Help Me, Don’t Yelp Me!

Dentists continue to struggle with Yelp and its bizarre and manipulative approach to displaying, hiding or deleting reviews, so I’m going to try to offer as much help here as possible with this thorny and challenging new medium.

The first question dentists ask me is, “How do I get a negative review removed from Yelp?” I wish there were a positive answer, but the reality is that Yelp will only remove reviews that are profane or provably libelous. (And I’ve seen profane ones stay up a long time, despite this policy). Proving libel is no easy task.  Writing in a post that the practice sucks, or the staff is mean, or the dentist is greedy all fall into a gray-area kind of slur that is hard to affirmatively prove as not factual.

Suing Yelp doesn’t work either.  In 2011 a California dentist was required to pay a patient $80,000 in court costs and her suit against the patient was dismissed.  In fact, you can’t even threaten to sue a patient over bad reviews. In New York recently, a patient was in a dispute over fees with a dentist, and had written some negative reviews about it, and the dentist threatened to sue the patient if he didn’t take the reviews down. The patient sued her instead for threatening her, and a NY judge refused to dismiss a case–the dentist hadn’t even sued the patient yet, and was being counter-sued!  Bottom line: online reviews have been deemed protected speech.

There are several services popping up that promise they can get your negative Yelp reviews removed.  As far as I know, these are all scams. DO NOT give them your money. Only Yelp or the person who wrote the review decides if it stays up or not. And there is no system for beating that.

The next question I get is, “Why are all my good Yelp reviews ‘filtered’?  How do I get them to show up?”  This is the great “mystery” of Yelp.  And here is Yelp’s explanation: a positive review is by its very nature questionable, in that it may have been solicited by the owner or written by a friend or family member, while a negative review is by its very nature credible.  So Yelp filters the positive ones. And Yelp has had more than one class action suit dismissed with exactly this defense.

Yelp Captcha wideThis image shows what you have to do to see filtered reviews. This was a dentist’s profile, and I had to scroll through 14 negative reviews to find the “18 filtered” reviews button (red arrow), and then I had to fill in a CAPTCHA, to prove that I’m “not a robot” to Yelp.  Yelp is apparently fine allowing robots read the negative reviews.

So what the heck are you supposed to do?

  1. You could ignore Yelp. Pretend it’s not going to influence that many people.  Big mistake. 57% of shoppers trust reviews as a research source.
  2. You could pay to advertise on Yelp.  Suddenly, miraculously, the filtered problem goes away.  But it’s $500 a month or more, and it’s a one year contract, so beware of that.
  3. Don’t pay someone or some service to write a lot of positive reviews for you. The FTC recently fined a company $250,000 for doing so.
  4. Do ask your patients to write reviews on Yelp for you.  You can do this easily with PatientActivator or most other automated communications applications, but you must first claim your practice on Yelp as the business owner, if you haven’t already done so. Click here to learn how to do that.  This should eventually create such a large number of positive reviews that Yelp stops filtering at least some of them.
  5. The faster way to get a review to show up and not be filtered is if it comes from a recognized Yelp reviewer.  If someone has written more than 25 reviews on Yelp, then Yelp gives them much more credibility and won’t filter their reviews.  So you might just have to ask your patients if they are big Yelpers (called “power users”, or the next level, “Elite”).
  6. If you have negative reviews, always try to contact the patient directly and see if you can resolve the issue.  You can email them as the business owner through your Yelp page.
  7. If you can’t solve the problem and they won’t take the review down, respond to the review on Yelp as the business owner. You should also ask a few of your true-believer patients to respond. They will be outraged that someone is writing bad things about you and will go on the attack for you in ways that you can’t.
  8. For a more comprehensive strategy for dealing with online reviews, download this whitepaper we created.
  9. Always stay on top of your reviews.  Be checking Yelp and Google every day, or use ReputationMonitor, which can send you an alert by text or email whenever a review is posted anywhere online about your practice.
  10. Finally, make sure that you are using an automated digital communications application, and take advantage of the patient surveys.  This is your pre-emptive action that gives your patients a chance to complain in a way that you can control, rather than letting it get out there in the Internet universe.  And the feedback will be useful.

I do believe that people are getting smarter about the Yelp filtering, and will click on those reviews more. But for now, be pro-active and have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Yelp and building your online reputation. Good luck out there, and let me know if you have questions or have done things with Yelp that have worked for you.

If you would like to receive my blog by email, simply fill in the box up on the right and then confirm the email subscription when it is sent to you, and you’ll never miss a post! And relax, I’ll never spam you or sell your email.

