Google recently announced that your law firm website user experience will soon play a bigger role in how your search engine ranking is determined.
These changes are planned to take effect in 2021. In light of this news, we probably don’t need to tell you that there’s never been a better time to either upgrade to a new website or simply spend some time improving your current one. No matter what you decide, Foster Web Marketing has put together a list of 21 law firm web design tips you can apply to your law firm’s web design to help ensure your site maintains or even rises in the search engine rankings.
And when we say “design,” we don’t just mean making it pretty. Web design is so much more than the way a website looks; it affects the way people interact with your website, how it drives and converts leads, how effectively the Googlebot can crawl it, how efficiently it loads, how it performs on mobile devices, how it is developed, and how easily it can be found, just to name a few. So many firms out there sink thousands of dollars into pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, billboards, and more without looking at the place where that traffic is being driven—their website. If your website sucks, then digital advertising and marketing is little more than pointless! If you think your website doesn’t need any improvement, it’s important to ask yourself—how many leads has it brought you in the last year?
Your website is a passive income machine, a salesperson who doesn’t receive a salary or benefits and never takes a vacation. A well-done web design can potentially provide all the leads you’ll need to flourish as a business. With the vast majority of people’s buying journeys starting online, why wouldn’t you want to have the best lead-converting website that you can?
Google’s upcoming algorithm changes aside, we’re also seeing lots of signals at Foster Web Marketing that your brand prominence is going to be more important than ever moving forward. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google says, “Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.” SEO is more than just ranking for your keywords. It’s about getting Google to associate your keywords with your brand and subsequently associate your brand with bigger brands.
Want to go beyond just surviving Google’s planned algorithm update? Do you want your brand to thrive in 2021? Do you want to own your competition? Use these 21 tips to your advantage while there’s still time.
Determine the Primary Goal for Your Website
Okay, so this doesn’t technically count toward our 21-tip total, but it is good advice anyway. Before you start on your new website or decide to improve your existing one, take a moment to ask yourself: What is the goal of my website? For most, if not all of you, it’s not a difficult question to answer. You want leads. You want cases.
Now, here’s the more difficult question. Does every element of your existing website push people toward that desired goal? Probably not. Many design and layout elements can be crafted in such a way to subtly (or not so subtly) push people toward your contact form or offer form. As you work with your web designer or marketing team, try to keep the primary goal for your website in mind. And don’t overload people—minimize choices where possible.
Now with that out of the way, let’s move on to tips I promised you. All of them are geared toward helping you achieve your primary website goal in one way or another, so let’s get started!
Think About Organization
Setting out to create a new website or improve an existing one is a wasted effort if the website isn’t well-organized. A website’s organization is a bit like its skeleton, or its foundation. We wouldn’t get around very well without our skeletons, would we? And a house wouldn’t stand for very long without its foundation, would it?
Think about the ideal path an average person will take through your website. If you have tracking code like Google Analytics on your existing site, it can help show you the path people commonly take. Put yourself in the position of the potential client. What sorts of things are you wondering? What are your problems? What type of help do you need?
Keep in mind that if you do your job correctly, and Google does its job correctly, there’s a good chance that many of your website visitors will NOT land on your home page. Too often, we see law firms put a lot of effort into their homepage design and then settle for a simple WordPress-style sidebar layout for internal pages. The problem with that strategy is that your homepage isn’t guaranteed to be their first impression. With Google potentially dropping people onto any page of your website (depending on the relevance of their query to your pages), any page of your website could be their first impression of your company—and brand.
“But wait,” you say, “When I look at my Google Analytics, the home page is always the most visited page.” Yes, that’s true in many cases, but you may be missing the point. What percentage of your page views is your homepage? If you total the pageviews for all of your other pages, I think you’ll find that your homepage makes up only a small portion of your website’s activity. With that said, you need to care about your internal pages. Site visitors may be researching you or one of your attorneys, looking for your office location, or wondering if they’re going to lose their guns if they’re convicted of domestic violence. You need to be ready for a person to enter your website from just about anywhere, not just your homepage.
A fairly typical visitor behavior is to go to your Bio page, but they don’t always go there first. Once the visitor is educated on how you can help them (from an article, FAQ, or blog post), they want to know who will be helping them. Do you appear trustworthy? Do you have experience? Have you helped other people like them? If you know that people commonly look for this information, why not help them get there?
"What’s important to you is not always important to site visitors."
We also see visitors moving from the homepage to your practice area pages. This is especially common with direct traffic (visitors who typed in your web address instead of using a search engine). In addition to your main navigation, consider showing your practice areas (along with links to them) prominently on the homepage. Digging through your existing site’s Analytics will shed light on more behaviors like these.
Planning upfront based on customer’s needs, intents, and behaviors will help you structure your website navigation. Even the smallest detail, such as the order of your navigational links, can be the difference between getting a lead and losing a visitor. Knowing that many people look at your practice areas and your attorneys, it makes sense to include them prominently, even first, in your site navigation. Blogs, articles, FAQs, and About Us can appear further below or to the right. What’s important to you is not always important to site visitors. They want to know what you can do to solve their problem and why they should hire you in particular. Don’t assume that people care about the things you want to share with them.
Doing this planning upfront will also allow you to get a head start on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Many people will create a website first and then start thinking about SEO second. If you have the opportunity, though, planning ahead can save a lot of time and effort.
Start by making a list of all of your website pages, and then think about what your main keyword should be for each one. A good keyword for your homepage might be “elder law firm,” and a good keyword for your Estate Planning practice area page might be “estate planning attorney.” Matching your homepage keyword to your Google My Business category name may also be a smart move for local ranking. Keep in mind that you only want to try ranking each page for one keyword in particular. Attempting to rank a page for 20 different keywords will significantly muddy the waters of relevance, not just from an SEO standpoint, but from a user intent standpoint as well.
Need help determining what your keywords should be? Use a tool like the Google Ads Keyword Planner, KeywordTool.io, WordStream, Wordtracker, or Ubersuggest to find out what keywords are in demand and not overly competitive. As a tip within a tip, try to steer toward keywords that are singular instead of plural. Google sees plural keywords as having a slightly different intent from singular keywords. For example, to Google, a plural keyword like “criminal defense attorneys”—as opposed to the singular “criminal defense attorney”—implies an attorney list or comparison. This puts you in unnecessary competition with sites like Findlaw and Lawyers.com.
