Online reviews now permeate the web, as they are featured prominently on the websites of leading online e-tailers (such as Amazon), brick-and-mortar companies (such as Best Buy and Target), search engines (such as Google), and review companies (such as Yelp). Online reviews are both highly used and highly influential in the purchasing decision for both products and services by consumers of nearly all ages.
One 2018 study found that 86 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and that 84 percent of people between 18 and 34 trust online reviews as much as a friend (tinyurl.com/y8q9po23). Further, while those who are younger tend to be more prolific online reviewers, 41 percent of consumers over age 55 have also written online reviews (tinyurl.com/y83268br).
With the tremendous popularity and use of online reviews, how can attorneys cultivate positive reviews from clients willing to provide reviews to gain new business?
Attorney Review Considerations
Compared to many other businesses, attorneys and law firms likely have been slower to take advantage of online review opportunities, perhaps out of concern for receiving negative reviews, not knowing how to take advantage of potential positive reviews from satisfied clients, or a belief that seeking reviews is not ethical or appropriate for lawyers (particularly for lawyers practicing in certain areas). For those who wish to seek reviews, these next sections discuss the processes that can be utilized.
What If Someone Writes a Bad Review about You?
Many lawyers avoid seeking online reviews out of a concern that someone may write a negative review. But here’s the reality: You cannot avoid bad reviews online simply by “opting-out” of the review process.
If someone wants to give you a bad review online, they can easily do so (and on multiple platforms, including Google, Yelp, and Avvo). These online review platforms will almost never remove a review solely because it is negative. The only way to combat a negative review is through seeking positive reviews.
While negative reviews undoubtedly hurt, one study focused on attorney hiring found that 92 percent of respondents would still consider hiring an attorney despite a few negative online reviews if the attorney received mostly positive reviews (tinyurl.com/y83268br).
If lawyers do not actively monitor key review sites, they may not realize that a negative review has been added until many months after the posting. At that time, lawyers often wish to minimize the future impact of the negative review by seeking positive reviews. Instead of operating reactively, lawyers should consider adopting a proactive approach by actively cultivating positive reviews.
Where Do People See Attorney Reviews?
While there are a number of online websites that provide lawyer reviews, likely people see lawyer reviews more on the Google search results pages than on any other website. Research in 2017 by ilawyermarketing found that more than 60 percent of respondents considered Google Reviews to be the most important factor when hiring a lawyer, followed by 18 percent for Facebook, 16 percent for Yelp, and 5 percent for Avvo (tinyurl.com/y83268br).
Google now shows attorney ratings and reviews in two places in response to a user’s search for a lawyer: in the Google My Business (GMB) listings (which are included in the “maps” box often displayed high on the first page of the search results), and in the “organic” (or non-paid) listings shown below the “maps” box. (The “organic” search results on Google may be thought of as all the search results listings other than paid listings and the GMB listings.) In both these places, the ratings are indicated by orange stars that, when clicked, redirect users to the reviews.
So, for instance, if a search is done for “New York personal injury lawyer,” there will likely be three firms with “orange star” GMB listings in the “maps” box, and, below the maps box, organic listings for law firms that have orange stars in the listing itself, which might look like Figure 1 below.
It is important to note that the review orange stars for listings in the GMB “maps” box come solely from reviews that have been submitted to a law firm’s GMB listing. Anyone can add a review and rating to a firm’s GMB listing, which means that negative reviews and ratings are possible.
The review orange stars shown in the Google organic listings (the listings shown below the “maps” box) come from reviews and schema on a law firm’s website for a particular web page (and not from the GMB reviews). Because law firms control the reviews added to their website, presumably only five-star reviews will be displayed.
The benefit for a firm of having the five orange stars in a Google organic listing is that such listings tend to stand out significantly from the other listings. (Please note: Google does not show review stars for listings linking to a firm’s home page; instead, Google only shows the review stars for listings to “inner” website pages, such as to a firm’s attorney profile or practice pages.)
Creating your firm’s Google My Business review link for client reviews. In all likelihood, your firm probably already has a Google My Business listing, even if you did not create it. Google often automatically creates GMB listings for businesses, including law firms; if your firm listing has not been created or claimed, please go to this link to find out how to do so: bit.ly/GMBSet-Up. A review link for your firm’s GMB listing can be easily created by following the instructions at bit.ly/GMBlinkCreation. Once created, the GMB review link can be sent to satisfied clients. (In order to add a GMB review, the reviewer will need to have a Google account, such as a Gmail account, and be logged into their account to write the review.)
Adding schema for reviews on your firm’s website. In order for review stars to appear in the Google organic listings, reviews on a firm’s website must be associated with schema. Schema is a markup code that owners can add to their website to help Google understand more about the content of web pages. For law firms, schema can include information about a firm’s practice areas, the firm’s contact information, and client reviews for the firm’s services.
