Your reputation sucks, according to the internet. Or maybe it’s great. But unless you manage your reputation and your online presence, it can go either way. Reputation management has jumped to the top of our awareness, and deservedly so. Pew Internet tells us that 44% of all patients are researching you, and 1 in 5 look at these rating sites. These numbers are too big to ignore. Dr. Hitham Khalil of Valdosta, GA says “It’s a trend, just like anything else, whether it’s websites, medicine or Amazon. It’s ratings, and most people look at them these days. Patients do look at these sites and I’ve had them tell me they looked me up.” It used to be that no one paid attention to the online rating companies such as Vitals, Ucompare, or the big dog, Healthgrades. We had our own rating system – friends and family. “Traditional referrals and word-of-mouth are your primary reputation,” says Dr. Khalil, “but people do their own research and see these sites. It’s one more piece of information they use in their decision making.” To help with that decision making, Google has decided ratings are now very, very important. Especially their own ratings from Google+. When your patients look for information about you, these rating sites are featured prominently in the search results. How do you manage these ratings? And how do you defend yourself against negative reviews?

Create your reputation. When you search for anything on the internet, the most valuable positions in the search engine are the five or six links “above the fold”. Most people follow the first few links they find and rarely scroll down or go to other pages in search results. This means you have to show up in these top five places with sites or listings that you control, and ideally push the rating sites down. You can only do this with content. Make sure you have your name on many pages in your website to increase the chances of your content appearing high in the ranks when patients search for you by name. If you are part of a large practice, create your own site. And consider contributing to professional and patient online publications. Dr. Robert Bray, a Becker’s Spine Review contributor, shows up with multiple sites including his practice website, his personal website, and in Becker’s articles he’s written. Google yourself in all of the variations of your name and title (Dr. Your Name, Your Name, Your Name, MD or DO) and notice what comes up. Now you know your competition.

Ask for reviews in all the right places. As far as the number of stars that show up on these review sites, its a numbers game. If you have one glowing review, you have 5 stars. If you get another review that’s negative, you can instantly drop to two stars. If you don’t ask your patients for reviews, you are opening yourself up to the more “volatile” patients. Encourage your patients to rank you. Do so with cards at the counter that list your website address, and put links to ratings on your site. Make your website, and your reviews, part of your patient process, and do followups with emails that contain links.

Don’t use a “reputation” company. Reputation companies claim to help you with your reputation but it is impossible to validate their effectiveness. Many, such as Reputation.com, will simply create a cookie-cutter bio with slightly varying versions, and put them on many obscure directory sites. Your primary concern, from a reputation perspective, is pushing down negative content, and these obscure sites do not help. Resume.com, About.me, and Bigsight.org are some of the sites that reputation companies post on. You rarely find these on the first page of search results, much less in the top search listings. Create a LinkedIn page, Facebook page, Twitter page, and Google+ page. Now post your blog content to those automatically, and free, with Hootsuite. Make sure your content links back to your website. This beats paying $3,000 a year to post hidden resumes for yourself, and these sites are considered more credible by search engines.

Think local, not global. Local directories don’t always show up on the front page, but Google values these directories and the special way they “link” to you. These are not actual links, but are data points that are consistent – your name, address and phone number, or NAP. There are many services offering to fix the NAPs for you for hundreds of dollars a month. Pass these by and do it yourself. Go to GetListed.or, type your name and zip code and see what comes up. Go to https://www.whitespark.ca/local-citation-finder/, sign up for the free version, and see many other directories. Ensure your name, address and phone, as well as any other information offered, is entered into all of these. Be consistent in NAP! This is how Google and other search engines recognize these citations and associate them with your primary web presence. Bear in mind that these citations and local SEO are a buffer to a core web strategy, not the overall solution.

Go with Google. Ask for reviews the right way. Many EHR/EMR companies are offering a bolt-on review tool that posts your reviews to the web. Unfortunately, most of them are on sites that don’t show up well, nor do they appear as true citations so they are essentially worthless to you. Other companies offer in-office kiosks to allow your patients to submit reviews. Dr. Malcom Baxter of Premier Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine of Nashville asked “Can’t I just hand an iPad to a patient and get the same result?” The answer is yes, of course. Its all about getting it into your workflow, whether its a kiosk from a compay, or an iPad with your Google+ page bookmarked. A note of caution, though, Google discourages businessess from seeking reviews at point of service. Instead they recommend an email to your customers/patients with links to your Google+ page. For more information on how Google looks at reviews, look at http://bit.ly/XGloaB.

These suggestions are only the tip of the reputation iceberg, and the rules are still in flux. Your reputation varies depending on your patient’s location, activity by local directories, and many other variables. By creating a core web presence that is correctly optimized, and by continually adding content to that core presence and letting Google know, you’re creating the type of meaningful content Google and other search engines are looking for. Fill out your NAP on all the local directories the free local search tools find. And publish often to social channels. And tell your patients to review you! They’re always your best resource for reputation management.

Reputation management is a sensitive subject, filled with interpretations and ideas on how best to proceed. Please feel free to leave comments and questions below, or contact us at [email protected] for a free web assessment to learn the specifics about your web presence and reputation management needs.

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