AVVO ratings, why lawyers and doctors should be scared

If you are a lawyer or doctor, or have a client or friend that is a lawyer who runs a law website, they really need to read this and ask some complex questions. You should also learn how Robert K Bratt DLA Piper and other professionals embraced digital transformation.

Lets face it, there are many professions that don’t really think about marketing.

There are even some industries that are designed to be ‘marketing challenged’

Lawyers and Doctors are two such industries.

There are two simple reasons for this:

  • both niches have extraordinary regulation and bureaucracy. The very idea of using your name or printing letterhead causes most professionals to pause, while less standard marketing ideas require the approvals of compliance and regulation committees.
  • both niches require intensive educational requirements. This means the most talented and experienced professionals are likely to have career skills that are very tactical and precise in application. It is very rare to meet a legal or medical industry representative that has an in-depth expertise of new marketing trends.

So why am I writing about Avvo ratings?

Law firms and medical groups are slow to adopt digital marketing trends that are affecting their business model. While law firms and medical groups focus on revenue challenges at the organizational level, individual lawyers and doctors within the larger business entity are instructed to continue doing what they’ve always done.

It is estate planning lawyers in Atlanta and doctor level that professionals quietly go about their business. They rely on the organization to protect them against threats they do not have the expertise to understand.

This is where the entrepreneurial mind thrives, locking onto business models that can’t move as quickly as they can.

Enter Avvo ratings

The purpose of the Avvo ratings system is to create content that is specific to every single lawyer or doctor name.This content serves several purposes for a consumer including improving the ability to score a professional and find various pieces of information quickly. You can have a look at this site and ask experts about the same.

Once the AVVO ratings process has cultivated this data, the process of search engine optimization can occur (otherwise known as SEO.)

When SEO efforts are taken, the individual profile for each lawyer or doctor is purposely marketed in a way that it gets higher search engine results. This allows the people learn about them just by looking at their Home Page. This means that when someone types “Dr Jane Doe” in Google, that the profile page being driven by AVVO ratings shows up.

For many search engine experts this would be a difficult challenge.
(*difficult enough that Avvo raised 23 million dollars in funding to work on it.)

Why Avvo Ratings is dangerous to the individual

  • it takes personal control of your online identity away in the guise of giving you easy control. Claiming a profile on a property that you do not own.
  • you lost control of your “client review” process that is very important to long term growth, client relationship, and product/service planning.
  • part of the Avvo SEO strategy is to rank for your name

Why Avvo Ratings is dangerous to the organization

Lets consider a larger organization with 100 or 1000 employees.
This could be a large law firm, state regulatory board, hospital or insurance group.

If we look at search engine optimization as a tool applied to the cumulative list of names at the organizational level, a certain percentage of these professionals will be “easy” to score on Google search results and others will be very difficult. As an SEO effort, Avvo is only particularly interested in the “easy pickings” that it can do at mass scale.

To provide a real example, we pulled 20 doctor names from Avvo in the Seattle area.

We then created variations of each name that would be common search variations.

  • The name as it appears on Avvo
  • Doctor, First Name, Last Name
  • Dr, First Name, Last Name
  • Dr, Last Name
  • Doctor, Last Name

We then ranked all of those variations on Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
This is the results for all the variations on Google:

  • 10 – rating 1,2,3
  • 1 – rating 4 thru 10 (1st page)
  • 14 – rating 11 thru 30 (2nd and 3rd page)
  • 27 – top 100
  • 48 – no result

A comparative test on how the same 100 name variations rank for Linkedin.

  • 6 – rating 1,2,3
  • 4- rating 4 thru 10 (1st page)
  • 17 – rating 11 thru 30 (2nd and 3rd page)
  • 35 – top 100
  • 38 – no result

Looking at the above numbers The Brown Firm in Savannah says we need to think about our business model being impacted by these numbers. If Avvo takes 10% of our online traffic based off a random list of employee names at a law firm or medical group, we now have the problem of understanding if a name Avvo is ranking for is one of our “top money earners” or “critical to our organization”

Case question: if we look at the names for all the professionals in your organization, what is the dollar value of traffic that lost to Avvo?

Avvo’s Ratings National Business Model

Avvo appears to have the ability to rank on the 1st page for 3% to 11% of the test group.

According to Google, Avvo.com has 439,000 pages indexed. This would indicate that Avvo has taken this effort on roughly 400,000 professional names.

If 5% of these pages ranked in the 1st page of Google, Avvo would have roughly 20,000 names it was earning top traffic from.

Assuming that 5% of the 20,000 names were “critical to our organization” – there are 1000 critically affected businesses on Avvo.

