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Should Doctors Be Using Yelp? Yes, but Cautiously.

There are a large number of online tools and directories available for both businesses and individuals to help you market your business online outside of your website.  Most people in the healthcare industry are familiar with industry-specific websites like www.ratemds.com and www.healthgrades.com. (Note: There are many of these across different industries, but because Points Group is so heavily involved in healthcare marketing, we will be using those examples – just remember that this really does apply to almost every industry.)  One site that almost everybody is familiar with is Yelp.  Should the healthcare industry be using Yelp?  For now, yes, but only to a limited extent.  There are many problems with Yelp and we only anticipate them growing.

What Yelp Has Going for It

Hummingbird – The hummingbird algorithm change in October of 2013 resulted in a couple of big changes in search results.  One of the bigger ones that we noticed was the increased rankings of Yelp pages when practice names were searched.  We do not know what was specifically changed in the Google algorithm that caused this, but it was certainly a result.  This made it more important to have good Yelp reviews, as they are shown more prominently whenever anyone Googles your practice.

Bing/Yahoo/Apple Integration – Bing, Yahoo, and Apple are all competitors of Google, so it stands to reason that they would not use Google+/Google Maps even though it is the typically preferred maps application (Matt talked about this last week in his article about Improving Local Search Results).  So instead, these services are highly integrated with Yelp.  This means that at a bare minimum, you MUST have a Yelp account claimed with a correct address.

The Problems with Yelp

Though we do recommend managing and filling out a profile with Yelp, we do it with caution.  We do not recommend paying for Ads with Yelp or their paid management services, with a few exceptions.  There are standard practices of Yelp that make it very difficult for us to suggest that our clients use their services.

Removal of Positive Rankings if You’re Not Paying for Ads – This is a big issue that many people have.  A quick search on Reddit shows that many people are having problems with Yelp hiding positive reviews.

Basically, Yelp uses an algorithm to hide reviews that it feels may not be legitimate.  However, many people experience changes to the “hidden” reviews based upon whether or not they are purchasing additional ads.  In other words, if you stop paying Yelp for ads, they show more negative reviews.  We cannot confirm the experiences of others, but there is enough talk that you should at least be aware.  This has not happened to any of our clients, but we have found that many reviews that we can confirm are legitimate which are not being shown.

This review suppression, whether algorithmic or intentional, is causing apprehension from users in trusting reviews.  There are also questions as to the future of Yelp as a result.  For that reason, we do not recommend putting additional money into the service.

Default Ads Unless You Pay – Yelp takes an inverse approach to most companies.  Most websites allow you to pay to advertise on their site.  Yelp does have this option, but they also place ads for competitors by default on your page.  If you pay Yelp, they’ll remove competitor ads from your listing.  This puts you in a position where you’re at a distinct disadvantage unless you pay.

Penalties for Semantics – It’s all about how you ask.  In an effort to curtail fake reviews, Yelp has a strong “no solicitation” policy.  This means that you cannot enter reviews on behalf of your clients, or even have a device in your office that people can use to review your practice on Yelp.  The company actually goes so far as to say that you cannot ask people to review you on Yelp (yes, even if it’s a blanket invitation to patients without any implication of positive reviews).  You may only tell people to “check us out on Yelp.”  Any false reviews are likely to be hidden, and Yelp has sued businesses in the past for what it believes were false reviews on the website, so we strongly recommend doing everything possible to comply with guidelines.

Confusing Reporting – What would you consider a lead for your practice?  Someone coming to your website?  That’s how Yelp defines a lead in their reporting – simply sending someone to your website.  While this isn’t a reason not to use Yelp, we do exercise caution in interpreting their reports. Make sure that what you see as leads really are leads.

The Exceptions

There are a few exceptions that would cause us to suggest using Yelp on a scale larger than simply filling out a profile.  We would not suggest their Pay Per Click ads.  However, if you are a large business with many locations (we would say over 20), there may be a lot of time saved by paying Yelp for a premium service, which includes account management and bulk listing edits.  However, we are not recommending this as much as we were even six months ago.  Or if there was a very damaging review that could not be removed or addressed, it may be worth paying for ads to see if the review was moved into obscurity.  However, we would not look at this as a long-term solution, and would highly recommend investing in reputation management.

Should You Invest in Yelp

With all of this considered, doctors should set up Yelp profiles, and put the time in to make sure everything is accurate, well written, and flattering (no selfies!).  However, we would not spend additional money on Yelps’ services.  Although it’s tempting and seems necessary, the value simply isn’t there for the paid services.  Even with competitor ads removed and the potential for bad ads to disappear, we have found that the ROI is not significant enough for the investment.  Your money can be better spent elsewhere.

Encourage people to check you out on Yelp, and make sure they are aware of your presence to build up some good reviews.  There have been correlations reported with higher star ratings on Yelp, and we do believe that utilizing the free services are worth it.  We would just suggest not putting too many eggs in this basket.

Gil C / Shutterstock.com

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