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.

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6 thoughts on “Help Me, Don’t Yelp Me!

  1. Regarding Number 7: a lawyer said in a presentation that by responding publically, you could be accused of identifying the reviewer as a patient and thus violating HIPAA. Of course it is a lawyer’s job to identify risk and the dentist’s job to weigh risk vs reward. Probably best to keep any responses as generic as possible. I like your advice of asking other patients to respond instead. Thanks for another great post, Fred!

    • Ryann, it is always important to not say anything about specific treatment with the patient or even acknowledge that you saw them, but rather address the reading audience, explaining the type of practice you have and that you don’t want anyone to be unhappy with your care, and that you appreciate the feedback.

  2. We love Yelp and have been active changing up pictures and deals and new patient offers and gift certificates. We have a video of Dr. Fields and staff pictures as well as our specialists listed with pictures. We have a steady flow of patients every month from our new patient special. We do NOT advertise with them. We have a great account ex. that I started with and have Yelp T shirts. We have at the moment 19 5 star reviews and in the filter we have 26 . 25 are 5 stars and 1 was a patient who was unhappy many years ago. One review Yelp removed and poster was banned from the site because of hate speech and racial slurs. It violated the first amendment. The filter system will bring good ones up when they have Yelped for other businesses but most people all go to Yelp and go to the filter and look at all of the filter ones also. In searching on the internet, potential patients will go to reviews first and then to website. We are happy with Yelp and the referrals we get and the staff as well as the doctors are very honest and welcoming to new patients….everything is marketing!

    • Dvorak is right on with his assessment, in my mind. I think the review bubble is going to burst, and people are going to be looking for different resources that they can rely on. We hope to keep evolving 1-800-DENTIST to continue to be that.

I welcome your comments--don't pull any punches!