Last updated on July 16th, 2021 at 11:14 am
There’s no shortage of options with online marketing: Google ads, social media, search engine optimization, email marketing…the list goes on.
Add to this that different online marketing companies offer different services and tell you different things. The number of options you have can quickly become confusing – if not overwhelming! It might make you wonder, “Where should I start? What’s the first thing I should do to start marketing my practice online?”
And this is where we see quite a few errors (not to mention wasted time and money) with regards to online marketing.
To use a dental example…you wouldn’t do a large amount of restorative work on someone with severe perio, would you? Well why? You have to address (and handle) the perio first. Just as a builder wouldn’t build on a poor foundation (not good), you handle the “basic” or fundamental problem (perio) before you move on.
Well, we see this exact mistake perpetuated – a lot – with online marketing. As an example, you’ll have a doctor going crazy blowing boatloads of money on Google Ads to drive prospective new patients to their website. Patients click and get to the website and BOOM, it stinks and no one calls or makes appointments. Shouldn’t they have handled that first? I could spend pages laying out the stuff I see.
With that in mind, our COO here at MGE, Jeff Blumberg, and I got our heads together. We came up with a simple “hierarchy” of “sequence” of internet marketing actions, based on research and a TON of experience.
It gives you the sequence you should follow for marketing your practice online. It tells you the order of importance of different things (such as your website, online reviews, social media, etc.) and which should be addressed first, second, third, tenth…etc. The
reasons for this sequence will become obvious as you read on.
And here it is:
“Basic”–the things you must have in place just to get a good online presence for your practice. It’s the foundation you need to start marketing more,
“Advanced”–this is where you can really start to get aggressive with your new patient marketing online and start to see bigger results.
This hierarchy does not necessarily tell you which form of online marketing will be the most successful for you. The nature of marketing is that you need to do some degree of experimenting and then track the results. It will be different depending on your practice and your community. Some people get loads of new patients from Google Ads with great return-on-investment; others have done very well with Facebook ads or ZocDoc or Yelp ads. Certainly all of these can work for you, but as far as what works best for you…well, nobody can guarantee it. You’ll have to give it a try and see.
1. An effective website
Pretty much all forms of marketing you do—online or otherwise—will drive people to your website. Even if you’re doing direct mail or radio ads, most people will check out your website before calling.
If you look at the “analytics” on your website sometime, you’d be shocked to see how large a percentage of people visiting your website are just looking at the home page and then leaving immediately—often within less than 15 seconds.
Needless to say, you don’t want to spend money on Google Ads or search engine optimization or even direct mail just to drive people to a crummy site that they close 15 seconds later.
If your website is ineffective, it will look like your advertising isn’t working. As I alluded to earlier, I’ve spoken with a lot of dentists with poor websites who say, “I tried Google Ads and it didn’t work. I paid a bunch of money and didn’t get enough calls.” Well yeah, you paid all that money to drive them to a website that scared them away. The problem wasn’t the ads—it was their website.
And having an effective website isn’t just about the look. An attractive website isn’t necessarily an effective website. The point is whether or not it gets the visitor to pick up the phone to schedule their appointment, not whether or not it looks pretty. Sure, you don’t want your site to be ugly and outdated, but there’s more to it than just the look. For more on building an effective site, read my blog post on dental websites.
2. Positive online reviews
The same things I mention above about marketing driving people to your website also applies to online review sites (Google reviews, Yelp, etc.).
There is a saying, “There’s no better marketing than word-of-mouth.” No matter how good your advertising is, it can never be as good as the real-life recommendation of a friend. Well, online reviews are the next best thing for consumers, because while they don’t know the reviewers personally, they at least have an idea that they are real people who actually frequented the business.
And so nowadays it’s simply routine for most people to check out a business’s reviews before visiting that business. And Google and Yelp tend to appear at the top of any local Google search, so your online reviews are going to be seen, whether you like it or not.
