Do you set and manage your marketing budget properly?

All areas of business cost should be monitored and managed effectively and this includes marketing spend. Best practice is to set a budget and then track performance against that over time, but it may surprise you that relatively few dentists actually do this. Indeed many dental practices stumble when it comes to managing this important side of their business, let alone tracking return-on-investment for their marketing spend. All too often we see a scatter-gun approach, either with too much spent in the wrong areas or too little spent to get anywhere close to achieving expectations.

Marketing is way more than just spending on ads or taking part in some promotions; it covers a multitude of techniques which can be used to develop and promote your dental brand and business. Consequently it makes sense to manage the cost associated with all of these activities.

Why you need a marketing budget

Return-on-investment (ROI) runs hand-in-hand with your marketing budget, without one, you cannot determine the other. It’s a given that you will need to promote your dental practice to some degree, even if you are well-established, and increasing competition dictates that you need increasingly effective marketing strategies. This isn’t necessarily cheap and so the measurement of ROI is essential. Campaigns will need to be adjusted, paused and possibly even canned and the money re-allocated if they fail to perform.

The baseline for managing these activities effectively is to set a marketing budget. This allows you to plan your activities carefully and avoid the scatter-gun approach I mentioned earlier.

You will also need to be prepared to carry out the following work if your budget and your planning are to be realistic:

  • Marketing audits – internal and external
  • Competitor research and evaluation
  • Demographic research
  • Evaluation versus your overall business goals and expectations

What should a dental marketing budget include?

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Paid Media or SEO – What’s Best For Your Dental Practice?

The web is still king when it comes to gaining new patient enquiries for dentists, particularly where you are building a business and the scope from word-of-mouth referrals is still low. But which is the best route to take? Do you go for the “traditional” SEO route to boost your site in Google, or do you go for paid ads to get the instant traffic boost? Or do you go for both?

The answer to this conundrum depends on a number of circumstances which we’ll discuss below. Let’s make a start by looking at search engine optimisation or SEO per the shortened version.

Building your Google presence with SEO

Whilst some dentists shun SEO, the majority do realise that excellent, sustainable search rankings are a fundamental feature for growing their business. The data tells us that a very large number of new patient enquiries arise after a patient has searched for dental services on the web and those websites which hold top ranking positions gain vastly more enquiries than those which lag behind. Even the difference between the top three places and those at the bottom of page one in Google is marked. So if you can, striving to reach those coveted spots, and ultimately position one, is very well worthwhile.

Using techniques such as content generation and broadcasting, link acquisition, blogging etc, the position of your website can be improved progressively over time. Whilst this process isn’t necessarily fast (you can’t rush sustainable SEO), when done diligently and creatively, you will get there in the end and you will notice as new enquiries increase at pace.

Whilst you are paying for an SEO specialist to undertake this type of work for you, the traffic you are building is sustainable for as long as you hold onto those top positions. So the traffic itself is free and you are not paying Google to get the click as you would with paid ad services. In a nutshell, I like to think that SEO allows you to “own” the traffic, whereas with paid ads you are essentially renting it. When it comes to cost, you will invariably find that the “cost per enquiry” with organic SEO is significantly less than the comparable figure for paid ads.

Whilst paid ads still have a place as we’ll see next, SEO is still king when it comes to sustainable traffic generation for your dental practice website.

Instant traffic with Google Ads

As I mentioned above, Google Ads definitely still have a place within the overall patient acquisition strategy, although it’s not necessarily the cheapest route to take, particularly nowadays. Competition can be intense, particularly around implant and orthodontics keywords, and you really do need robust budgets to get traction. The payback can still be good, but please don’t expect to do it on the cheap. The barriers to entry for newcomers can be high and you will need specialist help if you are to compete effectively.

