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Making an Iconic Law Firm Formidable Online

Lerners LLP is one of Canada’s most respected law firms.

The company, founded in 1929, is an elite team of over 150 lawyers (and approximately 200 additional support staff), practicing across over a dozen practice areas, with two main offices located in Toronto and London, Ontario.

The Importance of Digital

Consumers and corporations with complex legal issues routinely turn to major search engines, like Google, to query the given issues (known as long tail key terms) they may be dealing with in hopes of gleaning insight on these issues across a broad range of topics and practice areas.

The web has provided law firms an opportunity to more precisely reach consumers through avenues such as:

  • Content marketing (such as blogging)
  • Modern websites
  • Google AdWords Search
  • Other digital advertising (like social advertising and programmatic display)

However, the industry doesn’t come without competition. Many law firms these days are allocating the bulk of their advertising budgets towards digital platforms, digital advertising, and strategies. Some keyterms, for instance, in the personal injury space on AdWords Search will fetch upwards of $100 dollars per click.

Structure for Success

Surprisingly, out of all Lerners LLP’s website traffic, approximately 80% comes via Organic Search—primarily natural listings on Google’s Search Engine Page Results (SERP). With this in mind, Lerners wanted to build on this strength, and the momentum of its content, by building a new website and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy that would increase their website’s authority in the eyes of Google, elevate overall keyword rankings, and increase Organic Search traffic.

When tbk Creative began the process with Lerners LLP, both teams had a series of considerations to make:

Fragmented Website Eco-System: Lerners had about 10 individual microsites, each representing one of their practice areas. At one point in time in the digital marketing industry, it was presumed that Google provided higher authority to a domain based on the keywords used in the domain’s name. This caused a lot of businesses in a lot of industries to create multiple domains for their companies—each with some variation on the geography or type of service. Although the keywords used in a URL is still a factor to SEO, the consensus in the industry now, unless there’s a strong reason otherwise, is to have only one domain, but to focus on making it as authoritative as possible (e.g., websites like Wikipedia and Amazon have only one major domain—they don’t have different domains for each category or product that’s offered).

Content Management System: Lerners’ corporate website was on a proprietary content management system (CMS). Although CMSs are important to have, Lerners was yearning for an open-source CMS that gave them the flexibility to easily update content.

Moderate domain authority: According to the industry-leading SEO software, Moz, Lerners LLP had a domain authority score that was a bit lower than it should be for the size and reputation of their practice. Actions would need to be taken to improve the corporate website’s domain and page authority so that Google would rank it better over time.

Competitive SEO Space: The legal space for digital advertising and search engine optimization was competitive with many websites competing for ranking on the search engine’s results page. Small to medium sized firms that focus on a single practice area invest heavily in digital advertising in markets like Toronto and London, Ontario. These firms have an edge in ranking for these terms due to their narrow focus. On the other side, large multi-national firms can leverage domain authority many orders of magnitude larger than that of local firms to dominate broad queries for professional legal firms in the big business and enterprise space. The paid search average CPC for Lawyer related terms in Canada is $17.97, making it the sixth most expensive industry to advertise for on search in Canada (based on WordStream’s 2017 Highest CPCs in Canada report).

Brand identity: The firm had 13 major practice areas, each acting as a distinct business unit with different service offerings and a wide range of clients, each with different and meaningful legal siutations. When dealing with such diverse practice areas, creating a brand identity becomes even more difficult. We knew we would have to work in collaboration with the Lerners LLP marketing team and web committee to strike the right balance that represents Lerners LLP’s breadth of service, stability for their clients (an over 85 year reputation), expertise, and commitment to better the communities they’re part of.

An Integrated and Consultative Approach

With Lerners LLP, this approach to developing a formidable approach to the web would unfold in two stages:

First, we’d re-develop a new website that would act like a hub. This website’s goals were to make it easier for the internal marketing team to publish content, to have a refined brand identity (how it appears and communicates in the marketplace), and to make it easier for users to achieve the goals they have for being on the website in the first place.

Second, we’d work on an ongoing basis with the firm on digital marketing programs such as blogging, SEO, and social media marketing—all with the goal of improving Lerners LLP’s reputation in the marketplace, deepening their relationships with the clients they serve, and increasing their website traffic.

The New Lerners.ca Was Built

The considerations above were managed, and final decisions were made. After a year long project, the new Lerners.ca was built and brought live. Some of the key features and elements that make it unique include:

Merged Practice Areas

It was decided that keeping all the microsites that each represented an individual practice area wasn’t the best strategic decision for the company. First, it was more costly in human resources and vendor expenses to keep the 10 or so microsites up to date. Second, any efforts that were made in content and natural backlinks to these microsites would be diluted and likely not gain the same traction that putting effort into a primary corporate website would.

WordPress Became the CMS

The new Lerners.ca was built on WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system. There were a number of reasons for this decision.

