ForensicExpertPro Practice Development for Expert WitnessesBeryl Vaughan, Consultant | Nationwide + California HQ

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Website Wins and Fails

By Beryl Vaughan

Website 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. A website is a CV on steroids–a mosaic of information about you. Some experts make a basic website and leave it alone….for years.  It is not uncommon to find only a single webpage with a name, address, phone number and perhaps a tagline (“I’m a doctor”). This type of basic site has one use: it is a quick way for a client to find your phone number while on the run. That may be your intention, if you have more than enough work. If not, then you can expect your static site will continue to underperform.

If you have a website that isn’t doing the trick, and budget is a concern, it is sometimes possible to make tweaks to improve the site without reinventing the wheel.

Baby steps are fine.

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.

Most Forensic Psychiatrists and Forensic Psychologists have no website (based on my experience of looking up many, many, many doctors.)  When they do, it is more often suited to psychotherapy, but not expert witness work.

To build a website yourself you’ll need to master the tech learning curve. If that’s not your calling, finding a web developer might not be so easy–if you get a name word of mouth, check the developer’s portfolio and try to get an estimate before jumping in.  Many developers won’t give an estimate because sites require wildly varying amount of work unrelated to your profession.  That doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate a “stop loss” to give you the heads up when costs reach a pre-set threshold.  (Let me know when you’re approaching 10 hours, etc.–this might sound familiar because attorneys often ask the same of experts.)  The bottom line is adapting a logo to look good on a phone can require time-consuming coding, while laying out an attractive menu might not. Or vice-versa.

It isn’t surprising websites can take a back burner, especially when a demanding practice calls.  If you’re not a techie, launching into making a website might seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be.  We collaborate closely with expert and developer (aka css programmer) to craft content and design to target attorneys.  Plenty of services offer a DIY approach (Wix, Squarespace, etc.) which might be a good simple choice for you, with caveats (see “DIY Websites for Forensic Psychiatrists and Psychologists.”) 

Site Repair:

Consider if “busy”ness is keeping you from bringing your site up to date. The fact is, ignoring your site can prevent you from getting better cases than the ones tying up your time.

Attorneys use a forensic expert’s website in predictable ways. They navigate the site from a trial attorney’s perspective.  Navigation, by the way, is an art.  Imagine it as breadcrumbs.  Moving through your site should be an intuitive interconnection between the attorney’s needs and the attorney’s behavior.

Run a site test.

Do you give answers to obvious questions and if so, where?  (E.g., are you Board-Certified?  If not, why?)

Do you sound knowledgeable about that weird issue in their case?  (The solution is to address a range of issues that pop up in litigation.)

What will opposing counsel find to use as fodder for cross-examination or, alternatively, will o/c find your expertise and communication style is likely to make for a rough trial ahead.

A good reason to get it right:

Bad site design can repel visitors. Some sites are annoying to use. Others are great but hard to find. Is text easy to read? Are there broken features, like links that go to the wrong place or produce a dead end?  (I have a few of those on this site–copy editing is part of maintenance.) 

Cleverness Can Backfire.

My personal favorite (pet peeve) is “clever” features. One expert had a magnifying glass that swept across the screen enlarging each item as it moved. I could barely read the expert’s name and was not inclined to stay and read more.  About a year later, the magnifying glass became a graphic that did not move, making it considerably easier to read the site. Clearly I wasn’t the only person who found it distracting.

Ignore dysfunction or underfunction at your peril.

Template Websites Beware. Are you a Psychiatrist? Yoga Instructor? B’n’B?  So hard to tell… Because of changes in technology, it’s common now to use “templates.”  This is a pre-made layout for a website into which you plug your own information.  By their nature such templates are  cookie cutter–visual boilerplate. Sometimes you can barely tell one person’s website from another if they are using the same template. Check out common “themes” (aka templates) that WordPress offers. A few appear on this page. 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 website developer. 

Your site on a small screen.

Google’s 2015 algorithm revamp gave preference to mobile-friendly sites.  One solution is ”responsive design,”  meaning whatever your site looks like on a desktop, it will rearrange itself depending on the device the user is using.  Big pictures? On an iPhone, they’re laid out differently or scale down in size.  On a tablet, they’re the right size for the tablet and so on. On a non-responsive site, the large picture would be awkwardly cropped for the smaller screen. Substitutes for responsive design are a static design that appears on the monitor exactly as it will on a phone.  These have all the text right down the middle of the screen. This works because the phone can handle the narrow text on its tiny narrow screen.  Unfortunately, the design clearly states the site is outdated, wastes visual space on the monitor to either side of the text and creates less impact.  Overall, the problem is the simple clean design that is suited to a tiny screen is not suited to a desktop nor is it suited to a profession where knowledge, not spa services, are highlighted. Forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology are word-heavy fields. Your reports and testimony do not rely on a large photo of a mountain range, floating lotus blossoms, two suited hands shaking, or a model in a headset chatting up her caller.

As soon as your visitor lands, your website should convey who you are and what you know. To encourage users to stick around on your website, you’ll need imagery and words that identify you–not your name, but your entire expertise and experience.  Add text early so an attorney can be sure he or she is in the right place.  Your website is the delivery system.  I scrutinize the disconnects of others and tackle website repair with gusto. It’s just too much fun to do things right. 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.   NB: I’m a website content and design developer. I guide you with topics for the website that maximize your experience for the attorneys I think will best appreciate your help.  I am not a programmer but I easily collaborate with you and anyone with whom you may already have a relationship designing your website.  I can also help find a developer for the “back-end” code–i.e. stuff neither of us needs to know.

Hint: Art being in the eye of the beholder, none of these are suited to a practice in forensic psychiatry or psychology. Pretty pictures shouldn’t overwhelm the message, unless you are a dog groomer and it’s a photo of a dog.  What do you think of this font?
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