Digesting The Fine Print Of Google And Yelp’s Ever-Changing Review Policy

Online reviews have become an important part of life for local businesses, especially when it comes to the two big players in the game: Yelp and Google. Businesses who don’t have a review presence are getting left behind, and you can’t afford to let your practice be one of those.

It’s a little scary to embrace the fact that people can say whatever they want about your practice on a public platform, but that’s exactly what you have to do. Thankfully, there are some simple strategies you can use to help manage the review process and ensure that the reviews you receive are as high-quality as possible.

Why online reviews are important for dental practices

Until recently, it’s been easy for business owners to dismiss the importance of online reviews, and this is especially true for medical practices that have long thrived on personal referrals and word-of-mouth to increase business. In some ways, it makes sense why these businesses have been reticent about investing too much time and energy into the process of soliciting and managing online reviews—who would trust what a random stranger on the internet says about the quality of a dentist, especially when you can get a recommendation from a family member or friend?

Well, it turns out we now have plenty of data that provides us with the answer: the vast majority of people.

In fact, research suggests that 97% of people consider online reviews when they are looking for a local business, and 90% of them state that positive reviews have directly influenced buying decisions. Ok, so people read reviews, but do they actually trust the information they contain? Once again it turns out that most of us do so readily: in a study, 84% of respondents indicated that they trust online reviews equally as much as a recommendation from a friend. That means the two channels are essentially of equal value for your business, which is great news because it’s definitely easier to get someone to leave an online review than it is to ensure they will tell another person about your practice directly (and you can actually verify when a review is left!).

And there are many other benefits to online reviews as well. They allow you to connect with your patients, and you can directly respond to complaints and follow up for service recovery opportunities. You can also use online reviews to gather info about the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, and discover where there may be chances for targeted marketing campaigns. There are certain aspects of the review ecosystem that are out of your control, but that’s ok because there are still so many ways that you can manage the process so that it benefits both your business and your patient base. Patients are going to leave reviews, and not every single one of them is going to be positive—that’s the part you can’t control. How you respond to reviews, encourage people to leave them, and manage your process for getting the most out of them will define what online reviews mean for your business.

How you can benefit from Yelp and Google reviews while safeguarding patient privacy

Before we go any further there’s one thing we need to tackle regarding Yelp reviews and your dental practice, and that’s patient privacy. You, of course, have to abide by HIPAA regulations when it comes to patient privacy. Your patients are going to be posting publicly about their treatment on a platform read by millions and you are expected to respond. So are these two realities compatible?

Thankfully they are! As long as you follow some simple guidelines and use common sense when you post, you can reap the benefits of online reviews and maintain HIPAA compliance.

One of the most important provisions of HIPAA states that healthcare businesses are prohibited from disclosing any patient information without explicit prior authorization from that patient. So does a patient mentioning in a review that they received a specific service from your practice count as explicit permission to talk about their experience? No, and it’s best to use that as a blanket guideline when dealing with online reviews: anything a reviewer posts there will never count as authorization to disclose anything about their visit.

So what can you say when responding to reviews? You can still find ways to be engaging while maintaining HIPAA compliance. Thank the reviewer for their feedback, and mention that your organization is committed to providing outstanding experiences for every patient visit. If the patient left a negative review or there are specific concerns about their visit that you need to address, use the review response to ask them to message you privately where you can go into detail about their care experience. As long as you don’t confirm that the reviewer was an actual patient or disclose any information about their experience you should remain in compliance.

Yelp review guidelines overview

As you wade into the world of online reviews, it’s important to understand the various guidelines that the review sites have put in place to encourage objectivity and protect the overall quality of the reviews. Here are the most pertinent Yelp review rules:

Inappropriate content

This probably isn’t something you have to worry about, but it’s worth noting that the Yelp terms and conditions prohibit inappropriate content.

Conflicts of interest

The Yelp algorithm aims to find conflicts of interest and flag these reviews because they believe they contribute to less honest assessments overall. This encompasses several things, including asking employees to leave reviews of your business, reviewing businesses owned by family members or close friends, and intentionally trying to sabotage competitors with poor reviews.

Promotional content

Promotional content is not objective, and therefore it is not allowed on the Yelp review platform. Yelp does have a paid ad program that you can use to get more visibility and display promotional material that is explicitly labeled as such.

Solicitation of reviews

Yelp takes the issue of solicitation very seriously, and they have strict rules in place about asking customers specifically to review your business on Yelp or to offer compensation for doing so. You can read more about Yelp’s solicitation policies here.

Google review guidelines overview

Google’s guidelines are similar to Yelp’s in several ways, but there are a few factors that they focus on more specifically and some other areas where they are more relaxed. Here are the most noteworthy provisions in the Google fine print:

Self-reviewing

Don’t try to game the system by reviewing your own business, or by asking one of your employees to pretend they are a customer and leave a review. You would be violating Google’s review policy and could be punished if caught.

Reviewing competitors

Leaving reviews for competitor companies is another way that some unscrupulous companies try to cheat to win. Even when unintended, bias generally creeps in when you are reviewing competitors and Google may flag the review.

Review gating

Review gating refers to the process of using a software program to filter out unwanted reviews. Even if you aren’t trying to use a specific program to accomplish this, it’s also against the rules to discourage customers from leaving any negative feedback.

Bulk solicitation

In general, Google is trying to avoid having businesses send out a mass request for reviews to everyone on their contact list. Their preference would be to have reviewers post about their experiences in a constant stream as near as possible to the time of service.

Proven ideas for generating Yelp and Google reviews

The Yelp terms of service don’t allow you to specifically solicit reviews for the site, so is your only choice to sit around and hope that satisfied patients review you? Not at all, because there are several strategies you can use to remind people of the opportunity to review you positively without violating the Yelp or Google guidelines, such as:

Promote awareness of your general Yelp profile

Saying to a patient, “We’re glad you loved your experience! Would you please talk about it on Yelp?” is very different from promoting overall awareness of the presence of your practice on Yelp. Many people still assume Yelp is mostly for restaurants and retail businesses, so they may not even think about reviewing a medical practice on the platform unless you let them know the option is available.

Share your reviews on various channels

Sharing some reviews on your landing pages has been shown to boost conversions because it is a powerful form of social proof, but it also provides additional benefits as well. Add snippets of Yelp reviews to your website and your other social channels to help encourage other patients to review you as well.

Utilize physical and digital Yelp badges

Placing a digital Yelp badge in a prominent place on your website can help you remind patients that you have a Yelp presence, but don’t neglect the importance of physical Yelp stickers on your office door as well.

Managing your online reviews

In addition to taking action to encourage reviews, there are a few things you need to do to help maintain the efficacy of your online reviews. Responding to reviews is important and helps you engage with your patient base, as long as you follow the guidelines we covered above for safeguarding patient privacy.

Check your reviews on Yelp and Google frequently, because in certain circumstances you can report inaccurate reviews and have them removed. Valid reasons include inappropriate content, plagiarized reviews, reviews that are posted for the wrong business, reviews that aren’t based on personal experiences, and those that contain personal details of employees at the business.


Online reviews don’t have to be scary, and they comprise an important corner of your practice’s diverse digital marketing strategy. To learn more about how you can make the most out of your online reviews and excel at every facet of your digital marketing, reach out to the experts at Connect the Doc today. We help dental practices engage with their patients in new and innovative ways, and we will provide customized solutions to ensure your practice has a value-added online persona that drives results.