How Google Influences New Patients

By Jay Cruiz / 01 Mar 2016

PR and reputation management consultant Jay Cruiz discusses Google’s impact on your clinic’s reputation and offers advice on how to successfully manage online reviews

For the better part of a decade, leveraging Google’s search engine has been a very effective way to market a clinic and bring in a wealth of new patients. Unfortunately, some of Google’s recent innovations can hurt the reputation of many clinics. Google is now one of the primary determinants of your clinic’s overall reputation – and the way you manage your online reputation determines whether this is good news, or bad news, for your clinic.

Your clients are likely to use Google

Google is the internet’s leading search engine and the world’s most visited website, equating to around two fifths of the world’s internet traffic, beyond sites like YouTube and even Facebook. In fact, in 2013 when Google went down for just two-to-five minutes; worldwide internet traffic plummeted by approximately 40%.2 In the modern era, when someone is considering an aesthetic treatment or procedure, they will usually open their computer or tap on their smart phones, searching for the best clinic in their area. Nine times out of 10 they are using Google,3 because people TRUST Google.

Google doesn’t consider your business

Imagine a clinic that’s extremely well trusted and adored by its patients. It has a gorgeous website, professionally created and presented. The staff are efficient, friendly and great at what they do, however, they never encouraged their patients to rate and review the clinic online. Then one day, this stellar clinic treats a person who is just having a bad day. A horrible day in fact, not to mention that they are a rather ‘difficult’ patient at the best of times. The clinic may have fallen temporarily short of their usual standard (perhaps through no fault of their own). Regardless, the patient, in a rage, decides to log in to their favourite review site and display their dissatisfaction online. Consequently, this otherwise excellent clinic is now represented entirely by that single negative review online. The clinic now appears to be one of the worst rated in the region. The clinic’s reputation may significantly suffer now, as Google displays this bad review and negative rating prominently in its search results.
Google, of course, is left unscathed. The fate of the clinic has no bearing on Google’s success. Google is constantly looking for ways to enhance the ‘user’ experience (that’s the ‘user’ experience and not your clinic’s bottom line). Its mission is to understand exactly what its users are searching for, and return exactly what they are looking for. Today, when someone searches for a clinic, Google knows that person probably wants to find the most trusted and reliable clinic in their area. They want to know they will be in safe hands and they want to feel confident that their results will be excellent. In most cases, this matters even more than cost.

The effect of Google reviews

Google is often where your clinic makes its first impression online, and with a competing clinic just pixels away, your first impression really counts. To provide the user with a better experience and ‘return exactly what they are looking for,’ Google now gathers reviews, star ratings and testimonials from past patients across the web. In Google Maps and local results, for example, they will prominently display reviews submitted by people via their own Google accounts. Anyone can leave reviews this way and Google prompts its users to do so. In regular Google Search results, Google gives these reviews priority placement and it will then also show
the average rating, right there in the results, individually from other sites that use rating schema. These sites include Yelp, Facebook Pages, and many others. When people search for your clinic, they may well also add the word ‘review’ to the search to see what other people say about you as demonstrated by Google Suggest. These eye-catching features draw the user’s attention and often supersede the regular search results, in terms of user focus. So it’s now the clinic with the ‘5-star reputation’ winning the business. A clinic with no reviews also has no positive feedback to reassure potential clients. Consequentially, if your online reputation is not carefully managed, one bad review can destroy your chances of bringing in new patients via the internet, since there is no buffer or counterpoint. More than ever, people are looking to Google to help them choose a clinic. That one star rating could mean all your other investment in marketing and promotion, print ads, radio spots etc. are severely hindered.

The 5-star reputation and your clinic

A 5-star reputation is the gold standard of trust and credibility online and encourages new and potential patients to choose your clinic over another. No matter how far technology develops, social proof is likely to always be one of the primary deciding factors as to whether a patient chooses one clinic over another. If enough people say Clinic B is better than Clinic A, with all other factors being equal, Clinic B gets the business. If your aim is to leverage the internet to attract new patients, your focus should be on forging a 5-star reputation for them to clearly see when searching online for aesthetic treatment.

