Many of the questions we’ve been hearing from dentists and their teams lately relate to dental practice marketing. Practices are eager to grow, but it’s hard to know where to start and what steps a non-marketer should take to get the best results.
On this page, we’ll introduce you to the Dental Practice Marketing Tree. It’s a rough outline of general digital marketing initiatives dental practices leverage, what to address first, and why to address them in the order they’re given.
We’ll follow it up later with more specific details about each initiative and how to deploy campaigns.
What’s the Dental Practice Marketing Tree?
The dental practice tree breaks down marketing initiatives into four groups.
- Ground Fruit: If you’re just starting out, you want to begin with the ground fruit. It’s the easiest to gather and will produce the most impactful results. You don’t need to be a professional marketer or have marketing experience to collect the ground fruit, but you will need to be computer literate and have basic technical skills.
- Low-Hanging Fruit: Once you gather the ground fruit, you can move on to the low-hanging fruit. Initiatives in this group build on what you’ve already done and can yield good results, but you may need to develop more skills to work through them or bring on external help.
- Mid-Tree Fruit: When you’re ready to reach a bit, go for the mid-tree fruit. These initiatives will help you even more, but they build on previous efforts, and you’ll probably require external help to get results from them.
- High Fruit: Once you’ve gathered everything within reach, it’s time to go for the high fruit! Initiatives in this group are more about enhancing what you’re doing and marketing your practice in a more efficient, cost-effective way. You’re almost certainly going to need a marketer’s help to work through them.
When you’re working with the dental practice marketing tree, you start at the bottom and work your way up. Some examples of ground fruit include:
- Practice Website
- Email Marketing
- Text Message Marketing
- Online Reviews
Let’s dig into the basics of each one a bit.
Oftentimes, dental practices start with a social media profile. It’s understandable. You probably have someone on your team who knows how to post on Facebook. Creating a website may seem intimidating at first and hiring a professional website developer can easily cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
However, a website is a keystone in all your dental practice marketing efforts. Just about everything you do from this point forward will build upon or feed back to your website.
If you’re not in a position to have a website created by a professional yet, don’t sweat it. Try using a website builder instead. For example, Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace all have options that are $15 a month or less and have pre-built templates, so you can pick a design you like and just fill in the blanks.
A few quick tips to help you set off on the right foot:
- Choose your domain name (web address) with the future in mind. Will it still make sense if the services change, dentist sells the practice, associates are added, or locations are added?
- Be mobile-friendly. Most searches are performed on mobile devices and being mobile-friendly impacts how your site ranks on Google.
- Build trust. Include testimonials, the dentist’s credentials, photos of the office and team, case studies, and other things that can make prospective patients feel at ease.
- Make it easy on visitors. Provide self-service tools like online booking and virtual patient forms. Spend time evaluating your navigation menu to make sure people can easily find what they’re looking for, such as services offered, contact info, and resources.
Only 66 percent of businesses use email marketing overall, according to Forbes research, but it can give you $42 in production for every $1 you spend. A big part of that is the affordability of email in general, but it’s also really easy to send out tailored emails to large groups of patients at once.
Let’s say, for example, you spend $49 on a monthly subscription to an email service and someone on your staff spends one hour putting together a nice message, which sets you back about $20. Your total campaign cost is now $69. If only one patient calls to schedule a cleaning after reading it, you’ve more than made your money back.
Your return on investment increases the more you use email marketing too. Part of this is because your overhead costs are split between more campaigns. Your team will also become more proficient and their campaigns more effective over time. You can use a mass email marketing program to send:
- Practice specials/ promotions
- Newsletters with educational information
- Practice updates
- And more
Plus, you don’t have to be an expert to get the ball rolling with email marketing. Practice-Web offers pwNewsletter, a mass email marketing tool, that integrates with Practice-Web, and pulls in your patient contact information and provides you with templates in an easy-to-use drag-and-drop builder, so virtually anyone on your team who can use a computer can create newsletters for your practice.
Text Message Marketing
We often talk about text messaging in terms of automating confirmations and recare reminders. It’s a powerhouse because 95 percent of texts are responded to within three minutes per SMS Comparison. It saves teams from spending hours playing phone tag all day and can dramatically reduce no-shows and cancellations.
But, what many offices don’t realize is that sending patients reminders that they’re due for a cleaning is practice marketing. You’re already doing it. It just doesn’t always seem like it because you’re educating and informing your patients. You can run other text marketing campaigns in much the same way.
