by Tim Sheed, Head of New Business at the digital agency Tela Limited

Google’s mobile-friendliness update is taking place on April 21st and many law firms websites are at risk of being downgraded in Google’s results as the search engine prepares to roll out one of the biggest ever changes to the way its algorithms work.

Which websites will the update affect?

The update will impact on websites that have not been developed with features that cater for users viewing the content on mobile phones or tablet devices, with these websites being ‘downgraded’ in the mobile search results from April 21st.

To try and quantify the impact the update will have, the two pervious major algorithm changes Google has rolled out were ‘Penguin’, which affected approximately 4% of global searches on both desktop and mobile, and ‘Panda’, which affected around 12% of UK searches. The Google Webmaster Trends team has been quoted as saying that the upcoming mobile-friendly ranking algorithm is set to have a bigger impact on its search results.

Even more reason to pay attention to the update is that Google gave a warning when they announced the mobile-friendly ranking update, saying that it would have a “significant impact” on the mobile search results. It is extremely rare that Google ever gives any indication of how it’s algorithms work. It is not its place to. Google’s job is to simply provide content of the highest quality results for any given search term, not to teach people how to rank higher in the search results by playing the system.

The theory behind the update is that with so many online searches now originating from mobile devices, regardless of how good the content may be, websites that do not offer a mobile friendly experience (for example, by making users zoom in and out of content or swipe across a page as they read text) can by default, no longer serve the best content to mobile users.

What does this mean for law firms?

Around 30% of all traffic arriving at a law firms website will originate from a search completed on a mobile device. This means that for non-mobile friendly websites, roughly 30% of the total traffic is at risk.

Even losing a couple of positions to competitors websites can have a huge impact on click throughs, with the likelihood of someone clicking on a link in the search results diminishing substantially as you move down the search engine results. Research has shown that on the first page of Googles search results, position 1 will achieve three times more click throughs compared to position 3, and over 90% more when compared to position 10.

How can law firms prepare?

If you want to make sure your website is ready for the change, Google have developed a Mobile-Friendly Test  which allows websites to be tested for mobile friendliness. The test will analyse a URL and generate a report on whether or not the page has a mobile-friendly design. The results will identify common issues which include:

• Text that is too small to read
• Images that have not optimised
• Links that are too close together
• ‘Mobile view port’ has not been set (a viewport controls how a webpage is displayed on a mobile device)

Google also provide additional helpful resources which include a Webmasters Mobile Guide on creating and then improving your mobile site and also a resource for checking commonly used software such as WordPress.

All law firms (whether they realise it not not) will generate enquiries from the search engine listings and therefore, any without mobile friendly websites should act quickly, or run a very real risk of losing valuable traffic and business come April 21st.