Use patient reviews to improve your Google rankings

Look no further than online patient reviews to discover what is good, bad, and downright ugly about your practice. Some will say it’s important to monitor these reviews in order to improve patient care or manage your online reputation, but there’s another hidden advantage that is perhaps the most valuable of all – to boost your website rankings.

By participating in free review websites such as Healthgrades, Vitals, and even Yelp, you can help maximize your website rankings and ultimately the number of patients visiting your site. Though it’s important to optimize your listings on every review site with a description of your business and a link to your website, perhaps the most beneficial review source of all is Google Places.

Google Places (the section of Google search results that lists local business and a corresponding map) not only combines all your reviews in one place, but it also allows you to directly respond to those reviews from Google users and plays a major part in your organic search results.

Recently Google decided to merge the organic results with Google Places. That means you have an even greater chance of ranking on page one of the search engine results just by optimizing your Google Places listing. Just like they use to rank website results, Google Places also has an algorithm (think of it like a secret sauce recipe) that is used to determine in what order listings appear. This is where the online patient reviews come in, which is one of the top factors Google uses to calculate your ranking in the Google Places results.

Here’s how you can use online patient reviews to boost your ranking in Google Places and thus the local organic search engine results.

1. Claim your listing. Google Places pulls information from online directories to create listings. Therefore, your practice may already exist in Google Places. Start by searching Google Places by your telephone number and then claim your listing(s) if you haven’t already. All you need for this is a Google account (simply sign up for a free Gmail account if you don’t already have one). Delete any duplicate listings as this may harm your rankings and do not use the same phone number for multiple locations.

2. Complete your listing. After you claim your Google Places account, you’ll want to fill out your profile as completely as possible. That includes adding a link to your website and a description of your practice. Be sure to use keywords that relate to your practice or specialty. Your Google Places page will show your profile completion rate. Make sure it reaches 100 percent to be most effective.

3. Manage reviews. Unlike some review sites, Google actually allows you to respond to reviews by Google users. Use this opportunity to demonstrate your customer service skills by promptly responding to negative reviews to show patients you are listening. You can’t delete negative reviews but what you can do is encourage your happy patients to dilute negative comments with positive ones. One or two bad reviews will not hurt your reputation as long as there are three or four positive ones right next to it. Facebook and Twitter are great resources for asking satisfied patients to post reviews. Google recognizes when you keep your profile up to date and are an active participant in your listing and uses this as a major part of their algorithm when calculating rank.

There are many reasons to monitor and manage your online patients reviews, but perhaps most beneficial of all is the opportunity to improve your website rankings in Google. For good or for bad, online patient reviews are an effective (and free) way to promote and grow your practice. You might as well use them to your advantage.

Amanda Kanaan is a healthcare marketing author, speaker, and consultant. She blogs at WhiteCoat Designs and can be reached on Twitter @whitecoatdesign.

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  • Amanda Kanaan

    Anyone have suggestions for tools they use to monitor all their doctor reviews online?

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      Google is all you need, unless you have a doctor who is a very prominent figure online. 

  • Jason Boies

    Nice post, Amanda.

    The third point stands out most for me.  Surely any practice will benefit from actively monitoring sites like Yelp.  People WILL review you, whether you’re online or not.

    Good stuff here.

    Jason Boies

  • Laura Thomas

    I have to disagree with you on one point. Several bad reviews can ABSOLUTELY hurt your practice. One doctor I have read reviews about on Yelp has many glowing reviews. He has several bad ones. Some former patients complain about his horrible office staff. Several have complained about his being overworked and negligent in their care – to the extent that he caused serious injury. Although he could have, he did not respond in any way to any of the negative comments. Would I go to a doctor with negative reviews about his being overworked and causing lasting damage to a patient? Not to save my life – literally. The bad reviews, and how they are handled, do hurt.

