Much Ado About Reviews

How to Manage Your Online Presence

By Susan Epperly

You may find yourself wondering, “Do online reviews really matter to my business?” In today’s marketplace, the reality is: yes, they absolutely do. Review sites are quickly proliferating and increasingly influencing consumers’ everyday buying decisions. Ignoring the importance of online reviews and the sites that disseminate them can prove to be a fatal mistake for small business owners and solo practitioners.’s Local Consumer Review Survey is an annual exploration into how consumers read and use online reviews. The Local Consumer Review Survey in 2012 found that 76 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally use online reviews to determine which local businesses they will use, and the 2015 survey revealed:
• 92 percent of consumers now read online reviews, versus 88 percent in 2014.
• 40 percent of consumers form an opinion after reading just 1–3 reviews, as opposed to 29 percent in 2014.
• A business’s star rating is the number-one factor used by consumers in judging a business.
• Only 13 percent of consumers would consider patronizing a business that has a one- or two-star rating.1

Don’t Eschew the Review
Many business owners don’t realize that participating in online review sites is virtually unavoidable in this day and age. I’ve heard many massage therapists say they don’t want to have anything to do with review sites like Yelp!, so they have refrained from setting up business profiles for their businesses. What these folks fail to acknowledge, however, is that even if a business owner does not set up a profile for his or her own business, many review sites (Yelp! included) allow anyone to create a review profile for a business.
This means that if you don’t take control of your own business profile, there’s a real chance someone else will.
Spend some time investigating the various review sites to find out whether your business is already featured. If you do discover existing profiles for your business (that you did not create yourself), then it’s important for you to contact each site to gain control of those profiles. Mind you, gaining control of these profiles won’t mean you’ll be able to edit, remove, or filter your business’s reviews, but you will be able to update pertinent information about your business and respond appropriately to reviews (we’ll discuss this shortly).
If you discover that your business is not featured on the review sites you search, you’ll want to set up a profile on each site and fill the profile with plenty of helpful and useful information about your business.
• Ensure that your business address and contact information is listed correctly.
• List information like your business’s hours of operation and parking options.
• Include a brief, but informative, bio about your practice and the services you provide.
• Post lots of complimentary photos of your office (inside and outside).
• Include a link to your website.
Once you’ve set up these profiles, be sure to monitor what clients are saying, respond to reviews accordingly, and ensure that all your business information is still current. It’s not a bad idea to add a calendar event to your schedule every so often (say, weekly) that reminds you to check on all your online review site profiles.

A Review How-To
Most review sites are free for business owners and reviewers to use. While businesses can opt to pay for advertising on some of these sites (including Yelp!), there are many features businesses can utilize in order to get the maximum value out of their free business profile pages.
Other sites that allow business owners to set up their own free review profiles include:
• Angie’s List (members can search listings and contribute reviews).
• Citysearch.
• Facebook (reviews can be posted via your business’s Facebook page).
• Google Reviews/Google Local/Google Places/Google+.
• Insider Pages.
• LinkedIn (you can solicit reviews and endorsements through your personal or business LinkedIn profile).
• Trip Advisor.
• Yahoo! Local Listings.

Collecting Beaucoup Reviews
Since being featured on review sites is inevitable, you might as well utilize your business’s profile to your own advantage; after all, if you can’t beat ’em, may as well join ’em, right? This means doing all you can to populate your online presence with positive, informative reviews from satisfied clients.
The terms of service of most review sites prohibit business owners from soliciting reviews from their customers. (In the case of Yelp!, you can consider such a solicitation a “review taboo.”) Therefore, as far as Yelp! is concerned, asking clients outright to write reviews for your practice is bad form.
However, not all review sites have this same policy. And there’s nothing wrong with making clients aware that your business is featured on Yelp! or some other review site and encouraging them to take a look at your reviews there. Doing so may prompt them to write a review of their own. This is the very reason why review sites send promotional stickers to businesses to display on the their front doors or other prominent locations (you know, like the ones that say, “People love us on Yelp!”).
And, of course, it will behoove you to ensure that your happy, satisfied clients find their way to your review sites. Some ways to do so include:
• Arrange for your online booking system to automatically generate a follow-up email that is sent to each client after their appointment with you. This email can thank the client for their visit and ask them to consider visiting one of your review profiles. If you direct clients to a site or service that does not explicitly prohibit requesting reviews, then, by all means, politely ask clients to share with the world the great experience they had.
• Coordinate an email campaign to request reviews on sites
that allow it.
• Provided it is not against the policies of the review site, you may even consider incentivizing clients to leave a review. Offer a discount on their next service in exchange for their review. But be advised: this is a double-edged sword, as you may find yourself having to happily provide a discounted service to a client who left you a less-than-sterling review.
• Include a link to your preferred review site in your email signature, on each page of your website, on your blog, and in each email marketing campaign you send out.
• Upon checkout, personally hand clients (particularly the very happy ones) a printed card that requests a review of their experience. Staple it to their receipts, or even tie a mint or other treat to these cards; just make sure that clients take the cards with them. This will require having cards at the ready at your point-of-purchase station. Customer Lobby President Ted Paff has been quoted as saying, “Comment card reviews solicited at the time of service can see completion rates of 80–90 percent.” It’s really no wonder why this is the case; after all, the perfect time to ask a client to spread the word about their discovery is when they are high on the euphoria of having had a fantastic massage experience.
• If you have other practitioners working for you, incentivize them by including their collection of positive reviews as part of their bonus program. Customize the point-of-purchase cards for each team member in order to track which therapists elicited which reviews. At the end of each month, for example, reward the practitioner who has collected the most positive online reviews with a special prize or cash bonus.
• Does your practice provide services other than massage therapy, such as continuing education classes for practitioners; educational content for the community; or retail products, such as liniments, essential oils, or supplements? If so, you should make sure to request reviews from all your customers—not just your massage clients! Distribute cards at your CE classes that request reviews, include a link to your preferred review site in all the educational videos you disseminate, and drop a card into your retail customers’ shopping bags.

