Q. “Do I need a website?”
You Need a Website and Here’s Why.
By Beryl Vaughan
A website is the most sophisticated business card in the world.
That’s a simplification of course. It is more like a hybrid: CV, business card, bio and even textbook, written by you.
There is no better online vehicle under your control to communicate who you are as a professional and what you have to offer as an expert witness or consultant in a legal setting:
- Your knowledge-base
- Your credentials and experience
- How well you convey your findings which is relevant to your communication style on the stand, in deposition and reports
- Your objectivity
The real-life equivalent of a website is handing a CV to an attorney to introduce yourself, all over the country, all day, every day.
Unlike you, your website doesn’t take a break.
The power of technology adds a dimension of value that a business card can’t.
The Power of Data
What the data can tell us, when you have a website
- How long users stay on your site.
- Which pages they are reading. 5 minutes means they read the information. 5 seconds means they realized they were in the wrong place and left.
- What content is most engaging.
- If adaptive changes produce different results. For example, generally speaking, structured content (subheadings and logical flow) performs better with Google than long chunks of unbroken text. That may not apply to a forensic practice. Data will tell us if we need to conduct a comparison test and apply that information elsewhere on the site.
If data says the site isn’t performing well, we know adaptive site changes are needed. For example, data shows time spent reading articles is short but time spent on the site is substantial. This raises an index of marketing suspicion that content is relevant but could be easier to parse.
How data is collected
A short code (a paragraph of programming language) is usually added to your website on the back-end. The code is provided by the data mining service and is a cut and paste job. Google Analytics is free. Web-Stat is $9.99/month. By contrast, a service like SEMRush is $1200/year and does not collect data about forensic expert sites because the focus is too narrow and traffic too low for their model. Personally, I use Google Analytics, Web-Stat, and Mangools, but there are a host of services that track information. (I get no kickbacks, by the way). Note: Web-Stat doesn’t share your information with anyone else and is highly protective. Google will, however, “share” your data if you don’t specifically check the box that restricts it.
The best scenario data can reveal
(a) Users exist.
(b) a visitor to your home page or article also goes to your CV page.
(c) a visitor spends time reading an article.
(d) Relevant words and phrases are used to find your site.
(e) The user calls you. Some experts are uncomfortable asking callers how they came across their name. This is when data helps. I use cross-analysis tapping the date/time of day/geographic data collected by Web-Stat with keyword and referral information from Google Analytics. I use Mangools to determine how other sites are performing terms relevant to your site.
If you don’t have a website at all, you miss out on valuable data. You may never know what you are doing right or wrong to grow your practice.
Internet Audit; the “Site-less” and the “Sited”
The most valuable marketing strategy begins with an internet audit to know if your practice is “findable” and what attorneys are in, fact, finding.
I begin by going “incognito” — a Google feature that “cleans” the results I get. Otherwise, search engines will tailor results to your own historical behavior.
Marketing rests on the perspective of the person you want to be able to find you. I put on my lawyer shoes and look from dozens of angles. I always search by name (in case you have name-alikes who reflect badly on you), your area of practice, colleagues with similar credentials, terms relevant to your practice, others practicing geographically near you, photos associated with your name, if your private social media pages can be viewed by the public, and dozens of other perspectives. I delve even deeper when I find mistaken information or results that produce a misunderstanding about you.
An internet audit is a good idea for anyone who serves as a disclosed expert witness. A decent opposing counsel will look to discredit an expert witness–that’s standard operating procedure. The internet is low hanging fruit to find “dirt” and therefore it is a natural go-to as an attorney prepares for trial. The more you know about what they will find, the better prepared you can be for challenges to your reputation and claims.
A word about reviews. Psychiatrists and psychologists have unique vulnerabilities–like one star “reviews” from a patient population. Transference has a marketing impact. Aviation and Accounting Experts don’t have these issues.
It’s better to control your bio than let someone else define you. You might think someone else has done the work of promoting you on a website. They might, but that isn’t good enough.
“I teach at a university and they have my bio on the faculty page.”
“I serve on the Board of Trustees and they have my bio on their website.”
“I am on the treater panel for a few clinics and they have a bio on their website.”
Someone else’s website is not a substitute for your own. They have a focus and agenda. It’s unlikely to be the same as your private forensic practice. Such listings rarely include forensic training, for example. Often someone else wrote the bio, and they may have gotten it wrong, or focused on one element of your practice at the expense of another.
You are the best person to write and own your bio.
What does an internet audit have to do with whether or not you have a website?
A website allows you to respond to negative or mistaken information. Roughly 80% of the time I find doctors are only represented online by hospital or clinic jobs that may very well be ancient history, frequently address/phone information is outdated, or a clinical practice is evident but not forensic expertise. This can occur because NPI contact and/or taxonomy info is inaccurate, or a prior employer “owns” access to your information via Google MyBusiness, listings in directories like Psychology Today and other problems that can be repaired.
Site Audit. If attorneys can’t tell you if they went to the site, and data confirms your site isn’t working, then it’s time for a critique and repair of your site itself.
I have reviewed hundreds of sites of your colleagues, and continue to do so constantly. I find there are specific elements to successful sites vs. those that have little, or even negative, value for practice growth.
