At the beginning of 2015, no one would have foreseen the momentous shift towards mobile search. However, changes in consumer behavior encouraged Google to focus its developments on access from smartphones. This trend will continue, with a further reduction in display size on the cards. When Apple launched its smart watch in April 2015, many imagined the device would be a Google Glass-style flash in the pan. However, the development of Internet-accessing watches has expanded exponentially with other electronics producers bringing out their own smartwatches, and many now into second or third generation versions.
The move away from PC and laptop access towards most consumers using smartphones and watches to seek out services, such as legal advice, means there will be a fundamental shift in digital marketing methods during 2016.
Search Engine Changes
Voice activated services began with the Apple Siri “personal assistant.” This was soon matched by Cortana, which is fully bundled with Windows 10 and Google OK. Google has expanded its voice search capabilities and now offers them with the regular search, Google maps and YouTube search. These developments all point to seismic changes in SEO techniques because the keyboard is becoming less and less important. Speech recognition and synthetic voice read outs point to new methods for law firm marketing and the death of established text-based strategies.
Google’s development of “nearby” search technology will come online this year. This makes local search even more immediate. The search engine can now detect the precise location of a searcher and so rather than specifying a location, the smartphone user simply has to say a keyword, or ask a question in voice search and Google returns results for businesses that are nearest to the location of the questioner. This not only has consequences for SEO, but also for the siting for offices of law firms.
Many members of the general public enter natural language questions into search engines when accessing from a PC or a laptop. This fact makes “longtail” keywords viable. Longtail doesn’t mean “long sentence,” but refers to the many variations that longer sentences open up, as opposed to the precise meaning of a specific word. So a longtail legal search might be “child custody in divorce cases” or “what circumstances get fathers custody of children.” Writing many variations on a specific topic to catch longtail queries used to be a good idea. However, users of smartphones cannot touch type. They have to press each letter individually, so mobile search queries tend to be limited to a few words, such as “child custody,” “divorce custody,” or just “divorce.”
The move to mobile access during 2015 killed off longtail keyword advantages. The trend towards Internet access over watches can only be accomplished through the advancement of voice search. Research shows that users of voice search go back to the older trend of asking natural questions, so longtail keywords will become worth a bet in 2016.
If people access the Internet through voice search from smaller and smaller devices, and get the text on Web pages read out to them, the 2015 trend towards longform content will be killed off. Shorter-than-shortform will win hands down. Although operating systems have text-to-speech functions that can read out content to users, this just bridges the advance of speech over the Internet for the short term. Listening to a robot gets strenuous very quickly.
Recent advantages gained by video content will also be lost very suddenly, when display screens are too small to see any video content. Think also, that many searches made on smartphones happen in public places, where bright light from the sun makes images difficult to see. Therefore, provide as much of your content as audio files – commonly known as “podcasts.” You will need to provide the script of your podcasts so that Googlebots can detect their content, but make sure potential customers for your law firm hear your voice, rather than the automated voices provided by operating systems.
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The unexpected success of smartwatches means that getting a mobile-friendly version of your law firm’s website may have been just a temporary move, which will become increasingly obsolete during 2016. Google vows to bring back Google Glass this year, and the success of voice-activated hands-free gadgets means that those bluetooth headsets for cell phones may very well end up being the entire phone – and that could happen during 2016. Voice-activated devices will eliminate both the keyboard and the screen. Before long, audio will be your only channel of communication.
Schema markup and rich snippets will give your law firm ranking advantages over rivals, so you really need to focus on mastering these two technical issues. A year ago, any SEO consultant would have started her pitch for your business by telling you that your law firm had to appear on page 1 of search engine results. During the course of spring 2015 that advice would have changed to telling you the local pack was key, because that appears at the top of results. By mid-2015 you would have heard that you better get into the top 3, because mobile searchers are impatient. When people start to rely on a text-to-speech voice to read out search results, they are unlikely to put up with the irritating voice for longer than the readout of the first entry. Rich snippets get you the chance of being picked up by Knowledge Graph, which Google now places at the top of all its results pages.
Make sure you have a click-to-call button on your home page. These buttons are also voice activated. Once you work to get the advantage of the top spot in search results, don’t lose it by making it difficult for potential clients to connect directly to your law firm. Google will put that button on your search results entry, so your rich snippets and click-to-call button may mean the searcher doesn’t even need to access your website to contact your firm.
Google’s move to nearby search results will replace the local search concept. In the nearby world, being physically located close to the site of a search will become more important that any text you put on your website. You will get to the top of search results simply by being closer to those searching for legal services than your rivals are. This means that the tendency of law firms to cluster around the court house will damage their ability to attract customers. Small firms in strip malls close to residential areas will score higher than those occupying office suites in the legal district. Few wait until they get to the courthouse to search for a lawyer, so firms based in town center offices are unlikely to gain any clients through search engines. Firms that cluster together in prestige office buildings are also going to be disadvantaged by nearby searches. Anyone performing a search on a mobile device on the sidewalk outside the building will get all of the firms in that location returned, and battling for the top spot on that results page will be cut-throat.
The advent of text-to-speech delivery of search results will make the traditional search engine obsolete very quickly. Imagine a typical Google results page read out in a robot voice and you will soon realize that a page of ten results is not going to be bearable. Links used to be useful as a ranking factor, but they are now going to become a prime source of traffic to your law firm’s website, because you will no longer be able to rely on traffic from search engines.
Links from review sites and comparison websites are of vital importance, because these types of services are rapidly becoming the average consumer’s first port of call when looking for legal services. The move away from search engines also means that display adverts will rise in importance against paid search results. Remember to place click to call buttons wherever possible – they are links through to your office phone system placed on the telephones and hands-free devices of every potential customer in the country.
Social Media Marketing
The death of Google+ and the withering of Twitter just demonstrate that Facebook has won the social media platform war hands down. Although other platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have risen in 2015, these are not suitable formats for law firm marketing, so a Facebook presence will be your only social media strategy in 2016.