The Lawyer’s Guide to Online Reviews

By December 19, 2016Reputation

The power of an online review will have a deep impact on the reputation of your practice. And a good online reputation is a valuable asset in today’s market. But it needs to be managed wisely. Potential clients will make up their minds about you based on a number of factors, not the least of which are reviews left by previous clients. And when 70% of consumers will leave a review when asked, this is an area that you want to have a firm understanding of.

It might feel strange for a law practice to focus on online reviews, but there is no reason to shy away from them. View it as a way to engage with clients on a different level and get relevant feedback about their experience.

Reviews Can Help… or Hurt

The Local SEO team at Brightlocal survey consumers each year to understand what they think about the companies they do business with. Brightlocal’s goal is to help small businesses and agencies understand how online reviews influence purchasing decisions. Now in its sixth year, the survey has shown a shift in how consumers search for companies and how impactful online reviews are.

Thanks to pages like Bing Places for Business and Google My Business, a law firm can create a location specific page designed to attract potential local clients. The pages highlight client reviews and third party reviews – often showing them directly on the search page. This means that potential clients are seeing reviews almost every time they do a search for a local company.

Key Takeaways

Brightlocal defined several key takeaways from their research into the impact of online business reviews.

Frequency

  • If a review is older than three months, 73% of consumers feel that it is irrelevant
  • 74% of consumers feel that they can trust a business more if it has positive reviews

These numbers depend a great deal on the type of business and the frequency that consumers use them. A law practice will quite naturally have less reviews than a restaurant or a car mechanic. Visits to these businesses are not only more frequent, but people are more likely to need a mechanic than an attorney.

But another key takeaway is that, regardless of frequency, when a consumer needs a service, like a divorce attorney, they actively look at reviews in order to help them understand who to trust. Which means that no law firm can afford to ignore client reviews.

Judgements Are Made Quickly

  • For 90% of consumers, it takes less than ten reviews before they form an opinion about the business.
  • 32% read only one to three reviews

To stay relevant, a firm needs a solid reputation strategy that allows them to monitor what consumers write. Their strategy also needs to include a plan to proactively get positive reviews from satisfied clients. When potential clients are reading only a few reviews, they often will read the first few and then stop. If you’re recent reviews are negative or older than a few months, they’re unlikely to continue reading to reach a positive review.

The Stars Matter Most

  • For 58% of consumers, the star rating is the most important part of a review
  • For 87% of consumes, an overall rating of three to five stars is the minimum requirement to continue reading

The quickest thing to take in and most visible part of a review is the star rating. It requires no effort and it is often the litmus test for the decision to keep exploring. But again, time frame matters. Several five star reviews from three years ago means very little to potential clients.

It’s also important to note that stars aren’t everything. Most of the people surveyed had a healthy understanding that an overall 5-star review is rare. It’s not a requirement to attract new clients.

Trust

  • 84% of those surveyed trust an online review just as much as a personal recommendation
  • After reading a positive review, 54% of people will visit that businesses website
  • 16% don’t trust online reviews at all

In order to be helpful to your practice, an online review has to be authentic. If a review is genuine, most people feel it’s as good as a personal recommendation from a colleague or friend. Though people rely on online reviews more than ever, there is still some wariness surrounding them. Fake reviews are concern for consumers, and those that are overzealous or missing key information may be scrutinized by readers.

Reviews Lead to Visits

  • 54% of consumers will visit a website directly after reading positive reviews
  • 19% will physically go to the business after reading positive reviews
  • 70% of consumers will leave a business review if they are asked

The most common response to positive reviews is to visit your website directly. Some will continue to search for additional reviews in order to get closer to a decision and then will visit your site. The best way to ensure that your previous clients are leaving reviews to attract your potential clients, is to ask them to leave a review. It’s really that simple. If your marketing strategy doesn’t include an easy method to request reviews, you are missing out on future clients.

Consumers See Online Reviews Almost Every Time They Search

When it comes to law firms, if a person is looking for an attorney, they need one. You want to give them every possible reason to select you. Legal matters are often incredibly personal and private matters. Searching for an attorney online, is a secure and confidential way to research and evaluate potential firms.

