How dentists can build a higher star rating on Yelp

Dentists who have decided to accept online forums such as Yelp as a marketing tool they can use to benefit their practice face a common question: How do I get and maintain high-star ratings?

The first and most important thing is to maintain high standards in the practice and focus on patient communication. But there are a few specific things practices can do to promote high ratings on Yelp — understand the filtering system the website implements and encourage patients to leave reviews.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard Business School and Boston University titled Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition and Yelp Review Fraud, found that as of November 2013, Yelp received approximately 100 million unique visitors per month, and had more than 30 million reviews. But beyond these stats, the study also revealed detailed information about the way in which Yelp filters bad and good reviews, a subject that is often called into question by dentists.

The study found that Yelp users who have contributed more reviews are less likely to have their reviews filtered out and that 70 percent of accounts that had only one written review were filtered out (see chart A). In other words, “repeat” Yelp reviewers carry more weight on the website than reviewers who have only left a handful of reviews on the site.

Shaun Pryor, CDA Practice Analyst, recommends dental practices try to identify new patients who may be one of these repeat Yelp reviewers.

“When a new patient calls for the first time or even on the intake paperwork at their first appointment, there is no harm in asking them if they heard about the practice on Yelp,” Pryor said. “This will give the practice the opportunity to make sure this patient has a good experience, as they are most likely to leave an impactful review on Yelp.”

Another strategy is for the office staff to “rally the forces” and ask the regular patients to leave reviews on Yelp.

“Set a target to tell at least two patients a day that the practice is on Yelp and ask if they would be willing to leave a review,” Pryor said.

The more patients that are asked, the higher the chances that a negative review shows up about that practice, but according to Pryor, that isn’t something that dentists should be scared of.

“Having a few negative reviews that are balanced out with a flood of positive reviews is a good thing because it shows the human side of it,” Pryor said. “Someone looking at a long list of only positive reviews may view that as something that is not quite accurate. Plus, you could use a negative review as a training tool as a health provider. If a review highlights the fact that the wait time for treatment was bad, for example, take it as something you need to work on with your team.”

If a patient has left a positive review, Pryor recommends the office staff take the time to thank him or her in person, thus creating an environment that acknowledges and appreciates the feedback. Equally important, if not more so, is to acknowledge negative reviews if the person can be identified. The provider can reach out by phone or in person during the patient’s next visit. However, CDA recommends dentists do not respond to reviews (positive or negative) online due to a potential violation of HIPAA or the California Confidentiality of Medical Information Act.

The bottom line is that the more reviews a practice has, the more power that practice will have in influencing its star rating on Yelp. The Harvard study also highlighted that the more extreme reviews (one-star ratings and five-star ratings) tend to be more filtered whereas published reviews have a sharp peak at four stars (see chart B).

Another finding in the study says that Yelp’s filtering algorithm does not treat advertisers’ reviews differently than nonadvertisers’ reviews.

Dentists have often disagreed with the business model of Yelp, but there are cases that have upheld the way in which the online forum functions. In 2011, for example, a California dentist who sued the parents of a patient, alleging that a negative review they posted on Yelp defamed her, was ordered to pay the parents and Yelp $80,000 in attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. The court ordered the dentist to pay these fees because California has an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. Previously, in December 2010, California’s 6th District Court of Appeals found that due to the “public concern, discussion and controversy” about the use of silver amalgam, which was mentioned in said review, the Yelp posting was protected because it contributed to public discussion regarding amalgam use in dental treatment.

In 1996, Congress also passed the Communications Decency Act, which allows sites like Yelp and other websites that handle reviews to be protected from this type of action. In other words, the sites can allow third parties to post information and the site will not be held liable for that content.

The most obvious grounds a physician or dentist would have to pursue such a claim would be if it constitutes defamation and the legal standard for providing defamation is high.

Another way that dentists can embrace online reviews and use them to their advantage is through the services of CDA Endorsed Program Demandforce.

Demandforce has a product that gathers reviews from clients and posts them online, automatically. The company can also certify that the reviews are from real clients, even when the review is posted anonymously, by matching a review with an actual visit, ensuring factual data. And before reviews are posted, the business has an opportunity to respond in writing or request removal of a review if it violates Demandforce’s “takedown criteria.”

Using its business profile page as a platform, Demandforce helps dentists drum up reviews on sites across the Internet. And when a practice does get new reviews, the company sends them directly to Google, the practice’s website and Facebook page.

Using alternative sites that show up on a Google search is a way in which dentists can create positive reviews outside of Yelp. Whether it is by using the services of Demandforce or creating a free page on Google Places, these options provide an opportunity for a practice to show up elsewhere in a Google search.

CDA Social Media Resources

Sherry Mostofi, of Mostofi Law Group Inc., will lead a seminar titled Maximizing Social Media — Minimize Risks as part of CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry in Anaheim on May 17. The lecture will discuss ways in which to maintain a positive online reputation. She also will discuss the topic of improving your star rating on Yelp.

CDA Endorsed Program Demandforce is a company dentists can use to help them monitor and grow their online reputation. More information on Demandforce can be found at cda.org/endorsedprograms.

An example of a social media policy can be found under the “Social Networking” section of the Sample Employee Manual at cda.org/practicesupport.

Yelp also has an FAQ on its website that answers a lot of questions users have about reviews.