Last updated on June 9th, 2021 at 04:19 pm

Adam Mortimer Director of Marketing MGEWant to see more new patients, but unsure of how to make it happen?

Are you especially concerned about the potential expense involved with marketing?

Let’s have a closer look at this.

It’s easy to run your marketing based off of feel. “We started doing X type of marketing and I feel like we’re seeing more new patients this month. It must be working.” Or “I feel like we didn’t get many phone calls this week. The marketing must not be working…” In both of those scenarios, you don’t have any numbers to make an informed decision.

Now, if you want to learn how to analyze your marketing effectively, develop a workable strategy and get the best possible return-on-investment from internal and external marketing in your practice, I would say…come to the MGE New Patient Workshop.  Short of that, I’ve written this post to help you compare the relative cost (and effectiveness) of different marketing methods for a dental practice. If anything, this will help you make a more informed decision as to where to allocate your marketing dollar!

To make this work, you’d need to track a few statistics in your office that I’ll cover as we go. It’s not hard but needs to be done.  For now, let’s get a head start with some averages.

New Patient Acquisition: Cost Analysis

1. Joining a reduced-fee insurance plan

MGE Management Experts - Dental Marketing CostsThis is an easy way to acquire new patients. You sign your name on the dotted line, and voila! You’ve got new patients.

But, in many ways, it’s also the most expensive New Patient acquisition method!

Think of your write-off on each procedure as a marketing expense. If you’re writing off 40%, then that’s your marketing expense for those patients. It doesn’t feel like an expense because you don’t actually have to write a check for that 40%… but at the end of the day when you look at your bottom line it has the same net effect. And to make things worse – you’d normally pay an “acquisition cost” only once – i.e. you send a mailing for $1,000 and get 5 new patients. That’s $200 per new patient. With a reduced fee plan – you’re paying that acquisition cost every time they come in the office.

In business, including the dental “business,” a marketing budget of 3-10% of revenues is customary, depending on how aggressively you intend to grow (spend more – expect quicker growth).

If you’ve negotiated a good fee schedule with a PPO, and you’re only writing off 10%, that’s an acceptable marketing expense. It’s at the top end – but not terrible.

How about 30-50%… yikes. With good marketing, you could acquire fee-for-service new patients FAR cheaper.

Jeff Blumberg breaks this subject down much more thoroughly, along with some tips for getting out of reduced fee plans in his article Insurance Plans – Can You Really Drop Them?

2. Buying a Retiring Dentist’s Charts

Dental practice management tips - MGE management experts blogThis can work out wonderfully… or it can be a very misleading investment.

Sabri Blumberg wrote more thorough guidelines for evaluating whether or not it’s a good investment in this blog post and how to make sure it’s successful, but here are some key points I can tell you:

If you buy 1,000 charts, you’re not really buying 1000 new patients. What you’re really buying is an endorsement letter from the selling doctor, which is essentially… marketing. Now you have the names, addresses, charts, etc. for these patients, so you can continue to market directly over time. But this does not mean they’ll come into your practice.

If I had to estimate, I’d say about 30% of the selling doctor’s active patients will become your patients. This number can vary, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

I’ll use Sabri’s example here:

If you’re buying 1,500 active charts for $100,000 (with an endorsement of course), assume you’ll end up seeing roughly 30% of these or 450 patients. Alright, so that’s $222 a patient. Now, compare that to how much you spend to acquire a new patient (and if you don’t know this… it’s time to FIND OUT). Let’s say you spend $300 to get a new patient. Well, then this might be a good deal. Even if you spend $200 to get a new patient, $222 per patient for a bunch at once could work out as well.

Then there are a few other points to consider such as: how much outstanding treatment is in the charts, how many of them are on reduced-fee plans, etc. Again, read Sabri’s blog post to learn more.

3. Direct Mail & Postcards

This report comes from the DMA (Direct Mail Association of America):

The dental industry cost of acquisition for Direct Mail ranges from $275 per patient to $422 per patient depending on location.  These metrics are from the 2018 annual report.

As you can see, there is a LARGE variance in the effectiveness of direct mail. If you take a look at some postcards from dentists around the country, you’ll understand why. I’ve done this and seen postcards that are just obviously bad. Either a marketing company just sends a super generic postcard with nothing unique or interesting about the office, or it was made in-house and looks like the designer was blindfolded when they made it. Or it’s not a bad postcard, but the dentist paid the marketing company a gazillion dollars to send it out.

I like to see the cost around $200-$300 per new patient, which is definitely possible with direct mail marketing – even though direct mail will never be the cheapest thing you can do.