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Once you have identified your keywords, pre-plan your site to take advantage of them. Name your practice area pages accordingly. At a minimum, make sure the keywords are used in your meta titles, URLs, and H1’s (more on this later); it’s easier to do it in advance than try to fix it later on. Remember, don’t try to make more than one page about a specific keyword, and don’t try to make a single page about more than one keyword. Different pages should cover different visitor intents.
Image Quality and Optimization
Long before anyone reads the content of your law firm website, they’ll probably see at least one of your photos. Great photography sells. Bad photography… does not.
There are plenty of places where you can get away with average photography. For instance, posting simple photos taken with your phone to your Google My Business is better than not having any photography. But when it comes to your website, a good photographer is worth the investment.
It should go without saying, but don’t just grab images from Google Images or other websites. That can get you into hot water in terms of copyright infringement. And no, just giving attribution to the photographer or photo source is not good enough; if you want to use someone else’s photo, get written permission AND give attribution.
That leaves you with two other options: take your own photos (you or a photographer) or purchase stock photography. While stock photography works fine for a lot of people, it’s still stock photography. Visitors are likely sharp enough to tell the difference between a cheesy stock photo and a genuine photo of your actual office filled with smiling faces and happy clients. Although we understand that it’s not always possible, take the genuine route whenever you can. We always highly recommend our clients should invest the time and money to get professional photos taken - it is worth it! The right balance of some stock photos and some genuine photos of you / your team / your building is ideal for most law firms.
Once you’ve chosen some high-quality images for your website, there are a few technical issues to consider. One is that photos should be compressed before you add them to your website. This can be done with a program like Adobe Photoshop or with a website like CompressJPEG.com. Using uncompressed images on your website (say, straight off of your phone or digital camera) will slow it down. A slow loading time is bad for people and bad for Google (more on this later). It’s usually a good idea to compress your images to the point where they save space without cutting into the quality of the image too much. JPEG compression is pretty amazing; most people can’t tell the difference between a 500kb image and a 10MB image (which has a file size 20 times larger). And there are even newer compression schemes (like JPEG2000 / WEBP / FLIF) that are slowly taking hold with even smaller file sizes.
"In lieu of captions, make sure your photos are placed near content that’s contextual to the image."
In addition to compressing your images, make sure the size/dimensions of the photo as it displays on your site is equal to the size/dimensions of the photo itself. This can again be altered in software like Photoshop. If you display an image on your site that is 300 pixel wide by 300 pixel tall, and it is forced to fill the width of your website (let’s say 1000 pixels wide, for example), the image is going to lose a lot of its quality in upscaling. If you display a 1000 pixel wide by 1000 pixel tall image as 300 x 300, then you’re shrinking a lot of the visual quality down to where the unnecessary file size is potentially wasted.
Responsive websites complicate this issue further. What if a phone user turns their phone horizontally while on your site, which forces your carefully planned image to be wider than intended? In the HTML coding world, this is usually handled with the “srcset” attribute, which allows different images to be loaded based on screen width (you can ask your web development team about this). This can be difficult to get perfect, but you’ll be better off than your competitor if you adequately compress your images and don’t force any of them to change size too far outside their natural dimensions. When in doubt, scale down, not up (which is to say, use a slightly larger image than you need, just make sure it is compressed).
The right half of the image below has been compressed about twice as much as the left half of the image, cutting file size by over 50%. Can you tell the difference?
You’ll also want to make sure that your images are presented in the best possible fashion for search engines. It’s generally a good idea to include your keyword in the actual file name of the image file. For example, if you want to rank your practice area page for “estate planning attorney,” then include a photo of yourself on the page and name your image “estate-planning-attorney.jpg.” It’s also a good idea to include your keyword (or words closely related to it) in your ALT attributes, which are backup words that display when the image can’t be rendered. They are commonly used by screen reader software programs that read the page content aloud (usually for people who are blind), so don’t just add your keywords as ALT text; make sure to describe what’s actually in the image, too.
There’s also some evidence that Google checks the geotags embedded in your images, although that is contested in professional SEO circles. Geotags store precise information about where an image was taken, and it’s possible that Google gives extra credit to images that are taken in the area near your business location—assigning more weight to them than to stock photography.
Google also learns about your photos by looking at the text near them. With that in mind, it’s usually a good idea to include captions near your photos to help Google understand what your images are about. Captions also help a visitor scan the page to determine what parts are important to them. In lieu of captions, make sure your photos are placed near content that’s contextual to the image. Many people will also employ the TITLE attribute, which in some browsers acts as a pop-up or tooltip when a user hovers over the image. Including words and keywords in your title may not offer any direct SEO benefit, but it can help in a small way with user experience by explaining the photo (in addition to the caption). Google can also read text in photos and images, so don’t be afraid to include some if you have the ability to do so.
Lastly, if you’re wondering how many photos to put on each page, we recommend a minimum of one. A better way to gauge how many you’ll need is to Google search a keyword you want to rank for. Look at the top three sites ranking for that keyword and see how many images they have on their sites. You may be surprised at how many you’ll want to include to be competitive.
Social proof is the idea that people are much more likely to do something that someone else has already done or is currently doing. Your website can’t look like the visitor will be your first client; they need to see proof of happy customers before them. This is especially important for attorneys because people seldom trust their estate planning, criminal defense, appeal, or other legal matter to someone who doesn’t have proof of successful cases in the past.
This brings us to case studies. Every time you’re able to be a hero to one of your clients, it is worth sharing. It can’t hurt to ask people for their permission to share their stories, and usually, you won’t have people turn you down if you agree to keep them completely or partially anonymous (for example, Chad G.). These cases will give people hope about their own legal situations and help them to see themselves going through the same positive experience with you that your previous client did.
"You don’t want a website visitor to be on your site without seeing at least one positive experience from another real human being."
In addition to case studies, it’s also great to include shorter-form testimonials, too. These testimonials, which are usually just a short 1-2 sentence quote from a former customer, can be sprinkled throughout the website. They serve as constant reminders to your potential clients that people who do business with you have their expectations exceeded. Remember earlier when we discussed the possibility of people entering your website from just about anywhere? For that reason, we recommend having at least one testimonial on every page. You don’t want a website visitor to be on your site without seeing at least one positive experience from another real human being.
