Is live chat on your dental website really the killer application some suggest?

We first introduced live chat on dental websites over 8 years ago and since then we’ve implemented numerous versions on lots of dentists’ websites across the UK. So we have a fair degree of experience with what works and what doesn’t. Currently there seems to be resurgence in the use of live chat and we are seeing some marketing agencies offering free installations with new websites and even remotely managed services where each “lead” is charged for.

So there are a variety of options when it comes to website live chat for dentists; but are they any good? As with all of these so-called “killer” applications, you have to look closely to fully understand the pros and cons before you jump in. Let’s make a quick review so you know what to look out for.

Website live chat – the positives

There are certainly some positives to implementing live chat on a dental website, albeit it has to be done properly and professionally. But more of that later. The main benefits which are pretty universally acknowledged are:

  • Fewer missed opportunities – if the reception lines are busy, live chat offers an opportunity for users to contact you without having to put up with an impersonal answerphone message. Some people also prefer to use live chat rather than speak to someone in person. It is fair to say that websites which use live chat professionally will often generate more leads than those that don’t.
  • Provide a contact channel outside of normal working hours. If you opt for a service which is manned by trained, 3rd party personnel, you can provide comprehensive information for potential new patients over extended hours.
  • Temporarily free-up ‘phone lines – whilst live chat clearly won’t allow you to switch your ‘phones off for any extended period of time, it will allow you a good level of cover if you do have a temporary issue. It will also “load balance” across your various communication channels and relieve some of the pressure on your ‘phone system.
  • Learn about your patients – most live chat systems store the chat transcript and give you the reference you need to follow-up on the enquiry. Analytics are also available which reveal a variety of information including where the enquiry originated. This type of information is very useful for informing your overall marketing strategies.
  • Help your website SEO – this may sound strange but live chat can actually contribute to SEO in that it keeps a user on your website. Google can measure this “dwell time” and it is positive indicator for better search engine rankings.
  • Appeal to the younger generation – many young folk expect to interact with tools like live chat more than picking up the ‘phone. If only to cater specifically for the preferences of this demographic, live chat makes a lot of sense.
  • Differentiate from the local competition – people are very keen to see that your services are up-to-date and comprehensive and live chat really does help to demonstrate this. Whilst live chat is becoming increasingly popular, many practices still don’t have it and here’s a chance to steal a lead.

Live chat – the negatives

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How we achieved top Google places with new website content and refocussed on-site SEO

Here at Dental Media we have a very strong reputation for search engine optimisation (SEO) which we’ve nurtured and grown over many years of working with dentists. We are specialists in achieving Google top rankings using a variety of techniques. Today we’ll take a look at a couple of those areas and the cornerstones of successful SEO – website content and on-site optimisation.

We have a number of prominent clients based in very competitive locations where the SEO work has to be extremely diligent and comprehensive to maintain ranking positions. This is simply because competitor practices are also running optimisation campaigns and because the search landscape is ever changing.

Towards the back end of last year, we’d seen a couple of cases where our client’s websites dropped from position 1 to position 3 or 4 for the key “dentist + location” search term over a period of 8 or 9 months. During this period, Google introduced several new ranking algorithm changes, in part impacting those website where the content had gone “stale” i.e. not upgraded or reviewed for a long period of time. What can happen here is that Google demotes sites which have become less useful and engaging for users, often caused because the site’s content has not been nurtured.

Before we continue, it’s worth remembering that whilst successful SEO is multi-faceted, it can broadly be generalised into “on-site” and “off-site” work. Off-site work is where external assets are used to help promote the target site, for example building back-links from third-party websites; whereas on-site SEO is all about the work needed to make sure that the website itself is optimised for Google. A huge part of the latter on-site element, is the quality of the content.

The upshot of this is that a good website with excellent rankings, can actually degrade over time if the content is not nurtured and allowed to go stale. In this circumstance, if the on-site content is struggling, no amount of off-site SEO, however good, is going to work as well as it might.

This is exactly what happened in the two cases I mentioned above i.e. the off-site SEO (link-building etc) was being compromised because the website content had become stale and considered less attractive by Google. The slight slip in rankings was the result and of course needed to be addressed.

What did we do to reverse the problem and regain rankings?

