If attracting visitors from local search results is part of your legal marketing strategy, you probably know the importance of acquiring positive reviews on your Google+ Local Pages.

Which may lead you to conclude that you should solicit Google+ endorsements from clients and colleagues. Of course, most lawyers are limited as to how they can permissibly obtain reviews by their state’s rules of professional responsibility.

One way that business owners have tried to increase the number of reviews they receive from customers is by holding a contest to provide incentive for folks to leave reviews. Which probably violates your state’s ethics rules. But if violating your state’s ethics rules doesn’t dissuade you from holding a contest for reviews, here’s another reason: these contests violate Google’s guidelines.

As reported by Mike Blumenthal:

There had long been some ambiguity & contradictions around whether the Google Review guidelines prevented a business from having a contest or raffle to encourage customers to leave reviews. No more. Google has finally stated that drawings that involve incentives are not allowed.

In response to a report in the forums of a contest that had a drawing for the chance of a refund for the value of work done in return for a review (either positive or negative), Googler Jade said: Just clarifying that it is against our reviews guidelines to trade money for reviews, so, yes, this sort of solicitation would be against the reviews guidelines. You can see the rules for the contest in question here & here.

Wondering about what other ways encouraging reviews might be in violation? Here’s Google’s current review content policy (emphasis added):

Review content policy

You can use the Flag as inappropriate link next to a review to report it as inappropriate. We will then check if the review violates these guidelines.

Note, however, that Google Places reviews are a forum for users to share both positive and negative opinions. We do not arbitrate disputes and more often than not, we leave the review up.

Policy criteria for removing reviews

We want people to get ratings, reviews, and recommendations that are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. To protect both business owners and customers, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews that include any of the following:

Inappropriate content: Don’t post reviews that contain or link to unlawful content, or content that violates our Google+ content policy. We may also remove reviews that include plagiarism or are copied from other sites.

Advertising and spam: Don’t use reviews for advertising or post the same or similar reviews across multiple places, don’t post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings, and don’t include links to other websites. For certain types of businesses that are prone to spam, we also reserve the right to prevent reviews from publicly appearing across Google.

Off-topic reviews: Reviews should describe your personal, first-hand experience with a specific place. Don’t post reviews based on someone else’s experience, or that are not about the specific place you are reviewing. Reviews are not a forum for personal rants or crusades. Don’t use reviews to report incorrect information about a place–use the Report a problem link for that place instead.

Conflict of interest: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews. As a reviewer, you should not accept money or product from a business to write a review about them. Additionally, don’t feel compelled to review a certain way just because an employee of that business asked you to do so. Finally, don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.

Sometimes our algorithms may flag and remove legitimate reviews in our effort to combat abuse. We know this is frustrating when it happens but believe that overall, these measures are helping everyone by ensuring that the reviews appearing on Google Places are authentic, relevant, and useful.

So what are the key takeaways?

  • Don’t syndicate reviews from other places.
  • Make sure your marketing company isn’t leaving fake reviews (get this in writing).
  • Don’t review your own law firm and don’t encourage employees to leave reviews.
  • Don’t pay people or provide other artificial incentive for people to leave reviews.

Do let happy clients know how and where they can permissibly review your services.

There’s little question that getting a number of positive reviews will become increasingly important to your visibility within local search results. Plus, research shows that, for better or worse, people rely upon and expect businesses to be reviewed. Law firms that have happy clients evangelizing the quality of the firm’s services are more likely to earn new business.