Google Just Updated its Online Review Guidelines — Here’s What Medical Marketers Should Know

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How Google’s latest changes could impact your medical practice or hospital’s digital marketing strategy.

Last week (December 14th, 2017), Google made a number of changes to its customer review guidelines. Joy Hawkins wrote a great post on her company’s blog outlining 14 of the most important changes, which I've whittled down to those particularly relevant to the medical marketing community.

A Wider Net

Firstly, the review guidelines have been moved from Google My Business to the Maps User Contributed Content section in the Help Center. As Hawkins points out, that means that these policies now apply to all Google Maps content — e.g., ratings, videos, tags, metadata, etc. — not just reviews.

Google also clarifies that Maps content “ may not facilitate the sale of alcohol, gambling, tobacco, guns, health and medical devices, regulated pharmaceuticals, adult services, financial services and any other product or service subject to local regulations.” Google’s stated goal for Maps is to keep the content “honest and unbiased,” so anything that distorts the truth to serve a sales-motivated agenda is subject to rejection and/or removal.

Fake Reviews

Importantly, the section that used to say “We’ll also remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others,” has been omitted. In the past, this was one of the key phrases people would use to get unfavorable reviews taken down — in other words, this will no longer be an option for practices and hospitals looking to spiff up their online reputations by culling negative patient comments.

On a related note, Google did add a line in the “Conflict of Interest” section that says “posting negative content about a current or former employment experience,” is now officially against the rules. In other words, disgruntled employees are no longer able to drag your online reputation through the mud – or at least you'll have recourse if they do.

Keeping Things Authentic and Helpful

In previous versions of the guidelines, Google had stated that you’re not supposed to post links to other websites in reviews. The latest update clarified and built upon that point, stating that links to social media profiles are also not allowed. This seems logical considering its general ban on publishing overtly promotional content on the platform.

The update also has language banning businesses from soliciting reviews from customers in buik. The assumption here is that you shouldn't send out review requests en masse — i.e., 100 to 200 emails at a time. As Hawkins points out in the comments section of her post, Google will filter reviews when they appear “unnatural.” Getting a massive and sudden influx of new reviews could certainly be perceived as unnatural by Google’s algorithms.

Protecting Private Information

Lastly, under the Privacy Section, Google added patient medical records as an example of restricted content, citing the fact that it is confidential and private. For anyone familiar with HIPAA regulations on digital marketing materials, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Of course, the above is just a partial list of the considerations that need to be taken into account when managing online reviews and a Google My Business profile. If you’d like to learn more about online reputation management, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Medical Marketing Guide: Google Advertising