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Yelp LogoIt’s happened again. Shortly after suggesting a client set up a profile on Yelp for her psychotherapy practice, I received a reply from her saying she “doesn’t feel comfortable as a therapist promoting her business on Yelp due to her concerns about confidentiality issues.”

She’s far from alone. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard similar concerns from clients about these same issues. Perhaps you have similar feelings…

So, why do I keep recommending clients set up profiles on Yelp if the vast majority of them have little interest in doing so? It’s certainly not because I like beating my head against the curb!

I completely understand therapists’ concerns about promoting, or even just listing, their practices on Yelp. After all, I’ve been helping psychotherapists successfully market their practices for the better part of two decades and am not unaware of the ethical and confidentiality issues associated with services such as Yelp and the use of testimonials in general.

That being said, I still strongly encourage therapists to create Yelp profiles for their private practices for a couple of reasons:

  1. Yelp profiles often rank exceptionally well in the search engines. This is true both when people are searching for you by name as well as when prospective clients are searching using phrases related to your practice. Since Yelp profiles are free to set up, why not take advantage of the valuable real estate in the search rankings that Yelp provides?
  2. Just because you don’t want your practice listed on Yelp doesn’t mean it won’t be. In fact, anyone can list your practice on Yelp and write a review. And Yelp often lists businesses in its directory based on publicly available information without the business owner’s knowledge. Why wait for Yelp or a disgruntled client to be the first to list your practice on Yelp?

Let’s take a closer look at each of these in turn…

Taking Advantage of Yelp’s Visibility

Over the course of the past couple years, Yelp business listings have achieved much greater prominence in Google’s search rankings.

This is true both in terms of when a prospective client is searching for you by name as well as when prospective clients are searching using phrases related to your practice (e.g., “couples therapy san diego”, “child counseling chicago”, etc.).

In fact, even if you have listings on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as your own website, it’s not uncommon for your practice’s Yelp profile to appear at the top of Google’s search results when someone searches for you by name.

Yelp Screen Shot

This can occur even when Yelp has included your business in their listings without your knowledge.

When it comes to prospective clients searching using phrases related to your practice, whether or not Yelp can help increase your practice’s visibility depends greatly on your business’ name as well as the content of your Yelp profile’s description and reviews.

For starters, if your business’ name is the same as one of the search phrases you’re targeting, chances are good your Yelp profile will appear on the first page of search results for that phrase (along with your website, if your web address uses the same name).

For example, if I search Google for “child counseling chicago”, not only does Child Therapy Chicago’s website come up on the first page of search results because the site’s domain name is, but the Yelp profile for this business also appears on the first page of the search results. In fact, this business’ Yelp profile is listed higher in the search results than the business’ website!

Yelp Screen Shot

The same is also true when I search Google for “couples therapy san diego” …

Yelp Screen Shot

Not only do these business’ Yelp profiles appear at or near the top of the search rankings for these phrases, but when someone clicks one of these links they are taken directly to that business’ profile on Yelp.

None of this is to recommend you name or rename your business using one of the search phrases you’re targeting (although doing so can obviously increase your practice’s online visibility). As we discussed in the last issue of Therapy Marketing Monthly, there are numerous considerations when choosing a name for your business and choosing a name based solely on Google’s current search algorithm is not a path I recommend. Not to mention, you can still take advantage of Yelp’s search engine visibility without having to use a search phrase as the name for your business.

As a case in point, if I search Google using the phrase “marriage counseling san mateo”, the first site listed on Google is… You guessed it: Yelp!

Yelp Screen Shot

However, there aren’t any businesses in San Mateo, California, using some form of “marriage counseling san mateo” as their name. Instead of being taken directly to the profile of a specific business, when we click through this link we’re presented with the first 10 of 22 different business listings on Yelp that have something to do with “marriage counseling” in San Mateo, California.

Yelp Screen Shot

What determines which businesses show up in Yelp’s listings for this search phrase? The businesses that appear in Yelp’s listings for the phrase “marriage counseling” in San Mateo, California, are those whose street addresses are at least near this city and whose profiles contain the words “marriage,” “counseling,” and/or “marriage counseling” either in the profile’s description or in that profile’s reviews.

While Yelp’s listings are currently less prominent in other search engines (such as Yahoo and Bing) than they are in Google, given Google’s close to 70% share of the search engine market and the fact that listing your practice on Yelp and having it appear on the first page of Google’s search results needn’t cost a dime, setting up a Yelp profile for your business seems a no-brainer… At least as far as increasing your practice’s online visibility is concerned.

The necessity of taking ownership of your practice’s Yelp profile is only increased when you realize that your business may be listed on Yelp whether you know it or not.

Taking Control of Your Yelp Listing

As we’ve discussed, just because you’ve never bothered to create a profile on Yelp for your practice doesn’t mean one doesn’t already exist.

If a business isn’t already listed on Yelp, anyone can create a profile on Yelp for that business.

