Effective Practice Marketing in the 24-7 Digital Age Dentistry

October 30, 2012

The new paradigm introduced by the Internet has drastically and fundamentally changed how consumers seek, evaluate and communicate with service providers. Google, Bing and Yelp have replaced the Yellow Pages as the lead sources of information. Word-of-mouth and referrals have transformed from neighborly conversations to Web communications through social media channels such as blogs, Facebook and YouTube. These changes have impacted all industries and dentistry isn’t immune to these transitions.

The new paradigm introduced by the Internet has drastically and fundamentally changed how consumers seek, evaluate and communicate with service providers. Google, Bing and Yelp have replaced the Yellow Pages as the lead sources of information. Word-of-mouth and referrals have transformed from neighborly conversations to Web communications through social media channels such as blogs, Facebook and YouTube. These changes have impacted all industries and dentistry isn’t immune to these transitions.

Today, patients make better educated choices regarding the dental provider they select and treatment options they accept. Patients are increasingly leveraging the Internet to become better educated consumers, researching treatment options, reading patient feedback and comments, and tuning in to online practice communications.

Traditionally dentistry, a more conservative and highly ethical profession, has shied away from advertising and market outreach. In the digital age, though, promotion and market communications are no longer an option, they are a necessity. A dental, orthodontic or specialty practice without a Web presence is invisible to potential patients who are online seeking oral care providers.

In the current highly competitive and tight economic environment, the success of your dental, orthodontic or specialty practice depends on your ability to get found and chosen by new patients, as well as your ability to stay connected with existing patients in ways you may not have previously considered. Your practice must have an effective online communication strategy to encompass the complete patient life cycle, from acquiring new patients through treatment completion to referrals. And your patients need you to meet them where they are-online 24-7.

An effective online patient connection system needs to integrate several core elements to optimize your practice brand visibility, efficiencies and effectiveness. These core elements include a well optimized website, social media, online marketing, online 24-7 patient login functionality, automated digital reminders and a HIPAA secure online clinical collaboration platform. Combined, they afford your practice a 360? connection to your market.

The time to address the world of online patient preferences and to take action to become part of the digital age of dentistry is now.

Get chosen
The practice website: The cornerstone of online visibility and the engine driving new patient acquisition

Driving down a U.S. highway, a billboard one mile away has 60 seconds to resonate its message with you as a consumer. Your practice website must deliver its message quickly to online consumers using the Internet-the information superhighway-if you want to successfully recruit new patients.

In a national study conducted by Sesame Communications, in partnership with Resolution Research, study participants spent less time on practice websites that were difficult to navigate, failed to provide meaningful content, incorporated splash pages or music, or took too long to load.

Additionally, it only took 90 seconds for website visitors to decide if they were going to contact the practice or not. Having only 90 seconds to capture the attention of your audience, your practice website presentation and content must make every second count to prompt a site visitor to make an appointment.

Effective websites for new patient acquisition
It can be daunting to wade through the slew of website design companies that have popped up to support the digital world of dentistry and orthodontics. There are claims of instant websites in minutes, those that will coat your homepage with flash, and those that will add music to entertain your website visitors. Is this what will be effective to make patients choose your practice in the 90 seconds they have to decide to act? How do you know what will turn a visitor into a new patient?

Through the results of this revolutionary research study, Sesame developed a system to measure the Top Patient Appeal Rating™ of a practice website that evaluates 25 visual, kinesthetic and aural modality factors determined to make the difference between bringing new patients into your practice or missing the chance to make a strong first impression.

The study involved one-on-one sessions where participants from across the country who were actively seeking a dental provider were asked to give their feedback on various websites in their local area. Participants were encouraged to vocalize their thoughts on the websites and then answered questions regarding their likelihood of becoming a patient at each practice.

So is flashier better? As it turns out, the answer is no. Patients want real information about your practice, not entertainment. The study found elements such as flash and sound to not only be ineffective in getting additional attention, but they actually deter potential new patients from staying on your site long enough to choose your practice as their new provider.

Your website needs to be designed around what appeals to the patients you’re trying to attract, not what appeals to your particular taste. New patients want to feel that you truly care about their oral health and that their experience will be personalized and of the highest quality. Even if potential patients have your practice in mind because of a word-of-mouth referral, they are still very likely to check out your practice website to confirm that you will fulfill their needs. Use your practice website as the starting point to a long-term relationship with your patients through effectively communicating your commitment to them.

Other elements that will draw in new patients, and ultimately revenue for your practice, are simple. Show that your practice is warm and friendly through colorful pictures of doctors and staff and make navigation easy so patients can find the information they seek quickly. Choose a website design that is clean, fresh and modern. Use words that evoke feelings of comfort such as ‘friendly,’ ‘family-oriented’ and ‘caring’.

