Preparing Your Attorney Website for the Shift to Mobile

attorney website shift to mobile

Chris Dreyer, President and Founder of Rankings.io

The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Cirlce of Legal Trust.

It should come as no surprise to lawyers who rely upon Google and other search engines to get new clients and build their brand, that mobile-friendly pages will soon be factoring into[1] where a site ranks in Google search results.  If you are a small, medium, or even a large firm, and do not have a mobile friendly site, not to worry just yet.  Google is making the change starting April 21st of this year.  For lawyers without a mobile friendly site, now is the time to start looking at your options.

But it is better to start now, since Google tends to start testing and cooking the algorithm based upon data as it exists today. In other words, rather than be a mobile fire brigade after the site gets hit, immediately get your site mobile friendly. In this post, I will discuss the changes, how to’s and importance of mobile friendly sites generally.

Why Mobile Is Suddenly So Important To Google?

Mobile has been on the radar with Google for some time.  The reason this is not a surprise is because Google is known for using its influence in search to provide a better user experience across the web.  In the past the company has adjusted its algorithm to demote thin and low-quality content[2], it has encouraged publishers to design for users and not advertisers[3] and most recently Google has taken steps to ensure users have a more secure online experience[4].

How Can Lawyers Tell if Their Site Is Mobile Friendly

This is not as clear cut as it seems.  Just because a website will render and work pretty much the same way on a mobile device as it does on a desktop does not mean it is mobile friendly.  The mobile experience needs to be tailored to a device that people are often using with one hand (and mostly with one finger).  Lawyers can use free tools available online to check if their site is easy for people to use on mobile devices.

  1. Google’s Mobile Friendly Test[5]: Copy and paste a website into Google’s tool and they will scan it. You will either get the all clear or a list of items that need to be optimized for mobile device users.

mobile friendly test

A good scan… 

good mobile scan

A not so good scan…

bad mobile scan

Notice that Google will provide a lot of suggestions and resources for making your site mobile friendly.  A couple of other important things to realize about this tool are that it only gives suggestions for the exact page that you have pasted into the text box (in these two cases the home page).  It also will not work if you have a robots file configured to block search engines.

  1. Google Webmaster Tools Mobile Usability Report[6]: Lawyers will have to be a little savvier to use this tool and also have their site configured in WMT before they can see data.  Unlike the copy/paste scanner above, the Mobile Usability Report in WMT gives site owners a comprehensive overview of how all the pages of their site shape up on the mobile landscape.

WMT will show you all the pages that have mobile usability issues and what those issues are.

wmt mobile usability errors

Attorneys can also see the data charted over time and discover how and when errors may have occurred.  They can even download the information (just like other charts in WMT) so they can manipulate it in Excel or save it for comparison later on.

Another way that attorneys can see if their site is mobile friendly is simply to try and use it or have others outside the firm try and use it.  Here are some tips for things you should not be seeing on a site optimized well for mobile devices.  Users should not have to:

  • Pinch and zoom to see content
  • Scroll to the left and right or way far down on a page to read content
  • Zoom in to push buttons or click links
  • Zoom in to read text
  • Manually type phone numbers to call

In other words a website needs to be just as easy to use on a mobile device as it is on a desktop computer.  In order to accomplish that, content and features need to be displayed and function in a different way.

Responsive vs True Mobile Sites

You may have noticed that some sites have mobile domains (denoted by the m.example.com instead of the regular domain name).  These web pages are specifically designed for mobile devices and are not mobile responsive.  They are essentially a copy of the desktop version styled for mobile.  Responsive sites are actually the same pages seen on desktops however their style changes based on the screen size of the device that is rendering them.

There has been a lot of debate about which version is better.  When it comes down to it, there are far more drawbacks to having a mobile-specific version of a website than to having responsive design.

Benefits of separate mobile pages:

  • More control over design and functionality and ability to make a unique experience
  • Some would argue[7] that there is greater control over user experience

Drawbacks to separate mobile web pages:

  • Link equity and other SEO efforts must be duplicated in order to rank both sites (mobile and desktop) well in search
  • Duplicate content (although there is nothing to support that having a mobile version of a site is considered bad for SEO)
  • Having to remember to update two different versions of a web site
  • Both sites will not share the same exposure should links be shared in social media or promoted elsewhere on the web
  • Tracking two different websites can become tedious and cross domain tracking can cause issues in data reporting

Benefits of Responsive Design

  • Content updates typically do not require updating both mobile and desktop versions
  • Marketing and SEO efforts benefit the site (mobile and desktop) as a whole
  • Tracking is easy because there is not two separate properties
  • Webmasters can design for multiple devices and platforms without creating multiple different sites

Drawbacks of responsive design:

  • The opposite of the benefits of separate mobile pages in that there may be reduced control of the user experience with responsive design (but not much).

Regardless of whether attorneys decide to do a true mobile site or responsive design, one thing is for sure.  Starting in April 2015, Google will be paying closer attention to the experience website owners are delivering to users on mobile devices.

Chris Dreyer is the president and founder of Attorney Rankings, an Internet marketing agency specifically for law firms. Learn more about Attorney Rankings at AttorneyRankings.org

Sources:

[1] http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2015/02/finding-more-mobile-friendly-search.html

[2] https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2604719?hl=en

[3] http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2012/01/page-layout-algorithm-improvement.html

[4] http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2014/08/https-as-ranking-signal.html

[5] https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

[6] https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-usability

[7] http://www.nngroup.com/articles/repurposing-vs-optimized-design/

Posts by Chris Dreyer

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