You have happy patients, and you're getting positive reviews on the web. Can you move on to other marketing priorities and enjoy the benefits of a solid four- or five-star rating? Unfortunately, this isn't a good strategy for practice growth and reputation management.  

The Inconvenient Truth of Reviews

Getting reviews can be challenging. Asking a patient to do a favor for you often feels awkward. Making reviews routinely flow into review sites is a new process for most practices, and it might be difficult at first. But this is the new cost of doing business on the web.

Every practice needs to continuously acquire high-quality reviews to remain competitive in search rankings within third-party review sites. Rankings are commonly driven by review quantity, quality, and recency. At RealSelf, for instance, our ranking algorithm takes into account these review attributes, along with other forms of doctor engagement, including photo uploads and answers to consumer questions.

Quantity: More Is More

As could be expected, each positive review allows a practice to incrementally reach and influence the decisions of online consumers. However, when a practice accrues a large body of reviews, it delivers a powerful signal to prospective patients: the practice is very busy, and their patients are highly motivated to share their experiences.

How many reviews should you aspire to aggregate on a platform like RealSelf? We've found, on average, having 50 or more reviews results in about 70 times more online “leads” (email and phone inquiries) than practices with under 10 reviews.

Dr. Christopher Hess of Fairfax, VA, has employed a highly focused internet marketing strategy, founded on a large quantity of two content types: before-and-after photos and reviews.

“Quantity is a powerful signal of quality,” Dr. Hess said. “Now that I have hundreds of reviews, I can see a noticeable difference in the quantity of calls and emails my practice receives.”

Quality Reviews Are Key

There is no greater reflection of patient experience than the reviews you do—or do not—receive online. Five-star reviews are wonderful, because they authentically express what you'd love to tell the world. “I can say I'm really great, but it's better when someone else says I'm great,” Orlando-based Dr. Adam Oppenheimer told us. “If patients are saying it, that makes it real.”

That said, practices and providers don't need a perfect rating to win over consumers. RealSelf research reveals that occasionally receiving a less-than-great review helps establish trust and authenticity with prospective patients.

In a survey conducted by RealSelf, 75 percent of consumers said they're more likely to contact a doctor who has 50 4.5-star reviews than a doctor who has 10 five-star reviews. We have also found that doctors with 4.5-star ratings receive 40 percent more email and phone leads than doctors with five-star ratings.

Recency: The Power of the Present

Once you've earned 50 reviews, you can ease off your efforts to get new ones, right? Not at all. Our data shows consumers want fresh reviews that reflect what's happening at the practice today vs. a year ago. In fact, in a 2015 BrightLocal survey on how people read and use online reviews, 84 percent of consumers considered reviews older than six months “irrelevant.”

Recency is so powerful that consumers prefer a lower-rated doctor with new reviews to a higher-rated provider with older reviews. In a recent RealSelf survey, 85 percent of respondents said they would prefer to contact a doctor with a 4.5-star rating who has reviews posted within the past three months over a doctor with a five-star rating and no reviews from the past year.

Hitting the Trifecta

Reviews remain one of the most important ways to influence a patient's decision-making process: 68 percent of patients determine a doctor's trustworthiness based on reviews, while 15 percent rely on information about training and education.

Encouraging patients to share their stories online is your most powerful lever for presenting yourself as an expert care provider. Reviews, especially on unbiased, third-party sites like RealSelf, are the benchmark of how patient care is measured today.

The most important take away? Always strive for hitting all three marks—quality, quantity, and recency—to make reviews work for you.

Tom Seery is the founder and CEO of RealSelf, an online resource for medical aesthetics RealSelf reaches a vast, global consumer audience. 65 million people visit each year to obtain important information about aesthetic procedures and to find the right doctor or practice. 8,000 physicians get in front of the RealSelf audience by providing answers to questions and by sharing photos and videos. You can connect with Tom on Twitter @seery.