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“Can we help you?”
It’s the familiar calling card of a fancy law firm website. Spend a little time browsing the leading legal websites in your region, and you’ll find plenty of pop-up invitations to chat with a lawyer (or a law firm representative, as is more likely the case) in real time.
While pop-up chats have become all the rage in law firm website design (and online marketing in other fields too), some users find them intrusive or annoying. That’s particularly true when they operate in a way that seems disruptive to the user experience.
Google — still the reigning king of online search engines — recently announced new penalties for intrusive interstitials, and they apply directly to many law firm mobile websites, maybe even yours.
As a result, scores of leading law firm websites, even those that have been designed by top-shelf law firm website design agencies, now stand in the crosshairs of yet another change to Google’s labyrinthine algorithm.
While one penalty isn’t necessarily definitive in determining a given website’s search rank, this particular development could introduce seismic shifts in the legal space, given how popular these pop-ups are in the field.
So where does your website stand in the face of these new Google penalties for pop-ups? Is it still a good idea to have them? And with these changing rules, how can your firm directly and immediately engage new website visitors without falling into Google’s definition of intrusive interstitials?
Below, we lay out the path for successfully integrating a chat feature within your law firm’s mobile website while still staying in Google’s good graces.
Understanding the New Google Penalties for Pop-Ups
The new rules cover a wide swath of interstitial content, so it’s important to understand exactly what is (and isn’t) covered. Even if your law firm website design doesn’t currently employ intrusive mobile interstitials, your competitors might, and that creates an opportunity of leverage for your firm.
Google has not revealed the specifics of this latest change to its algorithm (true to form, as the company never makes public the finer details of its super-secret algorithms). But the search engine’s Webmaster Central Blog did provide examples of the kinds of content that will now incur a penalty. These include:
- Pop-ups that cover a webpage’s main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results or while they are looking through the page. (This includes the majority of the pop-up chat features on popular law firm websites.)
- Standalone interstitials that users have to dismiss in order to access the main content
- Webpages using any layout in which the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, inlining the original content beneath the fold
Can Your Website Still Rank Well if You Keep Your Current Chat Box?
That’s a good question, and it deserves lawyers’ favorite answer: “it depends.”
Your Google rank is determined by “signals” — some good, some bad — about the usefulness of your website to incoming users, as well as the relevance of its content to their search.
The quality of the writing, the speed with which the page loads, and whether the page is mobile-friendly are just a few of the hundreds of signals taken into account.
This latest Google penalty for pop-ups is but just one signal among many, so it is possible for a website scoring well in other areas to still perform strongly in terms rank. But in a field as competitive as the legal market, every opportunity to increase that rank matters. Why do anything to work against your own success?
A Better Way: Utilizing a Chat Feature without Incurring a Google Penalty
Not all chat boxes are bad in Google’s eyes. In fact, it isn’t the chat itself that bothers the search engine. Rather, it’s the tendency of these boxes to get in the user’s way when they’re just trying to access the information they searched for.
Accordingly, along with the new penalties, Google is also instituting a new standard by which your interstitials will be judged — and it’s not altogether unlike the “reasonable person” standard in the law.
Specifically, Google vows not to penalize “banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible.”
“For example,” the Webmaster Central Blog explains, “the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.”
(Additionally, pop-ups pertaining to website cookies, age verification, or other such legal requirements will not earn a penalty, nor will the new rules apply to private/unindexable web content.)
Because chat boxes remain a very powerful and effective means of capturing leads out of incoming traffic, there is no reason to abandon them in light of these new guidelines. But you might want to change their implementation.
At Network Affiliates, we recommend transitioning from a pop-up chat window to a smaller chat box positioned in the lower corner of your website instead.
This will help you steer clear of the new Google signal, and you’ll also avoid frustrating new visitors who are meeting your firm for the first time.
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Network Affiliates is a team of legal marketing professionals with decades of experience and a real sense of strategy for success in the Google game. Give us a call at 877.709.0633 or contact us online to learn more about how we can help.