What Can Reviews Do for You?
It makes sense that having a well-stocked arsenal of positive reviews from satisfied clients can help attract prospective clients, and there are a variety of ways in which this actually happens.
Tom Dahm, president of Bridge Pose Search Engine Marketing in Dallas, Texas, reports that “A recent study by Harvard Business School found that a one-star improvement in a business’s Yelp! rating leads to a 5–9 percent improvement in revenue.”2 So, cultivating positive reviews can convince clients to give you a try (and negative reviews can dissuade them from doing so), but also noteworthy is the fact that leveraging review sites can contribute to your search engine optimization (SEO), which helps your websites be found more easily.
Dahm goes on to explain that cultivating positive reviews for your business can also improve the chances your business will be found when would-be clients conduct internet searches: “Google looks at the number of reviews you have when deciding if your site should rank in its local search results. Plus, the star rating Google displays will affect how many people click on your listing.”

Legal Snafus Regarding Reviews
While you can’t necessarily prevent your business from being featured on various review sites, whether you can legally promote those reviews via your own website and other marketing materials will be determined by your state licensing agency’s rules and regulations.
Some licensing agencies prohibit massage therapists (as well as other health-care practitioners) from incorporating reviews and testimonials into their marketing materials. In the age of review sites, this policy may seem somewhat antiquated, but, of course, we must always ensure that we’re acting ethically and within our legal limitations.
If your licensing agency does not, in fact, restrict the ways you can leverage reviews and testimonials, then you should highlight your best ones on your website by adding a “testimonials” page or peppering positive reviews throughout your site.
And remember that these testimonials need not exist as mere text on a page. If you have some particularly exuberant clients who would be willing to be featured in a short video clip or photo shoot, create cameos for your website. This client spotlight takes the form of a short video presentation or photographic portrait overlaid with text that simply allows a client to share their experience in their own words. Remember that video and photographic content on your website and social media pages will contribute significantly to the favorability shown by search engines.
When considering legal ramifications, it’s also important to keep in mind that if you choose to publicly respond to any review, you’ll need to ensure you’re not revealing any information that may constitute a violation of HIPAA regulations. If a client publicly announces on a review site that they have visited your business, then, of course, that client cannot reasonably expect the fact that they sought out your services to be kept confidential. However, it’s imperative you avoid publicly disclosing any details of the visit that would be considered confidential information under HIPAA regulations. If you decide to publicly respond to a review, the best bet is to keep it brief, polite, professional, and to the point, and remember that what you’re writing will be broadcast to everyone on the planet.  