We explore the benefits of online reviews in an earlier post. Suffice it to say, around 90 percent of prospective patients will look for reviews about your practice before they book. They’re looking for a high star rating (typically four or more stars), recent reviews, and follow-ups from your practice when there’s an issue. The patient moves on to the next practice on the list if your practice fails one of these checks, which means you could be gaining or losing new patients without even realizing it if you’re not managing your online reputation.
The other aspect of online reviews is that they increase your online footprint and Google looks at them when determining rank in search results. The better your star rating is and the more reviews you have, the more likely you are to land in one of the top spots or even take the first position. That’s hugely important because nearly one-in-five searchers will automatically book with the first dentist on the list and the vast majority of searchers only click within the top three results. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, a top spot can be worth thousands or even tens of thousands of visitors to your website.
True, visitors don’t necessarily mean more new patients. You need to have a website that builds trust and converts them into patients through things like educational materials and a straightforward scheduling process too.
Practice-Web makes it easy to take control of your online reputation and get more reviews with the pwReviews Smart Tool. It automatically sends review requests to patients after their appointments. You can choose whether all patients get a review request, which increases volume, or send patients a pre-screener question first to help ensure any public reviews are positive. pwReviews can also be used to automatically showcase good reviews on your website to increase trust and bookings, plus makes it easy to spot and address issues with your patient experience and problematic reviews.
Once you’ve gathered the ground fruit, it’s time to move to the low-hanging fruit. This includes things like:
- Social Media Marketing
- Paid Search
Social Media Marketing
It’s ok if you already created social media profiles before this step, but you’ll get more mileage from them and develop your social presence more easily if you do the other steps first. That’s because there’s a lot of cross-traffic flow between websites, social media, and review sites. Furthermore, it genuinely takes a solid six months or more of regular posting to develop an audience and get patients engaging with you online.
One thing worth mentioning is that you don’t need to be on every platform. You only need to use the ones where your ideal patients congregate. That’s Facebook for most practices since it has a wide user base and attracts all demographics. Twitter is also a solid contender. Many practices also do well with video content on YouTube and TikTok but bear in mind none of these should be used as a sales channel.
People engage with content that speaks to them, so it’s best to stick to posts that:
- Educate patients on oral health
- Inform patients about practice happenings
- Excite patients and prospective patients about your practice (think giveaways)
- Build trust by showcasing your office, team, and case studies
You can still post about the occasional practice special but keep those to a minimum. For example, maybe only one-in-five posts or one-in-ten posts should be a sales push.
Paid Search/ Paid Ads
Paid ads are low-hanging fruit because they can help you get a lot of new patients fast. You can start getting new patients from them the minute you begin advertising as long as you have a good strategy and website.
The downside is that the results don’t snowball or build over time as you’ll see with other channels such as your website or reviews. You only get results while you’re actively paying for them.
It’s also really hard to get paid ads right. You need to make sure you’re targeting the right people with the right message at the right time. Your ads should be constantly tested and adjusted to improve performance too. Because of this, it’s generally best for dental practices to outsource paid ads to a freelancer or agency that specializes in them.
[Writer’s Note: Before coming to Practice-Web, I worked in a dental office and then moved into marketing for dentists. I was once asked to troubleshoot an American dentist’s underperforming ads. It turned out his “expert” was displaying his ads in London, England, as well as running ads for services he didn’t provide and for low-production services. He hemorrhaged more than $10,000 in ad spend alone (not including whatever fees he paid the guy) before I caught it. If you outsource, have your specialist walk you or a trusted team member through what they’re doing and who they’re targeting. There’s almost no chance they’ll run the right ads if you don’t discuss your goals and audience together and, if you find they’re displaying your ads to people in the wrong location, it’s a huge red flag.]
Mid-tree fruit is a bit harder to reach. It’s not necessarily expensive, but you have to work at it over a period of time to nail it. It also snowballs, meaning each thing you do builds on top of the previous results to help you even more. Examples of mid-tree fruit include:
- Content Marketing
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of setting up your website in a way that helps it rank better in Google and other search engines. As explained earlier, it’s a big deal because nearly 20 percent of prospective patients book with the first dentist who shows up in search and almost all clicks will go to the top three. If you’re lower than third on the list, you might still get some traffic from discerning readers, but not like you otherwise would. And, if you don’t make it to the first page, it’s almost like not being listed at all.
