Why online patient reviews matter to your practice

Dental Products ReportDental Products Report-2013-10-01
Issue 10

How you can maximize the potential of patients as dental practice advocates.

How you can maximize the potential of patients as dental practice advocates.

Experts abound across the Internet in the modern digital culture. It seems as though anyone and everyone can set up a website and proclaim to be the latest and greatest authority around. What is often missing from this so-called expertise is that invaluable commodity that cannot be bought-trust.

For dentists, building trust in the community as a dental/oral health expert, whether online or outside the practice’s front door, is a hard-won battle, and never has this been more true than in today’s world, where online marketing-and online reputation management-dominate.

If anyone can purchase a domain name and create a blog or website, how do consumers filter through the “experts” to find what they are actually looking for? As patients-and prospective patients-increasingly turn to the Internet when searching for health care information, how can dentists enhance their online presence and come across as true, genuine, knowledgeable oral health care experts?

The answer is putting maximum efforts into building trust online, and garnering positive online patient reviews provides a solid foundation.

Providing social proof online

Consumer review websites, such as Yelp!, Google+ Local, DrOogle.com and Healthgrades.com, among countless others, play a dominant role in the research that patients conduct online when searching for new health care providers. According to a 2012 survey by SearchEngineLand, almost three-quarters of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations.

As a result, these online review sites present an essential opportunity for dentists to reach patients before they ever pick up the phone to schedule the first appointment, and to reinforce word of mouth referrals as well.

Sites such as Yelp! and Google+ Local automatically create a profile for most businesses based on information gathered from online directories, and the data listed may or may not be accurate, so dentists must claim their existing profiles and update them with current contact information, the practice logo, as well as office hours, a website link and photos and videos of the practice and the dental team.

Typically, there is a link labeled “Is this your business?” or “Claim this profile” that can be used to log into the site and verify ownership of the business to make these key edits and upgrades.

When potential patients can find accurate information about the practice-and read a history of reviews about the dentist and the practice, (whether those reviews are truly representative of the practice or not) they feel as if they are getting a real sense of the overall practice experience.

What many dentists may not realize is that a rich, comprehensive profile, complete with positive online reviews, is a gold mine in terms of marketing to prospective patients.

The practice’s online reputation is greatly enhanced when there are an abundance of positive online patient comments that can be found around the Internet on a variety of neutral, third-party websites, in contrast with what many people might view as “sanitized” testimonials on the practice website. With these positive online reviews in place, dentists don’t have to figure out how to communicate to prospective patients why their practice is best-the practice’s existing patients are doing it for them via social media.

The importance of authenticity

It’s important to note that authenticity is paramount when it comes to online reviews. Internet users are savvy, and while they may rely on the opinion of complete strangers in researching a dental practice on websites like Yelp!, they are also on the lookout for anything disingenuous.

The websites that host these reviews also work hard to maintain their own credibility among users by using algorithms that analyze user data, studying unique identifiers like IP addresses and flagging accounts created for the purpose of writing a single review to ensure “fake” reviews get filtered out. In fact, nothing destroys trust online faster than the practice creating multiple accounts to try to post reviews, even if they contain legitimate testimonials from real patients.

Another common mistake practices make is embarking on a one-time, short-lived campaign of enthusiastically encouraging patients to write reviews; a cluster of perfect reviews abruptly posted within a narrow timeframe can end up seeming contrived, and may have an unintended negative effect as a result.

Instead, whenever patients give compliments or share their genuine appreciation for the practice, dentists and their team members should encourage them to post their sentiments about their experience online. In contrast to a sudden spate of online reviews going up as a singular event, accumulating a number of positive reviews slowly and consistently over time-perhaps 2-3 per month for 6-12 months-will come across as authentic and legitimate.

Online patient reviews also serve to reinforce word-of-mouth referrals. Prospective patients who already have received a personal referral often will seek out online profiles to confirm their decision to choose one practice over another-and to validate their friend or family member’s recommendation.

There’s nothing to fear but fear itself-and negative reviews

Often dentists are apprehensive to begin managing their online profiles, let alone soliciting online reviews, out of fear of getting a negative review from a disgruntled patient. However, the only effective way to neutralize an existing negative comment-and to discourage future negative reviews from ever being posted-is to have a solid base of positive “prophylactic” reviews.

Having 10-20 glowing comments from enthusiastically happy patients will not only serve to promote the practice in a positive way and delegitimize any negative online rants, it may stop people who are considering posting a negative comment in their tracks-after all, nobody wants to be the lone voice of pessimism or stand out as the one “negative Nancy” in the bunch.

It can be uncomfortable or feel unnatural for dentists and team members to ask their patients for positive online reviews. Instead of asking indiscriminately, focus on the patients who are already paying compliments; reach out to these “patient advocates” and simply ask them to post their previously stated, positive sentiments in a public forum.

Another trick to increase the likelihood of follow-through is making it easy by asking patients if it’s okay for you to email their own compliments back to them-along with links to your online review profiles and a gently worded request for them to post their words of support. This way, they can perform a quick “cut and paste” operation and easily create an online review without having to come up with the “right words” all over again.

Patient reviews and online marketing strategy

Online reviews should not be considered in a vacuum or as the only tool for online reputation management. Google and other search engines are increasingly considering social media visibility, especially the volume and tone (e.g. positive, negative or neutral) of online reviews into account in their own algorithms, so online reviews even can be of help when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

The freshness of the practice’s website, blog and social media profiles also play a role in this equation, so it’s crucial to work with a vendor who can help the dental team continually keep its online and social media presence up to date. Reputable companies that provide these types of services include Sesame Communications, My Social Practice  and Likeable Dentists.

There is truly no higher seal of approval than a public testimonial from a satisfied patient. As online reviews become more and more pervasive-and more trusted-building reputation through this medium will become a make or break proposition for many dental practices when it comes to attracting new patients.

Building trust online is not an easy process, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but the optimal time for dental practice owners to start cultivating a positive online reputation-and positioning themselves as local oral health care experts-is now. Those dentists who make the commitment today to foster a strong history of online patient reviews will create unstoppable momentum for their practices’ online marketing efforts for years to come.

Want more advice to help get patient referrals and grow your practice? Check out this Morning Huddle video from Jameson Management:

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