Competitor Ads in your Google My Business Profile…

Well, we seem to be moving closer and closer to an advertising driven world, as Google has introduced advertising directly on competitor Google My Business listings. To the right is an example from Greg Sterling, at Search Engine Land which shows an ad for a competing car dealership showing up directly within search results. Greg notes that the advertisement is located almost an hour away…which, at least in the example, flies against the highlighted importance of “local” to consumers.

One important note – according to Greg’s review, firms can’t pay for ad free listings – which means any business may have competitor advertising embedded directly within their localized results. This “ad free profile” business model has been widely utilized by directories in (Avvo) and out (Yelp) of the legal market. From my experience this generates nasty backlash from prospective customers and Google is clearly trying to avoid that, although I’m not certain that the prospect of having competitor ads showing up by default on branded queries is going to engender any goodwill either.

If you’ve got an example of one of these ads in legal…please send a screenshot over.

Is Google My Business Sending People to your FAX Machine?

Google My Business may be accidentally displaying your fax number as your phone number. I now have three data points from three different firms over the past week in which the fax number is being prominently displayed as the phone number. This is especially damaging for branded queries which typically return the knowledge graph (including the phone / fax number).

Here’s a very real, worst case scenario:

“Harry, you should call Bill Smith, he’s a great lawyer.”

Harry looks up Bill Smith on his laptop, sees the Knowledge Graph, dials Bill and gets the horrendous fax connect audio. Harry makes a split second decision that if Bill can’t figure out his own phone number, then there’s no way Harry is going to put his legal future in Bill’s seemingly incapable hands. Harry, goes back to Google and looks for a new lawyer.

It’s a simple check – run a query for your law firm’s name in Google. Then your name. See what phone number shows up and actually dial the number to verify it’s going through to your front desk. Then check Yelp (yes Yelp), Bing, Avvo, and other directories.

I’m not sure exactly why this is happening – highly possible spiders are running through sites and erroneously identifying fax numbers as phone numbers. Suffice to say – assume it’s broken and verify that your phone number isn’t delivering an annoying beeeeeeeepppppwhiiineclangclang to prospective clients.

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.

[Mockingbird Survey Results] – Online Reviews for Law Firms

About Our Law Firm Review Study

It’s widely accepted that reviews account for a significant portion of Google’s local search ranking factors (Moz Local Search Ranking Factors). Google My Business reviews are, and have been a vital piece of Local SEO. Once you’ve acquired at least 5 Google reviews for your business, you may start seeing the star indication in the coveted “local pack” of the search results page.

We recently sent out a simple 8 question survey to various law firms around the country with two goals in mind: 1) Gather insight on the review process for law firms and 2) Determine which outreach methods are most common and effective.

Here are the results…

Does your law firm actively request client reviews or testimonials?

Do You Request Reviews?
Note: links to review on the website, in email footers, etc. do not count as actively requesting.

How do you request reviews?

How Do You Request Reviews?

Who solicits reviews for your firm?

Who Solicits Reviews?

On average, how many times do you ask for a review before giving up?

How Many Requests For Review?

Which platform(s) do you ask clients to review you on?

Which Platforms Do You Request Reviews?

Do you use review management software?

Review Management Software?

How many reviews do you currently have on Google?

How Many Reviews On Google?

Note: for primary location only (if multiple offices). 

How many reviews do you currently have on Yelp?

Reviews On Yelp?

Note: for primary location only (if multiple offices).

Mockingbird’s Takeaways From Our Law Firm Review Survey Research

  • 9/10 law firms actively request reviews from past clients, but only 4/10 will reach out more than once. Persistence is key in obtaining online reviews — we suggest you send at least 2 review requests before giving up on that lead.
  • 6/10 law firms will request reviews on Avvo, Yelp, and Google. We recommend this approach as well to give the client options, however, we emphasize Google reviews as they have the most direct impact on local SEO results. (Don’t sleep on Facebook either!)
  • 5/10 law firms surveyed have 6+ Google reviews. In the hyper-competitive legal market, it’s increasingly important to obtain a high number of quality reviews.
  • 9/10 law firms do not use review outreach software. We’ve tried our hand with automated software before (shout out to Get Five Stars), but have had better luck doing it the old fashioned way. Requesting reviews manually requires much more leg work, but yields a better conversion rate in the end. Here’s a cool free tool from Whitespark that will actually create a print out template for you: whitespark.ca/review-handout-generator/
  • 5/10 law firms have the primary attorney who handled the case make the review request. We advise our clients to adopt this strategy as well since the personal relationship is already established and the client is more likely to take action.

A good bonus from our survey’s comment section…

“…I’d be interested in hearing about the fake reviews it looks like a few firms are getting (60+ five star reviews)” – Anonymous Attorney

My two cents: Google is not perfect. Unfortunately we still see an egregious amount of spam in Google Maps and the local 3-pack. However, I believe the big G will catch up with spammy reviews in the same way they eventually caught up with spammy backlinks (thank you Penguin). Keep your white hat on and don’t give up the good fight yet my friend.