Once you have a solid website that attracts new patients, the next step is to optimize it for mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets. As consumers with children now spend an average of 6.1 hours a day seeking information online using their mobile smartphones,6 there is a great opportunity to connect with busy, on-the-go patients who prefer this medium.

Your mobile website should quickly and easily provide prospective patients with important information such as contact details for your practice, general doctor and practice information, and links to your social media sites.

You can then promote your mobile website through the use of QR, or “Quick Response” codes. These small square barcodes, when scanned by a smartphone, can be set to take the user to your mobile website. QR codes have exploded in popularity, with scans increasing an incredible 9,840%8 since the second quarter of 2010. The time is now to begin leveraging this new technology in your practice. Make it easy for patients to connect with your mobile website by printing QR codes on your invoices, receipts, follow up instructions, your promotional items and in-office signage.

Get found
Search optimization/marketing and social media: The engine driving new patient referrals
So your practice website is live; mission complete, right? Not quite.

Your online 24-7 mission has just begun. A critical part of marketing your practice online is making sure your current and prospective patients can find you. And with so many dental practices beginning to compete in the online marketplace, search engine visibility is a must.

Achieving this objective means leveraging search engine optimization tools, social media and paid online advertising.

Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! are where millions of online consumers search first for information. These search engines crawl stored records of millions of Web pages and then employ myriad algorithms to determine which pages are most relevant to the specific inquiry. Based on those algorithms they rank the results. This is critically important as a 2010 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology found that 75% of search engine users never go beyond the first page of findings.11

Having a solid search engine strategy is vital to the success of your practice. Your strategy should include ongoing evaluation of your website performance in search engines, monitoring the search terms used to find your site, and measuring your performance and placement against competitors in your area.

An “organic” search (SEO, ‘Search Engine Optimization’) result occurs when prospective patients search using various terms, such as “Seattle WA dentist,” and are presented with results deemed most relevant to those terms by the search engine. In addition to organic ranking, businesses also can pay search engines (PPC, ‘Pay Per Click’) so they appear at the top of the results when certain terms are entered. These paid searches will appear before organic search results, thus increasing online visibility.

SEO // Effective SEO increases the visibility of your website in search engine results based on users’ search terms. To maintain a prominent presence in search listings, you’ll want to ensure you have relevant and fresh content on each page of your website.

If, for example, your goal is to incrementally grow your revenue by targeting new patients who would be good candidates for implants, you would want to include rich content (copy, images and videos) within your website that are specific to implants and the keywords associated with implants.

Optimizing SEO is not a point in time activity, but rather an intensive ongoing process as search engines change their algorithms and crawling rules on a frequent basis. This is why it’s imperative to have a specialist reviewing your online search (such as Google Analytics) results on a monthly basis, taking corrective action to proactively optimize your website results.

PPC // To guarantee your practice shows up at the top of a search engine results page, you need to bid on select keywords that are relevant to your practice. Using a paid search product such as Google AdWords, you select a keyword and the amount you are willing to pay when you show up at the top of the page and someone clicks on your link. The amount you ultimately spend on this type of search marketing is dependent on two things:
1. The maximum budget amount for a given keyword
2. The amount of clicks your link receives within your maximum budget

You will need to create ads that contain a clickable link to the corresponding keywords on your website. For these, use capitalization for each word (Write Ad Copy Like This), put the keyword in the ad itself, and make sure the ad copy is tightly relevant to the keyword you are bidding on.

KEYWORDS // So what is a keyword? A keyword typically refers to one of three things in an online search.

In PPC campaigns, a keyword is the actual word or phrase you bid on to target in search campaigns. This is the most consistent use of the word because it is used uniformly across the industry. In this case, a keyword is an actual list of specific phrases or terms the member creates with a search specialist.

In SEO, it gets a bit more confusing. Often keywords can refer to an actual line of code that was commonly used in websites, known as the Meta Keyword element. In the early days of the Internet, this was a list that the webmaster would write in the page’s header, invisible to people browsing. This list was used by Yahoo! and other earlier search engines as their method of determining the relevancy of a website. This method was quickly exploited, with websites listing hundreds of “keywords” to show up for various searches and, because of this, was eventually abandoned when Google developed a way to use the content of a website to determine relevancy. In 2009, Google and Bing both announced that their algorithms completely ignore this element.

Generally in SEO, however, a keyword should refer to a general idea of what you’re targeting in your website. It should be a broad list of terms and phrases that you have in mind, describing services and terms that you want to target with your website. These keywords should be targeted by using them in your content and website. Ultimately, the way to target a keyword is mentioning your services and location in ways that makes sense and are relevant to your practice.

Is it important, then, to be No. 1 on Google through organic search? No. 1 is nice, but certainly not necessary. You need to focus on the overall goal of your SEO efforts, and that’s to get new patients to take notice of your website and ultimately become a new patient-not just the notoriety of being No. 1.