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Keeping Patients Informed And Booking New Treatments

Unfortunately we find ourselves in another full national lock-down brought upon us by increasingly infectious Covid variants and arguably compounded by questionable crisis management, together with lack of compliance amongst some members of the general public. Whatever the causes, undeniably we are in another very difficult situation which has to be managed extremely carefully if we are to emerge in reasonable shape at the other side. Fortunately vaccines are on the way and hopefully they are effective quickly and sustainable.

Another piece of positive news is that dentists can remain open and whilst there are still concerns around new levels of risk, at least business can continue. So from a business perspective, we are actually in a much better place than when dentistry closed overnight back in March.

That said, dentists still have to be aware that the general public will be reeling from the rapid announcements and the confusion that brings. Indeed we have spoken with several dentists in the last couple of days who advised that several of their patients believed that dentists had also closed down. So we need to act quickly to ensure that the message that “dentistry is open” is out there and that business can continue in the best ways possible.

Here are some quick actions to get in place:

Update dental website notices and protocols:

This may seem like an obvious one but we are still aware of clients who have the old ‘lockdown 1’ messaging in place on their websites despite prompting from us. It’s essential to make sure that your website is updated to reflect the recent changes and to reassure that you are still open for business. If there are any new restrictions or protocols you’ve had to implement, make sure that these are displayed so that patients know what to expect before they arrive for an appointment.

Remember that just like in earlier months, it essential to try to instill confidence and reassure patients that your environment is as safe as possible, so make sure that this is prominent in any communication. Indeed, with the news of new Covid variants and increased levels of infection, this type of reassurance is even more important than before.

It’s probably also worthwhile auditing the protocols you have in place to make sure that everything is still robust. Compliance with procedures can become lax even in the best run businesses, so auditing compliance, particularly for something so safety critical, is very important.

Announce via e-newsletter

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Boost the “social proof” on your site and blog

You’ve worked hard to get a nice set of positive reviews on Google for your dental business and hopefully they are working hard for you via your Google “My Business” page and regular searches where patients are seeking out treatments and services. However, you may have seen some dentists taking it a step further by actually displaying those reviews on their websites?

If your reviews are in good shape, it really does make sense to display them, so in this short blog we’ll take a quick look at the main reasons why you should get those reviews onto your website and also the main mechanisms to do it. Let’s jump in.

Why display Google reviews on your website?

It’s a well-known fact that people making buying decisions usually look to reviews to support their decision, with some researchers suggesting that on average, a consumer will look through at least ten reviews before proceeding. Of course this applies to dental services too.

In this context, this type of validation of purchase decisions is known as seeking “social proof” and it’s equally as important as a word-of-mouth referral. Indeed Google itself strongly recommends nurturing the review process to ensure that consumers have a clear idea of the service they are purchasing and whether it’s a good decision based on the experience of others. There are other collateral benefits too, e.g. SEO, as we’ll see later.

The first patient interaction

Very often, the first interaction a new patient has with your practice is when they perform a Google search and see your listing displayed in the search results. If your business listing is set up correctly and optimised, they will also see your details, along with your reviews, displayed in the local results section on page one of the search results – this is very, very powerful.

This is obviously important but why not extend the display of those reviews through to your website too? This makes an awful lot of sense, in particular as it reinforces the positive user experience as they click through to your website from the search results.

So unless your reviews are poor, it really does make sense to cascade them through to your site.

The positive effect on search engine optimisation – SEO

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Which techniques will deliver the most new patient enquiries in the year ahead?

I’m often asked for my opinion regarding which marketing techniques are likely to be most popular for securing new dental patient enquiries as we progress towards a new year. So today I thought I’d share my thoughts on this and how the events of 2020 have shaped how things will likely look in 2021.

Here are the top five areas where we expect to be putting in a lot of effort for clients, new and old, in the year ahead. Oh and one ‘dodgy’ thing you need to look out for!

Dental website upgrades

This is an ‘ever present’ and as the emphasis moves increasingly to online dealings, having a stand-out dental website is more important than ever. Not only will websites need all of the usual engaging features and be mobile-friendly, they will also need to focus on how the practice delivers patient safety in this new “Covid” world. Even with vaccines and better therapeutics rolling-out, this is just the start and Covid controls are likely to be with us for some time yet.

