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Devices, Tablets and Breaking Traditions: The New Normal for Law Firm Websites

Ongoing technology advancements shape what we've come to expect from our experiences on the Web. The same is true when we access websites from a mobile device. It's important to keep in mind what information they'll need most from your site and make it easily accessible.

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The Internet has changed immensely since its creation. What was once only accessible through a dial-up modem on a large desktop computer is now available wirelessly with the touch of a finger. Smartphones, tablets, e-readers and gaming systems have all entered the mix as the next generation of computers, and they have transformed our online experiences in a multitude of ways. As the number of mobile Internet-connected devices continues to increase, so will the traffic they generate to law firm websites.

The Mobile Connectivity Baseline

Looking for more context? Here are a few related statistics: Microsoft Tag predicts the mobile internet will take over desktop Internet usage by 2014. (“Mobile Marketing Lessons from Rebecca Black,” http://bit.ly/TP7MaK.) Gartner predicts that by 2015, mobile app development projects will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1. (“Gartner Says Cloud, Mobility and Open Source Will Drive Application Development Market to Exceed $9 Billion in 2012,” http://gtnr.it/UBLOXs.) And, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Forecast (VNI), there will be more than 10 billion mobile Internet-connected devices globally by 2016. (“Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast Projects 18-Fold Growth in Global Mobile Internet Data Traffic from 2011 to 2016,” http://bit.ly/VVDglb.) That’s more devices than the projected number of people in the world! In addition, traffic from tablets will grow 62-fold from 2011-2016. This is the highest growth rate of any device category Cisco tracked in the forecast. The amount of mobile data traffic generated by tablets alone in 2016 will be four times the total amount of monthly global mobile data traffic in 2010, according to the forecast.

Those numbers are somewhat mind-boggling, but they make a lot of sense, especially considering the plethora of tablets on the market today (there are more than 130 to choose from according to a recent PC Magazine article). The addition of all these new devices and ways to connect has changed the way we behave both off- and online, enabling us to be constantly “plugged-in” and connected like never before.

User Tailored Design Fundamentals

These ongoing technology advancements shape what we’ve come to expect from our experiences on the Web. For one, we expect to get more from a website than we would from a brochure. More and more, we expect some level of interaction when we visit a website. Whether it’s the ability to save, share or personalize the content we find while on a site, we crave more than just a static or passive experience.

The same is true when we access websites from a mobile device. Admittedly, there are certain things, like long form loan applications, that you just wouldn’t be interested in doing via your mobile phone ‘ the process is too long and exhaustive. But there are things that we need to consider when we’re developing for the mobile user. For example, let’s say I want someone to register for an event. Is it too much to assume that they would do this using a smartphone or tablet? Probably not. However, the way that most mobile sites are set up today, it’s still not easy. Filling out lengthy registration forms isn’t really practical, especially for someone on the go. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t expecting that functionality to be available and easy to use.

The goal is to make it easier for the billions of people who will be mobile to complete more tasks online. When designing for this audience, it’s important to keep in mind what information they’ll need most from your site and make it easily accessible. Tailor the experience to the device they’re using.

Retailers such as Macy’s and Walmart, for example, have answered the mobile user call by updating their mobile sites for one of the most popular shopping days of the year. These companies enhanced their customers’ overall shopping experience on Black Friday by adapting the mobile experience to incorporate useful tools, such as store maps with turn-by-turn directions, exclusive deals through push notifications and the ability to skirt the lines for Santa Claus by reserving visit times directly from a mobile device.

What these retailers did, and what all law firm websites and mobile applications should strive for, is to minimize the input required from users and maximize the linking power, or their touching power. Web design and interactive marketing experts recommend using a “mobile first” design strategy for both aesthetics and content in order to create a device-agnostic user experience. This means designing law firm websites with the mobile user in mind and creating interactions that work on any device. When you’re trying to access a site that’s been designed for the desktop on a tablet or smartphone, it can get very annoying when you continuously miss the link you’re trying to click because, let’s face it, your fingers are just too fat for those small buttons. However, a desktop user will always be able to access a website that’s been primarily designed with the mobile user in mind. Using large text and buttons, eliminating hover or rollover functionality and using persistent or anchored navigation are just a few of the things you can do to keep your website touch-friendly.

“Mobile first” applies to your content strategy as well. For law firm websites, this means making information related to attorneys, experience and publications easier to find with a tap, swipe or pinch. Analyze your firm’s mobile traffic and determine the content that resonates most with your mobile users, and use that insight to drive the design of your mobile experiences. Make it easy for your visitors to interact with the fresh and updated content you have to offer, and they will return and engage with you again and again.

The Mobile-Friendly Roadmap

So what’s the first step in making that happen? Get an assessment of where your firm is in terms of the technology that you’re currently using. What browsers and browser versions are your lawyers using? What mobile devices does your website currently support? Next, look at your traffic reports and determine which platforms, channels and browsers refer the most traffic to your site. This is very tactical stuff, but you must keep all of this in mind because you don’t want to roll out a site that your attorneys or visitors can’t access because you don’t support the technology they use.

All these things will dictate the priority of addressing the mobile issue, not whether or not you should. Some firms are in a technology space that requires them to support mobile, and some firms really don’t see a lot of mobile traffic for the time being. However, surveys have revealed that legal mobile growth mirrors global mobile growth. From 2010 to 2011, mobile traffic to law firm websites grew 106%, and traffic from tablets alone grew more than 85%. A mobile world is inevitable, and it’s coming in just a few short years. Some firms will move faster along the spectrum than others, but those that don’t move, or do so at a slower pace, will be left behind. Consequently, firms should decide how fast they should move, not if they should.

Conclusion

Although many law firms are just beginning to delve deeper into mobile strategies and how best to leverage design and technology to successfully engage their mobile audiences, there are three basic strategies that all law firms can apply in their quest to become more mobile friendly.