Video testimonials, like this Foster Web Marketing testimonial from Attorney Lee Berlin in Tulsa Oklahoma, are excellent if you can convince your clients into recording them:
And of course, you’ll want to show reviews on your website. Reviews are usually a little more general than testimonials, in the sense that they will commonly not discuss details about the case. There is nothing stopping you from grabbing Google reviews and pulling excerpts from them onto your site, along with their star rating. Since they are reviews provided to Google and not overly detailed, you’re probably okay using people’s full names (but if you want to be sure, just ask them for permission).
Senior Marketing Strategist John Spare talks with Tom Foster at length about generating reviews (and ranking in Google's local pack) in his World of Marketing podcast:
Another less personal social proof tactic is to simply display how many people you have helped and/or how much money has been awarded to your clients. While perhaps not a super-powerful example of social proof on its own, it can be a powerful inclusion when used in conjunction with personal case studies, testimonials, and reviews.
Lastly, you’ll want to include any endorsements you may have—perhaps from other highly respected attorneys, well-known personalities, or judges.
Trust and Credibility “Badges”
We likely don’t need to explain to you what these are. State, County and City Bar Association Seals; Academy, Alliance, Counsel, and Forum Memberships; and recognition like Super Lawyers, Top 100 Trial Lawyers, and HireMeLegal Top Attorneys are just a few examples.
The idea of trust badges—or trust signals—originated in the digital marketing world on websites that accept credit card payments. You know the websites that, just before asking for you to check out, remind you that your checkout is guaranteed 100% safe? They usually mention McAfee, Norton, or something about encryption. The trust and credibility badges on attorney sites are an extension of this idea, except you probably aren’t collecting anyone’s credit card information on your site (unfortunately). Instead, you’re giving people a reason to trust your firm. You’re giving evidence that your firm is credible. And of course, there’s more to trust than just badges; we’ll talk more about that later.
Lawyer profile ratings and organizations are a great inclusion, particularly from well-known lawyer profile sites. If you have a 10/10 Avvo rating, include that! Are you recognized by Super Lawyers? Say so. Do you have a peer review score of 4 or 5 stars on Lawyers.com? You get the idea.
In addition to these various badges, don’t be afraid to connect your brand to other well-known, recognizable brands when it makes sense to do so. Have you been on television before? Include the logo of the news station or program you appeared on, and dig up the video if you can. Have you been featured in or written for a local magazine or newspaper? Include their logo, too, with a caption like “Has been featured in” or “As seen in” or “Recognized by.” The same thing applies to events you’ve appeared at or lectures you’ve hosted. The idea is that these organizations wouldn’t let just anyone contribute to their program, article, or event. They likely did their homework and came to you for your contribution because of your expertise on a subject. Shining a light on all of these things adds credibility to your firm and your brand, and there’s some evidence that it helps your SEO, too.
Lastly, although it isn’t technically a badge or award, we also recommend that attorneys include the year they were established and/or the number of years they’ve been in business. Unless you’re a really new firm, saying “Defending The Innocent Since 1998” or “Helping People Make Great Legal Decisions For Over 20 Years,” for example, really helps people trust you. This might be especially good if you survived the recession of 2007/2008. In the client’s mind, if you survived the recession (and for so many years in general), you must be good at what you do.
There are a number of ways you can look at the function of website content. Content is sort of like a vote that you are an authority on a subject. The more votes you have, the better chances you have at Google selecting your website over a competitor (although that is not the only ranking factor, of course). Content is also a little like fishing nets—the more nets you have in the water, the more fish you can potentially catch.
It’s important to make sure your content isn’t thin. There’s a sea of content out there that is very short in length with no supporting photos or videos, and all of the creators are hoping to rank for something that they probably never will. If you can’t write a significant amount about a topic, consider combining it with other topics that are closely related. For example, if the answer to the question, “How can I avoid probate?” is a short one, then consider asking the question on your practice area page instead of making a dedicated page. However, if you can figure out how to write a substantial answer, it deserves a page of its own.
Post regularly. Decide on a schedule and stick to it. Google favors fresh content over stale content. This is partially to enhance the user experience for their own users and partially because they have limited resources. Google deploys what’s known as the Googlebot or “Spider” to “crawl” the world wide web, adding the most notable of what it finds to the Google “Index.” The rate at which this bot/spider revisits your website is known as “crawl rate.” Generally speaking, the higher the crawl rate, the better. Think about how well news websites rank—that’s because the Google bot/spider revisits their sites multiple times a day to check for updates. The more content you post, the more often the bot/spider will revisit you. But Google won’t continually send their bot your way if you just stop writing—in fact, when you get a visit from the spider, and there’s nothing new, it will make a note to wait longer before revisiting. The opposite is also true—if it finds new content, it may make a note to revisit sooner. This is why it’s so important to stick to a content schedule—don’t disappoint the Googlebot!
"Are you a divorce attorney? Write about a high-profile divorce in the celebrity world. Are you an estate planning attorney? Write about how you would plan the estate of a well-known TV show character. Are you a personal injury attorney? Write about an accident in the news and who might be liable or have a case. Are you a criminal defense attorney? Write about how you would defend popular movie characters."
While sticking to new content is great, don’t ignore old content either. For every new piece you post, consider going back and updating one (or a few) as well. On significant pages with a lot of traffic, feel free to add a note like “Updated for 2021” or similar to let prior readers (and the Googlebot) know there’s a reason to revisit and new readers know that the information is fresh.
Many people hear this advice to “write often” and come to us, asking, “What am I supposed to write about? I’m an attorney. What’s sexy and fresh about a law firm?”
One idea that works particularly well for our clients is connecting their law firm brands to something in the news or pop culture. Are you a divorce attorney? Write about a high-profile divorce in the celebrity world. Are you an estate planning attorney? Write about how you would plan the estate of a well-known TV show character. Are you a personal injury attorney? Write about an accident in the news and who might be liable or have a case. Are you a criminal defense attorney? Write about how you would defend popular movie characters. You can use tools like Google News, Ubersuggest, BuzzSumo, and Google Trends to see what’s new and trending, and then brainstorm a way to connect your brand to it.
