I have spent some time over the last few days looking at a number of websites for both legal providers and for small charities. It has been an interesting exercise, and some interesting things became very obvious to me.
The first of these is that many law firms - and regional law firms do seem to be rather worse in this respect - seem to have spent a very small amount of money on their website, and to have spent this some time ago. Since that small expenditure they have obviously not felt it necessary to either spend any more keeping it up to date, or even to have visited it recently. The shining star in this regard was the site of Connell Associates (http://www.connellassociates.co.uk/). Until very recently, they had a spectacularly bad web site, full of typographical errors, spelling errors, and sentences that made no sense at all. They have now, as you will have seen if you clicked on the link above, put a new "holding" page in place which is, at least, in English this time. Congratulations on doing something about the mess that was your last site.
Sadly they are not unusual. Many of the sites I have been visiting appear to have been written by someone's 14 year old nephew who has spent many minutes learning to write HTML or to use Dreamweaver. Few have given any thought to their design and many are so badly put together that they are difficult to read. This from a profession which professes to be concerned about the details.
What is more interesting, however, is the amount of space spent on profiles of the partners and lawyers and copies of things they might have written. The sites appear to be based on the principle of "they [the clients] will want to know about us". As a client, I'm not sure I care about the lawyers - I'm more interested in what they will do for me. A remarkably small number of law firm websites had any form of recommendation or review from clients.
Contrast that with many of the small charity sites I have been looking at. An almost equal number of them appear to have been designed by amateurs, but what is really interesting is their focus. It can be hard to find profiles of the people running the charity. Instead the sites focus on the activities of the charity and often have quotes from the beneficiaries - the "clients".
This is all by way of continuing my theme of placing the client at the heart of what your organisation does. The law firms were remiss in that they seems to avoid even mentioning their clients - which certainly gives the impression that they don't really care that much and will expect a client to fit in with what they do.
This is not complicated. It's quite a simple exercise to sit down and think about what the clients want. You could even ask them... Personal clients of law firms who are looking at a web site for the first time will have two main concerns - neither of which are usually addressed. The first is - can this firm do the work properly. This can be addressed by client quotations, recommendations and, perhaps, by a survey ("80% of our clients were delighted with this service in our recent poll", for example). The issue of cost can be addressed by showing fixed prices on the web site. Most sites I viewed went very far out of their way to avoid this. As a prospective client who is shopping around, I do not want to visit a web site to be told that I need to phone someone to get a price. Nor does saying that the first meeting, or first half hour, is free - I still want to know how much it will be after that.
So - both types of organisations can improve. Expenditure on a web site is an investment. Have a professional design and professional implementation - it does not need to be vastly expensive. Secondly - address the concerns of your clients. If you don't know what these are, then ask!
The Living Rainforest - and my interest is that I am the Chairman. Notwithstanding this - the site addresses the key audience and gives out the required information. It is simple, easy to use, gives good information - and, vitally so far as I was concerned - was excellent value for money. Have a look and see if you agree with me.