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      Hospitals in Michigan have already started to publish clinical outcomes for their physicians. ACO’s are most likely going to do the same. Eventually, clinical outcomes data will be made public for all doctors (not any time soon, but eventually will)

      Please note: a lot of reviews and comments are being written by competing doctors. With ip-tracking software and specific strategies you can identify who reviewed you. We’ve personally caught quite a few of such unethical reviews

      … and who are we kidding … can Yelp and the other “doctor review sites” GUARANTEE that the reviews are real? No. I don’t see a reason to support these companies until they fix this major flaw.

  • Amanda Kanaan

    Laura,I agree with you that negative reviews can hurt if there are several damaging comments in a row and no response from the practice. I recommend to my physician clients that they use bad reviews as an opportunity to show off their customer service skills. I like to say that “customer service is the new p.r.”. That means by responding to a negative review in a professional and resolution-oriented manner, you can actually win patients over by engaging in the conversation itself and being willing to improve your practice through patient feedback.
    Thanks for the post!
    Amanda Kanaan
    WhiteCoat Designs

  • Gina M. Larson-Stoller

    Nice article. I just wanted to point out that doctors can also respond to reviews they receive on Vitals. There is a free login area, and reviews — as well as many other parts of a doctor’s profile — can be managed from there.    

  • Mike Wilton

    One thing I’ll point out is that the merged organic and Places results rolled out back in 2010, and more recently (In the last few weeks) they seemed to be reverting in a lot of instances back to the old local pack based results.  So as a doctor you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on this.

    Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you keep your business information consistent across these review sites if you really want them to aid in your rankings.  Consistent use of your name, address, and phone number will ensure you are getting proper credit for the citations and also prevent duplicate listings from popping up in Google.  A good rule of thumb is to claim your listing in Google Places and then copy the name, address, and phone number from that listing each time you claim or create a new listing on a review site such as Vitals, HealthGrades, or any of the other review sites you come across.

  • Amanda Kanaan

    Great tip, thanks Gina! I’ve seen a lot of different software systems floating around that monitor all your doctor reviews in one place. Are you using anything like this? Would love some recommendations.

  • Casey Williams

    Reviews can definitely help your visibility in search results, but only because they take up more “real estate” in the search results. The links from the reviews to your website often have “nofollow” tags, which tell engines not to give any link value to the destination page (i.e. your website). The reviews for your practice, however, can show up in search results as an alternative destination to your practice page, and may help convert undecided patients.

    The second piece of advice about optimizing your Google Places page is excellent. Not only can you respond to reviews, but you can increase the chances that your Places page shows up when users are searching on maps for a practice similar to yours. 

    One final note – though other services don’t allow you to directly refute reviews (like Google), you do often have the option of reaching out to the patient directly through the interface to get a better understanding of their experience. Often times people are upset because no one listened to their concerns; by reaching out, you are rectifying that immediately.

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      Doctors forget that if they actually had a website with their name and practice they would appear higher on the search engines than these “less than accurate” reviews. 

      If you want to get in control of what people see when they google you… at the very least get a website. (The secret however is in optimization of that website)

  • Anonymous

    I do not want medical practitioners spending more time on the internet, and less time ensuring that all office staff and medical staff are doing a top-notch job.

    The starring system is far too finite.  Especially with medicine, even an injured patient cannot explain what occurred to cause the one or two star rating.  There is also no place to state gender.  Men may be treated differently than women, and vice-versa.

    I have seen many instances of physicians being rated highly, and know for a fact from personal experience that the reviewer must be talking about someone else.

    And, reading comments on Yelp for anything, for example, tends to have the effect of making me want to take the contrary action.

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      There is at least one “doctor review” company in the pipeline now that will take more than just a star-system into consideration as well as your other observations. Can’t wait for it to go public :) My medical practice marketing company will definitely become a partner once it does. Other review companies will not be able to even remotely compete… why?

      Because such companies use doctor’s names and creation of controversies around their names in order to increase traffic and page views to their company site… and therefore make more money from serving advertisements. This system is completely broken.

      Until the new company comes into existence, there are ways to improve what is listed about doctors. Amanda definitely touches on some of the opportunities. 