Random Idiots’ Opinions: the Confusing Popularity of Online Reviews

Suddenly, we live in a world where everything gets reviewed by everyone, and everyone reads online reviews and gives them credibility.Reviews lady

How did this happen?  For a long time, reviews were a territory reserved for established, prestigious entities like the New York Times Review of Books, or the Zagat Travel Guide, or Siskel & Ebert.  Then Amazon changed everything.  Their website started to allow the public to review books. And no matter what people said about a book,  Amazon would leave the review up. The major book publishers were up in arms:  “How can you allow people to write bad reviews about our books?  That’s bad for business!” they cried.  Amazon didn’t care. They brought reviewing to the masses, and gave everyone a voice.

Shortly thereafter, TripAdvisor came along and let people review hotels, vacation spots and restaurants. And Rotten Tomatoes (now Flickr) let the audience review movies.  And people read them.  Then along came Yelp, and Angie’s List, and Dr. Oogle.  And of course, there is the mother of all review sites, Google (who, coincidentally, bought Zagat and added its reviews to their own.)  It turns out, people don’t really care what the experts have to say anywhere near as much as they like what I call RIO (Random Idiots’ Opinions).  They like to read several reviews and see for themselves what the public thinks. It doesn’t seem to matter much at all how educated, well-informed or articulate these reviewers are.

An ever-increasing number of people will not buy something or use a service without reading RIO’s first.  And if they can’t find reviews about that business, they move on to one that does have reviews.  It’s become a huge industry. Yelp is worth over 4 billion dollars.  So don’t spend much time waiting for this trend to blow over.  If anything, it will continue to expand as more and more people use smartphones for everything (According to Google’s Multi-Screen World Study, 61% of online searches now start on mobile device. Wow.)

There is also whole new industry in writing fake positive reviews.  A recent Harvard study estimated that 20% of online reviews are fake. 20%!! Most are written by shadowy businesses, usually in foreign countries, whose only job is to pump up someone’s business, and get paid for doing it.  There’s even a term for it: astroturfing. Some government agencies are starting to crack down on businesses paying for this, but it’s going to take some time to make a dent in that 20%.

So why are reviews so popular?  I believe it’s just human nature. When we didn’t know about something, we asked someone.  Sometimes it would be a friend, but often it’s a complete stranger. Imagine if ten years ago you walked into a store, looked at a TV, and then could ask 30 people who already owned one what they liked or didn’t like about it.  Why wouldn’t you do that?  You’d weigh each opinion differently, maybe, but you wouldn’t really care what the IQ was of each person telling you. Today that’s called turning on your smartphone.  It’s just too easy.  And you see people doing just that in Best Buy every day.

The appeal of Random Idiots’ Opinions is one of the reasons I think Angie’s List is a weak business model.  To see reviews on Angie’s List, you have to pay a monthly subscription, because the reviews there are all “legitimate”, that is, done by other subscribers.  But will people pay Angie’s List to get what they can already find for free on Yelp and Google, and all sorts of other sites? Don’t think so. (Angie’s List isn’t even worth $1 billion. Pfffft.)

There is a negative side to this level of public freedom of expression. We live in a new world, but it’s not a brave new world–it’s more like a cowardly one.  People feel very empowered using the Internet to vent about a business or even carry out personal vendettas. They can attack virtually anonymously, with impunity.  (The court dockets are full of failed attempts at suing Yelp and/or negative reviewers.)  It’s almost impossible to get a negative review removed.

So what can you do? First, you need to get in front of this appetite for reviewing by using a service like PatientActivator, which surveys your patients after they come in, as a pre-emptive strike, to give your patients a voice, a chance to criticize you in a non-public forum, before they go on Yelp or Google. This is a must-do in my mind.

As an added bonus, you can have those reviews appear automatically on your website, if you have a dynamic website like we build you with WebDirector.  You can also create a page in your website where your Yelp reviews can appear, which keeps people from leaving your website and going to Yelp to see what people are saying about you (and seeing ads for other dentists.)

Of course, the key strategy is to always be generating fresh, positive reviews on Google, Yelp and Facebook.  Which means you need a systematic approach. Otherwise, these RIO’s are going to start affecting your ROI.

If you want a more detailed strategy, download our white paper, “Dealing with Online Reviews” by clicking here.
If you would like to receive my blog by email, simply fill in the box up on the right and then confirm the email subscription when it is sent to you, and you’ll never miss a post! And relax, I’ll never spam you or sell your email.

Has Your Website Expired? Or Is It Just on Life-Support?

At the CDA this year in San Francisco, I met more than one dentist who had built a custom website a few years ago and paid dearly–more than $10,000–only to discover that the website is now essentially worthless.  But like many of us, when we pay a lot for something, we hang onto it even though its utility has long been replaced by something better and cheaper.

