Google regularly tests and makes changes to their search-results algorithms. Towards the end of 2017, Google officially announced two preferences that would impact how websites rank in its search results. To keep a good Google ranking – or to improve a poor one – you need to ensure that your website satisfies these new requirements.
Here are 2 Key Changes that Impact Your Website’s Google Ranking
1. You Need a Secure Website: “HTTPS”
You may have noticed that some website URLs begin with “http” and others with “https”. The “s” in “https” is for “secure”, so https://yourdomainame.com is secure and http://yourdomainname.com is not secure. HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) means communications between a visitor’s browser and the website are encrypted. Google prefers secure websites for obvious reasons; this is particularly true for e-commerce websites. Although the majority of family law firms’ websites are not e-commerce, most have a submission form that asks for information from visitors who may be interested in requesting a consultation. It is comforting for visitors to know that your website is secure and any information they submit is safe. Aside from the telltale “s”, a secure website shows up with a green padlock and the word “Secure” in the URL box. For example, compare this secure website:
To this non-secure website:
The July Deadline is Already Here for Some Websites
As you can see, the notification to Google Chrome users regarding a non-secure website is not that obvious to a lot of people yet. Even though Google announced in February that come July, they will be marking unsecured websites in a much more prominent way, we have already seen some sites being marked this way. Perhaps a few unlucky websites are being used as a part of a Google test.
Bottom line: if your website is HTTP, we recommend that you convert it to HTTPS as soon as possible.
What Does an HTTPS Conversion Entail?
You do not need to redesign your website; what you need is an SSL Certificate. There are different levels of certificates you can purchase. Some come with insurance in case information is breached and there is damage incurred; these cost about $60 a year. We use BlueHost as the provider to host websites, and BlueHost provides a free basic level of security coverage that is deemed enough for the majority of family law firm websites we build and maintain.
HTTPS conversion is a relatively short process that can generally be done in a day, but it can get tricky because part of the process requires a confirmation email to be sent to the contact email of the domain name for verification. Quite often that information is dated; if it is, you will need to update it before converting your website. There are a myriad of little details to attend to, including: watching for possible downtime for your website and email, and submitting your website to Google once the conversion is complete. Be sure to coordinate this with your website designer to minimize disruption to your business.
2. The Speed of Your Website will Affect Your Google Ranking
Simply put, Google prefers websites that load fast, especially on mobile phones. This is because visitors tend to leave when a website is too slow to load.
Do Not Forget Your Business Objectives and Prospective Clients!
When optimizing for speed, keep in mind the type of cases/clients your family law firm wants to attract: how much information does your target audience want or need for them to decide to contact/engage your law firm? For example, high-net-worth individuals will want to feel confident that you can help them with all the complicated aspects of their cases – that you know how to identify and divide all the marital properties and debts, family business, stock options, pensions, inheritance, etc. Or they may want to see your demonstrated ability to help them achieve their desired custody arrangements and support payments.
If you are after complex cases, you will need to provide plenty of information – in text, audio, and video formats – on your website. We believe your prospective clients will be willing to wait a little while for the valuable information they need.
Create Enticing and Easy-to-Consume Content
The use of podcasts and videos have been on the rise. Among other reasons, their popularity can be attributed to the fact that they are easy and faster for website visitors to consume vs. having to read the text. A two-minute video is about 500 words to read when written out, while a 15-minute podcast would transcribe into 3,000+ words, which may be too long for a prospective client to read. However, a web page that only has text loads faster than one with image, video, or audio files, so you need to strike a balance between achieving your business objectives and reducing the load time of your website.
Although images and graphic elements will increase the load time, they can make your web pages more enticing to visitors – and sometimes, a chart or a picture really is worth a thousand words. A group shot will tell a visitor immediately that your firm has a team of 10 family lawyers, and five badges from (AAML, CFLS etc.) displayed on your webpage will instantly convey the message that you are a qualified family lawyer. Some websites have animated sliders and a rotating display of text and/or images. When done right, these will catch your visitors’ attention and entice them to stay and explore your website.
3 Tools to Test Your Website’s Speed
A. Think with Google: https://testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com
This simple tool will tell you how many seconds it takes your website to load completely on a mobile phone. All you have to do is type in your website’s URL and it will tell you your website’s speed in seconds. This test also suggests what percentage of your visitors may leave before the website is fully loaded, and what to do to improve load time. Many websites are designed to load text before images, this will help reduce the chances of visitors leaving the websites because visitors get to see something while the rest of the website is loading. This test uses a 3G connection because Google predicts that 70% of cellular network connections on a global basis will be at 3G or slower through to the year 2020. 3G is a measurement of the speed of the Internet; in most North American cities, which is where the majority of your clients are, a lot of us enjoy a much faster 5G connection.
Here are the test results for some websites (remember, results will differ depending on your Internet speed, which will vary throughout the day):
- Google.com – 3 seconds. (This page is virtually blank.)
- DivorceMarketingGroup.com – 4 seconds. (This is our own website which has a video and multiple images.)
- Avvo.com – 7 seconds• CNN.com – 9 seconds
- Youtube.com – 9 seconds
When we first tested the secure version of our website, we were shocked to find it was taking 18 seconds to load. Our digital department had made sure that the whole site was completely optimized, and it should have been blazing fast. With further investigation, our Google Webmaster expert discovered that a small piece of third-party software was causing a huge loss in speed. Once our developers created a workaround for the software, our site earned top marks for load time.
The next two tools are used by website developers who require more in-depth and technical recommendations on how to improve site speed.
B. Google PageSpeed Insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights
This tool is much more comprehensive than the one we discussed above. It is designed to provide actionable insights into a website speed and a much more complete overview of the overall performance of different web sources as Google Chrome loads a website page.
PageSpeed Insights offers a detailed analysis of website speed on two major devices: desktop and mobile. The data highlight technical issues to fix to improve website speed, and the tool offers device-specific feedback to show which parts of the website successfully passed the test. Google PageSpeed Insights ranks different websites from 0 to 100 points based on the load time: a good score is somewhere between 85 and 100; websites that score between 65 and 85 need work; and a score below 65 is always labeled “poor.” The exact number of seconds it takes to load the website is only available to big websites with lots of pages and traffic.
C. GTmetrix Speed Test Tool: https://gtmetrix.com
GTmetrix Speed Test Tool provides a website performance report containing over 25 recommendations. It uses Google PageSpeed Insight rules to give your website a score, and the ratings are from 0 to 100 (F to A).
Other Factors Affecting Site Speed
How fast any website loads depends on many factors: some are determined by the website itself, and others are beyond the website’s control. The load time depends on the computer or smartphone you are using, and your Internet speed (which in turn depends on the service package you have purchased from your provider as well as the time of day: the speed may fluctuate depending on the number of people in your neighborhood using the Internet from your provider at the time).
Dan Couvrette and Martha Chan are marketing experts for family lawyers. They are co-owners of Family Lawyer Magazine, Divorce Magazine and Divorce Marketing Group – a one-stop marketing agency dedicated to promoting family lawyers and divorce professionals. www.DivorceMarketingGroup.com