  • Anonymous

    To me the most difficult thing to get across to a physician is their staff’s behavior. I once left a physician’s practice because the woman who did the scheduling was such a b…h (no other word describes her as well)  that I felt her main goal in life was being mean. Some of these ratings are really about staff and there should be a way to let a physician know that his staff is his weak link.

  • m b

    Amanda–Great post. My sense is most docs don’t realize that they have an increasingly important online business identity–that information about them is being collated and served up in ways that are immediately accessible to both current and prospective patients. You mention that you’ve “seen software systems floating around that  monitor all doctor reviews in one place.”  Can  you please name a couple–I’d like to take a look at this from a systems management perspective. Thanks

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      Doctor review “tracking” software is only good for doctors who are very well recognized figures in social media and online circles. Google is all you really need. 

  • Simon Sikorski MD

    I recommend my medical practice marketing clients to really focus on one review site. Building up your presence and asking patients for candid reviews on ONE site can be one of the most effective reputation management strategies to date. My company consults about 15 physicians per week on reputation management, and not only for doctors who have negative reviews. As Amanda mentioned, it’s one of the best marketing strategies you can employ (and it’s free)

    Words of caution – there are quite a few doctors who got in serious trouble for unethical incentives for patient reviews. Do NOT offer money or services for “positive” reviews. And if you ever write such a thing in an email or a piece of paper, you can definitely expect a lawsuit or at the bare minimum a very stern letter. The big problem with such incentives is that it is not easy to remove those incentivized “positive reviews” – and that’s where the biggest liability lies.

    If you’re ever doing any marketing for your medical practice, ethical marketing is the most effective. Taking shortcuts never pays off. 

    And as always… the above is only ONE form of marketing. Always have a business development and marketing plan. Same thing with a website… unless you have a plan of how it fits into the overall plan, you’re missing the point. 

    So what is your marketing plan?

  • Puneet Choudary

    It is practically impossible to focus on all the review sites. Use this simple trick to pick the review site you want to focus on – Search for “your competitor name” + “review” on Google and see the review sites which show up and focus on the one which you are most comfortable with.


  • Anonymous

    Do you have any advice as to which site to focus on? The obvious choice is to ask for reviews on the Google Places page because they show up in Google’s SERPs, but it ignores Bing and other search engines. It also requires a log in. Then, sites like health grades only allow you to manage one Dr. at a time instead of the entire practice at once, which makes it more difficult to manage an monitor. Anyway, any assistance you could offer me would be greatly appreciated. 

    • Simon Sikorski MD

      Pick one and stick with it. Recommend it to your patients. Train your office staff to learn how to make it easy for patients to access and write such reviews. My marketing company can handle that training too.
      Google is awesome because not only does it get you the opportunity to establish credibility with the patient reviews, every review improves your visibility on Google. With 70% of traffic on Google… Google Maps is the one great tool that allows you to steer your patients away from other search engines. 

      However, you need to set up Google Maps the right way to begin with. It’s not easy at all. It takes a few hours to set one up and most importantly you can’t leave it alone once developed. You need to improve it just the way you would a website.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Simon, that’s very helpful advice! I guess it’s Google for now, unless something changes in the near future, though I do get nervous putting all my eggs in the Google basket. We already have control of the place page, so this will just be a matter of incorporating reviews into the in-office processes. Thanks again for your advice, I really appreciate it.

        • Simon Sikorski MD

          That’s the thing… you don’t have to put it all in one basket. Make sure you have all your patients sign the waivers for the testimonial to be used on your website too. Create a whole section just for that. Whenever you can, try to get some video testimonials. They don’t have to be super-professional. As long as there’s a genuine message of why you are great at what you do and why you are a great person, these testimonials go a long way. And always remember… sometimes the “not so great” testimonials are the best way to establish your credibility. It gives patients the ease of mind that you’re taking feedback seriously and want to improve. Besides… you can’t make all patients happy, that just doesn’t happen.

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