With paid ads, it’s really important to understand that enquiries don’t necessarily lead to treatments and the attrition between the initial lead and final treatments can be marked. As many as 80% of those who enquire may not have treatment, although you’ll still pay for the click which brought the enquiry in the first place. With implant and ortho clicks sometimes costing £5 – £6 or more, you can soon work out that a monthly budget of a few hundred pounds isn’t really going to cut it. For wide coverage of several treatment types in competitive environments, you will need to budget a lot more than this. This type of spend can quickly eclipse what you might spend on SEO and associated activities.

So are Google Ads a waste of time? The answer to this is an unequivocal “no” – they definitely do have a place and can still yield good returns when managed correctly. They are also instant in that you can have you ad at the top of Google within a few hours, whereas building great SEO positions can take months of work. But if you go the ads route, be prepared to pay for it!

What to opt for?

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Professional bespoke visuals from Dental Media

There’s an old adage that “a picture paints a thousand words” and there’s no disputing that when it comes to professional photography used for a dental website. Those practice websites which really stand out are the ones which use imagery to full effect, not cheesy stock images, but high-quality bespoke images taken by a professional photographer. Whilst that may sound like and expensive add-on, it’s actually very affordable and the payback excellent. We know this simply from looking at user engagement rates and conversions from websites which use this type of imagery, versus those which rely on stock photographs, even high quality ones.

Whilst great photographs of the team and practice are a real benefit and strongly recommended, we also know that video is an exceptional tool to boost website performance and conversion rates. A short practice walk-through video combined with a personal message from the principal and patient testimonials, really will help you to step ahead of your local competition. It’s also great to help boost your website SEO too!

With this in mind, the team at Dental Media offers a combined photography and video package designed to cover all of your requirements in one user-friendly project. In one full day’s session, we deliver a very cost-effective package where the video and stills produced can be used on your website, blog, social media channels and traditional printed documents.

Core features of the visuals package:

  • our producer will Zoom call with you to evaluate your requirement and offer experienced guidance
  • a pre-shoot visit at the practice to create the story board for the video and plan the photo shoot
  • full co-ordination during the shoot
  • post shoot editing, including text overlays, uploading video to YouTube and optimisation for search engines
  • a full range of options – from a few patient testimonials to a full practice tour

Why work with us for your practice visuals?

Here at Dental Media we don’t simply rely on a team member who did some video and photography as part of their course at college, but is also tasked with lots of other duties i.e. not a specialist. Instead, we partner with dedicated, experienced professionals who don’t just work in the dental business but also with large high-street brands, food businesses and car manufacturers. We’ll be pleased to demonstrate how their skill and experience is several steps ahead of what you typically see on many dentists’ websites.

Examples of our work

To get a flavour for our work, please see how our visuals team took the website of Dr Darren Bywater to the next level:

Reception area:

Dr Darren Bywater - Reception

Implant surgery:

Implant surgery

General surgery 1: 

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What is semantic search and why does it matter for dental SEO?

One thing which strikes me when I talk to dentists about search engine optimisation is just how out-of-date their knowledge actually is. This is understandable of course, as SEO is a fast-moving subject and consequently an area where if you don’t stay close to it, you’ll soon be well behind the curve. So the days of just adding a few keywords and adjusting your page ‘h’ tags are long gone – unfortunately there’s now a lot more to it, and achieving and then maintaining excellent Google ranking results can be a long and drawn-out exercise.

So what are the main things which have changed and what do you need to understand and implement today for a dental website which outranks the competition? First, let’s take a very quick look at the history of SEO and how, in the past, you could actually achieve top search rankings quite quickly without too much knowledge or experience. Then we’ll take a look at how Google has evolved significantly and how experienced SEO teams have had to re-learn and evolve their own techniques to keep their clients ahead.

