Online Reputation Management: How to do Reviews

Reputation management is yet another candidate in a long list of considerations you need to take into account when managing your online presence. In addition to proactively keeping your citations correct, building links, posting fresh content, structuring your site, and on and on, it can be tiring to know there’s one more thing that threatens to undermine your hard work and past successes. But anyone who tells you marketing is easy is a liar. There’s a reason this is our job.


What is reputation management? Why is it important?

The concept of reputation management is as simple as it sounds. If you want to be found (and subsequently hired), you need to put your information out on the internet. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factor survey listed review signals as having 10% of total influence on search rankings. In addition, online reviews are trusted more than ads in almost every medium, and 35% of clients say they use online reviews to research new attorneys (thanks to the legal technology team at Software Advice for going out of their way to provide the raw info from that study). Having profile pages on sites like Avvo, Yelp, Google+, etc., makes you more likely to be found when someone searches for your practice. But getting clients isn’t just about whether your online presence is big or small, it’s also about whether that presence is good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top of the local pack for “personal injury lawyer New York” – if you show a 1-star average from 10 reviews, people will skip over you and go to the next attorney in line.

Managing your reputation means getting high-quality reviews from clients across multiple platforms, making sure those ratings are glowing and natural (no spam!), and dealing with bad reviews as they occur. It also means ranking well for search results directly related to your business, so that your results stand above any bad PR pieces that show up in the SERPs. But that’s a lot of moving pieces, so this post is just going to focus on one of the most obvious parts: getting good reviews. Let’s look into what you can do to have a great online reputation.


Getting clients to review you

The most important step towards getting good reviews is providing excellent service. You will find it very hard to get praise if you don’t deserve it. But once you’ve jumped over that minor hurdle, the next the best catalyst for reviews is asking. If you don’t ask for reviews, the only people who will give you any are the ones who seek out opportunities to do so. This usually lends to you looking worse online than in real life because angry clients are far more likely to go out of their way to review than happy ones.

At Mockingbird, we find that the best way to ask for reviews is in person after the case is over, then letting clients fill out the review in their own time afterwards. Strike up a conversation when the client comes by to fill out paperwork or make a payment, and tell them how much a review means to your business. Getting a verbal agreement from your client is one of the most effective means of guaranteeing they will review you afterwards. Look them in the eye, and gain their approval with a handshake. After that meeting, make the process is easy as possible by following up with an email linking them to your relevant profile(s) – except for Yelp, more on that in a bit. Another benefit of asking for reviews individually is that you can pick and choose who you want to represent you online. If you won a case but you don’t think the client will be receptive, consider not reaching out for a review.

Some people just don’t have the time to watch all their review sites and check in with each individual client, so they turn to automated review management tools like GetFiveStars or other automatic review solicitors. The usual trick with these is to send an initial email asking for feedback. If the reviewer gives a low score, they are thanked for their opinion and nothing else is done. If the review gives a high score, they are instead prompted to voice their opinions on one of several sites. We’ve tried this before, but our conversion rates were almost non-existent. The major problem is that this tactic is used for business with large client volumes, like restaurants or hair salons. Law firms and attorneys don’t deal with nearly as many clients, so you end up with a pretty bad return on investment. If you’re still interested in watching for reviews, consider a tracking software like ReviewTrackers so you don’t have to constantly visit your Justia and Avvo profiles.


Optimizing your impact

The strength of reviews is dependent on a lot of factors beyond your average ranking. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey emphasizes the following:

  • Quantity of reviews
  • Authority of sites hosting those reviews
  • Diversity of sites hosting those reviews
  • Freshness of reviews, and the rate those reviews were added
  • Whether your rating shows up next to your search result (need 5 or more Google+ reviews)

The first on that list is quantity, which has become more important over the past year. Only about 8% of potential customers consider a business trustworthy if there is 1 review. For 85% of potential clients to consider you trustworthy, it’s good to have at least 10 reviews. Now these should be quality reviews so you can’t expect this to be done in a few days or even a few months. Like everything in SEO, good reputation management takes time.

