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The End of Website Home Pages?
Does the standard approach to the website homepage still make sense in the era of social media? Some feel that the role of the homepage on your website has so diminished in importance (and traffic) that it is no longer relevant. Is it time for a new approach? In this episode of The Kennedy-Mighell Report, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell discuss what people mean when they claim the website home page is dead, what role the standard website now plays, and what practical steps you might take to improve your web presence.
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Web 2.0. Innovation. Trends. Collaborations. Software. Got the world turning as fast as it can? Hear how technology can help, legally speaking, with two of the top legal technology experts, authors, and lawyers, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Welcome to the Kennedy-Mighell Report, here on the Legal Talk Network.
Dennis Kennedy: Welcome to Episode 128 of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Dennis Kennedy in St. Louis-
Tom Mighell: And I’m Tom Mighell in Dallas.
Dennis Kennedy: In our last episode, we finished up our three-part series on presentation tips with a discussion of the unique challenges of presenting in the webinar format. In this episode, we wanted to jump into a growing discussion we’ve seen recently about the role of the standard website homepage. Tom, what’s on our agenda for this episode?
Tom Mighell: In this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report, we’ll be talking about the traditional website homepage and whether it’s reaching the end of the line. In our second segment we’ll talk about an approach to presentation handouts or presentations called Slidedocs, and as usual we’ll finish up with our parting shots. That one tip, website, or observation that you can start to use the second that this podcast is over.
First, let’s get started on our main topic, our first segment, and that is the role, if any, for the traditional website homepage in this kind of emerging and exploding era of social media. Dennis and I have both saw a blog post within the past few weeks from Kevin O’Keefe which was mentioning an article from The Atlantic about the demise of the homepage, based primarily on the fact that the New York Times has lost half the traffic to its homepage over the past two years and discussing whether that means that the homepage is no longer a viable location destination.
Dennis, is this a legitimate concern that we can apply to other websites and primarily legal websites or is this just another case, as we see often, of people using the death of meme as an approach to link baiting or generating traffic for their blog?
Dennis Kennedy: Anytime I see the death of any technology, there is a bit of link baiting. In fairness, they did talk about the demise as opposed to the death of homepages, so there’s a little nuance there. I think it’s actually the statistic is interesting in itself and gives us a good occasion to rethink or take another look at and rethink the notion of the homepage or in a way having that … What is that first page that you see on the site? I think that Kevin’s blog post is really good on this topic.
There’s one thing that really struck me right away, Tom, about the Derrick Thompson’s article, the original article that talked about and Kevin quoted it in his blog post. Derrick says, “Homepages reflect the values of institutions and Facebook and Twitter reflect the interests of individual readers.” I think that’s really the core question in all of this is to say, as we’re used to seeing the web in our individual ways and getting information in a variety of different ways and finding, looking on the web for answers to the questions we have, solutions to the problems that we have, does it make sense to go to that standard entry page and how often do we really even go to that even for publications?
As a user, it seems like our approach in what we want is something more independent to get to exactly the information that we want and get there quickly, as opposed to be given a standard approach and a path that’s put in front of us and that we’re forced into. I think that to me is at the core of the question and then it obviously has the implications for lawyers and all the rest of us and how we might change, revise, or adapt to our webpages in our overall internet presence in the future.
Tom Mighell: I’m going to take a slightly contrarian view. I in general agree with Kevin’s article, with The Atlantic article. I’m seeing other articles about the death or at least the decline of the homepage as a place where people tend to go. I think that where I have a little bit of a struggle is in attempting to compare, at least in this case, law firm webpages to the New York Times or for that matter, any news webpage, because the purposes for going to those sites tend to be different and the motives for people who are going there tend to be different too.
Yes, I realize that content is king, that people will follow a blog post somewhere and they’ll go into a law firm website if they see a blog post that they like, but I think that the primary purpose for people to go to a site like the New York Times is to learn more about the news and to get a news story. Typically, most of those news stories aren’t on the homepage, they’re in other places, and they’re easy to get through social media.
I really would love to see some statistics on how people get to law firm websites. I know that one of the comments in Kevin’s post was from a company called Great Jakes. They build websites for law firms. In February, they did a study and they found that, I’m guessing it’s from the sites that they have built for law firms, they found that 39% of law firm website traffic comes in through the homepage, which may not sound like a ton, but I would wager, and I think they say this, that that’s still the most popular entry point for a website.
