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Solicitors web site proposals - apples & pears? (First published in Internet Newsletter for Lawyers)

"Comparing solicitors' web site proposals is like comparing apples with pears" I heard a lawyer complain.

Commissioning a new solicitors web site is not a frequent occurrence and without an experienced marketing manager on hand, it can be hard to know what questions to ask and whether quotes are directly comparable. 

It is actually a fairly complex process, requiring the project management of six distinct phases:

  1. Planning the structure of the web site
  2. Designing the look and feel
  3. Programming the site and content management system
  4. Test-driving the navigation and functionality
  5. Planning and preparing the content (words and pictures)
  6. Uploading content, proofing, testing, proofing, testing…..

Problems tend to arise, where agencies are not quoting to a specific brief. 

Agencies who are not familiar with the legal profession often underestimate how complex a legal business, and therefore its web site, might be.  They come in for a meeting, show you some of their other sites and have a general chat about what you want and then send you a (probably) off-the-shelf proposal that tells you how creative they are, how long they have been in business and how many awards they have won. 

It is advisable to seek quotes form at least two or three agencies and, to ensure that each proposal addresses your firm's particular needs, it is advisable to provide a brief. This does not need to be a terribly long document, but should cover the following:

Description of your firm and its range of services - be clear about where different services relate to different markets e.g. Legal Aid, private clients or businesses.

Describe the audiences for your web site, their importance and their different needs - this is vitally important in planning how the home page and navigation is structured.  These are likely to include:

  • Clients - try to provide a brief profile of your main client groups.  If you wish to target a particular sector, such as farming or technology, this will have an impact on the design and imagery used. 
  • Potential employees - who need to be able to find information about vacancies easily.
  • Other intermediaries - such as accountants, banks, property agents, business agencies and other lawyers who may refer work.
  • The media and conference organisers looking for experts.
  • Local community groups.
  • Other solicitors – competitors or referrers of business.

Outline your objectives for the business - long term and short term, explaining how you wish the new web site to contribute to this.  For example, do you simply wish to improve your brand presence or do you wish to capture business directly online.  If so, what type of work and from whom?

How interactive do you want your site to be? - This is important to specify in detail at the outset, as any interactive elements may require additional programming or storage capacity which falls outside of a generic quotation. Options include:

  • online document creation
  • online portal or extranet for clients
  • taking payments online
  • an automated quotation facility
  • online calculators
  • forms to download or interactive checklist / forms
  • video / podcasts
  • apps
  • social media
  • RSS or XML feeds.

Outline how you wish your brand to be perceived - Use emotive adjectives to guide the designer and assess concepts against.  Do you want to appear calm, clean and fresh?  Or do you prefer to appear high-energy, international and bold?

Share your likes and dislikes - Design is very subjective, and sometimes there will be an early meeting of minds in terms of the design direction - sometimes it will take a little time (and occasionally it never comes together).  You can save time by letting them know about anything you really hate - I often come across people who simply will not consider anything that uses a particular colour.  Maybe you have a particular view about stock photography or the type of images which you would like to use.

Search engine optimisation - if you already have a list of target search engine optimisation terms, then share these at this point as it will help in planning the site structure. 

International - If you have (or desire) markets overseas, what proportion of business is this and do you have any requirements for pages in multiple languages?

Linked web sites - Does your firm have any other web sites which link into the new site?

Who are your main competitors - obviously your new web site will need to blow them out of the water!  More importantly, for your web designer - explain how you wish to differentiate your firm from them.

Within the brief you should also ask them to provide some key information including:

  • Year established 
  • An organisation chart indicating who is responsible for design, programming, content, SEO and project management.
  • Examples of other web sites which they have completed in the last 12-18 months and at least two referees.  It is important they provide recent examples that have been created by the current team.
  • Details of the content management system (CMS) which they intend to provide and details of two current users for references - you should speak with the users of the CMS to find out how easy they find it to use - particularly if you do not have a dedicated marketing department.

In addition to ensuring that you get the web site that you desire, you can also take the opportunity to use your brief to demand the pricing details in a format which will be easy to evaluate.

When planning your web site budget, it is important to remember that there are other costs besides the web site design and creation.  Some of these items may be available from the web agency, but may also be available more cost effectively elsewhere:

To compare quotes like for like, you can set out how you would like them to price the project, and request the costs under the following headings:

DEVELOPMENT COSTS

1. Planning the structure of the web site

This is sometimes called 'scoping' - at the simplest level, you should expect a structure chart or site map to be drafted and agreed. Some bigger agencies create a "wireframe" which is a working model of the site, and this can be useful if you have a site with a very complex structure - however it does add to the costs.

2. Designing the look and feel

Also known as the creative phase, or concept design.  This will usually include providing you with an initial range of designs for the home page and one internal page.  It will also cover consideration of a range of imagery. Once you have chosen and refined one design concept, then they should create the other page layouts based upon this design.

3. Imagery

Imagery is key to the look and feel of your web site and costs can vary widely.  Stock photography, is the cheapest option - but take care not to use the same man woman and chess piece that is seen on hundreds of sites.  If budgets allow, you could consider rights-managed or bespoke photography or artwork.  Don't forget to budget for professional team portraits.

4. Animation / video

Ask for these costs to be separated, so that you can flex the total cost according to your budget.

5. HTML programming

Also known as site creation or construction.  If you are asking for special interactive modules such as an online quotation facility, ask them to separate the cost of this onto another line in case you wish to postpone that element to a later phase.  This should include test-driving the navigation, functionality and testing in multiple browsers.

6. Content management system

Make sure they specifiy which content management system the cost relates to and clarify how much of your content they will upload at the outset or whether they will be handing you an empty site and expecting you to upload all the content pages.

7. Content

Writing, (or re-writing) a web site is often a big job.  Even if the work is spread around many fee-earners, you still need someone to edit it into a common style, make it search-engine-friendly and proof-read it.  Depending on in-house resources you may need to budget for some assistance with copywriting and editing.  Costs may be on a day-rate or per page.

8. Project management

Clarify whether this is an additional cost or included in the total.

9. Training in the CMS

Beware significant training costs, which may indicate that a content management system is not quite as easy to use as you were led to believe, and clarify whether you will be provided with a training manual.  

10. Google analytics reporting

Clarify whether this will be set up for you.

ONGOING COSTS

11. Web site hosting

This will be an annual cost

12. Telephone support.

Clarify what is included in this

13. Other on-going costs

Clarify what is included in this.

It is a useful exercise to compare costs over a period of four years, as some agencies offer an attractively low set up cost, but over a few years can be very uncompetitive.  With the high standard of content management systems available now, there should be no need to pay substantial on-going costs over the long term.

Berners Marketing has produced a FREE Web Site Briefing Template for Law Firms which is available on request.  Call 01782 791 047 or email sue.bramall@bernersmarketing.com.

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