An online search is often the first step a client will take in securing an attorney (83% according to one survey). They are looking to see your years of experience and the quality of service you provide. What’s more, potential clients will continue to monitor your reviews after they have had contact with your firm and/or scheduled a consultation.

This makes it vitally important that you are monitoring reviews and responding to negative reviews in a professional manner.

What Websites Should You Be Listed On?

For attorneys, there are four popular, trusted, and authoritative sites that we recommend:

  1. Yelp
  2. Google
  3. Facebook
  4. Avvo

According to some surveys, Yelp is the most trusted site for legal reviews. Voted most trustworthy for all industries, 58% turn to Yelp for legal reviews. Your profile needs to be complete and up-to-date. Practice areas need to be detailed so that people can determine if your practice is a good fit for their needs.

There’s a lot of other review websites out there, but most of them don’t matter as much as you might think. They may be popular among your peers, but they aren’t the websites your clients are using – and that is what matters most. Martindale-Hubbell, Super Lawyers, and Best Lawyers ratings mean nothing to your average client. Yes, they are a mark of achievement among attorneys, but focusing your efforts here will gain you few new clients.

If you focus on your clients’ needs instead of your own accolades, you’re much more likely to find clients choose you over other attorneys in your practice area and geographic location. Go where your clients go and tell them about the things they care most about. Your AV rating is not one of them.

How to Get Reviews

Ask. Honestly, ever heard the expression, “It never hurts to ask?” It really doesn’t. According to Brightlocal, 70% of consumers will leave a review when asked. And one survey conducted by Yodle revealed that less than 10% of people have been asked. Talk about a missed opportunity.

It can feel awkward to ask for reviews, and might even feel unprofessional. Many attorneys don’t like the idea of entrusting their marketing message to someone else. But these are concerns that simply need to be put aside. For people who have grown up in the digital age, a lack of an online presence is the truly unprofessional practice.

Research

The first step in improving and managing your online reputation is to find out what’s already out there. Do an online search for your practice and see what comes up. You may find several reviews that you didn’t know about. While you’re out there, search for your competitors. What’s being said about them? How are they managing their online presence? What websites are they maintaining profiles on? When you search for keywords for your practice area, what comes up? Once you know this, it’s an easy choice to set up pages on those same websites.

Ask When They’re Happy

Many attorneys we’ve worked with make it a point to go above and beyond for their clients. When you know you’ve done this, and when you know you’ve had a positive impact on a client, ask them to share their experience online. Ask confidently and enthusiastically. When people feel that someone has helped them, it’s a very natural inclination to want to help them back. Frame your question as an easy and simple way that your clients can help you.

Timing Is Everything

The ultimate goal of asking for online reviews is that your clients will leave honest and comprehensive reviews about your service. If you ask for a review when you’ve just started working with them, they don’t have enough information to leave an impactful review, and you risk others reading it as insincere or ‘bought.’ Similarly, if you ask too late (a month or more after the case is resolved), clients will lack the motivation and the memory to share details.

Provide a Link to Make It Easy

Part of your online marketing strategy should include an email template that asks for the review and provides a link that will take them directly to the page you’re asking them to review you on. For Example:

“We want to thank you for allowing us to handle your case. Our aim was to provide the best service possible and we hope you’re satisfied. Would you consider leaving an online review of us? Not only does this provide us with helpful feedback, it also helps others learn about us and the practice areas we specialize in.

Please take a minute of your time to leave a comment on one of the sites below. We deeply appreciate it.

<Link to website where they can leave a review>

Regards,

Signature”

Be intentional about the links you send. Don’t ask for reviews on multiple sites (some will do it without you asking) and focus on building your presence one site at a time.

What Not to Do

Number one on the list of what not to do is buying fake reviews or offering incentives for positive reviews. In addition to being unethical, it’s also illegal. Most websites (including all of the most trusted) terms of service do not allow for such practices. Even the Federal Trade Commission weighs in and requires all reviews to disclose an endorsements or kickbacks they receive.

