Mobile Law Firm Websites vs Responsive Design

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For seven years, Lawyerist has published an annual list of the best law firm websites. Now, you can find out what they have in common.

Lawyerists have been encouraging you to optimize your law firm’s website for mobile since at least 2010. And while it’s still really good advice to optimize your legal website or blog for mobile device viewing, I think you’re probably better off switching to a responsive design than using a WordPress plugin or other mobile web design workaround.

Does Mobile Matter?

Back in 2010, Randall observed that it’s unlikely your web-based marketing will fail if you do not have a mobile website. And he’s right, at least for now. However, it’s difficult to ignore the rapid growth of the mobile web and its impact on businesses, like law firms.

In Is Your Website Mobile Friendly?, Allison did a nice job discussing some of the considerations that go into the decision to develope a website for mobile users:

As with any other marketing initiative your firm considers, the first thing you want to explore is how your target audience uses mobile devices. Are your potential clients or referral sources likely to use a mobile device to search for you or for information that might be contained on your website? If so, what is it that they are searching for? Is it the same or different than what they would be searching for on their desktop or laptop computer? What are your potential clients likely to use their mobile devices for? Is that something the firm’s website provides? These answers will help you determine what should be included in your firm’s mobile site.

According to Google’s Reasons Mobile Matters:

By 2013, more people will use their mobile phones than PCs to get online.

Mobile searches have grown by 4X since 2010.

There will be one mobile device for every person on earth by 2015.

You don’t need to conduct a large-scale usage study to recognize that more and more people are using mobile devices to access the internet. Most mornings, I use the CTA to get to work. And in my unscientific observations I would say that, on an average morning, at least half of the people have their heads buried in their mobile devices.

And much of the web analytics data that I see supports the conclusion that “mobile is mattering” more and more.

If you want to see whether mobile users are visiting your site or blog, and you use Google Analytics, you can create an advanced segment to view only mobile traffic:

You might just be surprised by how much mobile visitor traffic you’re getting even now.

What Is Responsive Web Design?

Until only the last couple of years, there has been a smorgasbord of ways to deliver web pages to mobile devices. More recently, Google broke mobile sites down into three general configurations:

Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.

Sites that dynamically serve all devices on the same set of URLs, but each URL serves different HTML (and CSS) depending on whether the user agent is a desktop or a mobile device.

Sites that have a separate mobile and desktop sites.

Responsive web design is basically the idea that your web pages adapt to the layout of the viewing environment. In other words, pages adjust to the device upon which they are being viewed.

To learn more about the concept, I recommend Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design piece.

Comparing Mobile Sites & Responsive Design

In Mobile Websites vs Responsive Design: What’s the right solution for your business? Googler Jessica Sapick outlines some guidelines for choosing between a mobile website and a responsive design:

In my view, unless you have an e-commerce site or some advanced web app functionality that just doesn’t translate well, you’re probably better off going with a responsive design over a dedicated mobile site. Obviously, this is a pretty broad generalization that doesn’t apply equally in all situations.

To help you decide between mobile and responsive design, Google’s developer site has some detailed information about building for mobile.

For most sites, if you do a side-by-side comparison of a mobile version and a responsive design on a mobile device, you’ll quickly see how much more user-friendly responsive sites are. John Polacek (@johnpolacek) provides a very useful demonstration of responsive design at work that I recommend.

Responsive Design, WordPress & Thesis

The Google guideline above only gives two stars for responsive D-I-Y options. I tend to disagree with that.

If you’re using WordPress, and you should be, there are a variety of responsive themes coming online. Responsive is one free theme available in the repository.

For Thesis users, DIY Themes has a responsive skin + child theme starter set.

I have found it pretty easy to switch basic sites and blogs over to responsive design. Obviously, the more complex your site is, the more work that will go into making a site responsive.

Have you seen any good examples of legal sites that have gone responsive? Does your firm have plans to switch to a responsive design? Have you been experiencing an increase in mobile device user traffic? Have you opted for a mobile site over a responsive design? If so, why?

(Photo by: http://johnpolacek.github.com/scrolldeck.js/decks/responsive/)

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  • Gyi: Thanks for tackling a subject like responsive web design on a blog for lawyers–this makes me happy.

    Not every site needs to be scrapped and rebuilt using responsive design techniques. From our perspective only about 25% of our clients need this functionality today. The challenge is most businesses can only afford a radical site upgrade every 3-5 years so what’s decided now can greatly determine whether your website appears dated in the not-so-distant future.

    As you mentioned, there a number of ways a DIY website owner can go responsive today. Themeforest.net has a plethora of responsive-ready themes that are both affordable and look great.

  • Drew McGuinness

    Guy: I’m (slowly, slowly) working on building a WordPress site. I’d seen a strong recommendation for using the Thesis theme here @ Lawyerist (by Sam and by you, if memory serves), though the recommendation might have been a year old or so.

    Question: Is Thesis still your top recommendation? Are there any competing WP themes that to have emerged as top contenders for a law practice web site in the past year or so? In addition to layout design and easy of use/updating, I count SEO optimization and (now) Responsive Web Design functionality as principal factors. Thanks, Drew.

    • Until Gyi gets here, I’ll just say that I still recommend Thesis to anyone willing to learn the basics of building a website. After all, it is the framework we use for Lawyerist.com, LawyeristLAB.com, and BitterLawyer.com. But if you fall more on the wanting-to-click-a-button side of web design (as opposed to editing HTML, CSS, and PHP), you may want to consider something else. Here is more on Thesis and the alternatives: https://lawyerist.com/thesis-theme-wordpress-thoughts/

      • Drew McGuinness

        Thanks, Sam. I have Thesis, The Practice (Themefuse ), Driskill (Themepress);

        I must admit that I’m still trying to understand what the Thesis folks are talking about when they emphasize the “Genesis framework” is and “child themes,” and how this compares with other WordPress theme offerings. So far, it appears as if the folks behind Thesis have bifurcated the WordPress theme selection process into two components: the programing “framework” underlying various Thesis designs; and “child themes,” which are basically desing “skins” that hang on that “framework.” And here I thought this was a sentence that had described the relationship between WordPress and themes to begin with!

        If I do go with Thesis, then, there is are more company-selection choices (read: $$) to make. Places like Rowboat Media (rowboatmedia.com) and Team Thesis (teamthesis.com), who will build/design a site around Thesis. This, of course, is both a strength and a complication: I don’t need to build my own site (if I’m willing to pay the bucks up front), but will have a platform that (theoretically, at least) I can tweak down the road if I become as well-versed in php, css, etc., as you.

        Decisions, decisions! My take: this is really a process of exploring options and discovering what your needs/comfort level is with the myriad options available, and how best to meet my needs given the limited resources (time, skill, money) available to me.

        Beyond the daunting nature of this task for someone as focus-challenged as me, my primary concern (beyond sorting out my needs and the best option), is whether my selection will limit me when I am ready to find somebody local to tweak/upgrade/maintain my site. Since WordPress is probably has the broadest base of designers/programmers out there, the only way to mitigate this concern (beyond choosing a WordPress-based site platform) would be to find/hire a local web designer first, and go with his/her preferred approach. Drew.

  • A WordPress site with a responsive design worked wonders for our mobile traffic. More and more studies are coming out about the habits of searchers and there is a trend for people to sit on the couch after work and surf their phone or tablet. DO Not ignore these opportunities! With our responsive theme, our mobile traffic increased about 200% in 30 days.