You can blame eBay. Ever since that little auction website allowed its first user to rate a seller, the public has been hooked. Nowadays, people are using the Internet to rate everything from their local restaurants, parks, and even public bathrooms. We are constantly encouraged to leave ratings and comments for products or services online and can even do so anonymously. This isn’t necessarily an issue for attorneys, however the public is increasingly turning to the Internet as their number one source for product and service reviews, and will base their buying or hiring decisions on what they read. Bottom line, even if you’re failing to monitor what others are saying about you online, your potential clients aren’t, and you could be losing business because of unchecked negative reviews.
What Shows Up on an Internet Search
If you were to conduct an Internet search for a term such as “dentist,” you would expect to receive results relevant to the word dentist. This may include dental websites, definitions of the word dentist, and even a Wikipedia entry detailing the history of the term and the profession. Most Internet users searching for dentists are sophisticated enough to know they need to enhance their search by using modifying words, which usually include a geographic region and practice area. Web developers have noted this and now develop websites specifically targeting certain phrases. This practice is known as search engine optimization, or “SEO.” Unfortunately, SEO is more of an art because the search algorithms used by companies like Google and Bing are kept secret and constantly updated.
One thing is certain, websites that are highly trafficked with plenty of outside referral links will rate higher on search results than websites with few or none. This means that if your website is built specifically to target the phrase “Phoenix Endodontic Specialist,” it will likely rank lower than a highly trafficked/rated website like Facebook, Yelp, or Google Places where your name appears.
So what does this all mean? It means that regardless of your best efforts to corner the market on search results for a specific keyword or phrase, if someone makes a comment about you on a popular site, that comment will get ranked highly on a search result, and searchers will likely read the review because of its search location. The worst part is you may not even realize these reviews exist until it’s too late. The challenge many attorneys are faced with is how to find what’s already been published on the Internet, how to stay current on new reviews, and how to successfully promote a positive online image.
What Services Exist to Help Monitor an Online Reputation?
There are plenty of paid services out there that promise to promote good information about you and bury the bad stuff. But as noted before, it’s impossible to guarantee the results of a search query because SEO algorithms are kept secret. Furthermore, these services aren’t necessarily able to do anything for you that you can’t do on your own and better. Plus, you could potentially save the thousands of dollars these services will charge you.
What You Can Do To Monitor Your Online Reputation
All professionals should follow the following three-step attack to monitor their online reputations:
- Take an inventory of what’s already published about you and your business
- Set up automatic alerts to signal you when certain keywords are used online
- Implement both a short and long term strategy to build a marketable web presence
The easiest way to inventory what’s already said about you is to perform a Google and Bing search of your name and your business’ name. Bookmark all pages where your name appears so that you can check back later for updates. In addition to these sites, you should also search for your name on popular social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. If you don’t have a professional account with either, it’s an excellent idea to build one (see long term strategy below). In addition to the social media sites, you should also search for your name on popular rating sites such as Google Reviews, Yelp.com, CitySearch.com, JudysBook.com, and InsiderPages.com. Take a note of what’s reviewed, and if your presence is not yet established, consider staking your claim (again, see long term strategy below).
2) Automatic Alerts
One of the easiest and most time efficient ways to set up automatic alerts is to use the Google Alerts software found at www.google.com/alerts. This web-based program will send you automatic emails alerting you whenever any of your pre-selected keywords appear on a Google search. You’ll want to focus alerts on phrases like your name and firm name, but you might also consider using alerts for your clients or marketing competitors. The software is simple to setup, free, and can be changed at anytime to accommodate new phrases or keywords.
3a) Short-term Strategy
If through your inventory or alerting process you discover false information or a clearly defaming review, your best strategy is to contact the website’s customer service center and demand the review or information be removed immediately. Most websites include a “contact us” link near the bottom of the homepage, which will host either a phone number, or more likely, an email option. If you recognize the author, you might also contact that person directly and demand they remove the content. Websites like Yelp or Google are hesitant to remove reviews, but may offer you the ability to respond directly to a negative comment. However, as with any public information, be mindful of your defensive strategy because of the ethical implications that may be involved with regard to defending against publicly published attorney reviews.
3b) Long-term Strategy
The best long-term strategy to promote a positive web presence is to build an optimized website, encourage your clients to write positive reviews about your firm, and to manage any negative reviews as professionally and quickly as possible. In addition to your own firm’s website, it’s good practice to manage your firm’s social network profiles which can help build the linking essential for proper SEO. One popular and effective method for increasing a firm’s web presence is to either create a law blog that is updated regularly, or link to an established and active legal blog. Finally, if you need help and are looking into third party reputation managers, make sure they actually provide a valuable product rather than something as simple as an email alert, which you can easily set up yourself for free.
Finally, if you’re just getting started with web marketing and need the advice of an experienced professional, contact us and we can get you started on the path towards a comprehensive solution for your entire web marketing needs.