Reviews have become a non-negotiable part of online promotion for any medical practice. According to a recent Forbes article, a whopping 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business and over eight out of 10 individuals trust online reviews as much as they trust a recommendation from a friend! This adds further weight to the already established and growing influence of reviews on search engine rankings and visibility.
Reviews can be as rewarding for businesses with numerous and glowing reviews as they can be detrimental for businesses with poor reviews. The question is, which reviews are worth more, and how can you devise and execute a plan to consistently acquire positive patient reviews?
Which reviews count more?
There are many review sources out there. There are specialized sources for automobile reviews, restaurant reviews, lawyers, doctors, etc. The level of effort to acquire reviews on any one of them is relatively comparable; the results are not.
If you are in the process of reassessing your reputation management, the first question to ask yourself is which review sites should make your top two to three places where you want to have reviews about your practice.
We advocate that Google should always get special attention. Not only does Google comprise the vast majority of online traffic for a typical practice, but it is naturally going to trust reviews placed on its own pages, which would translate into better positioning in the so-called “local pack” (or map listings) that appear near the top of its first page results. All other sources should act in a support role to augment Google reviews. Here is a prioritized shortlist relevant to medical practices to get you started (not an exhaustive list):
The latter three sources have been around for a long time and specialize in professional medical reviews, so they generally tend to be trusted by search engines.
How to encourage patients to leave reviews
Getting patients to leave reviews is arguably one of the toughest reputation management challenges facing practices. Practice after practice tells us it is not only difficult to consistently ask for reviews, but very few patients choose to go through the hassle of leaving a review (unless of course, they are unhappy with some aspect of their experience, in which case, they are very happy take the time to leave a scathing review of you or your practice). The challenge then becomes to first encourage every patient – especially happy patients – to leave a review and second; to facilitate the act of leaving a review. These challenges, although difficult to overcome, are not insurmountable.
Asking for reviews comes down to training and discipline. Be prepared for a low batting average: one out of every 10 patients might take the time to provide feedback; this is normal.
Facilitating reviews, however, can be more challenging: partly because review sources (especially Google) have become very good at flagging disingenuous reviews, and partly because patients don’t want to take five to 10 minutes to figure out how and where to leave a review for you.
The first part has become a welcome fact of life. To get legitimate glowing reviews, practices must offer excellent customer care and attractive treatment outcomes. Long gone are the days when family and friends would leave reviews from the same office computer and have them stick for more than a few hours.
The second concern can be alleviated with technical help. Consider follow-up emails to specific patient encounters that include embedded links that can pop up review windows (from the sources we have mentioned) at the click of a button.
For cases of unhappy patients, offer a link to a private feedback form. Yes, smart practices provide a controlled environment for unhappy patients to vent and use the feedback to improve outcomes as much as possible. Negative reviews can, in one sense, be as useful as positive reviews.
There are also third-party systems that gather patient reviews in a number of different ways and automate the act of posting them to review sources. However, review automation comes with risks. Although some of these systems can be effective, this technique is generally frowned upon by search engines and review websites alike because it runs counter to the intent of providing genuine reviews – which is that real patients should place reviews without intermediaries or automated services.
Any path other than a real patient leaving a direct review could potentially open a practice up to the risk that when (not if) search engines detect a pattern of automation or interference, hard-earned reviews might be wiped out.
Yes, reviews are difficult to ask for and even more difficult to generate. However, with a little persistence in asking for reviews and some help from a trusted vendor to help facilitate reviews, the payoff can reward a practice with substantial ROI in both search engine optimization (SEO) and patient conversion.
Ali Kouros is co-founder of MetaMed Marketing. Ali heads up operations, engineering, productions, and practice marketing for MetaMed.