The importance of becoming a digital dentist

Being prepared for change, keeping the audience in mind, staying committed to the plan and working with industry experts are four of the essential skills dentists need to get the best bang for their digital marketing dollar.

Much attention is paid to the countless opportunities dentists have to incorporate technology into the practice. From digital radiography to electronic communication to cloud-based storage, the old school customs of practice management have shifted to new school solutions.

Similarly, the rules for dental marketing have taken a quantum leap forward. Whereas it used to be all about Yellow Pages ads and postcard mailers, dentists today are utilizing the latest advancements in website design, SEO and social media engagement to reach out to new and existing patients. 

Consider these staggering statistics:

- 72 percent of Internet users reported looking for health information online1

- 97 percent of patients prefer to click rather than call the practice for information2

Taking the brave first step into online marketing can seem overwhelming, but these four important skills are necessary to be successful in today’s digital dental marketing landscape.

More from Naomi Cooper: Top tips for designing a modern dental practice website

Stay adaptable

Things move fast in the online world. With a simple tweak to its algorithm, Google can render a company’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy useless. While that is an extreme and unlikely example, it illustrates the fact that change is the name of the game when it comes to online marketing, and having a flexible mindset is a must.

For instance, the dental practice website should be viewed as a fluid piece of the marketing plan and should be updated as new trends and technology emerge. A particularly timely example would be the use of responsive design, which ensures a site will load and display properly no matter what type of device (computer, smartphone or tablet) a patient may use. 

In April of this year, Google began rewarding mobile-friendly websites in general, and responsive websites in particular, by penalizing and even excluding non-mobile friendly websites entirely from most mobile search engine results. What does this mean for the average dentist? A dental practice website built just two to three years ago may not be responsive, and if the site is not upgraded to abide by Google’s preferences, it’s likely the dentist will start to notice a dramatic decrease in online traffic. 

This illustrates why a “set it and forget it” mentality just won’t cut it in today’s ever-evolving world of online dental practice marketing. Instead, dentists must be ready to continually adapt their strategies as needed to maximize their marketing efforts. 

More from Naomi Cooper: 7 tips for using social media to reach patients of all ages


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Focus on the audience

One of the main benefits of online marketing for dentists is the ability to relate to patients on a more personal level. It’s no secret that many Americans are nervous when it comes time to visit their dentist, and social media is a great way to connect with prospective patients and stay in touch with current patients between appointments to stay top of mind. So when dentists are looking to create an engaging online presence, it’s critical to remember who the target audience is: Patients!

When designing the practice website, make sure it has the kind of features patients care about, including easy-to-find contact information and hours of operation, online appointment request capabilities and professional, friendly photos and videos of the practice, doctors and staff. On social media sites, focus on creating accessible, benefit-oriented content that would be of interest to current and prospective patients. Posting simply worded patient education articles and information about local community events or sharing timely and personal practice updates are much more engaging to the patient audience than clinical articles that might be more appropriate for a study club. 

Related reading: Top 5 signs you need a marketing consultant

Stay committed

Online activities shouldn’t be viewed as just another item to check off the practice’s to-do list. Success in digital marketing happens because of consistent and thoughtful online engagement. Quality is much more important that quantity so a single interesting post will be much better received by an online audience (and therefore more beneficial overall) than daily posts that generate little to no response from patients.

Additionally, consistency is key when it comes to online engagement so consider creating and implementing a social media calendar for the practice. Set aside time each month to brainstorm and schedule posts that are relevant to patients, and keep social media profiles updated on an ongoing basis. A little forethought and planning go a long way in establishing a solid online reputation for any dentist. Just remember to schedule time each week to interact and respond in real time as well!

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Don’t go it alone

At the end of the day, if digital engagement starts to feel overwhelming or like information overload, don’t be discouraged! Dentists go to school to become expert clinicians, not online marketing gurus, and aren’t expected to set up and manage an effective, strategic, online strategy alone. Building an effective online presence doesn’t have to be done by the dentist; delegating tasks to a tech-savvy team member can be a good way to remove the onus of day-to-day marketing responsibilities from the dentist’s plate. Just be sure the person held responsible for marketing implementation and execution has the time, energy and expertise to execute and follow through with the strategy.

More from Naomi Cooper: 5 tech tools you should be using to boost patient interaction

Beyond the day-to-day management of marketing tasks within the practice, having a team of experts to help the dentist craft a marketing strategy and priorities tactics is essential.  There are a number of trusted industry vendors who specialize in website design, search engine optimization, social media and online reputation management, including Sesame Communications, WPromote, WEO Media and My Social Practice. Dentists will save themselves a lot of time, money and frustration by hiring experts to devise plans for and implement these crucial cornerstones of any online plan.

Patients today are 10 times more likely to find a dentist online than in the Yellow Pages so there’s no doubt online marketing is an essential driver of practice growth. Adopting the right mindset in the beginning will help maximize success and minimize frustration. Being prepared for change, keeping the audience in mind, staying committed to the plan and working with industry experts are four of the essential skills dentists need to get the best bang for their digital marketing dollar.