I would argue that it’s because I think that the way that people look for lawyers or the way that people look for information about lawyers is changing more slowly than the way that we’re looking for news or other information to keep us informed about things. While we may be using Twitter, and Facebook, and Google+ and all those types of things to learn more about the news, I still think that the way that we look for lawyers is happening more slowly.
Where I’d really like to see a stat is to see how are people using search engines versus social media to find lawyers and which are they using more of? Because I would wager that if people are using search engines more, then they’re going to come across that homepage before they’re going to come across any interior page, unless they happen to be trying to answer a specific question. Am I really off-base on all this, Dennis, or am I just being a sourpuss about all this?
Dennis Kennedy: You seem a little old-fashioned, but no, I think that you’re not all that off. But as we look to the future, I’m just not so sure. Because if I look up a law firm, I mean if I actually search for a law firm in Google, then it may give me some of the search results. If they have that little grid, it may have the about page and other things and I will skip the homepage and go to the list of attorneys or whatever from Google if it gives me those options in the result, which sometimes happens.
I think the big point you raise is that notion of looking at actual traffic and then we go back to the age-old question of is it quantity? Is it quality? What do those stats mean if 39% are coming to the homepage? Is that marketers? Is that partially search engine spiders coming to look those pages? What does that number consist of? I think that’s one thing. Then to say, what’s happening where there’s actual payoff in the visitors? Where are the conversions at? How is that working?
I guess that when I go back and look at almost since the beginning of when I had a webpage which is now getting pretty darn close to 20 years, 19 years, from the time I looked at stats it always surprised me that the homepage itself was never that, even a majority of the, wasn’t the entry point for even a majority of the people who came to the site. You really learned a lot by seeing how people came in and you could kind of adjust your page to that.
I think that part of the message of this article, [inaudible 00:08:55] New York Times has to say, if there’s such a drastic decrease in the people coming to the homepage, what does that mean? But maybe even more important is, because probably they’re not losing all that traffic, would it be more of a question of where is that traffic going first instead of the homepage? I think you can learn a lot from that.
Tom Mighell: Certainly the news pages are getting their traffic through, and I think that the, I guess it’s The Atlantic article, says that they’ve gone to a flood of social media and what they call, I guess, dark media because you never know where certain people are coming from because there’s a lot of ways, a lot of different social media tools, that it’s impossible to tell where people are coming from.
I’m going to turn and actually make … I’ll pivot again and make another argument which is that I really have never been of the opinion that a law firm homepage was all that relevant to begin with. At least not as law firm homepages happen to be today, because as part of the research for this I just started to randomly go through the homepages of some of the Am Law 200 websites. The homepages, I would say, all are extremely similar. They have links to internal sources, they have maybe two or three top news stories, maybe two or three publications that they’re doing. If they like to publicize seminars that they’re giving, they give two or three of them.
I would make the argument that law firms are not really intending their websites, their homepages, to be places that people are going to go. That they’re just like your front door. My front door is very nice looking, but I don’t want people to spend a whole lot of time there. I want them to get inside and look at the content.
Maybe the question that we should be raising more is how lawyers should be improving traffic into their website, regardless of whether they’re going to their homepage or not. Frankly, I think that leads back to what you and I have been talking about for years now which is get a blog, get on social media, beef up your bios. Make sure that you put more resources on your website and drive people to your website through content.
I guess I’ll come back and say I don’t think I’m being old-fashioned at all. I just don’t think that much has changed as much as law firm homepages. I don’t think I would disagree with the comment that law firm homepages never had a whole lot to go for them in the first place. I just don’t think that they were places where people needed to go to get a lot of content and I would not imagine that they were all that popular to begin with. I think that maybe the place we start this argument is how law firms can improve traffic in general to their website, understanding that that homepage is not all that interesting or important for people who are trying to visit them.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, I think that it goes back to discussions have been had for many years and there’s the sort of form over substance thing and you have a homepage that’s well crafted and looks like … Your research shows they all look alike. You sort of think that they should look a certain way but you don’t look into the substance or what’s going on or what content you’re providing. Actually, I think Kevin says this really well in his blog post where he says, “Until now, people came in through the well-designed and branded foyer of your law firm. Now people are coming in through the windows, back doors, and cracks. They view what other people talk about on social, and send them to.”
I think that’s the really interesting point here because as people are concerned about colors and columns and all the different things that they might think about in terms of branding, as he says the well-designed and branded and well-crafted website, it doesn’t become a living site and it doesn’t consider what people are coming there for or why they would come to your firm and what you can do to help people.
