Don’t get sucked into long-term dental marketing contracts – you may well regret it!

Regular readers of our blog will know that we often get frustrated when we see the “dodgy” stunts pulled in the dental marketing community, where dentists get duped simply because they don’t really know what they are being sold. This is rife unfortunately.

One of our bugbears is the marketing contract which most agencies foist on their clients to guarantee 12 or more months of income. What’s worse, there is almost never a guarantee of performance with such contracts which means that the client has no comeback should the promised results fail to materialise.

Today I’d like to illustrate a situation where one of our former clients was sucked into such a contract with another agency. They were promised spectacular results but nothing of worth materialised, and 18 months later they are into paying for a new website, on a new domain name and effectively starting from scratch. Here at Dental Media we strive to look after all of our clients and it was very disappointing to see what resulted in one of the isolated cases where we actually lost someone to a competitor. It’s worth you knowing too, so you can look out for similar and avoid being disadvantaged in a similar fashion.

First a little bit of background – of course without mentioning the names of businesses concerned.

The promise leading to the switch

The client unexpectedly moved to another provider around 18 months ago based on a promise of lots of new patient enquiries and in particular, Invisalign treatments. We had already successfully moved the client to number one in Google for many search terms organically but due to the practice location, we’d also recommended using paid ads to broaden the presence in additional nearby towns to boost the overall web footprint. Given the good organic search coverage and well-elaborated plan to improve even further using pay-per-click, we were very surprised when the client elected to move supplier.

We wished the client well and continued to support her existing website for nearly 6 months whilst the new supplier re-built it. This is where the client first came back to us and expressed her disappointment in the new supplier – in particular the new website was taking far too long to finalise and the new agency was being extremely slow to address the client’s concerns and requests. She also told us that the website was being built on a website ‘DIY’ building tool i.e. not to industry standards. Of course she didn’t realise this but by this stage it was too late. Unfortunately she’d agreed to pay thousands of pounds for the new website, together with an SEO contract to “improve the rankings”. Note that the existing website already had excellent ranking positions!

The new website

Finally the new site was published and the client approached us again to see what we thought. We never burn bridges so we agreed to carry out a few basic performance checks on her behalf. What we found was quite desperate in that the website, built on the DIY web-builder platform, was extremely slow, indeed on of the slowest we’ve ever seen when using the official Google performance testing tools. There were numerous technical errors and “school boy” SEO problems too.

We advised the client accordingly, along with predictions that the website would likely start to lose ground in Google. This didn’t take long and as soon as Google crawled and indexed the new site, a stark drop was apparent. This became progressively worse as the months progressed. At this stage the new agency started to ad spammy 350 word blogs to try to arrest the ranking drops but unsurprisingly, the situation just got worse.

Another new website!

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How might the communication interface between patient and dentist look in the “new world” ahead?

The advent of Covid-19 has turned the world of business upside down, including UK dentistry. Indeed it’s arguable that the private dental sector is one of the worst hit from several different angles, whether financial or the basic inability to provide critical care for patients at the moment.

As we move towards the lock-down being lifted, it is worth reviewing how the patient experience will likely change as dentists re-open their doors and indeed, what this means for dental practice marketing.

Minimising contact

Whilst it’s obvious that physical contact for the treatment phase is still essential, albeit potentially with new protocols, most other elements of the patient journey will change. A large majority of people have progressively become conditioned to social distancing and as a result, businesses have adapted their processes to continue to trade. Many of us are now ordering food online, contacting other businesses via Zoom video call or similar and generally working out how to function “virtually”.

Even as restrictions ease, with no sign of a vaccine and available therapeutics still very much exploratory, these new ways of living and working are set to stay for many months ahead. We are seeing a real and unexpected paradigm shift in the way that the world operates and dentists need to adapt to this to ensure continuity of business. Even then, and as we’ve heard elsewhere, there will be bumps in the road.

Map out your business flow and patient journey

In a former life before running a marketing agency for dentists, I was responsible for implementing very large ERP systems for pharmaceutical and agri businesses in factories I managed in the UK and Ireland. The start of this always involved carefully charting out the “as-is” business process and then the “to-be” process. This was then followed by a “gap” analysis to work out how the business would get from where it was to where it needed to be most cost-effectively and efficiently. I would advocate a similar mapping process for your own business to establish exactly what you need to do to meet patient aspirations in the new world which now faces us. This will help you to work out the priorities, costs and how this will reflect in your practice SOPs, financials, marketing and more.

Where are you likely to see changes in the way you work?

