By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Patient reviews can make or break a business in this era of healthcare consumerism and online reputations. And they’re here to stay.
More than 94% of healthcare patients use online reviews as the first step in researching physicians and hospitals. They’re also the third most crucial driver in consumers’ decision to select a new healthcare provider after insurance acceptance and location. That’s why a solid strategy for getting and responding to reviews is crucial.
Though not healthcare specific, Google, Facebook, and Yelp are the most popular review platforms garnering millions of monthly page views on healthcare reviews alone.
These consumer-centric platforms allow patients to rate healthcare providers in the same way they do restaurants: on their personal experience using rating systems and narrative text reviews.
In this post, I share:
- Important differences between Google, Facebook, and Yelp reviews
- The benefits of online reviews for medical professionals
- Why you can’t ignore these consumer-centric platforms
- Five tips to generate more positive reviews
Google vs. Facebook vs. Yelp Reviews
Online reviews for local medical practices are increasingly found on the big three review hosting platforms: Google, Facebook, and Yelp. When it comes to your online reputation, you want to have a positive presence across all three.
That being said, there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the validity of Yelp ratings and reviews, and it is—by far—the least popular review site among our clients.
Before I share the benefits of Google, Facebook, and Yelp reviews for medical professionals, let’s talk about how they’re different:
I recommend focusing most of your review management efforts on Google for a few reasons. First, Google is the largest search engine platform, commanding more than 90% of the global search engine market share. That means it’s the first place customers will leave reviews and the first place they’ll visit to research businesses. And second, Google determines the quality of your business based on the quantity and quality of your customer reviews.
Listings with several positive customer reviews will be displayed on the search engine results page (SERP) more often (and higher up on the page) than listings with limited reviews or several negative reviews. Here are Google’s best practices for generating more online reviews.
Moreover, a complete Google Business Profile that’s well-managed also helps your business show up in Google’s Local Pack—the most sought-after position on Google’s local search results page.
With over 1.9 billion daily active users, Facebook is another key player in business reviews. Customers can visit a business’s Facebook profile, click on the Reviews tab and answer a simple question, “Do you recommend ‘this business’?” Once they click “Yes” or “No,” customers have the option of writing a review.
The binary nature of Facebook’s recommendation system doesn’t allow much wiggle room for semi-satisfied customers, meaning potential customers have to look at the content of the recommendations if provided.
Yelp uses an automated filter to hide certain reviews in order to display only the most helpful and honest reviews. While the filter’s purpose is to remove overtly fake or illegitimate reviews, it also flags legitimate reviews deemed too positive (or too negative), which can significantly impact your business.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the validity of Yelp ratings, so it can be tempting to ignore it. However, if you have a volume of web traffic originating from Bing, it’s worth including in your strategy. Bing Places (similar in function to Google Business Profile) is integrated with Yelp, meaning Bing displays the top three Yelp reviews along with your search result.
If your Yelp reviews are lacking, Bing users may avoid your business altogether.
The Benefits of Google, Facebook, and Yelp Reviews for Medical Professionals
Online doctor reviews continue to gain credibility for potential and current patients. In fact, 86% of 1,124 US-based consumers surveyed trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and believe they’re a reliable source for patient satisfaction and experience.
Proactively managing your business listings and consistently responding to patient reviews can boost patient intake and support patient retention. These activities can also promote:
A Positive Online Reputation
It takes 1 to 6 online reviews for potential patients to form an opinion about your practice.
Focus on delivering an exceptional patient experience and leaving your patients satisfied with your capabilities as their healthcare care provider. Your online reputation will take care of itself.
Feedback and Communication With Other Patients
Online reviews provide patients with valuable peer reviews when researching physicians or medical practices. Facebook and Yelp give users the ability to message anyone who has posted a review directly. Direct messaging allows potential patients to establish connections with patients and communicate privately about their experiences.
