Google search filter

New Google Local Search Filter Focuses on Lawyer Reviews

A few days ago, Google added a filter to the local pack of search results that shows only businesses with a rating of four stars or more for specific search terms. This filter has been appearing on queries like “Best Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer” and other searches involving superlatives like “great” or “outstanding.” I started wondering how this review focus would impact the legal market; more specifically, this redoubled my concerns that the way Google is structured may stack the deck in favor of larger, high-volume firms, to the detriment of selective small firms and solos.

I ran the new filters by the lawyers on SoloSez to get some feedback.

Although the pre-filtered results seem to be appearing only intermittently, this change is indicative of Google’s continuing emphasis on user reviews as a potential ranking factor in local search results. For anyone with tons of positive reviews, this is certainly an encouraging trend. For smaller firms with a low number of reviews, however, it highlights the challenges of having a practice with a low volume of clients.

If you want to be lumped in with the “best,” having one review might not cut it anymore.

What Google is essentially saying is that the total number of positive reviews a firm accumulates is indicative of their overall quality. That’s a completely fair position to take, but it makes things even more difficult for smaller players in competitive industries. Simply put: quantity and quality are rare bedfellows.

After all, an attorney with one (or even zero) reviews isn’t giving Google enough information to make a valid assessment about the quality of their practice. Even though the new filter makes sense and provides a good baseline for users trying to select the best attorney for their specific situation, it does put small firms at a distinct disadvantage.

So, what’s a small firm to do?

If generating user reviews isn’t already a priority, this news should light a fire. If it already has been part of your marketing, it’s time to start doing an even better job following up with past clients to see if they can write a review sharing their positive experience.

There’s no easy solution, but making user reviews part of your overall business strategy is becoming an essential part of running a law firm. Unless you’re surviving solely on word of mouth and referrals, it’s only going to get more important to prove to Google (and potential clients) that you’re delivering exceptional service for your clients.

For attorneys like Matthew Wright, a truck accident attorney in Tennessee, this change feels more like a penalty than a solution. “While this new change is valuable to the consumer for high volume services where businesses accumulate lots of reviews, it puts smaller, more specialized law practices at a disadvantage,” said Wright.

“As our firm is focused primarily on catastrophic truck accidents, our highly selective case criteria makes it almost impossible to generate more than a handful of reviews, due to the relatively few cases we accept. This means my visibility is lower, regardless of whether I’d be the best fit for the person conducting a search related to my area of practice.”

Wright’s complaint is echoed by other attorneys with low volume practices that struggle to get reviews from clients.

Stephen Weiss, a sole practitioner focusing on Arizona Workers’ Compensation echoed Wright’s concerns. “It’s hard to get people to review you on Google,” said Weiss. “Even the most satisfied clients will say ‘sure, I’ll leave you a review,’ and then end up forgetting to follow through. If you have enough volume that’s okay, but when you’re handling a small number of cases it becomes problematic.”

For larger firms, the numbers pencil out and enough reviews stick that this sort of filtering isn’t a problem at all. However, for small firms, even getting the five reviews it takes to “earn stars” on your GMB listing can be a major struggle.

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About Conrad Saam

Conrad Saam is a member of the Social Media, Legal Blogs, and Websites Committee. He's also the founder of Mockingbird– an agency delivering advanced online marketing exclusively for the legal industry. He is one of 34 Google Small Business Advisors with a focus on SEO and PR. Prior to Mockingbird, Conrad architected Avvo’s ascendancy from concept to legal directory market leader through advanced search engine optimization tactics. Conrad is a frequent guest speaker at Local U, a panelist of David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and has spoken at Mozcon, SMX, SearchFest, Lawyernomics and Pubcon. He was an early contributor to Search Engine Land's In-House column, has been featured in USA Today, the New York Times and the Huffington Post. Conrad at Google Plus.

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