If your firm’s website is on WordPress, a schema plugin can be easily added to make this association (see wpschema.com, tinyurl.com/yd8923eg, or tinyurl.com/yc4pqe97). If your firm’s website is not on WordPress, there may be another way to add schema, or it may be possible to add the schema scripts directly in the code. Once these changes have been made to the content management system (the “CMS” or back-end admin section of a website), reviews and star ratings can be manually added to the schema plugin for a page, and the plugin then adds this information into the website code in the proper format. Then, if the link to such page appears in the Google organic search results, Google will display the orange star rating for the review(s) on that page. (Note that, while this is the current procedure used by Google, there can be no guarantee that the process will continue.)
Alternatively, a firm can use a review platform (discussed below) for both obtaining online reviews and adding reviews to its website.
Online Review Platforms for Seeking and Managing Reviews
A number of companies offer review platforms to help businesses, including law firms, seek and manage online reviews (for instance, see reviewshake.com, shoutaboutus.com, birdeye.com, reviewtrackers.com, or the list of review platform companies at tinyurl.com/ycrtfe6q.). The review platform setup and key features usually include:
1. Connecting the platform with a firm’s social media review accounts, such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, Lawyers.com, and Avvo (which accounts must first be created if they do not already exist). Once connected to such accounts, the platform will then aggregate all reviews from the connected review websites into the platform admin panel, where they can all be easily seen in one place.
2. Providing statistics such as the percentage of favorable reviews and when the reviews were added, and the ability for firms to publicly thank a reviewer through the review platform (such messages then appear on the applicable review site, such as Google).
3. Customizing an e-mail that can be sent to clients through the platform to ask for a review. Typically, the e-mail will ask only one question, such as “Did you have a positive experience with our firm?”
a. Clients who click the “yes” button are then directed to a page where they are asked if they would like to write an online review for the firm. This page will have buttons for online review sites such as Google, Facebook, Avvo, and/or Yelp; the law firm decides which buttons to include. (It’s better to ask clients to focus on the key websites, such as Google, and understand that clients will likely only want to add reviews on one or possibly two sites at the most.) If clients click one of these buttons, they are then redirected to the review page for the firm on such site, where a review and rating can be added.
b. Clients who click the “no” button are then asked if they could provide a comment as to why they did not have a good experience. This comment is then sent back to the firm and not included on any site (the client is usually not provided links to the firm’s online review pages).
c. Firms can customize these e-mails, the website review links, and choose to whom they wish to send the e-mails.
4. The client responses and reviews are then saved in the admin panel for the review platform.
The review platform will then typically allow users to integrate positive reviews into their website pages through the built-in widget that is part of the review platform. Most platforms, however, will still require users to manually copy the review to the schema for their website.
Two additional tips:
- Most review platform companies will provide a free demonstration, and many will provide a free trial. Consider getting demonstrations from three companies to understand the differences and features, and (importantly) how you like the interface and how easy it is to manage.
- Make sure that you understand how the client reviews are added to a firm’s website pages in the CMS.
The DYI Option: Get Similar Benefits at No Cost
While review platforms can be helpful, the monthly cost may be prohibitively expensive for many solos and small firms that may only be seeking a few new reviews per month (review platform pricing often starts at around $40 or more per month). As an alternative, firms can implement a DIY approach, as follows:
Google My Business and other online reviews. As noted above, firms can first create GMB, Yelp, Avvo, and other listings. Next, once such listings have been created, a firm can create links to such listings so that reviews on such sites can be easily provided by clients. Then, these review links can be sent to satisfied clients by e-mail.
Adding review schema to a firm’s WordPress website. As noted above, if a review platform will not be used, then review schema will need to be added to a firm’s website, and a firm will need to manually upload reviews to pages through the schema plugin.
Seeking Reviews Ethically
As an attorney, you will likely have an opinion concerning whether to seek reviews from your clients, and (if reviews are to be sought), how best to do so. The following are suggested thoughts for consideration:
- If your clients love what you’ve done for them, they very well may want to add a great review for you online (just as they may wish to refer you to friends and family). As a result, it shouldn’t automatically be assumed that asking for a review will necessarily be burdensome.
- Under ethics reviews, it is improper for an attorney to offer a discount or any other benefit in consideration for a review or recommendation.
- For matters that have a discrete end (such as the resolution of a personal injury lawsuit), the proper procedure would be to wait until the conclusion of the matter before asking the client for a review. It is never appropriate to have clients feel that they must give a lawyer a positive review in the middle of a case so that the lawyer will continue to provide good services.
- For ongoing representation matters (such as for a business client), wait until such time that you believe the client will be receptive to providing a favorable review (which likely will be well into the client representation).
- If a client is to provide a review, the lawyer can suggest that the review be focused on the client’s experience with the lawyer and the lawyer’s staff, rather than the outcome. The lawyer should additionally remind the client about the types of information that cannot be publicly disclosed (such as the amount of a personal injury settlement or other confidential matters).
- As a lawyer, you likely will know which clients want to give you a review and which clients may be reluctant to do so. Clearly, you will not want to ask those who may be reluctant to give you a review.