In addition, you should be aware of what sites your reviews show up on, because there are a lot of options. A surprisingly large amount of users go through Yelp, along with Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, and Avvo. You can get reviews on Google+, Avvo, Justia, Yelp, and other directories, but ask your clients where they found your business so you what to focus on.

Yelp is a unique beast in that they don’t want you to ask your clients for reviews, something we’ve discussed in one of our LMQ videos. However, Yelp’s suggested ways to “remind customers”, such as profile links in your e-mail signature or stickers on your business door, aren’t effective for attorneys (and can be very tacky). We firmly believe that you should still proactively ask your clients for reviews, but avoid invoking Yelp’s ire by not explicitly stating where to go. A softer approach is more appropriate: “We really appreciate reviews because it helps our web presence, several places you can go are: [your top 3 targeted directories]”. In a follow-up email, don’t send them a direct link to your Yelp page, but ask them to search for your name.

Important Note: Even though you won’t be regarded as trustworthy if you have no reviews, potential clients will find you even less trustworthy if you have mostly bad reviews. Do not ask for a review unless you’re confident it will be a positive one.


The evils of astroturfing

It’s common to want an easy way out of this problem. Despite your best efforts, clients may not be likely to review you and not every review will be a raving 5 stars. At these times it may be tempting to look for another way to get your ratings up. But fight the urge. In addition to be less than fair to potential clients, it’s also dangerous for you.

Yelp is big on keeping reviews legitimate. They’ve sued attorneys for faking reviews before (we blogged about that incident), and they go over reviews to make sure nothing looks spammy or forced. Avvo will investigate reviews by hand multiple times, even to the point of asking reviewers to provide evidence that they worked with given attorneys. Remember that these sites make their livelihood off of consumers’ trust, so they are just as willing to crack down on scummy review practices as potential clients are. Even state governments have taken action against fake reviewing companies.

There are other tactics out there from attorneys and firms trying to slip under the radar. But this is the same story with so much of SEO – people try to game the system, and sometimes succeed for a short time, then get smacked once the system improves. Remember that if you want a good reputation, the best thing you can do is provide excellent service. Once people are willing to talk about how great you are, just nudge them in the right direction.


We’d love to hear your feedback in the field of review management. Have you used review management software? What do you think is the best way to get reviews? What do you think of Yelp’s opinion on review solicitation? Let us know in the comments.

You can find the sequel to this post here: Dealing With Bad reviews

Linkwheel Spam, The Truth Network and Judith Swift

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate just how far the search engines have to go in combating spam.  (Alternatively, its a callout to force the issue for law firms to make a very careful decision about where you want to stand on the black hat vs. white hat tactical spectrum.)

Mockingbird sees a lot of legacy spam tactics; in fact a large portion of our engagements start with what we internally call Janitorial SEO – cleaning up the messes generated by previous agencies to regain lost business. Every now and then we see one of those ancient tactics that still seems to work. What follows is a Link Wheel case study – a tactic that could have generated manual penalties back in the 2010-2012 era and should have been obliterated during the multiple Penguin updates, starting in 2013.  (And no, I don’t have a Dallas bankruptcy lawyer looking to burn this firm.)

First, let’s start with what looks to be a rudimentary implementation of a linkwheel.  Check out the Copyright notice in Judith Swift’s footer:

CopyrightOr should I call it the C o p y r i g h t (complete with spaces)?   Roll over each of those letters individually and whoo hoo…. its links to some new content on Judith’s page.  [And let’s ignore the geo spam while we’re at it, although I have to call out the spectacular brazenness of the “SEO by” sitting right next to this.]

Linkwheel 2

Wonder what happens when I click through….

Linkwheel 3

That, my friends, is an old school linkwheel – a series of sites literally linked together in order to drive search engine traffic. Enjoy the disclaimer which includes “the links are provided solely as a convenience to users of this web site.”  Right, because someone looking for a bankruptcy attorney in Texas, might simultaneously be looking for a new home in Toronto, or a photographer in Colorado, or an English bookshop in Tokyo, or “premium virgin hair extensions”, which makes me wonder what non-premium, non-virgin hair is.  But I digress.

Of course, none of this matters – perhaps we’re really just looking at a dated legacy site – if the site doesn’t perform.  But we find that not only does it perform, it performs really well….

