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Big changes at Google: Will Transparency customers be affected?

By Andy Ibbotson, VP Reputation Management, NRC Health

If you’re not a search-engine optimization (SEO) wonk, you may have missed the recent announcement from Google.

In a post on the company’s Webmaster Central blog, Google explained how they intend to remove certain types of “review rich snippets” for local businesses—including some healthcare organizations.

Confused about how that might affect Transparency? That’s understandable.But there’s no need to panic. Even through these algorithm changes, Transparency will still be arguably the single most effective tactic to improve SEO for your website and provider profile pages.

Here’s a breakdown of what Google’s changes will mean for your organization, and why Transparency will remain an invaluable asset for your organization and the patients you serve.

What is Google changing?

Google is removing “review rich results” from local organization listings on its search-result pages. These are the star-ratings that might appear under your organization’s name in Google’s organic search results.

Why is Google doing this?

To make the search experience better for their users, Google wants to eliminate certain misleading behaviors from businesses’ search results.

First in their crosshairs is “self-serving reviews.” That term refers to ratings that businesses post on their own sites, to underhandedly bolster their online reputation. Review gating, a practice in which organizations only publish positive reviews, is one way businesses produce self-serving reviews. Outright fraudulent reviews are another.

In any case, these self-serving practices have nothing in common with the verified, authentic, and objective reviews published through Transparency.

Do Transparency users need to worry about penalties from Google?


First, this is because not every organization will be affected at all. Google is not prohibiting or discouraging organizations from publishing verified first-party reviews on their website and provider profile pages, and as a result, some organizations may actually retain their “review rich snippets.”

Second, it’s because the net effect is likely to be modest. At worst, NRC Health’s Transparency partners will see a small decrease in click-through traffic from Google’s organic search results. But in fact, your organization’s ranking in search results is unlikely to change at all, because Transparency’s ratings optimize search-engine rankings in three critical ways:

  1. They give users what they want.

In any revision to its search practices, Google’s ultimate goal is to give users what they want. And what patients want from provider websites is both clear and decisive: according to NRC Health’s Market Insights data, a large plurality of patients report that patient ratings and reviews are the most important information they want to see on a hospital or healthcare provider’s website.

So long as providers offer those ratings and reviews, organic search traffic will grow.

  1. They constantly refresh website content.

Google’s algorithms also reward content that is unique, recent, and relevant to searchers’ desires. Patient comments also provide health systems with a steady stream of updates, ensuring that organization websites remain fresh and up-to-date.

  1. They improve on-site engagement.

Finally, because patients are looking for verified reviews, they are likely to spend more time on websites that provide them. Organizations with ratings published by Transparency, therefore, see improved engagement metrics: more time on page, decreased bounce-rates, higher conversion rates, and so on.

What about ratings from sites like Yelp and Facebook?

Ratings published by third-party review sites will not be affected—they will still appear in search results. However, that does not mean users will be any more likely to trust them.

Ratings published on third-party sites are both scarce and unverified. The average provider on Facebook, for example, has fewer than 10 all-time ratings, and none of them are guaranteed to be written by an actual patient. That may be a tolerable margin of error for diners looking to try a new restaurant—but it’s hardly enough for patients looking for a new doctor.

Transparency, on the other hand, publishes more than 200 verified ratings per provider annually. This guarantees that your organization’s website will remain the definitive source of information about the care experience your organization provides.

The final word: Transparency is the best defense.

Because it commands some 80% of search volume in the United States, Google certainly calls the tune that any web-facing organization must dance to.

Fundamentally, however, Google follows a single objective: to give its users the best possible search experience. So long as health-system websites continue to use Transparency to share the kind of trustworthy content that patients want to see, they will continue to rise to the top on Google’s results pages.

Questions? Contact NRC Health Transparency expert Andy Ibbotson, VP Reputation Management, at aibbotson@nrchealth.com.

You can also learn more about NRC Health’s star ratings and reviews solution here.