In my World of Marketing Podcast with Tom Foster, I talk in more detail about several of the tools that I use on a regular basis to help my clients come up with new content ideas:
Another commonly used idea is writing something provocative, attention-getting, or valuable sounding in list format. Are you a divorce attorney? Write “7 ways to guarantee you lose everything in divorce.” Are you a personal injury attorney? Write “11 Secrets Insurance Companies Don’t Want You To Know.” Are you a criminal defense attorney? Write “5 Methods Used By Police To Coerce, and How You Can Avoid Them.” These are, of course, just examples meant to get you thinking! If you did your keyword research (like we touched on earlier), you probably already know what your potential clients’ struggles are, what their search intents are, what value you can offer and what questions you can answer for them.
Case studies, as we mentioned previously, also work great at filling in if you’re short on content ideas. People love hero stories, and in the case of content, they’ll not only serve as social proof but also as a reason for Google to visit your site again.
Those tools and ideas aside, if you’re looking to be competitive for something, just Google it, read what comes up first, and then write your own, much better version of it!
You can also write the answers to frequently asked questions, but more on that later.
Load Times, Page Speed
One of the most important items in this list—page speed—is the difference between someone staying on your website and someone leaving. As Google says, “speed is revenue.” Conventional wisdom says the loading time that is acceptable to users is 3 seconds or less, so if your potential clients have to wait longer than that, you’re risking them bouncing and leaving your website.
If you’re wondering how fast your site is now, you can test it with the Think with Google mobile tool or the PageSpeed Insights tool. You should strive for a high number, but don’t be too hard on yourself; these tools usually test your site with very slow internet conditions, which may be unlikely for the majority of your visitors. Google considers a score of 90 or above to be good, and below 50 to be poor. However, you could probably visit a site on your phone that has a score of 50 and not notice significant slow load times.
Load time also ties in very closely with a key part of Google’s upcoming 2021 algorithm change, which is based around page experience. Google announced a set of three metrics, known as Core Web Vitals, which will be combined with their existing page experience signals to get a clear picture of user experience on your website.
The first metric in Core Web Vitals is known as Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). It connects directly with how quickly your website loads and has a strong bearing on a user’s first impression of your website. Specifically, it measures how long your website takes to display the largest content element. Google considers an LCP time of fewer than 2.5 seconds to be good and an LCP time of more than 4 seconds to be poor.
The second metric in Core Web Vitals is known as First Input Delay (FID). FID measures how long a user must wait before the website becomes interactive (buttons become clickable, etc.). This is also important for a user’s first impression of your website; is your site usable, or not? Google considers an FID of less than 100 milliseconds to be good and an FID of more than 300 milliseconds to be poor.
The last metric in Core Web Vitals is known as Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). CLS is a measure of a website’s visual stability. You’ve likely had a website experience before where you tried to click on something but were unable to do so because the website “shifted” at the last second. Perhaps this was from an image or large font loading on the page and pushing the content below it down. In any case, it can be very frustrating for your users—and difficult to address. According to Google, a good CLS score is less than 0.1, and a CLS greater than 0.25 is poor.
By the way, Google will combine Core Web Vitals with their existing page experience metrics, which include mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS security, and non-intrusive interstitials.
There’s a lot more detail to these Core Web Vitals, of course, and you’ll likely need to work with your web developer to make sure that you’re taken care of for the upcoming 2021 changes. To get started on these important Core Web Vitals metrics, you’ll need to be able to measure them. Aside from the page speed tools mentioned above, you can also see Core Web Vitals information inside your Google Search Console and in your Chrome browser’s inspector under the Performance tab.
Google has stated that “while all of the components of page experience are important, we will prioritize pages with the best information overall.” So, even if your development team can’t make it perfect, it likely isn’t the end of the world; just make sure you have great content. Remember, though—in the highly competitive geographies, every last effort counts. It would be a shame to let a competitor beat you in rankings just because of your poor loading times and Core Web Vitals.
Director of Marketing Jamie Kelly discusses the importance of website speed futher in the webinar below:
Calls to Action
Remember how we discussed the goal of your website in Tip Zero? Calls to action on your website are key to driving people toward that goal.
A call to action is simply a directive—you tell your visitor outright what you’d like them to do. There’s no shame in doing it. Remember, they found their way to your website for a reason—be it word of mouth or SEO or PPC. Now, it’s the job of your website to convert them. Sell them on why they should hire you, and then tell them what action they should take.
Don’t be afraid to make your call to action and call-to-action links noticeable. If you bury them in text, they will likely not be interacted with as much as you’d like. At the same time, you don’t want to jump into a call to action too early and over pressure the visitor or give them a bad impression.
Also, think twice about the most effective words you can use in your call to action buttons. Too many forms across the world wide web have a button that says “Submit.” How about “Get Started” or “Find Out More” instead? If you’re having people sign up for a webinar, try “Reserve Your Spot.” If you’re offering an e-book, use something like “Get My Free E-book.” You might also try “Request a Free Consultation.” The last thing you want to do is confuse people by using ambiguous language right at the moment when they’re about to convert into a lead.
So, where should your calls to action appear? On every single page. That’s right—everywhere. A natural closing to nearly all of your blogs, articles, and FAQs should be a call to action about hiring you, unless you’re trying to push a download, webinar, or something else. You should even include a call to action on your “thank you” page—the page you show after someone completes a form. In fact, the thank you page is often criminally underutilized—more on that soon.
Don't Forget Internal Linking
The last thing you want is for people to struggle to find what they’re looking for on your website. So, don’t just link for the search engines—link for human beings that may be interested in other parts of your website.
But don’t just haphazardly link for the sake of linking. Ideally, you link where it makes sense contextually to do so. However, what you definitely don’t want to do is link away from your page using the same keyword that the current page is about—unless, of course, you can provide a page link that offers better information about that keyword.
For example, if you have a practice area page about criminal defense, it is likely a good idea to link your criminal defense blog posts to it so that people can learn more about your offerings. It also shows Google the hierarchy of your site—there’s no page more about “criminal defense” than your practice area page.
If you have 12 FAQs, 12 blogs, and 12 articles all about criminal defense, it might be confusing for Google to determine which one to try and rank for “criminal defense attorney.” Furthermore, it might be confusing to human beings trying to figure out how they can learn more about the general topic that brought them into your website. Each one of your individual pages, of course, has the opportunity to rank for a long-tail keyword (a more specific search term), but how will Google know what page on your site is the ‘authority’ for a keyword? Sure, Google will make a determination, but it’s best to ‘nudge’ the Googlebot in the right direction with a link structure that makes sense.