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Back-To-Work Dental Marketing Initiatives

Whilst we are still uncertain with regard to when dental practices will be able to re-open and indeed which procedures can be performed, we appear to be progressing towards that sometime reasonably soon. Our dental clients have progressed through their phased lock-down marketing initiatives including regular e-newsletter updates, video consultation etc and are now preparing their “re-opening” marketing strategies. These are primarily designed to re-build patient confidence so that they feel safe when dental treatments begin again.

How are dentists preparing?

There is quite a wide range of preparedness initiatives we are seeing, from very little, to complete re-engineering of the patient journey, including the inclusion of many new safety steps and techniques. A few dentists have adopted the view that they are already keeping to strict cross-contamination and decontamination protocols (e.g. HTM 01-05) and hence feel they don’t need to do much more. However, many more have decided to take significant proactive steps to ensure that they are best placed to protect themselves and their patients when practices finally re-open. Here’s a quick look at what we are seeing.

Protecting the dental team

Clearly a lot of attention has been placed on protecting the clinical staff within the surgery environment. We’ve seen quite a few social media campaigns for dentists demonstrating various different forms of PPE, often ending up looking like spacemen. Whether this is actually required or not is still subject to validation and we would not attempt to comment here, only to say that posting these types of activities on social media may actually be counter-productive in terms of confidence building. From the patient’s perspective, it may come over as quite scary if you have to attend a facility where the staff are decked-out in enhanced levels of PPE, even though our TVs have been inundated with similar images recently.

Many people will understand why this is happening but plenty won’t. So you may wish to consider carefully before showing lots of images of the clinical staff in full PPE – even though some/all of it will be required in practice.

Just on this, it is essential that the practice principle and management do all they can to protect their workforce and instil confidence. I’m sure this is a “no brainer” for most but I’m also aware that there are many differing opinions about the virus, from seemingly blase to hyper-sensitive. Irrespective of your views, if you are a business leader, you need to be confident that your team feels safe to go to work and not under significant duress.

Renewing patient confidence

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Booking new dental treatments remotely!

It’s well-known that innovation tends to ramp up considerably in times of adversity and we’re certainly seeing this in the dental community as dentists and solution providers look for new ways to overcome the challenges presented by Covid-19.

Over the last few weeks we’ve covered a number of new and well-established technologies which are now being ramped up to help dentists stay in touch with patients and even help them to book new treatments despite the lock-down measures.

This week we’re taking a look at the SmileMate technology which several of our clients are trialling to facilitate remote consultations. Please note that we have no affiliation with this company, we are simply identifying another interesting tool which may be beneficial for dental businesses, particularly in theses challenging times.

What is SmileMate?

The SmileMate tool uses photographs taken by the patient using their own smart ‘phone and then applies artificial intelligence to create a treatment pre-qualification report. The report is then submitted to the SmileMate portal where both the patient and the patient’s dentist can log-in to discuss treatment options and next steps.

Of course this does not and cannot replace full face-to-face consultation and examination. However, early reports suggest that the AI system is quite adept at initial assessment and making treatment proposals to effectively starts the patient journey. Clearly the actual treatment plan still has to be developed following a clinical examination, but SmileMate appears to be adept at getting the process moving.

How it works – simple steps for the patient and dentist

There are five main steps to the SmileMate assessment process as follows:

  • the patient visits your website or a customisable landing page provided on the SmileMate portal
  • the patient takes photographs of their teeth using detailed guidance videos and instructions and uploads them via the portal
  • the system applies AI in-line with the patient’s request and photographs
  • a report is generated automatically and submitted to the dentist’s dashboard in the portal
  • the dentist assesses the report, annotates it and shares it with the patient who can access it and engage in conversation

The key here is that the system gathers initial data remotely and via the clever reporting, facilitates the engagement between the patient and their dentist. The hope of course, is that this then progresses to a full clinical examination and treatment.

You can find out more here:

Click To Investigate SmileMate

Integrating the portal into the dental website

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Re-starting paid ad campaigns post Covid-19 – when and how?

When formal lock-down started 6 weeks ago I’d hoped that by this stage we’d have some idea of when dentists would likely be open for business again. However, as I write, there is little clarityFacebook logo regarding this and we have to wait for the Government to give us a better idea of when it might be. The scale of the pandemic has certainly been dramatic and perhaps much worse than many had imagined or, arguably, prepared for.

