Are you ignoring a third of your firm’s potential

How local search and mobile are defining the new consumer

Originally published 2014

Imagine you run a small law firm. One day you discover that your phone system has malfunctioned, resulting in one-third of your calls not coming through. Acceptable? Of course not. Any well-run firm would immediately address the problem to ensure that all calls from both existing and prospective new clients reach the firm.

Now let’s consider our imaginary firm’s Internet marketing activity. Would it be OK to miss out on a third of your web traffic? Most would agree that this is equally unacceptable. Yet this is largely the situation with many firms when it comes to their presence in local and mobile search.

The basis for such a bold statement? FindLaw aggregated data from more than 10,000 hosted sites. The data revealed that 31 percent of web traffic now comes to law firm websites through mobile search — and this number is steadily growing. When you consider the close relationship between the mobile web and local search optimization, it has never been more critical for firms to place top priority on optimizing their presence in both local and mobile search. When a firm offers users a poor or nonexistent local and mobile experience, it misses out on a third of its digital marketing potential.

In today’s digital landscape, it is fair to say that the only way a law firm can have a competitive online presence is by understanding how mobile technologies have altered the way legal consumers discover and evaluate law firms and then adapting to the new realities.

In this paper, we examine the growth of the mobile web, explain how it interacts with local search to alter the manner in which consumers find law firms and provide direction to firms seeking to optimize their visibility in local and mobile search.

31% of traffic to law firm websites comes through mobile search

Local and mobile search are growing rapidly

To fully understand the impact of mobile and local search, it is important to recognize what these types of searches actually are. “Local search” simply means that a user is looking for information within a specific geographic boundary. “Mobile search” refers to searches performed on smartphones or tablets (e.g., iPads). Local searches are performed on both mobile devices and desktop computers. “Desktop search” refers to searches performed from desktop or laptop computers.

There are more than 2 billion active mobile subscriptions worldwide that access broadband wireless Internet.¹ Additionally, mobile phone sales continue to grow. At the beginning of 2014, 58 percent of all adults in the U.S. owned a smartphone, and 42 percent owned a tablet computer. This was an increase from a year prior, when 45 percent of adults owned a smartphone and 29 percent owned a tablet computer.² Not surprisingly, the growth in smartphone and tablet use correlates with a decline in desktop sales and usage. In fact, desktop sales declined by 10 percent in 2013.³

Mobile vs. desktop

Percentage of mobile visits to FindLaw client websites

6% 14% 23% 31%
Dec. 2010 Dec. 2011 Dec. 2012 Dec. 2013

These changes directly impact the overall volume of search traffic from mobile devices. Consumers heavily utilize search engines for local information, and of those who conduct local searches, 88 percent use smartphones to do so.

Such trends make a significant impact on the legal marketplace. In a FindLaw survey of 1,000 consumers, almost a quarter (23 percent) of respondents who preferred to use the Internet to find an attorney said they would use a mobile device to do so. This, in turn, contributes to the growing percentage of Internet traffic that law firm websites receive from mobile devices. As noted previously, FindLaw data indicates that for the typical law firm, visits from mobile devices have grown from 6 percent of overall website traffic in 2010 to 31 percent in 2013.

It is likely that you have dedicated significant time and money to increase the visibility of your firm’s website when viewed on a desktop browser. You have also probably taken steps to ensure that once potential clients see your website in search results they will visit your site and be enticed to contact you. Have you put the same amount of time and effort into creating an experience for mobile users that is equally or even more compelling? Considering all the trends discussed previously, it cannot be stressed enough: Legal marketing campaigns that ignore or marginalize mobile and local search cannot compete in today’s world.

Understanding local and mobile search

Always on the cutting edge of changing consumer trends, search engine companies are well aware of the increasing volume of local searches and, accordingly, have adjusted the way search results are determined and displayed.

For example, searchers on Google previously needed to include a geographic term, such as a city or state name, in the search query (e.g., “Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer”) to find attorneys nearby. With Google’s 2012 “Venice” update, the search engine began to automatically incorporate user location via the user’s IP address and search settings when determining the most relevant search results to display. This eliminated the need for a geographic term to identify the physical location the user is searching in.

While perhaps obvious, the implication of this change is significant: Your firm’s office location, and how well it is optimized for local search visibility, can be a determining factor in where you appear when users search for attorneys without specifying a specific geographic area.

The desktop vs. mobile search experience

Another nuance of the mobile experience is the appearance of search results. When users search Google for information on a desktop computer, most will see at least three clearly defined sections: paid advertisements, the local results, and organic results. And in the local results, users can click directly to a business’s website or its Google business listing.