I’ve bought dozens of video cameras over the years, starting with one that recorded onto video tape. (That thing was heavy!)  One of the last ones I purchased had a terrific lens on it, tons of memory, and I bought all sorts of accessories for it, including additional lenses.  I had more than $12,000 invested in it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t record in HiD!  In other words, it’s junk. My iPhone records better videos. I can’t even dump it on Ebay.

Yep, I had one of these.

Yep, I had one of these.

Sometimes changes occur quickly in the digital world, and products that seem valuable become obsolete much more quickly than we anticipated.  This is true of websites right now.  It’s not because of something you did or didn’t do.  It’s what Google does, which is change how it decides what websites are relevant, and what elements it uses to determine that relevance.  And it’s made some radical changes in the past two years, rendering many websites invisible in search results.

And websites are more important than ever. In just one year, the number of people who’ve searched for a doctor or dentist online in the past has jumped from 25% to 35% (BrightLocal Survey).

So how do you know about your own website?  Here’s a simple test. Grab a smartphone and open Safari or Chrome and put in your domain name. What does it look like?  Do you have to scroll from side to side to see the contents of the front page, and stretch it to read the type?  Does it take three seconds or longer to load? If you answered yes to either or both questions, your website is DOA.

Why? Because people expect mobile websites to be clear and simple, with buttons that allow you to get to key information easily.  And if it takes a long time to load, people abandon the site (we have SHORT attention spans online!)  But to make matters worse, how fast your mobile version loads affects the ranking of your entire website, Google has told us. And, according to Google, more than 65% of internet searches begin on a mobile phone. I go into more detail on what should be in your mobile version in this blog.

There are other critical changes that have occurred.  For example, if your site uses flash animation, this won’t play on any Apple product.  And in terms of relevance, Google wants to see content changing all the time–pictures, video, reviews–and if you have to go to your webmaster and pay to have this happen, it gets expensive fast, and you’re less likely to do it as often as you should.  Your website needs to be something you can change yourself, easily, almost like a Facebook page.

Because of this, you don’t really need a custom website anymore, because your content is changing (or should be) on a regular basis.  And it doesn’t have to be that expensive. Also, if you use PatientActivator, the reviews can load to the right kind of website automatically, giving you ever-changing content.

Take a minute and do the mobile phone test of your website.  And if your website is more than 3 years old, it’s almost certain to be obsolete, sadly.  There are a few good companies that can build you a dynamic website. We’re one of them, and at 1-800-DENTIST we have more experience in websites (ours get more than 10 million hits a year) than almost anyone.  Our WebDirector product is dynamic, affordable, and comes with unlimited customer service. To get an analysis of your current website and a demo of WebDirector, call 855-234-6909.

All your practice marketing now revolves around your website, and people are used to seeing good websites everywhere.  And I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again, people are making a judgment about the quality of your dentistry based on the quality of your website.  It isn’t logical, I know. But since when have people behaved rationally? 😉

If you would like to receive my blog by email, simply fill in the “Subscribe” box up on the right and then confirm the email subscription when it is sent to you, and you’ll never miss a post!








How to Amplify Your Facebook Presence

Okay, you’ve heard all the noise about how important it is to have a Facebook page for your practice, and you’ve finally done it, but there’s no action on it.  Nobody likes your page, nobody comments, and you don’t know what to post.

Wait, you’re not sure that Facebook matters when it comes to marketing your practice?  How about a recent Pew Report that shows social media use by older Americans has TRIPLED since 2009?  And that the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is the 65+ age group?  Or that the entirety of Facebook is now searchable, meaning people can find anything posted about anyone, because of Facebook’s Graph Search?  This is not a trend, or a teen fad.  This is a radical shift in human interaction.

And some of you will still say, “My patients don’t use Facebook.” And as you say it, a team member will be using her phone to post on Facebook, saying, “You won’t believe what my dentist just said!”

The awesome team at East Berlin Smiles

Anyway, this blog post is more for those who have dived (dove?) into social media and are looking to up their game.  And for that I turn to a fabulous dentist friend of mine (on Facebook!), Dr. Lori Fonzi Cockley in East Berlin, PA.  Here are the steps she took to turn her Facebook page into a source of new patients.

1. Sit down with each team member, one at a time, at a computer and ask them if you can look at their Facebook page. (Set one up for them if they don’t have one, which is unlikely.)

2. In the “ABOUT” section of their personal profile, make sure they have a link to your Facebook page under “Works at”.

3. Then have them find your practice page and click “LIKE”, and then hover over that button until a drop-down menu appears, and then click “Get Notifications”. Let them know that from that point they will get a notification whenever anything was posted to the practice page.Facebook Get Notifications

4. When they get a notification, ask that they like, add a comment to, and share anything that was posted.  This increases the exposure of the post, as it now is viewable by all their friends, and it boosts the SEO value to the practice page.

