Go Responsive or Go Home

When potential clients look for attorneys to hire, they no longer look in the phone book or on billboards for inspiration.

Instead, they Google “lawyer” plus any one of a number of keywords, like “divorce,” “will,” “criminal defense,” “DUI,” “intellectual property,” “real estate”—you get the idea.

It is very important that your law firm show up within the top few search results on Google or other search engines because otherwise, potential clients have no way of knowing that you exist. You have to optimize your website for search engine rankings. There are many things that affect your website’s search engine optimization, including the back-end architecture of your site, the amount and depth of information on your site, and the number of links going to and from your site from other reputable sites.

What you may not know is that as of April 21 of this year, Google search rankings now takes into account whether or not your website is optimized for mobile devices. That means that if you want to remain in the top few results of a Google search, your site needs to function properly on mobile devices.

If you’re unsure of whether or not your website works properly on mobile devices, your website is most likely not at all mobile-friendly.

Why Google? Why?

Is Google doing this to be mean to you? Do they just have nothing better to do?

Of course not.

Google has made this change because potential clients no longer access the internet only on personal computers. Now they access it on a variety of devices, especially smartphones and tablets.

In 2014, mobile internet usage surpassed personal computer internet usage for the first time. That means that at any given time, a person will more likely access the internet from a smartphone or tablet than from a desktop or laptop computer. The majority of the internet’s audience now comes from mobile devices.

Your firm’s website must adapt, not just so that you appear in Google’s search results, but also because people expect different things from the mobile internet than they do from the internet on PCs. Failing to update your website, and make it work in a mobile-first fashion will cost you potential clients and hurt your bottom line.

How people consume mobile content

People have different expectations for the content they see on personal computers versus tablets and mobile phones.

Studies show that people who access Google on PCs spend three times longer on websites than mobile users, visit three times more websites, and have lower bounce rates (meaning fewer people leave the sites on PCs than on mobile devices). That means you need to get your information communicated to mobile users three times more quickly, and allow visitors to your site to get the information they most need with the fewest possible clicks.

According to mobiForge, 85 percent of internet users expect pages to load on mobile devices as fast or faster than they do on desktop computers. Eighty-three percent expect pages to load within four seconds on mobile devices; 47 percent expect pages to load in two seconds. If these expectations are not met, these users are likely to leave slow-loading websites and never return.

You can’t expect that everyone who is accessing your website from a mobile device is connected to high speed WiFi service, or on 4G cellular service, however. While those are the fastest, best services available, it’s also possible that someone looking for a lawyer is doing so from a smartphone in a space without WiFi, utilizing 3G or slower cellular service. And your website still needs to be able to load on that person’s device.

You need to think about how you deliver content about your firm, not just to users of the internet, in general, but users of certain types of devices and services in particular.

You may think you should just scrap the personal computer version of your website and just design a site for mobile devices. That won’t work either. People still utilize PCs, and they still expect an online experience on a PC that is more thorough and in-depth than what they expect on a mobile phone.

You need a website that will work on each device in a way that internet users expect it to work—a responsive website.

What is a responsive website?

A responsive website quite literally responds to the size of a device’s screen by reformatting its design and content to fit the screen space.

Some law firms with excellent responsively designed websites include Fogle Keller Purdy, Modus and Fishtown Lawyers. Check out all of these websites from a variety of devices to understand how their design and functionality changes, depending on which device you use to access them.

Notice that each sites’ content becomes much less cluttered for mobile screens, images become tighter and the content itself gets distilled down to only the most important pieces of information that a client needs from whatever device she’s using. Important elements to keep readily accessible include clickable phone numbers, clickable email addresses, and call-to-action buttons to simplify navigation. Desktop versions of the sites expand on this information. Each version of the sites contains appropriate design and content to fit the available space.

Now go back and look at your website from a variety of devices. Does your site take longer to load on a mobile device than these sites? Is it more frustrating to try to read the content? Can you find what you need quickly and efficiently?

If you’ve answered no to any of those questions, it’s time to redesign your site. Your firm’s bottom-line depends on it.

About Samantha Meinke

Samantha Meinke
Samantha Meinke is the communications manager at the State Bar of Michigan. In this role, she creates and oversees communications, marketing, social media and media relations strategies and cultivates new online communities for the bar association and its entities. As a speaker and consultant, she advises attorneys and legal entities on how to maximize their online impact. She began her career in the mainstream news media as a newspaper reporter, before becoming a custom publications writer, editor, blogger and an early adopter of social media. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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