Then also there is that social thing where you say if somebody tweets about, “Hey, there’s this cool,” and it’s probably going to be a blog post on any law firm website that it’s going to get mentioned in social media. You need to think through that if that’s where the traffic’s coming from that actually leads to the type of results that you want. I also think when we say if some of this stuff is true, what do you do about it? I think it goes back to that Chris Brogan notion of the home base and this sort of satellite of sites that you have in social media that I know that you’ve always been fond of talking about. Doesn’t that seem that we kind of always circle back to that notion?
Tom Mighell: It does. You and I have been talking and I guess this sort of is getting back to my argument which is that a law firm website, or at least a portion of it, is really intended to be like your brochure. It’s static, it’s not particularly interesting, it gives the basic information, but law firms should be using more interactive tools like blogs, like social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, whatever channels they want to use, to be able to reach out, to provide more content, to individuals. Frankly, I think that’s something that we’ve been talking about for a real long time.
I think that one of the articles, I think it was from [inaudible 00:14:21] made a mention of, which is something that I don’t see law firms doing a very good job at of is if I see a tweet about a blog post and I click on that blog post and I go to that firm website and I read a really great blog post, I would wager that most of the time I’m not going to see at the end of that, “For more information about our energy law group,” if it’s a blog post about energy law, “For more information about our IP lawyers, click here.” Or, “Here are more articles written by the lawyer who wrote this blog post, John Smith.”
One of the things that sites like the New York Times do really well is they have pop-ups, they have infographics, they have other ways to keep you engaged beyond just the story that you’re going to visit. It’s not enough to say that people are going in through the windows, or the nooks and crannies. You need to make sure that these windows and nooks and crannies aren’t dead ends that people stop at and they don’t really know where else to go. You’ve got to direct them to other sources of information and keep them engaged and that’s, I think, where really law firms need to be headed.
Dennis Kennedy: That really is a question, Tom, I think is where are these homepages headed? Even if they’re not dead or dying or in some kind of demise. I think that you talked about what Kevin’s talking about as he usually does is the notion of engagement or conversations. A lot of times you go to the homepage and you feel that people are trying to trap you on the homepage or to make sure that you’ve just see what they want you to see.
It reminds me in some ways of, that here’s this medium that we have, the internet, and people are bringing a print mentality to it. Your website’s an online brochure. The New York Times can feel like it’s just an online version of the paper, newspaper, and the priority is given to paper and the priority, you feel internally, is given to the brochure. It doesn’t take advantage of the internet medium. I think that’s a concern. It just feels like it doesn’t focus, these pages don’t really focus on what the reader is looking for. A lot of times, that’s just missing. It feels like it’s more form over substance and just over focus on branding and not giving people a number of opportunities.
I haven’t done anything with this yet, but as you know, Tom, I bought DennisKennedy.me, the domain name, and my idea was that it would be another homepage of sorts. It would be a portal that would push people to other things that I did. All the other things I did are on the internet and just give them one more place to find me. I do think you need to have this notion of whether you call them satellite pages or whatever, but this notion almost of multiple homepages. Ultimately, I’m where you are, Tom. You need to take advantage of the social media, the other things, in a real way to actually give people something to do, a place to go, and more valuable experience. I just don’t think you wanted to have the homepage turn into a dead end.
Tom Mighell: I thank you for agreeing with me that we shouldn’t make those types of pages dead ends, which effectively is a trap. I think that we’re both in agreement substantially that the internal parts of websites, of law firm websites, should do more to provide content whether it’s like you say saying, “See more tweets by this author or by this attorney.” “See more blog posts on our sister blogs where we have three other blogs that our attorneys blog on.”
Being able to interact with other content other than what they originally came from, I think, is really important. But it doesn’t answer the main question that we came to this podcast with which is, what do you do with the homepage? I’m going to toss that question back to you and say we’ve decided really what needs to happen to the interior pages. Where does that leave the homepage, if anywhere?
Dennis Kennedy: In a way, Tom, the whole notion of the death of the homepage is a little bit funny to me because obviously you’re always going to have the first page or the front page or the main page of any website. Not to go all metaphysical but you sort of have to have a start page on a website. I think the idea of saying there are multiple paths into a site, taking advantage of that, paying attention to the analytics, determining both how people want to use the site and how they come to the site can give a firm real insights.
As I mentioned before, [inaudible 00:19:19] the home site not just as a homepage, as some kind of digital or internet version of a brochures, does move you a long way. Then saying how does it fit into the whole universe, which is a lot of social media these days, to bring engagement and to give you the results that you’re really looking for rather than just trying to follow what it is that everybody else is doing, which is the notion you get when you look at a lot of the law firm webpages, that there is a basic template. I think that you want to look for ways to be creative and engaging and I think that a lot of Kevin’s comments in this rather short post are actually quite valuable if you take a little bit of time and think about them.
