

Design Challenge 1: Ensuring People Remember Information

At their most basic, websites are designed to convey information that people can act upon in some way. Therefore, the biggest goal of successful UX design is ensuring that people get the information they need to take an informed action.
For business websites, the informed action is often a conversion – filling out a contact form, completing an order, signing up for newsletter, etc. – and how the information is presented directly affects conversion rates.
There are several ways that design can positively impact conversion, and help people to remember vital information:
  • Relevant images/media – rather than using standard stock images, well-crafted UX design includes images of the actual product being offered, or demonstration videos.
  • Charts and graphs – for numerical data, visual representation can help people remember the most important aspects, and focus on the areas that your company wants them to remember.
  • Font and color choice – highlighting your call to action or other key information makes it easier for users to zero in on the content that is most valuable and take the appropriate next step.
  • Menus and sub menus – the organization of the website itself will help users to find what they need. Consider how to best present information within your main navigation and sitemap.

Design Challenge 2: Keeping Users Engaged Throughout Process Flow

There are multiple situations where users are expected to engage in a process flow on a website. Some pertinent examples include surveys and order forms. Many businesses have drop-offs in conversion rates that can be directly traced to poor UX design in the process flow. When designing a process with multiple steps, keep these things in mind:
  • Set expectations early – this is important for processes such as surveys and sign up forms. Users should know how much time they will need to invest to complete the task at the start. This will reduce abandonment in the middle of multiple-step processes.
  • Provide visual cues – tooltips, icons, and other visual indicators help users to understand what type of information they are expected to provide. Additionally, visual cues can be used to clarify instructions provided elsewhere.
  • Indicate progress consistently – this can be done with a 'step x of y' approach or a '% complete' approach. Whichever method you choose should be prominent enough for users to be able to tell at a glance how far along in the process they are. For some instances, brief instructions can be incorporated in this indicator.

    Example:  Step 1: Shipping Information; Step 2: Billing Information; Step 3: Order Review

  • Provide visual confirmation of completion – after submission of the form, make the confirmation prominent in order to avoid duplicate submissions and user confusion. This is especially important when the confirmation is for product orders and sales.

Design Challenge 3: Meeting Mobile Expectations

Mobile UX design provides its own challenges in that there is a limited amount of screen real estate available for all of the information that needs to be communicated to the user. Users expect a certain level of functionality when it comes to mobile websites, and often expect features that are mobile-only in design (for example, tap to call).
When creating a mobile version of your website, or building a mobile application from the ground up there are several areas of UX design to consider:
  • Buttons and layout – when designing for mobile, buttons need to be large enough that they are easily tapped with a single finger without causing mis-clicks and user frustration. This means that layouts will need to be simplified and only essential menu items included.
  • Font and color choices – because of the smaller screens on many mobile devices, the font you choose must be highly legible and the colors must provide adequate contrast. Avoid light colored text as well as pastel backgrounds.
  • Mobile functionality – when designing certain elements such as maps, keep in mind the additional functionality available to mobile users. For example, instead of a static map, link to Google maps in order to provide immediate directions and navigation instructions. Account information should update across mobile devices and web applications seamlessly and simultaneously.
Great website design is about more than just great content, or an attractive look. You must design the individual elements of your website to provide the best user experience for website visitors on both desktop and mobile. Proper UX design is important if you want your users to successfully engage with your website and complete the multiple conversions that lead to sales.
Understanding the details of UX development can be complicated even for seasoned business owners. If you need help in optimizing UX design on your website, we're here to help. Get in contact with one of our experts to discuss how we update the design of your site to meet user expectations and increase conversions and sales.
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Art of the Website Content Audit

A recent post for the blog on our website, this post deals in depth with important points to consider when auditing your website - for design, function, and usability.

Blog posts, whitepapers, social media posts, infographics, – it's easy to get caught up in the curation and production side of content marketing.  This is especially the case when you have a small staff working on tight deadlines to produce content for multiple online marketing channels.

However, if you truly want to maximize the value of the content you offer to your audience, you also need to implement regular content audits.

