Research confirms that prospective clients who are seeking attorneys have two priorities: the attorney’s reputation and experience. Having a great website is essential for every attorney, along with (at least) a Facebook page and a LinkedIn listing, but most prospective clients will want to know what is said about you by independent sources – news articles, other online references, and client reviews. It should come as no surprise that prospective clients give client reviews considerable weight, and it is no surprise that your reviews more likely than not will be the key element in a prospective client’s choice of attorney.
It started with Amazon inviting consumers – readers – to write online reviews of books. Then Amazon allowed customers to post reviews of every product they offer, and today, almost everything is reviewed by someone, somewhere online. In fact, Amazon is essentially responsible for changing the way we decide about and buy products and services – we read the reviews, which are not written by professional critics or reviewers, but by people like you and me.
In response to this still-rather-new marketing environment, review marketing should and probably will become a top marketing priority for attorneys in 2017 and beyond. Some lawyers are only now coming to the realization that already, reviews about them are all over the internet. But the smart lawyers and law firms are welcoming their reviews, and in fact, they’re converting those reviews into savvy marketing tools.
WHY ARE ONLINE CLIENT REVIEWS SO IMPORTANT?
If you are an attorney, whether you “welcome” them or not, this much is clear. Online reviews cannot be ignored any longer. If you have been relying on word-of-mouth referrals and friends of friends for new clients, you probably should rethink that strategy. Today, if someone gives your name to a potential client, that potential client is probably going to find your reviews online before calling you. And if that potential client, while online, sees another local attorney with a higher rating on Avvo or Yelp, it is that other attorney who will probably get the potential client’s business.
According to the website Search Engine Land, 88 percent of consumers today give online reviews the same credibility they give to personal recommendations. Late last year, Pew Internet Research reported that 82 percent of all adults in the United States read online customer ratings or reviews. And in 2014, Software Advice™ found that 83 percent of consumers go to online review sites as the initial step in their search for an attorney.
According to research conducted by the Harvard Business School, a one-star increase on Yelp results in a revenue increase of 5 to 9 percent for the average business in the United States. Yes, it’s hard to believe. People trust Yelp, a site that reviews comic book stores and nail salons, to provide trustworthy information about law firms and attorneys. And more than ten percent of us in the United States have posted an online review of at least one product, service, or professional, according to Pew Internet Research.
HOW CAN CLIENTS YOU’VE HELPED HELP YOU?
Instead of merely letting your satisfied clients tell their friends and family members about you, attorneys need to be making those clients a part of their online marketing. If you are not managing your online reputation but your competitors are managing theirs, your business is almost certain to decline. But if your satisfied clients are speaking online to the world, it is inevitable that you’ll feel a positive impact on your bottom line, and probably sooner rather than later.
If you are not yet taking full marketing advantage of client reviews, it’s time to learn more about what an internet marketing company might call “reputation management” or “review marketing.” A good internet marketing firm can help. First, be certain that you are registered and listed with the online legal directories Avvo and Justia. Then Google your name and check out what is being said about you around the internet and especially on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. If you discover negative or critical reviews, the damage needs to be fixed right now.
If you see five-star reviews on the review sites, add them to your own website and add the link to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ accounts and any other social media accounts you maintain. An experienced internet marketing company has a number of tools available that can help you with reputation management, for example, with automatic notifications when reviews are posted.
It’s important that you do not respond to negative reviews with your own phony reviews or with self-promotional press releases. And if someone attacks you in a way that is genuinely unfair, you have to bite the bullet – because any response at all will raise that page’s search engine ranking. An experienced internet marketing company has a number of tools available that can help you with reputation management. They can do the work for you or show you how.
HOW CAN YOU GENERATE POSITIVE NEW REVIEWS?
While marketing professionals can help you manage your online reputation, the task of generating new, positive reviews falls on you. Some lawyers now use intake forms to identify which online review sites and social media sites new clients visit and belong to. Some attorneys directly help clients establish memberships at review sites; others simply give their new clients a card explaining review sites and how to register.
One easy way to collect reviews is simply to email your previous clients and ask them, “How satisfied were you with our services? Feel free to elaborate and include details.” You’ll want to use the best positive responses in your marketing, but you will also want to answer the negative responses with an email that says something like, “We apologize for your experience with us. How can we improve?”
One genuine key to successful review marketing is getting your positive reviews onto third-party review sites. When a prospective client sees consistently positive reviews across the internet, that positive message is reinforced, and you can expect that prospective client to become an actual client. But you need to start working on that consistent message now, or talk with some internet marketing professionals who can do review marketing on your behalf.