Four Digital Marketing Mistakes that Impede Practice Growth by Diana Friedman, MA, MBA

The dental market has embraced the digital world in its adoption of clinical applications and practice marketing. For the past two decades, promoting your brand on the Internet was synonymous with creating a practice website. However, a dramatic increase in competition for new patients and the sophistication of consumers means a single point of online brand development is no longer sufficient to drive practice success in your local community.

This article details four marketing mistakes that could cost your dental practice new patients and cause undue attrition from your existing base.

Antiquated practice website
Not all websites are created equal. In order to be effective, a website needs to be accessible from all mobile devices. In today's digital age, 92 percent of smartphone users seek local information on their device, and 89 percent of them take action after looking up a local provider. This data strongly suggests it is critical that your practice website be designed for use on all mobile devices.1 More specifically to dentistry, a recent study found that 52 percent of smartphone owners use their phones to search for health-related information,2 making an even stronger case for mobile optimization.

In addition, a recent study found that 57 percent of users would not recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site.3 Referrals are a key driver to patient acquisition and growth and the cornerstone of an effective referral program is your practice website.

The hurdle of creating a mobile-optimized website can be overcome through a relatively new approach called responsive design. However, even the best mobile-optimized website will not accelerate patient acquisition if the content, navigation, and design do not appeal to prospective patients. Sesame Communications conducted a national research study and identified 25 principles that dramatically influence the transition from website visitor to new patient and some of that information is shared here.4

The Bottom Line: It's time to evaluate your website and ensure that it's addressing mobile optimization and patient appeal. If it's not, you need to upgrade your practice website ASAP. To avoid time delays and off-target design and content, select a web developer who understands dentistry and patient conversion.

No search engine optimization (SEO)
Eighty-six percent of consumers rely on search engines to find information.5 A practice website that does not rank high in search engine results is as ineffective as not having a website at all. The hard truth is that 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of results.6 Dentists clearly understand the need for search engine optimization, as 65.7 percent of dentists surveyed by Sesame Communications stated that SEO is important to the success of their practice.7

To ensure your practice website ranks well, it's important to implement a comprehensive SEO service. Make sure the service you choose goes beyond keyword optimization and includes the following:
  • Strategy development—this starts with a competitive analysis of practices in your area and then builds a plan to position and differentiate your practice in search results.
  • Directory and portal listings—proper listing in key directories and portals is a critical component of search result placement.
  • Review Monitoring—there are many sites out there with online reviews of your practice. Your SEO service needs to provide a list of those sites so you can see the volume and sentiment being expressed about your practice.
  • Links—appropriately managing the links on your website and the number and integrity of links to your website will impact your search ranking.
  • Analytics—you can't manage what you can't measure. Make sure your SEO service delivers comprehensive performance analytics and helps you plan for continuous improvement.
The Bottom Line: There are plenty of SEO services out there. The best results are gained by working with a dental-savvy SEO provider who understands your practice objectives and positions your website for optimal performance in local search results.

No social-media patient engagement
Americans today spend more time on social media than any other major Internet activity.8 It's imperative that your practice be part of the conversation on social media. Practices often rely on one-way communication, which cannot generate the required engagement and excitement around your practice brand. An effective social-media strategy requires you to open and manage a two-way communication channel with existing and prospective patients in your community. Implementing this strategy requires the practice to build robust channels of communication including—at minimum—a Facebook page, YouTube channel, and blog. The content shared needs to be relevant and of interest to existing and prospective patients if you want them to engage.

The Bottom Line: Engage with prospective patients where they live, work, and play. The best chance for success is to ensure you have a social-media provider with a robust dental library of content as well as proven patient-engagement tactics that are creative and fun.

No management of the practice's online reputation via review syndication
An astounding 70 percent of patients state that online reviews are as important as the dentist's credentials9 when making a decision to join a practice. This is consistent with the research finding that 90 percent of consumers are influenced by online reviews when deciding to purchase a product or service.10 One way to develop qualified patient reviews is to automate the process by using an effective patient-engagement management system.

Generating quality reviews is the first step in addressing your objective. The second requires you to syndicate those reviews to the optimal portal where prospective patients seeking a new dental provider search. The leading online destination for your practice to consider is Healthgrades, where 20 million prospective patients each year search for a new dental practice. A significant 54 percent of visitors schedule an appointment within a week of visiting the site. Syndicating your reviews to Healthgrades and acquiring an enhanced profile (which gives your practice exclusive top billing) is a highly efficient way to optimize your online reputation and review syndication efforts.

The Bottom Line: The online world listens to reviews. If you're not collecting and automatically publishing your post-appointment surveys, you are missing an amazing opportunity to get more new patients into your practice.

Final thoughts
The Internet has evolved in its complexity and consumers have become much more sophisticated in using it to select service providers. In order to ensure your practice has a successful digital marketing strategy, avoid the pitfalls of an antiquated practice website, little or no focus on SEO, missed patient interactions through social media, and lack of review syndication. Addressing these elements will ensure stronger patient acquisition and a fortified online brand for your practice in your local community.

  1. "Our Mobile Planet: Global Smartphone Use," Google, February 2012.
  2. "Mobile Health 2012," Pew Internet, November 2012.
  3. "The Mobile Playbook," Google, 2012
  4. Sesame Communications Research Brief, Healthgrades Enhanced Profiles: Patient Acquisition Performance Metrics, 2014.
  5. "The Power of Moms and the Internet," Transitions Online, May 2014.
  6. "24 Eye-Popping SEP Statistics," Search Engine Journal, April 2012.
  7. Sesame Communications Dental Survey, 2014
  8. "Social Media Engagement: The Surprising Facts about How Much Time People Spend On the Major Social Networks." Business Insider, September 2014.
  9. "What do Dental patients Want Among Other Things," Review Trackers, May 2013.
  10. "Survey: 90 percent of Consumers," Marketing Land, April 2013.

Diana Friedman has a 20-year track record in leading companies, launching technologies, and fortifying brand positioning for companies in the dental professional and consumer markets. She's held senior management roles at Sesame Communications, Novalar Pharmaceuticals, Philips Sonicare and Levin Group. She also served as a senior market development consultant to top-tier companies in the dental sector.

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