A recap on recurring dentist marketing pitfalls

2020 has certainly been an unusual year and not really in a good way! With the advent of Covid-19 and what looks like turmoil and uncertainty associated with Brexit and other world events, many businesses have been destabilised, dentists included.

That said, life goes on and whilst dentists have paused some of their marketing activities, particularly during the worst months of lock-down, the basics have, in main part, continued. So we’ve seen search engine optimisation initiatives and PPC campaigns continuing in spite of the current difficulties. Indeed we’ve seen a lot of interesting marketing developments as we’ve helped clients adapt to the “new normal” and implement novel ways of reaching and serving their patients.

Despite some good news amongst the more general global grief, unfortunately we are still seeing many of the same marketing mistakes dentists regularly make with their marketing initiatives, many of them costing substantial amounts of money. So we thought we’d recap on the main errors we’ve seen recently with the intention of helping you avoid similar! Let’s dive in….

Onerous contractual tie-ins

This is still a huge issue in the dental marketing arena with most agencies still pushing dentists to sign-up for long term contracts of at least a year or more. We’ve had several new clients contact us to ask if we can help them escape from these types of arrangements where they couldn’t quit, even where the supplier had demonstrably failed. Typical examples were Invisalign marketing campaigns which were hugely over-priced versus what was being delivered, bad PPC contracts where the dentist realised that the supplier was skimming the click budget, and of course the perennial issue of the monthly website maintenance and SEO contract which was being paid for but no work was being done on the site.

These types of very dodgy contracts are absolutely rife in the digital marketing sector and way too many dentists still fall for them. So as an absolute minimum, if you are tempted to sign up to something like this, please ensure that the contract has some form of performance element which allows you to quit if agreed standards are not met.

Please also remember that there is a much better alternative that all clients here at Dental Media enjoy i.e. absolutely zero contractual tie-ins for our marketing services.

SEO campaigns that don’t work

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Here’s why your blog is still great for patients and for Google too!

Blogging for dental practices first emerged in earnest 8 or 9 years ago when marketers realised that it was a great tool to help promote search engine rankings, primarily led by the SEO team here at Dental Media. Business coaches also started to promote the technique when they caught on to the fact that publishing great content online was an excellent way to show prospective new patients that you were an authority in your field and so a good choice for treatment. So blogging can be a clear differentiator in a few different ways.

But is blogging for dentists still as useful as it was back then and also how has it evolved of the last few years? The answer is an unequivocal “yes” – blogging is still an excellent tool to help with search engine optimisation and to help you stand out from your competitors when people visit your website. So let’s recap on why blogging still works so well and why you should get started for your own practice.

Blogging for patients

Some would say that this is the most important aspect, not SEO; but looking from a marketer’s perspective, I’d say that both elements are equally important. Those of us who have a long history of search optimisation understand that content which works well for humans, i.e. well written and interesting, will usually also work well for Google. The reason is simple in that Google wants to surface the best content for its users and hence tends to promote it to the top of the search results. So in essence, if you write a really useful blog article for your users, there is a good chance that it will also rank well in search engines. There are some subtleties as we’ll see later, but the above principle is a useful one to keep in mind when you do start on your blogging venture.

When a dental practice writes a blog, this serves as a great balance to the more technical type of articles that agencies write on their behalf. So for example, a team member might write an article to announce a new team member or perhaps the latest charity event, whereas the marketer might write about the benefits of dental implants for patients living in a specific location, still informative but certainly with SEO in mind.

The practice written article would typically have a more “human” feel and potentially be a little more engaging than the one written by the marketer, but both types are still important and a good balance between both is the ideal way to proceed.

Other examples of practice generate blogs might be to discuss a new Invisalign or implants open day, introducing staff members, publishing latest offers, discussing new technology and so on. There’s more opportunity than you may think, particularly when you get stuck in.

Blogging for SEO

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SEO wins the battle for new dental patient enquiries

As you’ll most likely know, there are numerous ways for a dentist to acquire new patients, from fundamental “word-of-mouth” marketing to comprehensive advertising campaigns using Google, Facebook and more recently, Instagram. But there’s one marketing channel which reliably delivers the best results and lowest acquisition costs and that’s search engine optimisation (SEO).