With that said, sites don’t rank for just one term. Each keyword or phrase someone types into Google will produce a unique result. Let’s say you don’t take the first spot for “dentist in (your city).” You can still get great traffic for people looking for crowns, root canals, gentle dentistry, and countless other terms.
But how do you rank well? A very simplistic explanation is that you’ll rank well if you’re giving people searching and website visitors what they want consistently. You don’t need to game the system to make that happen. Google wants to make searchers happy, and if you do that, Google rewards you with a better rank.
To be more technical, Google uses specific signals (aka an algorithm) to gauge whether a site is delivering on expectations. A few things it looks for include:
- Mobile usability
- User experience
- Page optimization
- High-quality content
- Internal links
- External links
It’s beneficial to bring in an SEO pro as your practice grows. Regardless, you’ll be ahead of the game if you keep these things in mind as you start building your online footprint.
Content marketing amplifies and feeds into all other aspects of dental practice marketing. It’s a broad umbrella that includes things like:
- Case studies
Email marketing and reviews, covered earlier, also technically fit into this bracket, but we bumped them down the tree a bit because they require less specialized knowledge and are easier to get started with.
Oftentimes, dental practices think the content they need to create should be sales-focused and that puts them off. It’s actually the exact opposite. Good content marketing is all about engaging your audience and building relationships, so you want to focus on creating things patients and prospective patients genuinely want to consume. Here are some examples:
- A blog about why crowns sometimes fail or how to cope with dental anxiety.
- An infographic on caring for children’s teeth.
- A video that showcases all the things your practice is doing to prevent the spread of COVID (stole this one from a Practice-Web dentist who posted it as they reopened.)
- A case study that shows how a patient regained or enhanced their smile.
Again, the intent is to build a relationship with your audience, so content should be tailored to the type of patient you want to see. If you want more implant patients, start creating content related to implants. Cater to an affluent crowd? Do more related to cosmetic dentistry. If your patients are budget-conscious folks, talk more about options in a way that empowers them to take action. For example, you might mention implants in a blog about missing teeth replacements, but you’re going to want to focus more on bridges and dentures, then perhaps follow it up with more content on how to fix problems with dentures and what to look for in a good set of dentures. You know your patients. Listen to them in the office and share the same information you would in person with your online audience.
Content marketing has more impact if it’s optimized for search engines. You’ll get more mileage if you repurpose pieces and find lots of different avenues to share each piece too. For example, an infographic on caring for children’s teeth can be shared on social media as-is, provided on your children’s dentistry page as a downloadable asset, converted into a blog, and shared in email too. Experiment with what works (gets the most clicks and opens). An email might contain the original infographic, an abridged version of the blog, or just a few lines and a link back to the full version on your website.
If you have someone on your team who’s creative, they can handle creating and distributing your content marketing materials to start. But, because there are technical aspects that can improve the results, you may want to consider outsourcing this at some point too.
Once you’ve gathered all the “fruit” within reach, you can up your dental practice marketing with some advanced techniques, such as:
- High-Tech Strategies
People aren’t always conscious of what they’re doing and why as they browse the web. If you’ve ever asked a new patient how they heard about your practice and been met with a blank stare, you know this all too well. Analytics are key to understanding how people engage with your practice online and to getting the most return (appointments and production) from your marketing investment.
For example, if you’re monitoring time spent on your site, and you see people leave within a few seconds, you know they’re coming across something they really don’t like. Maybe your site takes too long to load, is cluttered, or isn’t delivering what they expect. You can investigate and fix it.
Or, maybe you’re getting a lot of interest on a page about crowns, but people who visit the page aren’t using your contact form or online booking portal. Your analytics can help tell you why. Maybe they’re not in your area. Perhaps they’re not ready to schedule yet. Maybe they looked around for info on insurances and finances, didn’t find it, and left.
You can also look at your most popular pages and blogs to see what’s resonating with your audience, so you can create more content they like.
The list goes on. The problem is that it’s difficult to understand analytics if you aren’t properly trained in how to use them or what they mean, so this is something you’ll probably want to work with a professional marketer on.
There is always something more you can do with dental practice marketing. For example, you can literally record a person’s entire visit to your site and watch each thing they look at and click. Some dentists develop apps to engage their patients or get them more involved in preventative care. As cool as these things are, and as much as they can help, there’s a whole lot that should come before them. They can also be expensive and typically require the help of an expert, so it makes sense to save the bells and whistles for later.
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