Over the last decade, online review sites have exploded, and consumers now factor online reviews heavily into their purchasing decisions. For the modern entrepreneur, online reviews are an unavoidable cost of doing business. So, What do you do when you get a negative review online? This is a question we receive at LOMAP on a regular basis, and it falls under the larger rubric of online reputation management. Only, most attorneys don’t worry about any of that until there are already some negative reviews for their firm appearing online. But, it pays to be more proactive than that. So, we’re delighted to have the following guest post from Ted DeBettencourt, of Online Business Creators. Below, Ted outlines several steps attorneys can apply to manage their reputations online, and to combat negative reviews. If you need some assistance fixing or developing your web presence, visit Ted’s website, to learn more about the ways that he can help.

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Most lawyers don’t engage online reviews until they get a bad one, or two . . . or more; it is then that attorneys begin to take action, up to and including seeking and publishing positive reviews, to drown out the negative ones. But, if a lawyer doesn’t have a strong web presence, negative reviews can appear at the top of search rankings (not the way you want to get to page one of Google), and hurt your business.

Here are seven actionable steps to take if there are negative reviews about you appearing online:

Step 1: Keep Calm and Carry On. Just know that getting negative reviews is something that happens to the best of us, and that it is just a part of doing business in the real world. If you respond to a negative review while you’re upset, or angry, it will end badly. After you see a negative review, don’t take action right away. Wait 24 hours, at least: detach from the situation as much as possible, and reduce your emotional involvement, before you respond.

Step 2: Take it Offline. Most review websites post (at least) a username of the reviewer, as well as some additional information (usually, when the reviewer chooses to add it). If you can determine who has written the negative review, reach out to that person in a professional manner, and ask him or her if there is anything that you can do to help assuage his or her negative experience. Your message should be about helping the reviewer in that person’s current situation; you’re not looking to engender an argument about the negative review. If you offer the reviewer a reasonable solution, and help to work through the issue, the poster is more likely to remove the negative review on their own — and, just maybe, post a positive one.

Step 3: To Respond or Not To Respond — That is the Question. Even if you can’t determine alternate contact information for the negative reviewer, many websites will allow you to send a direct message to the poster. If that option is available, send the reviewer a solutions-based message, as we just talked about. (For example, say something like, ‘I’m sorry you had a negative experience with my service. How can I help you in your current situation?’). If you can’t respond via a private message, I would recommend that you post a public response. A well-written public reply to a negative review shows that you care about the reviewer’s position, and that you want to help to fix it. Keep in mind that this strategy also relays the same message to others reading the negative review — and, that’s probably a more important thing than even the effect of your response on the reviewer.

Step 4: Bury the Review. Some folks are irrational; and, even if you respond in a constructive way, and help the reviewer out, that person may yet be unwilling to take down the negative post. At that point, one of your options is to bury the negative review with positive reviews. That is easier said than done, of course; but, the new reality is that lawyers need to start incorporating the development and maintenance of review pipelines into their workflows.

Step 5: Choose a Review Platform. The most important review website today is Google. But, to write a review on Google, the reviewer must have a Google account. My favorite solution to this potential problem (the barrier to your clients posting reviews of your service on Google) is to ask your client to set up a GMail/Google account (if they don’t already have one) before the client starts working with you; that way, you and your client will have a dedicated email for case-related communications. This is a free, simple way to show your clients that you care about their cases; plus, it makes it easier for you to get your clients to post positive reviews, once you’ve successfully solved their problems. When you ask your client to establish a Google account, send an email with specific instructions on how to create one, as well as a link to the Gmail homescreen. Of course, Google is not your only potential review platform.

Step 6: Easy Reviewing = More Reviewing. As was alluded to just above, the easier the review process, the more likely you are to get positive reviews; and, certainly, this applies beyond the services referenced above. In fact, what you’re doing is establishing a process that can be used across review sites. To get the ball rolling on acquiring some initial positive reviews, identify a list of ten clients who you think would write a positive review for you; then, write each one a ‘thank you’ email. This email will thank the client for his or her business, and a request will be made for a review of the client’s service experience. In that email, you will provide clear, step-by-step instructions on how to sign up for your preferred review site(s), and on how a review is posted thereon. You may also include template or sample positive reviews for the client to utilize in drafting.

Step 7: Bury the Website. Sometimes, going nuclear is the only option. If a negative review is appearing in early results for search terms related to your business, you can create your own websites that will outrank the review website, to push the negative review down in search. This process is certainly more time consuming; but, sometimes, it’s the only option. Of course, this will be more difficult to do when you compete with popular reviews sites, which apply significant efforts to their own SEO directives.

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As alluded to in the introduction to this post, this is all part of the online reputation management process for your law firm. Remember, though, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for how you build and maintain your web presence, and control the conversation online surrounding your practice.