Tom Mighell: I generally agree, although like I said, I just don’t think that there’s enough interest in the homepage to warrant doing a whole lot. I will say though that in my brief review of some of the Am Law 200 sites, it was very interesting to me how some of them, and this is a change from probably the last time that I spent time looking at law firm homepages, but most of them now have little icons for their Facebook page and their Twitter account and their YouTube channel and whatever they have, but they don’t have those interactive … Put a widget on your page that shows the most recent post that you have on Twitter or something on Facebook that you posted or a video that maybe your firm posted on YouTube instead of just having, bearing your blogs behind a link that says resources. Either call it blogs or put a widget that shows here are our last ten blog posts and things that we’re doing today and are actually talking about right now. I think make it more interactive.
I still don’t think people are going to want to spend a whole lot of time there, but at least by making it more of like you say a living page, it’s something that the users can engage with and probably and hopefully get more use out of the whole site in general.
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Tom Mighell: Now let’s get back to the Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Tom Mighell-
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy. Nancy Duarte is [inaudible 00:22:21] an author and blogger on public speaking. In a recent podcast, which is Episode 411 of Six Pixels of Separation with Mitch Joel, Nancy discussed her approach of using notes and other contents that you’ve created along with PowerPoint to create sophisticated, useful handout materials based on your slides that are different from what you use in your actual presentation and different from the traditional Word document handout.
This approach recognizes a huge difference between what you present and give to your audience and read to them and what they read as materials, but also ties them together. She calls the notion Slidedocs and I really like the idea, Tom, and want to experiment with them although that may be a bit of a daunting task. Tom, would you give us a little more detail and give us your take on Slidedocs?
Tom Mighell: I like Slidedocs too and, in fact, it’s something that whether I knew it or not, I’ve been doing it a lot for work ever since I started working for my company. When I got there I was really surprised to find that we were delivering our assessments to clients in PowerPoint format. It went against everything that I thought as a lawyer to do that because I’m used to writing long-form and getting all of my thoughts out on paper and a Word document is certainly much more appropriate for that than a PowerPoint because in a PowerPoint you’re limited and you can’t just make things go from slide to slide in a way that is easy to understand.
I think that’s what Nancy is getting at is that … I think she’s meeting in the middle with two different ideas. The first is that some of the big companies, and she, in her presentation, she talks about major people at big companies like Facebook and Amazon and other companies where they’ve essentially banned PowerPoint. They say, “If you’re going to come to a meeting, you’re not going to give a PowerPoint. Instead, you’re going to circulate some slides and everybody’s going to come and expect to review them ahead of time or we’re going to give them ten minutes to review things and then we’re going to have a discussion. We’re not going to actually show slides. We’re going to have a discussion about what it is you put together.”
She says that, one, that PowerPoint presentations are bad, but then coming at it from the other end, she’s saying that Word documents are impossible to read. They’re too long, nobody will read them. There’s too much extra stuff in there that people don’t need. What she’s come up with are Slidedocs. Slidedocs are ways of taking the information that you have, information that like Dennis said, you may put in the notes feature of a PowerPoint presentation and bringing that onto the slide in a way that is concise and condensed and gets across your point on one slide rather than having to carry that point forward onto multiple slides.
If you have a chance, we’ll put the link in the show notes, go and see the download that she did. It’s really a very impressive thing and it’s something that whether we knew it or not, we’ve been doing at my company, just not the same way. I think it’s a really cool idea. It’s a really good idea of a way to present information in a way that is easy to digest, that people can do a quick read-through in certain situations, but I think it’s also something that’s not easy to do very well from what I can tell.
The book that you download, I call it a book because it’s 165 slide presentation and if you’re going to learn how to do it using everything in these 165 slides, it’s going to take a while to actually learn how to create one of these things. I think first you need to be a good writer because you need to be able to write short, tight, and visual communications on a slide, but also, I think, and this is where I think it’s daunting for lawyers, is that you have to be a good designer. You have to have good design elements.
I think what makes this Slidedoc that she’s used as an example really interesting depends as much on the design element of the slide and the arrangement of the text as the actual text itself. You’re moving from bullet points which are easy for lawyers to do because we’re not very creative and so it’s easy for us to put bullet points on a page. We’re moving to more graphic visually-pleasing designs and I think that’s what’s going to be the challenge in using these. That said, I really would like to try to use some of this in the future and I think it’s a really interesting approach. Dennis?
