How to Survive Mobilegeddon: Put Your Users First
Once again, Google has made a major change to its search algorithm, and once again, the world at large has responded with terror, suspicion, and premature outrage. This time, however, the change will exclusively affect results for searches conducted on mobile devices. Hence, industry pundits have christened the April 21 algorithm update “Mobilegeddon.”
Given that nearly half of Google’s traffic between June and November 2014 came from mobile1, Mobilegeddon may eventually prove to be less of a media buzzword than an accurate predictor of the decline of many websites that aren’t mobile-friendly. The purpose of this latest algorithm update is to reward sites that feature large, legible text, easy-to-click links, and layouts that conform neatly to a variety of screens. On the other hand, sites that are cluttered, slow to load, and difficult to navigate will begin to disappear from mobile search results.
As an attorney and business owner, you may be nervous about how your law firm's website will perform in the age of Mobilegeddon, and rightfully so. The good news is that Google has been transparent about its intentions, and its goals probably align with yours. Just as you want to provide your clients with the best possible resolutions to their cases, Google wants to provide its users with the best results possible for the searches they conduct. By adopting a mobile first philosophy and putting the needs of your current and prospective clients first, you can remain in Google’s good graces and ahead of your competition.
Understanding the Terminology: Responsive vs. Adaptive vs. Mobile First
As business owners scramble to make their websites mobile-friendly, there are three terms that they won’t be able to escape, especially when they consult with web developers: “responsive,” “adaptive,” and “mobile first.” As with most industry jargon, these terms can be difficult to understand at first. However, knowing precisely what they mean in plainspoken English is essential to selecting the design philosophy that is right for your laws firm's website.
- Responsive: Put simply, responsive web design uses fluid grids and flexible media to adapt the layout of a website to any device, regardless of its size, on the fly. The key concept here is fluidity. Whether you view the website on your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop, your desktop, or your flat screen via a gaming console, the website will immediately adjust to provide the same user experience from device to device.
- Adaptive: Conversely, adaptive web design employs multiple layouts, each designed to fit a different screen size. When a certain device is detected, the appropriate layout is delivered. Ideally, the user experience will be similar from device to device, even though different layouts are technically being delivered to each.
- Mobile First: The mobile first philosophy entails developing a basic version of a website that is intended to serves the needs of mobile users first and foremost. From there, the scope of the design is broadened to accommodate larger screen sizes. This approach forces designers to develop a strong foundation that serves the fundamental needs of all users on all types of devices before building higher or drilling deeper.
Post-Mobilegeddon, which of these three approaches is best suited to your law firm's website? There are many proponents of both the responsive and adaptive approaches, and many people will try to convince you that you must choose one or the other if you wish to compete in the mobile marketplace. However, most of your clients will not be able to distinguish between responsive and adaptive web design, nor is one approach or the other likely to affect your traffic or conversion rate. And while both responsive and adaptive websites are intended to be mobile-friendly, they can also still be convoluted in their design and difficult to use; they can still suffer from inadequate and poor messaging.
Conversely, it is far less likely that a mobile first website will suffer from these flaws. By stripping a website to its barest essentials, you are forced to answer some fundamental questions:
- What is the message I am trying to convey to my clients?
- What is my ultimate goal for this website? Why am I investing so much time and money into it?
- If I were using this website on a mobile device, what information and functionality would I want to have at my fingertips?
- What image am I trying to project of my legal team, my law firm, and myself?
In the end, mobile first really translates to user first. The focus isn’t on how to make a website that was designed for a desktop computer look great on a mobile device. Rather, the focus is on how to deliver the best, most efficient, and most effective experience to users of mobile devices. Then, as you scale upward, the focus shifts to how to deliver the best, most efficient, and most effective experience to users of tablets, and of laptops, and so on.
In embracing the mobile first philosophy, rather than choosing between responsive and adaptive, you are essentially choosing both.
Google Wants You to Beat Mobilegeddon
Contrary to what some people believe, Google is not trying to punish reputable businesses with its algorithm changes. In fact, the search engine giant has been urging designers to think mobile-friendly for years and announced this particular update nearly two months in advance. The powers-that-be at Google have no interest in harming your firm; they simply want to ensure that, if it comes up for a given search query, it is indeed the best available result. Ultimately, the success of local businesses like yours helps to fuel Google’s success as a search engine.
That is why Google published a series of guidelines for making websites more mobile friendly. These guidelines included a Mobile-Friendly Test, which allows you to input the URL of any page of your website and have it analyzed by Google according to its usability on a typical mobile device. If your site fails this test at first, you can refine it until it passes, at which point Google will more likely look favorably upon it once again.
In terms of making sure that your law firm's website continues to be found by mobile users during Mobilegeddon, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Website Guide is the single most important resource available to you. Fortunately, it is also one of the simplest, most straightforward resources available to you; while it contains a wealth of information, most of it can be distilled down to a common-sense philosophy: Long-term success comes from focusing on the user experience rather than trying to please the search engines.
Don’t Fear – The End Is Not Near
Mobilegeddon does not have to signal doom for your website. In fact, by adopting a mobile first philosophy, Google’s algorithm change can even give you a competitive advantage. In striving to have the biggest, the best, and the brightest, many of your competitors will continue to pack as much visual and written content as they can into as compact a space as possible, thinking that they are creating a great mobile experience. In doing so, however, they will ignore the basic needs of their users.
You, on the other hand, will remember that the purpose of your website is to attract new clients, bring in new cases, and grow your law firm. A simple yet elegant, beautifully designed website that puts the needs of your clients above all else, whatever device they happen to be using, will help you to accomplish this and allow you to emerge from Mobilegeddon unscathed.