Category Archives: Online Reviews

Fake ratings put good doctors at great risk

Unless you were under a rock, you saw the recent story about Amazon taking legal action against over 1000 individuals who wrote fake reviews on their site.

This bad behavior is not limited to Amazon products. Right now in aesthetic medicine, a handful of website and SEO companies are including fake ratings on doctors’ websites. This puts their clients at risk, potentially damages their reputations, and opens the website and/or the practice up to punitive action by Google or worse. 

How do you know if your ratings are fake?

Example of fake ratings placed on a practice’s website.

If you have a star rating on your website, try clicking on any part of the ratings. Typically, it will not be linked to a source where you can read reviews. There will be no supporting documentation to represent the rating or explain how it was calculated. The number does not automatically increase with new reviews and can be plainly seen by Google or anyone reviewing the source code.

When faked, the number of total ratings shown is typically very large – often 400+ total ratings.  We have rarely seen a plastic surgeon with this many ratings from any legitimate source, other than RealPatientRatings itself which generates ratings in a closed system by including every patient without exception.


How are they doing this?

By including schema tags for aggregate rating and review count, typically in the footer on every page. It is often placed unobtrusively alongside social media items as in the example shown here:

Five reasons why faking your ratings is too risky:

1. Breaking trust with consumers: Nothing makes a potential patient angrier more than being lied to. If someone uses a Google search result and clicks through to your website, they expect to see reviews or ratings. When they discover that there’s really nothing there, this not only frustrates them, but diminishes their trust. If they are looking for real ratings and reviews, they will move on to a practice who meets their needs, and this relationship begins online.

2. Signaling distrust to Google: Google rewards the most trusted sites with higher rankings. Google hates anything fake. Over the years we have seen this pattern repeatedly: fake keywords, fake article sites, fake press releases, fake links, and so on.

Successful and ethical SEO tactics mean behaving like a true brand. Why would you take such a risk and include fake ratings on your site? A quality brand wouldn’t dream of doing this. Google has the smartest engineers in the universe writing algorithms to detect and devalue low quality content and fake backlinks. How could fake ratings not be equally or even more hated by Google? I am already seeing evidence of Google beginning to detect and eliminate these fakes.

3. Ethics: Is it ethical to misrepresent your ratings to get patients to come to your website? Imagine your website being reviewed by your society’s ethics committee…how would that go? Having fake ratings sends a negative message to every colleague in your market that you’re either willing to cheat or have no idea what your SEO provider is doing?

4. FTC’s Truth in Advertising Guidelines: Would the FTC agree with you having phony ratings? Since 2010, they have had a division solely devoted to cracking down on deceptive internet advertising. 

The Federal Trade Commission’s Truth In Advertising rules provide some useful guidelines: reviews must be “truthful and substantiated,” non-deceptive, and any material connection between the reviewer and the business being reviewed must be disclosed.

5. Fraud: While talking with our members at the recent ASPS meeting in Boston, a RPR member with several hundred legitimate ratings showed me how two other surgeons in his market were displaying phony ratings. This doctor is also a lawyer and suggested that misrepresenting one’s rating could be construed as fraud and result in civil action if the patient believed the statistics and was wronged somehow.

Fix it now before the damage is permanent

I expect the fake ratings trend to continue, and that we’ll see a future algorithm update address it. I also expect those websites with fakes to be “dinged” or punished by Google. If you have a fraudulent aggregate rating on your website, we recommend taking it down immediately. If you weren’t aware it was there, you may also rethink your relationship with your web company.

If this is happening to you, whether you’re aware of it or not, it is still your responsibility to manage and monitor the behavior of the website companies or SEO professionals managing your presence. 

My suspicion is that if most the doctors knew what they were risking by having fake ratings on their websites and understood how damaging it was to the patient relationship, they would be very unhappy about it. 

This Week in Reviews: From Amazon to BrightLocal

Fake reviews are bad for everyone. Both consumers and the businesses and medical practices that serve them need reviews to be delivered purely and accurately.

On Monday, Amazon filed a lawsuit against 1000+ people who have been writing fake reviews and undermining consumer confidence. I applaud Amazon for reinforcing this important issue.

Amazon’s action is good news for the 92%* of consumers who now read online reviews and for the companies and medical practices who play by the rules. Consumers need credible information and reward transparent products and services with their custom.

This week we also discovered BrightLocal’s 2015 Local Consumer Review Survey that covers the gamut of consumer behavior related to ratings and reviews.