As mentioned, Lerners LLP was gaining about 80% of their website traffic from Organic Search, 70% of which were landing on blog articles first. WordPress lends itself very naturally to being an excellent publishing CMS (at the time of this writing, TechCrunch, The NewYorker, BBC America, and MTV News are all on WordPress).

A Focus on UI/UX

These days, websites are usually built from pre-designed themes or built right in the browser (using CSS). At tbk Creative, we tend to approach it in a more artisan way and start the design process by creating design files from scratch in Adobe’s Photoshop. We do this for a number of reasons: it’s a more custom, white glove approach to UI/UX, we control the front end and back end processes so we know the quality is there (we code from WordPress’ official coding standards), and, at tbk Creative, we continually build on a framework that’s now comprised of intellectual property and contains a lot of utility for our clients.

In total, 45 design files were created (35 for desktop; 10 for mobile).

Additional, unique UI / UX decisions were made:

1

Desktop Menu System: A website like Lerners’ consists of thousands of pages and dozens of divisions/partitioned areas. Organizing a plethora of content is one of the challenges websites often find themselves getting into. To help resolve this complex content organizational structure, we deployed a hero menu that systematically displays the disparate pieces of content through a very simple navigational display. We felt this was the best available UI tactic to get information across in a seamlessly organized and hierarchal way.

We took the Desktop Menu System a step further by implementing an avant-garde top navigation with fixed functionality, so when a user is finished viewing the animated logo, the top navigation sticks to the top of the screen as the user continues to scroll through the main page.

2

Finding a Lawyer: The Find a Lawyer search tool was prominently featured near the logo. In the professional services field, it’s more common to put this link amongst the regular links in the menu navigation; instead, because this is arguably the most important area for Lerners LLP (often accessing this area is one of the final stages a prospect will take on their path to hiring a lawyer), we decided to move the link so it would prominently stand out near the logo.

lerners find a lawyer feature

3

Enhanced Search: In addition to the Find a Lawyer search tool, we designed and custom-built a global search module. People often presume search features are simple to build, but they are actually quite complex. In this case, a single search bar searches for four types of content at once, and the user can click any result and go straight to the content.

Enhanced Search

4

Animated Logo: Because the web design projects we take on with clients are so in depth and crucial to their ongoing success, we often take the opportunity to work with the client and modernize/refine their company’s brand identity and core messaging. As mentioned earlier, branding is no easy task for a law firm that’s as multi-disciplinary as Lerners. To help tell the narrative of Lerners LLP’s deep legal expertise, their commitment to their community, and their over 85 year reputation, we created an animated logo / brand file that’s now displayed at the top of their website.

These files are a new and unique offering at tbk Creative—what we call Brandimations™. We’ve created these animated branding files for brands like Black + Decker®, Auburn Homes, Guillevin Green Tech, Renin®, and #LightenCASL.

Built out VC Elements for Lerners.ca

The main reason a company uses a content management system is so that marketing staff can keep website content up to date without programmer assistance. This has many advantages: the website stays up to date more often, more content can be produced, and there are lower company overhead costs (less outsourcing).

Five years ago, tbk Creative had to decide between three popular content management systems: WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. Our CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Melissa McInerney, sat down and tried them all out. In the end, she felt WordPress was the easiest for non-programmers to use, and we’ve stuck with WordPress ever since, having built websites for iconic brands such as 3M Canada, Jiffy Lube® Ontario (59 stores), Danby®, Hino® Motors Canada, Yogen Fruz® and more.

WordPress continued to grow and has since become the most used CMS in the world, with some reports citing that it now powers 27.8% of all the websites in the world (with Joomla at 3.3% and Drupal at 2.2%) and has 58.9% of the CMS marketshare.

wordpress market share
Source: W3Techs content system management

Part of WordPress’ success is that it has stayed true to its core commitment of putting the non-technical user first—the user has to be able to update content! Along the way, their development community invented a revolutionary mega-module called Visual Composer. This is revolutionary in that, at the time of this writing, and to our knowledge, it’s one of the only CMSs that provides a robust editing tool that goes beyond a simple WYSIWYG but instead provides a plethora of options for non-technical staff to create more rich-featured modules on a given WordPress subpage.

VC-page-layout
Visual Composer page layout templates
Widgets
A grid of all Visual Composer elements that Lerners can access and use at any time
Visual Composer
WYSIWYG Visual Composer Editor

In the new Lerners LLP WordPress website, Visual Composer can be used by the company at any time to create more rich-heavy features. Here is a small selection of a large number of unique elements on subpages that were created using Visual Composer.

Custom Column Layouts:
Custom Column Layouts

Custom Visual Composer components: By crafting custom components, very specifically optimized layouts can be given to specific content types. Like for example, display all your staff members:

Custom Visual Composer components

Or specific office details:

Specific Office details:

And when listing very specific types of content, custom components can also support very unique designs. Like this module that will allow website administrators to create and display benefit icons on a careers recruitment page for their company:

Visual Composer
The result of using this module can be seen in the example below – sharply appealing modules that can appear on a company’s career recruitment page.
custom component

Accessibility to People with Physical Disabilities (AODA)

Building accessible websites has become an important aspect of the industry and for corporations. First, according to the Province of Ontario, 1 in 6 people have a physical disability—this represents a substantial economic buying power that a lot of companies often overlook. Second, for public sector or groups in Ontario with over 50 employees, making accessible websites is law (as per the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation (IASR) of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)).