If you aren’t convinced about the important of this, please take a look at a few sets of patient reviews left for dentists on Google and see how many mention Covid safety features.

Google and SEO

When it comes to patients finding your website in Google, we expect 2021 to be a big year. Whilst Google updates all the time, they recently announced a significant ranking algorithm update being introduced in May. This will look closely at user experience on a website and how well the site meets user’s needs. Google can measure all sorts of factors such as how fast pages load, how easy the website navigation was to use, did the sites use intrusive pop-ups etc. So if your site isn’t technically sound in those key areas, then expect to see your Google positions suffer. We are already auditing lots of sites with this in mind to ensure client websites remain robust in the face of these big new SEO challenges.

Paid Advertising

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Why you need to take care to avoid Google penalties

I’m prompted to write this short blog in response to the number of dentists adding intrusive interstitials, overlays and pop-ups to their websites. They often do this in response to their marketer’s advice that such tools will enhance patient enquiries, but unfortunately they go-ahead without realising the harmful effect that this can have on their Google ranking.

Let’s take a closer look at what these tools are and why Google can seriously penalise your website unless you take great care in how you implement them.

The Interstitial

You can think of this as a dummy page that is presented to the user before they reach the content they were actually looking for. This is very intrusive and often prompts the user to hit the browser back button or worse, skip away from your website completely. The dummy page simply blocks the desired content either for a period of time or until the user clicks to dismiss it.

Marketers will often use this technique to show an ad or perhaps a sign-up form; hoping to grab the user’s attention or grab their email address before they continue.

The Overlay

This is similar to the full-blown interstitial in that it typically appears as soon as the desired web page loads; however not all of the underlying content is obscured. The overlay normally advertises something or prompts for a user sign-up before needing to be clicked to remove it. So the overlay appears within the same browser window.

The Pop-Up

This is perhaps the worst-case scenario and tends to occur unexpectedly, typically opening a new window with some unwelcome content. This really is bad for user experience and is immediately on Google’s radar for penalisation.

The Modal

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Don’t pay for search engine optimisation which doesn’t perform

If you’ve read any of the SEO articles on our blog you’ll know just how important prominent website ranking in Google is. New patient enquiries from practice websites in the top three positions of page one in Google are 15 times greater than those for the websites at the bottom of the page. If you are on page two, then it’s pretty much useless.

It’s also worth reminding that the number of new patients coming from website enquiries is, on average, only second to the number coming via word-of-mouth referral.

Knowing the above, you might consider that most dentists would prioritise their website search optimisation to ensure that they reached those lucrative top positions? Of course some do, but many do not bother at all. Perhaps even worse is the huge number of dentists who pay large sums for SEO services but never actually achieve their goals. They may understand why it’s an essential marketing activity but don’t have the knowledge or experience to understand where they are being let down.

To give some additional insight into this and to help you avoid similar issues, here are the top five recurring SEO mistakes we encounter time after time.

Ignoring local SEO

It’s easy to assume that everyone knows what we mean by “local SEO” but that would be misguided. Relatively few dental professionals actually understand that page one of Google displays in separate sections, e.g. the paid ads, traditional organic results, knowledge panel and local/map results. The layout of page one is covered in more detail elsewhere in this blog.

The local (or map) results are the (typically) three business which are listed in the top half of the page together with additional information such as reviews and mapping. Recent research suggests that over 30% of all web traffic goes via the local results which is on a par with clicks on paid ads. So it makes sense to ensure that your website (more accurately your business), features prominently there. Unfortunately that is not the case for many dentists and so they miss out on this large tranche of local search traffic by default.

Featuring in the local results involves a range of techniques supplemental to “standard” SEO and so you need to ensure your marketing agency has got you covered for that. You’ll also need to play your own part in gaining business reviews, a significant part of the local SEO strategy.

Targeting irrelevant, low-traffic search terms

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Filling open day seats with Facebook & Instagram advertising, optimised landing pages and Acuity on-line booking

Over the last two years the team at Dental Media has developed and optimised a suite of techniques to secure low-cost open day bookings for dentists looking to promote their services. Using Facebook and Instagram advertising in conjunction with user-friendly tools to help users engage with the service and book easily online, excellent booking rates have been achieved at very attractive, low costs.

