Online reviews are a critical component of visibility in local search. David Mihm's 2012 Local Search Ranking Factors report (the bible for up-to-date, local SEO expertise) lists reviews as the 7th most important overall rankings factor out of 90 different ones. Needless to say, it's something all firms have to be paying attention to.
However, it often falls by the wayside. Attorneys will get testimonials emailed to them, letters of recommendation sent, or a nice follow up phone calls. Firms will post these testimonials on their websites and leave it at that. While this can help with building trust and conversion for the visitors already on your website, it's not going to get the job done as far as search engines are concerned. Testimonials and reviews need to be posted by your clients on specific profiles around the web and your firm needs to have a strategy thought out ahead of time to ensure this gets executed properly.
If you don't make it as easy as possible for your clients, walking them through the process step by step, telling them exactly where to go and how to leave the review, I can assure you it either won't get done properly or it won't get done at all.
Where Should You Ask Your Clients To Leave Reviews?
There is no shortage of review sites out there so it's important that you do a little research in order to make sure you are asking for reviews on the sites that matter most. There are a few review sites that I would put into "Tier 1". I consider these universal; all firms should be requesting reviews on these sites. These include:
Google+ Local Page (Formerly Google Places)
Avvo (Consider getting peer reviews on Avvo as well)
Some of the "Tier 2" sites to consider, after you have done a good job of accumulating reviews on the Tier 1 sites, are:
Martindale (This is a paid listing, but if you are signed up through Martindale.com or Lawyers.com this should be on your list)
In order to prioritize the Tier 2 sites and discover others you should consider, you need to research where your competition are getting reviews. I would advise using Google+ Local Pages for this.
Researching Where Your Competition Are Getting Reviews
A good place to start for your research is to check out the review sources on your competition's Google+ Local Pages. Let's use the example of a personal injury law firm in Chicago. I begin my research by going to Google Maps and performing a search for "personal injury lawyer Chicago". This brings up a list of local results. You can click on the name of the firm for any of the results, which will bring up a box on the map with additional info.
From there you can click on "more info", highlighted in the image above, which will take you to the firm's Google+ Local page. If you scroll down, below the reviews left directly on the Google profile, in some but not all instances, you'll see a box with "Reviews around the web" that looks like this:
This will give you an idea about other review websites you should consider targeting. Feel free to repeat the process for additional searches and check out multiple competitor profiles to see the sites that come up most frequently. These are the Tier 2 sites you should consider adding to your review rotation.
Develop A Consistent Process For Collecting Reviews
If you don't have a process in place to collect reviews from clients it simply won't happen. It's important you are:
Strategic with the online profiles you send them to
We already addressed how to be strategic with the specific online profiles you are sending clients to above.
Consistent with asking for the review
You should have a follow up or "case wrap-up" discussion with your client that includes asking for an online review when appropriate (obviously you want to be cognizent of your state's ethics rules for online reviews and testimonials). If the client is uncomfortable with or unwilling to leave a review, then that is fine. But many will be glad to do so, you simply need to give them further direction so it actually gets done, and done correctly.
Describe in detail exactly how to leave the review
You will maximize your reviews by making it as easy as possible for your client to complete the process.
If a client is wrapping things up with you in person, help them leave the review right then and there. The advantage is that you can be next to them and guide them through the process to make it easy. Provide access to an iPad or other computer and take them step by step, directing them to your firm's profile (perhaps have these bookmarked for your top review targets ahead of time). This ensures the review is completed properly and on the correct profile target.
If you can't be there with them or if you are finishing things via email/phone I suggest preparing step by step written instructions on exactly where to go and what to do when they get there. Whether this takes the form of an email written out explaining how to navigate the specific profile you are targeting or a one-page handout, such as the one in this example, the key is to be specific and clear with every step of the process. Provide the direct link for your profile, any signup or login info they will need to create, how to leave the actual review, etc. Again, make sure they have everything spelled out so they don't encounter any surprises.
I also recommend working through the process yourself on each site (although don't publish any fake reviews) to see how it flows and works from the perspective of your client.
Collecting reviews online is not really a luxury or just something to consider. It should be a central part of your local online strategy. When was the last time you made a purchase on Amazon or signed up with a service without checking out some of the reviews?
Your potential clients are looking for reviews online, what do they find when they look for yours?