Improved Local SEO
Hospitals and multilocation medical practices rely on local search traffic to grow their business, making doctor review sites essential for their online strategy. Millions of people visit Google, Facebook, and Yelp each month, giving companies a way to get found online, often without investing in other local search engine optimization (SEO) services. These platforms also have high domain authority, making it easier for smaller medical practices to rank high on Google for search queries they might otherwise struggle to compete with.
Your Business as a Force in The Healthcare Industry
Promoting reviews on your website, paid search ads, social media channels, and review-listing sites can help you outrank your competition.
Establish your hospital or medical practice as a go-to for exemplary patient care or specific subspecialties with online reviews that build your brand and attract more patients.
Social Proof to Increase Sales
Any thoughtful feedback you receive for your business is a form of social proof. Positive online reviews give your hospital or medical practice instant credibility and trust and influence sales. In fact, 93% of consumers say they’re more likely to use your services or select your medical practice over a competitor if others (even strangers) agree it’s a good decision.
More Website Traffic That Generates Leads
Online reviews have the power to improve local search rankings and boost referral traffic. According to Bright Local, 54% of people will visit a website after reading one or more positive doctor reviews.
When patients rate and share their experiences on review sites, it provides potential patients with vital information about the overall patient experience. Maintaining optimized business listings on Google, Facebook, and Yelp, consistently responding to reviews, and curating a volume of positive reviews will also help generate high-quality organic traffic.
An Optimized Google Presence
Recent studies report that between 67.5% and 81.5% of American adults have used the internet to research health-related information. From an SEO perspective, Google considers a business’s presence on popular review platforms, including the number of reviews each has and how positive they are. Hospitals and medical practices with an optimized website and robust business profiles on these review platforms are more likely to rank higher than their peers and competitors.
5 Ways to Better Manage & Optimize Your Listings
1. Activate/Validate, and Optimize Your Listing
a. Why activate?
Your patients have likely already published reviews about your business, whether or not you’ve activated/validated accounts on Google, Facebook, or Yelp. Build trust and confidence, make it easy for patients to find you, and stand out from the competition by managing and optimizing your Google Business Profile, Facebook Business Page, and Yelp listings.
b. Fill out all of your information.
Make it as easy as possible for potential customers to find your business online and avoid losing them to a competitor.
It should go without saying, but the more information you provide on your profile, page, or business listing, the better optimized it is. This information includes business description, addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation, etc. The better optimized your listing is, the more likely it is to have a high Google page rank. And we all know high organic search rankings are a direct line to new business.
c. Add high-quality photos.
Include high-quality photos that illustrate why patients should choose your hospital or medical practice over a competitor. According to Yelp data, businesses with more than ten photos on their page get 12 times more customer connections per month.
It’s also important to note that professional photos aren’t always necessary. Snapshots from a smartphone are high enough quality and add a human touch to your business. Still, if you have the budget, we always recommend professional photos. Either way, here are a few engaging photo ideas:
i. Smiling staff
ii. Clean and welcoming facility
iii. State-of-the-art technologies
iv. Outdoor signage
v. Special events
d. Optimize for keywords.
Include relevant keywords from your website or paid search strategy throughout your profile, page, or listing.
2. Respond to All Reviews (Positive & Negative)
The primary best practice to consider when writing review responses is always to write unique and sincere answers and respond to all positive, mixed, and negative reviews (even ones that may be fake).
a. How to Respond to Positive Reviews
Positive reviews are an excellent opportunity to reinforce the excellent review and build on your brand. Here are our best practices:
i. Greet and thank the reviewer for writing a review and sharing their kind words.
ii. Acknowledge the joy/satisfaction the experience or treatment provided. (Making sure to avoid specific language about the type of treatment to comply with HIPAA regulations.)
iii. Remind the client that their experience is your top priority, and you’re thrilled it was a good experience for them.
iv. Thank them and wish them well.
b. How to Respond to Negative Reviews
Responding to an unfavorable, mixed, or fake review in a helpful, sincere way is the next best step toward repairing the problem and improving your online reputation. Here are our best practices:
i. Begin with an apology and thank the reviewer for sharing their mind.
ii. Each response should be unique and proactively address the client’s specific concern (without revealing any protected health information (PHI), even if the reviewer has already done so).
iii. Educate the reviewer that the appropriate team is available should they need further assistance.
iv. Acknowledge the negative experience so the reviewer knows you fully understand what happened.
v. Ask the reviewer to reach out privately if they need additional support or discussion. Your goal should be to have a private conversation.
vi. Include your contact information so the reviewer can follow up with you if they want to discuss more.
vii. Thank the client or potential client and apologize again.
viii. Sign a real name at the end of your response (this is preferable to signing things like “Your Patient Experience team).
