Open Wide - The Official Blog of The Chicago Dental Society

Permanent link  Managing your online reputation: responding to negative comments online


Please welcome Rachel Zanders, a writer who will be posting to this blog from time to time. Rachel is also a contributor toGapers Block, where she covers Chicago's dance community.

This is the third and final installment in a series of articles on how dentists can protect and manage their reputation online. 

Now that you've learned a little about review websites and search engines, and now that you've established and researched your online presence, what can (and can't) you do about what all of those real people are saying about you?

First, try getting to the client before the client gets to the keyboard. Asking the patient about his experience in your office before he leaves might diffuse his desire to vent, or it might be the extra effort that encourages him to go tell the world about your polite and caring office. And of course, he might present you with some thoughtful feedback that you can act upon.

Next, utilize the online tools to your fullest advantage by staying vigilant (potentially with the aid of Google Alerts, as suggested in the previous post) and taking action when you find something that merits it. If you receive a review--either positive or negative--on a site like Yelp that allows you to reply, consider using that tool. (The tips provided in Yelp's thorough guide to responding to reviews could be applied to a business response on any similar website.) However, as a healthcare professional, you must tread carefully because of HIPAA.

Dr. Petra von Heimburg, P.C., dentist, attorney, and CDS member, points out that the gut reaction to respond in a public forum, "explaining the circumstances, [the] treatment, and laying out the reasons therefore, … often leads to HIPAA violations by the dentist because, while mounting his defense, he will invariably reveal details of the patient's protected information." When in doubt, reply privately or don't reply at all, and always tread carefully.

And finally, what to do if a client posts something defamatory? The hope is that you can find a way to work it out privately with the reviewer. But many sites won't release a reviewer's information without "a court order or a formal demand by another legal authority" (Dr. Oogle), and most will not remove comments. It's certainly worth asking the site to withdraw the comment, stating your solid reasoning, but don't be surprised if the site does not find in your favor. (Yelp's CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has been quoted as saying, "We put the community first, the consumer second and businesses third.")

If all of those efforts fail, you might start thinking litigation. After all, there's that semi-success story about the pediatric dentist in San Francisco who is currently attempting to sue the writers of a Yelp review. (See also this article and link.)

But Dr. Heimburg wouldn't advise you to take that route. First, "defamation, be it libel or slander, by definition, has to be a wrongful statement of fact. If the statement is an opinion, it is protected by the First Amendment." Second and third, "a defamation lawsuit is difficult to win … and very expensive," to the tune of "$20,000 or more." In order to win the case, first you have to prove there was a false statement of fact.  Then you have to prove that you experienced business loss that was caused by the defamation. And then you have to be able to prove the amount lost. Can you prove that ten potential patients who researched you on Yelp absolutely would have chosen you if not for the negative review? Can you prove that those ten patients would have produced an income of $2,000 each?

But don't lose hope. Your online reputation is not your enemy, and maintaining that reputation is a manageable task. The truly problematic posts should be very rare, and remember that you have innumerable opportunities to harness the power of the new word of mouth and make it work to your advantage.


online reviews , practice management , rachel zanders , reputation , yelp ,

Permanent link  Managing your online reputation: tools for dentists


Please welcome Rachel Zanders, a writer who will be posting to this blog from time to time. Rachel is also a contributor toGapers Block, where she covers Chicago's dance community.

This is the second installment in a series of articles on how dentists can protect and manage their reputation online.

As I pointed out in my previous "Open Wide" entry, two powerful ways clients find dentists are Internet search engines and user review sites. In today's market, it is in every business owner's interest to make these tools work for him rather than passively allowing the online stream of information to roll by. There is no reason to feel intimidated--once you understand how these tools work, you'll find ways to make them work to your advantage.

Search Engines

Potential clients using search engines are more likely to click on a link that appears higher up in the search results. So how does a search engine "decide" what is listed and where it is ranked?

Search engines usually send a "spider," or automated software program, out into the wilderness of the Web. The spider reviews page content and makes a list of words, indexing information based on the spider's pre-programmed system. The search engine uses that index to decide what pages are listed and in what order.

There is an entire industry out there called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) whose goal is to increase a website's visibility when a user searches on related terms. Laura Cameron, SEO Strategist for Rosetta Marketing, explains that once you have a "simple, clear, and professional-looking" website that is worthy of drawing traffic, there are three areas of focus for SEO.

First, your site must be set up technically so as to allow spiders to locate, understand, and index your site. Second is the content. Cameron suggests, "Make sure each page has good, descriptive content on it, not just images. Make sure 'dentist, dentistry, teeth, dental care,' and other related terms are mentioned." And finally, getting other respectable sites to link to your site increases authoritativeness and places you higher in search results.

Says Cameron, "You can go to DMOZ or other link directories and submit site pages to relevant categories. Although free directories often take months to establish a link, when they do, [the link should help the page] appear in search results. You should also have employees or customers … link to the site from their blogs, LinkedIn profiles, websites, or any other site on the Web."

If you're not going to hire an SEO expert (or even if you are), check out Google's Business Solutions page to learn more about acquiring in-depth information about people who visit your site and how they use your site, buying targeted advertising, and much more.