I thought it would be useful to share a short case study of how we achieved this for a dentist based in Bishop’s Stortford who was looking to enhance Invisalign bookings to increase the case load for a visiting orthodontist and also to achieve better utlilisation of expensive intra-oral scanning equipment.

Let’s take a look at how we exceeded expectations and how the campaign has been extended to cover additional open days. Please note that we also have a similar set of tools to achieve excellent results for implant bookings.

The challenge

The dentist we are working with is well-established but practices in a location with limited population density and hence limited scope to supply “high end” treatments such as Invisalign. So even with good organic Google rankings, his reach via the web was somewhat restricted.

We have seen this type of scenario on numerous occasions and invariably a strategy is required which complements standard organic Google searches and the limitations of localisation that this brings. The best way to extend the reach outside of the areas which can reasonably covered with Google results is to use paid advertising, either Google Ads, Facebook/Instagram, or a combination of both.

Which pay-per-click (PPC) methodology works best depends on the type of campaign and the treatment being promoted. For Invisalign, we find that Facebook/Instagram ads tend to work best and delivers enquiries at the lowest cost. That said, Google Ads also have a place and may also be deployed selectively.

How we do it

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What is it and why should dentists prioritise it?

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are extremely keen that dentists understand exactly how their marketing campaigns are working so that their return on investment is clear and that any maintenance can be done quickly to maximise effectiveness.

A key part of this is an understanding of where new patient enquiries came from, i.e. which channels actually delivered them. By ‘channels’ I mean the routes or paths the patient travelled along before they actually made contact with you. For example did they find you via a Google search, a paid advert on Facebook, an ad in the local paper or perhaps word-of-mouth?

Drilling down further (no pun intended!) we can also measure what we call ‘channel attribution’ which is where we work out just how much credit can be assigned to each touch-point within the conversion path. In basic terms, this means working out which bits of your marketing efforts worked best!

There are lots of studies on this type of work, some quite detailed and mathematical; however that is beyond the scope of this article. Today I’m simply trying to illustrate how important this type of channel analysis is and how you can get the basics in place without breaking the bank or studying for a degree.

Let’s take a look at the basic monitoring which allows this and which should be in place for any dentist using the web to promote dental services.

Google Analytics

This is a free tool which allows the comprehensive monitoring of website performance. It is hugely detailed if you want it to be, but on a more basic level it will allow you to easily see where your website traffic came from, when it came and how much there was. If you set up goals (conversions) it will also tell you how much of this traffic resulted in tangible enquiries.

Installing a small piece of tracking code on your website will allow the collection of huge amounts of valuable data which can be analysed and used to inform your marketing campaigns. You can also integrate your analytics with paid ad platforms so you can see how much traffic those campaigns are generating, and indeed if they are resulting in enquiries.

Oh, and very importantly, Google Analytics is free to use, so there really is no excuse for not using it.

Facebook Analytics (Page and Audience Insights)

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Key cornerstones of implant and ortho marketing

During Covid-19 restrictions, some dental practices have struggled to survive whilst others continued to thrive. Of course there was a significant lull during full lock-down but what became clear was that those practices who were on-the-ball pre-covid, were similarly mobilised and active during the crisis.

Now as we start accelerating back to some form of normality, it is clear that those practices who “get it” are continuing to do well; indeed they are prospering even more as other practices fall by the wayside.

So what are the key marketing characteristics which those successful practices exhibit? Let’s take a closer look.

An effective, ethical sales process

Leading practices understand the need for a finely-tuned sales process which turns leads into treatments. All too often, marketers deliver great leads to dentists but half-hearted response from the practice team means that those leads don’t convert. Effective tools and procedures must exist to capture those leads and allow follow-up in a prompt and well-defined manner. Do this too late and/or half-heartedly means that the lead will evaporate. Potentially worse is that your local competitor will likely benefit. The patient journey, right from the start through to treatment and after-care, needs to be exceptional and with the whole team on board.

Similarly your team needs to be able to filter those enquiries which will likely lead to nothing. Whilst we can target marketing efforts to those most likely to take up treatments, some channels will still deliver a lot of speculative enquiries. Some of these will be “golden nuggets” but others will need to be offloaded as the enquirer may be unsuitable for treatment or perhaps have no way of paying. This needs to be done before the valuable time of a TCO or clinician gets wasted.

Creation of compelling content

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