Can you remove negative reviews?
Here’s how businesses can manage negative reviews that violate content policies and community standards on Google, Facebook, and Yelp:
Google uses automated spam detection measures to remove reviews that are most likely illegitimate. This helps improve the user experience on Google and ensures the reviews they see are authentic, relevant, and useful. Google does caution that their automated system may inadvertently remove some legitimate reviews. Businesses can also report any review they feel violates Google’s content policies and request it be removed from their Google Business Profile.
Businesses can report reviews that violate Facebook’s community standards. Businesses also have the option of turning off reviews completely.
Reported reviews will be sent to Facebook’s review team to confirm if the content violates their community standards. Based on their findings, it will either be removed or remain visible. If a bad review does not violate Facebook’s community standards, it’s best to respond in a helpful, sincere way.
Yelp removes reviews in conflict with their Terms of Service or Content Guidelines (e.g., fake or defamatory reviews, reviews promoting other businesses, negative reviews about a business’s employment practices, political ideologies, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don’t address the core of the consumer experience.)
If the bad Yelp reviews you want removed don’t violate Yelp’s terms, your best bet is to respond in a helpful, sincere way. It is also common to request the reviewer contact your business directly, so you can address their issue or concern privately.
3. Display & Use Positive Reviews
Displaying positive reviews on your website helps build credibility and drives more customers to your hospital or medical practice. Even if you don’t have a volume of reviews (yet), embedding online reviews directly into your site effectively drives traffic to your various business pages and encourages more doctor reviews.
4. Promote Reviews on Other Networks
Encourage your social followers to engage with your business on Google, Facebook, and Yelp, especially if they’ve used your products or services. Directing patients to review sites will build your brand’s credibility and trust with your audience and improve your organic search results.
5. Add a Review Link to Your Newsletter
Reminding loyal customers and followers, like your newsletter subscribers, to write about you on review sites is an easy way to get more positive online reviews. Don’t hesitate to promote your business listings on emails, newsletters, blogs, social media channels, or anywhere you regularly post content.
What to Avoid
While it can be highly tempting to work with companies that promise to improve your online reputation in one breath and then try to sell you bulk reviews in the next. Please don’t—especially if you’ve done everything else to build trust with your target audience and physician referrals and improve our local and organic page rank. Here are a few things you should never do:
- Bribe patients to write reviews
To be clear, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for reviews on most review sites—except Yelp. However, you should never offer money or other incentives in exchange for a review (positive or negative) of your products or services.
- Ask for positive reviews
Never ask patients to provide a “positive review.” Instead, welcome and respond positively to all reviews—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- Buy reviews
While it can be tempting to improve your ratings with purchased reviews artificially, it’s risky and illegal. Plus, it’s much more satisfying to earn positive reviews from actual patients.
- Disregard HIPAA regulations
It is imperative to maintain HIPAA compliance when using review sites. When building your business profile and responding to patient reviews, it’s important to avoid sharing PHI that could identify the person writing the review.
Healthcare Reputation Management at Scale
While these tips are great for single location practices, hospitals, branded healthcare organizations, and multilocation healthcare practices need a platform that can generate, monitor, and respond to reviews across multiple review platforms all in one place—and at scale. There are of course many options out there to choose from.
For our part, Healthcare Success provides our partnership clients with an enterprise-level platform and review support to improve their online visibility, boost patient feedback, and convert more patients. We help position our clients as trusted providers who are dedicated to ensuring the entire patient experience is a part of the health care conversation.