How to Handle 1-Star Reviews

what percentage of Yelp reviews are 1-star?
15% of Yelp reviews are 1-star. You’ll almost certainly get a few. (Data Source: Yelp)

That saying about not being able to please all the people all the time is 100% true. If your firm does any sort of volume—and even if it doesn’t—there’s a strong chance you’ll encounter the occasional 1-star review.

Fair or not, the rise of prominent user reviews on Google My Business, Avvo, Yelp, Facebook, and a large number of other platforms means you’ll be getting constructive feedback from people that may have been less than satisfied with their experience.

For convenience, let’s categorize 1-star reviews into these three buckets:

  • Legitimate negative reviews from actual clients
  • Misleading reviews from prospects that weren’t actually clients
  • Fake reviews from people you never worked with

In theory, you should be able to have items that fall into the latter two groups removed completely, since they’d be in violation of most site’s terms of service. However, in our experience that’s an uphill battle rarely worth fighting.

Options for Handling a Bad Review

Realistically, once a bad review is attached to your firm’s profile it’s probably there to stay. Now you’re faced with some options.

  • Let the negative review drown in a sea of positivity
  • Try to remedy the situation that led to the bad review
  • Respond politely and take the conversation offline

All three of these options have merits, and the idea of taking the conversation offline is always a best practice. Getting into a heated back and forth with a former client in a public forum isn’t going to be a good look regardless of whether you’re correcting false claims.

It may seem that all the power is in the hands of reviewers, and to a degree that’s true. Fortunately, shoppers are getting more sophisticated and increasingly view the occasional 1-star review as a signal that the 5-star reviews are more trustworthy.

Perfection is unrealistic, and a business with a massive amount of glowing reviews and a flawless 5-start rating can breed suspicion. Are they manipulating their reviews? Are all of them real? How can everyone be unanimously pleased with this magical business?

Having a few dissenters goes a long way toward validating praise from the majority. As long as you’re striving to deliver a 5-star experience every time, occasional negative reviews will only make your profile stronger.

Handling Negative Reviews from Non-Clients

This example is a fun one, and not entirely uncommon. Let’s take a 1-star review for the Las Vegas law firm De Castroverde Law Group. Along with their handful of glowing reviews, the firm also has this gem that questions the integrity of one of their attorneys:

1-star Yelp review from a non-client

Even ignoring the SNL Guy Fieri profile image, there are a few other red flags in the review itself. The reviewer doesn’t mention whether Carmen Amen was his attorney, but instead focuses on his overall displeasure with her presentation of facts. For a profession as adversarial as law, reviewing opposing counsel with a 1-star rating is actually a weird form of flattery.

Digging even deeper, you can see that this same person left a two-star review for a criminal defense attorney that, “ass kissed the very cowardly DA, William “Billy” Knowles after he continuously made up BS…and manufactured charges.” He posted a 1-star review for the Las Vegas Metro Police because, “you wonder what kind of IQ standards the police have in hiring.” And another 1-star review for Family Courts and Services Center, saying, “These assholes should change the name to Mommy Court because all they do is crush fathers.”

Is it possible everyone is conspiring to make Ben G’s life as miserable as possible? Sure, it’s possible. But the more likely scenario is that this is someone who needs to vent and is using Yelp as his venue.

Most consumers are savvy enough to make the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable complaints. This one doesn’t pass the eye test and shouldn’t cause the firm much (if any) concern.

Should You Respond Publicly to a Bad Review?

Whether or not to respond is at the discretion of each firm. There are pros and cons to both options, and there’s not always a clear right answer.

In the example above, it’s pretty evident that this reviewer seems to have a chip on his shoulder. And, given the overwhelmingly positive reviews sitting alongside this one, it’s not a bad decision to leave it be.

The other option would be responding with something along the lines of:

“We’re very sorry to hear that you had an unpleasant experience with one of our attorneys. Although Carmen was not representing you, we’d be happy to hear your feedback if you’d be willing to contact us directly. Thanks!”

This helps maintain your professionalism while also pointing out to potential future clients that your attorney wasn’t actually representing the person that left a negative review.

Whether you choose to respond is up to you. The only thing you want to avoid is doing anything to escalate the situation and present your firm as combative or uncompassionate. As tempting as it is to say, “We didn’t even represent you. Our job was to protect your EX-wife’s interests, not yours!” That’s hardly a constructive path when dealing with someone willing to take the time to review his arresting officer in a public venue.

In Summary

As long as you’re delivering consistently exceptional service, the occasional bad review is nothing more than a minor annoyance. It’s a cost of doing business and most consumers are savvy enough to recognize that. Don’t stress about the one-off rant from someone you couldn’t help, never worked with, or don’t even know. If you’re at 4.5 stars or better you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Why Most Law Firms Need Only One Domain

respectthealgorithm

While there are a few tried and true rules when it comes to SEO, a lot of the SEO advice out there comes with an expiration date. Should you follow such advice after it “goes bad”, you could be left with a very serious stomach ache–at least when it comes to your firm’s online presence.

