Yelp Sets the Gold Standard for the Type of Value Disclosures That Law Firm Marketing Sites Should Provide

According to Techcrunch, Yelp, an online customer feedback site has announced a new feature that will help small business owners quantify the value of their Yelp listing.  To estimate a listing’s worth, Yelp examines customer leads like bookmarking a Yelp business listing, mapping directions to the business, placing a phone call from the Yelp app, purchasing a Yelp deal, making an OpenTable reservation, and more.  Then, using an expert report, Yelp estimates the average value of the lead.  Multiplying total leads by average value of each lead approximates the amount of revenue that the business derives from Yelp.

Even though Yelp’s estimates are rough cut, it’s easy to see their value. First and most obviously, Yelp helps business owners understand the impact that Yelp has on their business. Second – and perhaps more importantly, Yelp can help companies diagnose where they’re losing business. If a business’ revenue falls short of Yelp’s prediction, a business owner can review the figures and try to figure out why (maybe the map instructions are inaccurate, maybe the person answering the phone is rude).

Yelp provides this data to users at no charge – even though the site is free to use. By contrast, many lawyers spend hundreds, even thousand dollars on online listings and lead generators – yet most of these sites don’t track leads for lawyers as Yelp does, and those that do (like Avvo’s Ignite) charges for the service (though Avvo’s listings itself and other sites monitored are free).

Shouldn’t lead generating sites, particularly those that charge money for listings provide lawyers this information? Of course, we all know the reason why these companies don’t don’t:  they’d rather not have lawyers figure out that they’re shelling out big bucks for a service that isn’t delivering.

Just as I’ve blogged that technology can improve ethics oversight of lawyers, so too, technology may force transparency in online lawyer lead generators, pay-per-click and other schemes. In fact, perhaps bar associations should force these companies to disclose a participant’s expected ROI before allowing them access to bar members.

As clients increasingly search for lawyers online, web based marketing has become big business. As Stephanie Kimbro  contends  many of these sites can help expand access to law. But these sites have drawbacks as well with costly fixed contracts and occasionally unethical practices.  Online law firm marketing isn’t going away – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, by demanding transparency of online marketing platforms by requiring them to provide the same data that Yelp does, at least we can ensure that these services work more effectively for lawyers.  Because if these sites can’t show results, they’ll go out of business.