Remember when the must-do item on the dental marketing checklist was yellow pages advertising? Well, times have certainly changed. According to Google, 97% of all consumers search for local businesses online, and that includes dental patients. If today’s patients are online, then that is clearly where dentists need to be. Here’s a checklist for your online marketing efforts as we near 2015.
Optimize, optimize, optimize
The majority of dentists recognize the importance of a dental practice website, but having a great website doesn’t help a dental practice’s online visibility if patients are unable to find it. That is where search engine optimization (commonly known as SEO) comes in. SEO is the process of increasing a website’s online visibility so that it appears higher on a Search Engine Results Page (also called a SERP). The higher a website appears in the search engine results, the more likely users will click through to the website to learn more.
How does a website appear at the top of the SERP? Search engines employ complex algorithms to determine the ranking of the results, but today, higher rankings are awarded to the most relevant websites that apply to any given search term.
A recent whitepaper entitled “Practice Marketing and Patient Communication Platforms in the Digital Age of Dentistry,” co-authored by Dr. Rhonda Savage and Diana Friedman, CEO of Sesame Communications, cited an astounding statistic from comScore, a global leader in digital analytics -that more than 139 million consumers use the Internet to find healthcare information on a monthly basis.
What makes a site relevant? Read on.
Upgrade the practice website
If it has been a few years since the dental practice website was launched, it may be time for an update. A well-designed website is the foundation for a solid SEO strategy.
The website needs to be designed in a way that is appealing to search engines. Search engines use programs, sometimes called robots, that index each and every site on the Internet, learning about each business and cataloging the information in order to produce the most relevant search results for users. Since robots are computers that conduct objective analysis, and not humans with subjective opinions, it is important to design the website so that the search engines can easily find and index the information they need.
With the technical aspect in mind, it is important to remember that when it comes to website design, you are serving two masters: SEO and user experience – and neither should be overlooked. If a website isn’t appealing to patients or not easy for them to navigate, the patient will click off the site and on to a competitor’s website. To avoid losing potential patients, keep the website easy to navigate, visually attractive and user friendly.
According to a study by eConsultancy, 40% of users will click off a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, so the site must load quickly and properly. Keep the practice’s contact information – the phone number, email and physical address – at the top and bottom of every page so that it is easy to find. And make sure the site is visually appealing by ensuring that it is professionally designed with beautiful patient photos, easy to click buttons and navigation, utilizing whitespace and avoiding text-heavy pages that are difficult to read.
Leverage the power of mobile
A website also needs to be optimized for mobile use. Older websites that were built before the explosion in popularity of smartphones and tablet devices need to be updated. These older websites do not load or function properly when opened from a handheld device. Again, user experience matters; studies show that 61% of people have a better opinion of a brand when its website is mobile-friendly – and will immediately leave a website if it is not mobile-friendly, resulting in countless missed new patient opportunities.
Newer websites built with cutting-edge “responsive design” functionality ensure a website is formatted correctly for any browser or device size and that the website is easy to view and navigate regardless of whether a patient or prospective patient is viewing it on a computer, phone or tablet.
Next page: More important tips to help your practice succeed in 2015
Content is king
When it comes to websites, content still reigns supreme. Search engines reward higher rankings to websites that produce fresh, original, high-quality content. Search engines are looking for websites that seem to be industry opinion leaders and subject matter experts. While those titles may sound grandiose, the truth is that all dentists are the dental and oral health subject matter expert for their communities!
Share knowledge and experience through an on-site blog. Authoring a blog may sound daunting but it doesn’t need to be. Blogs do not have to be long, and they definitely should be patient-friendly, written in casual style and without technical jargon. Most importantly, blog entries should be of interest to patients. Should every blog post be about dentistry? Not at all. Topics that will appeal to patients while also adding to the local SEO efforts include answering the most frequently asked patient questions, before and after interviews with patients, as well as write ups of local events, nearby restaurants and patient/team/community activities.
Claim existing business listings
In addition to the website, another critical step to improving local SEO is to make sure the practice is listed on all of the major business directory sites, including Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Places. In addition to these business directories, patient review sites such as Yelp!, Angie’s List and Healthgrades also have profiles that need to be claimed.
What many dentists do not realize is that most of these sites automatically create a business listing for every practice, whether the dentist is aware of it or not. It is the dentist’s responsibility to claim the profile and to make sure it is completely and properly filled out.
Some important items to consider for online business profiles:
• Keep the name of the dental practice consistent across all sites. A search engine isn’t able to determine that a listing for Smith Family Dentistry on one site is the same as Dr. Joe Smith DDS on another site, and this discrepancy can hurt SEO efforts. Keep the address and phone number consistent as well.
• Add a brief description of the business when possible.
• Upload the dental practice logo to each profile so that patients will recognize the practice online.
• Include photos and videos to give patients an even better impression of the practice.
• Don’t forget to link to the dental practice website from each of the business listings. This makes it easy for patients to click through to the website to learn more, and it helps validate the dental practice website to the search engines since having external links back to the practice website builds authority.
Ask for online patient reviews
Dentists are often wary of online patient reviews but the fact is that, as always, the best source of marketing is existing satisfied customers. Word of mouth is a powerful promotional tool, and with the help of the above-mentioned business directories and patient review sites, the potential of word of mouth is now exponential.
The reality in today’s world is that prospective patients seek validation of personal referrals by searching for your name online, and it’s imperative that the right kind of positive “social proof” that will help them decide to call your practice is available. So ask patients to review you on Yelp! and Google in order to spread the word.
While it isn’t clear if patient reviews directly impact local SEO rankings, they do provide a source of traffic to the website and validate the business in the eyes of the search engines, which indirectly aid in SEO efforts.
Engage patients via social media
Social media marketing has certainly become a hot buzzword in the dental marketing landscape. Engaging with patients on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube creates countless opportunities for dentists to stay in touch with patients in between checkups. Social media is also an incredibly effective way to help the practice website’s SEO potential. Where links used to be the most important factor in a website’s SEO, today “Likes” are equally important. Your practice’s level of social media engagement is one of the main factors Google uses to assess your social relevance and potential for thought leadership.
However, creating a Facebook page and posting an obligatory update once every few weeks isn’t going to make much of an impact on SEO efforts. Develop a social media calendar to keep profiles updated on a regular basis. If dentists are unsure of what site(s) they should join, the best bet is to go to the source. Survey existing patients to find out what sites they are most active on, and start there. Quality matters in social media, so it is best to start off on one site and create the best presence there instead of having mediocre profiles on multiple sites.
At the end of the day, we can’t all be experts at everything, so it is extremely important dentists hire a reputable company to assist the practice in executing an online marketing strategy, including website design, social media and SEO. Being a dentist and running a successful dental practice is hard enough; adding a time- and labor-intensive task that requires a high level of expertise such as online marketing onto the to-do list is not an efficient use of a dentist’s time or money. Outsourcing these duties and responsibilities, on the other hand, can provide dentists with peace of mind knowing their marketing efforts are being handled professionally and updated consistently for maximum effectiveness.
About the author
Naomi Cooper is President & Founder of Minoa Marketing and Chief Marketing Consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing strategist, consultant, author, speaker and industry opinion leader. Naomi teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing course, “Smart Marketing Strategies”, and works with individual dentists to craft and implement customized modern marketing plans. She also consults for leading companies across the dental industry, developing a cohesive marketing approach and creating momentum for their marketing efforts aimed at the dental profession and the dental consumer. Naomi holds a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA and a Certificate in Business Management. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com. For regular updates from Naomi, including dental marketing & social media tips & tricks, follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “Like” Naomi Cooper – Minoa Marketing on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing.