RubensteinTech partners with leading creative firms to build high-end websites and software for web and mobile platforms across the legal, real estate, non-profit, technology, and financial services sectors.
For the 10th entry in the RubyLaw Thought Leadership Series, we host Paul Pierson, Partner at Carbone Smolan Agency and Jaron Rubenstein, Founder & President of RubensteinTech as they discuss the ideal collaboration process for the relaunch of an innovative, sustainable website. During this discussion, the two craftsmen speak candidly about the process of design, development, and collaboration. Listen for answers to questions like:
The goal of this session is to educate and inform, by sharing personal experiences, discussing philosophies, and providing specifics into each step of the sequence of building a modern website. Please join us for this exciting glimpse into the journey of building a new site!
Founder and President
Rubenstein Technology Group
Director of Business Development
Rubenstein Technology Group
Paul and Jaron have collaborated on major, award-winning website initiatives for Akin Gump, Milbank, and Winston & Strawn. RubyLaw powers other leading firm websites and mobile apps, including Morrison & Foerster, Perkins Coie, Pryor Cashman, and Bryan Cave.
George: Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us for the tenth entry to our RubyLaw Thought Leadership Series, Website Relaunch, Demystifying Process and Collaboration. RubyLaw itself is a Rubenstein Technology Group product. It's a customizable enterprise level web content management platform that empowers user experience for both legal marketers and firm audiences. It is designed to meet the web, mobile marketing and proposal generating needs of leading AM law one hundred and two hundred firms. The RubyLaw Thought Leadership Series is Rubenstein Technology Group's effort to support a big opportunity firms have to create a competitive advantage by adjusting to how and where law firm stakeholders expect to consume content. For those interested, all other nine entries of this series are up on the RubensteinTech site for viewing.
Today we have the fortunate opportunity to listen in on a Q and A session that addresses how you can create this competitive advantage at the intersection of design and technology. Paul and Jaron have collaborated on major award winning website initiatives for Akin Gump, Milbank and Winston and Strawn and will give us all an inside look at what an optimal collaboration between design and technology looks like. Paul is a believer that the most exciting design comes from sound strategy and new technology. As a partner at CSA, he has built both stunning physical and digital solutions for high profile clients such as Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, W Hotels and Residences, Boston Consulting Group and Winston and Strawn.
Jaron has 15 plus years of marketing technology experience, deep technical expertise and a passion for design that empowers creative partners and clients to identify opportunities, manage complex projects and maintain the integrity of their work. Welcome Paul and Jaron, how are you guys?
Paul: Hey George, Thanks.
George: With that type of intro, I hope you don't let us down.
Jaron: Set the bar, that's the way we like it.
Paul: We'll do our best.
George: I'm just kidding. Take it away. Folks are waiting to hear from you, not me so have at it.
Jaron: All right, excellent. Great. I've got a bunch of questions for Paul. Paul's got some questions for me and together we're going to chat for the better part of the next hour or so. We just want to encourage, also, if you have any questions as we're going along, please chat them in the WebEx actually to myself, Jaron Rubenstein, I should be listed as a panelist in your window. Just feel free to ask any questions you have and George will interject or we'll notice the questions and ask them accordingly. The value of this will definitely be improved if you can share some of your specific questions as we're going through it. With that in mind, Paul, maybe just start at the beginning. Let's say I'm a marketing manager at a top firm, one thousand attorneys, four hundred partners.
How often should a law firm redesign their website?
Paul: Yeah, that's a good question. The reason for redesign is usually because the landscape has changed or the technology has changed. Something in the world has changed but the website has remained the same. Usually, the cycles that we see are usually three to five years that things have changed enough for people to move on from an existing design. I think what we're seeing now, though, a lot of firms are looking to make continuous updates to the site rather than have a big overhaul every five years. Rather than having a big refresh, they invest once in a sound solution and then gradually improve it over the years. That's, I think, a much better strategy to build something that can last longer. We like to do that. We're seeing that a lot more lately.
Jaron: Yeah, yeah. It seems to mirror more sort of the life cycle of what a website is.
Paul: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Jaron: What would you say your proudest moment or maybe comment from a law firm client that really validated that design or redesign process for you?
Paul: Yeah. Our clients tend to be pretty happy so they'll be enthusiastic and they appreciate the design and the work that we do and all that but I think that what I really like is a client that has a high expectation, a high bar for us to reach. When I feel the best is when a client once at the end of a project said, we came in asking you to break new ground with this site to change the way that law firm websites are designed. They admitted, we didn't think that you could actually do it. We're setting that bar and we thought maybe you'd get part of the way there but you did it. That's cool because just that kind of challenge is fun for me and being able to achieve it is awesome. I like hearing that sort of stuff.
Jaron: That's a great point because I think that a lot firms, sometimes the marketing departments are pushing forward what the firm is doing and sometimes they're a bit ahead of where the partners are in the firm. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for them? Through these processes how do you get the firm to push forward and do something more unique and innovative than maybe they would be able to do without you?
How do you get the firm to push forward?
Paul: Yeah. The firms that are ready to make a move, there's some internal champion. There's somebody that is not satisfied with the way things are and that's a powerful position, to be the one saying, these things could be better. The way that our site works, the way that we interact with our clients online could be better, could be improved, it could better serve our partnership. There's better ways out there. That's an exciting thing that people tend to follow. When someone has that passion, just having that passion for what's next and what's new can really...I see that all the time. It brings people along. They want to follow it.
Jaron: Right, right.
Paul: What about you? What do you like about doing these kinds of projects? What's your proudest moment?
What do you like about these kinds of projects?
Jaron: From the technology perspective some of them are pretty massive. There's so many moving parts. I think that one of the ... Just the accomplishment of getting to launch is sometimes good enough. For folks that have been doing these processes they know (how difficult it is). To get the design and the development and the content migration and all the new content and making everybody on the committees and partners happy. I think that that's a pretty big achievement.
Paul: Should be proud, yeah. It's a lot. We'll talk about it more but there's a lot involved, yeah.
Jaron: Yeah, yeah. For sure. I think particularly recently we had an instance... It wasn't in the development of a site but it was more with the ongoing maintenance of the site where one of our clients had a security threat against their site. They brought us in to have a conversation about what could be done, how we could mitigate the risk and ensure that they didn't have any actual problems from this threat. It was sort of a high level technology strategy and computer security consulting kind of work.
It was a great experience for us because it was a real juicy technical thing that we've got to get our arms around and figure out. We built sort of a fortress around the site and we succeeded and it was great. The comment that came out of that which I'm most proud of is the director of marketing and the CMO having a conversation afterwards and they said how they felt like we were really a partner in that situation. We weren't just another vendor. We were trying to really solve it. They felt like we were on their team internally. You can't ask for anything more than that.
Paul: Yeah, that's great. I always see you light up when you have that juicy technical problem to solve. Something that's new and different and interesting and you're like how do we wrap our heads around this. I see you light up in those moments, which is cool for me too because I get excited, too.
Jaron: Yeah, yeah. I know you're one of the techier designers that I've ever worked with. I'll ask you a question, Paul. If you were in house at a law firm and you were tasked with hiring a design firm to redo your website, and you've been the other side of the process quite a bit but if you were in house, what are the most important things you would look for?
Paul: Yeah. It's funny because we see people going through this process all the time and when they're in this seat where they're evaluating different agencies and trying to understand who can do what. I don't envy that position. It's a challenging place to be because there's a lot of different people doing this. I think, though, that it's really about fit. The most important thing is this going to be, like you said, a partnership. What these relationships are is a partnership to build something together. If you don't have that fit, if you're not working with somebody that feels right for your organization, it's not going to work regardless of how talented they are or how much experience they have. It's not going to matter. If there's not that fit, it's not going to work.
To figure this out, what you can do is talk to your team. This is what I tell people, talk to your team about experiences that they've had with agencies. What's been good, what's been bad, what's their work style, how has it worked or not or worked with agencies in the past? Gather that as a collection of experiences that your team has and use that as a way to talk to the agencies about what their working style is and see HOW it meshes with what your working style is because from my experience that's the most important thing. It's a similar question for technology. What do you think is important for a long term relationship on the technology side? What's important there?
Jaron: Yeah. That's a good question. I think similar fit is really critical. I think that's a really great point. On the technology side, it tends to be more of things like ... Clients don't typically come to us looking for another cookie cutter, run of the mill site just like they don't come to CSA looking for that. I think that when they do and they realize it's not the right fit then they need to have that conversation because we're looking for opportunities to push the edge and tackle those challenging technology problems. That's ideal, but also the partnership thing is really important because you are, you're getting into a partnership with a firm for five years, roughly.
Design is continuous but the technology is continuous everyday. Design usually comes in batches over the course of several years. There might be an enhancement here, an update there but on a technology side, you need to have a team that you feel like you can trust. The idea of calling references and talking to existing clients and hearing what their experience has been with existing clients, I think is critical. If a firm has been servicing a client for three years, five years, an extensive period of time and they're still happy, if they're happy after six months of time, that's impressive. I think that that's really important because it is that long term, that partnership that you see because the world of technology is just continuously evolving.
Paul: You've got to feel comfortable making that phone call of, “I have this thing. I don't know what's happening, I need your help.” Those are the kinds of things that can come up on those websites sometimes.
Jaron: Yeah. I think that's really important. I think that's really important to have that kind of relationship and that fit.
Jaron: Yeah. Talk a little bit about that design process. I think that for a lot of folks that's a little bit of a black box. Some meetings happen and you have a website designed. What happens in between?
Paul: It's just magic, it's just magic.
Jaron: Excellent. Well, then we can move on. Let's start with, again, really on the process.
How do you get agreement and buy in for a website redesign project or even a brand refresh?
Paul: Yeah. I think it's a good place to start because you have to, when you're planning a project like this, you have to think about rolling it out almost from day one. You've got what you're doing is kind of introducing a degree of change in an organization so it's part website redesign project but it's also part change management, how do you manage a big change within an organization. One of the key things to do for getting that agreement is involve the right people from the first day. Get the right people in the room together that can be involved in all the decisions that happen along the way. That includes the decision of the agency, like choosing the agency.
You don't want to just come in and put somebody out there and say this is who we're working with. You really want to involve them in that decision. Pick the right people, pick the right group that's going to be your core group to get the project through and just involve the right people in the right stages. We really like to involve a large group of stakeholders at key parts in the design process so it feels like at the end of the day that the site was not created by us and then given to the firm but really created by the firm itself. If you can create that atmosphere of creating a collective experience of making the site, then you're much more likely to have strong support when you launch the site. You see projects that succeed have that support. The ones that don't, don't have that support.
Jaron: Right. Many creative teams start with a workshop. That seems like one of those ideal times to get all those folks in a room. I know at CSA you have a particular focus on a concept you call green lighting. Can you share a little bit about what that looks like as your workshop?
Paul: Yeah, green lighting's a way to get consensus. We'll often bring key stakeholders, usually it's a partner group that we'll bring in a room together to go through this exercise. The exercise is we present a series of cards as stimuli and they stoke conversation. It's really about the moderator leading the conversations that happen among the partners as they react to these cards. It forces a choice, the way the system works, it forces the group to make a collective choice which is very much like what the design process is. The group has to come to agreement and we do that early on. We hear a lot of conversation, we hear disagreement, we hear debate but we really get to that consensus at the end of the day.
Most people are skeptical of this process going in but everybody leaves happy. It works a hundred percent of the time, even with lawyers, because we get to that consensus. It's really great to have that. What we end with is like a picture of who the firm is today and who the firm aims to be in the future. Seeing what the change that's desired and agreeing with that as a group is huge. Most firms do not have that kind of clarity about why they're engaging in a project like that. The green lighting can really help with that problem.
Jaron: Yeah. That's fantastic and having seen it first hand a couple of times, I can attest to it's magic. In terms of the importance of that process up front, how many folks and how long of a session is that?
Paul: Yeah. Green lighting's fast. It's two hours, usually, like an hour and a half to two hours. We usually have about ten to fifteen participants joined for it. We prefer to have everybody in the room together, there's something special about being face to face, but we have had people join remotely. Sometimes we'll do multiple sessions with a firm but it's really a consensus tool so we try to gather everybody together. Usually a core group of ten to fifteen partners is enough within these larger firms to get that consensus and to be that group that's going to remember that experience when the site comes out and see how it relates back to that experience and can help be those champions that help push it out into the world.
Jaron: Right, right. It's marketing leadership, it's firm leadership, it's partners, it's management. That's excellent. Let's skip a little bit to who that team is.
How should a client build the team that's going to review and approve a website to be designed? Who should be on that team?
Paul: Yeah. That's a good question. I've worked with a lot of these teams and I've seen some patterns of what the archetypes are that tend to sit on these teams. It's actually, if you're thinking about this, if you're thinking about who should I put on, the ones that I've seen that are successful have a few key roles. First is a change agent. We talked a little bit about this, a person that really wants change in the organization and is pushing for that change.
The second is a politician, somebody that knows how to navigate the politics of the organization. I don't think that any law firm is without politics. It's like a natural part of a business. Any large business is going to have it and to have somebody on the team that's skillful in that can really, really help.
The third is a content lover, somebody that really gets the content that's going to be part of the site and really understands the purpose of it for that firm, understands what's good for that firm, understands what the messages are, understands content and how it works on the web.
Those three, a change agent, a politician, and a content lover, I think the best teams have those roles. Sometimes it's one person that fills a lot of those roles. Sometimes it's three different people. As a bonus, I like to include a nay sayer. You've got to be able to manage this but to have the nay sayer on the team can help you embrace whatever their concerns are. Usually a nay sayer has some concern, we're going to spend too much money, it's going to be too disruptive of a change. Whatever their concern is, if we can bring them on the team and address it, they're not going to come up later on. That person's not going to go away so a lot of times if you've got that strong core team, it's good to invite that person to be a part of the discussion. It usually actually makes things better, too.
Jaron: Yeah. That's the unexpected answer to that. That's interesting. It's bold. Have you ever seen a case where a firm is able to have just a couple of key people that manage the whole process internally and push it down and that be successful?
Paul: Yes, if a single person is a change agent, a politician and a content lover, yes. I have seen those people. They're very talented people to have all of that. I have seen people that can do that. Even in that case, they don't lead it by force. I haven't seen anybody that's successful at just shouting from the top and saying this is what's going to happen. Because they have that politician. The politician brings people in. The politician seeks feedback. The politician gets people involved and that leads to the success. We're talking about partnerships here. These firms are made of people who are owners of the firm. Everybody has a voice and if you just try to ignore that, it's going to be trouble. You have to embrace that.
Jaron: Right, right. That's very insightful. We work with a lot of different design partners and they work at very different levels of what I would call design sophistication. I think part of the challenge for the marketing teams is to try to figure out what level is the right fit for them, to our conversation earlier.
If you were a partner at an AM law one hundred firm, or hundred, two hundred firm, a large firm, why should you care about design and user experience and all those things that you bring to the table?
Paul: Yeah. Law firms are people businesses so a lot of times, where the sale gets made, where the case gets won, whatever it is happens with people. It's a person to person interaction. People aren't always there. They're not always present and people have interactions with the company outside of the people. I think of the site as a proxy for the partnership. It's really representing that partner group when they're not there because they're not going to be able to be there all the time. There's lots of interactions, there's things that people need, there's moments and experiences that people have with the firm that don't involve those partners. The website is a key point in that experience. If that experience ...
It's similar to your lobby, your receptionist, some of these other touch points that you care about because your clients are going to be there. Your clients are going to experience those things and you want to show them that you take care of the entire experience. Not just your interactions, but the entire experience. Getting that to come through on the website is a challenge, but that's what user experience design, that's what visual design, that's what the content, all of that stuff contributes to having a better experience when the partners aren't there.
Jaron: That's how a brand is conveyed to those visitors, to those people who are interacting with the firm in that way.
Paul: Yeah. There's also this ... In law and in a lot of businesses, competition is getting more and more. These peripheral experiences that are outside of the partner experience become more important as the competition level rises. They become moments that you can differentiate yourself. They become moments that you can tell your story and be more unique and kind of demonstrate what's special about your firm.
Jaron: Yeah. That's awesome. When we talk about great design, it sounds like there's a lot of really great reasons why you want to focus on design, user experience. Then sometimes I hear the other side of it is data driven marketing. Everything being based on metrics and ruling by the numbers. Are great design and data driven marketing at odds with each other?
Paul: No, I don't think so at all. I think that data ... There's a couple things, one of it's a great input. To understand what the story that the data is telling us can really help inform what the strategic and design direction is for the site. We're like sponges for data when we start a project like this. We want to know everything because all of those insights are going to filter into our design process and the ultimate solution. We also use it in our own process.
We like to just test our assumptions along the way. We use user testing where, for instance, we'll put a screen of the site up in front of people that aren't familiar with it and ask them to do a certain task. By watching their behavior and seeing what they do and measuring where they click and how long they look at things, that gives us data about the design direction. We're using data ourselves throughout the process to challenge our own assumptions, to test the things that we think would work and we use that along the way to really shape the design and help make decisions about some of the directions that we might go.
Jaron: Sort of like Callway user ability testing?
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Jaron: I think what that's referred to as. Excellent.
George: You do have a question from the audience. Question is, you're putting together an RFP, how deep do you go on the branding side? I guess every redesign of a website is an opportunity to do a brand refresh. How deep do you want that refresh and how do you know how deep to go because the spectrum is pretty wide?
Paul: Yeah. That's a good question. It's like everybody's favorite answer of it depends. I think the things to look for ... Always with an “it depends” is like what are the things to look for. In your firm, is there agreement about what the firm stands for because if you ask ten different partners what does this firm believe in, will they say the same thing? If they say lots of different things, you probably need some branding work because they're not communicating with the same voice and that's a lot of what branding does. On the visual side, you have a similar thing. If you spread out all the different touch points you might have, your website, your email communication, your social media presence, any print things you might still have, spread that all on the table. If that looks like one cohesive package, then great. You might build off of that in the design of the website.
If those things are all over the place, you might want to think about how do we use the website as an opportunity to bring those things together to create a new visual language that can really unify all of the communications that we have. The third is what you're communicating still in line with where the market is? You might be saying the same thing but it might not be attuned to what the changing situation is in the world. If you feel like things have fallen behind and it needs to update, that's another opportunity to bring branding in. As far as how far you go, that's something that to talk to the different partners about of what the options are and what they can do to help with what your particular problem is. Those are conversations we have all the time.
George: That's great feedback and simple tips to check against as you're putting an RFP together and evaluating different partners because it's tough to that apples to apples comparison when you're getting no responses.
Paul: Yeah. Focus on the problem. In an RFP, focus on the problem that you need to be solved. If you have a problem with communicating with one voice, focus on that and talk about that as the outcome that you'd like to have.
George: Thanks, Paul.
Jaron: We've been throwing the design word out there a lot. What do we talk about when we say design? What's the difference between identity design and UX design? Where do they intersect? Is UX part of a firm's identity?
Paul: Yes, that's a good question. Technically speaking, UX is the interactions that you go through as part of the web experience. What happens when you click on a button at a basic level. That's what UX is. On a website, there's a lot of links, there's a lot of different interactions that users can have. Visual design is what does it look like and what feeling do we try to invoke from the way the site looks. Do we want something that feels established? Do we want something that feels innovative? Do we want something that feels new? Whatever the feeling that we agree to convey as for the visual design. I believe that those two things work in tandem.
The word design means both of those things. It means how it works, which the UX, which is what happens when you interact with it and how it looks, like how does it make you feel. What are the intangible qualities that you get from it. If those two things aren't intimately linked and speaking with one voice then you're not going to have the best experience. It's all about the experience that your users have.
Jaron: They're inseparable on the web these days, yeah.
Paul: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Jaron: Excellent. That makes a lot of sense. When you get to the actual design ... I know for time today we could talk about things like style tiles and user personas and wire frames and all those tools of design. When your team is CSA, you're a team of genius creatives, gets together and gets to the actual design process, what do you do?
How do you go from that client conversation to a home page design?
Paul: Yeah. This is the magic, all right, so I'll say a little bit about that black box that you mentioned at the beginning. I think it's a fantastic process, design. The way that I describe it is like a series of expansions and contractions. An expansion is about gathering lots of ideas. We'll usually start at a beginning of project gathering lots of different ideas, lots of different inputs, different ways that we could take this site experience. Our designers are strategists. They're all really, really smart people and they have these outside influences from not just law but around the world that they're constantly thinking about and looking for those moments to use them on a project. We bring those things in that we think are appropriate for the challenge at hand.
Then we have a contraction where we start making connections between those things. We start grouping things together, we start forming different ideas. It looks kind of chaotic at first because it's just a lot of different stuff happening. The skill in running a design process is to find the patterns and find...We end up with themes. A simple theme might be a site that's oriented around search, like reinventing search. There's all sorts of different ways that you can do search and search is an important part of law firm websites. Maybe that's an area that we can explore and see the influences in. Then we expand around that again. We expand around search and you say, okay, let's really explore within this narrow area. It's this constant expand and contract, expand and contract until we get to something that really works. We like to involve the client in some of those expansions too in interactive activities where we do that together so we can really see what that process is like and create it together.
George: That makes sense.
Paul: It's like a heady answer.
Jaron: I feel like I kind of understand what you do. It's almost like brainstorming and throwing out these ideas. Are they written? Are you listing them out? Are you sketching them? Are you putting them on a white board?
Paul: We usually do the physical. We usually have paper because you can move it around more easily. It's easier things that we write down on paper, sketches that we draw, things that we print out...That makes it easier to just...You have a lot more space in a room than you do on a computer screen. It's a great process. I just love it, that expand and contract, expand and contract.
Jaron: Got it. Got it. What's the most important or critical part of that process and why?
Paul: I think it's participation. I think that design is a team sport. It's not something that is done in a silo, it's something that groups do together. Internally at our agency we do it together. We do it together with our clients. To me, the real fun of it is bringing people along in that process. We're not talking about group think or group decision making. Decision happens from leadership but the design process is about building, expanding and contracting and that happens in groups.
Jaron: It's a lot more social than I thought.
Paul: Yeah. I know. It's not so much of a black box if we put it that way. Let me ask you some stuff, Jaron. We talked about design for a while, I want to hear about the technology side a little bit. I feel like when we are first starting our project together we talk a lot about integration points. What the website has to talk to, how data is shared between systems? Tell me a little bit more about that. What's involved in making integrations work and how's the client involved in that process?
Jaron: You skip right to the heart of the whole thing.
Paul: I just jump right to it. No warm up questions here. Heading right to integrations, let's talk about data.
Jaron: Yeah, data. I hope I don't bore the audience with this stuff. Integration is part of just about every large scale website development project we're doing, whether it's in legal or not but certainly within legal. I think in legal, it's a lot about managing or really maximizing the efficiency of the marketing team. How do you manage content once and deploy it and reuse it? A lot of social media strategies have the same piece of content going out seven or ten times to different things.
It's a lot about not having to type in the same thing twice. We have some clients that are updating their websites thirty, forty, fifty times a day now. It's constant updates. The integration is really about getting data either into the website or out of the website into other tools and trying to keep that process as seamless and as I'm going to say reliable as possible. One day, all of the sudden, your contacts are not flowing from your website to your CRM, that can be a big problem so it's got to be reliable as well. The conversations we tend to have, the first thing is to identify. I don't know how deep you want me to go into this answer but ...
Paul: As deep as you need to.
Jaron: All right. I think the first thing is to identify. This is actually important early on from the planning and the design process. Identify what is that content or data that needs to be integrated with. Is it your human resources database of attorney bio details? Is it a matters or experience database? Is it a proposal generator or are you going to use ours? I think once you know what that data is then you start to look at how frequently that has to be updated, how automated is that process.
