person using smart phoneChanges are ‘a comin’ on April 21st, 2015. Google announced in a blog post that the use of mobile friendliness will increase as a ranking signal on that date. Translated to English, this means that if your law firm’s site is not mobile friendly then it will start to drop in the rankings of searches performed on non-PC devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.). We’re currently seeing about one-half of our clients’ traffic coming from mobile so it goes without saying that being mobile-friendly is a big deal. In this article I’m going to explain how to tell if your site is mobile-ready and, if it’s not or needs improvement, offer a few suggestions to point you in the right direction.

To determine if your site is mobile-friendly simply visit the search engine’s page speed insights tool. Enter your url and then click on the mobile tab. You’ll see a numerical score that is color coded. I’d suggest not worrying about the score so much. If the mobile-friendly score is color-coded green then you don’t really have issues to worry about. Also take a look at the page loading speed for mobile. If the page loading speed is red then you have issues which need to be fixed immediately. If it’s in the yellow then things which can be fixed, without substantial effort, should be.

There are still quite a few law firm websites out there which aren’t ready for mobile at all. Many of these are older and haven’t been updated. Some should have been built in a mobile-friendly way but the attorney didn’t know to make this an issue when they had it constructed. There are also quite a few sites which are attempting to be mobile-friendly but need quite a bit of improvement. Let’s take a look at what you can do to be on the right track.

Lawyers should ensure that their website utilizes a responsive design and that the site properly scales

The idea of a responsive design is simple. A website built with a responsive design will automatically re-size itself to whatever type of screen it’s on. This is Google’s preferred method for an approach to mobile1. Another approach, which is not preferred, is to use a “m.” domain. This means that if someone goes to mywebsite.com on a smart phone then they will be automatically directed to a different version of the site at m.mywebsite.com. This is problematic for several reasons that I’ll spare you (I’m assuming you don’t want to read War & Peace). If your website is not currently on any type of a mobile-friendly design then it should be redesigned as soon as possible so that it is. If your site is using an m. approach then it should also be upgraded to a responsive design.

If you’re moving from an .m approach to a responsive design then you need to ensure that your mobile pages don’t lose their ranking. If your firm’s website has a page such as mywebsite.com/page-1 and a mobile version of m.mywebsite.com/page-1 then Google will have indexed both. When you switch to your new design, however, you are only going to have the former version. It’s important that your webmaster use a 301 redirect to tell Google that your m. pages should now be viewed on the conventional URL. This helps you to preserve ranking and also doesn’t send a signal to Google that pages are disappearing from your web presence. You don’t need to do anything else to inform Google of the change.

A common mistake I’ve seen from lawyers is to assume that a responsive design automatically solves the mobile issue. An occasional problem is that the site may contain elements that fall outside of a mobile device’s view port. In other words, a mobile website should consist of vertical content and the user should not have to scroll horizontally to see anything. If the page contains elements that spill over, to the left or right, then your site will be considered as having elements outside of the view port. This problem is typically caused by extra elements, such as social icons, banners, or buttons, that attorneys often add to their site. If you have content that falls outside of the view port then it will typically be something a qualified web developer can solve with a few lines of code.

Attorneys need to ensure that their website runs as fast as possible on a mobile device

Digital hand pointing at a stopwatchI’ve written before on why having a slow website will cost a law firm clients. I won’t restate all of the reasons here. Be aware though that there are two issues. First, websites will inherently load slower on a mobile device than on a PC due to issues with how mobile devices connect to a network. Second, people are even less likely to be patient with slow loading mobile websites then they would with something which loads slowly on the desktop; it doesn’t need saying that if one is on the go then they will not show patience for things taking forever to load. Here are few tricks to ensure that an attorney’s site loads as quickly as possible on a mobile device.

  • Make sure you compress photos before adding them to your site (this is actually an issue for desktop loading as well). A common issue on law firm websites is the use of large photo files. Your web developer should be compressing pictures in a program like Photoshop or Gimp before uploading them. Given that mobile sites will already be loading slower, you don’t need to burden the process with over-sized photo files.
  • Ensure that your site loads Javascript and CSS asynchronously. This is obviously one for your web developer, unless you have a knowledge of this fun stuff. The gist of it is that an item loading asynchronously means that the user does not have to wait for your site to load all of the Java and CSS files before the site renders in a browser. The site will render and these items will continue to load in the background. Common mistakes, which are easily corrected, include synchronous loading of social share buttons.
  • Avoid using excess plugins if you’re using a content management platform (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla. The more plugins you use then the slower you’re going to make your website. There are a few reasons for this. One of them is that many plugins aren’t written as well as they should be and will load scripts to your site in a synchronous fashion instead of an asynchronous fashion. I’ve gave tips on how to reduce the number of plugins used on a CMS when I discussed four common WordPress mistakes made by attorneys.

Any attorney who doesn’t think speed is crucial to a website is wrong. The need for speed is only magnified when you’re talking about a mobile device.

Is your website already mobile-friendly? If not what steps are you taking to get it there. Please chime in through the comment form below.

Citations:
1Google Developer Support accessed at: https://developers.google.com/webmasters/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/overview/select-config