Frankly, most forensic expert witnesses–especially psychologists and psychiatrists–don’t have a website at all. Some are impossible to find online–even by name! It isn’t hard to turn this to your benefit.
- Attorneys save time on a call just to learn if you’re legit.
- The conversation can skip straight to the meat of the case.
Education: “Content is King”
Content is just another way of saying “information,” like an article or FAQ. The topics should pinpoint your expertise, and interests, as they apply to law. (The reason for “interests” is that one goal of website marketing is to branch into areas of law that expand your experience.)
For example, if you are a forensic child psychiatrist, visitors to your site should find something different than if you work in criminal psychology. If you know about both, then both should be addressed on your site.
Meaningful content is where website marketing is most effective.
Big Time Google Rewards. Search engines like Google and Bing place informative sites higher than sites that don’t provide something of value to the user.
Cornell Law School, Google Scholar, Peer-reviewed research, generally come up earlier in a search for, say, “psych expert witness” than a real person
Keep it Fresh. Google ignores static sites (no new added content; no changes in imagery or design, performed on a regular basis. Google will assume if the site isn’t updating, you probably retired.
Mobile Friendly. People, and Google, increasingly give preference to a site that can be read and navigated easily on a phone. Any website must perform on mobile.
User Experience 101: Let’s talk about the mechanics of a website. This is called the User Experience (“UX”–in the Glossary.) A website can have an underfunctioning design or be annoying to use. It’s fixable, and deferred maintenance isn’t an option if you want an effective site.
- Information easy to find, and easy to read. (Light grey text on a medium gray background is one of my pet peeves.)
No broken features, like links that go to the wrong place, or nowhere at all.
- Contact info. appears on every page. People shouldn’t have to work to find out how to call you once they’re intrigued to do so.
- Critical feedback is the only way to know what’s working and what isn’t. There is nothing better than a second set of eyes, because you are not the best judge of your website.
- Avoid the repellant site. Imagery and text should be on point and engaging. Design of forensic content is is consistent with forensic work vs. a clinical practice which is geared and designed differently. A potential therapy client will want to know your treatment modalities. An attorney won’t.
- Break the nomenclature of website function. We are all used to interpreting common website features: 3 horizontal lines on a phone mean it is a menu. On desktop sitesContact information is found in headers and footers, what a menu looks like and how it will lead them through the site.
- Watch the tone of your content. Unless you’re a natural writer, you might be surprised how often patronizing and self-congratulatory impressions sneak into the text. I copyedit content to ensure the tone stays inviting. (I am not a ghostwriter. I feel it’s unethical inasmuch as you will have to defend what is written, not me).
Let’s dispel a few myths about websites:
Myth 1: Keep it short.
The myth is that a site has only a few seconds to grab the attention of a visitor, and too much text turns them off.
1st Truth: 1100-2000 words is the most effective text length*. You’re an expert in your field as applied to law therefore your website is all about text.
2nd Truth: The “wall of text” is a turnoff. Design is the solution to making your important content hold the reader’s attention. Adding imagery, layout and graphics break up the text. (Read more about design and images.) On this page I employ color, borders, layout and graphic elements.
Myth 2: Mobile-friendly design is more important than desktop design. Yes and no. Google’s 2020 algorithm continues a long- standing preference for mobile-friendly sites.
1st Truth. You know from the calls you get that many attorneys, junior associates and paralegals tasked to find someone like you, do so from a desktop computer. It is a mistake to craft a website only for mobile.
2nd Truth. Both desktop and cell phone design have to function. This is accomplished with “responsive design,” meaning whatever your site looks like on a desktop, it is coded to rearrange itself into a smaller format for a smaller screen.
Myth 3: More traffic means more success. The amount of traffic to your website is not the measure of success.
Truth: 10 visitors is better than 2,000. In fact, a $20,000 case may come from one call. If there were 10 visitors that day and one was the case you got, then 10 visitors is just fine. Add the word “blockchain” to your site and you’ll get lots of useless traffic.
Any website is better than no website.
Your website provides contact info. and basic information about your credentials, location and scope of experience. Amazingly, it can be almost impossible for an attorney who already knows your name to find your current phone number or email.
Transparency. I market forensic experts. I am not a website programmer. Likely you’ve been bombarded by emails from people who design sites and want to sell you one. They don’t know about your profession or client base. Most website farms are driven by a shopping cart, rather than a scholarly journal. Expert Witnesses live nearer the latter world than the former.
Sometimes my clients already have a website person. I am happy to work with that person in collaboration with you.
*Online marketing guru, Neil Patel, cites 3 different studies that put the “sweet spot” for a website article at between 1500-2000 words. “How long should your blog article be?” Blog is just another way of say content, by the way.
Does a website make you look like a mercenary?
It’s a legitimate and common question.
“I don’t have a website because I’m afraid it will seem like a sales pitch.”
The APA has a website. Family physicians, hospitals and your colleagues have websites. They, and you, control the tenor of site content. It’s not a sales pitch unless you make it one.
You studied for many years and will continue to learn for the rest of your life, to serve jurisprudence.
But you aren’t a volunteer.
“Activity that supports or provides active encouragement for the furtherance of a cause, venture, or aim.” (Definition of “Promotion”, Oxford Languages).
You do have a venture. And you want to further it. You have aims. You have fees.
You do not have a price.