11/19/10

Law Firm Website Foundational Best Practices: Highlights of the 2010 Amlaw 100 Websites Research

[Guest Blogger – Deborah McMurray]
I spoke last week at the San Francisco ILTA lunch meeting, held in Littler’s offices. There was a great bit of interest in the topic: “Website and Intranet Best Practices and Highlights of the 2010 Amlaw 100 Websites Research” – so much so that the Albuquerque ILTA chapter joined in by LiveMeeting.
I first launched the study of AmLaw 100 websites in 2005 after realizing that law firms were spending millions and millions of dollars (collectively) on websites, but visitors weren’t getting any happier. Those sites then were not answering fundamental questions of buyers of legal services – what have you done? For whom have you done it? What can you do for me?
My company, Content Pilot, sponsored the research, and in 2005, 2006, 2007 and now 2010, hired industry specialists in key areas to conduct the evaluations. We have just completed the analysis of the 2010 research, and I am now writing and speaking about the findings.
Certain of the Ten Foundational Best Practices and attributes have evolved over the years. The broad web industry has changed, visitor expectations of all websites have changed, and buyers of legal services have told us in client interviews what they are looking for in a law firm website. The 2010 list reflects these changes:
1. Communicating your message
2. Graphics and design
3. Navigation
4. Lawyer biographies
5. Narrative content
6. Web site interactivity and outreach
7. Site search
8. Site optimization for online awareness
9. Firm citizenship
10. Site “hygiene”
Scoring for each of the Ten Foundational Best Practice attributes is on a 100-point scale, and each of the Ten FBPs has 4-8 attributes. It’s important to note that there are no subjective criteria – it’s not our opinion about what’s good or working well, and it has nothing to do with what we like and don’t like. The criteria were all measured objectively. And remember, these are “foundational” best practices – the must-have features and functionality for today’s law firm website. The attributes are quite basic, the antithesis of “out there.” Every major law firm could conceivably earn a perfect score of 100.
There were five industry professionals conducting the research: Jeff Yerkey, Right Hat/Charette Design; John Toth, an experienced freelance legal industry writer; and Blake Davis, Keith Wewe and me, from Content Pilot. We were each assigned one or more of the Foundational Best Practices.
Here is my slide deck, so take a look and contact me with any questions.
Briefly, there is great room for website improvement among the United States’ largest law firms. In 2010, only one law firm earned a score of “excellent,” which was 86-100. Davis Wright Tremaine (www.dwt.com) ranked at the top of the AmLaw 100 list with a score of 87.8. The Top 25 firms all scored above 70.6. “Good” is from 71-85 on a 100-point scale. Interestingly, even though the Ten FBPs were slightly changed from our 2007 research, the total scores in 2007 were surprisingly close to those in 2010. In 2007, only one firm scored excellent (WilmerHale – www.wilmerhale.com), but the Top 25 firms all scored 77.0 or better.
What brought the 2010 scores down? Lawyer biographies (the 4th FBP), the most important section of a law firm website (more than one-half of all visitors to a law firm website go to the lawyer bios, and often that’s the only place they go), ranked only “Fair” with a score of 65.5. One of the attributes is, “Includes links to social media profiles and pages.” Only one AmLaw 100 firm included them – Winston & Strawn (www.winston.com). Only 30 firms organized the bios in a way to accommodate long lists of experience or news/articles – i.e. displaying 5-10, with a “view more” (or all).
Another FBP that should have received higher scores was Foundational Best Practice #6 – Website Interactivity and Outreach. These criteria relate to how dynamic, interactive and “Web 2.0” the sites are. Only 14 sites include social media links – “Effectively uses LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter on Careers pages or other pages of the site.” Only 34.7% include links to blogs from practice, industry and bio pages. And only 28.5% “Effectively use video on site to further messaging.”
I have a White Paper coming soon that will include the Top 25 firms for each of the Foundational Best Practices, plus additional findings and comparison between the 2007 and 2010 research. I will alert you when it’s ready!
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about the other part of my presentation “2011 Intranet Best Practices.”

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