The result is that the dental business, along with most other businesses in the UK, is effectively in stasis, certainly as far as face-to-face treatments are concerned. Hopefully we are all doing excellent work while we wait, providing advice to patients, staying in regular contact with them and even carrying out video consultations where appropriate. Much of this I’ve covered in recent blogs. At the “team” level, I know that many practices are also using their time wisely to review training objectives and other development requirements where practical. The key to all of this of course, is to come out fit and ready to do business once again on the other side of the crisis.

Five weeks ago I launched a series of blogs covering various marketing activities and questions which needed attention during the lock-down phase, ranging from video consultation through to patient e-newsletters. The last in the current series covers pay-per-click advertising, namely Google and Facebook, and we’ll take a closer look at these aspects in today’s blog; in particular when should you re-launch.

The great Ad pause!

Right at the start of lock-down, we recommended that clients should pause their Facebook and Google Ads simply because of the practicalities of following up on leads and also that the public sentiment, by-and-large, wouldn’t be receptive. Other than a few dentists who continued with Invisalign ads to try to counter the ‘DIY braces at home’ brigade, everyone paused their Google and Facebook ads on mass. As a business, we went from managing many thousands of pounds of ad spend for clients per month, to virtually zero, with the economic effects of the pandemic reaching all of us.

This has been the case now for several weeks but with an eye on the future, it now makes sense to start looking at your ad campaigns and preparing them so you are ready to act quickly once the lock-down restrictions are eased.

Why you need to prepare

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Covid-19 Communication Strategies Continued

If you aren’t already sending regular newsletters to your patients to keep them updated during the Covid-19 crisis, now is a good time to start. In makes really good sense for businesses to stay in-touch with their clients during this difficult period, so that when services resume, the business concerned is still “top of mind” and trading begins again apace. Dentists are no different and we are helping numerous clients with various mechanisms to achieve this, ranging from e-newsletters through to video consultation services.

In today’s blog, we’ll take a look at e-newsletters and the cost-effective mechanisms you can use to get your campaigns up and running quickly. But before we jump into the mechanisms, let’s recap on what ‘e-news’ actually is and why it’s particularly useful in this context.

E-newsletters for dentists

The title is fairly explanatory here. An e-newsletter is simply a document, typically fairly short and to the point, sent by a business to a client to keep them updated about various aspects of their services, current news etc. In the dental context, the vast majority of e-newsletters are sent by dentists to their patients, however we also have a fair number of specialist dentist clients who use e-news very effectively to stay in touch with and nurture their referring GDPs.

Let’s take a look at a simple and very cost-effective system you can use to get your dental e-news up-and-running and then we’ll take a quick look at the type of information you will be sending.

MailChimp

By far the most popular system used by our clients is MailChimp. This is a secure online system where you set-up an account, configure it and then import your email list. Once the basic set-up is done, you then choose an email template, make it bespoke using your branding and add your content. You can then test your email before scheduling a time to send it. It sounds pretty easy and actually it is once you’ve practised.

The hardest part from a technical perspective is making sure that your email template not only looks good but also displays correctly on the many different email browsers your patients will use. These could be on desk-top, tablet or all types of mobile ‘phones. You really do need to be sure that your emails will display correctly; if not you will not only have wasted your time but you will also appear unprofessional. Whilst MailChimp provides a couple of free, simple templates, you may wish your designer to build you something a little bit better – the team here at Dental Media can help you with this.

It is also very important to make sure that you are complying with data control regulations e.g. GDPR and broader ICO requirements. You must have permission to use people’s email addresses if you propose to contact them with marketing information i.e. they must have opted in. The specifics of this are covered elsewhere in this blog but the bottom line is that you can’t simply just upload all of your contact emails and then start firing out e-newsletters; you have to do it in a compliant fashion or risk the wrath not only of your users, but potentially the regulators too.

You can also add a subscription form to your website and blog to gather new email addresses, so building your email list progressively.

Why can’t I use my normal e-mail system?

This is something that we’ve seen a number of our clients try, only to be thwarted very quickly. This is simply because commercial systems are not designed to send hundreds of mass emails at the same time and hence they kick them out as spam. MailChimp is designed for this purpose and does not suffer from this issue.

Building your e-newsletter

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The key question of search engine optimisation and where it lies as a business priority during Covid-19 closure

Over the last few weeks thousands of dentists UK wide have been evaluating their business expenses and looking to plot the best course to see them through the Covid-19 lockdown crisis. Many will also be assessing how best to re-launch after the lockdown restrictions are relaxed and indeed what shape their businesses will take.

