In the past, reputation management was easier because if something bad happened, newspapers had a short shelf-lives, people had short memories and burying negative information with positive information was often effective enough.
Before the Internet, reputation management wasn’t as necessary as now. If someone was unhappy with your services back then, they might have told their friends and relatives, but it ended there. Now, negative comments from a disgruntled former client can be read worldwide and found in search results for the rest of your career.
Consequently, for purposes of this article, reputation management is to be viewed more as damage control for negative comments about you and your firm posted on the web.
What to Do with Negative Reviews
It doesn’t matter how good you are or how well you did in a case with an unfortunate set of facts and circumstances, occasionally a client is going to be disappointed enough with the result to say it on a review site like Yelp.
It goes without saying that a bad review that ranks high in search engine results is going to have a negative impact on your online success, but what can you do to minimize the potential damage?
Challenge the Review
Whether the review is at Yelp or on some other review site, if the review is libelous, you can write to the editors to have it removed. For example, you may find a review where you do not recognize the author or the circumstances he or she is describing, leading you to a conclusion that it may have been posted by a competitor. Or, you may recognize the client but the review is filled with slanderous falsehoods. Of course, if you recognize the person and they are expressing their constitutionally protected opinions, then you will want to skip to the next section.
If you would like to have a review taken down, you can write to the editors usually through a contact form on the website for this specific purpose, making your strongest case for why the review should be removed.
If a few weeks later the review is still there, it may be worthwhile to follow up with a stern email requesting that the review be taken down.
Respond to the Client
If you know the person who put the review up on the website, you can respond to the reviewer to see if there is anything that can be done to address their concerns or make things better, but be careful not to do anything that could be misconstrued as an offer for something specifically to change the review. In the case of Yelp, you have an opportunity to reply privately through the Yelp website itself to see if there is any hope of improving the reviewer’s attitude towards your law firm.
If you tried this and it was unsuccessful, or if you think it would be pointless to try, you may want to post a public reply if the reviews site allows.
Posting a Public Reply
Yelp and some other review websites will give you an opportunity to give your side of the story in the form of a public reply. This can be effective if handled artfully, but can be risky if the reviewer wants to post a reply to your public reply, in which case you may be doing more harm to yourself than good.
Bury the Review
By eliciting positive reviews from former satisfied clients, you may be able to drive the negative review deep in your review site listing and dilute the negative impact of the bad rating for your law firm with very positive reviews.
Simply asking for reviews, giving the link to the listing where your negative review exists, may be enough. Plan for many of your reviews, if at Yelp, to be filtered out, but some of them will stick.
Do not post contrived reviews at Yelp or Google Places because they can often detect that and penalize you for it. Furthermore, it may run afoul of the professional rules of conduct prohibiting false and misleading statements.
Bury the Search Result
If none of the above has helped and the negative review is still showing prominently in the search results for your name or your law firm’s name, the next best thing would be to bury the search result by crowding it off the first page with more positive information about you.
Your active social media platforms can be effective in placing higher in the search results for your name then a Yelp listing. In addition, posting frequently to your Google Plus account should cause that account to rank well in Google’s search results.
Google has an apparent fondness for certain press release websites like PRweb. By putting up press releases at websites like these (often for a small fee), you should be able to get your hand-crafted positive content to rank well.
YouTube can also be helpful in displacing a negative search result. Videos about you can sometimes outrank a negative Yelp listing, giving Google users one more opportunity to ignore the bad review.
So if you find yourself in this situation, and most lawyers will eventually, be proactive in minimizing the negative impact on your law practice.
Ken Matejka, J.D., LL.M, is a California-licensed attorney and President of LegalPPC, Inc., a San Francisco-based Internet marketing company for solo practitioners and small law firms. If you have questions about this article or his services, Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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