A few bad reviews here or there isn’t a big deal—if you have lots of good reviews to balance them out. And something to keep in mind…it’s actually not a bad thing if you have a bad review or two (assuming it’s not false). In fact, services or products that have ONLY “5-star” reviews – especially when there are a lot of reviews – i.e. 50 or more are viewed by most people as SCAMS. To my point, here are the Yelp pages for three Michelin Guide Three-Star Restaurant (the top rating a restaurant can receive in the world) – Per Se, the Chef’s Table and Brooklyn Fare and Le Bernadin. Go ahead and click em. See the rating? Yeah…4.5. My point, a 4.5 rating is just fine. We all know you’re not going to please everyone, all the time. So, hanging in that 4.5 range is perfectly OK.
Now, below that < 4 stars is not good and could be a reason behind ineffective marketing. You invest all this time and money into your website and social media or whatever, and then people go look at your reviews and get scared away.
So managing online reviews is important. And it is possible to be proactive about it and build up positive reviews if you take the right steps. And then you may find that these review sites are a form of marketing that brings you new patients all on their own. I give more advice in my blog post about online reviews. I suggest reading it.
3. Up-to-date listings around the web
There are a TON of directory sites around the web (Google, Bing, yellowpages.com, whitepages.com, merchantcircle.com, citysearch.com, mapquest.com, manta.com, local.com, foursquare.com, etc, etc, etc). And there are healthcare specific listing sites (healthgrades.com, vitals.com, wellness.com, doctor-oogle.com, doctorbase.com, zocdoc.com, dentist-network.com, 1800dentist.com, etc, etc, etc).
Having a listing in these directories and having correct information in them is actually very important for search engine optimization. Google can see these listings and it shows them that you’re legitimate. If the information is incorrect, then Google thinks it must be another business and you don’t get credit for it.
It’s also very easy to create or edit these listings. Many of these directory sites will allow you to claim your listing and add your correct name, phone number, address, website address, and photos and information about the practice. Others you may have to fill out a contact form to get them to update the info.
4. Basic social media presence
Getting really savvy and using social media strategically to reach people and market your practice…that’s covered in the Advanced section.
Here in the Basic section I just want to point that you need to at least have a Facebook page and make posts on it once a week (or more).
Nowadays if a business doesn’t have a Facebook page—or has an out of date page that hasn’t been used in months or years—then that business appears to be clueless and incompetent.
I know it’s not really fair to say that. You’re a dentist, not a social media person. But it’s true. Facebook is such a big thing now and so ingrained in society that you appear out-of-touch if you’re not on there.
The same applies for Yelp (which is really more of an online review site than a social media site, but it’s still relevant here). As a local business, it’s just expected that you have a nice Yelp page and positive reviews. If your Yelp page is empty with no photos or information, it reflects poorly on your business.
As far as other social media sites, sure it’s good to be on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc, but not essential. That’s something to do if you really want to dive into social media and get more aggressive with it. It’s not necessary for the bare minimum, which is what we’re covering here.
5. Paid ads on Google, Facebook, etc.
Now that you’ve gotten your basic web presence under control, you want to start driving more traffic to your website. The most direct way to do that is with Google Ads.
“Google Adwords” allows you to display your website listing at the top of Google searches. So if someone searches for “dentist” (or some similar term) in your area, you’ll be one of the first ones to pop up.
Google Ads is a little more expensive than some other forms of online advertising, but if you’re smart with it, it is usually the most effective. There’s no better time to advertise to someone then when they are already searching for a dentist.
I was just speaking with a dentist in New York City (possibly the most expensive and competitive area in the country to Google Ads) and he’s getting tons of new patients with great return on investment (about $90 per new patient, well below national average for cost of new patient acquisition, which is more like $250-300 per new patient).
So even if you live in a competitive area, Google Ads can work for you.
Paid Facebook ads can also be effective, as well as ads on other social media sites. By this I mean actual paid, target ads—not just posting on Facebook or generally being active on social media.
While they may not “convert” (meaning convert visitors into phone calls) as well as Google Ads, they are cheaper to run and you can easily advertise to tens of thousands of people continually for not too much money. If nothing else, it helps grease the effectiveness of your other marketing efforts when half the people in your community are seeing friendly Facebook ads/posts about your business every week.