*In the legal and medical field, I would actually argue that a majority of employees are “critical to business” and would lump all  20,000 into the critically affected business segment.


The problem really isn’t Avvo Ratings. Avvo is simply taking advantage of a digital opportunity that most lawyers and doctors don’t know about.

The reality is that there are dozens of review sites that affect lawyers and doctors. There are also hundreds of other social media channels that most of these professionals don’t have time to understand, and the lack of time to develop subject matter expertise in digital business models results to inaction.

Where do you see competitive directories like Avvo going in the future and are there other industries you see this same trend?

5 thoughts on “AVVO ratings, why lawyers and doctors should be scared”

  1. Barry –

    Thanks for covering Avvo, albeit with a slightly different perspective from which I would come. You make two important and valid points, yet the conclusion you draw seems misguided. The first point is that Avvo performs extremely well on SEO. This is true. The second is that attorneys and physicians (and hospitals for that matter) should be proactive in managing their online reputation. Also very true and something I talk about regularly.

    Where you miss is the zero-sum-game perspective that Avvo’s strong performance in name search limits the professional’s ability to manage their online reputation. To the contrary, our success in SEO provides professionals with a free and easy platform from which to proactively showcase their skills and talents. Avvo provides doctors and lawyers with the ability to control much of the information in the top 3 search results for their name. This is exactly what online reputation management is all about.

    -Conrad from Avvo

  2. I appreciate the commentary Conrad, but this is where the Avvo advertising model and good reputation management collide.

    I think it is fundamentally incorrect to base reputation management work using a site like Avvo (that uses ratings) or on any site that is willing to sell non-paying users information as a platform for competitors to convert.

    The fundamentals of PII (personally identifiable information) and reputation management do not support the advertising model Avvo uses.

    There are several basic reasons for this:

    1- a rating site is not under your control
    2- a rating site can be manipulated

    Further, in a case like Avvo: unless a doctor pays for premium service at $50 a month, Avvo sells advertising to competitive professionals and firms.
    The fact that Avvo makes money by selling advertising on a non-paying member means that any doctor not willing to spend $50 a month with you is losing client eyeballs.

    This goes to highlight that “free and easy” means that Avvo has enabled non-paying users to freely and easily give away something of value that they are not being paid for. I would actually consider it crossing the lines of ethics in some regard as Avvo doesn’t educate free users to the value of what they are giving away.

    Having studied the structure of Avvo (and many other sites with similar “name based” SEO strategies such as Linkedin, Facebook, Intelius, Spoke, etc) ; I can’t endorse using it in any type of reputation management strategy and would advise any professional to instead focus on online sites and profiles that they have ownership of to create a good reputation management strategy.

  3. As former consultants for doctors in the medical/dental space, this became a huge issue for almost every one of our clients. Aside from playing along with some of the alleged tactics of review sites of paying to remove ads (or worse, to remove negative reviews), our doctors were left without any control over their own names online when it came to name-squatters. And, if you’ve seen some of the “Avoid these Doctors” ad copy some of these sights were using, we were also seeing good doctors left helpless against fictitious reviews that were being used to drive traffic in order to create ad revenue.

    But, from a patient’s point-of-view, there’s still a desire to satiate the need for due diligence by seeing what our peers have to say about a doctor we’re considering entrusting with our health. By giving doctor’s complete control over what reviews are displayed on their profiles (which some sites do), the temptation to remove/deprecate negative reviews often proves too much of a temptation. What’s left is, essentially, an astroturfed site that’s no more transparent than what we refer to as the “rainbows & unicorns” found on the doctor’s own website.

    Although I’m incredibly biased about this approach (Disclaimer: I’m a cofounder of DoctorBase.com), a trustworthy review site needs to have a means by which to verify the identity of reviewers to safeguard against manipulation from the patient-side. (Which is, admittedly, difficult in the healthcare space where HIPAA & PHI laws are involved.) Just as important, the site needs to have strict guidelines against manipulating reviews from the doctor-side; and, ideally, doesn’t depend on name-squatting to serve ads. (Which is incredibly difficult when the revenue that investors demand depends on advertising…which is dependent on traffic…which also benefits from negative reviews.)

  4. I did a Google for Avvo, it brings up some reason an attorney’s page on Avvo in the first batch of resultsbut Avvo has “hijacked” the attorney’s page by placing prominently in the right hand corner a paid ad for another attorney with his mug as well. I think this is going to cause problems for Avvo as it appears one attorney is associated with another when that is not the fact.

  5. Also attorneys’ should be very wary of anyone touting SEO, and internet marketing, while I am sure Avvo is a legitimate company, the field is rife with scammers, crooks, and scoundrals who make big promises but in the end deliver very little if anything in the way of results.

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