.  Linkwheel

That’s a pretty strong showing for Judith Swift – 2nd ad, 2nd local result and 2nd natural result.  So… is this really an active, functional linkwheel?  Are there unrelated sites propping up  Let’s see….

Here’s one from a Canadian bridal boutique…

Linkwheel 6

And a retirement home directory…

Linkwheel 5

A Floridian patio furniture retailer…

linkwheel 4

My favorite is the UK based eyeglass retailer who includes the following disclaimer on their page:

The following links are not recommended or approved by us.  They are simply members of the same programme to help encourage visitors to each others sites…

Linkwheel 7

All in all, hundreds and hundreds of domains with these links – and you could suggest that perhaps they’ve gone through a disavow process BUT – the linkwheel is still alive and kicking on


I don’t know Judith and I don’t have any clients in Dallas – for all I know, she knows nothing of her marketing tactics. I’m simply trying to demonstrate a) how very far the search engines have to go and b) that black hat tactics really do work – even tactics that should have been burnt years ago. This is why by-the-book SEO can be extremely expensive.

8 Questions to Determine if your SEO Expert is… an SEO Expert

What follows is an admittedly arrogant post.  And I’m transgressing on a principle I teach my kids – you can’t build yourself up by knocking others down.  BUT… I keep talking to law firms, flummoxed by the lack of results from their SEO experts, only to find some really rudimentary mistakes.  What follows are a few questions to suss out just how expert your SEO talent really is.

1.  My site was hit by a Penguin Penalty – how do I get my traffic back?

Platitudes around the disavow process are often the answer to this question – and while disavow is important (and easy, if not tedious) – it is NOT sufficient.  A Penguin Penalty recovery involves not just removing the offending links, but replacing the value they had previously delivered to your site with new links. White hat linkbuilding is the hard, creative, uncertain, expensive and most valuable thing SEOs can do.  In fact, it is so difficult, that many “SEOs” don’t even try.

2.  How do you use Screaming Frog?

Screaming Frog is an extremely flexible tool used to scrape and analyze key elements of a domain at the page level.  It can identify everything from your duplicated title tags to broken links on competitors’ pages.  As analytics rock-star, Annie Cushing said,

“if you aren’t using Screaming Frog, you aren’t really doing SEO.”

Wait for the awkward silence when you ask this question…

3.  What are the last conferences your staff has been to?  Have you spoken at any?

Technology is ever changing – and agencies have a responsibility to keep up with those changes.  Reading Search Engine Land is a good starting point, but ultimately there is nothing to replace being in the middle of the action, interacting with the experts at geek-centric conferences such as SMX, Mozcon, and Pubcon.  Ideally your SEO expert has spoken at some of these conferences (and I don’t mean pay-for-shill talks, thinly veiled as legal marketing conferences.)

4.  We’re writing about 4 blog posts a week, should we keep it up?

SEO “experts” often quote the tired “Content is King” refrain to answer this question and perhaps delve into the vagaries of long-tail theory.  The reality is, vomiting out more low quality content does nothing more than convince the search engines that your site is full of… low quality content.  This problem was greatly exacerbated by web marketers between 2012 and 2014 who did little more than parrot “Content is King” at legal marketing conferences.

The, “should I keep spewing out more content?” question is best answered by using Google Analytics to review your posts for traffic and links.   If you find that 90% of those pages have no inbound traffic, very few pageviews and that no-one has linked to your rewrites of local car accidents thinly copied from the local newspaper, you might want to switch up your content strategy. Conversely, if you find all of your content is seeing action, then by all means, keep writing.  Read more here: SEO Regicide.

5.  We use Yext, so we don’t worry about NAP consistency.  Right?

Yext is just one tool in the NAP consistency fight (NAP – Name, Address and Phone Number) and while Yext handles roughly 50 major second tier directories, it does NOT manage the top 4 data aggregators; Moz’s Local product does.  Therefore, if you’re relying on tools to improve your NAP consistency, it’s important to utilize more than one — both Moz and Yext, for example.  Additionally, both tools need to be proactively monitored and managed to have a real impact – especially if you are dealing with a name change, address change, cleaning up geo-spam or eradicating poorly implemented tracking numbers.  Finally, neither Moz or Yext handles legal specific directories such as FindLaw or Avvo.  Solid legal SEOs have a list of legal specific directories that require manual management as well.