The same search on a smartphone will return results that may seem similar. However, one important difference is that paid advertisements and local results on mobile include a “call” button. Also, when users click on a local search result in mobile, they are directed to the Google business listing rather than the firm’s own website. For simplicity, we will refer to the process of conducting a local search on a mobile device as the local-mobile user flow.

Notable aspects of the local-mobile user flow:

Local search results display prominently on mobile devices
Your firm can receive business directly from these results, so it is essential that it appears in local search rankings on mobile devices.

Local-mobile search directs users to business listings before the firm’s website
It also offers an immediate opportunity to contact your firm. A fully developed local business listing is critical, because mobile searchers may never navigate past your firm’s listing in search engines such as Google or Bing.

Those searchers who do visit your website will view it on a mobile device
It is important that they view a mobile-optimized version. While desktop users may have more interest in reading detailed information, mobile users generally seek immediate access to specifics. Build the design and content of the mobile version of your site to attract these mobile users.

Within the local-mobile user flow, users have three distinct opportunities to contact your firm
The search results, your Google listing and your website are all direct touch points with consumers.

Three focus areas

Given these dynamics, law firms must optimize every stage of the process a mobile user can encounter when searching for a local business. To create an effective local-mobile strategy, attorneys need to focus on three areas.

  • Local ranking
    Optimizing your listing and website will maximize their chances of ranking well for relevant local searches.
  • Local business listing
    A listing that comprehensively presents your law firm and its services builds trust and entices potential clients to contact you.
  • Mobile website
    Designing a mobile-optimized version of your firm’s website will more effectively motivate desired user behaviors.

1. Optimizing your local rankings

Improving your local search performance in Google and other search engines requires focus on several areas.

Leverage local activities
It may seem surprising, but a foundational element of being found locally online is what you do offline. Being active and prominent in your community will greatly help your local search presence. When your firm’s activity, in turn, is included and promoted on your website and business listing, it signals to Google and other search engines that you are truly relevant for someone seeking an attorney in your area. A proliferation of these local signals will boost your visibility in local search results.

Code your site for easy search engine digestion
You should work with your website provider to ensure that you maximize the relevance of your website for local attorney queries. While a full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this paper, key areas to focus on include the use of schema.org markup for appropriate content on your site, strategically embedding maps within your site, including driving directions and populating your office location page with links to relevant local information.

Build a robust citation footprint
Similar to the role that link building plays in traditional search engine optimization (SEO), a broad network of external citations about your business helps establish your firm’s authority and credibility as a local business. Citations take many forms but are most commonly represented as your firm’s name, address, and phone number, which can be found on sites such as directories of local businesses.

Citations not only validate and provide credibility to your firm as a local business in the eyes of search engines — particularly Google — they also expand your firm’s online footprint, allowing potential clients to find you in more places. Thus, any local search optimization program should include citation building across a wide range of relevant business directories.

2. Optimizing your local business listing

You already know how important it is for potential clients to trust your law firm, but you may not understand the importance of your local business listing in building that trust. A study conducted by Placeable found that 73 percent of people will lose trust in a brand if the business listing is not accurate.⁴ Therefore the quality and comprehensiveness of the information that appears on your business listing is vital.

73% of people will lose trust in a brand if the business listing is not accurate.

Get the basics right
In addition to providing your firm name, address, phone number, and office hours, Google, for example, will allow you to choose a primary business category and several secondary categories that your firm falls under. Make sure to select the categories that best represent your firm. If you do business out of more than one location, create listings only for offices that physically exist and are staffed during stated hours. P.O. boxes are not considered physical offices. Finally, create only one business listing per location, because efforts to “game the system” may result in your listings being suspended.

Enhance your listing
Your business listing online should reflect the firm in real life. In that vein, a key element to your business listing is the inclusion of high-quality pictures that show actual people at the firm’s office. Potential clients like to know what to expect when they visit the firm in person, and these images can help establish trust and build a connection even before the first phone call is made or email sent.

Nurture reviews
Online reviews from former clients can influence future clients and help local results perform better. Reviews are used by search engines to help determine the popularity of a business, and many SEO consultants believe that they positively influence visibility. In addition, reviews can help build trust among potential clients early in their decision-making process. Keep in mind that legal marketing ethics rules relating to reviews vary from state to state. Be aware of the relevant bar rules within your state and, of course, avoid activities that violate them.

3. Delivering an optimal mobile website experience

A substantial number of users in the local-mobile flow will navigate past the mobile search results and your Google business listing and end up on a mobile version of your website — whether it’s optimized for mobile or not. What they immediately encounter will determine if they will contact your firm or flee to a mobile-friendly competitor.

