Whenever there is advance announcement of an algorithm update from Google, it is promptly followed by a slew of articles and blog posts promoting worry and panic. As it relates to attorneys that panic can often be justified if they are receiving a large portion of their online exposure through Google search. For the recent update in the algorithm to mobile results, let’s explore the reality of having a responsive site vs having a non-responsive site in a post-mobilgeddon world.
Google is focusing on the mobile experience for users with this algorithm change. That means sites need to work well for users on tablets and mobile phones. Lawyers may not even realize there is content users have a hard time seeing or that portions of their site are too hard to use on a mobile device. Those elements can include:
Content Rendered Using Flash: Flash is proprietary technology from Adobe used to display animated content. Proprietary means you can only make Flash files with Adobe’s software. This is in contrast to “open source” tools like HTML. The late Steve Jobs was one of the most notable opponents of the use of Flash in Apple devices (hence the reason Flash is not supported on millions of mobile Apple devices). Despite the fact that content cannot be crawled by search engines and is not supported on millions of popular devices, it is also a technology that needs to be updated or it does not work right.
Pharrell William’s site is an embarrassing example of a site that does not function on mobile devices. Note that it does not even try to hide that fact or respond to the device.
Text Size and Readability: Users should not have to pinch and zoom to read text. All the text on pages should be easily read on a small screen without having to zoom in on the page. Text does not necessarily have to be larger than it normally is on desktop (although that helps) but it should all be in the width of the screen size through which it is being viewed.
Content sized to screen: This is also known as content sized to viewport and refers to the content on a screen being fit within the screen size it is being viewed on. That means users should not have to scroll horizontally to take in all the content that is on the page.
Spacing Among Links and Buttons: Users have a hard time with mobile sites where the links and/or buttons are too close together or too small. There is nothing more frustrating that going to click on a link and tapping the wrong one on a mobile screen.
Finding Out Where You Stand
There are a few different ways lawyers can find out if their site leaves something to be desired on mobile.
- Google’s mobile friendly tester: Paste your site into Google’s mobile friendly testing tool and see if it passes or not. If it does great but if not, Google will tell you exactly what is wrong and provide information on how to fix it. Keep in mind Google’s report is only for the URL you have input into the tool. If your site is a CMS (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, Umbraco, Orhcard, Drupal or something similar, pages are templates and any issues should be site-wide). If you do not have a CMS, you will want to scan all your pages to be safe or use one of the methods below.
- Google Webmaster Tools: If you want a more in-depth report on any issues related to mobile, Google’s Webmaster Tools is a great way to get that information. They will show you how many pages are not doing well on the mobile landscape (in contrast the mobile friendliness tool does it one page at a time).
- Using your site on a mobile device: This is a little less scientific than the software-based tools but it can give you insight into what your users are experiencing. If you find your site difficult to consume on a mobile device (i.e. using two hands to try and read content, moving all over the screen to see things, having to zoom in to read text, etc) then chances are it needs an upgrade.
Impact on Search Results
I have seen articles on the web saying that sites not providing a good mobile experience will be removed from mobile results. This simply is not the case and Google makes no mention of removing mobile search results that are related to non-mobile friendly sites. Those that are not mobile friendly however will start feeling the pinch as Google demotes those sites for mobile optimized competitors. In other words you will still show up in search without a mobile optimized site however you will lose ground to those who are already mobile friendly.
Another thing is that mobile-friendly sites are given that designation in search results. When users look for attorneys in their area on their mobile phones, they are shown results that will work well with their devices.
Getting Mobile Ready
If you did not make the April 21st deadline all is not lost. With search, the reality is that website owners should be prepared for changes or act as fast as they can to correct issues causing their sites to perform poorly. Googlebot scans websites and updates information related to mobile friendliness in real time. That means lawyers can go through and have errors corrected to avoid losing ground in search. The only caveat is that the longer attorneys wait to make changes, the more time it will take to make up lost ground.
Mobilegeddon probably is not the most appropriate name for the algorithm change. Yes the tweak affected a lot of search results but lawyer’s websites are not going to explode if they have some mobile usability issues (or even if their site is completely mobile un-friendly). It would however be wise to start putting a plan in place to make a change to a responsive design. The sooner you can provide a good experience for mobile users the better off your overall web presence will be.