To know what you’re doing is having a positive impact on your practice, you should regularly check ROI (Return On Investment) data points such as website traffic and the referring URLs, as well as using unique phone numbers to identify where your new patient calls are coming from. Look for a service provider with the ability to track the calls from search ads, even after they land on your website so you can measure the ad impact.

The value of being online 24-7 where patients are looking to find you cannot be overstated. Think about where you would turn to find a new product or service. If you needed to find a physical therapist, for example, are you going to start manually flipping through a phonebook where there is limited information, and you would need to call each one to find out more? No, most likely you would go online and find the physical therapist that is right for you. And so would your patients.

Get connected
Social media: The engine driving patient retention and new patient referrals

Social networks are no longer just the playground for pre-teens and college students. As a dental, orthodontic or specialty practice, it’s becoming more important than ever to be online to communicate with your patients. Not only is the demographic you are targeting actively using social networks, but they also are specifically searching for health information online.

If your potential patients are online, then your practice needs to be online engaging with them and turning them into lifetime patients in your practice. If your practice is not using Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to connect with your patient community, then you are missing valuable opportunities to build brand loyalty and trust, brand awareness, and a relationship with your patients for retention purposes.

FACEBOOK// Patients are now using social networks to refer your practice to friends and family. These are still word-of-mouth referrals; patients are just using Facebook as the medium. In this digital age, Facebook not only serves as an extension of traditional word-of-mouth marketing, but has an easy to track ROI when you use a dedicated phone number tracked by services such as Sesame First Call™.

Your practice Facebook profile creates a touch point for your patients and opportunities for them to connect with you 24-7. It allows you to have conversations in a one-to-many way about things important to both your practice and your patients, such as new products and services, special promotions or contests. This is a great portal to build a family-like community around your practice, and to build trust in your practice’s brand.

When your practice shares videos, posts, and photos on your wall, and starts conversations with your patients, your patients perceive you as an active connection in their online community. They can then respond by checking in to your practice using Facebook on their smartphones (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry) and tagging your practice in their status updates (new braces, treatment completion, positive dental cleanings).

Spending as little as an hour a day with your patients on Facebook builds trust in your brand. Additionally, as your patients increase their activity with your practice, they create organic brand awareness of your practice among their friends and family.

TWITTER // You can use Twitter to connect with your patients who prefer rapid communication in 140-character exchanges. Share insightful tidbits from your onsite practice blog, announce monthly specials on dental services or let your patients know how much you care about their healthy smiles.

Your profile bio will display your practice website, so use Twitter to drive traffic to your other social media profiles or your onsite blog.

YOUTUBE// Your patients may not be uploading their own videos, but according to YouTube, hundreds of millions of YouTube videos are watched every day. Share a glimpse of your practice with your patient community using a video recorder and your desktop computer. Share patient testimonials to reach current and prospective patients, or record those moments with you and your staff that show what your practice is all about. When viewers feel good about your content, they share it with their friends and family on Facebook, Twitter or their own personal blogs.

Dr. Mark Powell, a Sesame Member in Jenison, Mich., really stands out as someone who understands the value of social media. He uses video as a way to communicate with his current and prospective patients. In only 3 months, his practice created 16 videos for its YouTube channel that have received nearly 45,000 views.

ONSITE BLOG // Sesame research confirmed that onsite blogging integrated into the practice website resulted in 32% greater website traffic, with users spending 38% more time on the site and looking at 30% more pages per visit. An onsite blog is a fantastic marketing tool that you can update at your leisure with news, videos and other information you want to share with your current and prospective patients.

SYNERGY OF COMBINING STRATEGIES // Social media, SEO optimization, and online PPC advertising are an effective combined strategy for retaining and growing your dental practice. A comprehensive, integrated online marketing strategy will help your practice optimize results.
In a five month study conducted by Sesame Communications,23 results for 167 dental and orthodontic practices were tracked. Researchers found that online marketing effectiveness grows non-linearly as online marketing campaigns expand. With two campaigns (for example, organic website SEO and social media presence), new patient calls grew by 46%. Adding PPC with Google AdWords enhanced results by 123%! This translated to an average of 22 monthly practice calls from a single online campaign, increasing to 43 (11 identified as new patients) with two campaigns and a significant 56 (17 identified as new patients) 24  with three campaigns. With an industry new patient annual production average set at $900, this represents potential increased production from a low of $7,200 to a high of $15,300 per month.

To have the most impactful online marketing strategy, you need to take advantage of the multiple online SEO and social media tools. Combining SEO, PPC, social media and an onsite blog will not only drive new patient acquisition, but really push your practice’s image as a technology-savvy service provider. Perhaps more significantly, these activities will help you establish a solid brand and community around your practice.