The key assessments will have been around the practice infrastructure; for example how to maintain staff, pay rents etc. However, other crucial assessments will also have taken place, for example which aspects of marketing need to be maintained and which can reasonably be paused. Some of this we’ve covered in our last two blogs, but today we’ll take a closer look at search engine optimisation and why, if at all possible, it makes sound sense to maintain your web optimisation campaigns.

First we need to look at SEO and why it’s a “slow burn” process. Then we’ll discuss what can actually happen if you suddenly halt the optimisation work, particularly when your competitors are continuing.

The SEO process – recap

Search engine optimisation describes the process whereby work is carried out which improves the position of a website in the search results. As far as we’re concerned in the UK, this primarily relates to positions in Google as this is where the lion’s share of all search activity is focused. So we typically refer to Google optimisation for dentists in this context.

SEO can be split into two main parts; off-site and on-site optimisation. The former is where key elements of the website content are regularly adjusted to help improve search results. Techniques such as blogging are also used to assist this. The off-site optimisation is rather different in that this involves work such as acquiring links from third-party sites, building citations, review management and more. All of these elements combined are evaluated by Google’s algorithms which in turn determine which websites are deemed most useful for answering user queries and hence worthy of appearing at the top of the search results.

This type of work has to be done diligently and absolutely must be in accordance with Google’s publishing guidelines – step outside of these any Google will demote your website faster than you can blink. Too many dentists have suffered at the hands of poor SEO over the years and you’ll find several discussions about this elsewhere in our blog. Suffice to say that it has to be done diligently and ethically; so no short cuts.

The other key aspect of SEO is the need to stay agile and adapt quickly to Google changes. So when Google adds new ranking factors into its algorithms, we have to try to evaluate what is happening and adapt accordingly. Without this continued vigilance, a website can soon become very stale from an SEO perspective and ranking drops soon follow.

If all of this work is done rigorously, a website builds up “authority” and becomes the favoured source for Google when searchers ask questions. It takes time to build this authority but unfortunately it can also fall away very quickly too.

So what happens when an SEO campaign is halted?

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4 Focal Points For The Coming Weeks

As we all come to terms with the harsh realities of our new environment and formulate plans to manage our businesses whilst we wait for better news, I thought it would be useful to take a look at four key aspects of dental practice marketing and how to adapt them to suit the current predicament.

As in all crises, what we are seeing is a range of reactions from our dental clients, from the understandable despair caused by zero financial income, to innovative ways to keep business going. All of these reactions are understandable, but for certain, those who will come out of this ready and able at the other side, are working hard now to ensure that their businesses are as resilient as possible.

There are four key areas where we are helping clients prop up their business and ensuring that they are robust ready for the upturn. I will cover each of these areas in more detail in my next blogs, but for today, here is an overview and guidance to get you moving in the right direction.

E-newsletters for patient communication

If you haven’t been communicating with patients regularly up to now other than via 6 monthly recall texts, then now is the time to begin. In my next blog we’ll take a look at the tools you need, the type of content you need to generate and how to stay compliant with privacy regulations. It is so important to keep in touch with patients, now more than ever. You need to let patients know that you are there for them, if only for advice, and to keep your services “top of mind” for when your practice re-opens.

Search engine optimisation – pause or keep going?

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Recommendations for the present and the future to help keep your business on track

Marketing under Covid-19 lock-downIt’s maybe a cliche already but these certainly are unprecedented times. As Coronavirus builds momentum and we are about to enter a grim period in the UK where hospitals and resources are tested to the extreme, at the same time many businesses are taking stock and working out the best way to survive the crisis and emerge stronger at the other side.

Of course this includes dentists who have arguably been hit as hard if not harder than many small businesses. Many dental business owners are in a situation where none of the government aid and grants apply to them and they really are having to be self-sufficient. This is similar for many thousands of us and we’re all working hard to plan the best way forward. Whilst clearly the health of our families and employees is priority at the moment, we still have to use our time wisely to work on our businesses. This includes what to do about our marketing, both now and in the future, as hopefully some semblance of normality returns.

There is no certain template for how we should be positioning marketing for our dental businesses, but here are some early thoughts regarding key things you should already be considering. I’ll split my thoughts into what needs to be considered at the present time, plus some ideas for ensuring a strong start again in the future.

The Present – Marketing Do’s and Don’ts

PPC and Facebook Ads – although there are a few examples of dentists ploughing their own furrows, the collective wisdom at the moment is to pause any marketing using pay-per-click (Google Ads) and Facebook. The time just isn’t right to be placing happy, smiley Facebook ads for Invisalign etc on people’s social media streams. Indeed I’ve already seen adverse comments from the public on ads such as these. There is an argument that says people are stuck at home spending hours on social media and that you should be actively marketing to them. But I think it goes quite a lot deeper than that.