One of my favorite terms in this conversation is authoritative source. You've probably heard me say this twenty times, a hundred times. You need to decide which system is going to be the authoritative source of that information. Is RubyLaw the authoritative source of your attorney bio information and everything pulls from that or is you HR database the authoritative source of your bar admissions for attorneys but nothing else? From there, you know where the content has to flow from.
Paul: Right. I like the definitiveness of authoritative source. That makes me ... It's already kind of a loose world and to have something so definitive makes me feel comfortable. I like that.
Jaron: Great word.
Paul: Tell me a little bit about your black box. For me the black box in Rubenstein is we deliver photo shopped files to you guys and a few weeks later we get a link and they're up and in a browser and they're working. What's involved for your team in getting that to happen?
What's the process for you guys to get from that stage to the development?
Jaron: Yeah, a lot. I think that the ... In terms of process, the first thing that we do when we ingest a design is we analyze it. We've got our own set of checks and balances and checklists and things to review. Just try to understand all of the aspects of the design because especially these days we've gone from this process of a flat design to a live interactive user experience. You want to make sure that in that jump all the little nooks and crannies get managed and handled and supported, and nothing get’s dropped because that's where, honestly that's where the ball gets dropped most often. We'll review things, the simple things that everyone can think of like font faces and sizes. We'll look at image sizes. We'll look at the overall page layouts.
These days with everything you’re designing and developing or our other firm's designing and we're developing, is it has to be responsive. It's got to work on desktop, tablet and mobile. That's increased the complexity of this process five fold in the course of a couple of years. It's been a huge paradigm shift for everyone in the industry, not the least of which the marketing and firm side of it as well just in terms of effort. I think making sure that when that design scales or reorients itself to a mobile device, is the type still legible? Is it big enough? Are the touch states tapable? It's those little things that we try to look at in the design before we even convert it to HTML and CSS because it's so much easier to fix those early on.
Paul: Yeah, it's a great step to be able to see it working. Just having a different experience makes you see it in a different way. It's a great part of it and you guys do a great job at that, getting all those details right. I'm always interested to hear how that actually happens. When you're starting a project or even before you start a project, I imagine this must be really tricky for you about determining how long it's going to take, how much effort is going to be involved before you've even seen the designs. What is that based on for you?
How do establish how long it's going to take to complete a site?
Jaron: That's a really hard question to answer in a public forum. It's getting into that sort of dark art of project estimation and it's something that's a huge challenge because the truth is you don't know for sure. One of the ways is just from experience and from the sort of appetite for the stakeholders in the project. You get a sense, like what you're saying before, if you know that there's a project where from the get go the stakeholders are really interested in pushing the envelope, doing something truly innovative. Truly innovative is awesome and we'd love to do that every day but obviously it takes effort, it takes time, it takes talent. So Having a sense of the appetite is big. We looked at whole bunch of different metrics that we build into our scope. Things like the number of unique page templates. The news page versus the attorney bio versus a practice description versus the home page, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Firms typically have twelve to fifteen unique page templates on a site but some of the projects we've worked on pushed that to eighteen or twenty. Each of those templates is a unit of work that has to be done. We're looking at that or responsive web design, the amounts and types of content needs to be migrated, that kind of special functionality. I guess to sum it up, what I was saying before about the appetite, is sort of like the clients sense of adventure. How innovative do they want to go with this? How forward do they want to be? That is sort of a modifier of we're going to need to put twenty percent more effort into this home page because it's going to be completely different than any homepage ever built ever.
Paul: We've had conversations ourselves just between us about where we think it can go. We talk about that, too, of what our collective vision is for the site so we can kind of be on the same page. We had a bunch of those conversations.
Jaron: Sure, sure. We have spreadsheets and there's data behind this to be perfectly honest. There's data and there's figures but at the end of the day, there's always a little bit of a guesstimation aspect to it.
Paul: Yeah, it's the unknown. Venturing into the unknown. You talked at the beginning about the long term relationship that you have with these clients.
I know that ongoing support for the sites that you build is part of what you'll provide. How does that work? What's the experience like for the client after the site launches and they're getting that support?
Jaron: I think one of the key ways we differentiate ourselves in this market is through our attentive support. That's something, again, you tend to hear from our clients. We're pretty serious about. We're actually thinking about doing a webinar in the future about all the details behind that because I think it's important because everyone on the call today manages some or is part of some sort of support organization for their firm. It's a different kind of support but it's support. A lot of it for us has been as a team of engineers realizing that our primary purpose is service and to provide that attentive support and realizing that these websites are getting more and more and more complex.
The firms that are looking to leverage what they have and they continue to grow them, they need that kind of expert hand holding and guidance. Sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes it's a monthly thing. It's a long term process. It's a long term partnership. What we're focusing on specifically, we have an enterprise class database that manages those requests specifically so it gives the nuts and bolts of how it happens. Every request gets a unique ID, it gets tracked, we run crazy metrics on that internally. Our support engineers and our software engineers all have metrics that they're trying to meet for the responsiveness and the quality of response.