BrightLocal’s research addresses fakes as a growing consumer concern. Their research shows increasing consumer dependence on reviews, up 6% to 92%. Only 8% of consumers do not use reviews in 2015, down from 88% in 2011 when I founded RealPatientRatings.

Searches for Doctor/Dentist reviews are second only to restaurants and surpass the categories of General Shopping, Clothes Shopping and Hotels/B&Bs.

Fake reviews in medicine are particularly dangerous which is why our entire system prevents fakes at RealPatientRatings™. Our patent-pending process ensures 100% verified reviews with real patient feedback that consumers and medical providers can rely on.

Key ‘Takeaways’ From BrightLocal Research*

  • 92% of consumers now read online reviews (vs. 88% in 2014)
  • Star rating is #1 factor used by consumers to judge a business
  • 44% say a review must be written within 1 month to be relevant
  • Consumers are becoming more concerned about fake reviews

Despite the challenges, ratings and reviews are a growth strategy for the business and practices that are willing to embrace transparency about their products and services.

The Secret to Getting More Online Reviews

What is the best method for doctors to get patients to write more reviews?

I’ve been asked this question on a near-daily basis for years and my answer hasn’t really changed much.

Still, almost every day some newfangled product or platform comes along to save the day and solve the problem of how to get more good reviews, scaring busy doctors with fear-based email marketing and threatening their reputations. The options are endless and confusing… expensive software add-ons, iPads in the lobby, kiosks, QR codes, even fake surveys.

fakedOne well-known company developed an entire program asking patients to fill out a survey on an iPad in the office. Somewhere in a dark room in another state (perhaps even another country) they took the comments from that iPad survey, created a fake Google, Yelp, or RealSelf account and post the comments from the survey responses as reviews. They went so far as to spoof their own IP addresses to pretend they were a different person each time.

When they got caught, they defended the practice, saying “it’s really the patient’s words, so what’s the problem?” Well, there’s just this little obstacle in the way called the TERMS OF SERVICE of EVERY WEBSITE OUT THERE.

Google flat out commands you not to impersonate others or misrepresent your identity:

“Impersonation: Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing.” –Google

Any time Google sets a standard for how they’d like us to do something, a number of people instantly set out to trick them, and the rest of us comply. Why not just follow the recommendations? Why so much manipulation? It’s as if the lessons of the last decade didn’t stick… fake keywords, fake articles, fake websites full of fake inbound links, fake stock photos, fake guest blogs, and now fake reviews.

Step into my time machine… Remember when stock photos were very expensive and people didn’t think they’d get caught “borrowing” images for their websites? Stock photo giant Getty Images didn’t like that so much, so they developed software to go out and find their stolen images and recoup their costs.

Many doctors received nasty legal letters with expensive fines for copyright violations. In most cases, the doctors didn’t even know the images hadn’t been paid for, but they were still on the hook. If you think you can’t get caught repurposing other sites’ reviews, just remember stock photos. The way I see it, the big companies are going to get awfully tired of their content being stolen and do something about it.

If you think you can’t get caught repurposing other sites’ reviews, just remember stock photos.

So what is the best way to get online reviews?

Occam’s razor. The doctor needs to simply ask the patient personally.

A fellow internet marketer who I respect reminded me of this recently when we talked about this issue, and he had been trying every method under the sun for his client’s practice, and the only tactic that actually worked was when the doctor asked.

Here are a few different methods for asking. Do what you’re comfortable with.

thank-youClassy: One very stately and elegant surgeon I know takes a few minutes to hand-write a few notes on his personal stationery, without addressing them. When a patient is happy, he steps away, fills in the name, and hands the patient the handwritten note on their way out. (This is my personal fave.)

Email response: If a patient writes you a personal email with compliments, reply and ask them to share it on one of the sites you like and trust. Google yourself and see which sites are at the top, and send them to whichever is the highest quality source on the top half of page 1 – don’t bother with the others. Let it go, let it goooo…! I give you permission to not worry.

Personal email: Even if you wrote one request per week, you’d be generating more reviews than your competition.

3 cool and affordable tools that support the process:

1 – Use your own website: Make a dedicated page on your site that says where to go. Don’t combine it with actual patient reviews, put those front and center on their own page (or multiple pages).

2 – Review Concierge: Designed just for doctors (not restaurants, bars, bike shops, mechanics, pet stores, etc.) and comes with a fantastic link you can share with patients to direct them to the best site where they already have an account to write a review.

