Practice Marketing: Beyond Five Stars

Beyond Five Stars

Reading a negative online review of your practice can feel like a personal attack on you and your staff members. Not only is it hurtful, it is also scary. Practitioners often vacillate between anger and concern about what impact this very public rebuke will have on prospective patients. Their fears are supported by a recent study from Digital Assent showing that, for 72% of patients, negative reviews can be a deal breaker.

But these numbers are not the whole story. Online reputation involves much more than star ratings, and—when managed consistently—one negative review will not derail a practice. In fact, physicians who are rated heavily—with a mix of both glowing and mediocre reviews—may be at an advantage.

The information provided on the following pages will help you expand your understanding of online reputation beyond star ratings, and show you how to reduce your vulnerability and leverage online review sites that attract prospective patients.

Odds Are, Your Online Reputation Is Not Representative

In two separate studies conducted in 2014 by Etna Interactive and RealSelf, data showed that more than 90% of practices have fewer than five reviews on each of the industry’s most visible online medical rating websites. Given this information, the odds are that your online reputation is an incomplete and unbalanced representation of your practice.

While your portrayal online may be incomplete, the exposure of both ratings and reviews is widespread. Pew Research, a nonpartisan fact tank, revealed in their 2013 report on peer-to-peer healthcare that more than one in five Americans actively seeks physician reviews to inform their healthcare choices. That number is significantly higher among more affluent and more educated patients.

Consider also that Google currently features star ratings alongside nearly all local search results on its first page. This means that even patients not actively seeking data about your reputation online will likely encounter it.

What is a practice to do? Start by acknowledging two points: The perception of your reputation is influenced by more than the five-star rating system; and you can take action to ensure a representative portrayal of your services and patient satisfaction online.

You Are More Than the Sum of Your Stars

Star ratings are certainly influential, but they are not the only factor that influences patients. Consider this restaurant analogy: You overhear someone say, “I had dinner last night at that new Café Asclepius, and it was just horrible.” There’s a good chance that you will avoid dining there.

Then further suppose that in the days that follow, you are repeatedly exposed to the restaurant’s name and brand. You see beautiful and compelling photos of their delicious-looking food and you encounter several positive reviews online that challenge what you first heard. How do your opinions change when you see the chef featured on the local news and learn not only of her impeccable training but begin to identify with her personal approach to cuisine? Suddenly, that negative review you heard in passing carries much less weight.

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Your online reputation is much richer than any one passing review. In the next few sections we’ll discuss the six R’s that lead to a robust reputation—rankings, reach, ratings, reviews, resume and response.

Focus on Top Rankings

This isn’t an article on search engine optimization, however there is something to be said about how top search engine rankings impact your reputation. Many patients relate a practice’s prevalence in search results to quality and credibility. Work to ensure that your own website ranks well for your name, your practice name, your medical specialty and specific procedures in your market.

Extend Your Reach Online

Whether you search your name, your practice name or even your address, you will find that many websites outside of your direct control are already talking about you. You can leverage these mentions to stretch your online reach by using these tactics:

  • Identify review sites that already list your business. Where possible claim, correct and
    enhance these listings.
  • Find sites that need your content. Websites, such as RealSelf and YouTube, rely on content supplied by experts. Freely share your images, videos and ideas to extend your reach and attract curious patients from across the Web.
  • Work with local and national media to earn coverage, and be sure to ask them to include a link to your site in their online reports.
  • In select cases, when the terms are fair, consider purchasing placement on sites you know are frequented and respected by your prospective patients.

Today you want to reach far and wide with your practice information, your credentials and evidence of your leadership in your field.

Earn High Ratings

In a study of online reviews for more than 100 aesthetic practices, Etna Interactive uncovered a surprising fact: You are eight times more likely to receive a bad review for bad service than for bad medicine. This suggests that practices should prioritize improvements that respect a patient’s time, improve communication and aid in managing patient expectations.

The same Pew Research study mentioned earlier in this article suggests that only 3% to 4% of Americans have experience rating physicians online. The practices with the most ratings, in our experience, are those that actively encourage patients to go online and share their experiences. Implement systems, tools and operational changes that will help more patients rate and review your services on the sites of their choice.

Cultivate Rich Text Reviews

According to RealSelf, rich reviews (those longer than 500 words) get more than 2.5 times the attention as shorter reviews—in terms of time spent on the page. In fact, those long-format reviews may do much more than engage and educate potential patients; they may help increase your visibility in search engines. There is a growing body of evidence that keywords present in review content can influence local search engine rankings.

As you talk with patients about reviews, explain that other men and women just like them are interested in their stories. They want to know about their experiences with the procedure and with the practice. They also appreciate advice from former patients about what to expect and how to prepare for the same procedure. Encourage your patients to share a detailed review, and suggest sites like RealSelf that support a more narrative format.

Make the Most of Your Resume

For most practices, the credentials and philosophy of the treating physician are covered in a few short paragraphs on the practice’s website. Whether from humility or neglect, practices today often do a poor job asserting the unique qualities and experience of the physician online. Take the time to present a compelling case on your own site as to why you deserve the patient’s attention.

Some patients may be attracted to academic credentials, others may be drawn in by experience, others may still prioritize the personality and credibility of the doctor. Whatever it is that makes you special, it’s time to lead with a compelling presentation that sets you apart:

  • Explain why you deserve the consultation.
  • Articulate the value of your experience, training or specialization.
  • Allow your personality and opinions to come through on a blog or in social media.
  • Highlight your media coverage.

You don’t need to brag to celebrate what makes you special, but you don’t want to hide your accomplishments and experience either.

Mind Your Response

As social media continues to permeate both our culture and our time online, your social media following and interactions become more important to the average patient. Be mindful of how you respond online, both to your detractors and to your supporters by:

  • Celebrating your supporters
  • Embracing harmless criticism
  • Exercising care when responding to negative reviews

The number of people who “like” you online will grow as you engage in meaningful dialogue in the social media space. How you treat these friends, and how you respond to your critics, is now a permanent part of your public record and online reputation.

Bad Reviews Happen, Even to Good Doctors

Remember that even the best doctors are vulnerable to negative reviews from competitors, employees and patients. Neither anger nor apathy about the state of online reviews will change that. Your commitment to taking a productive and proactive approach to online reputation can diminish the impact of the inevitable negative review; it will also help attract more patients to your practice.

Now that you have a different outlook on your online reputation, it’s time to take action.

Step 1: Prepare for Action

  • Choose a “Reputation Champion” and formalize his or her responsibilities
  • Monitor your reputation online (manually or with a service)
  • Create a patient feedback loop and listen to how patients think you can improve

Step 2: Online Reputation Basics

  • Update your site to provide a compelling presentation of you and your practice
  • Claim and enhance existing business listings across the Web
  • Cultivate a positive reputation by asking patients for their reviews

Step 3: Advanced Strategies

  • Engage in a dialogue with your supporters on social media and review sites
  • Share your ideas and experience, in the form of articles, Q-and-A’s, photos and videos, on multiple sites across the Web
  • Address any reputation challenges productively

In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine a practice that is exempt from the effects of online reputation. Whether you are indifferent or outraged on the subject, the reality is that online reviews are a factor in the growth of your practice. The good news is that it’s a factor over which you have a great deal of control. With a thoughtful and strategic approach, you can cultivate a strong online reputation that works to your advantage.

Ryan Miller is the president of Etna Interactive, a digital marketing firm specializing in cosmetic practices. Contact him at

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