What will prospective clients see when they Google you or your law firm?
In 2021, referrals and word-of-mouth are losing ground when it comes to finding a lawyer. When it comes to looking for legal help, people are more likely to choose a lawyer or law firm based on what they find online than based on a referral from someone they know. According to a recent study, 97% of people report looking online when trying to find out more about a local business.
The importance of your online reputation speaks for itself. If you or your firm has negative results, this could harm your business – 90% of consumers report not frequenting a business with a bad reputation.
While you can’t control what people say about you or your firm, there are steps you can take to manage your reputation online. Learn what reputation management looks like, why it’s important, and how you can improve your and your firm’s reputation online.
What is online reputation management?
Online reputation management is a combination of strategies implemented with the goal of creating a strong online presence to 1) establish yourself and your firm online and 2) create a foundation to combat negative news or results about you or your firm.
As we said earlier – you can’t control what people say about you, but when you establish yourself online, you’ll have more of a say.
Why is online reputation management important?
While a bad reputation may be subjective, the impact of negative results on your business is a bit more tangible. Businesses with one negative article online risk losing up to 22% – nearly a quarter – of prospective customers. And it gets worse – businesses with four or more negative articles can lose up to 70% of prospective customers.
Negative reviews can also have a significant impact. 92% of consumers report that they are less likely to frequent a business after reading negative reviews.
Additionally, if your firm is difficult to find online, if the information online is outdated, or even if your site runs a bit slowly, clients are more likely to pass up your firm in favor of someone else’s.
But it isn’t all bad. A proactive online reputation management strategy can provide opportunities to connect with more clients and increase the success of your firm. As more people look online to learn about lawyers and law firms, having an online reputation management strategy can help you make a good first impression with prospective clients, gain visibility in search results (helping you reach a wider audience), and improve your relationship with existing clients.
How to Manage Your Online Reputation
There are several factors to consider when it comes to managing your and/or your firm’s online reputation. Here’s where you can start.
- Check Your Results
Before you can develop your strategy for managing your online reputation, you need to get a sense of what you’re working with. Search for yourself and your law firm and consider the results. Does your business show up? Are you findable? Are the results neutral, negative, positive, or a combination?
Consider Different Queries
Don’t stop at your name and your firm’s name when getting a sense of your online reputation. Check other search terms that will bring clients to you – or that you would like to rank for. Even if you or your firm doesn’t rank for a certain search term or query, seeing what does rank can give you some insight into what you can do to improve your own ranking for that particular keyword.
Knowing what your clients or prospective clients will see when they search for you is the first step in developing an effective online reputation management strategy, as it can help you define your goals. Do you need to refine your SEO strategy to make sure you’re more visible in results? Do you need to solicit more reviews, or respond to negative reviews? Is any of the information outdated? Once you know where you’re starting, it’s easier to establish where you want to go.
- Secure Relevant Online Assets
Once you’ve conducted an audit of your current online standing, you will need to secure any online assets relevant to you or your firm. A strong online presence is the foundation of an effective reputation management strategy, and this starts with having the assets that clients will expect you to have online.
If you don’t already, you should secure a website for yourself and your firm. Customers expect to find a website for you or your firm, and if you do not have one, it’s unlikely that they will find you in search results in the first place. Make sure your URL is identifiable (your name or your firm name, or something close to it if that is not possible), and that you provide any relevant and important information clearly.
Additionally, secure profiles on popular social media platforms (Facebook, Linkedin, etc.). With more and more people joining social media every day, many look to social media to learn more about a business. Even if you do not want to use social media in your online reputation strategy, or it is lower on your to-do list, securing your desired usernames now can help you ensure that you will have the profiles if and when you want to use them.
- Create and Claim Relevant Profiles
In addition to general social media and review platforms, there are several profiles and review sites specific to lawyers and law firms. Creating and maintaining profiles on these sites can provide you with more opportunities to make a good impression on prospective clients, as many of them will look to these sites as reputable resources to learn more about you and your firm.
Additionally, some of these sites will automatically generate profiles for lawyers or firms, giving you the option to claim them. Claiming these profiles will help you ensure that all information is accurate and well-represented, giving the best impression to prospective clients.
