In this instalment of Words that Bite, I examine how professional services firms can improve the bios on their websites.
There is no doubt that bios are a crucial part of a professional services firm website. Statistics from legal marketing firms indicate that visitors to law firm websites spend anywhere from 55 to 75 per cent of their time looking at the lawyers’ bios.
This means that the bios on professional services firms’ websites should pack a punch. However, sadly, more often than not the opposite is true. Most bios are as dull as dishwater.
The biggest problem with the bios on professional services firm websites is that they are boring – to the point of verging on being unreadable. Most are just a curriculum vitae, and don’t demonstrate what the particular lawyer, accountant, engineer or architect can do for their clients. In addition, they rarely make any attempt to distinguish the professional in question from their competitors.
Other problems with bios on professional services firm websites include:
Due to my dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in this area, I’ve decided to provide my top tips on how professional services firms can improve the bios on their websites.
One way to make a bio on a website live and breathe is to move away from it looking like a curriculum vitae. A bio is NOT a resume.
Yes, there should be a focus on the professional’s achievements and experience; of course this is important. However, the way to make a bio draw in clients is to show how the professional uses those achievements and experience to assist their clients. In short, it is about shifting the emphasis away from the individual to demonstrating why this particular individual is a better choice than their competitors.
A good test of whether a bio is doing what it should is to ask whether it shows:
Have answering these questions be the basis of the bio.
Ideally, any bio should distinguish the particular professional from their competitors. This is very much a matter of identifying the key elements that will persuade a client to chose this professional over anyone else. Whether it is their experience, achievements or ability to communicate with clients, it is important to explain those winning qualities in their bio.
A bio should be as interesting as possible; it should make the visitor to the site want to read on. I do realise that it can be a challenge to make the vast majority of lawyers’, accountants’ and engineers’ bios interesting. However, putting more effort into explaining the significance of the experience and achievements of the individual concerned, and less into simply describing them, is a step in the right direction.
One of the most important things to remember about bios is that they need to be written in language that a client can understand. Obviously, the language will depend on the type of firm it is and the target audience.
For example, the language used in bios for a law firm specialising in family law that has clients from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds will be different from large firms, whose clients tend to be legally trained in-house counsel.
The style in which bios are written should also reflect the firm’s brand.
So, if you are a large conservative firm, you probably are not going to include bios that outline a partner’s hobbies or interests. However, if you are a small, groovy firm that wants to show your lawyers are well-rounded human beings who are easy to talk to, then you may consider creating bios that are a little less stuffy.
A firm that has had great success with their unconventional approach to bios is Marque Lawyers. It decided to take a fresh approach, and on its website described its lawyers’ personalities in a quirky and different way. The tactic was so successful that Jordan Furlong, a leading Canadian law firm marketing guru, called them the best law firm online bios in the world. Why? Because the bios make you want to meet the lawyers and hang out with the people who work at the firm. They also make you smile because they are amusing. The strategy appears to work because, according to managing partner Michael Bradley, the bios are the most popular pages on the site, the average number of page views is eight and the average visit is four minutes. Not bad for a law firm.
Another firm that has tried to break the mould by including portraits of what their lawyers are like away from work is UK firm Barker Gillette. While they are not quite as polished or brave as the Marque Lawyers bios, they are still interesting attempts to give clients a glimpse of the person beyond the stereotypical boring old lawyer.
One of the most common problems with bios on professional services firm websites is a lack of consistency. It is almost as if the partners have written the bios and whoever is in charge of managing the website content is too scared to insist on a uniform style.
What is the problem with using all sorts of styles for bios?
For a start, it looks amateurish and messy. It also makes your firm look like a gaggle of professionals, rather than a cohesive team. I’ve seen law firm websites with bios that range from the ridiculously generic and meaningless to the absurdly detailed.
Therefore, I suggest that someone at the firm selects an overall style for the bios and then takes responsibility for ensuring that all the bios fit that style. Obviously, there should be some room for differences in personality and style, but the basic format should be standardised. For example, a decision should be made as to whether the description of a lawyer’s experience is going to be listed in bullet points or integrated into the text.
It is important to update bios, with recent experience and achievements, regularly. I am amazed at the number of large professional services firms that don’t update their bios on a regular basis. It is as if the bios are frozen at the time the website was created.
The rule should always be: keep it fresh.
In general, people have very short attention spans. When they are on the web, their attention spans are even shorter. Therefore, as a general rule, the shorter the bio, the better. There is nothing worse than someone going on and on about himself or herself.
If the bios at your firm are getting too long, yet you feel all the information in them is valuable, consider splitting them into sections. Tabs or drop-down menus can be a great way to break up a bio. For example, you can have a brief introductory section; a section entitled ‘expertise’, which provides more details for those who are interested; and, if appropriate, a publications section.
Most bios for professional services firms include photographs.
The key question is: what sort of photographs should you use for your firm?
I think this once again depends on your brand. If you are a large conservative firm, then the photographs should match that image. If you are a small boutique firm, then you might want to play around with how you present your professionals. It can be refreshing to see lawyers, accountants and engineers presented in a non-traditional way. An increasing number of firms are trying to present their lawyers as human beings and I think this helps if you are trying to break down the idea that you are a typical crusty old law firm.
The one main thing you should avoid is presenting your professionals in a clichéd way. For example, a snapshot of a lawyer standing in front of a bookshelf full of legal journals may not be the most inspired choice. Personally, I believe it is helpful to avoid the ‘stuffed-shirt’ mug shot, if at all possible.
An effective way of livening up bios is to include video interviews. This is a great way of enabling clients to ‘meet’ the professionals they are thinking of retaining. It achieves a number of objectives in one hit:
The trick with videos is not necessarily giving every partner their own, but, rather, selecting partners who are particularly articulate and feel comfortable in front of the camera. Video appearances are not for everyone; some people freeze when they are in front of a camera.
Finally, there is the question of whether bios on your professional services website should show the human side of the person in question.
Obviously, this depends on your brand.
There are firms that have successfully produced bios that present the fun side of their subjects and give a sense of the people behind the professionals the visitor to the website might end up retaining. Others stick with a more traditional approach.
When it comes to professional services firm websites, bios are particularly important. Therefore, you need to:
Do you need help with your firm’s bios? The Pink Rottweiler likes nothing more than injecting life into a bio that is falling flat. If you want to chat about your firm’s bios, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.