Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why negative reviews show up at the top of search results

From the mailbag:

The medical director at my hospital is relatively high profile and a lot of people write reviews on yelp, yahoo, etc. about our hospital and especially him.  He was wondering why it is that when you google his name, the really bad reviews are the ones that come up first.

Google results have a lot to do with a) what content is available online and b) how web pages link to each other. People are much more likely to write a review for a bad experience than a good one (this is true for everything). So, even if most people are very happy with the medical director, they probably won't write a review, whereas a really angry person may post reviews in 5 different places. One factor in ranking web pages is looking at how many other pages link to a particular page (it can indicate authoritativeness and popularity). People tend to link to content that is sensational or generates a lot of interest. Positive reviews probably don't generate much interest, so the negative reviews probably get linked to the most -- just like how bad news generates more interest than good news.

The best way to "outweigh" the bad content to encourage the creation of positive content. For example, asking patients who have had good experiences to post reviews on Yelp, Yahoo, etc. Also, the hospital might consider enhancing its website to put more content online explaining what the hospital does, it's philosophy, experience, etc. And if the medical director has a personal website or webpage, he can develop that content as well. There are also some optimizations you can make to your website to ensure they are being properly indexed and displayed in Google results -- for example, you can customize the description (or "snippet") that is shown in the search result for the hospital website:
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769

I'd also encourage the hospital to set up their directory page on Google Maps and Yahoo Local to ensure that the correct information is presented:
http://www.google.com/local/add/
http://listings.local.yahoo.com/
http://list.infousa.com/dbupdate.htm -- this is used by MapQuest for their business info

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