5. Then take them to their “FRIENDS” list on the right side of the practice page, where it shows how many friends they have and says, “Invite your Friends to Like This Page”, and ask them to invite their friends to, you know, like the page.Facebook Invite Friends

Within a few short hours, you’ll see posts and comments and likes. It’s kind of exciting for everyone.

Dr. Cockley also made the investment to take some professional team photos, and they posted these and tagged them, and this brought a lot of comments and shares as well. And within a few minutes, she had one of the invites call and become a new patient! Her practice is now approaching 1,000 likes, and I expect will continue to grow steadily.

What’s more, everything she’s done is now searchable, and will show up when friends search “dentist” “East Berlin dentist” “dentists my friends like”, and more. If you’re looking to know what else to post on Facebook, read this previous blog of mine. And if you use a digital communication app like PatientActivator, you can take the patient reviews that you get and post them right to your Facebook page.

Please take a moment and visit Dr. Cockley’s Facebook page by clicking here, and be sure to like her page.  It’s the least you can do after all this fabulous free advice from her!  And then go thou and do likewise!


If you would like to receive my blog by email, simply fill in the box up on the right and then confirm the email subscription when it is sent to you, and you’ll never miss a post! And relax, I’ll never spam you or sell your email.

Dentistry Is Subjective Health Care

What exactly do I mean by that?  Isn’t it a health science? Not in the consumer’s mind, unfortunately.

First, appearance is a very subjective issue for people.  Some care to an intense level about their teeth–how straight, how white, how much gum recession–and others can be comfortably missing number 9 and don’t even wonder what people are staring at.  Those are the extremes, but we know that patients are all over the map when it comes to their dental care, most leaning toward neglect and procrastination.Hand over mouth

And what’s worse is that since people mostly have to pay for their own dentistry, they often make very serious oral health care decisions based almost entirely on cost. This is in contrast to the rest of their bodies, where someone is going to fix whatever’s wrong at whatever cost, as long as they pay the co-payment.  So they rationalize their irrational, short-term thinking.

And lastly, enamel is tough. It takes a lot of abuse, and the damage is so gradual that most often it goes un-noticed for decades.

So the burden is on the dentist and the team to amplify the value of good dentistry in the patient’s mind.  And you also have to help them take a long-term view of their body.  Every six months we hear of some new connection between oral and overall health, the latest linking perio disease and Alzheimer’s.  But people smoke, eat low-nutrition food and don’t save money simply because they don’t consider the long-term effects of their actions.

So how do you do change this?  Education? I’m going to take a radical view on this, and say “no”.  At least not at the outset.  People already know they should eat right and save money. But we are 40% obese and only 3% of the population retires financially secure.  I suggest that education comes second. Remember your favorite teacher in high school? Didn’t you learn the most in that class?  Same concept.

Which brings me back to the idea that dentistry is subjective. I think it starts with the experience of being in your dental practice. And I don’t mean the clinical experience, for the most part. I mean the atmosphere, the attitude of your team, the design of your office.  My previous blog talks about having a remarkable team, and this is the cornerstone of that patient experience.  I believe that having a great dental practice is what opens people’s mind to a long-term view of their oral health.

The most successful dentists I know have high treatment acceptance not because they educate their patients extremely well.  Many times the patient doesn’t know much at all about the treatment itself (or doesn’t even want to know).  But they like their dentist.  They like going to her office. They like the people who work there.

And here’s something else: they get the sense that everyone in the practice genuinely cares about them.  As human beings, not just as patients. And not just as a source of income.

So if we really want to help patients, we have to understand their psychology, and accept that to persuade them that their teeth are important, we can’t come at the problem directly.  And realize that by creating an environment that is fun, comfortable, convenient and filled with compassionate people we open their minds, and their hearts, to taking care of their teeth.  And that lays the foundation for the second step, educating them.

And let’s not forget that social media has become an excellent way for you to demonstrate what the experience of your dental practice is like, and for your patients to do it as well.  Comments on Facebook, photos of happy patients, video testimonials and online reviews are all essentially revolutionary ways that people can discover what it’s like to be a patient of yours.

The general population sees dentistry as something that can easily be avoided or ignored, and that their teeth don’t have to be straight, their gums can bleed (“That’s normal, right?”), and their breath can be disgusting.  But we know better.  And knowing better hasn’t done us much good. We’re a lot like life insurance salesmen, trying to get people to think long-term and about something unpleasant at the same time. Tough combination.

So let’s try a different approach.  Outsmart people for their own good, and offer them a dental practice they can’t resist.  Hey, it might be kind of fun to work at a place like that, too!


If you would like to receive my blog by email, simply fill in the box up on the right and then confirm the email subscription when it is sent to you, and you’ll never miss a post! And relax, I’ll never spam you or sell your email.