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When I ask lawyers where most of their clients come from, the answers I hear range from fridge magnets to radio, but most law firms tell me their business comes from “word of mouth.” That’s not surprising. After all, other people recommending your services tends to be more believable than your own ad saying you’re the greatest thing since the slinky.
And while it’s great when friends talk to friends about your practice, you don’t have any control over it. You can’t dictate when it happens, and you need a lot of clients to get the word out to potential new ones. Overall, it simply doesn’t scale fast enough to be the stand-alone marketing activity for a law firm.
A June 2013 study by BrightLocal found that almost 80 percent of consumers trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations. With those numbers trending up each year, and the understanding that Google alone could be 10 times the size of the entire yellow pages industry, it is clear that online reviews have become the new word-of-mouth marketing. It is more important than ever to have clients spreading good news about you on review sites. If they aren’t, the haters will be.
You can’t stop people from saying things about your practice online, and if you ignore that feedback and the existence of review sites, you leave an open door for naysayers to destroy your reputation. It’s true that people tend to only send feedback and write reviews after a negative experience. To counter this, you need a proactive strategy to make sure reviews of your practice are balanced across the web. Plus, a good stock of positive reviews makes it more likely that prospects will click to your site when your firm shows up in their search results.
The following steps for managing and controlling online reviews will work — if you follow the steps religiously. But keep in mind that a good review strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. Also, before diving in, be sure you understand your state bar’s rules surrounding how a law practice may acquire or display reviews.
Naturally you want to know what reviews are out there, and which directories already include your firm. More important to your strategy, however, is pinpointing which directories are most influential in your geographic area and practice area. To find out, do this:
In “Take Control of Your Firm’s Local Directory Strategy,” I discussed the importance of claiming your profiles. It’s especially important for online reviews, because once you claim all the profiles that allow for reviews and “own” them, some sites (like Google) will allow you to respond to positive and negative feedback.
Side note: I never recommend responding to a negative review the same day you read it. Take a couple of days and remember the following:
You can’t improve something you aren’t tracking. Here are sites that can help automate this process:
It’s always easier to achieve a goal if you incorporate small steps into your daily routine. But there’s another reason why you shouldn’t save your online review activities for one big push: It can set off alarm bells on the Internet. The major review sites all have some type of filtering process to guard against fake reviews or spam. For Google, it’s getting a ton of reviews all at once, or reviews from the same IP address. There are also strict guidelines for soliciting and posting reviews. For example, offering any type of reward is against Google’s policy, and even asking for a review is against Yelp’s policy.
So, the answer is to make reviews a natural part of your process — in a way that doesn’t involve solicitation with money or prizes. Here’s how:
If clients choose anything between “Very Poor” to “Good,” they are then taken to this page, asking for more specific feedback:
This provides a space for great feedback that you should be getting to make your business better anyway, and it keeps it offline so it’s not visible to the world.
On the other hand, if someone chooses the “Great” option, you can send them to a page like the one below, which thanks them for their feedback, asks nicely for a review — and links them directly to the review sites.
(Remember to be careful with the wording of your requests and comply with both the review sites’ guidelines and your state bar rules. Look at how we worded the link to Yelp, for example. We don’t ask for a review, we simply invite them to look at our reviews, since asking for a review is against Yelp’s rules.)
You can build lots of variations of this, of course. Maybe you want to send clients with Google emails to pages where they can only review on Google, or Yahoo emails to Yahoo Local. Or, you could list three to five review sites on a single page and let the cards fall where they may.
If you get just one review per month on Google with this method, in five months you will have enough reviews for stars to show up next to your business listing — and those stars will help attract more clicks on your listing.
If you get more than 10 reviews, you will probably be in the top 5 percent of total reviews in your market. Remember, though, it’s more about quality than quantity. And if you continue to get at least one review per month, then any bad reviews will work their way off the first page of your Google search results because of the constant flow.
This is a process to encourage reviews that will work for the long haul. It will take time, and it will take a change of process, but I can promise that it will create the “word of mouth” marketing that will help you get better rankings, get more clicks and, most importantly, bring in more clients.
Mike Ramsey is President of Nifty Marketing, a local search marketing company in Burley, Idaho. Mike is passionate about helping good people and good businesses grow, and recently launched NiftyLaw as a place to learn how to handle online marketing. He takes part in the local search ranking factors study and speaks on the GetListed.org Local University tour. Outside of search, Mike moonlights as the publisher of The Voice, a weekly newspaper in Southern Idaho. He has a wonderful wife, a rascal of a little boy and a beautiful new baby girl. You can follow him on Twitter @mikeramsey or +Mike Ramsey.
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