While you may have opted to create profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, chances are your name, law firm or both are listed in one or more online directories where people can post reviews, and you had no say in the matter.
The pros: It’s free advertising, requiring little or no effort on your part.
The con: You also have little or no control over what people write about you online.
Everyone’s a critic
I looked principally at a pair of general-interest local directories where reviews are the main attraction, Yelp and Citysearch. There are countless other, similar websites. (I’ve previously written about two free, popular online lawyer directories, Avvo and Justia.)
Both offer basic information about restaurants, shopping, bars, spas and many more categories of businesses. Selling ads is how both these sites keep the lights on.
To Yelp’s credit, there’s a page for business owners and FAQs. I didn’t see a similar page on Citysearch, and I don’t care for that. We’re lawyers; we like rules.
Yelp purchases information from “third-party data providers who gather this type of information from public records and other sources.”
As for Citysearch, there’s no source listed for many listings, but some cite Yellowpages.com or InsiderPages.com, the latter being a sister site, to Citysearch, albeit lesser known.
If you don’t like a review on Yelp, you can respond to it publicly. If you buy an ad, Yelp won’t remove or reorder bad reviews. And, if you want Yelp to remove your listing, they won’t do it.
As for Citysearch, I couldn’t determine from the website if there’s a way to redress negative reviews, or if you can get un-listed. A call to its 800 number takes you to an automated system that doesn’t offer speaking to a person as an option. And the press center for its parent company, CityGrid Media, only gives an e-mail address. They didn’t respond to my e-mail asking about this.
The filtering for results on both sites is, well, dubious.
When I entered the search terms “lawyers” and “Milwaukee, WI” on Yelp, “Jim Hegarty’s Pub” is the first non-sponsored listing, as sorted by “Best Match.” Every Marquette Law grad reading this has probably just cracked a smile.
Meanwhile, with Citysearch, the same search terms yielded multiple H&R Block offices within the first few pages of results.
Both Yelp and CitySearch feature mobile applications for the iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android, Palm and more. This extensive availability for smart phones suggests that the creators of these sites expect a great deal of traffic from people who are visiting or new to a city, or otherwise on-the-go, most likely looking for restaurants or hotels.
Which leads me to conclude that no one picks or nixes a lawyer solely based on a Yelp or Citysearch listing and/or reviews.
Reviewing Citysearch and Yelp
I spoke to a few Madisonians, who all said no one has ever told them, “I read that great online review of you. Can I hire you?”
Attorney Scott E. Mickelson is on both Citysearch and Yelp, although he’s not been reviewed on either site. He said monitoring the reviews and being prepared to respond appropriately to any negativity, without violating confidentiality, is just “a cost of doing business, in terms of time and energy.”
Overall, he sees more positives than negatives. “They can get one’s name, business, slogan, etc. in front of more eyeballs on more occasions. It can add a sense of legitimacy to the existence of a business.”
Attorney Diane L. Mader agreed.
“I’m of the opinion that more exposure on the Web is always better than less,” said Mader, who is on both sites and doesn’t worry about bad reviews.
She additionally appreciates that both websites send out frequent e-mails seeking to update information, and report how many people have looked at the listing.
Kate Scoptur, director of client relations at Axley Brynelson, said her firm chose to claim its Yelp profile because they’d rather know what other companies are doing with their name and brand on the Internet than not know. The same goes for reviews.
Further, the listing hasn’t been an especially effective marketing tool, in comparison to the success stories she’s heard from many individuals at the firm using Facebook and LinkedIn. For that reason, the Axley attorneys tend to view those websites as the premier marketing sites, and focus mostly on them.
On that note, Mickelson said, “All of these sites work together to help inform people about who I am, what I do, what my personal/professional style might be, and how that might match or complement the potential client.”
Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and former editor of the Wisconsin Law Journal. Since moving to Nashville, she has been our editor-at-large. She can be reached at email@example.com.