As we design and build law firm websites, we see similar issues arise, time and again. One of the most difficult and time consuming areas of law firm websites is the practice section, often compounded by an industry section. Read on for a few best practices for writing and organizing your practice area and industry content.
Practices Versus Industries
Some law firm sites have separate sections for Practices and Industries, some mix them together, some just list one (usually practices). There is no standard. The only thing that is typical is how confusing and convoluted these sections tend to be. Why?
Usually the answer comes back to the attorneys, who want the website to mirror how they think of and define the way they work. But as marketers, we know that we should build websites for our site visitors. We must design for how our visitors think, talk, and search.
Services Not Practices
Other than law firms, the phrase “practice areas” is rarely seen on a website. Instead, the word “services” is commonly used. Visitors to your site want to know how you can help them, and therefore look for the services you offer.
So, rather than including a long list of practice areas that may be meaningless to your site visitors, define and succinctly describe the services that you provide. Services may include pages such as:
- Intellectual Property
- Trusts & Estates
If your firm offers a diverse array of services, you may need to create main service areas with secondary pages underneath all or some. Doing so helps users navigate more easily without becoming overwhelmed.
Importance of Industries
Many IP firms do a good job streamlining their Services and Industries. Oblon, for example, shows graphic icons for each industry (with drop-down sub-industries), as well as a list of services. As a full-service firm, the Day Pitney website does a nice job, right on their homepage, showcasing their Services and Industries. I especially like how they say “Explore Our Services” and “Explore Your Industry” (note the use of “our” versus “your.”)
Visitors to your site know what industry their business is in, and want to see how your firm can help them with their issues. Industry pages explain the expertise your attorneys have within that field, and often reference multiple services that clients in that industry regularly need. Remember to cross-link industry pages with related service pages, rather than writing duplicative copy. Industries may include pages such as:
- Health Care
- Life Sciences
- Real Estate
Again, you may want to organize content into main industries with sub-pages, pending the variety of industries you work with.
Common Causes for Confusion
So often, sites have duplicative or extremely similar text on Practice and Industry pages. Usually, the industry-specific work you do can be covered on an industry page. But attorneys want to repeat the information on a similar practice page because they think in terms of practice areas, not industries. Thus, attorneys are afraid content will get missed if it’s just listed as an industry, but in reality, most users are more inclined to look there. It’s an ongoing battle. If you find you have a lot of duplicative content and can’t get buy-in to streamline it, combining your practices and industries into one section may be a good compromise. When everything is in one grouping, attorneys are more willing to remove duplicates.
Consider Case Studies
Case studies can be a much better way of illustrating work you’ve done and how you added value, solved a problem, and helped a client. Instead of including another practice page (especially if it’s not an area where you’ve done a lot of work), a case story may be a better approach. Here also, case story pages should be cross-linked to related service (or practice) and industry pages.
Looking at the Numbers
If you manage your law firm’s website and review the analytics, you’ll undoubtedly see that the practice pages are not big winners when it comes to site traffic. Is this because visitors to law sites are not interested in what law firms do? Or are they just confused and overwhelmed by the endlessly long practice area lists and pages? I’m a firm believer that improving (shortening, consolidating, better organizing) content will enhance the users’ experience and increase time spent on these pages.
An Opportunity to Innovate
Doing anything differently is hard at law firms, attorneys are trained to look for precedent. But if we continue to go in the current direction, practice lists will be lengthier than War and Peace. There is a real opportunity to change the way this content is organized and written about. Which firm will be first to set the new precedent? If your firm has already, please send me a link and I will update this article. I know I would love to see some great examples, as would many legal marketers struggling to improve their firms’ website.