If you are interested in the specifics of the study, want help generating reviews for your firm, or just want to say hi please feel free to drop me an email: dustin[at]mockingbirdmarketing.com

 

Yelp’s Grossly Inflated “Lead” Reporting

We spoke to a prospective client who was confused why his advertising on Yelp had yielded no clients, although Yelp’s reporting indicated a reasonable, steady flow of leads. Its commonplace for directories to stretch the concept of a “lead” in order to make themselves look as useful as possible.  I get it.  We all get it.  But if you look at exactly what Yelp is considers within their definition of a “lead” it just starts to feel, well, a little grossly overstated.

OK Yelp – let’s see what you’ve got for us:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.44.02 PM

Now, I’d certain recognize calls, messages and sales as “leads”, but most others don’t even fall into my most generous concept of a lead.  Website traffic…. can you imagine Google suggesting all of your SEO traffic was a lead?  How about uploaded photos?  Any reason a diner in a restaurant uploading a shot of his spaghetti and meatballs should count as a “lead” for that restaurant?   And I’m not suggesting that some of activities aren’t helpful – looking at your location on a map, for example – but it’s a hell of a stretch to consider them new business opportunities.  In the legal realm, presumably if someone is looking up directions, they area bit warmer than just a lead – and its certainly difficult to attribute that prospective client as a Yelp lead.

So, I’m picking on Yelp here…. but remember the bigger picture is the importance of not trusting your vendors to tell you how well they are doing.  Understand – that for law firms, the definition of a lead is someone who contacts you with a prospective matter.  Everything else is just noise – noise frequently generated be vendors to camouflage the silence of your phone.

 

 

Introducing the Echo Legal Marketing Platform

Echo is our amazing new marketing platform. We take the tools that we use every day as an agency for our clients who are paying us $5,000-10,000 a month and we bring them into your law firm. We use video tutorials to provide step by step instructions on how to use them.

  • Analytics. How do we use Google Analytics? What do you need to keep an eye on and what metrics matter? How do we use tools like Moz Local and Yext to bolster our local performance?
  • Review Management. How do we make sure that when we’re reviewed on Yelp, Avvo or Findlaw that we get an email that day telling us about that review?
  • Call Tracking. How do we implement call tracking? What is call tracking and how does it work, and what can it tell you?
  • WordPress. We use WordPress websites to power our legal-centric and responsive designs hosting on the amazing WPEngine.
  • How do you use Google Webmaster Tools to track the real performance of your site at the keyword level, instead of relying on ranking reports?

All of this is wrapped around business reporting infrastructure with a final goal of helping you calculate exactly how your marketing investment is performing.

Marketing Tools: $300/month
Legal Centric WordPress site: $300/month
(or both for $500)Learn more at echo.mockingbird.marketing or sign up for our Webinar where we’ll tour all of this awesome functionality.

Yelp Releases Nielsen Survey Data and Declares Itself King of Local Directories

A few days ago, Yelp released parts of a new Nielsen survey on their blog. The results, as stated by Yelp, were as follows:

“When compared to TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and other local directories, people name Yelp as the review site most frequently used when searching for local businesses because they see it as the most influential, most trustworthy and with the highest quality reviews.”

This news was picked up and commented on by many, such as Greg Sterling over in Search Engine Land. His response article voiced a few concerns about the study…

First and foremost, why weren’t Google and Facebook included? According to Yelp, Google and Facebook aren’t “solely focused on local business directory,” and therefore were not eligible. Though technically correct, it’s important to keep in mind that there is certainly a person or two (or millions) who used Google and Facebook when searching for a local businesses.

Another concern Sterling brought up is that 668 out of the 1000 respondents were Yelp users. Yelp’s response? They didn’t pre-screen users based on which review sites they used, so the skew merely shows dominance in the market. Again, a technically sound defense. Whether or not that affects the integrity of the survey is another issue.

So, what does this mean for me (a lawyer, SEO enthusiast, or general internet dweller)?

Well, uhm, er, basically… a whole lot of nothing.

At first glance, Yelp declaring itself the fairest of them all may send you into a panic chasing after more Yelp reviews. And that, my friends, is not necessary. Don’t get me wrong, Yelp is a strong player and is very influential, especially in certain industries. But you, the Internet savant you are, already knew that. What may have slipped your mind is the following:

  1. This survey compares Yelp as a general local directory to a handful of competitors as general local directories. It was not (as far as we know) divided up into sub-categories for each industry. So, yes, Yelp apparently beats out Trip Advisor for the review site more frequently used when searching for local businesses. This does not mean that Yelp would beat out Trip Advisor in a similar survey that solely focused on the travel industry. Additionally, Yelp being a good general local directory doesn’t take away from efforts you may be putting in to a more specialized directory.
  2. Two thirds of the respondents were already Yelp users. Generally speaking, if people are using a service, they probably like it (read: it’s not exactly a scientific discovery that people who use Yelp like Yelp and rated it highly). If we surveyed a bunch of Avvo users on whether or not they thought Avvo was influential and trustworthy, chances are they would say it was.
  3. Just because Yelp has officially decreed themselves King of Local Directories doesn’t mean anything has actually changed. Yelp is equally as important to your SEO efforts today as it was a week ago. So while the Neilson study was without a doubt helpful in boosting Yelp’s collective ego, it wasn’t necessarily helpful for a business owner.

