Ways to Make the Internet Your Best Source for New Patients by Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way dental care providers need to market their practice. Gone are the times when a good location, a yellow page ad and offline referrals would drive a sufficient volume of new patients. We live in a connected world where the vast majority of your future patients have the Internet close at hand at all times. One study from Morgan Stanley found that over 90 percent of smartphone users have their phones within reach 24 hours a day, seven days a week.1

This connected world creates both opportunities and challenges when it comes to marketing your practice. On the positive side, the Internet creates a highly scalable digital channel to reach prospective patients. On the downside, you’re not the only one vying for attention. There’s a tremendous volume of Internet content being created to engage the time and attention of those you are trying to reach. According to business intelligence firm Domo, 571 new websites are created every minute, more than 100,000 tweets are sent, and Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content.2

Even with the incredible volume of competitive content, there are four principles your practice can use to rise above the noise and get found by prospective patients.

1. Make Your Website Patient Friendly

Your practice website is the cornerstone of your brand and your digital practice “front door.” In the connected world, prospective patients will form an immediate opinion of you and your services based on what they see and experience online. Most dental practices correctly make significant investments and pay attention to every detail to ensure a pleasant in-office experience for patients. Yet, when it comes to their website, they often look for low cost options, hire web designers without dentistry- specific experience and expertise, and design sites that are not optimized to convert visitors into new patients. This can spell disaster when it comes to new patient acquisition in the connected world.

To ensure your website will drive new patients to choose your practice, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a functional website? If your practice has not made the investment in a website or has a website that is years old with dated technology and no updated, fresh content, you’re invisible in the connected world! It’s time to get online and get found by prospective patients.
  • Does my website appeal to patients? Make sure your website is hosted by a vendor who has taken a research-based approach to designing for prospective dental patients.
  • Is my website optimized for mobile devices? As of January 2014, 58 percent of adult Americans owned a smartphone3 and 87 percent of smartphone users accessed the Internet using their phones.4 If your website is not optimized for use on mobile devices, these prospective patients are most likely headed to a competitor’s practice.
  • Does my website properly represent my brand? Your website is a reflection of your unique practice. If that is not readily apparent, it’s time to make a change.

In order to have a website that effectively drives new patients to your practice, you need to make sure every one of these questions has a solid answer. One last piece of advice: Dental practices are unique businesses. If you decide it’s time to get or refresh your website, use a reputable vendor with deep roots in designing specifically for the dental industry.

2. Adopt a Local Mindset to Search Engine Optimization

Once you have a responsive dental-optimized website, you need to make sure prospective patients can find it. Eighty percent of traffic to a website begins with a search query and 61 percent of searchers consider local results to be more relevant than standard search results.5 With the immense volume of content on the web, prospective patients rely on search engines like Google to narrow the field of options. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, gives search engines the context and relevance they need to connect the right practice to the search query. As most practices focus on a limited geography, optimizing SEO performance at a local level is vital to your practice success.

Search engine firms may make all sorts of promises, but there is no “secret recipe” to get you to the top of local searches. It takes a concerted, long-term strategy with a firm well versed in local SEO strategies within the dental industry to achieve lasting results.

3. Ensure Vertical Search is a Priority

With the high volume of content contained within the larger search engines, there has been a shift towards what’s known as vertical search or topical sites. These are websites that focus on a specific topic or area of interest. In the last half of 2012 topical sites had an 8 percent increase in search traffic, while major search engine traffic decreased by 3 percent.6

Dentists need to pay attention to topical sites that cater to dentistry, such as Healthgrades.com. Healthgrades has over 20 million annual visitors looking to schedule an appointment with a local dental care provider. There’s a high probability that your practice already has a profile. However, the content is very limited (even if you “claim” your free profile). Given the power of this channel to drive prospective patients to your practice, you should investigate a Healthgrades Enhanced Profile, available through a partnership with Sesame Communications. A February 2014 research study found that practices with a Healthgrades Enhanced Profile averaged over 11 additional calls to the practice and posted an average of 22 verified and automatically published practice verified postappointment surveys to their profile.7

Dentists who want to drive more new patients to their practice should look at Healthgrades and similar topical sites as part of their digital marketing strategy.

4. Embrace Social Media

According to a recent study, Internet users spend more time on social media than any other Internet activity.8 Embracing social media presence allows you to spend time effectively forging genuine relationships with prospective patients.

When it comes to where to invest in social media, there are three sites that should be on your radar:

  • Facebook—71 percent of American adults are now Facebook users.9 Facebook users are very active and their recommendations hold weight with their friends and family.
  • YouTube—Video has become the leading source consumers access to view rich content when researching service providers.
  • LinkedIn—with 100 million Americans,10 79 percent of them 35 or older11 fits your ideal demographic.

If your practice wants to attract more new patients, it is important that you be active and engaged on these three social media channels.

Final Thoughts

It’s important that you examine your practice’s marketing strategy and ensure you provide sufficient focus and attention to these four areas. While some of these areas require investment, they offer measurable ROI that will positively impact your practice growth and profitability. As most practices do not have the expertise or time to do this in-house, I recommend you enlist a reputable company to assist you. As noted above, make sure any provider you select has an in-depth understanding of digital marketing within dentistry. It’s much easier to work with one company that provides an integrated solution and can support all areas of your digital marketing, thus maintaining a consistent brand and voice. The Internet is your best source for reaching prospective patients—and adopting these four principles will help your practice convert them into new patients.

  1. http://www.healthcaresuccess.com/blog/healthcare-marketing/247-dependence-ill-bet-your-smartphone-is-within-arms-reach-right-now.html
  2. http://www.domo.com/learn/infographic-data-never-sleeps
  3. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/
  4. http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/11/08/mobile-health-2012/
  5. http://www.clearskyseo.com/infographic-shocking-small-business-internet-marketing-statistics/
  6. http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press_Releases/2013/2/comScore_Releases_the_2013_U.S._Digital_Future_in_Focus_Report
  7. Sesame Research, New Appointment Request Research Brief, February 2014
  8. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/health-fact-sheet/
  9. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/12/30/social-media-update-2013/
  10. http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-a-few-important-linkedin-stats/#.UzM-JPldUjU
  11. http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/files/2014/01/social-media-networks.png

  Author's Bio
Diana P. Friedman is the CEO of Sesame Communications. Sesame Communications helps dental practices harness the power of the Internet to accelerate new patient acquisition, build patient loyalty and transform the patient experience. The Sesame 24-7 Patient Engagement Management System provides an innovative and comprehensive set of solutions that help boost practice growth and profitability. For more information, visit www.sesamecommunications.com.

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