Outside of “word of mouth” referrals, top ranking positions in Google deliver more dental enquiries per pound spent than any other methodology and it’s more sustainable too. Whilst SEO isn’t fire-and-forget and can take several months to start gaining traction, when your website is prominent in Google search for a wide range of dental queries, you’ll soon reap the benefit of a steady influx of new patient enquiries. You’ll also be less worried about paying for ads as a sole source of promotion, along with the ever escalating costs and maintenance that this entails. Whilst paid advertising does still have an important role to play in certain circumstances, overall, your most sustainable and rewarding mid to long term digital strategy will be SEO.

How do we know this?

The digital marketing teams at Dental Media have been running successful promotional strategies for dentists for nearly 20 years. A key part of our service is analysing and reporting on the various techniques we use so that we see what works best and where maintenance is required. We can also calculate essential measures such as the cost to acquire a new patient and also where the money was spent. So we have a clear picture of how much it typically costs to gain a patient via Google versus paid ads on Facebook etc. Without a doubt, the lowest overall acquisition cost is from “organic” search in Google and even though you may need to invest several hundreds of pounds per month to achieve and maintain search ranking prominence, the cost to achieve that is dwarfed by the value of the new patients and treatments gained. It’s also fair to say that the returns from SEO are also quite substantially better than even the best run paid advertising campaigns.

How to get started with dental SEO?

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How do you know if your website is good, bad or indifferent?

It’s recognised by most people that a company website is a critical cornerstone for gaining new business from the web. For dentists, this means new patient enquiries. Indeed we know from many years of experience and from running all types of promotional campaigns, that web enquiries are typically only second to word-of-mouth when it comes to gaining new patients.

So it’s very clear that a good website is an essential part of the dental promotional tool-kit; but how do you know if your site is good, bad or indifferent?

To help, here are the key bullet-points you can use as a check-list when auditing the performance of your dental practice website:

  • Modern and appealing – dentistry is increasingly competitive and in this fairly fickle world, you need to present a professional and appealing image. Fail to do this and it’s likely that potential new patients will simply look elsewhere. So it’s essential that your website is up-to-date and represents you exactly as you would wish it. But a word of caution here. As well as lots of dental websites which are old and stale, there are also too many which are either way too generic, or try too hard. By this I mean they look far too ‘glitzy’ and simply don’t look anything like the business they purport to represent. This is more off-putting than you might imagine, so unless your practice warrants a super-fancy website in line with your business model and target demographic, don’t be tempted to overdo it.
  • Your Google ranking is poor – even if your website is decent, if you are languishing in the search engine results, then your investment is failing you. Fewer than 2% of people searching for services or products on Google actually bother to look on page two. It’s also worth noting that the difference in traffic between the top and bottom positions on page one is around 20 – 30 fold, so you really need your website to be up in the top three positions and also for multiple search terms.
  • Your website is aesthetically pleasing but its technical performance is dire – this is increasingly common and can easily result in frustrated users and also sub-standard search ranking results. Slow loading web pages and overly complex navigation structures etc on a website will lead to it failing faster than you’d imagine. Websites which are technically sub-standard occur because designers often take the easy route, for example using commercially designed WordPress templates which are full of bloated code and unnecessary functionality. The analogy would be driving a sports car with a Mini engine. It’s now extremely important to ensure that your website is excellent both aesthetically and technically, so please make sure that your designers are working to a suitable specification for both aspects.

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Research suggests that fewer than 1 in 7 dental practices update their own website

Your website may have a facility which allows you to make updates in-house and without referring back to your designer, but do you actually use it? Research suggests that most dentists with this type of facility, known as a content management system (CMS), actually struggle to use it properly, with many not even knowing it even exists. Most are simply referring back to their website designer when site updates are due.

But why is this? Surely this type of system is ideal and allows the dental practice to make updates quickly and easily without having to pay for third-party services? On face value you might think this is the case, but in reality, the vast majority of users really struggle to make even the smallest changes using CMS. They then get frustrated and end up asking their preferred web designer for help.

CMS – more complicated than you were told?

Most content management systems are way more complex than you may have been advised when you bought into it; so-much-so that it can be extremely daunting for a user when they first log in to try some editing. This is particularly the case for WordPress where you are confronted with a huge array of menu items and page layouts which would be alien to most users, particularly the uninitiated. Unfortunately many dentists believe they have a suitable system in place and designate the editing task to a team member, only to be disappointed when that team member fails.

It is also worth understanding that designers look to tools such as WordPress to make their initial design job easier, rather than providing an intuitive system which can easily be used by a lay person to make required website updates. So the CMS is sold as a useful tool, but for most it simply doesn’t work out that way.

