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Breakable Rules

“Rules” of website design that I’m breaking and why.

By Beryl Vaughan

I’m also going to challenge a few holy grails about websites that, in fact, don’t always apply to a forensic expert witness.

A Gift From Google

Google gives priority to long-standing site names over minty fresh domain names. They also look for updates to content.  Unchanged content is interpreted as an inactive business, thus shoving you to the back of the line in searches.

If your site isn’t generating work, tap Google’s reward for ever-changing content.  Freshen up the design and write something for your site. Even short-and-sweet triggers a Google reassessment.

Breakable Rule 1.  You need a new website. 

Do you need a new website?  In fact, a new website isn’t for everyone. A good website, however, is. Take stock of your website, invite a fresh set of eyes. Thoughtful improvements to your existing site can be more effective than a total redesign. Don’t forget to repair malfunctions.  No one has time for an unresponsive “clickable” feature.  Do links take you to the right destination? Does your menu work?  Glitches get in the way of a smooth sail through your site. Don’t have a website? Unlike a “new” website, if you don’t have a website now, you need one.  Attorneys don’t hire expert witnesses sight unseen. The absence of a website is like giving someone a blank business card. The message is “I’m not really in business” or the far worse message “I can’t be bothered.”

A Gift From Google

Google gives priority to long-standing site names over minty fresh domain names. They also look for updates to content.  Unchanged content is interpreted as an inactive business, thus shoving you to the back of the line in searches.

If your site isn’t generating work, tap Google’s reward for ever-changing content.  Freshen up the design and write something for your site. Even short-and-sweet triggers a Google reassessment.

Most business computer research is conducted on a desktop. See how happy she is to have that tech wizardry in 1981?

Breakable Rule 2. Design for Mobile first, desktop second.  In fact, it should be the other way around.

Your design shouldn’t be a slave to the mobile device. Its screen is tiny and best-suited to looking up a phone number, not reading a CV.

We are beaten over the head that Google penalizes designs that are not mobile friendly. (Check out Is Google God?) In fact, at least 70% of the time your potential clients are sitting at a desktop computer, not on a tablet.  They are usually solo attorneys,  or junior associates or paralegals tasked with finding an expert witness.  The desktop experience is what counts.  They may be unsure how to find someone like you, or even what sort of expertise is important.  Everything they find will fill the monitor they use, providing plenty of real estate for user-friendly navigation from topic-to-topic, graphics-to-topic, and information.

I’ve never spoken to anyone who found the expert on their phone. Imagining the experience makes my head hurt.  That said, on a mobile device your website must be legible and professional. And the most important item on a miniature screen is your phone number, name and field of expertise. In that order.

Breakable Rule 3: “Traffic, traffic, traffic.  It’s all about how many people visit your site.”  Wrong.  In a specialized field, quality is more important than quantity.  More people are searching for glasses than expert witnesses who can speak to whether Bipolar Disorder can exacerbate an autoimmune disorder.

If you have the same amount of traffic month after month, you may be doing just fine. Consider how many of those visits resulted in work.  100 visitors a month vs. 300 is irrelevant if, in both scenarios, 2 visits turned into work that accounted for a chunk of billable hours.  I find forensic psychiatrists and psychologists get dozens, maybe hundreds, of website “hits” from attorneys per month.  If you think thousands mean you’re more popular, consider this: how many of those visitors are looking for a psychiatrist vs. a forensic psychiatrist?

Remember those 2 valuable clients? I track data. It can confirm if a visitor stayed on the site long enough to read what you have to say. There are inexpensive services that record where a user “landed” on your site (which page) and how long they stayed there.  If they go to your CV page and spend 4 minutes, they’ve taken the time to read it and that’s positive. Most visitors will stay less than a few seconds because they’re looking for something else. So which visitor(s) are retaining you? Interpreting the data reveals patterns and behavior.  E.g. an attorney from Boston calls you. My data-mining service tells me there were 3 repeat visits to the site originating in Boston, each staying several minutes or more, all on the 2 days preceding the call. See how that works?  100 visitors on those days are meaningless.  The visitor from Boston was the only important traffic on the site.  The site’s consistent traffic pattern reflected a successful strategy.

Breakable Rule 4:  “Website visitors have a short attention span.  Keep writing short and sweet.”  I disagree, in part, as you have probably already ascertained.  (Relevant question: are you still reading this? If so, then the “rule” to “keep text brief or lose the attention of visitors” is false.)

Engagement is necessary to keep people reading what you have to say, but your knowledge is not bite size and doesn’t have to be presented that way. Content on your site should reflect you know what you’re talking about.  Research shows content between 1100-1400 words gets the most attention, which defies the idea of writing short, simplistic articles. Still, any content is better than none.

Breakable Rule 5:  “Color isn’t that important. Keep your design simple.  Black text on white background.”  “Some colors should never be used.”

I’ve visited hundreds of websites to see what works and what doesn’t.  White pages with bold accents (usually red) are ubiquitous because they’re easy to read and decode what’s important. However, an expert witness is not a generalist. There’s no rule that your site must be boring to meet the standard of “conservative design” associated with the sober field of law.  Consider a design that’s bolder in color and imagery associated with your field.  Don’t have one of those sites sporting marble columns, skylines or a variation on the scales of justice. They are already everywhere.  The nature of competition requires being apart from the crowd. Different.

“Branding” is an association between your practice with a consistent package

  • graphics (e.g. a logo,)
  • color
  • layout
  • phrases

In forensic work, catchphrases are inappropriate.

Given color theory, you already know color can be a powerful way to communicate.  In a verbal profession, non-verbal “words” have added benefits and they probably aren’t what you’re thinking.

Your words can come back to haunt you on the stand.

Color can’t.

So let’s have at it. Green, we know, is Calming, Red means Action (or Aggression), yellow is both dynamic and a warning.  We even have a color language: blue means it’s a “link.”  (Did you try and click on it?) Blue, by the way, is the most frequent color found on websites.  Website design can use or break from these “rules,” which raises the question if the emotional response to certain colors is changing.

One theory about color and business, generally, is that some colors say “take me seriously,” and others the opposite.  Would you rather have a Pink theme or Blue?  (Sexism is everywhere.)  Compare to this: one prominent expert’s site is pink. The entrance to her page is a pink door decorated with a heart. Most of page 2 of her CV is devoted to her congressional testimony and legal analysis in high profile cases. Her site is obviously breaking the rules, and not inhibiting her practice’s success.

Notes Emptor:

* You’ve probably received spam emails from website designers with an aggressive offer for an exciting new website. Quotes run the gamut because there’s no market standard for such work.  Flat fees mean you’ll get what you pay for (their profit margin is acquired by producing as little as possible.) Big prices might mean you pay too much. ($7k isn’t unusual; $300 is unrealistically low. That’s a big range.)

Caveat:

** What happens online stays online (visit the www.waybackmachine.org if you don’t believe me.)  Content can be brought up during cross-examination, so you want to get it right.

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