For years Google have made it public knowledge that they would be moving to a ‘mobile-first’ system of indexing websites. We look at the potential ‘real’ implications for your website’s traffic if you still haven’t adopted a responsive site design that renders well on all devices.
What is the big deal about responsive website design – haven’t we heard it all before?
Way back in 2016, StatCounter (one of the most popular web analytics providers) announced that worldwide mobile and tablet browsing had surpassed desktop computer use for the first time.
Up to this point, the main reason for having a responsive site (that looked great on all device types) had been to improve user experience.
In 2015 however, Google – noting the rise of mobile and tablet use – introduced their ‘mobile friendly’ algorithm update (often dramatically referred to as ‘Mobilegeddon’). This was intended to reward sites that were mobile optimised (or responsive) in the search results.
In a post on their Webmaster Central site, in April 2015, Google explained that their update would only affect the search engine rankings of sites in mobile search results. They stated that it would impact search results globally in every language. They also announced that the update would apply to individual pages (rather than whole websites).
Limited impact of past updates
This Mobilegeddon update (for all the scaremongering from various parties at the time) had a somewhat limited impact. Yes, some sites that weren’t mobile optimised did see some ranking drops on mobile devices, but there was not the massive shift that had previously been predicted.
A new approach to indexing
Whereas previous mobile related updates have had a limited impact, the move to mobile first indexing by Google is a marked change in their approach to website indexing.
What is mobile first indexing?
In the past Google would send their crawlers to the desktop version of your site to crawl and catalogue your pages in their index (that ultimately lead to your site appearing on search results pages). Now Google are currently moving over to a system that crawls the mobile version of a page for indexing (and more importantly ranking) your website’s content. The mobile version of your website will be how you are primarily ‘judged’ by Google. This is a sea change in the way they index websites.
Why mobile first?
This change, in theory enables Google to provide more useful results for mobile users. This makes perfect sense. With worldwide mobile and tablet useage surpassing desktop usage, they want to prioritise sites that are optimised and user-friendly for the increasing number of mobile and tablet searches performed on Google. This is understandable, as the obvious logic behind the change is that if a site uses responsive design and renders well on mobile, the desktop version is likely to also be user friendly. The same does not apply in reverse.
Should your law firm be concerned about Google’s move to ‘mobile first’ indexing?
Without wanting to ‘over-egg’ the importance of the change to Google’s system of indexing and ranking websites, yes. If you don’t have a responsive website, you should indeed be concerned.
There will likely be a ranking shift if your site is not mobile responsive (unless – unrealistically – all your competitors also have non-responsive websites, or all your competitors already have responsive websites). How big the impact on your search rankings will be remains to be seen. That said, if you don’t have a responsive website, a drop in rankings, caused by this change should not be your only concern.
Why responsive design should be a top-priority for your legal business
Put simply, this Google indexing update should be seen as an effect of changes to the way people search and browse online. You should already be aware of these changing trends and have implemented changes to your website, to maximise your leads and sales. If you haven’t made changes to your website in response to the fact that less people are using desktop search, then your business will be seeing an increasingly rapid decline in user satisfaction. This is in addition to the implications of potentially lower search engine rankings.
User Experience (UX) for law firm websites
Unless you operate in a market where none of your website visitors would ever view your site using a mobile device, your site needs to be responsive.
Practical examples of why responsive design is vital for your law firm
Selling B2B Legal Software
If for example you sell desktop legal software to solicitors, conveyancers or will writers, a large proportion of your visitors may indeed be on desktop. You may not up until now have prioritised mobile and tablet visitors. That said people will still do research on their mobile devices first, even for desktop products.
Final purchases for this sort of product are indeed still often made on desktop devices, in an office environment. Often however, initial ‘fact finding’ searches are carried out on convenient mobile devices, when people have a ‘spare minute’. In these circumstances, if your website is not responsive (i.e. it doesn’t render well on all device types) you’ll be losing leads and sales.
In reality this example is increasingly redundant with software providers recognising the need for mobile and tablet friendly versions of their software, and in turn their website. If you have considered the implications for your software, but not your own website, you need to act now.
Selling B2C legal services
If you are a solicitor, will writer or a conveyancer selling B2C services, your site needs to be responsive. If your website is out-of-date and doesn’t look great on mobile devices, you’ll not only potentially see the impact from Google’s move to mobile first indexing, you’ll also find any visitors who do visit your site on mobile device are put-off. If your customers are predominantly the general public, they’ll be much less forgiving than business customers may be (who need the product you sell to fix a specific problem).
How do I check if my site uses responsive design?
If you want to check yourself, the easiest way is to simply visit your website on a mobile device. If it looks exactly the same as on a desktop or laptop computer, the chances are your site isn’t responsive. Alternatively, simply resize your desktop browser window. To do this make sure your window isn’t maximised, then click one of the outer corners of the browser window and reduce the size. What happens? Does for example your navigation menu change? Are images resized and formatted accordingly? If your content no longer looks appealing at the new size, the chances are your website is not responsive.
I need some help!
Send us a quick email and we’ll be happy to check if your site uses responsive design. If your site is ‘creaking’ with age don’t worry! We have seen a huge number of sites that where built years ago that are no longer ‘fit for purpose’. We produce responsive websites for law firms for all budgets. If you are a small business on a tight budget on our templated responsive websites are an affordable option. Alternatively, we can create bespoke builds for more complicated or established projects.
Whatever your budget, or even if you just want some advice, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t let a lack of a responsive website hold your business back. If your firm’s site isn’t responsive, treat Google’s transition to mobile first indexing as a wakeup call.
For more information please call us on 0800 133 7127 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.