Stay connected
Patient login portal functionality: The engine driving practice efficiency and patient satisfaction
With the right online patient portal, your practice can elevate the quality of patient care and stay in touch with your patients at all the crucial moments, from ensuring they remember to show up to an appointment, to reminding them to pay their bill. More significantly, automating certain administrative functions will afford your team the opportunity to leverage their time to focus on more important tasks such as establishing great relationships with your patients, tracking treatment acceptance and completion, activating patients, holding open house events to bond with your patients, and community building around your practice.

In an economy where limited budgets and resources have become the norm, it’s imperative to make the most of what you have, and to discover ways to consistently achieve your practice’s production and collection goals through more efficient methods.

There also is a huge convenience factor for your patients when they can perform tasks such as filling out forms, accessing dental records and insurance balances, paying their bill and sending you communications online, any time of day. Your patients are just as busy as you are, so when you can make their experience with your practice hassle-free, and accommodate their preferences and convenience, they are going to respond by making it a can’t-miss priority.

AUTOMATED APPOINTMENT REMINDERS // How much time would your staff members save if they weren’t manually making calls every day to remind patients about upcoming appointments? What could they be accomplishing if they had that time back in their day?

An effective automated appointment reminder system decreases your no-show rate, helps staff be more productive and strengthens patient commitment. The most significant patient benefit of an automated communication system is the ability to customize communications to their preferences: e-mail, SMS text or voice mail appointment reminders.

Unlike manual systems that require daily scheduling, good online patient portals require that your staff only set up the reminder once-the system takes care of the rest. Reminders should be automatically sent when you want, including 1-hour pre-appointment SMS text messages to gently remind patients about their appointments. The result is fewer patients telling you, “I got so busy I forgot,” and more productive days with filled chairs.

Should patients miss their appointments, you’ll want to have the confidence of knowing the practice follow-up was immediate and consistent-pick a portal that contacts no-shows with an e-mail requesting them to reschedule.

FINANCIAL REMINDERS // What would you be more likely to do on time-go to the post office to mail a check to a business, or pay online with a credit card from the comfort of your home or office? Online bill pay is becoming more of an expectation in today’s digital world, with the total number of online households growing by 53% in the past 10 years, and check payment volume dropping by 57%.

The convenience of being able to pay online not only means a quicker turnaround for payments, but the ability to collect payment outside of office hours. Sesame Members receive more than 46% of payments outside of normal business hours35-meaning the money is in their account and waiting for them by morning.

BUILD LOYALTY THROUGH PROVIDING CONVENIENCE // Without an online portal to communicate with your patients about their upcoming appointments, remaining insurance benefits, treatment images and financial data, your office staff must spend time manually responding to every request for information.

Give your patients the option to quickly and easily access the information they are seeking. Allow patients to seamlessly confirm their appointments online, download an appointment reminder for their calendar, fill out health forms and make payments, and you are going to have more satisfied patients who are more likely to stay with your practice.

BUILD BRAND TRUST // Regular communications with your patients not only builds a sense of familiarity with your practice, but it builds brand trust. Newsletters and customized personal e-mails and holiday greetings are an effective way to deliver practice information, industry news relevant to your patients’ treatment plans, or to simply wish them a happy birthday to let them know you are thinking of them.

The average dentist has 1,871 active patients,39 making the ability to have one-to-many conversations crucial to patient retention and the success of their practice. It’s difficult to make a personal connection with each one of your patients on a regular basis, but by reaching them electronically, you can close the time gap between conversations and increase patient recognition and awareness of your practice’s brand.

GAIN NEW BUSINESS THROUGH REFERRALS // The continued success of your practice requires happy patients who refer their friends and family. Allowing your patients to conveniently input this information online and send your practice information directly to their referral means you will have the contact data on hand to reach out directly to potential new patients right away and that referral will have already received a positive assessment of your practice.

MEASURE TO ENSURE SATISFACTION // Practices are hectic and busy environments, and you may often fail to ask your most valued patients for feedback and guidance on how you may better serve them. It is imperative to regularly keep tabs on your patients’ levels of satisfaction. A complete online patient portal functionality needs to include post-appointment feedback surveys that can be easily filled out online after every appointment while the patients’ visit is still fresh in their minds. In addition, it should include a survey form any visitor may complete to provide feedback to the practice. Use this valuable information to continually improve the experience of patients in your practice and keep them returning. Take it one step further and post positive testimonials and reviews to your practice blog, Facebook and Twitter pages to attract new patients.

The time is now
As consumers look to the Internet for health information and online conveniences, your practice must follow suit and address these needs to stay competitive. Connecting with your patients online via your website, search marketing, social media and online portal will solidify your patients’ understanding of your commitment to them and open the gates to incremental revenue through new patient acquisition and retention of existing patients. The 24-7 digital age of dentistry is here and ready for your practice to take part. Become visible to your patients and market with an effective, integrated and online marketing strategy.