There are some major factors that impact whether your direct mail marketing “works,” such as:

  • Targeting: How you target mailings to reach your target public.
  • Appeal: Does the headline and image on your mail piece instantly appeal to the recipient and get them to read it?
  • Message: Does your message appeal to your target public?
  • Cost: How much are you spending on design, printing and postage costs?

As an aside, we teach all of this and more at the MGE New Patient Workshop.

4. Google Pay-Per-Click

This data comes from our friends at Viva Concepts, who did a study in 2018 with metrics taken from 2,300 private dental offices using ad words consistently for the past two years. Geographic locations were across 39 states.

Average cost of Google Adwords:

Average cost per click – $7.89
Average management fee – $400
Average # of clicks/month – 129
Average # of leads – 5-6 leads
Average # of new patients arrived in the office – 3.1 new patients

Here’s the Math:

129 clicks x $6.23 = $1,018
Management fee = $400
Total: $1,418

Cost per lead: $269
Cost per Patient: $476

So yes, Google PPC can be… expensive. It can also be cheaper. I’ve spoken to one of our clients in New York City (the most expensive and competitive area for PPC), and he only spends $96 per new patient. So, it can be done cheaper and it has some advantages to it, like the flexibility of budget and ability to make changes in live time. But it has to be done right.

One thing I can tell you is that when you have a great web presence (good website, good “search engine optimization,” lots of positive online reviews, etc.) the better your Google ads will perform. Again, we cover this at the MGE New Patient Workshop!

5. Facebook Ads

Facebook has such a major variance that I’m not even going to attempt to provide averages. There are so many ways to advertise through Facebook and so many ways to do it wrong that it’s tough to put a number on it.

Here are a few things I’ll say:

  • Don’t spend lots of money hiring an external company to “manage” your Facebook page and post things for you. The posts tend to be generic and it’s a complete waste. You need to post real pictures, videos and updates from your practice. If you hire someone to create paid Facebook Ads, then fine, but don’t pay exorbitantly for someone to just “manage” your page.
  • I did an experiment creating Facebook ads for a dentist a few years back and they were seeing about 30 new patients a month with a budget of $1,100 a month. That’s $37 per patient. Over the last few years it’s gotten a bit more competitive and expensive. And he also had a wonderful website and online presence.
  • Anecdotally, I’ve seen several offices getting about the same cost/patient with Facebook as they do with Google PPC.
  • I’ve also seen many, many dental offices haphazardly spending money on Facebook without a real strategy and get absolutely NOTHING from it.

So, I do feel that there is great potential with Facebook ads, but it can be a real disaster if you don’t do it right – and most offices don’t. To learn more about Facebook Ads and creating a strategy that actually works, attend the MGE New Patient Workshop. We now deliver the workshop in 9 locations, so click here to find out if we’ll be in a city near you!

6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This is another one that’s tough to provide numbers on. Due to poor tracking on the part of the dental offices, it was difficult to get the cost/patient numbers on it.

A few key points on search engine optimization:

  • Doing at least some form of search engine optimization is a must.
  • How much you should spend depends on your area. The more metropolitan the area – the more you’ll probably spend.
  • There are a number of cost-free things you can do yourself to improve your SEO, like:
    • Creating a good Google profile for your practice
    • Sharing lots of real pictures of your office, staff, happy patients, events, etc., on your website, social media and Google profile
    • Getting lots of positive online reviews
    • Updating your listings in directories around the web
    • Having a good website, with lots of interesting text, blog posts and video content
  • Understand how to evaluate the effectiveness and return-on-investment with any company you hire to do SEO for you.

We teach you how to do all of these things and more at the MGE New Patient Workshop. I recommend coming to that before you hire a new SEO company or build a new website.

7. Getting a High Number of Positive Online Reviews

How We Get at Least 5 New Positive Online Reviews Every Week! - The MGE Management Experts BlogGetting lots of online reviews is one of the most effective things you can do to market your practice today, because:

  1. No matter what form of marketing you do (word-of-mouth, postcards, online ads, etc), people are going to look at your reviews before they call.
  2. It helps your SEO tremendously, as google likes to direct people to the “best” local businesses that have lots of reviews and a great rating.
  3. There are many people that search for local business (including dental offices) by just browsing the online reviews.

What’s the cost of getting more online reviews?

  • Asking your patients if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review during checkout – FREE
  • Printing out some cards or sheets of paper with instructions for leaving a review, and giving it to patients at checkout – UNDER $50 PER MONTH
  • Using an automated texting/emailing service that includes messages asking for reviews as a part of their services – $200-300 PER MONTH

There are a few additional points to being successful with online reviews, like which review platforms you should use, how to ask for reviews without it being awkward, what to do about negative reviews, how to “respond” to reviews without violating HIPAA, etc. Again, come to the MGE New Patient Workshop to learn how to do this effectively.

