Since its inception in 2014, Yelp has grown into a significant consumer force, affecting the purchase decisions of more than 118 million users, globally. When the site first began to get traction, many doctors discounted the site’s reviews, believing that patients would not trust the opinions of other patients for something as important as healthcare.
They were wrong.
Research conducted at both Stanford and Harvard universities indicated that Yelp reviews affected the annual revenue of independent restaurants anywhere from 9% to 12%. While they did not study healthcare businesses alone, such numbers suggest that “Yelpers” do affect the bottom line revenues for healthcare providers in independent practices as well.
As a parallel correlation, recent studies conducted by the technology company Salesforce as well as Nuance Communications showed that a majority of Millennials, Gen X’ers, and even Baby Boomers alike “researched” a doctor by reading reviews online. A high percentage of these consumers interviewed across both studies indicated that reviews, even from anonymous sources, greatly affected purchase behaviors and even convinced patients to switch healthcare providers.
Quite often, independent practice owners are surprised to wake up one morning and find that someone has created a Yelp profile of their business, complete with one or more reviews. Unfortunately, once a Yelp profile for a local business has been created, it is extremely difficult to have Yelp remove this page.
Compounding this issue is the fact that Yelp profiles gain increasing search engine optimization (SEO) properties over time, meaning that this Yelp page may have a tendency to increase its rank in search results (especially in Google) for searches for your name or your practice’s name.
This trend is important for doctors to understand because the average doctor’s name is Googled anywhere from 20 to over 100 times per month. That means that even existing patients looking for your phone number or fax number will start to read your Yelp reviews and see your Yelp star rating displayed prominently next to your own website’s link.
This underscores the importance of implementing these five best practices to optimize your business profile page so that over the long term Yelp helps--not hurts--your bottom line revenues.
- Claim Your Profile: You can claim your business on Yelp here. Be sure that all of the information they have on your practice is correct, including your phone number, fax number, address, and suite number. In your business description, articulate a message to your patients that shows the level of care your team provides, including any accolades or awards (e.g., Smith Dermatology was awarded “Best of the Bay” by the SF Guardian three years in a row, and our entire staff is trained to provide the highest quality of aesthetic care including advanced laser therapies). Avoid generic statements, and attempt to describe what sets your practice apart, as more detailed descriptions tend to have higher engagement rates with new patients.
- Upload Lots of Pictures: The founders of AirBnB, the largest home sharing site in the world, found that listings with pictures did far better than profiles of homes without pictures. In fact, they found that the more professional pictures a home had, the more people were willing to rent them. An increasing amount of independent practices are hiring local photographers to come into the office and shoot the doctors, staff, and location with post production work in PhotoShop to create professional images. Sites such as EverSnap are great places to hire a local photographer on a budget. Remember to pay for an extra hour of post-production, as not all photographers include this work in their initial invoice. The extra money spent here will go a long way in making sure your images are the best they can (technically) be.
- Don’t Ask Patients to Review You on Yelp: Understanding how Yelp’s algorithm treats reviews is paramount to mounting an effective social media campaign on this website. Asking friends, family, and even patients in bulk for a positive review after claiming your Yelp page is a sure fire way of having your profile flagged; meaning your positive reviews become “hidden” under an obscure link until the algorithm is satiated that reviews are coming in “organically.” The major problem with this method is that reviews come in spurts, and this makes the algorithm suspicious that someone from your business is soliciting reviews, a practice that Yelp frowns upon. Instead, use marketing automation software to automatically survey patients after an appointment reminder is sent, thereby giving your practice a more steady rhythm of reviews coming into Yelp and other social media review sites.
- Use Caution When Responding to Negative Reviews: While it’s acceptable for an office manager to respond to negative or even positive reviews, ensure that the doctor never responds directly as it may have liability ramifications and dilutes the doctor’s brand. If you believe that a negative review is unfair or unfounded, you can Flag the review, and then submit a request to Yelp to have the review removed.
- Understand the Review Removal Policy: It’s a good strategy to have the first sentence of your review removal request say something akin to, “This review violates your terms of service,” as that may help ensure that your removal request gets moved to the front of the queue. You can read Yelp’s reviews policy here. It behooves your practice to understand these rules, and then be able to point out to Yelp that the review in question violates one or more of these guidelines.
Remember that Yelp can cut both ways, either increasing or decreasing your annual revenues as a practice. While many doctors do not like this trend and even find it disturbing, current market forces dictate that those doctors who embark on an aggressive reviews strategy will fair far better than those who remain passive.
For more tips to help you manage your online reputation, download this helpful guide.