Likewise, it’s not uncommon for Yelp to use directories of publicly available information (such as fictitious business name filings) to automatically generate business listings on its site.

Google your name (try searching for your name both with and without any professional designations, such as “MFT”, “LCSW”, etc.) and check the first page or two of the results to see if a Yelp listing shows up… You may be surprised!

Unfortunately, I’ve had more than a couple of clients eschew Yelp only to discover a Yelp listing was created for his or her practice by a disgruntled client. Of course, the disgruntled client didn’t create the Yelp listing as a favor…The disgruntled client created the profile on Yelp with the sole purpose of writing a negative review of that therapist’s practice.

In these cases, therapists are left scrambling, not only to claim ownership of their Yelp profiles after the fact, but then to dispute the review and/or get some positive reviews in order to offset the negative one.

While creating or claiming ownership of your practice’s profile on Yelp is no guarantee that a disgruntled client won’t write a negative review of you or your practice, there’s no reason not to take control over this business asset and be proactive about obtaining positive reviews, even if doing so is only a preventative measure.

Plus, since your practice’s Yelp profile is likely to appear near the top of Google’s search results, shouldn’t you take what control you can over how that profile appears to prospective clients?

As an aside, when it comes to receiving a negative review on Yelp, Yelp allows business owners the opportunity to respond and/or dispute any reviews you receive on their site. My advice is to do neither.

Instead of spending your valuable time and energy responding to or disputing a negative review, spend that time and energy on getting some positive reviews to offset the negative one (remember, if you have a one-star review, all you need is three five-star reviews to give your practice a four-star rating).

What about the Ethical and Confidentiality Issues Associated with Reviews and Testimonials?

Having spent the better part of two decades helping mental health professionals successfully market their practices, I’m more than aware of the ethical and confidentiality issues involved with soliciting testimonials from current or former clients.

So, I’m in no way suggesting that you hang a “We’re on Yelp!” banner in your waiting room asking clients to write reviews of your practice.

That being said, if a current or former client writes a review of your practice on Yelp on their own initiative, so be it. This is the whole point of Yelp.

Yelp is not a social networking site in which clients are “friending” you and gaining access to personal photos, your schedule, etc. The sole purpose of Yelp is for consumers to review businesses for the benefit of other consumers. As long as your confidentiality policies are clear, you needn’t feel guilty about a client choosing to share the fact that they’ve used your services. Especially if they share positive experiences with others about the work you’ve done together!

What if you don’t have any reviews on Yelp and want some to make your profile more appealing and/or need some to offset any negative reviews that may come your way?

The important thing to remember that it seems many therapists don’t consider is that current and former clients are not the only source available for testimonials and reviews. You can, and should, ask colleagues, other professionals, former professors, and whomever else you can think of to write positive reviews on your behalf.

This is especially true of those who regularly refer clients to your practice. If a doctor, lawyer, financial advisor, or some other professional routinely refers clients to you, they obviously feel strongly about the benefits of the services you provide and are an ideal candidate to write a quick review for you and your practice on sites such as Yelp.

Just remember that we’re all extremely busy. If you ask someone to write a review for your practice, make it as easy as possible for that person to do so by providing a link to the profile where you want the review to appear. Even better, write a few “sample” reviews and send them to your prospective reviewers telling them they can modify and edit the sample reviews as they see fit. I’ve found this greatly increases the chances of someone posting a review on your behalf, as they don’t have to invest the time it takes to write something from scratch.

Action Steps

Given the online visibility a Yelp profile can provide your practice – not to mention that it only makes sense to take control over your practice’s Yelp profile since one is likely to exist whether you like it or not – I think you’ll agree that it’s time to be sure your practice is listed on Yelp. If so, here’s what you need to do next:

  1. If you haven’t already created a Yelp profile for your practice, search Google for your name (try searching for your name both with and without any professional designations, such as “MFT”, “LCSW”, etc., as well as for any other business names you use) and check the first page or two of the results to see if a Yelp listing shows up.
  2. If a listing does show up that you were unaware of, click the “Claim This Business” button on that Yelp profile’s page and follow the instructions to take control over your business’ listing. If no listing appears in Google, go to and search for your name and/or any name you use for your business. If Yelp doesn’t have your business in their directory, click the “Add A Business” button (currently at the bottom of the right-hand column) and follow the instructions to add your business to Yelp’s directory.
  3. Once you’ve created or claimed ownership of your business on Yelp, fill out your business’ profile as completely as possible. Remember to include at least one professional photo, as well as write a compelling description of the services you offer that uses one or more of the search phrases you’d like to target.
  4. Once your profile is complete, create a list of everyone for whom it would make sense for you to ask to write a review of your business. Then write three to five “sample” reviews and send each of these people an e-mail with your request, a link to your profile, and the sample reviews that they can edit as they see fit. You can also offer to write them a review to return the favor.

These four steps should more than get you started on Yelp, and I think you’ll be as happy as my clients that you did. Please don’t forget to ask us any questions, as well as share your thoughts and experiences, by leaving a comment below.

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