Legal marketers say most Canadian law firms still don’t have mobile-friendly web sites despite a recent change in the Google algorithm that could push them down the mobile search rankings.
The April 21 change, known as “Mobilegeddon,” favours web sites designed to work smoothly and look good on smartphones. Doug Jasinski, president of legal marketing and web site development firm Skunkworks Creative Group Inc., says the event has drawn a wide range of reactions from law firms.
“It’s a mixed bag. There are certainly a handful of firms that have been mobile friendly for some time, and we did see an upsurge in interest around the time of Mobilegeddon. But I think the largest number have yet to address it either because they were unaware or they haven’t yet turned their mind to it,” he says.
The search giant defines mobile friendly web sites as ones that avoid software, such as Flash, that’s not common on mobile devices; use text that’s readable without zooming; size content to the screen so users don’t need to scroll or zoom; and have enough space between links so users can easily tap the correct one.
Steve Matthews, founder and president of Stem Legal Web Enterprises Inc., says that as a first step, lawyers should run their own web sites through Google’s mobile test site to see if they pass the mobile-friendliness test and, if not, where they need to improve.
For failing web sites, he says it’s important not to overreact as the new algorithm only applies to mobile search traffic. As a result, searches made from desktop computers or tablet devices such as the iPad will continue as before.
“I think there has been a bit of scaremongering from some web folks,” says Matthews.
“They don’t always make the distinction between the types of search, which may be stretching or exaggerating the truth.”
Jasinski also warns against overreaction, calling the term Mobilegeddon itself “alarmist.” However, he says mobile traffic has increased in significance in the last few years as smartphone use has exploded.
“It’s a trend that is accelerating,” he says.
“We expect mobile search traffic to exceed that on desktops in the next couple of years.”
The legal world tends to lag a little behind, he says, since so many people will search for lawyers in a work environment where access to a desktop computer is highly likely.
Still, he estimates somewhere between 20 and 40 per cent of law firm traffic comes from mobile searches.
“And it’s increasing steadily over time,” adds Jasinski.
For Garry Wise, founder of Toronto-based Wise Law Office, Mobilegeddon came in the middle of an update of the firm’s web site.
“Neither the old site nor the new version was going to be mobile compliant,” he says, noting the coming changes led to a redesign on short notice.
According to Wise, somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of the firm’s web site traffic comes from users of mobile technology.
Although the precise consequences of a failure to become mobile friendly remain unclear thanks to the secrecy that surrounds the exact composition of Google’s algorithms, he says he’d rather not take any chances.
“If you’ve traditionally done really well on Google searches, then failing to be mobile friendly could have serious consequences as to where you fall on a mobile search,” he says.
“It’s going to have a direct impact on how many clicks you’re getting and how many people are finding your web site. We’ve made a number of adjustments on the fly and we’re still adjusting.”
Wise says law firms should treat the new rules as a spur to adjust to the new realities of Internet use and think more about mobile users at the earliest stages of web site design.
“I think for anyone who is building a new web site or updating an old one, they should probably think about mobile-first technology. A lot of things that work well in a desktop universe just do not translate well to mobile. This is going to affect creative design as well as content,” he says.
“Lawyers need to build their web sites with mobile in mind and the first question of designers should be: How will this look on an iPhone or similar device? If the answer is you can’t read it, then get back to work because you haven’t got it right.”
Jasinski says law firms have a number of options if their current web site fails to pass Google’s test for mobile friendliness.
He says a new web site incorporating responsive design that automatically resizes content depending on the size of the screen employed by the user at the other end is the “slickest option.”
“Almost everyone utilizes responsive design today if they’re starting from scratch,” says Jasinski.
He says it’s possible to retrofit existing web sites to incorporate elements of responsive design but notes it can become quite expensive, especially if the web site is at the older end of the scale. One bridging strategy his company has used for clients is to create standalone mobile-friendly sites with a separate web address from the main one.
“If your visitor is using a phone, then they get redirected to the separate mobile site,” says Jasinski.
“Those can be created relatively inexpensively. If you’re a ways out from a major update and the site isn’t currently mobile friendly, that can be a good interim stage.”