Take responsibility for your online reputation and patient reviews

Google's recent local search changes have played a major role in the newfound urgency to monitor your online reputation. Now when a potential patient searches for a dentist, only the practices with a physical location in his or her town will display in the search results.

May 1st, 2011

Glenn Lombardi

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Google’s recent local search changes have played a major role in the newfound urgency to monitor your online reputation. Now when a potential patient searches for a dentist, only the practices with a physical location in his or her town will display in the search results. Appearing front-and-center with your contact information are patient reviews from Google and around the Web (e.g., Yelp, Dex, Citysearch, and Insider Pages), which are also visible from the main search results page.

How do these changes affect the local dentist? To put it simply, if you do not have a website, you need one. If you already have a site, it must be optimized for search engines in order to earn first-page Google ranking for your location. Finally, if you did not give much thought to patient reviews before, you now need a review management strategy to avoid negative reviews from harming your reputation.

Take control and defend your reputation

At a minimum, you should monitor your practice’s reputation by conducting periodic searches to identify what practice information is accessible on search engines. You may find that three, four, or even 10 reviews have already manifested in various review sites online. If you are lucky, these reviews will be positive. But don’t be surprised if one or two are negative. Let’s face it. Even the most accredited and experienced dentist cannot possibly satisfy every patient that walks through the door. But you can take critical steps to avoid potentially harmful reviews from getting out of hand.

If you have a website, then you have already taken the most critical step toward managing and building a solid reputation. Once you have established this foundation, you will need to implement a local search strategy. This involves optimizing your site for local search, claiming your owner-verified Google Place Page, submitting your site to local search directories, and acquiring positive reviews from your most loyal and satisfied patients. A third-party provider can work with you to implement a local search engine optimization strategy and natural review management program tailored for your practice’s needs.

Generate quality, natural reviews

You are a dentist. Do you really need to monitor your online reputation? Are patients really talking about you on the Web? It may be hard to believe that online reviews have evolved beyond restaurants and plumbers. But today your patients are flocking to the Internet to read and leave reviews about you, your staff, and your services.

Before starting any review management process, it is extremely important to understand that Google’s rankings are based on natural, quality reviews and not a high quantity of solicited reviews from third-party software or service providers. Reputable review sources, such as Yelp, are considered more trustworthy by Google because real, live people are visiting these review communities to leave natural comments about your practice on their accord.

It may be tempting to actively petition, or solicit, your reviews through survey software, but this method is manipulative and can lead to big reputation problems for your practice in the long run. Google actively tracks where reviews originate and uses advanced algorithms to determine the integrity of these reviews. Petitioned reviews are classified as less valid, and therefore will assume it was not written under the same pretenses as a natural, unsolicited review.

The most successful practice acquires reviews organically, a technique that is often achieved through good customer service and quality patient care. You can also administer a process to encourage your most satisfied, loyal patients to review your practice. Make the process simple. Hand patients a review card as they leave your office with easy steps for leaving a review online. A patient pleased with your staff’s service will be happy to take five minutes to review your practice. Acquire five to 10 reviews monthly and within a year’s time you will have generated enough positive reviews to negate any damaging comments that will inevitably emerge from time to time.

Today more than ever, people turn to search engines and other trustworthy review sources to find everything from local restaurants and florists to hair stylists and auto repair shops. The Internet is the new phone book. This means even a person’s choice of dentist is highly influenced by where your practice ranks on search engines and what other patients are saying about you online. You cannot prevent patients from reviewing your practice, but you can increase the number of positive reviews through an effective local search strategy and a natural patient review campaign.

Glenn Lombardi is president of Officite, LLC, a provider of websites and Internet presence management strategies for the dental community. Officite has built more than 6,000 websites that have generated more than a quarter of a million appointment requests since 2002. For more, visit www.officite.com or call (800) 908-2483.

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