Expert Witness’ Guide to a Great Website: Wins and Fixable Fails
By Beryl Vaughan
Build a Great Website and They Will Come
Whether you have a Website already, or are building something new, if your site functions well and gives the user something of value, you will get calls and cases and forensic work.
Two, in particular, have proven themselves to be the most effective practice-development resource with maximum return on their investment.
Do you need to fix an existing website? I have yet to find a perfect website for an Expert Witness, but plenty that are highly successful when done right.
If you’ve used a Wix or other website builder–or are considering one, I recommend taking a look at my blog on that topic for tips and tricks, DIY Websites.
Assessment and improvement can be more cost-effective than designing a new site. The proof is in the pudding.
If your website produces $20,000 of work, improvements or redesign costs have been a worthwhile investment, not a drain on funds. However, if you aren’t getting any inquiries from the website, it isn’t functioning as it should.
CV on Steroids or A Business Card
Many doctors make a basic website and leave it alone….for years. Their website essentially functions like a Rolodex: Name, address, phone number and a note. That isn’t a bad thing, but it taps existing clients who already know you–it doesn’t attract a new client.
Easy to grab your phone number but not much else. Such a basic site is a quick way for a client to find your CV and phone number and that may be all you need, if your practice is already precisely what you want.
Change is Good. If your site is static and no calls are coming in, then it’s magical thinking to believe leaving it as-is will produce a different outcome.
New Website. When you’re building a website from scratch, the same best-practices–from a user’s perspective–benefit you.
I track the sites of your competitors and clients almost every day and am surprised at how easy it can be to outperform other experts’ sites. As a rule, physicians like a forensic psychiatrist (moreso than forensic psychologists) aren’t keeping a website up to date or have no website.
Finding the time: whose is best? To improve your website yourself, you’ll need to master the tech learning curve, or find someone who has. It isn’t surprising websites take a back burner, it isn’t at the top of the list when a busy clinical practice calls.
Consider if the “busy”ness is keeping you from bringing your site up to date. Remember, a less than stellar site is forestalling better cases, so it comes with a price tag.
Attorneys use a website in predictable ways. You have to design to that user if you want that visitor to call you. And they navigate the site of a forensic expert in your field differently than any other.
Easy to Find Your Way Around. Make your site easy to navigate with a clear menu, and logical subpages. You’ve been on sites that frustrated you right off the page. For example, the menu has no “contact” option and you can’t find a phone number. Or the contact page has no direct email, so you don’t know who will see your message. Don’t do this on your site!
Perfectly Fixable. Is text easy to read? Are there broken features, like links go to the right (not wrong) place or produce a dead end. My personal favorite is “clever” features that waste the visitor’s time and send them packing quickly. Ignore dysfunction or underfunction at your peril.
Because of changes in technology, it’s common now to use “templates” of site design that are great for selling t-shirts. They are so cookie cutter that you can barely tell one from another. There are only two options for your practice: stand out or be invisible.
Check out common “themes” (aka templates) WordPress offers. They are identical to those found on Wix, Squarespace and other common website platforms. They are not very customizable without the benefit of a skilled CSS coder. The danger is sticking with the “themes” and looking like everyone else. More about this on–yup, I’m going to say it again–because so many doctors struggle with the topic: DIY website builders.
Google keeps upping the ante on its algorithm revamp in 2015 giving preference to mobile-friendly sites. In 2020 they added multi-media, video and privacy pages to their algorithm for prominence.
Looking Good on the Phone. Do it now, look up your site on your phone.
If you don’t have a site, check out a colleague’s site. Or just type in big words for your field and add a .com (ptsdexpert.com or medmal.com)
If your site doesn’t look good on your phone, the solution is what is called “responsive design,” meaning whatever your site looks like on a desktop, it will rearrange itself depending on the device the user is using.
How to Tell if Your Site Could be Better on a Phone. Big pictures? On an iPhone they’re little pictures. On a non-responsive site, the large picture would be awkwardly cropped for the smaller screen. If any images, including a photo of you (!) are hard to see, responsive design enables the image to be larger on the phone. Responsive design applies to tablets too, which have their own parameters.
Does a simple design solve the problem? Certainly the less formatting in your site, the easier it is to adapt to a phone.
But forensic work is text-heavy. Chunky blocks of color and huge photos are not suited to a profession where knowledge, not spa services, are highlighted.
Forensic psychiatry, forensic psychology or any Expert Witness in a medical specialty are wordy professions. It’s all about what you know. If your site has too much “wall of text” readers may be turned off.
Your subspecialty drives the need for your reports and testimony.
Use graphics and color to break up the text. Subheadings and bullet points are actually part of the Google algorithm! Readability, Google identifies, is what drives a successful website.
An attorney must know what you do and what you know. This will never rely on a large photo of a mountain range, floating lotus blossoms, two suited hands shaking, or a model smilingly chatting on her headset (ubiquitous imagery).
You might benefit from a few quick suggestions, or you may prefer to hand over door-to-door design and management of your site. Either way, implementing even the shortest shortlist is better than altogether ignoring your website and what it conveys to your potential clients.