6.  Are heading tags built into my site’s template?

This is a question you can diagnose yourself.  Just because someone can (poorly) code a website, does not make them an SEO expert.  Review the heading tags across your site to see if a lazy or uninformed web developer has used them to style the template.  We had one site with the H1 tag copied across every single page of his site.  Oh – and it read “original text”.  This issue seems so simplistic, yet I see it repeatedly.  To do this, you can view source and search for H1, H2, etc., install SEO quake into Firefox and use the Diagnosis button for a page by page review, or if you are feeling ambitious (and have a site with fewer than 400 pages), use the aforementioned Screaming Frog.

7.  We want to launch a new website focused on <insert specific practice area>.

This is a favorite request for website developers who pretend to be SEOs.  They’ll churn out “SEO optimized” websites upon request and delivery of a nice fat check.  Of course, they are missing the aforementioned difficult part of SEO: linkbuilding (see question #1).  The reality is, from a linkbuilding, NAP and citations perspective, marketing two sites is more than twice as expensive as marketing one.  And if you go off the deep end with a full blown multi-domain strategy, you’d better have a very deep bank account.  Multiple domains can be appropriate for a firm with disparate practice areas – say DUI and Family law – but note that you’ll be investing extra marketing dollars to push both of them successfully.

And for my bonus question, we get #8 about social media…

8. Will you help us get more Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers to help our SEO?

This goes back to another SEO theory that has been dead for at least 3 years – that social media popularity drives search results.  Multiple spokespeople from The Google have been crystal clear that this is NOT the case.  Note that there can be a correlation between the two – with savvy content marketers using their wide and active social network to push great content to key influencers, which drives links, which drives traffic, but… ignore the social media marketers parading as SEOs who suggest the key to ranking for “Atlanta Divorce Lawyer” is a few thousand more twitter followers from Uzbekistan.

Except for Pinterest.  You totally should do that.  Really – it works.   Trust me, I’m an SEO Expert.

Google Mobile Penalty Study Week 1 – mobile friendly +8%, unfriendly -4%

So we are a full week into Google’s well publicized mobile friendly algo update (or penalty, depending on how you want to market it) and at this point I’m regretting my decision to publish day-to-day updates as frankly, there’s been very little to update.  So far, in aggregate across the 59 sites we’re tracking, we’re seeing average daily mobile search traffic up 8% on mobile optimized sites and down 4% on non-mobile friendly sites.

Hardly the search traffic apocalypse forecasted by SEO geeks and The Google.  And remember, mobile natural search traffic represents just a portion of overall legal webite traffic, so this blip doesn’t register meaningfully on anyone’s radar.  Representatives from The Google assured us that the roll-out could take, a week, perhaps a week and a half to fully roll out so perhaps there’s more to be seen, but so far it looks like the only thing the Google mobile update has done is push a little more work to website developers.

In the graph below, the blue bars represent mobile friendly sites, the red ones, not-so-mobile-friendly.

mobile day 7

Google Mobile Penalty Study Day 6 – Mobile sites up 5%

So we’re almost a full week into the hype of the Google Mobile Penalty Roll-Out and…. maybe, just maybe, we are seeing some logical results.   Aggregating data across the 59 sites in the study – we’re now seeing natural search traffic from devices for mobile optimized sites up by 5% while non mobile sites are showing an aggregate decline of 3%.  Kind of what you’d expect from the algo update, albeit at a much smaller scale.

Or maybe not…

Individual data across the sites in the study remains highly variable with significant swings both up and down.  The graph below shows a wide range of performance across the largest of both optimized (blue) and unoptimized (red) sites.

Mobile Day 6

Conclusions?  The only conclusion I can draw is that either a)we still have a very long way to go until the algo really rolls out completely OR b)the impact of this algo change was grossly overestimated by SEO geeks (including myself.)




Google Mobile Penalty Study Day 3: In Which we ask, “What Rollout?”

