By now, it is well known that online reviews are important to any small business, whether it’s a coffee shop or a dental practice. Maybe they’re extra-important for dental practices: as we described here in a recent post, dentists are among the most-reviewed small businesses on Google Reviews, and ninety percent of consumers read them before they ever set foot in your door.

Online reviews can have a huge impact on your bottom line. They are one of the fastest-growing local ranking factors.

But it’s more nuanced than just having plenty of good reviews. In a new survey, the SEO company BrightLocal found that the vast majority of consumers – eighty-five percent of them – disregard online reviews that are more than three months old. That’s up from seventy-seven percent last year.

Forty percent of those responding to the BrightLocal survey said they only care about reviews that are no more than two weeks old. Reviews older than that carry no real weight.

This is a measureable trend. BrightLocal says that as 2018 draws to a close, more than twice as many consumers are relying solely on fresh reviews than in 2017.

What is it about online reviews that makes them so important? For one thing, it’s the way potential customers find out about what you have to offer. They learn about what their friends and neighbors have experienced. It may also be the first time they’ve ever heard of an establishment, so recent positive reviews are critical.

Another thing that makes online reviews so important is that they are really easy to find. Thanks to mobile devices, search engines, and social media, online reviews are ubiquitous. In addition to Google reviews there are dedicated sites like Yelp, and aggregate sites that combine review data from multiple sources. Online reviews are everywhere, and it’s no wonder that most people trust them as much as they do personal recommendations.

The BrightLocal survey also found some differences in the way men and women read online reviews. Men, it says, read them more often than do women. And there is a clear difference in the way men and women see negative reviews: most women believe they require a response, while most men think responding to positive reviews is more important.

If nothing else, you must pay attention to the online reviews your practice gets. Should you respond to them – good or bad? This same BrightLocal survey says that eighty-nine percent of consumers read replies to online reviews. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that responding to customer reviews, whether they are positive or negative, can actually improve an business’s online reputation.

A word of caution about responding to negative reviews: do so with care. The Internet is well-known for its shoot-from-the-hip mindset. An angry reply to a negative review can make you look bad. Customers will read that along with the original negative review; it might make a bad situation worse. Instead, assume the customer is offering valid criticism that you can learn from.

Presenting a positive online image of your practice is a never-ending challenge, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. ProspectaMarketing is an Internet marketing firm specializing in helping dental practices reach their audience. We use the tools of Internet search marketing to reach key prospects looking for what your practice has to offer. Our unique and thorough approach provides visibility, financial accountability, and ongoing refinement and improvement. You can find out more by contacting Lane Anderson toll-free at 1-877-322-4440 Ext 101, by email using the form on our Contact Us page, or online at