CMS maintenance – you’re likely paying monthly for it

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Why stale websites lose impact quickly

If you’ve ever searched the web for dental websites you’ll know that it’s a very diverse landscape – from flashy creations which resemble the website’s of Dubai hotels, to others which are maybe 8 or 9 years old and aren’t even mobile friendly or secure. So if you’re considering updating your own practice website, or are new into the field and wondering how to budget for future updates, here’s a guide on what to consider.

Let’s begin by sharing over 20 years of experience in designing websites for dentists. This shows us that the typical re-design frequency is around 3 – 4 years, albeit we have some large clients who redesign every couple of years as standard and others who haven’t redesigned for many a year. But on average, 3 – 4 years is typical.

So what are the main reasons which would prompt a re-design of a dentist’s website? Let’s take a look at the key ones.

Usability issues

This essentially covers how easy it is for a user to navigate the website and interact with you. Periodically, big technical changes come along which dictate significant changes to website infrastructure i.e. a re-design. Perhaps the best example of this was the shift to “responsive” mobile friendly design several years ago which completely superseded the need for a secondary mobile website. Whilst most businesses have changed over to mobile-friendly sites, perhaps surprisingly there are still lots of dentists who are still lumbering on with old-style sites which frankly don’t really work at all on mobile. What really should be appreciated in this specific circumstance is that the large proportion of people who find a site like this on their mobile ‘phone, won’t ever bother attempting to interact with the business. It’s simply too hard for them to do so and so they quickly move elsewhere.

So where technology dictates that you need a major update for your website, then it would be foolhardy to ignore it.

Design style

Like most things, design “fads” come and go in the world of dental web design. What looks really whizzy now can become quite dated just a few years down the track, so please be aware of this and if you go for all the “bells and whistles”, then expect those to tarnish relatively quickly. There is a tendency for the younger generation to want a flashy website, however this isn’t necessarily the best idea. As I mentioned, those types of websites can tend to age prematurely and there are also usability and search engine optimisation issues to consider too. A classic style of site is often received much better by the viewing audience and will typically age better too.

So when it comes to design style, it’s recommended to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing with their websites and also how trends are progressing elsewhere. This should give you a good lead into when you should consider updating your own site. Remember that many users are quite fickle and will be attracted to something which stands out above the competition – whilst practicalities and budgets will prevent you from re-designing very frequently, having a planned renewal schedule will keep you at the head of the field when it comes to presenting your business on the web.

Technical issues and search engines (SEO)

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What should a dentist consider before implementing an email service?

One of the top 5 questions we are asked when providing web services for dentists, is “which type of email system should I use”. This is understandable as there are lots of options and lots of accompanying jargon out there.

Whilst email may sound mundane, it is something you need to get right so it becomes a “fire and forget” part of your daily work, i.e. something that you implement and can then trust to just work. However, experience suggests that this is often not the case, either because a dentist has chosen the wrong email service in the first place, or they’ve not really understood how to set it up and use it effectively from then on. Untangling existing email problems when we provide new services is more common than you might expect.

So what should a dentist consider when setting up email for their team? Let’s take a look at the essentials below.

Understand the main email protocols – POP and IMAP

This is an important place to start because it will define the type of dental email system you will implement.

The ‘POP’ email protocol is quite basic and is often used where email isn’t intended to be left on the remote hosting server for a long period of time. For typical applications, email is downloaded to a single machine and the storage and archiving is done there. So the remote email server essentially just serves as a portal through which emails pass in and out. Because email is stored locally, multiple machines would not be able to synchronise to access email and so there is a potential disadvantage there. However, some practices still prefer the POP protocol because they only want email managed on a specific local PC, rather than proliferated across a range of devices. Many web hosting packages will provide a few free email accounts but insist that they are used with ‘POP’. This is because the storage space allocated on the remote server would soon fill up if thousands of historical emails were stored there.

The ‘IMAP’ email protocol is different in that all mails are able to synchronise across all connected devices, so what you see on you ‘phone for example, would mirror what you see on your desktop email program. This is because the primary email storage is on the remote server which all connected devices can tap into. This is the most popular type of email as it does provide much more flexibility than POP. However, you do need a lot more remote storage space along with more robust protocols for email management, e.g. security considerations if an IMAP connected mobile device was lost or stolen.

IMAP accounts are often cost add-ons simply because of the significant extra storage space required.

Back-Ups

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And how it should inform your digital dental marketing

The results of a recent large-scale study has been published which show how users interact with Google, i.e. how many people click on specific parts of the search results. For example, how many people click on ads versus the traditional organic (free) results, how many use local listings, shopping feeds and so on. This type of data is essential to help inform digital marketing strategies, including those for dentists.