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, and the URL is www.duarte D-U-A-R-T-E .com/slidedocs S-L-I-D-E-D-O-C-S. I think the key point for me is this is really intended to be this sort of paper handout that you give to people in connection with your presentation. It could even be a pre-read or even marketing material for a presentation you’re going to do. I think that you conceive of it as something that somebody’s going to read and it’s this nice combination of it’s easier to read, it’s snappier, it’s not dense text on a page, and even better, it’s not something that you’re trying to put on a slide and project in front of people where a lot of people can’t read it.
I think with lawyers especially there’s this tendency to want to fill the slides with all the information rather than to just talk about what’s on the slide. This, if you say, “I separate the presentation from what I’m handing out,” then the Slidedoc really gives you that way to put all that information that you’d like to put on there and put it in an attractive format that looks like a slide and might contain all that information that you would like to put on a slide but there’s no way that anybody can read it.
If you’re a lawyer and you’ve ever been to a CLE where somebody’s doing just a summary of a court decision where they put all the facts in the case and all that and it feels like it’s in six point type on a PowerPoint slide that just looks like it has 1000 words on it. Slidedocs won’t allow you to do all that but at least gives you a way that you can do that so somebody can read it without putting it up on the screen in front of them which generally turns people off these days.
I think it has a lot of potential as a way to show information and to give it more impact, but I think you’re right, Tom, when you see what she’s done, which is really, really great looking set of material, it may seem a little daunting because we’re, I’m not a graphics designer, you’re not a graphics designer, so it does feel challenging to reach this kind of level, but it does seem like it’s something that you can experiment with and, Tom, it sounds like something you have experimented with.
Now it’s time for our parting shots. That one tip, website, or observation that you can use the second this podcast ends. Tom, take it away.
Tom Mighell: Dennis is a frequent mentioner of the Cool Tools website, Kevin Kelly’s website, and he and Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing have debuted a new podcast that they’re calling the Cool Tools Podcast. Their first episode just went up in the past week. It’s with David Pogue, the [inaudible 00:29:37] of Yahoo Technology as he discusses some of his favorite tools. I’m looking forward to more interesting podcasts along the way, but it was a good start with David Pogue, so download and subscribe to it. Cool Tools Podcast.
Dennis Kennedy: It’s interesting, Tom, because this is sort of like a second iteration of a Cool Tools Podcast because they had one before. It’s interesting this one came up and I thought it was the continuation of the earlier one but it looks like a brand new thing.
Tom Mighell: Yeah, that was just a couple of … I think that the old iteration was just a couple of episodes, wasn’t it? It wasn’t very many.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, about four of them, I think. Speaking of new podcasts worth mentioning, our friend Adriana Linares’ New Solo podcast on the Legal Talk Network just released the first episode with Jay Foonberg who is sort of the big hero of solo lawyers because of all his writing on solo and small firm practice.
My parting shot though, Tom, goes to collaboration and remote collaboration. There’s a great podcast … It’s probably a little bit too technical most of the time for most lawyers and certainly it is for me from time to time, but it’s got Hansel. Hanselman does a really nice job with a lot of technical issues.
His Episode 425 is called Shoulder to Shoulder Remote Collaboration and it’s with Susie Wee who’s at Cisco and it’s this great discussion of the actual, I would call it usability and taking a fresh look at how people collaborate remotely, especially using video and they put a lot of thought into things like how to angle the monitor, size of monitors, the quality of video, and even how people position themselves in the frame. It’s about a half hour long podcast. Just a lot of really interesting ideas in there and some things to think about if you work remotely or are involved in video conferences, which more and more people are these days. It’s a really, really thoughtful approach to video collaboration and I really recommend it to anyone interested in that subject.
Tom Mighell: That wraps it up for this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. Information on how to get in touch with us as well as the links to all the topics we discussed today will be available on our show notes blog at TKMReport.com. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to our podcasts in iTunes or on Legal Talk Network site and you can get to archives of all our previous podcasts in both places as well. If you have a question you want answered or a topic for an upcoming podcast, please email us at TKMReport@gmail.com or send us a tweet @TomMighell or @DennisKennedy. Until the next podcast, I’m Tom Mighell-
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy and you’ve been listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report, a podcast on legal technology with an internet focus. Help us out by rating this podcast or writing a review on iTunes.
Thanks for listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Check out Dennis and Tom’s book, The Lawyers Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together from ABA Books or Amazon. Join us every other week for another edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report only on the Legal Talk Network.