SEO – 2010 style

Back then, optimising a website was primarily about including targeted keywords, optimising on-page features such as page titles and ‘h’ tags and then seeking out some back-links. Most companies with any acumen at all could do this and it was those who were able to generate the most back-links who typically won at the ranking wars. But Google quickly realised what was happening and developed updates to its search algorithm to combat this type of over-zealous SEO. As we’ve written before, these Google updates were quite punitive and really penalised those websites where crude SEO measures had been employed. Please search in our blog for more information about the ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’ updates to understand more about what happened and why Google did it.

The introduction of semantic search

Over the last 8 or 9 years, Google has introduced a number of features which have collectively resulted in the concept of “semantic” search. It’s no longer about simply adding keywords to your website and hoping that does the trick; now you need to understand the user’s search intent and provide optimised content which answers those questions. Google surfaces those web pages which it feels provide the best answers and it is much more adapt at understanding search queries, irrespective of how they are asked.

When you ask a question using the Google search box, Google is essentially trying to understand the following before it presents you with results:

  • your actual search intent
  • the context of your query
  • the relationship between the words you used and what appears on the web pages it has stored in its index of information

In basic terms, Google is using algorithms and artificial intelligence to try to understand language as another person might. All clever stuff and you may have noticed just how good they’re getting at this. If you’re smart and have experience in how Google works, you can optimise your website and blog content accordingly to take advantage of this search evolution.

The Knowledge Graph

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Is Bigger Better? Often Not….

When you look for a product or service, are you the type of person who looks for an ‘all-in’ package or do you prefer something bespoke? Does a pre-prepared meal deal with starter, main course, sweet and free bottle of wine float your boat because it’s easy, or do you prefer to rustle up something a bit special to really impress? Different people have different requirements and expectations and it’s no different in the busy world of dentistry. Some dentists will choose “all-in” dental marketing packages whereas others are a little more discerning and prefer to work with bespoke services and a selection of suppliers for different needs.

But what works best? Are the all-in suppliers where you pay a big monthly fee, they outsource and sometimes don’t lift a finger actually getting the job done; or do you have to have some involvement to get the real results you need?

Today we’ll take a look at the different types of services available, how marketing companies pitch those services, and what you might expect depending on who you chose to work with. Unfortunately there has always been a tendency for suppliers to overcharge the dental community and it’s no different in the world of marketing; indeed there are far too many cases where dentists have bought into the story or hype surrounding a particular supplier only to end up disappointed soon afterwards.

How marketing companies approach dentists

The email spammers – it’s not just the small players who buy an email list and then spam your inbox incessantly with offers, the bigger players who have been around for years do it too. The spam emails often consist of offers which sound great but are too good to be true, for example 50% off a dental website and three free months of marketing for what appears to be an attractively low fee. However, experience suggests that what is actually happening here is a loss-lead with the objective of hooking the dentist into a long-term, onerously expensive contract. Over the years we’ve helped lots of dentists recover from suspect offers like this, so please watch out and don’t fall for them.

The self-promoters – these are the guys who claim to have the inside track on how Google works, SEO gurus, ninjas etc – you’ve probably seen their pitches and maybe been taken in? The fact is that very few dental marketing companies have a solid grounding in search engine optimisation and often work several years behind best practice. SEO is not rocket-science but it does take a lot of hard work and patience, so if you see claims of quick-fix results and stellar rankings, please be sure to validate with someone who actually knows.

The “Show” attenders – this is a good way to get your company in front of lots of dentists very quickly if you’re willing and wish to spend £10k to achieve it. Companies pitch up with fancy stands and offering all types of services at discounted prices, but please be cautious. Whilst some of these companies are bona fide, others are very new and try to give the impression that they’ve been in the business for years. As I write, I can think of at least three dental marketing companies which made big splashes at the main dental shows, gained clients quickly, let them down and then went out of business. We’ve recently helped several dentists recover after they fell foul of this.

The coaches friend – there are a few dental coaches in the UK who actively promote the services of one or two suppliers above anyone else, even where the services of those suppliers are demonstrably quite poor or at best poor value for money. If you use a dental coach, please be cautious and don’t just go for who they recommend – you could end up falling out with your coach as well as their recommended marketing supplier! We know this from several clients who moved to us after they fell into this particular trap.