8. Word-of-Mouth Referral Program

Referrals are the best new patients. When one of your existing patients sings your praises to their friend or family member, they come into your practice already trusting you. It’s great.

And I bet if you went through your patient records thoroughly, you’d probably find that perhaps half (or more) of your new patients knew someone that’s a patient before coming in.

Our thought is, “Well, if we deliver great service and have good relationships with our patients, they’ll refer.” And you’re right. But what if you put some extra effort into proactively increasing the number of referrals you get? Then it’s a goldmine.

Increasing referrals always tends to be the most inexpensive way of acquiring new patients. Let’s look at the cost:

  • Asking happy patients about their family and friends who might need a dentist – FREE
  • Reviewing charts of patients coming in that day to determine who you know has family members that aren’t patients yet and determining which staff member will talk to them about it – FREE
  • Printing out some Care-to-Share cards to hand to patients – $100-$500 per month, depending on the type of cards
  • Marketing to your existing patient base (letters, emails & newsletters) to keep them active and referring – $1500+ depending on the size of your patient base and form of marketing.

So getting referrals is absolutely the most cost-effective form of marketing, and it’s the first place I’d start if I’m looking to increase new patient flow.

Get an effective referral program implemented, and spend some time with your staff making sure they understand it and are comfortable having the conversation with patients.

At the MGE New Patient Workshop, we give you a simple but highly effective Referral Program that you can implement immediately, and show you how to talk to patients about it and make it successful.

9. Training Your Front Desk

Another study by our friends at Viva Concepts showed that the average “conversion rate” (meaning how many new phone calls actually get “converted” into new patient appointments) was only 23%.

This means that if you’re the average office, out of 100 potential new patients contacting your office, only 23 would actually schedule. So you’re losing 77 patients right off the bat.

You may think, “Well, my front desk is better than that. We know how to handle phone calls.” But do you actually have the numbers? Do you track how many phone calls you receive and how many appointments are made from them? And have you ever done a “mystery call” to your office to see how the front desk handles different questions over the phone?

If not, I highly recommend you start. What you find may shock you.

This is the quickest way to increase new patients. I’d like to see an 80-95% conversion rate over the phone. If you do that, you’ve tripled or quadrupled your new patients with no additional expense.

What’s the cost?

  • Learn how to answer the phones effectively and get guidelines for handling different questions – Just $499 one-time fee to come to the MGE New Patient Workshop
  • Training front desk employees and role-playing various scenarios over the phone – a few hours of the doctor’s or office manager’s time
  • Tracking phone calls and conversion rate – free by just having the receptionist keep a log, or about $100/month by using a call-tracking system
  • Scheduling efficiently so you can get new patients in within 24-48 hours (after 48 hours the cancellation rate goes up drastically) – free


Now that we’ve run through all of that, let’s take a look at what the most inexpensive ways to acquire more new patients are:

  • Word-of-mouth referral programs
  • Front office training
  • Getting lots of online reviews
  • Improving your website and online presence

These also happen to be the foundation of any marketing you end up doing, along with good patient retention and case acceptance strategies. This is where I would start before spending money on external marketing, because what’s the goal of external marketing? To drive them to your website and get the phone to ring. So for it to work, you need to a) have a website and reviews that get them to pick up the phone, b) get them scheduled and arrived, c) keep them in the practice long-term, and d) get referrals of their friends and family.

Now let’s look at the higher cost ways of getting new patients:

  • Direct mail
  • Google PPC
  • Facebook Ads
  • Buying a retiring dentist’s charts
  • Joining a reduced fee plan

Any of these can be cost-effective or cost-prohibitive depending on how they are done. Honestly, I’ve seen all of them done successfully and horribly wrong. It depends on the approach.

So, it really comes down to do you know what you’re doing when it comes to marketing your practice? If you just outsource it to another company, you’re rolling the dice.

My recommendation is to spend a little bit of time learning about the subject, and track numbers in your office so you can plan intelligently.

We’ve made this easy for you at the MGE New Patient Workshop. We deliver the workshop in 9 locations across the US and it provides proven strategies for internal and external marketing to attract high-quality fee-for-service patients, scheduling and retaining them long-term. And the workshop comes with a money-back guarantee. So visit www.newpatients.net and fill out the form or call us today at (800) 640-1140 to reserve your seat. Say you read about it on the MGE blog and we’ll give you a discount.


2 Responses to “Comparing the Cost of 9 Dental Marketing Options”

  1. Elizabeth jones

    Very insightful and in depth information. Very well researched and written in a simple format. I totally agree with all your opinions.

  2. Thomas DRAKE

    This was a wonderful, simple explanation of types of marketing with no BS. I agreed with the blogger’s opinions!


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