3 – RealPatientRatings: Does not compete with your efforts to get online reviews. It is a different piece of the same puzzle and is highly effective at quantity and freshness. Behind the scenes, you get actionable intelligence to help grow your practice and to generate crazy-huge amounts of review content for your own website. Which is where you need it the most, because it’s where most of your patients will learn about you first. You only get one chance to make a first impression and this happens within the first 8 reviews read by your patient.

“Having a perfect 5 star rating everywhere isn’t what you want, it’s not believable at all and has the opposite effect — it diminishes trust.”

3 tips for review success

1 – CHOOSE WISELY: Avoid sending your patients to sites where reviews can be easily faked. This includes sites like Vitals, Healthgrades, RateMDs. If you send your real patients to write reviews there, that profile will rank better, and you’ll be exposing future patients to the possibility of fakes.

2 – QUANTITY OVER PERFECTION: Focus on quantity over perfection. Having a perfect 5 star rating everywhere isn’t what you want, it’s not believable at all and has the opposite effect of diminishing trust. It’s quantity and freshness that matters most for building trust and driving conversions.

3 – COMMON SENSE: Remember what your mom said. If it sounds too good to be true, it is! If you’re being pitched something that can’t be explained very well, if it filters out the bad reviews (which you need to be believed), promises to get you 5 stars everywhere, or fully takes away the personal request aspect, just be skeptical. Even the best software solutions are no match for a personal request. And asking is free.

Curious about each website’s terms of service?

Every company’s website has a page outlining their rules that can be easily found. The other important piece of information to know is how their reviews are collected, moderated, and published.

RealPatientRatings patent-pending process results in more 100% verified reviews faster than any other platform, returns them to you to power your own website and marketing efforts, and delivers actionable intelligence to make unbiased practice decisions.

Diamond Celebration of 75,000 Verified Ratings and Reviews

To serve the public interest by eliciting and amplifying accurate and timely information about authentic patient experiences.

– RealPatientRatings® Mission Statement

RealPatientRatings® (RPR) is achieving a milestone. We’ve published 75,000 verified ratings and reviews since 2011!

Special thanks our early adopters who helped RPR reach this achievement.  We’re proud of helping practices become stronger, safer, and more financially successful.

Over the years, it’s been hard to communicate an “elevator speech” that explains what we do and the differences between RPR and other companies who are making claims that are inconsistent with Google and Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines.

It seems strange to us, when so many doctors are offended by false negative reviews, that they hire intermediaries who mislead consumers by creating false positive reviews. In web lingo, it’s “white hat” (the good guys who follow the rules) versus “black hat” (employing tactics to game the system.)

At RPR, we don’t attack the symptom (negative reviews) but focus on diagnosing the underlying disease (service or quality issues). Once we confirm the practice is healthy, we survey and publish real patient ratings and reviews in large enough numbers to insure statistical validity.

Finally, we help our members use the patient feedback as a powerful marketing and sales strategy that improves business outcomes. These four values create a firm, ethical foundation for RPR, its members and consumers.

  • Solicit patient feedback anonymously. RPR proactively seeks input from all eligible patients and delivers insights to pinpoint solvable issues that could lead to negative reviews. Using RPR’s benchmarks and market research, practices can focus on the key drivers of business success
  • Guarantee 100% verified reviews. RealPatientRatings® pioneered a patent-pending process which produces 100% verified reviews from real patients. This methodology eliminates negative reviews from non-patients or competitors and prevents providers from posting false positives that mislead consumers.
  • Deliver statistically valid ratings. A handful of reviews, many of which are negative or dated, do not accurately reflect practice quality. RPR’s methodology increases response rates and statistical validity. Real patients rate their doctors more highly than typically found on other sites. Our data shows that 95% of patients rate their doctors with either a 4 or 5 score.
  • Amplify ratings and reviews to strengthen and grow practices. RPR expanded the value of patient-generated content in 2011 when it began adding reviews to member websites where consumers were already shopping and where practices benefitted at the lowest cost. RPR added Google star ratings in 2012 which increased the impact of its reviews and rankings for providers, treatments and technologies.  

What’s next? You can be assured that the great team at RPR will continue to offer new strategies that help consumers and providers connect. 

Marie Olesen 
Founder, RealPatientRatings®
Advisory Board, Center for Services Leadership, W.P Carey School of Business, Arizona State University

Not a member of RealPatientRatings yet? Contact us to implement a review strategy that grows and protects your practice.