Under-appreciated key issues in lawyer accountant website redesigns

7 key things that go wrong with professional service firms’ website redesigns


In providing analytics for legal and accounting firms we get a birds-eye view of what happens after website revamps.

And revamps are common: about every 5 years as web technologies, brand refreshes, and new  marketing directors come and go.

The results aren’t always pretty. For example the majority of firms see net falls in traffic after rebuilds. And you start the rebuild from behind: with an estimated 5% ranking penalty in search as soon as you change your website urls.

So here are the top seven problems/missed opportunities to be aware of before you do your website rebuild.

1. Not choosing the platform before finding your web developer

In the old days you built a website from scratch. These days your content management system (WordPress, Drupal, .NET etc) should be the first thing you think about.

Decide which CMS you want to use (long term development cost, numbers of contractors with familiarity, plug-in eco-system etc) and then choose your development company.

Don’t choose a  web developer first and get their default platform: it’s like bypassing the architect and letting your builder design your house.

Different developers will have different expertise in CMS platforms. And some will try to steer you in the direction of niche CMS’s or even inhouse platforms because they achieve better client lock-in that way (you will sometimes hear arguments about big CMS systems being insecure, not customizable enough etc but be skeptical).

Talk to us about which specific CMS platform we normally recommend, why, and onshore/offshore options – we don’t do web development for clients so we don’t have an axe to grind.

2. Not properly planning and resourcing the migration of your existing website and its articles

Most professional service firm websites have been around for a long time now (at least a decade).

To re-use the building metaphor, website rebuilds are not greenfield projects, they are like renovating a heritage-listed house with zealous local council inspectors (Google crawlers) coming around to see what you’ve done.

Your current and future website presence rests on the content foundations you already have – don’t destroy them as these days the web is highly competitive. Budget and plan for migrating as many articles as you can. Most new visitors to your website will hit an article first and 20% of your top articles will likely be several years old (Google doesn’t care an article is old and you shouldn’t either).

Migrating significant numbers of articles effectively also involves taxonomy choices and indexing work. For example we will typically do topic categorisation, re-titling/url redirects and author linking in many cases for clients because they can’t easily resource that themselves (where we have significant editorial teams).

3. Not structuring your new website to distinguish valuable vs volume traffic

Not all visitors to a professional services firm’s website are equal. You should be structuring your site to be able to identify what generates real new business leads (and distinguish existing clients for that matter).

There are a number of steps to take like not having your contact details (phone number etc) in the footer of every page. You’ve just lost the ability to see what causes people to actually contact you (because you can’t track the clickstream in Google Analytics to the ‘Contact Us’ menu). And no, numbers of prospects phoning you won’t drop after you adopt the well used ‘Contact Us’ navigation convention.

4. Not effectively preserving your search presence

Every page on your existing site has a presence in Google and in our website benchmarking, search accounts for 60-70% of traffic and correlates strongly with the high value activities we refer to above.

Don’t like the copy on your IP practice page? Rewrite it and thereby remove the keyphrase ‘Madrid application’ you already rank well for in search and you may have just shot yourself in the foot.

You should start your content rewrite by looking at your analytics first. You also need to correctly implement redirects which simply tell search engines that the old page at url A is now at url B. Check how many pages you currently have indexed in Google and ideally that’s what you’re looking at in sheer numbers of redirects. We see too many firms doing a group-redirect (all individual old publication pages being group redirected to the one Publications home page for example).

In helping firms with revamps we find they also often miss unexpected redirects – for example printurl versions of articles they didn’t even realize appeared in search.

Ironically one of the worst things (just in terms of search presence) that can happen is a merger with an overseas firm.

It’s ironic because the merger’s rationale was to get BigLaw a footprint in country X and the day after the merger finalizes they shut down the local firm’s website and redirect any request for that domain to their homepage in the UK or US (and doubly ironic because as an overseas website BigLaw doesn’t appear in country X local content searches).

5. Not doing keyphrase research for your most important practice groups

These days if you want to be competitive in search (not wanting to belabor the point but remember, 60-70% of your traffic) casual thinking about website copy is not enough.

You need to understand how it is that prospective clients really search for information for at least your top 4 or 5 practice groups as opposed to how you would like them to.

So, although unsettling for IP lawyers, the public may not search for “applying for a trade mark” but instead for “get a trademark“. Or in family law they may search for “alimony” not because they are in the U.S. but simply because they watch US TV serials.

So for each major practice group you should end up with the top hundred or so keyphrases prioritized both by search frequency and by internal importance (there may be some low frequency searches which are however very profitable matters). We typically carry out a post-keyphrase research interview with a fee earner where we discuss these issues as well as to identify if we’ve missed anything.

6. Not applying your practice group keyphrase research correctly

Once you have your keyphrase research it needs to be applied to your new site effectively. That means thinking about the weighting that Google applies to specific page elements like titles, subdirectory paths, navigation etc.

It does not mean adopting the same url structure that all your competitors have for their websites. And it needs to be balanced against other considerations like tracking and readability.

7.  HIPPO*-driven decisions about features on your key page types

Despite what some staff may think, deciding what functions to have on key page types (lawyer or accountant bios, articles, practice group pages), should not just be a matter of personal taste.

There’s actual data out there (talk to us about benchmarking or an audit) on what functions work best on different law firm and accounting firm page types (for example if you don’t have a vcard link on lawyer profile pages you should) and even what is best practice in a homepage.

Try (we know it’s not always possible) to avoid ‘who shouts loudest’ decisionmaking here – there are visual design issues and there are functionality issues and the two are not the same thing.

* Highest Individually Paid Partner's Opinion