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Joel Headley

The importance of online patient reviews for healthcare practices

Online reviews are important, but how many do you actually need and what’s the ideal average rating?

healthcare reviews

Like it or not, online reviews influence a prospective patient’s opinion about — and their decision to visit — your healthcare practice. In their Local Consumer Review Survey, BrightLocal found:

1. The majority of consumers use reviews to form an opinion about a business

  • Only 9 percent of consumers don’t read online reviews (vs. 29 percent in 2010).
  • 68 percent of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-6 reviews.

2. Consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation

  • 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
  • 74 percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.

3. Reviews can help you to acquire new patients — or cause you to lose out on them

  • 60 percent of consumers say that negative reviews make them not want to use a business.
  • Only 14 percent of consumers would consider using a business with a 1-2 star rating.

Why patient reviews matter

Online reviews can impact your local search ranking

Where your website ranks within the search engine result pages (SERP) matters: Nearly 75 percent of people click the first 10 Google organic results (i.e. those on Page 1), according to Advanced Web Ranking.

Google is quiet about the exact algorithm they use to rank websites in search results to help keep things fair and to avoid spam abuse, but when it comes to local ranking factors, Google has been pretty open by sharing the three primary factors for local ranking:

  • relevance
  • distance (or proximity)
  • prominence

Google uses your online reputation — specifically, patient reviews left on Google — as an authority signal to measure how prominent your business is. According to Googlereview count and score are factored into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings will improve a business’s local ranking.

Leaders within the SEO community agree. In the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey, Review Signals (quantity, velocity, diversity, etc.) came in 5th for the local pack/finder top ranking factors and 7th for localized organic top ranking factors.

Online reviews provide valuable insight into how your customers think about your business

Let’s face it: Most healthcare providers don’t have the time to micromanage every part of their business. You can rest assured, though, that if something — or someone — isn’t working well, you’ll hear about it through an online review.

Negative patient reviews can seem both daunting and destructive, but if you know how to respond to reviews and are willing to improve, you’ll find that negative reviews can be incredibly valuable. What better way to hear how you and your staff are doing than to read it directly from the customers themselves?

Online patient reviews also provide valuable insight into how people are talking about your practice. What keywords do they use to describe your practice and services? Does the language match your marketing? If it doesn’t, considering using the same language as customers to optimize keywords for your online marketing efforts.

Read: 5 positive payoffs to negative patient reviews

How many patient reviews does a healthcare practice need?

There’s no magic number

Unfortunately, there’s no magic number when it comes to the number of patient reviews needed. Between being able to stand out among the competition, ensuring your practice is sending authority signals to Google about your prominence, and earning patient trust, the perfect number for you could be anywhere from one to more than 100.

Only 1 review is needed to see orange stars on Google

Up until recently, stars would appear next to your Google listing once you received five reviews, so having at least this number was usually a good first goal. However, Google made some changes and we now see those stars showing with just one review.

When building trust, 10 reviews is enough

The BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey found that having as little as one to six reviews is enough for 68 percent of consumers to form an opinion, and 90 percent of consumers read no more than 10 reviews before feeling that they can trust a business. Beyond that, the benefits for influencing consumers are limited; only 10 percent of consumers read more than 10 reviews.

In the end, it’s best to earn reviews on an ongoing and consistent basis

The age and frequency of reviews appear to be more important than quantity. Since 73 percent of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant, according to BrightLocal, and 22 percent of consumers will only consider reviews written in the last 2 weeks, healthcare practices will only be able to keep up with a strong reputation strategy that brings in reviews on a consistent basis.

My advice is that you ask patients to share their feedback online on a continuous basis for the best results. Or, in the words of Miriam Ellis, “Reviews are a business lifetime effort, not a race. Get a few this month, a few next month, and a few the month after that. Keep going.”

What's an ideal star rating for a healthcare practice?

An average rating of at least 4.0 is a good start

According to BrightLocal:

  • 58 percent of consumers say that the star rating of a business is most important.
  • 87 percent say that a business needs a rating of 3-5 stars before they will use them.
  • 92 percent of consumers would use a business with an average of at least 4.0.

There’s also evidence that Google may agree; some recent “Best of” search queries (i.e [best obgyn phoenix]) have been filtering the local pack to only show business listings with average doctor reviews of at least 4.0 and above.

Search results for best obgyn phoenix

Average ratings of 4.2 to 4.5 are the most trustworthy

It’s also been shown a perfect 5-star rating isn’t the most effective for getting patients, as perfect reviews can cause doubt at the validity and authenticity of the reviewers to your site. In fact, a study by PowerReviews and Northwestern University showed that an average rating of 4.2 to 4.5 is the most trustworthy and increases the likelihood of conversion.

An average rating of 4.5 and above is best to ensure you’re not filtered out of results

In areas of high competition where the majority of practices have patient reviews, patients can feel overwhelmed — and feel like they help to filter through results. Within the local results, Google allows users to filter by rating and hours. If your business listing has an average rating of fewer than 4.5 stars, you risk being filtered out of the results.

Example of filtering results by reviews in Google

Patients use review sites to find you online and read multiple sites in order to “vet” you. If prospective patients hear about you through a referral, they often double-check your reputation on review sites. Ultimately, patient reviews are another form of advocacy, so the best strategy is to provide a remarkable experience — one worth taking the time to share online.

Up next: The top online sources for patient reviews

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Joel Headley
Joel Headley is Director of Local Search and Marketing at PatientPop, the market leader in healthcare practice growth. With a decade of experience at Google, Joel is an expert in optimizing websites for search and has a deep understanding of how doctors are found and assessed online.

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