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In today’s digital landscape, choosing a law firm is largely influenced by online reviews. For better or worse, when prospective clients begin their search for a law firm these days, they usually start with a search engine.

And while that may be convenient for them, it opens the door for a slew of biased or untrue opinions that can put your practice on the defensive.

That’s why it’s never been more important to evaluate and manage your firm’s Google search footprint and your online reputation. Though you may be aware of your reputational standing in the real world and the legal community that sees your work, crafting a positive image for your practice takes a different type of awareness — and approach. While this may take an upfront investment, it’s well worth the time and money to ensure new clients can find your firm and entrust their case and legal needs to your team.

As a digital marketing and online reputation expert, I’m well aware of the power an online reputation can have on an attorney’s reach, revenue and long-term growth. To that end, I’d like to share a few best practices for managing law firm reviews and protecting your firm’s reputation. These crucial behaviors can help you control the online narrative while focusing on the work that truly matters.

Related: Why Your Company’s Online Reputation Matters

Determine where you stand

Before making any changes to your online reputation, you need to determine where your law firm currently stands on the web. It helps to picture yourself as the average client in need of what you offer and create a list of search terms or keywords relevant to what they need and to your firm. It can help to start your search in incognito mode to ensure your previous search history doesn’t influence your results.

Begin compiling your results into a spreadsheet, pulling from the wide range of review sites as well as any third-party blogs, articles, profiles and other online elements (good, bad and neutral) you may find. This database will help paint a bigger picture of your online reputation and what platforms or areas may need more attention.

Related: How to Build a Reputation That Will Become a Real Asset for You

Note repeat issues

As you compile your results, take note of issues that crop up repeatedly. While some law firm reviews may be from difficult clients whose experience does not accurately represent your firm or your team, certain repeat problems can shine a light on issues that can be easily addressed and shored up as needed.

When you find negative reviews, take care to respond publicly and empathetically. Your response to each negative comment will remain online and linked to the original negative review, providing balance when future prospective clients are reading reviews and demonstrating that your firm takes client feedback seriously.

Related: 7 Ways to Recover After a Reputation Crisis

Engage with the positive

While responding to negative reviews — politely and apologetically, of course — is key to mitigating their impact on your online image, just as important is replying to positive reviews. As with negative reviews, your responses remain linked to the original posts and provide an easy but fairly powerful opportunity to bolster your online cred.

When replying to positive feedback, ensure each response is personalized rather than issuing a boilerplate reply template. Robotic replies can often hurt authenticity and sometimes undermine your efforts altogether. You may also consider reaching out to individual reviewers and asking permission to share their positive feedback. Direct quotes from satisfied clients can be shared and utilized in various ways, including on your website, in email campaigns and across other aspects of your firm’s outreach strategy.

Related: 3 Tips for Managing Your Business’ Reputation Via Social Media

Create a review pipeline

Once you’ve addressed existing reviews affecting your firm’s brand online, you can begin gathering new reviews. Encouraging and sometimes even incentivizing client reviews (strategically, of course) can generate activity that catches Google’s attention and push your firm to the top of organic results pages. In some cases, this increased positivity can help push negative feedback off of page one. No matter what, don’t attempt to create false reviews with accounts of your own. Such black hat techniques can often create red flags that ultimately do more damage than good.

Automated email drip campaigns can provide an excellent opportunity to encourage happy clients to review your firm online. Updating your website with easy-to-find links directing clients to feedback surveys can also be an effective way to solicit positive feedback. These outlets can provide quotes you can use in both organic and paid marketing campaigns.

Related: The Relationship Between Reputation and Brand

Branch out to new platforms

A major step in managing your online reputation is branching out to new digital platforms. If your firm isn’t active on social media, consider creating accounts and posting regularly. You don’t need to jump on every new app. Instead, focus on the platforms that make sense for your law firm, such as LinkedIn. There, you’re better equipped to control the narrative and present positive messaging.

It can also help to work with a public relations expert with the focus, skillset and media relationships to incorporate mentions of your law firm’s successes into high-authority online news outlets, local blogs and other high-traffic venues. Even short, relevant blog posts on your own website can help promote your practice and increase client trust in your firm. Over time, expanding to social media and other online outlets can boost your placement in search engine results while promoting your law firm where it generates the best results.

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