Your content plays a big part in bringing in website visitors, but optimization, which is all about how you present your content to search engines, can also make a huge difference. To many people, it can seem like monotonous minutia, but optimizing your content can be the difference between landing at the top of page 2 and the top of page 1 of search results.
And no, you don’t need an “SEO” to do a lot of this work, so long as you have the time, and especially if your website Content Management System (CMS) allows you to edit some key parts of your pages. All it takes is a little effort and setting some good content habits, and you can likely do most of what an SEO would do—on your website, at least.
The most important on-page optimization elements are your URL (what you type in to visit that direct page), your Meta Title (what appears in Google search results and on your browser tab), and your H1 (the main headline of the page). Make sure you get your keyword into all of those, if possible. Don’t overdo it, though. We’ve seen evidence that the longer the URL, the less each word in it is ‘weighed.’ Also, Google only displays the first 60 characters or so of your Meta Title, depending on the device, so try your best to keep it under that. And nobody wants to read a giant H1 header that is 30 words long. Remember—don’t try to make a page about more than one keyword. Keeping the length of your key elements low shouldn’t be an issue if you’re only talking about one thing (and perhaps, in one location).
In addition to those key elements, it’s also a good idea to position your keyword high on the page—or “above the fold” as they say (so it’s seen before the reader needs to scroll). If you can get it in the first sentence, great! You may also want to bold a keyword, consider including it in a list (either ordered or unordered), and incorporate as many related images as you can (as we discussed earlier).
It’s also a good idea to include your keyword in the meta description of the page. The meta description is text that Google may decide to display with your search result. It appears just under the page title and influences whether a potential client clicks through to your website. So don’t just shove keywords into it—give people looking for an attorney a reason to click in to your site.
There’s definitely such a thing as going overboard here. In fact, Google has dedicated multiple algorithm changes to penalizing sites that “over-optimize.” Don’t try to include so many iterations of your keyword that your page is unreadable or sounds unnatural. Use partial match keywords, related terms, latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, and synonyms. Knowing the right amount of on-page indexing is something that an experienced SEO professional can help you with. But you can always experiment on your own, and look at what your competition is doing!
Many people would rather watch than read, especially when they’re in a hurry. Having video on a page can engage those “watchers” and provide a richer experience for all of your site visitors. In many cases, video even allows potential clients to see you and decide for themselves if they think you’re trustworthy and likable (more on that later).
And we’re not just worried about what the humans think. We’ve seen it time and time again; Google prefers sites with a lot of great multimedia over sites that are just text. Video can significantly improve a user’s experience on your website, so when it comes to search results, Google will favor websites that contain videos relevant to their users’ queries. If you can somehow get a video on every page—do it!
In the podcast below, Tom Foster talks with Jim Folliard, Owner of Gearshift Studios, about why video makes an impact:
If you’re not a big fan of making videos, you’re not alone—but you are missing out. At the very least, we suggest that you should record basic videos to cover your practice areas. That way, at least your main practice area pages have a chance to rank competitively. If you aren’t opposed to creating more videos, another great place to start (once you’re done with practice area videos) is your FAQs—record a video for each one!
While sites can support a variety of video sources, like Vimeo or Facebook, we typically recommend using YouTube. Google has a tendency to be narcissistic and favors Youtube because, well…they own it. Also, don’t try to upload videos to your own server and host them from there. Doing so will quickly eat through your bandwidth, which is typically limited by your hosting provider. It’s best to host your video elsewhere and then “embed” it on your website with a simple code that can be retrieved from the “Share” section of your YouTube channel. In some cases, your website’s “backend” (the area you log into, to make edits) may contain built-in video uploading and embedding, which is great because it saves you some trouble.
"...Google will favor websites that contain videos relevant to their users’ queries."
Google also looks at a number of on-site user behaviors to determine how good your user experience is. Among them is a metric called ‘average session duration,’ which is exactly what it sounds like. Generally speaking, the longer people spend on your website, the better. And what better way to get them to stick around awhile than informative and entertaining video?
Make it Easy to Contact You
We’ve seen loads of sites that almost seem to be trying to hide their contact information. In those cases, many frustrated people bounce from the website and turn to Google to search for things like “Johnson Law Firm Phone Number.” Not good! Website contacts generally boil down to forms, chats and phone numbers.
And we’re not just talking about prospects and leads here. Being easy to contact can turn what might have ended up as a bad Google review into a Facebook chat where your team can make things right. Wouldn’t you rather have a chance to set things right over a chat or phone call than being stuck with a 1-star review?
You may have heard that shorter forms generally equate to more leads. People may be happy to give you their names and email addresses, but not so quick to give away their phone numbers and street addresses. While reasoning varies from person to person, it’s usually a split between the perceived workload to complete a longer form and concerns about privacy. But while a shorter form will probably bring you more leads, a longer form will probably bring you better leads. There’s really no right answer here. The right amount of information to request depends on your client, the nature of the form, what the user is getting in return, and perhaps even the type of law you practice. Request what you consider to be just enough to qualify your leads without wading into the information that would be nice to have, but isn’t necessary.
If you’re on the fence about what information to collect, consider working with your web team to run some A/B testing with something like Google Optimize. A/B testing can be valuable for determining if you’re overstepping your bounds on a contact form. With all that said, we’re not necessarily the biggest fans of A/B testing; it shouldn’t be done purely for the sake of doing so. If you’re already working with an experienced web marketing team, they should already know (from experience) what option is likely best. Sure, you could display a red call-to-action button 50% of the time just for fun, but we’re pretty certain that the green call-to-action button will bring you more leads. So why experiment at all?
"Wouldn’t you rather have a chance to set things right over a chat or phone call than being stuck with a 1-star review?"
Generally speaking, people are more likely to finish something they’ve started than they are to start something they haven’t started yet. With that in mind, if you absolutely insist on collecting additional personal information like addresses and phone numbers, do it lower in the form. If a person takes the time to fill out their name and email, they’ll be a little more likely to complete the fields below just because they’ve already started and don’t want to waste their efforts.