Bad Review Blues
Bad reviews happen. We all do our best to avoid such an unfortunate occurrence, but in the event that we get hit with a poor review, we need to have a plan in place for managing the fallout and doing some damage control.
The decision we need to make in the aftermath of a bad review is whether we should respond publicly or privately. Most review sites offer business owners the opportunity to publicly address all reviews, and while thanking reviewers for their positive reviews is a great idea, responding to negative reviews may be an even more important practice.
If the bad review is a legitimate complaint about the service your business has provided, then I suggest responding publicly, offering a sincere and heartfelt apology for your business’s shortcoming, and asking the unhappy client to give you a chance to make things right. This may involve offering the client a free service, a discount, or some other incentive to give you another chance. However, it’s probably advisable to make this offer privately rather than publicly. Simply say in your public response that you hope the client will contact you in order to discuss how you can make things right. If the client does, in fact, reach out to you, you can offer some potential solutions.
If, however, the bad review you’ve received is not a legitimate commentary about the nature of the service your practice has provided, then you will want to deal with it differently. Most review sites list several types of reviews as inappropriate in their terms of service and/or content guidelines. These types of reviews have been deemed to be unhelpful to the community of users, particularly if they include reviews:
• Written by a business’s competitors.
• Written by a business’s former (perhaps disgruntled) employees.
• That make personal attacks, insults, or otherwise disparaging comments about the business owner or employees.
• That are not relevant because they do not provide information about the customer’s experience with the business.
• That are biased because they have been written by the business owner’s friends, family members, business networking group members, or other reviewers who are not actual customers of the business.
If a negative review falls into any of these categories (or violates the site’s terms of service or content guidelines for any other reason), then it’s advisable to approach the review site directly rather than respond to the review publicly.
Different review sites offer ways to notify them of these types of violations. On some sites, you can “flag” an inappropriate review to request site administrators review it. You can also send the site an email in which you explain very clearly and specifically why you believe a particular review to be in violation of the site’s terms of service or content guidelines. Including screen shots, links, and other specific supporting materials can be helpful in this process.
Even if the site refuses to remove a negative review that appears to violate their terms of service or content guidelines, it may not be in your best interest to publicly respond. Public responses to a negative review (especially one that is not a legitimate complaint about the service that a client has received, but rather a mean-spirited personal attack) can become an invitation to the reviewer to engage in a public argument that may very well get ugly. Sometimes, as hard as it may be, it’s smarter to contact the reviewer privately or simply turn the other cheek.
I have suffered a negative review for my business that was written by a competitor. Frustratingly, the review site has repeatedly refused to remove the review, despite the fact that it very clearly violates their terms of service and content guidelines. The review is a rambling, angry diatribe of disparaging (although irrelevant) complaints and falsities, and was not even based on a visit to my business. After much aggravation and sadness over not being able to get the review site to do the right thing, I have finally come to this consoling conclusion: if a prospective client were to read this review, and it were to resonate with them to the degree that they would decide to avoid my business as a result, then that person is probably not someone I would be willing to welcome into my clientele anyway.       
I have also been consoled by a theory that has been put forth by many public relations experts, among others: a bad review here or there, mixed in with many more positive reviews, can actually lend legitimacy to the positive reviews. I used to pride myself on the fact that our business had nearly 25 reviews, all of which featured five stars. When I received this one (inappropriate) negative review, I was devastated that my winning streak had been broken.
However, I’ve had social media executives and massage clients alike tell me that, when they view a business’s review profile, if they see only five-star reviews, they wonder if they’re actually real reviews. A negative review sprinkled into the mix can validate the authenticity of all the reviews, so as long as there are far more positive reviews than negative ones. In other words, bad reviews don’t necessarily equal the end of the world.
Chris Baccus, senior vice president of digital marketing at Caruso Affiliated in Los Angeles, California, acknowledges that accurately evaluating the credibility of online reviews is tricky for review sites, businesses, and consumers: “Review sites are a mixed bag. It’s very difficult to determine the reliability of a source, so most of us look to consensus to determine the quality of a review score and comments. Fortunately, some review sites let you see the full scope of reviews made by someone and this can help determine how credible they are to further build comfort with reviews.”

Reviews Can Help You Earn and Learn
Whether positive or negative, client reviews can teach you a lot about what’s working and what’s not. Use your reviews to learn what clients love about your practice, and make sure you do more of that! Also tune in to frustrations that may be expressed in less-than-perfect reviews and put that feedback to work for your own improvement.  
While some negative reviews may be illegitimate attacks on a business, its owner, or its employees, the reality is other negative reviews reflect actual frustration on the part of poorly served clients. When this is the case, it’s vitally important for business owners to take a long, hard, sober look at how they may need to repair some shortcomings in their customer service practices. Although painful, sometimes constructive criticism can spur us to grow, evolve, and improve our efforts, ultimately resulting in a stronger and more robustly thriving massage therapy practice.  

1., “Local Consumer Review Survey,” accessed September 2016,
2. Michael Luca, “Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of,” working paper, Harvard Business School, September 16, 2011.

Susan Epperly works with her MT husband, Shane, in their East Austin Clinical Massage Therapy Practice, Tiger Lily Studios, LLC. Susan and Shane (both massage instructors) create a variety of educational products in both digital and physical formats (ebooks, audiobooks, videos, and more) for wellness practitioners. Their products are available for purchase on their website,