With this in mind, I thought it would be useful to summarise the key findings of the study and how the results impact decisions we make when advising dental clients about their digital campaigns. Let’s make a start.

What percentage of users click on ads versus organic results?

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, “organic” simply means the traditional results (“10 blue links”) which Google has always presented i.e. not paid adverts. The results are quite interesting in that around 20% of users click on ads when they are searching compared to 65% who preferentially use the organic results. This is perhaps a little bit surprising in that ads in Google are increasingly prominent and you might expect users to click there first. However, it is well known that a lot of people are slightly wary of ads and tend to trust the organic listings more, hence why the traffic ratio is more skewed than you might expect.

But what does this tell us? The overriding takeaway is that you should still ensure that organic SEO is a priority within your digital campaign i.e. attaining and then maintaining good organic search listings for your priority search terms. This is simply because those results will deliver the most traffic and also traffic with the best chance of leading to an enquiry (converting).

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore ads; on the contrary. Google ads are a great way to get prominence quickly and will be particularly beneficial if you are still building good organic presence. They are also essential for gaining visibility on mobile searches and for “topping out” traffic where good organic positions have already been achieved.

What percentage of users click on “local pack” results?

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Are your Facebook ads cutting it?

An increasing number of dentists are turning to Facebook to promote their dental businesses; some to complement their organic SEO and PPC strategies, others who feel that they get better return-on-investment than Google Ads. There are numerous combinations of strategies and channels to investigate in the race to get new patients booked in for treatments and Facebook is becoming increasingly popular.

Today we’ll take a look at Facebook ads and in particular what basic components you need to get an ad which will work for you. Let’s make a start.

A suite of ads

OK, so it’s not actually one ad you need, you will need several to cover the range of treatments you are wishing to advertise. Of course it’s also possible to launch a few “general” ads simply advertising your presence as a dentist in your location, but even then, you should be looking to try a range of different ad formats. If you are familiar with Google ads, you will already know that a granular approach works best i.e. you need to deploy your ads in specific categories. This way you will be able to see which ads are working well and fine-tune them for optimal performance.

One key thing to remember is that advertising on Facebook, just like on Google, is not “fire-and-forget” – you need to be prepared to try a range of ad options and revisit them regularly to tweak and adjust. Keeping your campaigns granular will also give you the best visibility in Facebook’s reporting tools.

Basic ad components

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Reaching the “tipping” point needed for meaningful conversions

As a long-standing Google Ads provider for dentists, we are often asked about budgeting for clicks and what is a suitable level to get started to ensure meaningful ad campaigns. The level of understanding regarding dental PPC click-budgets is very mixed amongst dental business owners, from those who didn’t even know that you need to pay Google each time an ad is clicked, to those who realise that budgets are often many hundreds, if not thousands of pound per month.

In today’s blog I’d like to give newcomers to paid ads an appreciation of typical click costs and how this translates into the overall budget you will need to allocate. I’ll also describe what I like to call the “tipping point” for ad budget, i.e. the level you need to allocate and be comfortable with to ensure you get sufficient clicks and enquiries to make your ads worthwhile. It is often a lack of appreciation of this which leads to campaigns gaining insufficient traction to make them meaningful. Let’s start with typical click costs and see how this works through to overall budget.

Typical click costs for dental pay-per-click campaigns

As you might imagine, what you pay Google when someone clicks on your ad is hugely dependent on the competition for the services you are advertising in your particular location. So click costs for popular treatments like implants and Invisalign are typically quite a lot more than for general dentistry. It is worth keeping in mind that PPC is effectively an auction and the primary factor which determines how high your ad displays, is how much you are willing to bid per click. As I’ve explained in other blogs in this series, there are quite a few additional factors which contribute to ad placement, but everything else being equal, the ad with the higher click bid will typically appear higher up in the Google listings.

Taking implants and orthodontics for example, as a guide you can expect clicks to cost in the range of £2 – £5 depending on location. There will be outliers, some lower and some more expensive, but that range provides a reasonable rule-of-thumb. For more general dental terms e.g. advertising “dentists” in your location, you might typically expect £1 – £3 per click. Please also keep in mind that it’s a very dynamic market place which is just one of the reasons why you need someone with expertise managing your campaigns.

Now that we have an idea of typical click costs, we can explore how this works into the overall budgets you will need to allocate.

Calculating overall click budget

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