Whether you are working with a local web designer or a big design firm, there are a few things you should require from your web design team. The following basic guidelines for professional attorney websites will help guide you through the process of working with a web designer successfully.

The most important aspects of your web design are in the areas of “search engine friendliness” and “usability”. Having a website that is search engine friendly will allow you to get free traffic from search engines when users look for an attorney in your area, and having a website that is accessible and user friendly will keep users on your site longer and they will be more likely to contact you.

Usability

Designing your website to be user friendly amongst a number of internet-connected devices will give you a maximum audience.

Be sure to have your name, address, and phone number in HTML, not as an image, somewhere on the page. This will help search engines associate you with your local area. In fact, its a great idea in general to limit the number of words that appear in images, especially your “areas of practice” links. Along this line of thought, do not use Flash; search engines, along with many mobile phones, cannot view flash and will not be able to search Flash areas of your website.

Keep the color scheme professional. You probably wouldn’t wear a rainbow-print business suit to meet clients, and the same “dress code” should apply to your website. Keep to grays, dark reds and blues, and use bright colors only for accents or to attract attention to a “call to action” or other important parts of the site you wish to highlight.

While many people are using larger monitors and more modern computers, consider who your potential client will be. If you are a social security disability lawyer, your client may be more likely to be using an older computer or have a slower connection. If you are an estate planning attorney, consider that older folks may have more difficulty reading small print, so use a medium to large font.

Avoid designs where your navigation appears at the bottom or the right side of the page. Users with smaller browsers cannot see where to click and will quickly find your competitors’ site easier to use.

Never use white text. White text on a black ground is hard to read for longer periods, and if it’s white text on an image, search engines may interpret that as spam. It’s a good idea to just use a dark color text on a light background so that all users may read the text easily for an extended period of time.

Consider launching a mobile version of your website for easy viewing from modern cell phones and other internet-connected devices.

Is your website is search engine friendly?

Coding your website is often more important than you might think. The following items might not make sense to someone who doesn’t code websites, but feel free to copy and paste this list into an e-mail and ask your web design firm to comply.

  • Your website should be coded with CSS layouts, not tables
  • Develop unique META tags for each page of your website
  • Employ H1 , H2 & H3 tags
  • URL structure should follow best practices
  • All text coded as HTML, not placed in images
  • Create an XML Sitemap for submitting to search engines
  • Alt and Title tags on images

Taglines that appear near the top of the page are great – they not only put a friendly spin on the site, but more importantly, they give an opportunity to place a keyword or two near the top of the page.

Before your new website goes live

Naturally, you think your website is awesome (it probably is)! However, it can be difficult to be critical of your website when you are very involved in it’s design and development. Consider gathering a group of past clients or a similar group of folks to test your website and give you feedback. Ask colleagues to give you an honest opinion or to solicit constructive criticism. Make revisions as necessary.

After Launching your new website

  1. Test your site in multiple browsers, on mobile phones, and on a apple platform if possible.
  2. Install Analytics to monitor your website. Google Analytics is free. For a more advanced option for analytics consider a company like Omniture.
  3. Set Up Google, Bing, and Yahoo webmaster accounts
  4. Go ahead and submit that XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo and Bing via webmaster accounts.
  5. Be sure your profiles across the web are correct. Set up or claim your;
    • Profile accounts at google, linkedin, Avvo, Justia, hg.org, lpig.org and findlaw
    • Local accounts at Google local, Bing Local, SuperPages and Yellowbot
    • Accounts at review websites like Yelp and JudysBook
  6. Consider longer term testing applications like clueapps.com or heat map tracking applications like ClickTracks to see how real users behave on your website so that you may improve it further in the future.

(Photo credit: http://flic.kr/p/6mNHcj)

Lauren Billings is the internet marketing director at Sequoia Legal Marketing.