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What Google’s update means for law firms

In another bold twist from Google, it seems we’ve changed tack. Content may be king, but user experience is emperor – or certainly, that’s what we’re led to believe.

Google unveiled the ‘user experience update’ in summer 2020, warning SEOs that changes could roll out in around six months’ time. With a renewed focus on web design, the update poses new challenges for law firms.

Understanding the new ‘search signals’

The latest algorithm update still focuses on some of the classics, such as:

  • Mobile-friendly browsing
  • HTTPs (secure socket layer)

However, three new Core Web Vitals have come into play, and they’re all to do with user experience.

LCP: loading times

In Google terms, LCP stands for ‘largest contentful paint’. This is the largest element on a page, for example, a hero banner with an image and/or text.

Under new Google guidance, your page’s largest contentful paint should take no more than 2.5 seconds to load.

What can law firms do to meet the LCP requirements?

Start by measuring your LCP score here. This operates on a traffic light system, and will give you recommendations on how to speed up your LCP.

Some of these may be for developers, like removing unused CSS and JavaScript. Some can be done without code, however.

Think about that hero banner. Is the image using the latest file format? You can convert JPGs or PNGs into “next generation formats” using third-party tools like this WordPress converter. Likewise, your image may be oversized, which is a simple design fix.

Finally, look at your LCP from a user’s perspective. Does it present information clearly and concisely, or is it merely a vanity stock image? As we’ve identified in our previous website audits, sometimes the issue is in the back end. You could be using outdated plug-ins for banners, for example.

FID: interactivity

The interactivity element on our checklist refers to First Input Delay. This is a measurement of time, between the time it takes for content to load and for users to interact with it.

Google guidance suggests this time should be no more than 100 milliseconds. There are numerous factors which could slow this down.

What can law firms do to meet the FID requirements?

Again, you can use the FID measuring tool to determine if your users are waiting too long. This one does require a bit of code knowledge.

Often, the cause for these delays is third-party code. So, if you’ve got Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, VWO, Crazy Egg and any other number of digital marketing scripts running, you could be slowing your site down.

Ask your developers to use the Chrome DevTools function to identify these scripts. You’ll find tips on how to minimise the impact of these tools.

Alternatively, if they’re not all essential, you could consider removing some. For example, you might have tested an A/B testing tool to see which calls to action worked better, but the experiment is now over.

CLS: Visual stability

Lastly, cumulative layout shift refers to all the elements on a page and how they move around. This is particularly important for mobile user experience.

According to our audit research, at least 39 per cent of law firm traffic comes through on a mobile. For that reason, law firms need to test their pages on a mobile device just as much as they do a desktop.

If elements can move around too easily, for example contact forms or call to action buttons, this could harm the user experience.

What can law firms do to meet the CLS requirements?

Google’s testing tool will let you know if any elements are potentially overlapping, such as an ‘enquire now’ versus a ‘request a callback’ button.

To improve the user experience further, law firms should think about intrusive interstitials. These are basically pop-ups or bars that appear on a page, like a newsletter sign-up or cookie bar.

In most cases, Google ‘expects’ certain interstitials, like the cookie bar. However, there’s no need to overwhelm your users with pop-ups, particularly if they’ve only just landed on the site.

If you must use pop-ups, try to delay them from appearing until a user has taken a particular action. You can also restrict them to transactional pages only, like the contact page.

Similarly, if you ever add content to a page, avoid adding it above existing content. This may cause ‘unexpected layout shifts’, which could hinder your score.

Back to basics

These changes may seem overwhelming, but there’s no need to panic. First and foremost, remember that updates only dramatically affect around 10 per cent of organic results.

But that’s no excuse to scrimp on the basics. Many of these issues can be solved with a few design tweaks, or UX testing on multiple devices. If you’re using Chrome, hit F12 and click on the device symbol next to Elements – this will display your site in different device modes.

Likewise, you can ask your hosting service to install an SSL certificate if you’ve not got one. You’ll be able to check this if your web address has https:// (rather than http) before the domain name, or if you can see a padlock symbol.

Don’t just start anew

You can take these changes forward for all your new content, but don’t forget your existing pages. Analyse Google Analytics for blog posts with the longest user sessions. See if you can improve the experience by moving elements, or tagging up content with schema.

And finally…don’t forget content!

The new update may be a far cry from Google’s constant reminders to produce high-quality content. But quality is more important than ever – particularly for law firms, which are considered ‘Your Money or Your Life’ sites by Google’s standards.

This means Google has a duty of care to return the most helpful, and factually accurate, results. Anything you produce should link to reputable sources, for example the Financial Conduct Authority.

Ideally, you should have trust signals on your site too, such as Law Society accreditation badges. Not only does this assure users; it also helps Google return the right pages.

Happy users = better results

Whatever size your law firm or field of practice, Google rewards those sites that serve their users. Great content builds the foundation for better rankings. User experience should be the pillars.

For more guidance on law firm website UX, contact Legmark today.


Katie Thompson

Katie Lingo


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