82% of smartphone users utilize a search engine when looking for a local business, according to Google. Similarly, Search Engine Land reports that between 2011 and 2015, “near me” queries (such as “medical malpractice attorney near me”) on search engines increased 34 times, with mobile constituting most of those searches. It’s obvious—mobile is changing the way people search and buy online.

In response, Google is experimenting with a “mobile-first” index for their search engine algorithm, which prioritizes the mobile version of a website over the desktop version for the first time in the algorithm’s history. This is a major shift in the world of search engine optimization (SEO) that affects all law firms, large and small.

Find out more about Google’s mobile-first index and the impacts it will have on attorney SEO, so you can avoid being beat out by competitors on search engine results pages.

What is the purpose of Google’s “mobile-first” index?

In the past, Google rated a law firm’s website based on its desktop version. Basically, Google spiders crawled a legal website as a desktop user to determine where it should rank against other sites based on a few hundred attorney SEO factors, such as:

  • Keyword in the title tag
  • Frequency of content updates
  • Citations (a mention of the law firm from another location on the internet—this could include just the law firm’s name, address, and phone number, or a link to the website as well)
  • Page load speed

In the past, although many law firms possessed both desktop and mobile websites to appeal to different viewers, Google continued to prioritize desktop versions due to the large number of desktop users.

However, the number of mobile users has steadily risen year after year, eating away at desktop’s majority. In comScore’s 2016 US Cross-Platform Future in Focus, the company reported that mobile encompassed 65% of all digital media time—nearly double desktop’s 35% digital share.

Noticing this trend, Google has started experimenting with making their algorithm look at mobile versions of websites first, before desktop (hence the term “mobile-first”), and provide search results based on that analysis. 

What does this mean for legal websites?

While Google is just starting to experiment with this system, the company has already admitted that this is the first step of many; according to a statement released on Google’s Webmaster  Central Blog, the company will “continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience.”

Therefore, legal practices should expect more of the same from Google and start prioritizing their mobile website experience and local SEO strategy. Below are a few tips to do just that.

What can my law firm do to stay competitive in the mobile-first search world? 

  1. Develop a responsive mobile website identical to your desktop one

If your law firm has not developed a responsive, mobile-friendly website, that is the first order of business. This not only ensures that your legal practice provides a user-friendly experience for the massive audience of mobile users out there (which can increase conversion rates and result in more clients), but also that your law firm is not penalized by Google’s algorithm in the near future, resulting in damaged attorney SEO.

Work with an experienced legal website design company to create a dynamic mobile website that shares the same content as your desktop website. In the past, a criminal defense attorney could have a comprehensive desktop site that featured blog articles galore, while his mobile page featured little to no content and basically acted as a filler, backup site to the desktop one.

Going that route today may drop your Google ranking if the algorithm only crawls your half-baked mobile site. Prepare for the future: make your mobile and desktop sites nearly identical (aside from necessary design functionality changes) in order to rank well no matter which site the Google spider crawls.

  1. Utilize Google Search Console

Google Search Console provides a gold mine of information about your website, such as the number of people who are visiting your law firm’s website, and which pages on your site are the most and least popular.

Search Console also shows you how Google views your site, which can be incredibly helpful when assessing and improving your mobile website. Assuming your law firm has already added and verified your mobile site in Search Console, the next step is to use the “Fetch and Render” tool to preview your site as the Googlebot (be sure to Fetch and Render as “mobile: smartphone”).

Assess where improvements need to be made (for instance, where is Google having trouble rendering images?), and then tinker and Fetch and Render until your mobile site is perfect.

  1. Balance design and SEO

Don’t get so caught up in website design and functionality that you forget about attorney SEO elements. Your law firm could have the most beautiful, responsive mobile site, but that alone won’t bring in business—you have got to rank high on search engine results pages to drive website traffic.

Therefore, focus on improving your website to provide a great user experience, and then move on to prioritizing local SEO best practices such as building a comprehensive Google My Business page. To request a free guide about Google Local SEO and how to land into Google’s coveted 3-pack, fill out the simple information form on this page.

Don’t let competitors outrank you on Google.

Learn more about how Google Local SEO can increase your website visibility for more leads!

Stay Competitive in the Mobile-First Search World

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