Simple strategies for improving your online reputation
The majority of dentists will say that they find managing their online reputation a frustrating and onerous task. If you’ve practiced for a significant amount of time like me, then you have probably received negative or constructive online feedback. Many of my dentist friends have rued that while they have many happy patients, their disappointed customers are far more likely to share their experiences. I agree with this and the phenomenon underscores the importance of getting involved with and taking ownership of your online reputation. Before I explore simple and effective techniques for augmenting your reputation, I would like to answer the important question, “why does your online reputation matter?” The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 64% of consumers trust online search engine results and information (think Google) most when making purchasing decisions.(1) Ninety-seven percent of consumers say they use online reviews to select local businesses. Eighty-five percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from family and/or friends, and 57% of consumers will only select a business if it has a four-star rating or better.(2) These statistics demonstrate that potential patients trust online information relevant to your business and judge your trustworthiness and quality using online reviews. Additionally, accumulating positive online feedback has been shown to drive improvements in your position on search engine results pages (SERPs). This is significant in light of Chitika’s 2013 Insights Report, which suggests that 92% of traffic generated from a typical Google search visits to websites listed on the first page of results. So, in addition to fueling consumer impressions about your practice, online reviews can put you in a position to garner greater visibility and attention among online search engines.
The techniques I use Now that I’ve established the benefits of developing a positive online reputation, I will share some techniques that I’ve developed for accumulating honest and legitimate online feedback from patients. Most dentists find asking patients for reviews or referrals awkward, tacky, or downright stressful. There are very proper and tactful ways to have these conversations. The key factor that increases success rate and diminishes awkwardness is that you have an excellent relationship with the patient built on trust. I’m no expert with respect to reputation management, and I’ve never received any training or advice about how to build a collection of positive online reviews. I do, however, enjoy trying new things, failing sometimes, and refining my approaches. You can become very effective at things this way. If you respectfully ask a patient for an online review, the worst outcome is that they fail to follow through. You don’t lose patients by doing this, so I would argue there is little risk or cost associated with asking. When done properly, the act of reaching out to a patient can strengthen the dentist-patient relationship.
How to increase the rate of success
Here are different factors that increase the rate of success in garnering online patient reviews. Timing is everything. When I started asking patients to leave online feedback, I would wait one to two weeks following a treatment appointment or cleaning. If you do this, your success rate will be low. I’ve played around with different post-appointment intervals and found that the sooner you ask a patient for feedback, the more likely you will be to receive it. How should you reach out to patients to ask for an online review? Email or text is best. You want to make it easy for patients to help you out. Remove any barriers for them so that they can leave an online review quickly and easily. For most things, I believe that a personal touch works best. I like to talk to people face-to-face. In this case, however, if you ask your patient for a review in person you will be relying on them to remember to do so. When you use email or texting, include a link to your ratings page (i.e., Google My Business, Yelp, RateMDs). In contrast to a verbal technique, this strategy allows patients to see your request at the same time they’re presented with an avenue for leaving a review. Make sure you are building your reputation on websites that matter. Reviews on your Google My Business page are most readily viewable to prospective patients when they search for dental practices on Google. Additionally, Google My Business reviews contribute to your practice appearing in the local three-pack search results above the organic listings section.
This is one way to position your business on the first page of Google.
Many experts suggest that reviews on other Google-trusted websites such as Yelp and Facebook contribute to local search rankings on Google. I would argue that accumulating positive reviews on these sites is also of value. With respect to Yelp, I’ve had several patients leave reviews here only to have Yelp hide or “un-feature” them because the patients were not regular Yelp reviewers. For this reason, I’ve shifted my attention to accumulating patient reviews on Google and Facebook. Lastly, be cognizant of the tendency for older adults to prefer online anonymity. I find that patients over 45-50 are happy to leave a review if it can be done in a way that preserves their anonymity. Given the popularity of RateMDs, I recommend offering this outlet (in addition to providing a link to your Facebook or Google My Business pages) as a second or third option. How to ask patients for reviews Now that I’ve covered some important factors that can increase your success rate in gaining online reviews, you might be wondering, “what do I say when I ask a patient for a review?” Explain why you want online reviews, how they benefit you, and use the opportunity to emphasize your dental practice’s vision. When I ask patients to leave an online review, I send them an email within the first 10 minutes following their appointment. As a dentist, you learn about your patients and can gain a sense of which ones might not appreciate being asked to leave a review. Here’s what I include in these emails. I start by recapping post-operative instructions where necessary and reminding them of post-operative symptoms that they might experience (i.e., jaw stiffness, cold sensitivity, pressure sensitivity). With invasive treatment such as tooth extraction or a root canal I provide my cell phone number in case they need to ask any questions or voice any concerns. (They will almost never call you.) This provides value to them so they’re more likely to want to do something for you in return. Next, I ask them to let me know how I did. I emphasize that the relevant links for doing so are provided within the email and that leaving feedback will take only 30 seconds. Then, I communicate to them that the reviews help us to remain relevant and competitive online. I let them know that we seek new patients because we believe in our conservative, no-pressure approach to dentistry and that we believe patients value the transparency in treatment that we provide. You can communicate what makes your practice special and unique. Here is the most important thing that you can include in your message. You should emphasize that you would like honest feedback and that negative or constructive feedback is always helpful. I believe that this removes the awkwardness associated with asking for an online review and that it is the most ethical way to proceed with soliciting online feedback. Building a collection of positive online reviews can help you gain trust with prospective patients who search for your services through Google and other search engine providers. In doing this, you will have the indirect effect of improving your position or ranking on search engine results pages. I’ve found that asking patients for online reviews can be comfortable and productive, but it takes repetition and the willingness to continuously refine your approach. While there are a number of companies providing reputation management services, I believe that taking this into your own hands allows you to build goodwill with patients and to have control over the process. After all, you want to make sure that you build your online reputation both ethically and effectively.