Yelp 101 For Therapists: How To Leverage Online Reviews For Your Practice

Nov 5 | , , , , , , , ,


Since Yelp was founded in 2004, it has become a go-to source for consumers to check out honest user reviews across various businesses. According to Yelp, the company had more than 67 million local reviews and site traffic of approximately 139 million unique visitors in the third quarter of 2014. For physical therapy providers, Yelp serves as a resource for interacting with current and potentially new patients, and there are multiple studies that suggest positive reviews on the site can make a major impact on your clinic. However, to use this forum effectively, therapy providers must have a clear understanding of Yelp etiquette and guidelines. This is because Yelp works extremely hard to ensure that every review on the site is authentic, and businesses that abuse the system (knowingly or unknowingly) often face unfavorable consequences. The following guide explains the basic format of Yelp, how to create a business page, how to appropriately encourage user reviews and the circumstances in which a review may be removed.

Yelp basics 
Therapy providers should consider Yelp a crucial tool in building a positive online reputation. While some clinics may think it is a good idea to forgo the forum altogether, it’s important to note that Yelpers can review a business whether or not the owners have created a page on Yelp. Hence, it is advisable to activate your Yelp page and fill it out in its entirety. What’s notable about Yelp, and ultimately one of the main reasons for the site’s success, is that it adheres to very high content standards. Yelp discourages the overuse of promotional materials, content that is irrelevant to a review or any content that could be seen as a conflict of interest to businesses or users. Put simply, Yelp wants authentic reviews and filters out those that seem disingenuous using an advanced algorithm. The algorithm works to authenticate reviews on the website and ensure that businesses are not soliciting, buying or falsely creating positive reviews.

Yelp scales reviews using a five-star system. Each reviewer provides a star rating and then may include a detailed review of their consumer experience. The stars of all the reviews for a business are aggregated and used to create an overall rating. Anything above 3.5 stars is considered very positive for business.

According to the marketing blog WordStream, Yelp reviews are more likely to be filtered out, meaning they’re removed, if the Yelper has an incomplete profile, doesn’t review consistently, leaves short reviews or doesn’t post often. The company works diligently to identify false or bought reviews and in some cases not only removes them, but also publishes a public warning on a business’s Yelp page. However, there are appropriate ways to market your Yelp page and encourage organic reviews, which will be further explained in the following sections.

Creating your business page 
WordStream recommends adding photos, a business description, hours of operation, contact information and other important details to your Yelp business page. Your business summary should be specific but brief, and avoid overly promotional language. However, crafting your Yelp page is just the beginning.

Yelp encourages active users, and there are number of things your clinic can be doing consistently to optimize your presence on Yelp. Once you’ve developed your page, order a Yelp sticker or sign to put up in your clinic’s window or at the front desk. This will inform patients that you are on the website without staff members having to promote it directly. Adding a link to your Yelp page on your website and in newsletters will reinforce this method of promotion. This way, your patients don’t feel overtly pressured into posting on Yelp, but you’ll also ensure they are well informed of your page. Tying your Yelp page into any other social media used by your practice can also prove beneficial.

Mainly, being an active user will require responding to reviews posted by other Yelpers. There is a fine art to this process that takes time to master. However, Yelp’s content guidelines for business owners states the following regarding public comments:

“Private messaging is often the best way to resolve a dispute with an unhappy customer, but business owners can also address issues publicly by posting a public comment. As with private messaging, we ask that business owners upload a clear photo of themselves to help personalize their message. Don’t use public comments to launch personal attacks, advertise, or offer an incentive to change a review.”

The fine line of solicitation 
Though it may initially seem counterintuitive, Yelp strongly discourages businesses asking patients to leave reviews, even happy customers. In fact, reviews that seem to be too positive or too negative often get filtered out by the company’s algorithm. The company also believes that business owners will inherently encourage only satisfied customers, which will lead to a biased Yelp page and subsequently reviews that feel disingenuous. The company believes this will ultimately drive away customers.

The Yelp guide for business owners states, “There is an important distinction between ‘Hey, write a review about me on Yelp,’ [BAD] and ‘Hey, check us out on Yelp!’ [GOOD].”

While this distinction is subtle, it showcases Yelp’s dedication to organic reviews. Therefore, therapy providers should be cognizant of this fine line, and find ways to encourage traffic on their Yelp page without patients feeling any obligation to post a review.

Removing Yelp reviews 
Yelp will only remove reviews that directly conflict with their terms of service and content guidelines, according to WordStream. The marketing blog notes that the following examples break Yelp’s terms of service:

  • Writing a review that is vulgar, fake or defamatory
  • Using reviews as a means of promoting another business or venture – spamming
  • Rants that are unrelated to the business itself, such as extreme circumstances, personal ideologies or any other matter that strays from reviewing the consumer experience

This is where Yelp’s guidelines for business owners comes in handy. In some cases, a bad review may not conflict with the website’s terms of service, and therapy providers will have to address the matter personally. A private message that politely resolves the issues of an unhappy patient may be more than enough to encourage them to take down a negative review. If you opt for posting publicly, remember that your reply will be available for anyone to see, and therefore it is critical to respond courteously and professionally.

Overall, Yelp proves to be a powerful tool for good businesses. However, to be used effectively, providers must adhere to the Yelp mantra of letting their clinics speak for themselves.


This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED is the nation’s leading payor management services network. Our expertise is working with physical, occupational and speech therapy practices – from single clinics to multiple clinic locations.