Yelp For Attorneys: Marketing Opportunity or Reputation Nightmare?

Good reviews are a great way to connect with new clients and build your business. Avvo and LinkedIn are preferred places for attorneys to share reviews. But last spring, an online survey claimed that Yelp is the most popular and trusted website for legal reviews. I read the report shortly after it was published and didn’t give it much merit. However, it received recognition from industry influencers who re-published the findings on their blogs. Yelp starting pushing the positive claims to my clients who in turn asked me about the benefits of advertising their legal services on Yelp.

Yelp is undoubtedly a well-liked site, with reviews on everything from hotels and restaurants to barbers and mechanics, and even some attorneys. But is Yelp really the go-to site for consumers in search of legal representation and, more importantly, is it a good venue for attorneys to market their services?

Read this month’s newsletter to learn whether Yelp carries its weight in the legal market.

Yelp For Attorneys: Marketing Opportunity or Reputation Nightmare?

Yelp is an online review site that was founded in 2004 to help people find local businesses such as restaurants, dry cleaners, and hair salons. It now has over 61 million reviews of businesses in cities all over the world. You may have used Yelp to help you choose a good hotel, a local gym, or a mechanic near you.

In May, a company called Software Advice published a report called “How Clients Use Online Legal Reviews.” It has since been written up by influencers in a number of blogs and industry sites and Yelp has been using the report to sell the value of its review site to attorneys.

Among other things, the report claimed that Yelp is the most popular and trusted website for legal reviews. But is this really the case? Well, it is true that Yelp received a noticeable boost in visibility since one of Google’s major algorithm updates. And it is also true that Yelp has seeded its directory with attorney names so that when someone Googles the name of an attorney with the term “review,” it’s likely that will be among the search results. So why wouldn’t attorneys looking for another effective way to promote their services online take advantage of what Yelp has to offer?

Here are 3 reasons attorneys should tread cautiously with Yelp.
1. Faulty survey data:

If you’ve seen the survey that says Yelp is the most trusted site for lawyer reviews, you have to take those results with a grain of salt. The process, facts, and figures of the survey simply don’t support any meaningful conclusions. The results are based on a miniscule number of responses (385) without any qualifying factors such as whether the respondents had a legal issue in the last year, hired an attorney in the last five years, have ever researched a legal issue online, etc.

Further, the survey lists Super Lawyer as the respondent’s’ second choice for most popular attorney review site, while Super Lawyer doesn’t even provide consumer attorney reviews. The report is based on unqualified respondents answering survey questions regarding a specialized online market segment they are unfamiliar with. This is certainly not a survey to take seriously. It’s like one of those fun quizzes you might post on your Facebook page, next to “Are you a real Bostonian” or “What type of cocktail are you?”

2. You’re in the crosshairs:

Attorneys deal with complicated issues, conflict, emotions, and people’s lives. There are numerous parties involved in any given case and anyone with a thorn in his or her side can write an unfavorable review. Typically, when someone is looking to vent their frustrations, a review site is the venue of choice. And because so many consumers read reviews, ignoring a negative one is no longer an option.

You must proactively manage and protect your online reputation. This means selecting where you choose to engage client reviews is very important. Professional review sites like LinkedIn and legal review sites like Avvo provide attorneys with a certain level of control and offer effective community guidelines. For example, on Avvo a reviewer needs to be an actual client. If this cannot be confirmed then the review is removed. Guidelines also dictate that reviewers cannot simply call someone a liar or a cheat. These types of guidelines give attorneys the flexibility to remove unfavorable reviews and protect their reputation.

On the other hand, Yelp does not assist the account holder when unfavorable or untrue reviews are posted. Instead the company line is freedom of speech … and you have the right to respond. According to Yelp, “[b]usiness owners should also feel free to use their business accounts to publicly or privately respond to any inaccuracies in the review.” A Yelp reviewer does not have to be a confirmed client and fake accounts can be created anonymously. Businesses that see a questionable review can flag it and request that Yelp moderators take a look. But the bottom line is that Yelp does not “take sides in factual disputes and generally allow[s] Yelpers to stand behind their reviews.” In other words, a reviewer can write anything about you and your law firm.

3. Yelp is forever:

Yelp is a risky proposition for most attorneys and claiming your profile on Yelp may be like opening Pandora’s box: the consequences may be detrimental and long-term. Once you are on it, you need to stay ahead of it, monitor it regularly and manage it — forever. According to Yelp, reviewers “are expected to share the full range of their likes and dislikes about a business, but obviously shouldn’t misrepresent their experiences or draw broad conclusions based on an individual experience.” This puts the reviewer in the driver’s seat and leaves you wondering what the next comment will be and how much time you’ll need to spend addressing the inaccuracies of the review.

Yelp is now the go-to review site for restaurants, hotels, and other consumer-oriented services such as bike shops, boat tours, and theaters. It is an established and popular site that is not going away. Now Yelp has decided to include professional services, including attorneys, to grow revenues and expand their database of businesses. It has hired a sales force to aggressively go after attorneys, knowing that it is a profitable sector. Yelp has made a business decision to grow professional services but has not considered what this means for attorneys – beware. What’s good for Yelp may not be good for attorneys.

There are better options.

Attorneys need to choose review sites that are friendlier to their business and not ones that bundle the often-complicated profession of law with discovering the best bagels in town. Although getting reviews is an important way to show your expertise and connect with new clients, Yelp is not the best way to do so.

Instead, at the end of each engagement, ask happy clients if they would write a review of your service on a site you choose. Then make sure you include a page of client reviews on your own website. Create online profiles on LinkedIn and Avvo and use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to share good reviews. If you make it part of how you do business, getting reviews can be a manageable and rewarding part of your marketing outreach – without Yelp.

For more information about reviews, read my column, “How to Manage Your Online Reputation.”

To find out more about online reviews and reputation management for attorneys, contact Bardorf Legal Marketing.