A great website relies on all parts working in harmony. This translates into developing your brand then communicating it through imagery, colors, fonts and content.

When my career first started as a designer more than 12 years ago, I had a very unhealthy obsession for aesthetics. I paid very, very close attention to the colors, layout and overall look of projects. Content invariably was an intrusive request from copywriters and interfered with my negative space.

I have since realized how important content is and have changed my obsession to include thoughtful consideration of how compelling messages should be presented.

Be personal and have a personality

Too much of the copy available on websites is bland and uninspiring. Its time to add some personality. Begin by knowing your audience. Think of each page as being read by a single potential client or person from your target group. Write your copy for this person alone, communicating to her that you want her to visit your site again, tell a friend and potentially follow your call to action. Make it personal – people like to talk to people not faceless companies. Whenever possible write as ‘Jim from Jim’s Law Firm’ rather than as ‘Big Firm, LLC.’ People are less critical and more receptive when dealing with a individual rather than an organization.

The internet is very impersonal and communicating through computers is never perceived as friendly. Therefore it is important to compensate in your writing, but also keep a balance between professional and overly familiar. Your tone should support your expertise, engender trust and encourage a transaction.

Use a present tense and positive subject line

Compare “lawsuit was granted” versus “we won a enormous lawsuit”. Notice how it focuses on the accomplishments of the company by using “we” and adding the adjective “enormous” implies a sense of importance, improvement and excitement.

Avoid sitting on the fence – it gets you nowhere. If your wanting to sell something or wanting to compel them to take an a particular action, be definitive. You are the “expert” otherwise they wouldn’t be visiting your site. So don’t use words such as “should”, “could”, “maybe” or “possibly” they have negative implications on most audiences, they make them question you and your abilities.

Be Concise

Don’t ramble on endlessly, get to your point quickly and clearly. Cut the rubbish and the jargon, no one wants to hear it or see it. Krug’s third law of usability states “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left”. Because users just don’t read large amounts of text on screen there is little point of it being there. Wherever possible keep text to a minimum and be sure to omit needless words.

Avoid jargon

Remember that not all your users will use the same terminology as you. They won’t necessarily know all the acronyms and industry terms which are so familiar to you. It is often worth passing copy via a family member or somebody unconnected with your industry to see if they understand it all. All of that jargon is useful in your FAQ or Resources page, where you can explain in detail all of the terms and concepts that make you an expert in your field.

Make sure you can scan it

The combination of information overload and the difficulty of reading on screen ensures that your viewers will not stay on your site long. It is safe to assume that a user will not read an entire page of text, so make sure that your content is easy to scan. Do this by:

  • using a summary at the top of the page
  • using headings and subheadings
  • separating text with images and graphics
  • using bold, italics and color to highlight certain content
  • using bullet points

Keep perspective

In my experience it is the content that delays almost every single website project I work on, without fail. So keep in mind that the content on your website is not permanent and should be updated and adjusted over time. Do not spend so much time developing your content that it creates stress and postpones your website launch. It is always better to have a website where potential clients can contact you, even if it is not perfect. The best plan is to initially implement as much of the most important content as possible, then refine and amend as needed over time.

(photo: churl)


  1. @Karin RE Keeping Perspective: So true.

    Content isn’t a problem that is simply “solved”. While there are best practices, what works for one law firm, practice area, or geographic location may not work for another.

    The “solution” is to routinely analyze and test the performance of your content.

    Further, if content is king, publicizing content is queen. You could have the best content around, but if it doesn’t get “found” it doesn’t do you any good. Get your content out there.

  2. Avatar Joe Reevy says:

    We have been writing web content etc for law firms in England and Wales for a decade and supply a vast range of material to more than 400 firms.

    I think there is a lot of truth in what you say, but it is more applicable in the USA (and I am an American) than in the UK. The reason for this is that much more day to day law is made by case decisions in the UK than in the US, which has a more codified system and also the UK has law imposed from outside via the EU.

    The key to good legal content is, we feel, finding material which will get the reasder to say ‘that may affect me’ and (in terms of making the firm’s phone ring, which is, after all, the ultimate aim) makes them think ‘I’d better do soemthign about that’.

    All you need to do it very well is:
    1. Access to huge amounts of material to sift what is really good to write about and what isn’t
    2. People who have a good understanding of the law, so they don’t get it wrong! (Why we rarely use professional journalists)
    3. An eye for the ‘hook’ of a story (we liken them to modern day morality tales)
    4. The ability to make sometimes complex ideas simple (but not write in a patronising way), to distinuguish the whate from the chaff and to understand that what many be an interesting point for a lawyer isn’t necessarily an interestign point for the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ as they say here: this is, we feel, why so many lawyers write poor copy divircing oneself from industry jargon is a particular issue for them
    5. Top class language skills generally (our editors will argue over whether to use the word ‘pause’, ‘gap’, or ‘interval’ when the word we’ (but not the man in the street) would use is ‘hiatus’ – this skill is crucial.
    6. Really top-class editing skills (very rare indeed)

    Everyone THINKS they can write: our experience is that we re-commission fewer than 1/10th of the people we commission, many of whom are professional writers.

    Those are the basic requirements. there are more and more subtle ones.

    You have to understand your target and, to get anyone to visit your website, they have to know it is there!

    Lastly, you have to write in the reader’s voice: if I was writing this for a US audience, it would be written completely differently.

Leave a Reply