A properly mobile-optimized site will guide them through a smooth user experience that effectively meets their needs within the context of the device in use. When you deliver your standard desktop site to a mobile user, it can result in an inconsistent or frustrating user experience and longer page-load times. Additionally, Google’s mobile algorithm (which determines what websites to list in search results) places more value on sites that have been optimized for mobile. Building an optimized mobile site begins with clearly understanding how mobile users utilize the Internet. You then can create an experience that encourages users to take the action you desire.

Understand how mobile users behave
Mobile users are, above all, task oriented. The majority are not in “research mode” — they are in “get-it-done” mode. Given this, law firms must think carefully about what action they want users to take, focus the entire design around making it happen and eliminate or subordinate all features, functions, and content that inhibit the desired task.

Identify and prioritize desired actions
The primary action most firms want to motivate from their mobile sites is contacting the firm.
And with good reason. In a survey conducted on behalf of Google, 61 percent of respondents said the ability to easily call the business is most important in the purchase phase of the mobile shopping process.⁵ Firms must provide users with an easy way to call the firm or to submit an electronic contact, along with accessible driving directions and a succinct overview of the law firm.

Keeping things simple, task-oriented, and focused on the desired user action is the best way to help visitors navigate your mobile site and encourage them to contact your firm.

Case study: A mobile success story

A prominent U.S. law firm was unhappy with its mobile website performance results. While the firm was receiving a sufficient number of mobile visitors, the number of contacts received was less than optimal. Users were visiting the site via their mobile devices, spending only a short time there and quickly returning to the search results (i.e., “bouncing”) without taking any action to contact the firm. Working with its FindLaw marketing strategist, the firm implemented several changes based on the focus areas discussed previously.

After the changes were implemented, the law firm saw improvement across all of its metrics.

While unique visitors to the mobile site increased moderately, page views and time on site increased significantly. This indicates engaged users doing a more thorough evaluation of the firm. The bounce rate dropped, suggesting more users stayed on the site and reviewed it more thoroughly. Most important, the percentage of mobile phone calls from the site significantly increased, which shows that the site redesign succeeded in generating an increased number of leads from these visitors.

While many firms believe they have a sufficient mobile version of their website, few have implemented a truly mobile-optimized strategy. As a result, they are largely missing out on the great and growing potential that mobile offers.

Case study: A mobile success story

The before / after percentage increase

Unique visits Page views Time on site Bounce rate Mobile calls
+8.37 +16.38 +34.82 -7.8 +30.4
478 / 518 824 / 959 0:49 / 1:07 81.39% / 75.04% 31.5% / 41.1%


The evidence is clear that consumers are becoming increasingly mobile-oriented and drifting away from desktop usage. Ownership of mobile devices among the general population continues to grow, as does the number of searches with local intent.

This trend is fully present within the legal industry and particularly among consumers of legal services who are searching for an attorney. However, many firms have not capitalized on the opportunity and continue to see business slip through their fingers. Therefore, it is imperative that your firm takes action to market itself effectively through local search and mobile optimization. To guide you, we will conclude with a few summary suggestions:

1. Local search optimization is crucial for your firm

The foundation of a strong local presence in search engines is visibility within your offline community. That, in turn, must be incorporated into the content of your business listings and website. Build an expansive footprint for your firm through consistent citations across the Internet and maintain robust, up-to-date business listings with thoughtful and consistent use of business categories and comprehensive firm information.

2. Put as much thought and care into your business listing as you put into your website

Along the local-mobile user flow, potential clients will often visit your business listings on Google, Bing, and other sites before or in lieu of your website. Therefore, that business listing may be the sole element they evaluate before making a decision to hire you. Your business listing must present a comprehensive and compelling picture of your firm if you want to maximize the potential of mobile search activity. Include accurate firm name, address, phone number, and category details, as well as imagery that conveys the personality of your firm.

3. Mobile-optimized websites are critical

Your mobile website should be optimized for mobile display. Keep the user front-and-center when designing your mobile website. Clean, simple, and consistent design focused on key user actions can improve your website traffic, guide visitors to contact your firm and, in turn, signal to search engines that your website is a valuable, trusted resource for legal clients in your area.


  1. http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats/a#subscribers
  2. http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/mobile/device-ownership/
  3. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2068520/idc-pcs-decline-is-far-worse-than-expected.html
  4. http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2338839/73-Lose-Trust-in-Brands-Due-to-Inaccurate-Local-Business-Listings-Survey
  5. http://searchengineland.com/study-172578#!

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