Online reviews are proving to be highly effective tools for that “word of mouth” buzz that has long been the source of new business for law firms. Managed carefully, your online reviews portal can be the workhorse of your marketing strategy.
Asking clients for a favor is tricky for any business, but law firms have particular concerns about protecting the client-lawyer relationship that need to be taken into account before forging ahead. While the benefits of positive online reviews can’t be ignored, rules of conduct still apply. Go ahead and ask, but first ensure that your firm is operating honorably and with the best interests of your clients in mind.
Making the Case for Online Reviews
A Local Consumer Review Survey, conducted by Bright Local in 2017 to track consumer response to online reviews, offers convincing evidence about the influence of online reviews on clients in search of services:
- A majority of consumers — 97 percent — look for local businesses online.
- 85 percent of those consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
- Positive reviews cause 73 percent of consumers to trust the business.
- Nearly half of the consumers surveyed require the business to have a four-star rating before they make their choice to move forward.
- Once they read positive reviews, people don’t tend to visit the website immediately, but they are more likely to get in touch with the business.
What about consumer response to a request to submit a review? Bright Local looked at that, too.
- 68 percent of consumers leave feedback when they’re asked, out of 74 percent that receive requests to post reviews.
Reviews and SEO
Online reviews have become increasingly important to the order of a business on the search results page. Review signals — the quantity, frequency and diversity of reviews — make up about 10 percent of the ranking factors search engines use.
Reviews also matter for making it to the “local pack” — highlighted Map-based results that feature a set of three businesses considered the most highly ranked, based on the formula of search engines. According to the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors report by SEO company Moz, review signals are one of the top five factors considered for being included in the local pack.
Choosing the Moment
Now that you know why you need those online reviews, how do you go about asking for them?
Choosing the right moment for the request is critical, and you’ll also want to target those clients who are most likely to leave a positive review.
When a potential client is considering your firm, you can include online reviews as part of your informational material and indicate that you ask for feedback from everyone. Once you’re working on behalf of a client, though, wait until the case is settled before making the request.
Ask when you know the client is happy with your work, and keep it friendly and appreciative, acknowledging what a help positive reviews are for your firm. When the case has been emotionally charged and sensitive for the client, don’t ask them for a review.
Options for Submitting Reviews
Given the nature of the issues clients deal with, they may want to submit anonymously to avoid sharing sensitive information about their history in a public forum. Allowing the client to remain anonymous can help relieve any pressure the request could generate.
An option for distancing the request from the relationship is to build in a feedback page for your website and link to it when you close out a case. This will provide private feedback for your business operations, but when the feedback is especially positive, you can then link to a request for an online review.
Rules of Professional Conduct
Review the rules of professional conduct of the bar association for your jurisdiction with regard to requesting online reviews, which are considered a form of advertisement.
While the practice is allowed, the lawyer needs to limit it to a simple request. Offering something in exchange — for example, payment, discounted services, credits, or other “value” — may or may not be allowed, but where it is permitted, it’s usually required to be disclosed as a paid endorsement. FTC similarly regulates paid endorsements and the review sites may also have policies that need to be adhered to.
Confidentiality is fundamental for the lawyer-client relationship and that needs to remain a priority. It’s essential that a client not feel pressured or that the trust is compromised by asking them for public feedback. Confidentiality remains an issue when the review is posted, whether it’s due to an ill-considered reply, or unwittingly breached by the client in the content.
The quality of the review is more important than the quantity — dealing with the consequences of problematic reviews will reverberate for some time.
Smoothing the Process
Make it easy for the client to submit a review. When you request by email, include the link to the review site so they can click through to leave feedback. Limit your request for feedback to two sites at a time.
Follow up two or three times on the request, but leave a week or two between each contact.
According to the Bright Local survey, the top three sites that consumers rely on for reviews are Google, Facebook and Yelp (reviews can’t be requested for Yelp). For local businesses, consumers also look at Better Business Bureau.
The law profession has niche sites that people visit for recommendations and information about local law firms. The Avvo law directory, for example, is considered the “Yelp for lawyers” and comes up when clients google the phrase “lawyers near me”. Avvo isn’t the only directory — Lawyers.com and Martindale are also high-profile sites that host reviews of law professionals for potential clients.
Feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of managing all those reviews? A business that specializes in law firm SEO or local SEO can help with the reputation management that is part and parcel of a successful online review strategy.