You Are Liable For Your Online Reputation.
Are you ignoring the online world? It’s time to stop. Wake up to what is happening online! Between the opportunity to build referrals and the liability of wrong information online, you can’t afford to ignore it any longer.
“Harris Interactive recently conducted a survey on behalf of BrandYourself.com asking 2,570 American adults about their search habits… ‘Despite the importance of having a positive presence in search engines, most U.S. adults are not accurately represented online, with no clear idea what to do about it,’ the report states.” source The Denver Post
Where is the liability in ignoring you online presence?
If you are wondering this, wonder no more. Here are a few of the top reasons why you can’t afford to ignore this any longer.
Scenario 1 – A past client, let’s call him Sam, refers his friend, Dave, to you, claiming that you (you are named Don Johnson) are the best business law attorney and you helped him when he was starting out. He gives you a stellar review, but it has been a few years since he hired you. Dave pulls out his smart phone and plugs your name into a search engine. Most of the Don Johnson’s that show up are personal listings for other people. But two listings do show up – Yelp and Lawyers.com. Yelp.com had pulled your information from a database and thinks that you are a personal injury attorney. Lawyers.com has no information about you. Neither site has a photo, a bio, or any reviews. But the limited information is wrong. Your website is on the 2nd page, but Dave didn’t look that far. You just lost the referral before you knew you had it. (this scenario is based on a number of real conversations I have had with attorneys and with people shopping for attorneys).
Scenario 2 – (this is based on a true story) You have a great conversation with a prospect who needs legal services. It seems like this job might total upwards of $30K this next year. This is the perfect type of client you want. Before he hires you, he does his own due diligence and discovers that you have a few really bad reviews on Yelp, Avvo, and Google Reviews and only one good review from a fellow peer, not a past client. Your star rating is only 1-2 on these sites. He decides that he can’t afford to take a chance on you, and you lose the sale.
Scenario 3 – (another true story) Your firm has been 100% referral-based since you started, 25 years ago. 5 years ago, your firm had a change in named partners (the firm name changed). In the last 2 years, your referrals are drying up. You have dabbled in LinkedIn and claimed your Avvo profile, but haven’t been active online. In a quick online assessment, it seems that, not only are there 3 pages of results for your name (it’s really you), but the contact information is wrong on almost every site listing. And almost all the listings include the old firm’s name with the previous partner’s name. Your prospects can’t find you even though they are trying!
You may not relate to these exact scenarios, but if there is wrong information about you online, it is probably impacting your bottom line.
So let’s talk about what to do about it, because, as an attorney, there is a greater responsibility to have correct information about yourself online. I admit, it can be overwhelming. But it is not difficult. Here are 5 steps that you can take now to start cleaning up your online reputation (or at least, take control before someone else does).
#1 Google yourself
Sounds simple but you should be staying on top of your online presence. Google yourself (or use your favorite search engine) at least monthly. Set up Google Alerts for your name. You may need to add “attorney” and your location if you have a popular name.
This should showcase a quick snapshot of what is showing up about you. This is also the search that your prospects, leads, and referrals will do before they think about calling you, so it’s important. Review at least the first 3 pages. If someone is very interested in hiring you, and you charge competitive rates, they will do their due diligence.
If your online presence is good, this simple search will showcase a combination of the following:
- Online review sites (these are arguably the most important item) with at least 6 reviews out of 10 rating you with 5 stars from both your peers and clients.
- Social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube and/or whichever other platforms where you have, at some point, created a profile.
- Your website – this should dominate the first page with at least 3-5 pages listed (if your site is optimized properly).
- Outside sources showcasing your work and talking about you – trade publications, media coverage, etc.
- Images and videos of you and your content.
Often, a search on your own name will also bring up your competition. This can usually be shifted with some strategic Search Engine Marketing (SEM) but at this point, you just need to know where you stand online.
#2 Click through the links
Once you have searched for yourself (much like a prospect would), then you need to dive in. Click through the links to see what is being said about you, claim yourself, and update your information. It is important that your messaging & content is consistent and correct.