And Facebook ads can be an effective source of new patient all on their own. A well-crafted ad that drives a person to a quality website page will get people to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment.
You can read more tips in my blog post about online advertising.
6. Email marketing
Email marketing is very important. I’m almost tempted to include it in the Basic section as a mandatory part of the bare minimum every dental office should do. It’s just about the easiest and cheapest method of marketing there is.
It is important, however for existing patients. Not as much for new patient marketing.
You must collect the email address of every person who sets foot in your dental office (unless they do not wish to be emailed).
As far as what to do once you have their email address, see my blog post on email marketing for a dental practice.
Now, why do I say it’s not for new patients?
Well, you’ve gotten “SPAM” before, right? Emails from business you didn’t ask for and don’t even know how they got your email address. So if you buy an email list of people who have never been to your practice and start emailing to them, you’re going to become SPAM. Nobody likes that. You can actually get in trouble for it if the people on that list never gave their permission to be emailed by you.
Having said that, if you’re smart about the way you email your existing patients, you may actually be able to generate new patients from that. Keeping your patient base active and informed increases the likelihood that they’ll refer others and bring in their family for their appointments, too. You can also use emails to promote a referral program (depending on the laws of your state/province) and get more online reviews.
7. Advanced search engine optimization (SEO)
In most cases, search engine optimization (beyond updating your listings and having a good website) will be done by an external company that you hire to do it. There’s a lot that goes into SEO; it’s a complex field and requires continual work every month.
As far as how much you should pay for SEO, which is the most common question I get asked, I’d say this: it depends on your location and your goals.
If you’re in a rural or low-population area that doesn’t have much competition, you might be able to get away with doing it yourself or paying a couple hundred bucks a month (or less). For more info on doing it yourself, read this blog post and this blog post which give some SEO tips.
If you’re in a high population area with a lot of dentists, or if you want to rank highly for a really large area including several towns/counties, then you may need to pay $500-1500 or even more.
However much you pay, though, keep track of the results. Sometimes we like the idea of ranking high more than the actual results. Take a look at how much you’re spending and what that’s getting you. You should be able to see how much website traffic you’re getting from Google searches, and then track how many phone calls/new patients you’re getting from that.
The next two points cover things you should do yourself to improve SEO.
Keeping a blog as a part of your website helps you with your SEO. The more good content on your site, the better.
Adding new pages to your site keeps if fresh and relevant in Google’s eyes, and blogging is a good way to do that.
These blog posts can also be shared on social media and featured in email newsletters to educate patients and market your practice.
9. Your own YouTube Channel
You may or may not know this already, but Google owns YouTube now. When you create a Google account, it’s also your YouTube account. Same for your practice’s Google Business account—it’s also a YouTube account.
Through this YouTube account you can have a YouTube “Channel” where you can post videos. These can be videos of patient testimonials (with their permission), educational material from the doctor, introductions to the practice and staff, or just fun stuff.
This helps with SEO on Google because YouTube is owned by Google, and posting videos on your site generally improves SEO. It also give you shareable content on social media. And again, there’s nothing better than word-of-mouth, and video testimonials from patients is a great substitute.
Most smart phones now (iPhones, Androids, etc.) have high quality cameras. You can simply turn it sideways and start recording (don’t record straight up because you end up with a weird narrow screen). Just make sure that what you’re recording is well lit and there’s nothing ugly in the background.
If you really want to get quality video for your site, you can hire a videographer or actually buy some of your own equipment. You can get a good camera that records in HD and a lighting set for less than a thousand dollars.
Obviously there’s more to learn than I covered here. Each of these points above could be the subject of entire books all on their own if you really wanted to become a professional at them.
But I think it gives you a good starting point and a little guideline of what to do next to market your practice.
I hope if helps! And if you’re serious about getting more new patients long term, attend the MGE New Patient Workshop, where we cover every aspect of new patient acquisition, including online marketing, advertising, referral programs, answering the phones, scheduling, and creating a great new patient experience in your office. More information here.