For the longest time SEOs and people in the business of selling domains often recommended businesses buy keyword rich domains-as many of them as possible. If you happen to be a brain injury attorney in Seattle you should buy seattlebraininjurylawyers.com (and .net and .org) for that matter, and continue to buy domains like this so that your competition doesn’t get them, and one-ups you in the the search results. Not only that, but you should use those domains to create “microsites” that can rank for competitive keywords and drive traffic to your business through multiple organic channels.

Google became wise to the game, and in 2012 Google updated its algorithm to ensure that low quality websites with exact match domains ceased to get an unfair advantage over other websites. Despite this fact, businesses continue to pour thousands of dollars into useless keyword rich domains that won’t do them a lick of good.

Recently this got especially out of control as domain sellers started aggressively marketing the new .lawyer and .attorney TLDs to attorneys.  Since that happened, we haven’t seen any instances of these new TLDs dominating the marketing landscape.  It’s simply a case of marketers preying lawyers’ lack of knowledge to sell a useless “asset”.

Why this advice used to make sense:

When it comes to ranking pages and websites, Google wants to display the most relevant and highest quality results for every search. In the early days, Google used to determine relevance by the number of relevant keywords on the page and whether or not the keywords were in the URL itself. So, if your website happened to be seattlebraininjurylawyers.com, chances are you had a leg up in the game when it came to ranking for the term “Seattle brain injury lawyers”.

Not only that, but the text that people used when linking to your site (or anchor text, as us SEOs call it) used to be a big indicator to Google as to whether a site was relevant for a particular search term. Because seattlebraininjurylawyers.com has the keywords “seattle brain injury lawyers” baked right into the domain name, and because most people often link to a website using the domain name, this would be yet another advantage for using this keyword rich domain name.

Why this advice no longer makes sense:

If there’s anything that Google doesn’t like, it’s marketers using tactics to game the system. After all, it’s pretty easy to find keyword rich domains (as of this writing seattlebraininjurylawyers.com is still available). It wasn’t long before SEOs started building “microsites”, or small websites with very little content built specifically to “win” in the search results for certain competitive queries. It’s not uncommon even today to see businesses with five different websites, all of them with boilerplate content, all of them representing the same business, despite the fact that each site brings in what would barely qualify as a trickle of search traffic.

This is a poor user experience for both searchers and prospective customers alike, which is why Google started making keyword rich domains less of a ranking factor in 2012. This doesn’t meant that you can’t get your seattlebraininjurylawyer.com website to start ranking and get organic traffic, it’s just that in order to do so you’ll need to create quality, content relevant to your audience as well as to get links from large, high authority websites. In the end, you’re going to get as much of an advantage from seattlebraininjurylawyers.com as you would from yourlawfirmname.com. Would it not be better then, for branding consistency, to use the latter rather than the former?

To review, let’s go over the DOs and DON’Ts

Domain name DOs and DON’Ts:

DON’T buy a keyword rich domain just to prevent competitors from buying them. Even if they create a site with this domain, it will still take a a lot of hard work for these sites to show up in the search results.

DON’T go on domain shopping spree. Domains seem enticingly cheap at $10.99 or less each, but if you buy 50 domains just for the sake of having them, you’re paying $549 a year for a practical return on investment of zero dollars.

DON’T create a series of keyword rich microsites to drive business. Google won’t give it to you.

DON’T change your current domain to a keyword rich domain that you’ve just purchased. For example, if you have a website at yourfirmname.com and then switch it over to seattlebraininjurylawyers.com. Our experience has shown that you’ll actually see a temporary drop in traffic, rather than a gain. Not only that, but we’ve seen no long term observable benefit for changing from a site with your firm’s name on it, to a site with practice area related keywords in the domain.

DO put all of your eggs in one basket. The great thing about having just one website, is that the website grows stronger over time. One website will attract all of the links for your business and over time will generate much more web traffic that five smaller sites ever will.

DO consolidate your domains. If you already have a whole bunch of websites out there, see what you can do to make all those domains redirect to a single domain. This will often result in a quick observable boost in traffic for the main site. Before doing so, however, make sure that the content on your smaller websites are transferred to your main website.

DO protect your brand. Consider buying the .net and .org version of your domain. If people consistently misspell your business name, it may be useful to buy a domain with the most common misspellings. This is probably not necessary unless you hear about people misspelling your website. You should also buy a domain for former business names of your firm if that name has changed as well.

Brand protection, however, can go too far. DON’T do what Michael Bloomberg did: http://domainnamewire.com/2014/11/11/john-olivers-five-nyc-domain-names-making-fun-of-michael-bloomberg/

More Horrific Attorney Marketing

The online marketing industry continues working hard earning its scummy reputation among lawyers . . .

The example below is so outrageous that it looks like a parody.  But its not.  It’s real attorney advertising and someone is paying for it.  (I know because I called and spoke to the attorney behind the site.)  This started with a friend of mine in the SEO industry – Mike Blumenthal – who forwarded me an email with the subject line: gotta love the chutzpa.

Fake Third Party Endorsements

Attached was a screenshot of a footer for what looked like a law firm website, with a tiny blue on blue disclaimer in broken English:

The logos above are sample only, we are not associated with these vendors.

