Google recently announced that starting April 21, it will be expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a search ranking signal.
This change will have a significant impact for search results on smartphones. Users will find it much easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their smartphone. In turn, content on sites that are not mobile-ready will appear lower in rankings.
For mobile web development, Google is recommending the use of responsive design that renders web content differently (i.e., “respond”) based on the screen size.
The change affects lawyers and law firms big time. After all, they are publishing more content than ever as a means of demonstrating their expertise, building relationships and keeping their clients up to speed on legal developments.
A just-released Pew Research Center report on U.S. Smartphone Use demonstrates just how important it is for law firms to get their blogs and other content onto mobile-ready “responsive design.”
While smartphones virtually didn’t exist six years ago, they’ve become a way of life for Americans, with 84% of people living in households with an annual income of $75,000 or more per year owning one.
Smartphones are used for much more than calling, texting, and Internet browsing. Americans are using their smartphones for information, services and to learn.
- 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.
- 57% have used their phone to do online banking.
- 43% to look up information about a job.
- 40% to look up government services or information.
- 30% to take a class or get educational content.
A substantial majority of smartphone users use their phone to follow news events and to share details of local news with others.
- 68% of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally to follow along with breaking news events, with 33% saying that they do this “frequently.”
- 67% use their phone to share pictures, videos, or commentary about events happening in their community, with 35% doing so frequently.
- 56% use their phone at least occasionally to learn about community events or activities, with 18% doing this “frequently.”
The consumption of news and information via a smartphone is not just for young people.
Four-in-ten smartphone owners ages 65 and older use their phone at least occasionally to keep up with breaking news, half use it to share information about local happenings, and one-third use it to stay abreast of events and activities in their community.
News, information, commentary and updates are exactly the type of content law firms are publishing on blogs and related online publications.
It’s not just search, which generates content readership for law firms. I’m finding that 30% or more of blog traffic coming from social networks. Social network use is smartphone-based. 91% of smartphone owners ages 18-29 use social networking on their phone compared with 55% of those 50 and older.
Though some lawyers may feel tethered to their smartphone, that’s not the case for most Americans. A substantial majority of smartphone owners feel that these devices are “helpful” rather than “annoying,” “connecting” rather than “distracting,” and that they represent “freedom” rather than a “leash.”
Having non-mobile content produced by lawyers billing hundreds of dollars an hour that will get seen increasingly less often in search results and on social networks makes no sense.
Over 50% of the traffic coming to most law blogs is coming from Google searches. Americans are receiving their information on mobile from from social networks at alarmingly increasing rates – ask any newspaper.
Blowing off mobile while feeling secure that your business readers are using non-mobile devices is fool-hardy. 25 to 40% of law blog traffic is already coming from readers on mobile devices. That number may rise to close to 50% by years end.
As long as a year ago, Greentarget’s Digital Marketing Survey indicated in-house counsel were already heavy consumers of legal content via their smartphones. Here’s the breakdown by type of media and publication (you can expect these numbers to have jumped by 3o%).
- Blogs – 23%
- Social media sites – 46%
- General business media – 35%
- Legal industry trade publications – 19%
- Trade publications covering their industry – 15%
Is large law ready for smartphone readership and Google’s April change in search rankings? Hardly, if law blogs are any measure. Per research LexBlog is conducting for its State of the Am Law 200 Blogosphere report, there are over 900 blogs being published by large law. 73% of the blogs are not ready for mobile viewing.
There’s no question that moving at the speed of technology is a hardship on law firms – in dollars and manpower. But law firms have no other choice than to move to mobile for content publishing if they intend to demonstrate their expertise, build relationships and keep their clients up to speed.
This post was originally published as a guest columnist at Above the Law.