A downloadable “offer,” sometimes known as a “lead magnet” or just a download, allows you to reserve some of your most valuable content as a giveaway in exchange for people’s contact information. We firmly believe that no website should go live without one. They are commonly used as a method to collect leads and prospects your website might not otherwise have captured. The most common example is an e-book, but an offer could also be a checklist, guide, resource kit, workbook, exclusive video, webinar, cheat sheet, access to a tool, or anything else your potential clients would value. Just keep in mind that what you decide to give away will have a large impact on conversion rate. For example, you may see more download volume giving away ‘checklists’ or ‘e-books’ instead of ‘guides’ or ‘reports’ because of the perceived time needed to digest the content based on the name. On the other hand, you might see more qualified leads with ‘guides’ and ‘reports’ since the people downloading them are more willing to commit to a long read.
Not everyone who visits your website is ready to contact you, but they may be ready to download something of value to continue their research. So, with downloadable offers, you’re going after people at an earlier stage of the buying or decision-making process instead of just going after people who are ready to commit. A great marketing strategy goes after people no matter where they are in the process.
Downloadable offers have a number of benefits in addition to just collecting more leads. For one, they have a tendency to lower your website’s bounce rate. Remember earlier how we talked about people’s intents? People could be coming to your website for any number of reasons, from reading one of your attorney bios to just looking for your phone number. By offering all of those people a valuable download, you greatly increase the chances that they’ll engage regardless of their original intent. Offers are a great “interrupter” in that respect.
Thanks to the principle of reciprocity, the people who download your offers will be more likely to hire you later because you gave them something valuable for free. They’re also more likely to hire you in the future because your downloadable offer has proved that you are an authority. We always suggest that you apply your branding (logo, colors, etc.) to your offers to remind people of who gave them the free valuable content.
The benefit of a downloadable offer can be expanded further if it kicks off a drip email campaign (more on this later). Since you know that many of the people who download your offer are early in their decision-making process, you’re likely to benefit greatly from keeping in touch with them automatically over a period of weeks or months. The predefined schedule for your automated emails is highly dependent on your practice areas; criminal defense, for example, is more urgent, whereas estate planning is more carefully considered.
One of the most important things to remember when brainstorming for an offer idea or writing the offer itself is that it needs to be mostly non-salesy and valuable to someone who may not be ready to hire you yet. So, a bad example of an offer would be “10 Reasons Why You Should Hire Me.” Instead, keep your sales pitches out of the document and call it “10 Things to Look for in an Ideal Attorney.” See how those two ideas are essentially the same thing, but one is ‘pitchy,’ and one isn’t? If you want to pitch, do so later on in the offer once you’ve proven your value.
By no means do these high-value offers need to be gated (that is, made available only behind a form). You may have success simply giving away your free e-book to the masses, and simply offering a download as a courtesy on top of that. Consider experimenting with both to see what works best for you.
Graphics, Typography, and White Space
It can be easy to just throw a few things into the sidebar and paste your content onto the page, but it doesn’t make for a very good visual hierarchy or memorable experience. As we touched on before, you don’t want to fall prey to a website design that looks like WordPress. Breaking up the content on your pages with graphics can help keep the reader’s interest, reduce perceived reading effort and time, and help the visitor scan more quickly to find the information that’s important to them.
"...don’t let the word 'graphics' intimidate you."
At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard with it. It can be easy to get so caught up in “stuff” and the need to be unique that it leaves visitors confused. A confused mind does not buy. Find a good balance between interest and legibility. The use of adequate white space can help with this, allowing elements on the page to “breathe.”
A great place to start is highlighting the things that set you apart from your competition. Do you offer free consultations? Create a graphic to let people know about that. Have you helped recover billions of dollars for your clients? Turn that into a graphic so that people can’t miss it. Do you have a slogan? Create a graphic to strengthen your brand prominence. Do you make a promise to all of your clients? You get the idea.
Graphics can also be used to function as buttons. While it’s a good idea to do interlinking right inside of your text for people reading, it’s also a good idea to use graphical buttons to help move people around your website to your ultimate goal. For example, if you’re a Social Security disability lawyer, you may help people who need to apply, have already applied, and who were denied and need to appeal. So, it would make sense on your Social Security disability practice area page to have three buttons, one for each intent of the visitor. Don’t leave it up to chance that they’ll see your text links or interact with the main navigation; offer as many ways to get around as you can, with attention-getting buttons as one option.
And don’t let the word “graphics” intimidate you. A “graphic” could easily just be a different typeface used in an interesting manner and with attention-grabbing color or layout. Speaking of typography, be sure to not use too many different typefaces and fonts, or you’ll muddy your brand.
Branding and Color
When designing your website, it’s important to stick to the colors of your brand—the ones people already know you for.
Gretchen Upright, Chief Business Development Officer at Foster Web Marketing, discusses the importance of branding and color in your law firm website design in her World of Marketing podcast with Tom Foster:
While brand is important, and we’re certainly not advocating that anyone go changing their well-established brand for their website design, the emotions behind color are also important. For example, many law firms involved in matters of family law or estate planning will go with friendly, reassuring, and soft colors like warm greys and light blues. Business litigation law likely goes better with darker blues and varying grays to communicate trustworthiness and accountability. Criminal justice attorneys may go for bolder or more saturated colors like red and orange to appear aggressive and passionate. Environmental law firms commonly go with shades and tints of green and blue.
Here are some commonly accepted color—emotion connections:
Red: Passion, Fire, Violence, Love, Danger
Orange: Energy, Movement, Change, Vitality, Welcoming
Black: Power, Mystery, Formality, Elegance, Sophistication
White- Cleanliness, Neutrality, Purity, Goodness
Grey: Balance, Loss, Compromise, Composure, Calmness
Yellow: Happiness, Hunger, Cowardice, Hope, Caution
Green: Earth, Growth, Stability, Abundance, Wealth, Freshness
Blue: Corporate, Sadness, Trustworthiness, Peace, Reliability
Purple: Royalty, Imagination, Luxury, Romance
These, of course, are gross generalizations about color emotion purely based on hue. For example, a light baby blue conveys a different connotation than a rich, royal blue might.
Everyone reacts to colors differently, and tint, shade, and saturation matter.
In addition to sticking to your branding colors, consider introducing another color that is reserved for the actions you want visitors to take on your pages. You can use a tool like Palleton or the Canva color wheel to discover a color that works well with your established color set—or work with an experienced designer. Once you choose the new color, apply it to the graphics that relate directly to your website’s primary goal. Doing so will focus attention on call-to-action buttons, downloads, forms, phone numbers, and anything else you want to highlight. Sure, you could stick to your brand and use a muted brown color on your buttons, but it might have a detrimental effect on your click rates.
