It’s a sign of the times and a testament to the power of the consumer. Today, everywhere you look online, you find customer reviews. Whether you’re shopping for shoes, power tools, a lawn care service, or, yes, orthodontic work, you can’t do this research without finding reviews and ratings from the public. With the growing prevalence of social media, business review websites and online forums people can freely express their thoughts to the world.
Business owners have always known how powerful a strong word-of-mouth reputation can be. But leveraging online consumer feedback to cultivate a positive reputation is easier said than done. An inherent risk of participating in these online channels is that when you open your brand up in this way, you really do open it up. Not everyone has great things to say; and there is no way to control what is said about your brand online. Well, not directly.
While it’s nothing to be taken lightly, you can take a rather common-sense approach to making sure your business is accurately represented online. Simply being aware of your online presence and educating yourself on ways to influence positive feedback can have a huge impact. Here are four things you need to know about managing your reputation online.
Why reviews matter
According to Nielsen research, 90% of people trust recommendations on products, services and businesses from people they know. The second most trusted source? Consumer opinions posted online. A whopping 70% of consumers refer to these online reviews when making purchasing decisions. These consumer opinions play into the overall credibility of your practice and have the influence to either make you look like the best orthodontist out there or cause potential patients to think twice about choosing you.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, and it’s a good thing to keep in mind as you consider your overall online marketing strategy and how it reflects on your reputation. Reviews are associated with the name of your business in search results, and this can be a good thing if you have all positive reviews. But sometimes a negative review or two will creep in. It’s important to know exactly how these reviews show up online and make sure that you’re actively working toward creating an accurate representation of your practice.
How reviews affect search engine visibility
First, a word about Google Places. Google Places is a free service that provides local business listings. The listing includes your business phone number, address, a link to your website, etc. (If you want to know more about getting the most out of your Google Place page, check out the article I wrote in the Q4 2010 issue of TPO). The other very important information located on a Place page is, you guessed it, consumer reviews. Your Place page will include reviews submitted directly through Google as well as reviews that are fed from other online review sites, such as City Search, Insider Pages, etc. Google Place pages are completely different from your regular practice website URL and the algorithms that Google uses to rank them are also different.
Now, let’s say you’re the mother of a child who needs braces and you are located in Mobile, AL. You go to Google and type in “orthodontist mobile AL”. Here is an example of what you might see in your search results.
You’ll notice that the first results to show up are listings that combine the Google Place pages (indicated by the red markers) with traditional web results. The other web results that don’t have an association with a Google Place page are below those listings. So it’s clear that with searches where the intent is to locate a business in a specific geographical area , the listings for businesses that include a Google Place page will take center stage and will show up higher in the results than a regular website address. THIS is the type of search that parents of potential patients will be doing for your practice.
The big question on everyone’s mind is…can online reviews drive your local business listings to the top of Googlet’s results? The answer is…sometimes. While the example above shows that the business with the most reviews shows up first in the results, this isn’t always the case. In reality, Google is constantly changing search algorithms and there are many other variables that play into local search results. While we can’t say that having reviews improves your visibility, per se, we do know that having a Google Place page in addition to a regular website is an important factor in determining where your website will rank in search results. And it makes sense that if you have reviews associated with your listing, it lends a certain amount of credibility. Remember, we’ve learned from Nielsen that consumers TRUST online reviews.
It’s fair to say that reviews are a good thing to have when you’re looking to improve the ranking of your local business listing. But it’s a good idea to take a more holistic approach when it comes to improving your online visibility and consider reviews to be just one of many factors you can tweak to help give you a boost. If you want to improve your local business listing through reviews, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially if you are paying for that basket by using a paid service that feeds reviews to your Google listing. That’s not a completely bad idea, but it’s not smart to rely on only one source to collect all of your patient reviews, especially when there are so many to choose from. There are Google reviews, which can be submitted directly through a Google Place page. There are also Yahoo Local Listings, Localeze, Universal Business Listings or Get Listed. The list goes on and on. Just like with an investment portfolio, it’s good to diversify.
How to react to negative reviews
It happens to the best of us: not-so-positive, maybe even bad, reviews. They’re embarrassing and sometimes unfair. They’re tied to your name and can be for a long time. What can you do about these reviews? Should you respond to them?
First, it’s important to monitor what is being said about you online. This doesn’t just mean checking your search results or looking at your Facebook page from time to time. It’s about making sure you know what people are saying anywhere online. There are several tools available to help you. Google Alerts is a free option. Reputation.com and Trackur are paid tools.
If you’re doing a good job of monitoring your reputation online and you come across a poor review, here are a few options for addressing it.
Option 1: Respond Publicly
If you do this, always remember who you are responding to. While it may be tempting to vent your anger or frustration with the reviewer, keep in mind that your real audience will be everyone who may be considering you for treatment. Some more tips:
- Getting defensive never looks good. Like it or not, perception is reality to the patient who is unhappy. So it’s important that you own the issue and don’t make excuses.
- Keep your response short and be mindful of your tone. It’s very easy to sound cold and impersonal in an attempt to be professional. And a response that rambles on might come off as insincere.
- Consider inviting the reviewer to contact you directly to resolve the issue. This does three things. It shows online readers that every patient matters to you. It provides an opportunity to patch things up with your patient, which is never a bad thing. It also provides an opportunity for you to ask the reviewer to remove or update the negative comment once the issue is resolved and their confidence is restored.
Option 2: Respond Privately
You might choose to settle things offline if you prefer. If you know who the reviewer is and have a bit of background as to why they’ve written something negative, why not give them a call and try to resolve things? Once you’ve resolved the issue, ask the reviewer if they could take down the negative comment or update it so that it’s clear you have reacted accordingly to solve the problem.
Encouraging positive reviews
It’s important to have good reviews to balance out any negative ones and present an accurate representation of your practice. How can you encourage good reviews? Beyond simply providing a great patient experience, here are four ideas for obtaining positive patient reviews.
- Ask for them! It’s not as daunting as it sounds. When a patient thanks you or indicates satisfaction with the work you have done for them, that’s a great time to let them know how much you would appreciate a review and how much that review would mean to everyone in the office. Make it easy for them by giving them tips on how to submit reviews. Choose a few online review sites to direct patients to, type up a little list and hand it to the patient during this conversation.
- Use your website. Do your patients regularly visit your website to make payments, check appointment times, etc? Why not place links to some review websites on your practice website? If you have a page on your website of patient testimonials, that’s a great place to put those links. It’s also a good idea to include instructions for how to write reviews. Give patients some tips on how to write a review, what kind of information should be included, etc.
- Get social! A good social media strategy is great for your online reputation because it falls under the category of social proof. Social proof basically means that having fans who interact with you on places like Facebook is proof that you’re someone who is to be liked, trusted, etc. So make sure you are actively participating in social networks like Facebook and providing valuable information to patients and prospective patients via these channels. You can include links to review sites on your Facebook page and in your postings.
- Link it up! Do you send appointment reminder emails? What about e-newsletters? Post-treatment follow-up surveys or instructions? Include links to review sites in these e-communications as well to make it easy for patients to spread the word about the great service you provide.
While it’s true that the anonymity of the Internet does allow would-be negative reviewers an easy avenue for leaving less-than-positive comments, remember that the opposite is also true. With a little work, you can encourage positive reviews from your happy, loyal patients and positively impact your online reputation.
Originally published in The Progressive Orthodontist, July 25, 2011