Google’s Gavel to Judge 92 Percent of Law Firms Harshly

A few weeks ago I tested 14 random attorney websites before I found a single one using responsive web design. When I finally did, I actually jerked in surprise, as Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test responded: “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly.”

The Informal Study

This was the beginning of my 75-site random sampling of law firm websites to see if they were “responsive” to the type of device used to access them – desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.

My final results: Google saw only six of the websites, or eight percent of those tested, as usable on a smartphone.

Sixty-nine of the law firm websites I tested failed when Googlebot tried to render them for mobile: “Text too small to read,” “Mobile viewport not set,” “Links too close together,” “Content wider than screen.”   I tried each site on my own Galaxy Note 3 and drew the same conclusions.

The Unforgiving Landscape

These results are unfortunate, especially given the changing landscape lawyers face:

  • Google is implementing a change that will have a “significant impact” on ranking if a site is not mobile-friendly as of April 21, 2015. All other factors being equal, if you display poorly on a smartphone, your rank is going to tumble. “This is the largest, most significant and wide-reaching algorithm change from Google that we’ve ever seen,” says Conrad Saam, an industry veteran at Mockingbird Marketing.
  • Thirty-eight percent of consumers search for a lawyer primarily via the Internet (FindLaw, 2014). The Internet now outpaces “Ask a Friend” and the gap continues to grow.
  • Seventy-six percent of consumers use the Internet at some point in their search for legal assistance (Pew, 2012). A viable internet presence is really no longer an option for an attorney.
  • Seventy-two percent of all web pages viewed in January 2015 were viewed on a mobile phone (Statcounter, 2015)
  • A recent study found that 80 percent of local searches on mobile phones convert to a sale (Neustar 2014). Restaurants, movies and auto repairs may not correlate exactly with legal aid, but lawyers have to see the opportunity here.

Risk and Reward

Most professionals want to focus on their clients, not on marketing and technology. Still, it is amazing that so many are completely unprepared for this change. While the Google mandate is new, the mobile opportunity has been growing for a couple of years now.

If 92 percent of law firms have missed the boat, there’s a good chance your vertical’s adoption rate follows suit. In fact, in a recent test similar to mine, Brad Ewald of Boulder Marketing Technology found “Forty-four percent of Fortune 500 web sites failed the test.” (Tech Crunch, 2014)

There is a very large opportunity for firms that act fast to jump up the rankings. Says Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land: “If 50 percent of your traffic from Google comes from mobile devices, it sounds like if you are not mobile-friendly then virtually all of that traffic from mobile is at huge risk.” Is it possible that, post-mobilegeddon, virtually all mobile traffic will divert to the eight percent of law firms optimized to receive it?

An interesting study I would like to do next: determine what percent of searches for legal aid are done on a mobile device. Right now, that would be a frustrating experience, so the numbers might be skewed low due to poor user experience – exactly what Google is trying to combat.

How Do I Avoid the Gavel?

  • Test your site quickly with these two tools: Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test & Mobile Usability.
  • If you have expertise yourself, or experts on staff, get in contact with your website developer or marketing agency and ask them what the heck they have been doing.
  • There may be ways to convert your site to mobile-friendly without redoing it entirely. It depends on your existing platform and the level of customizations you have made.
  • If your site isn’t responsive but is already on the WordPress platform, there is still time to quickly rebuild your site on a new responsive WordPress theme.
  • If you are still using Flash on your site, it’s time to remove it.
  • It is possible to create a quick mobile-friendly version of your homepage without touching your existing site. But this is only a band-aid, as the algorithm change is page-specific.
  • The change will not affect desktop searches, only those from mobile devices.
  • Even on mobile devices, specific searches for your brand should still deliver results.
  • Once you make changes, you will get your traffic back fast, as the algorithm runs in real-time.
  • “Check your traffic volume from mobile using Google Analytics – and if you aren’t mobile optimized, be prepared to kiss much, if not all, of the non-branded traffic goodbye.” – Conrad Samm, Mockingbird Marketing

Whether you’re a law firm or not, these “mobilegeddon” algorithm changes will inevitably affect your website if you aren’t ready for them. The good news is that it’s forcing millions of websites to change with, and adapt to, consumer behavior, which will ultimately result in a better user experience for everyone. And that’s what we’re all after anyway, isn’t it?

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