Online listing sites pull your information from databases based on your industry, which creates profiles on your behalf, without your knowledge or permission. Often this information is old and/or incorrect.
Review sites allow anyone to post about you and your business, again without your permission or knowledge. Make sure that you are aware of these reviews. We will discuss them in more detail in step 4.
Publications and news media will publish their offline articles. If you have been featured, your articles may be online.
#3 Review your website
Most marketing and business development for attorneys focuses on the best website for all of your online efforts. But that is really just a small part of online marketing. In fact, less than 30% of all online searches for you and your firm result in a “click-through” to your site. That leaves over 70% of all searches (I’m talking about people looking for YOU…typing in your name) will click on other links about you instead of your site. Which is why this step is #3 and not #1.
Here is what is happening: When someone is really looking for your services, they want to learn about you before they call you. They expect that your website is your perspective of how cool you are…not your client’s. So they want to know what other people are saying about you.
Then they want to develop some trust. They will read as many as 10-20 reviews online about you. They will review content that you have shared: your blog posts, your videos, your social media posts, your online profiles, as well as the rankings and reviews that your peers and previous clients have shared about you. This information is much more valuable than your website.
However, you still must have a good website offering the right content that your prospect is looking to find. More on the topic of best law firm websites another day. In a nutshell, your site should be clean, easy for the search engines and prospects to understand, responsive, and provide good content that adds to your credibility as well as visibility online.
#4 Review sites and listings
In step #2, you got a good idea of what is out there about you. This next step is important to begin building and controlling your online reputation.
First, claim all the sites (review sites and other listings). This is usually self explanatory with a button or link that says something like “is this you?” or “claim this site”. Next, update your profile with a good headshot and the right information (bio, practice areas, etc.). Fill these profiles out completely as this is a simple step to help improve your rankings on each site.
Finally, ask your “close peers” for a review. I say this carefully because I have seen many people rush to a bunch of people they know requesting positive reviews. I have even witnessed someone reaching out to “acquaintances” who oblige the request with an “I endorse this attorney” which actually makes you look bad. Ideally, if you are receiving 1-2 reviews monthly, this looks good to both people and to the review sites. If you come across as piling up reviews, they will not seem genuine and you will lose credibility instead of gaining it.
I also recommend that you lead with giving your close peers reviews before you request them. This showcases your willingness to give back and is just a good practice.
#5 Share good information
I know you don’t have time, but that really needs to change. In just 15 minutes each day, you can easily share your opinions, answer questions on Avvo or LinkedIn, and even repurpose your already-published-content into blog posts, post tips on social media, create a video series or podcast. And you probably waste more than 15 minutes each day (just guessing here).
When you set up your Alerts for your name (as mentioned in Step 1), take an extra minute and set up blog alerts for your practice areas or your favorite industry topics. This will create a steady stream of your favorite topics delivered to your email. Simply click on the links, review the content, and when inspired, respond with comments.
If you are really motivated, you can set up your own blog to publish your commentary, linking back to the original blog post. This benefits you by positioning you in the marketplace as the attorney who knows about that thing. It also will drive traffic to your blog with the backlinks. And finally, the search engines will like you and your blog better, improving your results in the search engines.
I mentioned “already-published-content” and I just want to clarify what I mean here. If you have had articles published by the state Bar, or been featured in a magazine (online or offline), and you own the content, this is usually yours to publish and repurpose (you may want to confirm with the publication that you have rights to republish).
Once you have confirmed that you have the rights to this content, I highly recommend having your assistant take this content and share the original links on your LinkedIn, Avvo, and other profiles to start. Then, break up the content into small, bite-sized chunks of information for readers to quickly and easily consume. Publish this smaller content on your blog and in your social media status updates. You can even create short videos.
By following these 5 steps, you will be able to take control of your online presence. With a little forethought and strategy, you can even begin a new stream of referrals to your business. Here are a couple more statistics to entice you to spend a few minutes every day controlling and developing this key marketing strategy:
72% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust a referral from a friend – Search Engine Land Publication, 3/2012
Whether your motivation is to reduce your online liability or to build an online reputation that supports your offline reputation, now is the time to take control.