Footer

Hmmmm . . .  the logos include the Better Business Bureau, the California Association for Justice, The Beverly Hills Bar Association and of course, my beloved Avvo.  We know that third party endorsements go a long way to allay concerns of prospective clients of law firms, but this goes well beyond misleading.

Note that the site looks like a law firm website, yet there is absolutely no personal information about an attorney or even a law firm name.  The on-page optimization is horrendous – there are 13 instances of the phrase, “Los Angeles DUI”, keyword stuffed meta tags and of course, the exact match domain.

Fake Client Testimonials

Even the faux testimonials are keyword stuffed with SEO optimized internal links.  And try reading the text here.

False Testimonials

If you want a chuckle, read all of the “testimonials“; here’s a favorite excerpt:

“DUI attorney Los Angeles is the best law firm in Los Angeles to handle the drunk driving cases in favor of their clients.”

Fake Social Media Widgets

My favorite touch on the site is the fake Facebook like counter which suggests there are a whopping 5,100 people who have liked this non-firm on Facebook.  This one had to take some time:

Fake Facebook Widget

Fortunately, the footer also contained a link to the  website developer.  Let’s see what happens here:

Ace Online

Just about what I’d expect.  So I gave Ace a call to see if they offered online advertising.  The guy who answered the phone assured me that he could get me ranking really high on the Internets.

To Be Fair . . . .

My final step was to call the number on the DUI site itself . . . which was answered promptly and professionally (some of you could learn a lesson here) by an attorney.  I forced some awkward conversation by asking for the name of his firm and his name (and vetted him on Avvo to see if he was, in fact really an attorney.  The guy was helpful (assuming I had really just gotten out of jail on a DUI), compassionate and professional.

For all I know he has no idea that some shoddy marketing firm is being so misleading on his behalf.  Caveat emptor lawyers, caveat emptor.

 

Update:  Mike Blumenthal digs deep into how this site surfacing is a failure of Google’s Hummingbird.

Why (most) Americans Hate the Legal Profession

Let me start by saying, as someone whose company works exclusively with lawyers, I thought long and hard about posting this. . .

Today the legal industry suffered another self-inflicted wound to an already tarnished image in the way of an editorial on CNN’s homepage by attorney, Danny Cevallos.  In his post, Cervallos questions the brave actions of Matthew Cordle – the young Ohio man who posted his heartbreaking story about killing someone because he was driving while intoxicated.

First Some Background

Over the past 7 years, I’ve had the privileged and unique opportunity to view the legal industry from within.  I sat at a PILMMA event and saw a demonstration of how the legal industry has pushed automative safety.  I’ve met lawyers like Jonathan Stein who has dedicated his career to battling the bottom of the corporate ethical barrel – Collection and Insurance companies.   I met Anthony Colleluori who fights tooth and nail on behalf of individuals who have no where left to turn.  I met Bruce Johnson who has done more to protect the first amendment than anyone alive.

Big picture – I’ve learned that the legal profession offers the largest counterweight for individuals when dealing with injustice from large entities – be it the police, corporations or the government.  Few non-lawyers ever get exposed to this perspective and part of my professional mission is to help improve the perspective of the legal industry among the general populace.

Cervallos Paints Lawyers as Morally Bankrupt

So it was very disheartening to read an editorial on CNN today damning the actions of Matthew Cordle.  Matthew’s powerful video has gone viral because he fully accepts responsibility for his action. Even while Cervallos recognizes the moral bravery in Matthew’s actions, he writes:

“Bravo right?  Wrong.”

And goes on to pick apart the legal ramifications of the video.

“In making this video, it clearly appeared he was not coerced. He was not being interrogated or even interviewed by police. In fact, he volunteered this admission, stating that he was fully aware of the consequences.”

“Cordle’s voluntary mea culpa actually eliminated his strongest bargaining chip.”

Cervallos is unfortunately speaking for the entire legal industry when he prioritizes legal tactics with, in his own words, “doing the right thing.”  This is the root of why lawyers have such a persistently tarnished reputation.  The fact that Cervallos is most certainly correct from a legal perspective is irrelevant to almost everyone outside of the legal profession.  Step outside of the legal world for a minute and think about how non-lawyers would respond to this statement from Cervallos:

“While this may have appeared a morally correct thing for Cordle to do, our justice system can actually penalize those who “do the right thing” and volunteer admissions.”

Fighting drunk driving while recognizing the legal ramifications of sharing a gutwrenching story “may have appeared a morally correct thing”!  The editorial unfortunately doesn’t offer any suggestion for what would have been a more moral action and completely misses the point that Cordel clearly was placing his priorities above the legal system.  And this is where Cervallos misses the forest for the trees.  Cordel’s video will educate and certainly save lives from drunk driving accidents.  Suggesting that the legal industry as a whole views this as a mistake sends a very wrong message: that lawyers are always available to supplant morality and courage.

Unfortunately the actions of the Stein’s, Colleluori’s and Johnson’s of the legal world rarely get this kind of coverage.  But they should.