What To Look For When Reading Google Reviews

If you’ve had an accident, the next logical step after seeing your doctor is to see a lawyer. But unless you’ve had to call a personal injury lawyer in the past, you’ll likely end up googling someone in your area, and reading reviews for each lawyer in your search results can help you narrow the options.

Reviews are important. The reality is that we trust the word of strangers more than marketing copy on a website. But does that mean the reviews you’re reading are trustworthy?

The harsh reality when it comes to personal injury marketing is that some reviews are more trustworthy than others. This shouldn’t be the case, and the Law Society of Ontario is working hard to ensure that fake reviews are dealt with, but for now the question remains, can you trust a review?

Trust is a huge factor in accepting the legitimacy of reviews, but a survey of 1400 people in Australia revealed some interesting statistics:

  • “While 73% of participants said they trusted online reviews at least a moderate amount, 65% also said it was likely they had read a fake review in the past year.”
  • “48% of respondents believed they were at least moderately good at spotting fake reviews. Confidence tended to correlate with age: those who were younger tended to rate themselves as better at detecting fake reviews.”

Another study of people’s ability to distinguish between truth and lies revealed that most were only accurately assessing the difference 54% of the time (source).

These numbers might be from Australia, but I suspect the numbers are similar in Hamilton and the GTA.

The thing to remember is that all that glitters is not always gold. Overzealous, in-your-face marketing and a lot of glowing recommendations on Google aren’t necessarily what they appear to be. In fact, you could be dealing with false reviews, designed and written to boost a firm’s reputation.

What Are False Reviews?

There are a couple of ways that false reviews are generated, but the most common setup is where a company hires someone to go online, under a variety of names, and type in positive reviews on Google, or other sites like Yelp.

Most sites work hard to protect visitors from straight-up fake reviews; for example, Google has an algorithm in place to scrub what are likely fake reviews from their site.

The issue for all internet companies is knowing when a review is false and when it isn’t. If the fake reviews are produced by a human being, rather than a bot (which is software that is programmed to do the task), they can be harder to spot.

How to Spot a Fake Review

Here are some tried and true to red flags to spot false reviews:

  • Does the firm have a lot of five-star reviews that don’t contain many details or comments? This is a red flag, particularly if there are several of these reviews posted in a relatively short period of time.
  • Are the reviews headed by an extreme headline? Does the reviewer seem very one-sided in their reviews? Reviews that are genuine generally tell a story of that person’s experience rather than simply writing ‘good job!’ or ‘great firm!’ They will share some details. If the review lacks any detail, it’s harder to know if the review is based on a genuine experience.
  • Look at the sort of work the firm generally does. If it is primarily a personal injury firm, the reviews should speak to that area of practice. (It’s possible that the same lawyer does the odd will or real estate transaction, and that particular client may post a review, but it will be of little assistance to you in deciding to use that lawyer for your Personal Injury case.)
  • Look at other reviews that people have written by clicking on their username in the review. Through that, you can see their ‘contribution’, i.e. how many reviews they’ve written and how many companies they’ve rated. If you’ve got someone who has written hundreds of reviews, that’s a red flag. Particularly in the area of personal injury law, where you shouldn’t need to use a law firm more than once or twice in a lifetime.
  • If the firm has a lot of reviews but hasn’t been around long enough to have closed a lot of case, (which we know can take upwards of three years), it is very unlikely they’d have that many completed cases/clients.

Here’s the thing: It’s hard to get legitimate reviews from clients who have concluded their cases, as some clients do not use Gmail or they have every good intention to write the firm a review, but never get around to it.

Therefore, if you see a lot of recent reviews, you need to examine them closely. How many lawyers does the firm have? If the firm has only one or two lawyers, it’s hard to get 15 reviews in 2 months. Contrast this to a firm that has consistent reviews (although perhaps fewer in terms of numbers) over a long period of time.

  • Make sure the person writing the review became a client of the firm vs someone who may have had a consult, but for whatever reason did not pursue. You want to rely on reviews from clients who can attest to the whole litigation experience from start to finish.

Remember: These are just red flags, but not proof that a firm is posting false reviews. For example, a firm that received several good reviews in a short time period may have reached out to their client base to ask for them, which is perfectly acceptable, but could result in the appearance that all the reviews are coming in at once!

When it comes to legal reviews, go with your gut. If the reviews appear genuine and are detailed, they are likely a good representation of what you will experience at the firm. But despite how glowing the reviews are for any firm, you need to meet with the lawyer who will be responsible for your case. Ask a lot of questions and make your own decision.

Finally, as a small business, I have never incentivized or paid a client for a review. I stand by the reviews that I have received, and you can trust that my reviews are legitimate and ethically obtained, as per the Law Society of Ontario requirements, and my own conscience.


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