Etna Interactive

Is RealSelf in Cahoots With Google?

Many have heard about Google’s August algorithm update, nicknamed “Hummingbird.” But have you stopped to think about who stands to benefit most from Google’s ability to better process “natural language” search queries? Google might argue that you and I, the searching public, are the big winners. I would argue that RealSelf is the biggest beneficiary in the aesthetic industry.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase “natural language search,” it refers to search using spoken language. Spoken language searches, thanks in large part to Siri and the iPhone, are quickly on the rise. But unlike our desktop searches that contain a few words in simple phrases, natural language search usually involves complex queries in the form of a question.

“How long does BOTOX® last?” RealSelf knows and has the first result on Google.


“Does CoolSculpting® hurt?” RealSelf ranks well again.


“Who is the best rhinoplasty surgeon in Denver?” Google thinks RealSelf knows best.


Do I actually think that RealSelf is in cahoots with Google? No. But the site has been smart about capitalizing on this trend. RealSelf offers a wealth of aesthetic insights in the exact format used by natural language searchers: questions and answers.

Aesthetic doctors not already active on RealSelf have another compelling reason to join this Q&A community. But why stop there? Any site with rich Q&A content may ultimately benefit from trends in natural language search. Sites such as,,, and even the sites of your medical societies all have opportunities for participatory Q&A.

Sign up for our newsletter to have these articles emailed to you.

8 Responses to Is RealSelf in Cahoots With Google?

  • Tom Seery says:

    Thank you for the observations. With all of its algorithm changes, Google has changed the SEO game. Marketing on the web has evolved from ranking your website to ranking your content. And indeed, we provide doctors with a platform that delivers incremental visibility in search. But beyond Google, answering questions on a property with a large endemic audience also boost the surgeons exposure to prospective patient they may not have otherwise reached. –Tom Seery, CEO/Founder, RealSelf

    • Yeri Sloan says:

      Seery’s comment minimizes the danger of having a single website dominate google queries that concern something such as cosmetic surgery. For one thing it allows a primary (see me first) platform “perhaps” for doctors who maybe should not have such a platform. (Doctors can boost their presence merely by answering questions posed by RS members; not patient rankings but RS rankings, calling them a “Top Doctor” if they answer more and more questions. The answers are most often repetitive and offer no real information, but often serve blame to the questioner if she is asking: why did my procedure not have good results) It offers a (see me first) platform for procedures that “perhaps” should not have such a platform. Also as far as ranking content; I hardly think that “ranking” is equal with “quality”; which is the assumption implicit in Seery’s comment.

  • Ryan Miller says:

    Yeri, you make some valid points…but I think they have more to do with Google’s algorithm than the fact that the algorithm seems, at present, to favor a site like RealSelf.

    The example that comes to mind for me is Yelp. Right now, when I perform many local searches, 2-4 of the first 5 results can be pages on Yelp.

    I don’t see a problem with a site like RealSelf winning one of the top 10 rankings (even if you don’t like the content…there is a lot of it and from expert sources)…I would definitely say I see a problem with a single site dominating multiple positions on Google’s first page.

    • Ava says:

      Thank you for your observations, Yeri. Likewise, I see a problem with the Real Self website. A Real Problem. If each question I punched in before my surgery hadn’t led back to Real Self, my health and life would have been spared. The reason I ever agreed to even “a tiny, little bit” of liposuction as an “add on” during breast reduction surgery is because of how the doctors (“surgical experts”) on Real Self hock the procedure, and downplay and ignore the dangers and harm. There are other dangerous sites too, because much in the field of plastic surgery, (and for sure any liposuction) is unsound, and is not in the best interest of the patient’s health and well-being. Real Self, however, is (in my opinion and experience) in the forefront of this harm.

      • Ryan Miller says:

        Hi Ava, I’m really sorry to hear you had a bad experience with liposuction. I’ve been fairly public about the fact that I had liposuction myself about 7 years ago…my own experience was fantastic and I love my result.

        There’s a saying I heard once about surgery…no matter how low risk of complications is for a procedure, the risk is 100% when it happens to you.

        I respect your opinion, and I certainly understand where it comes from if you’ve had a bad experience. My own opinion is that plastic surgery is a well researched area of medicine that is most often beneficial to patients when practiced by an expertly trained and caring surgeon.

  • Yeri Sloan says:

    I get what you are saying about Yelp and Real Self. But if you drill down, there IS a problem with RS winning one of the top 10 rankings and that has to do with the site’s content. It’s not that I don’t “like” the content. From a critical perspective I find the content dangerous and unethical. We have to consider the way most people use google and where it leads them. If it leads them to a site that is highly successful in bringing in viewers that does not translate into “good information.” (As an aside, the “expert” sources you mention are highly highly questionable; I would say they are folks who want to make a buck off cosmetic procedures and will say what needs to be said in order to do so). I don’t see how this is separate from RS dominating multiple positions on Google’s first page.

    • Ryan Miller says:

      Yeri, I’m not sure how you can justify classifying the content of RealSelf as “dangerous.” Patients can share their real world experiences with cosmetic procedures. And answers can come from MDs specializing in cosmetic treatments. You might argue that those on the site have a commercial interest in promoting cosmetic surgery…but that is hardly a dangerous starting point. I think there is more danger in potential patients relying on the popular press, women’s magazines and answers from unqualified sources…but I’ll concede that we are each allowed our own opinions.

  • Yeri Sloan says:

    Ryan, I’m not sure if you want to continue this conversation. But I would contend that the content on RS is much like that in popular press. However a woman’s magazine if more likely to illustrate what the real dangers are, whereas you won’t find that on RS. Maybe from women’s stories. But…people tend to read those as anecdotes and think: This won’t happen to me, too bad for her. The MDs you mention are not experts on certain procedures; they run the gamut. Some procedures such a liposuction require only the purchase of a machine and a weekend or week-long workshop to learn how to use it. I mean would you go to a dentist to get that kind of procedure done? Also, many specialties in the medical profession are siloed and not connected with research. Believe it or not, this is so. They learn what they need to learn for their own particular field. So a cosmetic surgeon who benefits financially from a procedure, using liposuction as an example,performs it without knowing (or knowing but not revealing) the harmful effects of that procedure (it is one of the most dangerous cosmetic procedures- having the most deaths). MDs can actually BE a dangerous starting point. This is not to denigrate the profession but to shine light on this danger (3rd leading cause of death in the US is medical harm). So if we look at the algorithms that you were talking about; you can see how this is important and can cause further harm if all google searches lead to Real Self. I think if you thoroughly explored the site you might find some interesting things that support what I am trying to explain here.

Leave a Comment

Fields marked with * are required.

Ready for More From Your Marketing?

We've made it easy to lead your marketing planning with our strategy inputs worksheet. Organize your business information and prepare for a meaningful conversation about your online marketing strategy.