happy computer usersMany lawyers devote effort to developing their AVVO profile. I was recently part of a discussion in the Lawyers on G+ attorney forum where the topic of whether lawyers should use AVVO was discussed. To keep this article from being the length of War and Peace I’m assuming that you have a basic idea of what AVVO is. As explained below, attorneys should use AVVO for its online review features but I don’t believe they should devote effort to generating content on the site.

AVVO does an excellent job of serving as an attorney’s review management tool

AVVO is an excellent tool which helps attorneys control their online reputation. The site gives attorneys a place for clients to write reviews that are based on a five-star system (these reviews are separate from AVVO’s own attorney rating system, which is discussed below). What makes AVVO’s client review system better than that of similar sites is its fairness. Other sites have no guidelines as to who may review an attorney. It’s not uncommon for opposing parties to leave negative reviews on such sites out of spite. AVVO, by contrast, will remove a review if it does not meet certain guidelines as to who may submit reviews as well as subject matter. This leads to a more accurate representation of an attorney’s quality which can then be presented to potential clients.

AVVO’s review system proved critical to my practice. I had over thirty five star reviews on my AVVO profile and was often told by clients that the good reviews they found were one of the reasons for which they contacted my office in the first place. I was quite active in managing my AVVO profile, more so than many attorneys today and especially in 2009 when I first began utilizing the service.  In the coming weeks I’ll be writing (Spoiler Alert) a series regarding online review management and tips for managing your AVVO profile will be included.

It must be understood by attorneys that AVVO is problematic for both individual practitioners and the legal profession as a whole

Computer with a strategy keyIn addition to allowing clients to review a lawyer, AVVO has its own rating system, which functions on a scale of 1-10. One of the factors the site uses in ranking a lawyer is how much an attorney participates in AVVO’s online forums. These forums allow the public to ask questions for attorneys to answer. The more an attorney participates and provides content in these forums then the higher the attorney’s rating will be. Interestingly, AVVO does not take client reviews into consideration when issuing its rankings. For the reasons explained below, this rating system is having an impact on how a lawyer may market themselves online.

Why using AVVO is problematic for an individual attorney or law firm

Many attorneys currently use AVVO as an expanded marketing option rather than a simple review platform. They spend a fair amount participating in the site’s forums to obtain a higher rating so they may rank higher in results when people search for an attorney through the service. Many attorneys find  this necessary because AVVO often ranks in law related searches ( a point I’ll address a little later) and they don’t want to miss out on being in a directory people are searching. While this provides attorneys with an option for marketing, I believe there are better ways to market yourself and your firm.

A problem with developing your AVVO presence (which requires your effort in answering public questions) is that in writing answers you are generating content that you don’t own for an entity that can change its rules on you at any time. In my firm I took the approach that if I wrote content then I was going to own it. Rather than devoting time generating content in AVVO forums, or other similar sites such as LawGuru.com, I generated content for my firm’s blog. As I’ve discussed in my Blogging Basics For Lawyers series, my blog became a crucial part of my SEO and online marketing efforts. I know a few attorneys who either don’t have a blog or, if they do, it’s inadequately maintained. These lawyers have cited the time requirements of generating blog content to me as the reason for not blogging. These same attorneys, however, devote a fair amount of time to generating content on behalf of AVVO, LawGuru, and other similar sites. If these lawyers focused on quality content for their own web presence they could reach the top of search, which provides far more potential clients than one will get through AVVO.

Why using AVVO is problematic for the legal profession as a whole

Attorney generation of content for AVVO is reducing the extent to which lawyers can promote themselves online. As part of my discussion of why SEO matters to attorneys, I explained that a key to getting to the top of search is generating quality content. Attorneys cite AVVO’s high search rankings as a reason for participating on the site – the problem with this, however, is that AVVO is only performing well in search because attorneys are (free of charge) providing them with the content to do so. Attorneys, therefore, are creating the very thing that is displacing their own sites in search. This relationship has ramifications for attorneys wishing to market online.

Lawyers’ relationship with AVVO is somewhat similar to the relationship between mental health professionals and Psychologytoday.com. Psychologytoday.com allows a mental health professional to create a profile (for a fee) which can then show up when a potential client searches the website. Many professionals rely solely on these profiles as the site has become so dominant in search that it often takes up the first 2-4 positions on Google when people search for Psychologist. Psychology Today, however, has only reached this dominance due to the massive amounts of content written for it by those in the mental health profession.  Many psychologists don’t even bother with creating a website because they feel they can’t compete with the 800 pound gorilla. If attorneys continue to feed AVVO content then they might very well create a situation where the site is their only option to market online and AVVO will charge a large monthly fee to even maintain a profile (which Psychologytoday does).

Attorneys are in a better position to deal with AVVO than those in the mental health profession are to deal with Psychologytoday.com. First, attorneys typically maintain websites and blogs while many in the mental health field do not. This provides AVVO with more competition for top Google placement. That being said, attorneys should understand that AVVO’s position in search will only increase as attorneys feed it more content and this increase could very well mean AVVO taking up multiple positions in search.

Attorneys should focus on generating content for their own websites and blogs and use AVVO for review management

My firm did extremely well in search. Clients who utilize our attorney website design and SEO packages are also doing very well in search. Good search placement has proven far more lucrative for our clients than would developing an AVVO presence. While our clients do use AVVO for review management (which we recommend) we focus our content creation efforts on our clients’ own websites and blogs, which they own and control. We see this as the way for a firm to market online.

Obviously AVVO is a popular portal for attorney promotion. Do you use AVVO in your practice? Please feel free to chime in by joining the discussion below.