Particularly when working with text over images, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re maximizing contrast to also maximize readability.
Make Your USP Front and Center
When you ask a business owner what sets them apart from their competitors, what do you think they’ll say? I’ll bet you can guess at least one of their answers, no matter the vertical: Quality, Experience, Customer Service. Your unique selling proposition (USP)—also referred to as unique selling point or unique value proposition (UVP)—is what makes you, your company, and your products and service offerings stand out from the rest. It details why people should hire you as opposed to your competitors and is typically included in your “elevator speech.”
There’s a saying in marketing that “different is better than better.” This is likely derived from studies of our brain’s Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is the part of your brain that connects four of your five senses (hearing, sight, touch, and taste) to your consciousness. It acts as the gatekeeper and is solely responsible for whether a sound, message, image, sensation, or taste enters your conscious mind. It determines, for example, what you hear and what you don’t hear. Sit in a room with a fan running, and eventually, you won’t register it. Overhear someone mention your name or something you’re interested in, and your ears will perk up. The RAS also affects individual perception, which is why eyewitnesses can be unreliable—their brains construct their own perception of the incident in question.
That boundary between your conscious and unconscious mind—the one that your RAS controls access to—is referred to as the limen threshold. If you’re able to cross it with your sound, message, image, sensation, or taste, the person becomes conscious of it. If you do not exceed the limen threshold, your message is sub-limen (or subliminal).
The marketing messages that have the best chance of crossing the limen threshold are:
- Those that address something your potential client values
- Things that are unique to your potential client
- Things that your potential client finds threatening
Combine those three for the most effective marketing message— find what your client values, explain why you are uniquely qualified to deliver it, and remind the client of what could happen if they don’t work with an attorney (or something else slightly threatening). You’ll be sure to stick in the minds of the client much better than if you only talk about your ‘experience.’ Take your USP and display it front and center. Why? Because you only have one chance to make a first impression. Potential customers are searching the web looking for an attorney, and your best shot at sticking out in their minds is to be different, not just ‘better.’
As you are likely aware, people have become increasingly dependent on their smartphones. At any given moment, the world’s information is at your fingertips. So, it’s only natural that in a situation where you need information or assistance, you’ll rely on your smartphone in that moment. If you see a leak under your sink, you might grab your phone and ask Google “how to fix a sink leak.” If you’re hungry and have a craving for Mediterranean food, you might grab your phone and ask Google, “where can I get Mediterranean food near me?” And if you were in a car accident, you might grab your phone and ask Google “what to do if I’ve been in a car accident.”
"...if you answer a person’s question in that moment, there’s a good chance you’ve gained a new client."
These moments are referred to as micromoments by Google. In a moment of need, we rely on our smartphones to answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions of everyday life. We’re particularly likely to use our smartphones when we’re caught off guard or when something urgent comes up.
Ben Polk of Google joined Foster Web Marketing for a webinar discussing micromoments in more detail:
Furthermore, during these micromoments, searchers often ask questions using voice search instead of typing text-based searches into their devices. Voice search is just easier sometimes, right? That’s especially true when you’re in the middle of something. In fact, voice search represents about 10 percent of all search volume, and we expect that number to rise.
So, how can you make the most of this as an attorney? Be the one to answer people’s micro-moment questions. You’ll be missing out on a lot of search volume if you’re just trying to get people who type in “criminal defense lawyer.” Yes, you should target that keyword, of course, but you should also go after questions like, “what are the punishments for DUI,” “what to do about a false rape allegation,” or “who is the best violent crimes attorney near me.” Following our earlier tip about making each page about one keyword, you should create an FAQ page dedicated to each question a potential client might ask. That way, when someone asks Google a question, you have a chance at coming up in the search result—especially if you offer an extensive, high quality answer. And if you answer a person’s question in that moment, there’s a good chance you’ve gained a new client.
Wondering how to find out what questions people are asking? Use tools like Serpstat and AnswerThePublic and start with a practice area keyword—they’ll provide you with popular questions being asked around your practice area. You can also keep track of some of the common questions you get while speaking with your clients and turn some of them into content for your website.
Attorney and Staff Profiles
While you might not guess it without looking at your Analytics, attorney bio pages are typically the 2nd or 3rd most-visited pages on your website at any given time. With so many great attorney leads coming from word of mouth and referrals, it’s only natural that a recommendation will come along with the name of a specific attorney. “Work with Lisa; she did a great job for me.”
Attorney profiles are your chance to solidify (and potentially exceed) what people have already heard about you and your team. And don’t be shy; list all of your accomplishments on the page. Attorney bios are another great spot to display the badges, accolades, and awards that we discussed earlier. They’re also a great way to assure the people who haven’t already heard of you—and are doing their homework on your website—that you are a trustworthy and experienced attorney.
Don’t hide your paralegals and staff, either. If people hire you, they’ll be working with them, too! If you hide your team, you’re giving up the opportunity to show even more smiling faces to your potential clients. And if the potential client reaches out to you via social media messaging, Google My Business messaging, chat, or phone, they will probably appreciate being able to put a name to a face—knowing they’re talking with a real, friendly human being!
Mobile User Experience
You may not realize it, but more people browse the web on their smartphones than their desktop computers. That means the majority of people who see your website see it on their phone. This can be easy to forget when you only see your website while sitting at work on your desktop or laptop.
Back on April 21, 2015, Google started favoring sites that looked great on mobile devices. Many in the marketing and SEO realms referred to that specific day as “Mobilegeddon.” Can you believe there are still sites out there that don’t even work on a mobile phone, let alone look great? Now, a little over five years later, Google is going to be switching entirely to mobile-first indexing—it starts in September of 2020. So, the time to get your site running perfectly on phones is now.
"Google does not suggest creating a separate mobile website..."
Some CMS software handles all or most of making your site mobile friendly. If you’re one of the unlucky ones that has to do it yourself, it may not be easy to get right. It’s more than just installing a WordPress AMP plugin on your site or making it look ‘decent’ on mobile devices. You need to interact with your site on a variety of phones and devices to make sure it is easily navigated and interacted with. Wouldn’t you hate to lose a lead because of something like your site not looking great on a person’s tablet?
