Legal Marketing: Top 10 Web Design Mistakes That Hurt Legal Marketing

Designing a website

Usability is critical to a Website’s success. If yours is hard to navigate, it reflects poorly on your law firm and prospects won’t stick around.

Web design expert, Jakob Nielsen states that, ”Web design is not a matter of taste or aesthetics — it’s a matter of science … what we actually know from our studies is that the average user experience on the Web is that of failure.”

Nielsen practices what he preaches. His own Website registered some 5 million hits last year, and he estimates that some 200,000 visitors read his bi-monthly column on how to make Web sites more “usable” — that is, easy to navigate and clearly organized so that visitors can find the information they’re looking for.

Here are his top 10 mistakes in Web design:

  1. Bad search. Search is the user’s lifeline when navigation fails. Overly literal search engines reduce usability in that they’re unable to handle typos, plurals, hyphens, and other variants of the query terms.
  2. PDF files for online reading. Users hate coming across a PDF file while browsing, and law firms are often guilty of using this method to post information. A PDF is an undifferentiated blob of content that’s hard to navigate. Reserve it for printing and distributing big documents.
  3. Not changing the color of visited links. Knowing which pages they’ve already visited frees users from unintentionally revisiting the same pages over and over again.
  4. Non-scannable text. A wall of text is deadly for an interactive experience. Intimidating. Boring. Painful to read. Write for scanning, not print.
  5. Fixed font size. Respect the user’s preferences, and let them resize text as needed.
  6. Page titles with low search engine visibility. Search is the most important way users discover websites. The page title is your main tool to attract new visitors from search listings and to help your existing users to locate the specific pages that they need.
  7. Anything that looks like an advertisement. It is best to avoid any designs that look like advertisements. Selective attention is very powerful, and Web users have learned to stop paying attention to any ads that get in the way of their goal-driven navigation. This applies to ads for upcoming firm events too. Make it easy to find, but don’t make it look like an ad.
  8. Violating design conventions. If your firm’s site deviates from what is commonly done on other sites, your site will be harder to use and users will leave. Jakob’s Law of the Web User Experience states that “users spend most of their time on other websites.” Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen.
  9. Opening new browser windows. Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the their machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the back button, which is the normal way users return to previous sites.
  10. Not answering users’ questions. Users are highly goal-driven on the Web. The ultimate failure of a website is to fail to provide the information users are looking for.

Why do many Websites neglect to ensure usability? Neilson says,

  • First is that they just neglect the entire issue because everyone thinks their own Web site is easy to use because they designed it, they are on it frequently and they don’t understand the need for usability testing.
  • The second reason is that even if they recognize the need for usability testing, they make it too complicated. They think ‘we’ve got to bring in a team of five Ph. Ds, build a special laboratory with one way mirrors and test fifty users’ — no you don’t.

Nielsen also points out that there are 2 things that anyone can do to improve usability:

  1. Run a very simple user test in three days…just bring in some typical users and see what they say.
  2. Or, get a professional analysis, which requires an expert with many years of experience to assess a Web site’s design and structure.

    Read the full version of Jacob Nielsen’s article, Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design. See also: Usability 101: Introduction to Usability

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