Ten seconds is about how long you have to convince the average visitor to your law firm website to stick around. That is just about long enough to read one sentence — so it better be a good one.

Visitors Make Snap Judgments

Microsoft Research recently published research showing that visitors to a web page tend to make a quick decision about whether to stay or go. If you want to know what a Weibull distribution is, read Jakob Nielsen’s analysis. If you just want the gist of the research, take a look at this graph:


Basically, visitors are most likely to leave during the first 10 seconds, but if a visitor sticks around for about 30 seconds, they are likely to stick around to read more. In other words, you have about 10 seconds to convince someone to keep reading or click over to another page on your website (which resets the stopwatch).

Your Law Firm Website’s First 10 Seconds

Open the stopwatch on your phone and pull up your website. Don’t look at it yet, though. Pretend you are visiting your website for the first time — or better yet, find someone who has never visited your website and look over their shoulder. Start the stopwatch as soon as you open your eyes (or just hide your website under a blank browser tab until you are ready to start the stopwatch). At 10 seconds, stop, and make a note of how far you got.

Did you come across anything interesting enough to click on get you to keep reading during that 10 seconds?

If not, go to work on your website.

The First Sentence

If many of the people who visit your law-firm website will decide to stay or go based on the first sentence, it had better be a good one. That is true whether the first sentence is a tagline, a text overlay on your header image, or the first sentence in a block of copy. And if your first sentence is so buried that it takes longer than 10 seconds to get to it, make sure that what visitors can see in 10 seconds is pretty awesome, or else redesign your website.

Copywriter Cari Twitchell points out that it is not just the first sentence on your website’s front page: “you never know where a client may land when they come to your website … the first sentence on every page matters.”

Unfortunately, there is no formula for the perfect first sentence, but Gyi Tsakalakis recommends Matt Homann’s “Haiku of What You Do”:

Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

Here is an example:

I help small business owners
incorporate their businesses and protect their assets
so they can sleep better.

The Haiku of What You Do is a good approach because it answers one of the main things a potential client visiting your website for the first time probably wants to know: whether you can help them. Few law firm websites do a good job of answering this simple question. Instead, they tend to be all about how great the lawyer is and a list of practice areas.

The main thing to remember, says Cari, is that “your website isn’t about you — it’s about your prospective clients.” Keep that in mind when writing copy for it. Focus on helping visitors to your website figure out if you can help them. Don’t just write about yourself.

Write Like a Normal Person

Lawyers have an unfortunate tendency to make everyday conversations sound like police reports. This is not particularly effective in any setting, but it is particularly bad when it comes to websites, where the goal is communication, not obfuscation.

For example, words commonly used to describe types of law practices, like boutique and virtual, are meaningless to most people. Irrelevant, too, for the most part. Stock law-firm-website phrases like innovative, compassionate, and aggressive are equally meaningless and irrelevant, as well as a bit cliche. And of course the most cliche of all is talking about how hard you will fight for your clients, which sounds more disingenuous the more strenuously you assert it.

To figure out if you are writing like a normal person, read your website copy out loud. Better yet, find a sixth grader to read it out loud. If he or she stumbles on any of the words or giggles when saying them, use different words. Or try reading it out loud yourself when you are exhausted and bleary-eyed after a long day. Because as Rocket X1’s Larry Port points out, your first sentence needs to be “abundantly clear to someone surfing the web half-asleep at 11 p.m.”

Make Those 10 Seconds Count

No matter what you come up with, go back to the exercise above after you think you have got your first sentence just right. Now do you think you would click a link to another page on your website or keep reading? When you can confidently answer yes, you can call the job done.

To see whether it worked, keep an eye on your website’s bounce rate and time on site over the next month or so. If your new first sentence was an improvement, the bounce rate should go down1 or the time on site should go up, or both.

Originally published 2014-06-19. Last updated 2015-11-27.

Featured image: “Man working at night lying down on sofa in the living room with tablet” from Shutterstock.

  1. A lower bounce rate means fewer people left after viewing only one page on your site.