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The year 2017 brought many changes in the world of search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing. In particular, law firms should take note of the push toward HTTPS, the importance of using structured data and accelerated mobile pages (AMP), and changes to local search and Google My Business. It is imperative that you or your marketing consultant stay abreast of these and other marketing trends so that you don't fall behind.
As we begin 2018, we want to reflect on how online marketing has changed over the last year, what we at Justia have done to stay current with these many changes, and take a look at what you can expect to see in the coming year.
Mobile First Is Here
For the last several years, internet usage has been shifting away from desktop and laptop computers being the dominantly used devices and towards a mobile first world. Back in 2015 Google announced that for the first time, the number of mobile searches exceeded the number of desktop searches, and that trend has continued. Likewise, in November 2016, StatCounter, an internet monitoring and analytics platform reported that total internet usage on mobile had surpassed desktop for the first time, and the gap continues to widen.
For a long time Google has had separate mobile and desktop search indexes, but as mobile has become more important, they have already started indexing sites using only the mobile version of Googlebot to create a mobile-first index. Ranking of your site will be calculated based on how well your site is optimized for mobile.
If you have a separate mobile site, it is important that all of your site’s content is available both in the desktop and mobile versions, and you need to make sure that desktop users that hit your mobile site are directed to the proper desktop content. Whenever possible you should have a single website that implements progressive design principles so you can be sure you have all of your content available to both mobile and desktop users.
At Justia, we ensured that all our clients’ websites utilize responsive design principles, allowing users to see rich, complete content regardless of the device they are using.
The Fast Get Faster, the Slow Get Left Behind
As the majority of web requests are now on lower-powered mobile devices, often on bandwidth-constrained mobile networks, the performance of your website matters more now than ever before. Users are becoming less and less tolerant of slow page loads, with 40% of users leaving pages that take longer than three seconds to load.
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project is all about making pages load instantly on that first click from the search results page to the site. AMP is a great way to ensure that the pages people tap to from their mobile devices load as fast as possible.
Don’t rely solely on AMP for performance though. AMP is particularly designed for mobile, and desktop still makes up nearly half of all web traffic. Remember also that AMP only accelerates the first page users hit after coming to your site from a search. It is important that your non-AMP pages are optimized for mobile performance as well.
We anticipated the increasing importance of AMP, and by mid-2017, over 99% of Justia client websites and blogs were using AMP. Unlike many other implementations of AMP, which are often merely text-only versions of the desktop site, at Justia we create AMP versions of our clients’ websites and blogs support branding, social media sharing, comments, and many other features.
HTTPS is Now Required
It continues to be imperative that all websites use HTTPS, and sites that do not will be penalized.
In January of 2017, both Chrome and Firefox began issuing warnings to users on non-HTTPS pages that contained credit card or password form fields. In both browsers, a user will see a “Not secure” label in the address bar, and the browser will display a warning popup if you attempt to fill in the form field.
In October, Google went even further with a new Chrome release that makes these warning labels even more prominent. As of now, the warning shows up on non-HTTPS pages containing any forms on them, and on all non-HTTPS pages loaded in Incognito mode.
Google’s eventual plan is to warn users every time they are on a page that is not encrypted. Justia started moving its client websites to HTTPS in 2016, and as of now all client websites and blogs use HTTPS. If your law firm’s website still doesn’t have HTTPS, you need to switch immediately or risk being labeled “not secure” by Google.
Stand Out in Local Searches with Google My Business
As local search becomes increasingly important for small businesses that provide specific consumer services, Google is constantly tweaking My Business to help connect people to the services they seek. Business owners who are paying close attention can take advantage of many of these features to help their business stand out from others in search results. For example, we explained that Google Posts, Chat, Appointments, Questions and Answers, and Small Thanks are but a few of the features that business owners can use to facilitate searchers’ ability to learn more about their business and services, and to contact them.
If you have questions about your Google My Business listing, our marketing specialists can help you take advantage of this powerful tool and the features that savvy business owners can use to highlight their listing and drive users to content relevant to their needs.
Structured Data is Becoming More Important
With the rise of voice assistant applications such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and the Google Assistant, a large number of searches are now being initiated with a spoken query, as opposed to a typed one. This matters in your search engine optimization strategy for a number of reasons. As the responses to these searches are read aloud, the first result is even more significant than has been before. If that first result is a rich snippet, it will likely provide the precise answer to what the user is asking.
As the prevalence of voice searches grows, optimizing for structured data and more exact matches to common user queries becomes more important than in the past.
While it may take time to overtake other forms of search, voice is continually growing in popularity, and this is an area that cannot be ignored.
In addition to voice, structured data optimization is particularly important for local search. In 2017, Google made a number of improvements to the knowledge box that shows up on the top or side of search results, incorporating data from the knowledge graph and from structured data into helping users make decisions.
For temporal based searches like flights or hotel bookings, Google now uses structured data to show how the pricing of such bookings varies over time. For local businesses, Google now extrapolates information from structured data like business hours so that when users search for a business, they are told whether it is open. Restaurant listings now have estimated wait times based on historical data and heuristic models.
Having discrete data that you can control is vital as Google and other search engines continue to improve their ability to directly answer user’s questions, and structured data is the primary way to handle this.
Also related to structured data is the continued updates to the way user reviews are handled. In an attempt to combat spam, Google has become more selective about how it handles review markup on websites. Reviews allow you to show star ratings on your normal search engine results snippets.
Finally, in an attempt to give users more information, Google has increased the length of the snippets they show in search results from 160 to 320 characters. This further reinforces the need for making sure your pages are content rich so that Google has more content available to include in their longer snippets.
Justia uses structured data on our clients’ websites and blogs to help Google and other search engines understand exactly what is on each page and present them as valuable search results to users searching for those services and information.
To 2018 and Beyond
The internet continues its march towards a faster, more personalized, more secure, and more mobile future, and it is important that you keep up with these trends in your online marketing efforts. At Justia, we constantly stay on top of these trends and adapt as they change.
We continue to keep our eyes on the horizon, working on both long- and short-term strategies to further optimize our clients’ websites and blogs. If you aren’t part of our growing family of customers, we’d love the opportunity to chat with you about how we can assist you in optimizing your site and growing your practice. Contact us and we’ll be glad to talk to you about ways we can help you stay on top of the trends in online marketing and the latest in web technologies.
No matter who you are, our client or not, we wish you a very Happy New Year, may 2018 bring you peace, love, and prosperity. We look forward to sharing more with you here on Justia’s Legal Technology and Marketing Blog in the new year. Onward!