The Content Audit as an Optimization Tool

Targeted content is a powerful inbound marketing tool, and it is most effective when it aligns with:
  • The needs of your audience
  • The interests of your audience
  • The typical sales cycle of your business
  • The structure and flow of your website
There are many types of evaluations that may rightly be called a content "audit". For our purposes, what we mean is a thorough examination of how well your current content production has addressed the areas above.

Performing the Content Audit

The typical content audit happens in three phases: gap assessment, flow assessment, and analytics assessment. Afterwards, additional content may be needed to address any areas of weakness found in the audit.
In terms of scheduling, most small businesses should consider having a quarterly content audit. For companies with a very small staff, a biannual content audit is still useful and can help to shape the direction of both content production and conversion optimization.

Gap Assessment

The first step in auditing your content is the gap assessment. This assessment uncovers areas where you may lack relevant content for your target audience and it follows a four-step process:
  1. List the questions prospective customers are most likely to ask at each stage of the sales cycle (Awareness, Research, Evaluation, Purchase).
  2. List the content (blog posts, social media posts, etc.) you currently have that addresses each of the questions in your previous list.
  3. List the multimedia & downloadable content (webinars, whitepapers, presentations) you currently have that addresses each of the questions in your previous list.
  4. On a scale of 1 to 5, rate how accessible this content is for the average user. For example, a blog post that is displayed prominently on your website might have a rating of 5 for accessibility, while a whitepaper that requires full registration and email confirmation to download might be a 1 in terms of accessibility.
Ideally, you will have content for each section of the sales cycle, with content for the top of the funnel being highly accessible. "Gating" your content – requiring registration or an email address to download an ebook, for example – should be tested in other stages of the sales cycle. You want to find the optimum mix of maximum exposure while still being able to capture information on your high-value leads for sales follow-up.
Don't Forget SEO: Another aspect of the gap assessment that you may wish to incorporate into your own content audit is Keyword/SEO optimization assessment – how well your content is optimized for the types of searches that occur at various stages in the sales cycle. This will help to ensure that your content gets found by those who need it most.

Flow Assessment

The gap assessment will expose any areas where your company needs to produce additional content in order to cover the entire sales funnel. By contrast, the flow assessment evaluates your current content, and how well it guides potential customers towards a purchase.
Because every website is laid out differently, your flow assessment will be unique to your company. At minimum, you want to answer these questions:
  1. How well does my website guide users to related content? (Example: If you have a blog post on dog grooming techniques, are there links to other content such as how to choose grooming supplies or shampoo?)
  2. How well does my website guide users to deeper content? (Example: If you have a whitepaper on best practices for online security, does it include links to your online demos or webinars for users who want more detailed information?)
  3. How well does my website help users to find what they are looking for? Is the information presented logically so that someone who comes to my homepage is able to find the information they need with minimal effort?
  4. How well is my online content integrated with other channels such as social media and email marketing? Can users who come to my website via these channels readily find additional information on the topic that brought them to the site?
Here, you want website visitors to be able to find information easily, and be guided logically towards conversion. If you have minimal links to internal pages, or very few references to where people can learn more, you may be losing visitors in the research and assessment/evaluation phase.

Analytics Assessment

This last component of the content audit helps you to match up your findings in the previous two assessments. By taking a look at which pages of your website are most popular, you can uncover trends in visitor interest that can be used to develop additional content.
Just as important is tying in your content flow with current results. A highly relevant content page on your website may be "unpopular" or it may just be hard to find. Once you've optimized the flow for your website, check back to see if interest in these relevant pages picks up.
SEO optimization is also a role in the analytics assessment – take a look at the search queries that brought people to your site, and any internal search queries that visitors have performed on your site.
Which queries led to the most conversions? The least?
Which queries led to the highest engagement? The lowest?
Provide the answers that your website visitors are looking for as you build out additional content throughout the sales cycle.
Performing a regular content audit will help you make sure that your content is working as hard as you do to drive conversions. Take the time to respond to the needs of your audience and reap the rewards of greater engagement, higher conversions, and more sales.
If you need help performing a content audit for your website, get in touch with us. Our team of professionals will be happy to walk you through the process step-by-step, providing objective information that you can use to maximize the results from your content marketing efforts.
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