Across the board, SEOs are asking “what rollout?”  Its gotten so odd the Google’s clarified, that yes, there has been a roll-out and in fact it is complete in some data centers… which now begs the question:  was this overhyped?  SEO Clarity’s study on over 50,000 queries shows a 5% change yesterday – so far this looks like a snoozer.

Looking at our much more limited dataset of 59 law firm websites: all 12 of the non mobile optimized sites have seen mobile search traffic above the 8 week benchmark.  Aggregating data across those sites shows mobile search traffic 21% higher.  That’s right – traffic has increased for every one of these non-compliers post algo update.  This is starting to look like the mobile penalty was conjured up by Mountain View to feed business to starving web developers.

The graph below shows the sites from our study that had a minimum volume of traffic – blue are mobile optimized, red are not.  Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Day 3

Sit tight, lets see what the weekend has in store…

Google Mobile Penalty Study: Day 2 – Mobile Search Traffic up 15%, but…

So, we are now 2 days into Google’s roll-0ut of their mobile penalty.  We’ve added 5 new sites to the study – and if you’d like help in benchmarking your own site’s performance, give us a call and we’ll show you how.  So now – across the 59 sites we’re monitoring – across those with a mobile friendly platform we’re seeing traffic up 15%.  (Note this isn’t an average number, its an aggregate number of mobile search traffic across all of the sites.)


The 12 non mobile friendly sites have seen traffic up 32%.  Explanation please?  We sometimes see these upward spikes at the early stage of an algo change OR (more likely) a few outliers are having an inordinate impact on a small data set – stay tuned.  OR (and i’m believing this last explanation to be true) the algo is either rolling out very slowly or the impact of the change is going to be much less than telegraphed.

In the graph below – blue bars are mobile friendly, red are not – and this represents a sample of the more trafficked sites in the study.
Mobile Day 2

Mobile Penalty Study: Traffic up 9% on Day 1

Yesterday marked the beginning of Google’s mobile algorithm change – and while it is scheduled to take a full week to completly roll out, we’re monitoring the results carefully at Mockingbird headquarters.

Mobile Penalty Study Methodology

We looked at data across 54 different law firm sites – 42 mobile optimized and 12 that weren’t – compared average daily mobile search traffic from the previous 8 weeks to the traffic on April 21st.  In aggregate the volume of traffic to the non mobile sites was up by 1% compared to the mobile friendly sites’ 9% lift.

The Graph

In the graph below – the blue bars are mobile friendly sites and the red bars are non mobile friendly sites.  I’ve graphed the top half (as measured in traffic) of sites in our study, because the data sets below were so low that small changes had a large impact in the % change numbers.
Mobile Day 1


Limitations of the Data

  • The roll-out is far from complete and we’re expecting more dramatic changes over the week.
  • Law firm traffic tends to dip over the weekends and we compared a weekday against an average that included weekends – so there may be an artificially high change that won’t get worked out until we have a full week’s worth of data.
  • A more accurate comparison will be a week’s worth of traffic once the roll-out has, well, rolled out.
  • Many law firm sites have a low volume of traffic – specifically mobile natural search traffic – so small differences can have a large impact on % changes.  This is why I aggregated all of the data to come up with the 9% number (instead of the average percentage change.)

The conclusion?  Stay tuned… this is just the beginning of what we expect to be a very bumpy ride.

Update on Google’s Upcoming Mobile Penalty

By now, you should be well aware that April 21st is the date The Google has telegraphed for the roll-out of their upcoming Mobile penalty for non-mobile friendly sites.  (If you need to catch up, start here.) Representatives from The Google recently disclosed the following information about the upcoming changes:

  1. The change will roll out over a week – commencing April 21st.  This is a pretty typical approach for major algo updates.  (This, of course, means you should wait a week to assessing the impact.)
  2. The change is binary – you are either mobile friendly or not…  just like you can’t be a little pregnant, you can’t be a little mobile friendly.

Reminder:  if you aren’t sure if your site is mobile friendly, hurry on over to The Google’s Mobile Friendly Test Tool and feel free to panic if you don’t like what you see.  (Or at least scream at your website vendor if you’ve been paying them for anything other than hosting for the past few months).