People are still in “isolation shock” and coming to terms with the thought that it could continue for six months or more – many of them simply don’t want to see your adverts when they’re still working out how to get their groceries safely. Some of the less fortunate ones will also be working out how they are going to pay the bills. It only takes a few people like those mentioned above, to start calling you out on your Facebook comments, and damage is already done. Hold fire and don’t risk it for the time being. The time to start those campaigns again hopefully isn’t too far away, but more of that in a moment.

SEO – when it comes to Google optimisation, many of you will have worked hard and invested quite a lot of money to gain those precious, prominent Google positions. If you are close to SEO, you will know that work goes on regularly to ensure that ranking positions don’t fall. It’s all about maintaining the authority and “freshness” of websites so that Google sees them as most relevant and hence promotes them in the ranking results. When this work stops, then it’s very easy to lose positions quite quickly. However, it’s far harder to regain them because other websites will continue to optimise, overtake you and then increase their lead.

Whilst we recognise that you will be evaluating priorities, it is important to remember that a steady stream of new patients will be extremely important as practices try to get back on their feet in future. Where possible, we strongly advise that SEO is maintained as one of those business priorities.

Patient communication – like SEO, this aspect is also very important. We are all hunkering down to some extent but it’s also critical to make sure that your brand awareness is preserved. Using tools like MailChimp, you can send reasonably frequent updates to your patient base to keep them appraised. There is actually a wealth of new and useful information that you can provide, for example, oral healthcare tips at home, as well as appraising them of the current situation with regard to dental services. At the appropriate time, you can also start to introduce new offers as we start to see the light at the other side of the crisis.

If you haven’t used this type of communication previously, now is a great time to start. If you need help setting up, please give the Dental Media team a call.

Video consultation and triage services – I covered this recently in our blog here, and it’s a technique which is moving from being rather novel, to the mainstream. Whilst such systems are useful for advisory functionality right now, in future they can be re-purposed to provide complete on-line consultation facilities. This will be very important as we start to come out of the lock-down scenario but where some restrictions still apply. Please call our team and we’ll help you get set up.

The Future – When and How To Get Your Dental Marketing Moving Again

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Reaching patients safely and building future business

viewing video on smartphoneIn these difficult times, the priority for the team here at Dental Media over the last week has been to get hundreds of essential COVID-19 updates and announcements in place on dentist’s websites. That and re-organising our team so that they can work safely.

Despite the challenges facing all of us, please be assured that our team members are in place in various locations and continuing to provide a full service for our clients.

We have developed remote working strategies over several years and we are able to work effectively with secure access to all of our systems. Our plan is to be here for you throughout this period of uncertainty and we wish you all the best with your own business challenges in the coming months.

Whilst consolidation and survival will be at the forefront of most people’s minds at the moment, when the dust settles a little, we will likely find time to start considering how to prepare for the future and, hopefully, take advantage of the upsurge in business when the crisis finally passes.

With this in mind and with an eye on providing some form of business continuity, I thought it would be worth recapping on a technique we’ve been using with several of our clients for a number of years, well before coronavirus reared its ugly head. That technique is video consultation for dentists – let’s take a look at how it can be used in the broader marketing context and more specifically during the current isolation crisis.

Video consultation – the tools

Let’s start at the front end of the process and the obvious need to secure potential new dental patients who are interested in your services in the first place. Make no mistake, now is not the time to start broadcasting lots of ads about brace treatments etc on social media – people are still in “lock down” shock and need to get over that. In fact we saw one dental ad recently which had been commented on adversely – the time isn’t right just at the moment. Get it wrong and the adverse effect on your brand could be quite significant.

However, when the dust settles a little and people start thinking about the future and making plans, it makes good sense to start picking up new enquiries and adding them to the pipeline. This is where is does make sense to start considering carefully crafted advertising as people ramp up their web activity, and not just trying to buy groceries! But it’s crucial to get the timing right. Perhaps use this time to plan, prepare your video consultation page and think about how best to offer your services as we come out at the other side of the crisis.

DIY video conferencing

Modern technology gives us the opportunity to video call with ease. There are several well-know tools to facilitate this including Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Zoom and more. Several of these are free and what’s more, most people are familiar with one or more of them. You will also need a website page or landing page which details your conferencing service and how to use it. This will typically include a contact form to allow the user to get in touch with you and to express their interest. From there you arrange a time for the call and hopefully secure a substantial new treatment case as a result.

A more professional approach

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