Yelp will publicly call you out if they catch you, by covering up the fraudulent review with this warning:

You can even be sued, as 19 companies recently were. The New York attorney general’s office brought suit against these companies for paying for fraudulent reviews. What you really need to understand is that you want to encourage all kinds of reviews. Real reviews that are both positive and negative will have the most lasting impact on your firm.

Handling Negative Reviews

The first step is to read each review. When you find anonymous reviews or fake ones, you can flag them for removal. Whether negative or positive, you want them all to be legitimate.

Once you’ve verified the real ones, left by real clients that you know, make note of those that are negative. Reach out to them offline, either by phone or email. Your purpose here is multi-layered. First, you want to make an effort to correct any wrongs that have occurred. Showing clients that you’re willing to resolve problems – even after the fact – goes a long way to increasing word of mouth recommendations.

Second, you want to learn more about what went wrong. This should be a genuine concern of yours. Someone didn’t like something. If you want to improve, it’s important to learn more. Some things are out of your control. Unfortunately, clients will leave you a bad review if their outcome feels in any way unfair to them. Even though you did everything you could.

Finally, if you are able to resolve the situation in a more satisfactory manner, request that your client update their review. Don’t ask them to give you an improved rating, instead ask them to include information about your phone call and the work you did to rectify the problem.

Direct Responses

If you can’t reach a former client offline, the next step is a direct response to their review. All of the popular review sites allow owners to leave public and private responses. Your goals here are the same as the offline outreach, with one addition.

A public response, if done well, can have a positive impact on your practice. Most people reading reviews will give you credit for apologizing for problems and making an attempt to correct things. You absolutely need to be polite and professional – which includes owning up to what went wrong. It’s also a good idea to address potential clients directly and let them know what you’re doing to ensure nothing similar happens again.

You want your response to highlight your concern over your clients. Don’t attempt to refute or minimize the problem and don’t pander to any unprofessionalism on the reviewer’s part. Also be sure not to disclose any confidential information, even if the client has already done so. A few attorneys have landed in hot water for doing this. After you draft a response, reread it with the eyes of a potential client. Will they be more or less likely to pick up the phone and schedule a consultation after reading your response? If it passes that test, it’s probably fine to post.

How to Respond

Each response should begin with a thank you to the reviewer for giving their time and providing feedback. Remind them that you value all feedback as opportunities to make improvements. If appropriate, apologize or take responsibility for what went wrong. It’s important to directly address the reviewer’s concerns. If you can make an offer to rectify the situation, do it. If not, stress what you have learned from the experience.

Increase Positive Reviews

The best antidote for a negative review is a positive one. Continuously ask for reviews from clients, trusting that the hard work you do will pay off and show through these reviews. When you do get a new review, consider featuring it on your home page or social media accounts. Show your clients that you value their time by getting the most mileage out of a good review.

Include Testimonials on Your Website

Another great option is to create a testimonials page and work to get it highly ranked. Feel free to take the previously posted positive reviews from Yelp, Google, Avvo, and others and compile them in one place. By optimizing this page for your firm name + “reviews” you can get this page ranking highly in search engines and provide curated resource for clients who are looking to evaluate you.

Then internally link to your testimonials page from your home page, site map, and other high traffic pages. You can also place links to this page on your social media accounts, press release sites, and other online profiles. Regularly update the pages with newer reviews – it’s the perfect way to combat any negative reviews you receive.

Monitor Your Online Reputation

The best way to manage your online reputation is to be aware of it. Don’t treat it like a superfluous part of your marketing strategy. Give it the time is deserves. Read every new review that comes in. There are great online review monitoring services out there. A website like ReviewTrackers has a special section for attorney’s. It can track all legal directories and websites that offer reviews. Google Alerts lets you input a specific search query, like your firm name, and gives you updates when they find a new mention of the specified query.

Summation

Online reviews aren’t something you can afford to ignore. This needs to be an important part of your marketing strategy. There’s no need to shy away from managing your online reputation. Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews after a job well done and don’t be afraid of negative reviews. Keep in mind that the aim is not to manipulate but to showcase and enjoy this new way of engaging with clients.