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The Risks of Redesign

March 11th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

The Risks of Redesign

The thing about change is that it is value neutral. Despite a commonly held assumption that change is for the better (see also progress), one of the risks of change is that things may actually get worse. This risk is certainly applicable to web design. In redesigning a website, what if you make it worse?

Some good examples are currently front page news…literally. Both The Globe and Mail as well as The Guardian (you’ll have to opt-in for the beta site) are undergoing major redesigns. My personal opinion is that the Globe looks terrible while the Guardian offers a best-practices example of modern web design. Change is a mixed bag.

 Globe and Mail Home Page

The Guardian Home Page


Without being familiar with their exact motivations for the respective redesigns, my guess is that they were doing their best to keep-up with the fragmentation of device screen sizes. Between Apple’s Retina Displays (2880 x 1800) and the most common resolution at 1366 x 768 (not to mention several other relevant considerations relating to the actual display of the pixels), what is the best way to display your website such that it looks good to the most number of people? This is increasingly one of the fundamental challenges faced by web designers. It also offers a very good motivation to pursue a redesign.

The Globe opted to pursue a “boxed” approach with a narrow middle column that is scaled to fit relatively low resolution screens. High resolution displays will simply have large white margins. In contrast, the Guardian is pursuing a “wide” approach using all screen real-estate and a responsive design platform that re-arranges content to fit the size of the screen. The latter is harder from a development perspective, but offers a cleaner layout. 

The choice of boxed vs wide alone won’t determine the success of a redesign. In my view, The Globe failed the redesign by cramming too many puzzle pieces together. The result is overwhelming and practically illegible. It actually looks a lot like a poorly executed version of the New York Times (which I gather provided the inspiration). This brings me to my tenets of website redesign:

  1. Don’t make it worse. Developers will develop and designers will design. If you have something good, be very careful when you instruct your design team. They will inevitably be more inclined towards change. In contrast, your users/visitors will inevitably avoid change and would prefer incremental modifications. You’ll need to balance the two.
  2.  Beta, Beta, Beta. While all large websites will be tested internally and with focus groups before launch, allowing for an opt-in beta design or a limited application of the new site will provide important insights. Google has made this type of opt-in testing a feature that their customers actually get excited about.
  3. Be prepared to fail. In my book, The Globe has failed this redesign. This creates a difficult management decision: should they roll-back to the old site? Management is not an easy job and making this kind of executive decision is tough.
  4. Follow trends. Everyone wants to do their own thing when it comes to design, but trends exist for a reason. Most redesigns are currently leaning towards the wide format because it looks amazing. This shouldn’t be determinative, but it should give you a strong push in that direction.  

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YouTube Video Creates National Exposure for Skunkworks Client Watson Goepel LLP

March 19th, 2013

Skunkworks Creative Group

YouTube Video Creates National Exposure for Skunkworks Client Watson Goepel LLP

About a month ago Skunkworks – working with Vancouver-based multi-practice firm Watson Goepel LLP – launched a YouTube video-campaign focused on upcoming changes to BC Family Laws. You can read previous blog posts discussing this advertisement by clicking here and here. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Who are you? Lawyer Bios 101” Or “What have you done lately and what can you do for me now?”

December 19th, 2012

Skunkworks Creative Group

“Who are you? Lawyer Bios 101” Or “What have you done lately and what can you do for me now?”

Over the last few months there have been a number of blog posts written by seasoned legal marketers on the content of law firm website lawyer bios. It is clear that by far the most visited pages on a law firm website (alongside the Home and Contact pages) are the Bio pages of individual lawyers. This makes sense if you think about it from a client perspective. People comparison shop for lawyers just like any other service and one of the tools they use to do that is the internet…where they will undoubtedly look at your bio because they want to see what the options are. Similarly, if a client has found your firm but there is more than one lawyer practicing in the area that the client is interested in, then of course they are going to check out individual bios to determine who can best tackle the specific issue they are facing. Wouldn’t you? Even if a client has been referred to you, they are likely to check you out online before making an appointment as part of their preparation for a meeting.

Are You Boring? Maybe…but not likely.
If you are relying on what amounts to a recitation of the most basic facts about yourself – where you went to school, that you practice “X, Y, or Z law” and maybe that you wrote an article for Lawyers Weekly 5 years ago – you may want to rethink that strategy. Take a step back and consider why a potential client is bothering to read your bio. They are reading it not because they care where you went to law school. They are interested because they have a problem or legal issue that they cannot handle on their own. They are looking at your bio to see whether you have the experience necessary to help them. So, what does your bio say? Does it provide specific information about how you help clients in a particular situation deal with a defined problem or set of circumstances? If not, maybe it should. Is your bio engaging? Does it make strangers want to meet you and learn more? No? Why not? Are you that boring? I suppose it’s possible, but I highly doubt it.

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Law Firm Domain Names: Brand Name vs Practice-Based

November 26th, 2012

Skunkworks Creative Group

Law Firm Domain Names: Brand Name vs Practice-Based

Steve Matthews of Stem Legal published a column on Slaw.ca back in 2010 on Domain Name Issues for Law Firms. While I agree with Steve’s outline of the issues, I wanted to emphasize a particular point that relates to the strategy between practice or geographic keyword-rich domain names (e.g. familylawyerwestpalmbeach.com) and brand name domain (e.g. watsongoepel.com).  As Steve writes about keyword-rich domains:

The advantage of these types of domains is that they naturally rank quite well for the search phrases they include, without a lot of work on the webmaster’s behalf. Because of this, endless variations of geographic/practice-based domains are snatched up pretty quickly.

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Google's Holy Grail of Legal Marketing - New Call Metrics for Law Firms

October 15th, 2012

Skunkworks Creative Group

Google’s Holy Grail of Legal Marketing – New Call Metrics for Law Firms

Law Firms Need to Track Conversions

Over a year ago, Google launched Call Metrics as an ad extension for AdWords. Writing about this new product, I was particularly excited about its potential for law firms and other professional services firms. This was because lawyers, like all businesses, are focused on their return on investment when it comes to advertising. While its nice that your website may attract a significant volume of visitors, the goal is for those visitors to convert into clients.

For law firms, tracking conversions is particularly challenging. While an email contact form is one method of identifying a conversion, both clients and lawyers tend to prefer that their initial communications take place over the phone. As I’ve heard countless times from our clients “I just want the phone to ring.”

Google AdWords Call Metrics

We have been looking for some way to automatically link money spent on Google AdWords campaigns with calls to the firm. Enter Call Metrics (not to be confused with Google’s Click to Call for mobile devices). This ad extension attaches a temporarily assigned toll-free number to search ad text. If the number is manually dialed, the call is forwarded to the firm’s preferred phone line and the campaign is charged a fee. Call Metrics supplies AdWords with an additional set of data:

  • time of call;
  • area code of dialer;
  • answered (or not); and
  • phone call cost (while the cost is $1.00/call by default, you can also specifically bid on phone calls).

This data is pure gold for those of us who manage pay-per-click campaigns for law firms. There’s nothing that makes my life easier than telling a client that they spent $700 last month on AdWords and it produced 12 phone calls, each over 15 minutes long. Unfortunately, not long after Call Metrics was launched, it was suddenly pulled from the Canadian market due to quality control problems. While our US clients continue to enjoy this service, Canadian firms remain out of luck. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Digital Marketing, Google, Law firm websites, Virtual Practice | 1 Comment »

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