In addition to the Core Web Vitals we discussed above, Google actually has a set of design and user experience principles that your website will ideally adhere to. For instance, there is a minimum size that buttons should be so that people can touch them with their fingertips. If your buttons are smaller than the minimum, people will struggle to press them.
Also, it’s important to note that Google does not suggest creating a separate mobile website, such as an “m.website.com” subdomain. Doing so can create several issues for the Googlebot as well as confusion for your human website visitors.
Google offers a number of tools to help see how your website stacks up. Try the Pagespeed Insights tool, Think with Google Test My Site tool, or the Google Mobile-Friendly Test to help you (or your web team) get started on sorting out any potential issues.
Use Structured Data Markup
Web designers and developers can use something called Schema—structured data markup or machine-readable data—to help Google better understand the content of their website.
Structured data is data intended for bots, search engines, and machines, while unstructured data is data intended for humans. If Google arrives at your website and doesn’t see any structured data, it will do its best to turn your unstructured data into structured data. But what if it gets something wrong? It’s best not to take chances—and also to make the Googlebot’s job a little easier.
For attorneys, you’d want to (at a minimum) employ this structured data markup to tell Google that you’re a law firm and that the people featured on your website are attorneys. There’s also a question and answer Schema that can be wrapped around brief FAQs, a how-to Schema that can be wrapped around a step-by-step how-to process, and several other Schemas you may be able to take advantage of for your firm.
There are also some Schemas that make your website a little more SEO friendly; well-written Schemas can positively modify your search engine result by making it larger and more prominent. For example, take the FAQ Schema mentioned above. If Google finds questions and answers on your page related to a person’s query, they’ll display them mixed right in with your search result—which makes it very prominent!
You’ll likely need to work with your developer to install this sort of thing, but it’s worth it to give you the extra edge next year.
Don’t Ignore Typically Ignored Pages
Too often, businesses will forget about certain pages of their site, choosing instead to concentrate mainly on the important pages like the homepage and practice area pages. Remember how earlier we discussed the idea that people can enter your site just about anywhere? They can even enter your site on a page that doesn’t exist at all! And in that example, your site displays what is called a 404 page. Go ahead and try it—go to one of your pages, then misspell the URL at the top intentionally. That’s your 404 page, and you may be surprised to learn how many people see it. Why not turn it into something handy, like a sitemap that will help people find what they’re looking for?
"Why would you just let that person leave? Show them what else you have to offer."
Perhaps the worst page to ignore is your “thank you” page. When someone fills out a form on your website, they should be taken to this page (if you don’t have it set up this way already, we highly recommend you add a thank you page). Think about it—the thank you page is the strongest possible signal you can get from a website visitor that they are interested in your brand or services. Why would you just let that person leave? Show them what else you have to offer. If they downloaded an e-book, use the thank you page to pitch them on hiring you to help with their legal challenges. If they completed a general contact form, show them success stories or case studies on the thank you page, so they feel even better about their decision to contact you. If they signed up for your newsletter, show them some examples of things they missed out on.
Another page we commonly see ignored (but it’s one of the most important) is the contact page. Many people think that if a website visitor makes it to the contact page, they are probably going to fill it out or otherwise contact the firm. Nothing could be further from the truth. If someone has decided to go to your contact page, that’s a great sign—but it’s not a guarantee. This is why your contact page should be absolutely teeming with reassuring content such as badges, images, testimonials, and reviews to help people take that final step of reaching out to you.
Connect a CRM
A customer relationship management (CRM) system allows you to have a safe place to store all of your contacts for later communications. If you go live with a new website and don’t have a CRM connected to it, then where are your leads going to go when they fill out your forms? Nowhere. Sure, you’ll likely get an email notification, but why risk leads ‘falling through the cracks’ or ‘getting lost in the mix.’
A CRM that’s built into your website would be best; that way, you aren’t switching between different websites and software, and you can contact a single company if you need assistance. Connecting a CRM to a separate website (using APIs, etc.) can get very sticky and very expensive. Any time one company makes a change to their system, your API connection might break—and it takes money to get it fixed. Some people choose not to connect their systems, and instead, manually input leads from the website into their CRM. But issues with contact delays aside—wouldn’t your time be better spent elsewhere?
Also, it turns out that in the digital world, where we can’t see each other or shake hands, one of the primary determinations of trust comes from response time. Prior to the online age, people who did business with each other could shake hands, speak, make eye contact, and gauge emotional expressions, voice inflections, facial clues, dress style, and body language—a level of trust could be determined based purely on that. Most of this trust derives from our primitive “lizard brain” or limbic system, which is responsible for fight, flight, feeding, fear, and mating. As humans, we can determine pretty quickly whether we want to fight something, run from something, eat something, or mate with something.
So now that many business dealings are done online, potentially 100% through Zoom or another online conferencing service, how do we know if a person or business can be trusted, or if we should run away? Many people, including Dr. Judy Olson at the University of California, believe that the speed at which you receive a reply is a key trust factor. For this reason, prompt followup—autoresponder emails sent from your CRM, staying on top of your leads, and calling an interested party—are more important than ever. Think about it. When you fill out an online form, when do you expect to receive an email? Immediately. Many people, if they don’t hear back quickly, will simply find another provider.
Some CRMs even provide the capability to set up drip campaigns and other marketing automation tasks. A drip campaign will continue to reach out to your prospects for days, weeks, or months after they contact you in an effort to nurture them and keep them engaged with your brand. Marketing automation takes that a step further by including additional features, like tasking your team with calling prospects, reminders, scheduling, tagging, and more.
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For more than 20 years, Foster Web Marketing has been designing lead-capturing websites for hundreds of law firms like yours all over the United States. We’ve helped family law attorneys, elder law attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, social security disability attorneys, personal injury attorneys, and everything in between.
And don’t worry, we don’t just build your new website and leave you to fend for yourself. Our websites are developed using Dynamic Self-Syndication™ (DSS), powerful marketing automation software that contains a built-in CRM so you can keep in touch with your prospects without the need for APIs or additional tools. We also include six months of completely free coaching to help your firm get on the right track for sales and growth. For attorneys that need a little extra help with marketing, content writing, and SEO, we offer monthly marketing services packages for small, medium, and large firms. Contact Cour team at (813) 494-1185 today to learn more about what Foster Web Marketing can do for your firm.