Some of these law-specific review websites and profiles include:
- Keep Your Personal Life Private
Although an established online presence is the best way to maintain your online reputation, you also want to keep it professional. Personal social media accounts, even if they don’t have scandalous or controversial content, may pull away from the brand you’re trying to build online.
Keep any personal online accounts restricted and private so that only approved people may view them, and never post personal photos, videos, or opinions unrelated to your industry on your professional accounts. Ideally, your clients should not even be able to find your personal social media accounts.
- Claim Your Google My Business Listing
Claiming your firm’s Google My Business listing is vital for providing clients and prospective clients with accurate information about your firm, as well as making use of local SEO (which we’ll get to in a bit). The average business’s Google My Business listing is viewed over 1,200 times each month – for many prospective clients searching for information on your business, your Google My Business listing will be one of the first places they look for office information, reviews, and more.
Claim Your Knowledge Graph, Too
A knowledge graph – also known as a knowledge panel – may populate for you or your firm. If it does, you can claim it through Google. The knowledge graph also has an important tie to your Google My Business listing – if a knowledge graph populates for your firm, it will pull a lot of its information from your listing.
To set up a Google My Business listing, the first step is to see if Google has already generated one for your firm. To do this, search for your firm:
- If you do see a listing, you can click “Own this business?” to go through the steps to claim the listing.
- If not, you can create a listing for your business. To learn how to create a Google My Business listing, check out our step-by-step instructions.
- Present Important Information Clearly and Accurately
Make sure that your website, socials, Google My Business listing, and any other profiles you have on directories or owned assets – properties that you own or profiles that you control – are up-to-date, easy to navigate, and address any of the basics or questions a prospective client may have.
If a client has to take a long time to find information, or the information they find isn’t accurate, they are more likely to pass you up for another option. List addresses, office hours, locations you serve, areas of expertise, and anything else that may be relevant to someone who would need your services.
- Use Local Results to Your Advantage
Searches containing phrases such as “near me” or “close by” are growing exponentially – currently, 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information. Leveraging local search can help local clients find you, and help you connect with relevant communities.
The first step in optimizing for local search is to claim your Google My Business listing, as your firm will not appear in local pack search results without it. Include your office address or addresses in directories and on your website, and be sure to include your location and any locations you serve on your website, profiles, and any other directories. If your firm has multiple offices or locations, be sure to include this information on your Google My Business listing.
To learn more about getting the most out of local search, read our guide here.
- Regularly Monitor Your Reviews
Online reviews are more important than ever for any business. In 2020, 87% of customers reported reading online reviews for local businesses. This was a 6% increase from 2019, and a 20% increase from 2010.
This is also true for lawyers and law firms. A FindLaw survey found that two-thirds of consumers would be more likely to hire a lawyer with online reviews, with nearly 60% of people saying that they have used online reviews when choosing a professional service provider, such as a lawyer.
What’s more, online reviews have a significant impact on peoples’ perception of you and your firm. In a 2020 study conducted by BrightLocal, nearly 80% of users reported trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family.
Staying up-to-date on reviews does not only help you monitor your online presence, but can help you get a sense of your clients’ experiences working with you, helping you make necessary adjustments to ensure the best experience possible for your clients.
No Need to be Perfect
Before you get too nervous about negative reviews, know that it happens to everyone. What’s more, you don’t eveen want a perfect rating – while only 48% of consumers would consider frequenting a business with fewer than four stars, a study conducted by the Spiegel Research Center showed that purchasing likelihood peaks at ratings between 4.0 – 4.7 stars, and actually decreases as ratings approach 5.0.
- Get More Reviews by Requesting Feedback
The more reviews your firm has online, the more likely clients are to trust your rating and want to do business with you. For the third year running, BrightLocal’s Review Survey found that consumers want a business to have 40 online reviews before they believe its average star rating, and that the average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business. Firms with lower review counts can run the risk of appearing unestablished or untrustworthy to potential clients researching them online.
The best way to increase the number of reviews for your firm is to ask for them. 72% of customers surveyed by BrightLocal reported leaving a review for a business when asked.
When asking for reviews, be polite and direct, and never give incentives for writing a review, as most review platforms discourage or disallow incentives being offered for reviews.