I think also, for us a big part of it is, sort of our secret sauce is that our team is in house. We're in house, we're in an office, we don't offshore, we don't outsource. The engineers that are supporting the system, it's the same team that developed RubyLaw, that customized it for a particular client or developed certain enhancements for a client. Often, we're able to put the same engineer that owned a particular piece . If there's an enhancement or an issue with an attorney bio, we might be able to have the engineer that actually implemented the attorney bio template on that enhancement or that support request project. We try to do that. When we can do that, there's a level of efficiency and quality that you just don't get if you're just playing with a interchangeable LEGO parts.
Paul: Right. It's like where we started, too, with what I've been seeing more of firms that build their site over time. They add features that make real significant enhancements year over year. Having that, I think, is a key part of it. Having the same experts that worked on the site be part of those updates makes it you're building something. It's not just you're moving boxes around.
Jaron: Right. Right, exactly. Exactly. There's a sense of ownership, too, that you get over time to updating what you've done in the past.
George: Guys, we have two questions. One is actually about the process. These sites take months to come to fruition and we've been in the positions where the site's not launching and the time table does over run sometimes. What do you think are some of the things that the audience can look out for to side step some of those delays, whether it's content or maybe it's giving insight on decision making at certain milestones. What do you see as the hold ups most of the time?
Paul: You mentioned content and I think that's the biggest one that people underestimate. I think it's important to be clear at the early stages of the project how big of a content overhaul you're willing to undertake as part of the project. I've seen projects where it's a complete rebuild from ground up. Forget all the content and completely change it. I've seen sites where it's the complete opposite, where it's a strict migration. It's all the content that's on the existing site is coming into a new experience and what's new is the user experience and visual design and a lot of things in between.
Figuring out where you are on that spectrum is really really important. That should happen at the wire framing stage when you're looking at how content is mapped on to the different pages. For each content piece you have to ask. You do this with your partner, you ask is this going to be new, is this going to be migrated. If it's new, what's really involved in the process for creating that new across all of our practices, across all of our attorneys, whatever that piece of content is, start that planning process early.
George: That's great insight. Jaron, you feel the same way?
Jaron: Yeah, I would a add a little bit to that. I think that the content ... Sometimes in the process of a relaunch, whether it's at the RFP or once you're in the actual project. Sometimes I think folks forget that it took years to generate the content that's on the current site. There’s an expectation that it's going to take months to redo it. It's completely impractical. One of the things I think is really important to Paul's point maybe to go a little bit further is deciding what of that content needs to be updated, what would be nice to update and revamp and deciding that early on in the process. That's another input to the design process which is what I'm hearing in what you said but I don't know if that's you ...
Jaron: If you know we're going to leverage all the existing news and publications, we're going to leverage all the bios but we're going to change the practice descriptions. That's going to influence how you do the design and how you map the old content to the new design and all that.
Paul: That's a great point because you can launch with some subset of new content. This is the point of iterating and building over time is that you don't have to flip the switch and have everything change at the same time from a content perspective. You can migrate some, change some. You can change some practices and not others. There's different ways that you can plan a roll out that doesn't put that crunch because everybody's busy. Everybody working on these sites within the firm has a job. It's not like they're not doing anything. They're busy. It's a lot of work to do this. To schedule in a way and to be clear in communicating how that roll out could happen can really save some headaches.
Jaron: Yeah. Yeah. Digitally, the site launch is not the end of the process. In some cases it's only the beginning. You can be rolling out updated bios over the course of two years. It doesn't have to happen before the site launches.
George: Other question is at the beginning of the process, we've seen it both ways where folks send out an RFP for design only and then bringing in the development partner afterwards. What do you propose folks do in terms bringing in (partners) ... It seems like the process has changed a little bit where development needs to be involved right at the beginning where maybe that wasn't the case even two or three years ago.
Jaron: I'll let you answer first.
Paul: It's important for me to know who that partner is very early on because when we're coming up with some ideas for what the site can do, there's questions that I have about how it's going to be implemented. If I don't have that partner to be bouncing ideas off of and helping build not just what it looks and feels like but how it works, it's going to limit the thinking. Having that development partner early really helps to make sure that the solutions that we come up with together, 1, are feasible and are informed by what the technology is capable of and 2, where it can go in the future. I really like having it together because I don't see it as two separate processes that get handed off from one to the other.
George: That's interesting because that's right at the intersection of the design and technology. Some of the back and forth that needs to happen for your vision, Paul, to come through to fruition, which is your job, Jaron, to make sure it works properly and making sure that that's aligned at the beginning is a big part of the project but the budget, too.
Jaron: Yeah. Right, right. I think it's critical with the complexity of these sites that when we start on a project together, the first week we jump into the technical aspects of the project. The existing content, integrations, all of those things in parallel to the design process. If we are not able to start that until the designs are already done, first of all it's going to extend the whole project another few months. Second of all, you don't have all those inputs into the design process.
