Serving the home health, home care and hospice industry since 1999.

by Tim Rowan

In the shadow of the news that LHC Group and Almost Family are merging and that Kindred has been slapped with a $3.1 million fine, it is important to not lose sight of what is going on in the Private Duty Home Care sector. Competition is tightening at a record pace. New agencies are opening; established agencies are closing or being absorbed into larger ones; and Medicare agencies are opening Private Duty divisions.

How does an independent, standalone non-medical agency catch the eye of the typical searcher, usually the adult daughter of a parent in need of care? If they know your agency name, they may make their way to your web site. In that case, all the work you have done with SEO, search engine optimization, will pay off. If not, they will go to Google, in which case SEO takes a back seat to a more modern method of guaranteeing they will find your agency. What will that adult daughter find there? You should know. Here is how you find out and how you move your way up to the top of Google search results.

TRY THIS: Open Google in your browser and search for "Home care" + "your city." Study these results for a minute and see if this is what you find: two or three ads at the top, paid for by one of your competitors, followed by a list of local agencies, arranged in what appears to be random order. Now remove the city name and search again. You have just experienced the difference between regular Google search results and the new "Google Local."

Looking more closely, you will notice that the order is not actually random. All else being equal, Google has started pushing businesses with the most, best, and most recent customer reviews to the top of their local search results, which is where you land if you include a location name in your search string. Companies with no reviews or mostly negative reviews will appear somewhere on page two or three. You should read a few of these reviews; some will lavish praise, others will complain. People are like that.

Listings that have received at least five reviews also display Google star ratings. Those with mostly positive reviews get more stars; those with poor reviews get fewer. Five-star companies tend to appear at the top of the results list, immediately under the paid listings, (which most people tend to ignore). The top three listings on the list also appear on the accompanying map. These businesses get about 65 percent of shopper phone calls, marketing researchers say.

In these competitive times, your goal of course is to be one of the three, but how do you do that? Positive reviews are rarely spontaneous. Companies that make the top three have made concerted efforts to encourage their happy customers to write reviews.

This is why you need to start paying attention to this. Getting at least five reviews does not just happen. Even if you have fewer than five reviews and are not eligible to have your stars displayed, your place on the results list is determined as much by your positive and negative reviews as it is by your web site's SEO strategy. If you only have one review and it is a bad one, chances are you will find your listing somewhere around page 15.

Don’t say ‘so what?’
This new way in which the Internet encroaches into your established, familiar marketing plans cannot be ignored. Suppose you pay for a large Yellow Pages ad or even a recurring TV spot. Even if these have your phone number prominently displayed, research has found that 88 percent of people will still look you up online before they call you up.

When they google you, if they find one bad review and no positive ones, 88 percent of the money you spent on those ads goes to waste. Remember the line you’ve heard so often, "The Internet Changes Everything?" One of the things it has changed is human behavior, particularly when that human is in the persona of a consumer. For reasons no one can completely explain, people trust the online comments of perfect strangers.

Therefore, if you have always had a word-of-mouth marketing strategy, you must accept that Google reviews is where word-of-mouth happens today, not the corner barber shop. For this reason, you must keep track of your online reviews. When you find a bad one, you have to spring into action. Ignoring them does not make them go away.

To get some perspective, take a peek into how other industries are way ahead of us. This time, instead of searching for "Home Care," search for "Home Cleaning Services" + "your city." You will find local companies with dozens of reviews and star ratings. If you need further proof, search for auto mechanics, Chinese restaurants, or dentists.

As this experiment should show you, other industries have discovered how to take advantage of the billion dollar infrastructure Google has created for us. Home care has not yet, which means the first to grab this strategy will be the only ones to benefit from it. The time has come for home care to learn what other sectors already know:

  • Google reviews cannot be ignored.
  • Negative reviews can kill your business.
  • There are solutions that enable you to keep 24/7 surveillance on Google reviews and that make it easy for your staff to encourage customers to write positive ones in order to raise your average star rating.

There is probably no room in your marketing budget to hire someone to keep a 24/7 eye on Google, not to mention Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and all the review sites focused on health care. Fortunately, there are services available, usually for less than $200 per month, which will automate the process. The question is whether it is worth a couple thousand dollars per year to avoid wasting most of the rest of your marketing budget. The publisher of this newsletter has partnered with an expert in the field to bring these 21st-Century marketing strategies to healthcare at home providers. That's how important we think it is. To grab the opportunity, start by reading about this new consulting service and software tool at before your competitors do.

©2017 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Tim Rowan's Home Care Technology Report. One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only.