Through a manual audit (over 100 check points per subpage) and the use of AODA Online (an enterprise level web accessibility software tbk Creative built in 2013 and operates as its own SaaS company), we worked with Lerners LLP to make their website meet the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines (which was five years ahead of IASR’s legal regulatory requirement).

AODA Online Homepage

LernX

With over 70% of website traffic arriving on content pages via Google, we created a sophisticated blogging and content sharing area that we termed “LernX”.

Many unique and useful features were implemented into this blogging suite:

  • The ability to filter content based on different variables, such as practice areas.
  • The installation of hero images with a beautiful gradient effect so that each image fades out. We built this feature right into WordPress for Lerners LLP, where the website administrators only have to upload a given image.
Example of Lerners LLP blog post
  • The incorporation of an Author Spotlight. A big part of a law firm’s success is adequate recognition of its lawyers. For each article, an author could be selected within the WordPress lawyer database, a byline created at the start of the article and a large call to action with more of their personal information at the bottom.
  • The implementation of a plugin that based on an article’s number of words, will provide readers with the estimated number of minutes it would take to read the article.
An example of a blog with Reading Time plugin installed

Digital Marketing

Most brands that have become leaders online don’t look at a website as a static entity but as something that needs to evolve, be refined, and grow over time. Some of the reasons for this are the ongoing competition in the digital space from competitors, the revisions to Google’s search engine algorithm (changes that are either publicized or are industry speculations), the new browsers / devices / versions that become present (quality assurance), the opportunities for security and speed upgrades, and the list goes on.

Once the new Lerners LLP website was complete and live, we worked with the marketing team at Lerners LLP to build on its momentum by ensuring ongoing website enhancements, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and social media marketing consulting.

As previously cited, with the lion’s share of users getting to Lerners.ca through Google’s organic search engine, we knew it would be prudent to spend more effort on SEO.

Generally speaking, Lerners LLP’s approach to SEO included:

  • Blogging: Lawyers write high-quality articles on their areas of expertise while tbk Creative works with Lerners’ marketing team to ensure articles were engrained with foundational best practices for SEO to optimize their results in SERP.
  • GMB Pages: Authenticating and modernizing their main Google My Business pages. We worked with their marketing team on the GMB page content strategy for their two main offices in Toronto and London, Ontario.
  • Backlinks: Reviewed opportunities for additional natural backlink creation from the hundreds of news mentions Lerners LLP receives each year.
  • Citations: Building out more citations (directory listings), which is known to be a signal to major search engines like Google.
  • Enhancements: Monitoring key pages and making ongoing enhancements to improve those pages’ SEO performances.

Lerners LLP now has a website that matches the credibility of their strong brand, and the firm continues to take monthly actions to improve their presence in the digital space.

The Results:

  • Date Range: August 1st, 2016 – April 30th, 2017
  • Total Sessions: Up 35.2% (year-to-year)
  • Organic Search: Up 30.1% (year-to-year)
  • Users Navigating New Hero Menu: 87%
  • Users Accessing Blogging Suite (Lernx): Up 81.1% (year-to-year)
  • Lawyer PDF Downloads: Over 1,500 user downloads

With gratitude, the new Lerners.ca website was awarded “Outstanding Website in Law” at the Web Marketing Association’s 2016 WebAwards.

Outstanding Legal Website

What we learned

  • Melissa McInerney, tbk Creative

    Traditional industries are hungry for—and deserve—great UX. Details matter, and it’s easy to get lost in details, but when the vision is kept alive each step of the way, a fantastic product is created. With the Lerners LLP website, tbk Creative pushed the boundaries in order to create a memorable and effective digital experience. In an industry where details are everything, we learned this extended into the website. Every decision on this website was steeped in strategy to ensure we effectively spoke to a wide range of target demographics.

  • Andre LeFort, tbk Creative

    I learned that the sum of the parts is more than the whole. Various components were painstakingly managed and developed to ensure a successful transition from Lerners LLP's previous website's multi micro-site structure. The technology department was involved in almost every area of this website's success: website design, SEO, custom website development, post launch stabilization, and more. Technology really and truly is at the heart of a brand's digital presence.

  • Amanda Tadgell, tbk Creative

    For this website project, we worked with 12 practice groups to develop their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies. We held many meetings and completed numerous audits to develop a strategy and plan to ensure the new website was fully optimized for all practice groups. I learned the importance of educating clients to ensure the long-term success for SEO. Investing the time to focus on SEO at the discovery phase of the project made for a smoother implementation in the end this team work and proactive approach between Lerners LLP and tbk Creative led to a much more optimized website.

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