Paul: I think that's exactly right and it's a good point that if you wait until design is done, then you have whole onboarding and getting the developer up to speed. All of that stuff can happen in parallel and does happen in parallel.
Jaron: The revisions that have to happen to the design because the developer realizes there's this, there's that.
George: That's great insight, guys. I think we have one last question. It's a good one.
It's about the investment in both the design and technology is significant. Post launch, what should folks be aware of to maximize the value of that investment?
From both the design perspective, what can they expect? What should they be doing to nurture that investment, make sure that they're getting max value over time and same thing for you, Jaron. What can they expect from a tech side. I know we talked a little bit about support but maybe there's some other things that they should keep in mind post launch when you guys are not involved as much?
Paul: I can talk to the first part of that. I think that getting the most value out of the investment, a lot of that comes from communicating what the capabilities of the new site experience are to the partnership. Where I've seen this work best is when the ... This is kind of the champion role. The champion, the change agent doesn't just brush their hands and say I did it and ride off into the sunset. A lot of work for them is after the site has launched, talking to people about all the capabilities that the new site has and how they can use it to effect change in their business.
These are partners with individual businesses. They all need to know how to use the site to enhance their business. We've done our job. We've created something that's way better at doing that for the partnership. They might not know. They might not go to the site and just know all of the sudden how they can use it and leverage it. Communicating all that so they're the ones that are using it, getting involved with it. That, to me, gets the most value out of the investment.
George: That's great. That's great insight. And Jaron?
Jaron: Yeah, I agree completely with Paul and I think that this is also a function of the paradigm shift in web technology and marketing technology over the past five years or so where previously firms were building a site and they were doing the minimum they could possibly do to keep it updated. They were just about constant updates if that. Then, a lot of firms find themselves sort of now and the time period around now where they've got something that's antiquated in terms of design. It's antiquated in terms of experience and technology and they're sort of in a bad spot. I don't think a firm would build a brand new office building and then not maintain it till it crumbles to the ground but that's the website. I think the smarter firms are looking at the build process as the initial investment but also budgeting, planning for not just the minimum annual hosting and maintenance and support but we're going to set aside a budget every year for enhancing the site, keeping it on it's edge.
We don't know what that's going to be yet. I used to make a joke that 3D holograms are going to be added to attorney bios one day and you need to make sure that you have a team that can support that. The hilarious thing is, I don't know if you guys know this, Microsoft announced that they have the 3D hologram technology. Did you read about this? I can't even use that as a joke anymore, it's serious. It's going to happen and by the way, if anyone on the call wants …Sorry, that's too commercial. I think that that's the key, is to budget over time to keep it current, keep it on it's edge. I think that's critical.
Paul: That really helps you, too, with involving the partnership. It's one in the same because as you're involving the partnership they'll have new ideas, things that they want, new things that they want to add to it. If you can be responsive about that and show change along the way, you win more advocates, you win more support, all of that stuff.
Jaron: That's awesome advice.
George: We have one last question it looks like. It's a question with regards to the change in the algorithm that Google made recently and how that might effect your site if it's not necessarily responsive or mobile friendly. Jaron actually wrote a nice piece on that and it's on our blog but maybe, Jaron, you can speak to it directly?
Jaron: I'll give the thirty second answer because we're almost out of time here but definitely go to RubensteinTech.com, go to the innovate blog and look at the blog about that. I'm trying to be self promotional but that answers in great detail. The short version is that question there is referring to a recent change about how Google is ranking sites that are mobile friendly versus non mobile friendly. There's a couple of points of clarity that people need realize on this, as of right now. One of them is that it only effects mobile users. What that means is users that are on a mobile phone, not a tablet, not a desktop, a mobile phone, and their searching terms that might have brought up your law firm's website. When they do, depending on those terms, if another site is an equal match for those terms but is mobile friendly, is responsive or just has a mobile version of their website, they may rank higher than you in those results.
Hopefully, from that explanation you're understanding that it's not the crisis that the press made it out to be yet. I say yet because this is definitely the tip of iceberg with the amount of mobile users rising every day. This is sort of Google saying hey, get modern now because my prediction is in the next year or two they're going to push that even further and it's going to start to effect desktop search and other search as well. Right now it only effects mobile search and I think the impact, at least the impact on our clients since it's launched, most of our clients are responsive but the few that have launched five years ago, eight years ago that haven't updated their sites yet are actually not doing that poorly. The last thing I'll say on that is if it's a concern for you, check out your analytics or get in touch with your developer or our team. We'll do an analysis of that and we can help you figure out...
George: What's happening.
Jaron: What's actually happening and was there an impact in the past few weeks because now that it's happened you can...As long as you have analytics on your site, you can know for sure. That's the data.
George: Well guys, we're quite precise. It's four PM right on the dot. Thank you, Paul, for joining us today. It's great insight and I love the way it was really a casual conversation between you guys. You work together quite often, it's good to get it out there.
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