Ngage Adapts Chat Implementation for Google Penalty

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Back in August, Google announced an upcoming penalty impacting aggressive interstitials on mobile devices.  In the legal industry, we see these primarily as aggressive chat windows that automatically pop up, forcing users to interact with the chat window prior to accessing more content or contact the law firm through other venues – like phone or form fill.  I’ve gone back and forth with Alex Hambrick, VP at chat provider, Ngage which provides chat to 7,000 law firms, about whether or not chat cannibalizes other conversions (like phone calls or form fills), or generates incremental business for their clients.  Alex’s very valid point is that one of the reasons end-users like chat is that many people don’t want to speak on the phone to a lawyer given their current surroundings – think calling a divorce lawyer from your living room, or talking to an employment lawyer from your cubicle.

However, Ngage’s full screen takeovers may incur the Google penalty rolling out on January 10th.  From Google’s announcement the following implementations are concerning:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

As I wrote back in August when the penalty was first announced: “I read the tea leaves as meaning chat pop ups that very quickly and aggressively cover content and all other forms of conversion most likely will incur an SEO penalty for mobile based searches.”  And while Alex philosophically sees this differently (these are conversions, not ads), Ngage was clearly concerned about their clients’ perception of an SEO penalty.

Last Tuesday, Ngage universally rolled out their new implementation for chat after much testing.  The new approach requires users to scroll through a page prior to launching and also keeps (most) of the site’s content accessible to users.  Early results are extremely positive  – Alex cited first week impact showed a 21% increase in conversions.  However, I remain a little suspicious.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that that 25% of the screen now impacted includes both the footer and header of a website – the two places where someone would look for a firm’s phone number.  The implementation is certainly within Google’s new guidelines, in fact the graphic Ngage used to showcase the change literally copied the “permissible” graphic from Google’s announcement (along with the addition of the footer cover-up.)  In rolling out the change, Ngage’s newsletter stated:

We are confident the Ngage update complies with Google as it follows guidelines and examples directly from the article. Chat on desktops will remain unaffected.

Full disclosure here – my agency uses a different vendor for our clients’ chat, so I don’t have any data to cite.  We will see what the future holds for chat.  As in all things online marketing related, smart law firms should analyze if the changes to this chat implementation are incremental (i.e. more leads in aggregate) or if they are paying to cannibalize phone call leads. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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