Priming: the deciding factor you can control

There is a psychological concept known as ‘priming’, whereby a person’s pre-conceived expectations ‘prime’ them either positively or negatively, towards how they ultimately feel about a given experience. One of the best examples of ‘perception dictating experience’ is
wine tasting – and how if a person expects a wine to taste better... the wine tastes better to them.4 This explains why a bad review has such a severe knock-on effect for the rest of your potential patients. Negative priming occurs when a person is influenced to expect bad things.5 This tends to occur when reading a critical review online, for example. A negatively primed patient is far more attuned to ‘nitpicking’. They are on the lookout for things that bother them, inconvenience them, or could be done better. Bad reviews online ‘negatively prime’ as much as 50-75% of potential patients.6 Conversely, positive priming occurs when a person is influenced to expect good things. 7 When a person expects good things, they pay more attention to the things they like and enjoy. This is where their mind is focused, so any mild negatives tend to be marginalised or ignored completely. For these reasons, online reputation management should form a critical part of your overall marketing strategy. Akin to ‘confirmation bias’, people pay far more attention to evidence that confirms their perspective as being correct, while more readily ignoring evidence that challenges their perspective and proving them to be misguided or completely wrong.8 As such, no matter how many reviews you may currently have, managing your online reputation is critical for minimising damage caused by bad reviews.
Of course, creating a 5-star reputation can actually have the reverse effect, in that more patients will seek you out, tell their friends, be primed to enjoy a more positive experience, leave better reviews AND spend more with you in the future through follow up treatments – not to mention referral business!

Putting your clinic on the map

Another innovation of Google’s has been the inclusion of ‘Google Maps’ in the search results as well as the coinciding star ratings and reviews. It takes up a lot of space on the results page too, so your appearance here (or lack thereof) has an exponentially greater impact. This is yet another instance where you can display and benefit from a strong 5-star reputation, or suffer and become crippled by a scathing one star review. The fact is, most people nowadays find a clinic by using Google Maps9,10 and pay attention to the reviews that appear alongside the map and location points. This makes your presence in Google Maps and your clinic’s reviews exponentially more important. There are three major factors to focus on when improving your Google Maps presence:

  • Address and telephone number citations
  • Review generation and management
  • Mobile friendly websites

These elements have the biggest impact11 and mobile optimisation is especially important, because Google has actually gone as far to tell its human website analysts to rate any web page, which is not ‘mobile-friendly’12 (i.e. a page that becomes unusable on a mobile device) with the lowest rating. Simply having a mobile version of your site does not make it mobile-friendly. A ‘mobile site’ allows you to access the site on a smartphone without having to view it like a normal website which helps usability as it prevents the need of zooming in. A ‘mobile friendly’ site however, is designed to give the best and easiest user experience while getting more people to contact the business by providing a contact number, easy review system and location map.

Never fake it 'til you make it'

Most clinics already understand the gravity and opportunity that goes with having a solid reputation. Unfortunately, some clinics (or the marketing companies they employ) also opt to take shortcuts, which only serve to hurt them in the long run. For some, the temptation is there to implement ‘fake’ reviews. Forget about the penalties your site eventually receives from Google, this can land you in serious legal trouble as well,13 and nothing hurts your reputation quite like a court hearing. Amazon recently began a law suit against more than 1,114 fake reviewers as it undermines consumer trust14 and Yelp joined a series of law suits known as ‘Operation Green Turf’ in 2013 with damages being awarded $350,000 from 19 separate companies.15 The funny thing here is; fake reviews all tend to sound the same. The language used is often unconvincing, which inspires a level of scepticism from potential patients, so those reviews could have the opposite effect. Not to mention there are algorithms, which effectively pick out these fake reviews due to the predictable wording. My advice is to avoid this practice altogether.

The most cost-effective way to a 5-star reputation

If you run a good clinic, you should already have a plentiful supply of patients willing to sing your praises. If you genuinely enhance their lives and make an effort to help them feel good (with a healthy dose of ‘positive priming’ working in your favour too), you should have no trouble gathering positive reviews. You simply need to ask for them to post on your chosen site (and be sure to direct them to various top review sites, to get the most visibility in Google Search). Do not underestimate the rising power of online reviews for your clinic’s success. If you decide to work with a marketing company to handle this side of your business, make sure they focus on real reviews, strong branding, and appreciate the importance of a good patient satisfaction strategy and the impact of online presence. 

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