 

Moral of this story: keep on keepin’ on. Don’t let Yelp, or anyone else for that matter, convince you they’re the reason the sun rises.

Yelp Sues Law Firm, McMillan Group, for Bogus Reviews

Not long ago I wrote a Search Engine Land post about a law firm suing their SEO for bad results . . . today bring us Yelp going after a law firm for posting fake reviews.  Having run marketing Avvo for about 5 years, I’ve seen all sorts of fake reviews (Avvo had, and I assume still has) a very strong algorithmic and human review spam process.  Yelp clearly has dealt with bogus reviews in the past without reaching for their lawyers.  I thought I’d dig in to see why they changed course this time . . .

Yelp goes after McMillan Group

San Diego based, McMillan Group  previously won a small claims suit against Yelp for a whopping total of $2,700.  The charge?  That  Yelp required an advertising contract in order for positive reviews to show up prominently on the company’s Yelp page.  Yelp is now coming back after the McMillan Group – citing a massive astroturfing (self-authored flattering reviews) campaign.  Essentially, Yelp claims the firm’s employees created new Yelp accounts for the sole purpose of writing one-off gushing 5 star reviews.  Many of the reviews track back to the same IP address, which coincidentally was also the firm’s IP address, (hmmmmm – not so smart McMillan Marketing staff).  In some  cases “unique” reviews were posted one after another and included exactly the same text.

Yelp has clearly dealt with bogus reviews in the past – there a few possible interpretations about why this review spat has been taken to this level:

  1. Yelp is bullying McMillan for the original lawsuit.
  2. Yelp is taking aggressive steps to protect the quality of their reviews.
  3. Yelp is seeking a PR counterpoint story to the “advertise with us or else. . . . ” news story that can’t seem to go away.
  4. The Yelp marketing department hates that McMillan has put the Yelp logo linking to a “Learn how we beat Yelp for their advertising practices” page on the Mcmillan.com homepage.

McMillan Homepage

 

Oh yes, and there’s Yelp again on a McMillan microsite (although it seems they haven’t been able to entirely figure out WordPress):

McM BK

 

Interestingly, I saw nothing but glowing 5 stars from 23 people on Google (although there was only 1 review on Avvo).

McMillan Google

 

Have some time and want to dig into the legal ramifications?  Here’s the complaint.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is a marketing tit for tat gone legal. All of this begs a very interesting question . . . other than the negative publicity, does this matter?  Do people  turn to Yelp when hiring an attorney?

Update:  Backlink Review

What would the backlink profile look like for a firm willing to astroturf reviews?  I took a cursory review at McMillan’s backlink profile.  Consider this a cautionary tale about how NOT to engage in linkspam.  According to open site explorer there are a 3,000 links from a whopping 2,000 different domains pointing to McMillan’s site.  Of those, the vast majority are evenly spread across anchor text with some variation of “san diego” + “bankruptcy attorney”  . . . 240 links with “san diego bankruptcy lawyers”, 240 links with “san diego bankruptcy attorneys”,   278 with “san diego bankruptcy lawyer” etc.

Now lets look at some of those links.

Spammy link tactic #1

Building single page “websites” on free website domains.  I counted 13 subdomains with links for McMillan on Weebly.  There are more linking subdomains on .beep, .webnode and others.

Spammy link tactic #2

Low quality directory submissions.  Here’s one of my favorites – a German website Webkatalog Firmen Anzeigenmarkt with this description of McMillan:

“It is required to have a lawyer Unless you have the time, patients, and understanding of the law to do it yourself. Here is why you need a Bankruptcy Law Firm San Diego. Better-quality San Diego bankruptcy law firm will advise you full fiscal session Facilitate and you build up a plan whichwill Certainly get the creditors off your back once and for ave McMillan Law Group will therefore take attention for all the paperwork and legal procedures Which are Merely too much to manage on your own.”

Spammy link tactic #3

Comment spam on subject-matter irrelevant blogs that don’t have no-follow attributes on comments.  According to OSE, somewhere hidden among the 7,137 other comments on this page on Dr.Dyslexia.com  is a link to McMillan.

Spammy link tactic #4

For a localized business, a reasonable proportion of links should be local – very few should be international on foreign language sites.  This is a very obvious and easy red flag to ID.  For McMillan, I found links on sites in Spanish, Chinese, German and more.

The Lesson Here

This post might sound a little mean spirited, but consider it a great example to NOT emulate with regards to link acquisition.  The real reason:  despite all that keyword rich anchor text, a Google search for “san diego bankruptcy attorney” didn’t return McMillan until deep into page 2 and they were nowhere to be found in the local (mapped) results either.

The irony, of course, is with all of this Yelp publicity, McMillan is going to build a slew of genuinely high quality links; unfortunately they’ll all be going to a domain that is probably unsalvageable.