- Feature Reviews on Your Website
With the importance of reviews to prospective clients rising, making sure your reviews are easy for consumers to find can help build credibility and trustworthiness, as well as bring in more business. Include a prominent page on your website for client reviews, testimonials, and feedback, and update it often. You can feature reviews from various review platforms, or feedback you received via phone, email, or in person (with the client’s permission, of course).
Not only can featuring reviews have a positive impact on your online reputation, but not doing so can have the opposite effect. Businesses that avoid featuring ratings or customer feedback on their website run the risk of appearing untrustworthy to customers, potentially deterring them from interacting with their business.
- Respond to Reviews
Even negative reviews can help your business. While a poor rating or harsh feedback can have an undesirable impact on your reputation, responding to negative reviews presents an opportunity for you to take accountability, build trustworthiness, and rework the narrative.
That said, not all reviews warrant a response. When determining whether or not to respond to a review, consider:
- Is this criticism legitimate? If the criticism is not legitimate or relevant to your business, you may be better off leaving it be. If you can’t validate or address the poster’s complaint, you run the risk of coming off as defensive or dismissive, which can additionally harm your reputation.
- Can we address the problem? The most effective response to a negative review is one that acknowledges the concern and provides a solution. If you are not able to provide some sort of solution, it is unlikely that the poster’s opinion will be changed. You also want to be specific when addressing the problem – 70% of users report that they would be put off if a business responded to a review with a canned or recycled response.
- Am I keeping it confidential? As a lawyer or law firm, it is likely that you handle sensitive information with your clients. If a thorough response to a complaint would require you to disclose information about your work with a client, do not do this in a review response. Instead, respond and acknowledge the problem, and tell the client how to reach out to you, or reach out to them and let them know that you have.
Additionally, don’t only respond to negative reviews. Google has confirmed that responding to any reviews can actually have a positive impact on your firm’s SEO, and 96% of consumers report reading a business’s responses to other reviews when researching the business themselves.
- Be Timely with Your Responses
When someone leaves a review, they expect a response. In fact, 20% of consumers expect to receive a response within one day of posting a review.
The most recent reviews also tend to be the ones that have the greatest impact on people researching your firm. According to BrightLocal, 80% of consumers cite recency as an important feature of reviews, with 73% of consumers in 2020 stating that they only pay attention to reviews written in the last month. What’s more, half of online users only take reviews as recent as the past two weeks into account. If you leave a recent review hanging, particularly a poor review, it could have a negative impact on other people researching you or your firm.
- Create Content About Your Firm
Content is an integral part of any online reputation management strategy. Content can help you build your or your firm’s online voice, expand the search queries you rank for, and give clients more perspective on who you are and what you can offer. High-quality content can even potentially suppress negative hits on Google by outranking them in search results.
When creating content around your firm, there are several topics to consider. Case studies, pro bono work, new hires, community involvement, recognition and awards, or promotions within your company are all topics worth creating content about.
Utilize Different Kinds of Content
When we say content, we don’t just mean written content. Utilizing other forms of media, such as video, image and infographics, podcasts, etc. – can help you build out your content strategy even further. Plus, utilizing different forms of media can allow you to rework one piece of content and use it across multiple channels.
- Establish Yourself as a Thought Leader
In addition to creating content about your firm, you should create content around your areas of expertise. Establishing yourself as a thought leader can help improve your credibility, educate clients and prospective clients about your expertise and experience, and address common pain points for clients interacting with your area of law.
To determine what content to create, identify three to five topic areas that you can confidently create content for, and brainstorm specific article topics within those areas. Consider questions you’ve received from clients, common areas of confusion or misconceptions, or situations that you can offer a unique and illuminating perspective on.
When writing your content, make sure to avoid fluff and maintain SEO best practices (no keyword stuffing!). The best content is the content that is created with people in mind and gives some sort of value, so make sure to put thought and time into the content you create.
- Hire an Online Reputation Management Firm
If developing your own online reputation management strategy seems too daunting or time-consuming – or if you’re dealing with negative news or a reputation crisis – you may want to hire a professional. An online reputation management company can help identify areas in need of improvement, develop an effective reputation management strategy, and do the work to improve your reputation online so you can focus on your work, your firm, and your clients.
If you’re interested in hiring an online reputation management firm, schedule a free consultation with Status Labs to determine what course of action is right for you.