Consumer Review Sites

Contrary to popular business owners' belief, these sites aren't just repositories for consumer angst. Although many people assume that clients are more likely to review a business if they've had a bad experience, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the average customer rating is 4.3 out of 5 stars. In addition, many sites allow business owners to take an active role. For example, visit Yelp's page for business owners. This will take you through the steps of "unlocking" your page, which will allow you to reply to reviews privately or publicly, track the traffic on your Yelp page, and even announce special offers.

One of the most important steps you can take in managing your online reputation is to keep track of what's being said about you. An easy way to do this is through Google Alerts. (See also our previous explanation of how to set up a Google Alert for your practice.) Once you've filled out the very short form, you will receive an e-mail as frequently as you like that lists all of the places where your search terms (e.g., your name, your practice's name, your partners' names, etc.) appear. In the final entry in this series, I'll be providing information about how to reply to what your clients might be saying.


online reviews , practice management , rachel zanders , reputation , yelp ,

Permanent link  Managing your online reputation: the most popular sites for dentist reviews


Please welcome Rachel Zanders, a writer who will be posting to this blog from time to time. Rachel is also a contributor toGapers Block, where she covers Chicago's dance community.

This is the first installment in a series of articles on how dentists can protect and manage their reputation online.

Do you know how your newest client found you? It's possible she asked her neighbor for a recommendation. Or she may have used her insurance company's directory of providers and somewhat randomly picked you based on a narrowed search. It's possible she went to the phone book, closed her eyes, and pointed. But it's becoming more likely that she went to an online review site to find out what your other patients might have said about you.

There are many avenues to take when searching for a dentist online. When I go to the search engine Google and type in "Chicago dentist," three of the first six results are individual practices. (In my next entry, I'll tell you how they might have achieved those enviable spots.) Some users might just click on the first practice listed and go there. The third result,, is a Chicago-only site that provides bare-bones contact information and links to the websites of local dentists. The user can search by location, specialty, dentist's last name, or keyword. All information is "submitted by participating dentists," and there is absolutely no commentary. Practical for sure, but not terribly powerful.

The fifth and sixth results of my search are the powerhouse user review website Yelp and the similar but dentist-centered site, DR.Oogle. The Internet-savvy patient will probably click on one of these links to find out what real people have really experienced while sitting in a real-life dentist's chair.

There are dozens of these websites that are built on consumer reviews. To name just a few:

•    Yelp: Most of the consumer review websites follow Yelp's model, although there may be some very important differences in the details. Real clients write reviews and assign star ratings for any business they frequent. The star ratings for a business are averaged and the reviews are displayed. Site visitors are expected to keep in mind that a four-star rating is much more impressive averaged from 134 reviews than from 1 satisfied customer.

In April, Yelp began to allow businesses to reply to reviews either privately or publicly, a step that merited a lot of discussion on this blog as well as extensive media coverage, as this gives businesses a voice rather than leaving them relatively helpless--in the name of "protecting the voice of the consumer"--when faced with wrongfully negative reviews. (See the final posting in this series for more on options that are and aren't available to dentists looking to react.) By far the most reviews on Yelp are for restaurants (3,087 businesses on the Chicago site) and shopping (2,123 businesses), but the "Health and Medical" category holds its own with 828 reviewed Chicago businesses, about 420 of which are dentists.

•    Dr.Oogle: Their moniker is "The Good Dentist Guide," and although they accept negative reviews, the goal is to give tips about good dentists, not to provide a sounding board for vitriol. There are 551 Chicago dentists listed with attached ratings in the Family Dentistry category.

•    Angie's List: This membership-based site that is better known for rating plumbers and piano movers added a healthcare section in March of 2008.

•    Insider Pages: This site is quite similar to Yelp, but with more emphasis on services (auto mechanics, health professionals, etc.) than on restaurants. My search for "dentist" in Chicago, IL, yields 3,435 independent businesses, about 150 with reviews attached.

• This national site covers any medical specialty, of which dentistry is one. Of the hundreds of Chicago dentists listed, about 80 have ratings attached to them.

Check back on Open Wide to learn more about how to make these online tools work to your advantage.


online reputation , online reviews , practice management , rachel zanders , yelp ,

Permanent link  Handling negative word of mouth


Some timely advice from GasPedal's Andy Sernovitz on dealing with negative reviews:

Build credibility before you need it

Let's say you find a bunch of bloggers attacking your products. You and your PR team could show up to post a perfectly worded response. Doesn't work. Why? Because you'll look like a shamelessly self-serving PR team that's only there to post a perfectly worded response.

When nobody knows you, you're not part of the discussion. Instead, focus on being a regular participant, a known name, and a familiar face in the room if you want any hope of responding to the negative word of mouth successfully.
Read the entire post and his advice for diluting negative reviews.


yelp , marketing , word of mouth ,

Permanent link  Dentist wins first round in lawsuit against Yelp and yelper who posted negative review


From Dr. Bicuspid:

The dentist who sued a reviewer on won the first round of her court battle yesterday when a judge overruled a motion to dismiss the suit., one of the original defendants in the suit, will appeal the ruling and the other defendants, Tai Jing and Jia Ma, will probably appeal as well, according to Paul Clifford, one of their attorneys.

Yvonne Wong, D.D.S., of Foster City, CA, showed she had at least a minimal chance of prevailing, so the case should not be dismissed under California's anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law, the judge ruled.


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