The flatterers – these are the guys who actively seek out those who they consider to be the leading lights of dentistry. One of our clients ‘phoned recently to say he’d been invited to an exclusive event in London put on by such a supplier but he’d declined on the basis that he didn’t believe it was what the profession was all about. Indeed he and his colleagues suggested that the event had been a signifcant “own goal”. This type of thing might suit those who are keen to self-promote, but I’d suggest it doesn’t really represent mainstream dentistry or the vast number of clinicians who occupy that space. So if you get approached by a marketer who invites you to an “exclusive” event, be sure that they are just after your business or it’s being done on the back of a reciprocal Google review!

The “specialists” – these are the guys who claim to have specific knowledge about a niche of dental marketing which usually involves “lucrative” treatments – e.g. Invisalign or Implants. By making these claims they are trying to immediately differentiate themselves from the mainstream marketers. But is there any “secret sauce” as they claim? The answer of course, is no. One Invisalign marketer is claiming a unique marketing workflow which is custom developed by him; however when you look closely he’s simply using paid ads for leads, a landing page, online booking, a “free” smile assessment using SmileMate and video consultation. He charges thousands of pounds per month for the privilege of the “secret sauce” but you don’t have to! Frankly there are no secrets and many long-established marketers have been using similar techniques very successfully for years.

Word-of-mouth-recommendation – this is still the best way to gain insights into a company but it’s still fraught with difficulties. For example, there are a couple of large dental marketing companies who are arguably living on the reputation they gained a number of years ago when they led the field. However, if you do your research, you will see that both of those companies have lost significantly more clients than they’ve gained over the last two or three years. You can see this easily enough by checking who used to manage their clients’ websites and marketing versus who’s actually doing it now.

Other companies push their clients very hard to leave glowing Google reviews, often incentivising to get them. But if you look closely through the reviews and track through to the clients who left them, very often you’ll find that client has moved on to pastures new. First impressions are important, but please take the time to look deeper.

“Full service” marketing – will the cookie-cutter approach work for you?

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Documented solutions, FAQs and infographics to rebuild patient confidence

With dental practices open again and clearing the backlog of emergency cases, a return to providing a full range of treatments is hopefully not too far away. Whilst most dentists have been busy generating the SOPs needed for internal team training and also to satisfy the legislators, many have also been looking at client facing information and protocols needed to give patients the confidence they need to return.

This ranges from e-newsletters giving an overview of new safety facilities and procedures, to comprehensive website downloads, infographics and FAQs showing patients exactly what is expected when they finally return for treatment.

All of this information, when made user-friendly and presented professionally, will certainly help patients who have concerns about returning to their dentist to either continue or start treatment. If you haven’t already looked at the patient-facing side of your “new normal” communications, there’s still time and it really is an essential part of the “post-Covid” patient on-boarding process. Make no mistake that there will be a lot of concern, particularly amongst older patients, so anything you can do to help allay these fears will be very worthwhile!

Here are some examples of what you can and indeed should be doing:

E-newsletters

Communication is king, particularly in a crisis and when people are left uninformed, then fear tends to build. E-newsletters e.g. MailChimp, are a great way to communicate effectively and very quickly and should be in the tool-box of any dentist who understands the importance of keeping in-touch. As an example, we have been documenting the progress of several clients who have been installing new safety systems and facilities and then communicating this with regular patient e-newsletters sent on their behalf. Only this morning we completed such a newsletter with details and photographs of the “virus killer” air conditioning units a client has installed throughout his facilities, ready to send out to over 6000 patients.

FAQs

Never has the FAQ (frequently asked questions) system been more useful. Patients are generating so many questions regarding their safety when attending for treatment that it can get quite overbearing to answer everything consistently. This is where a comprehensive FAQ system published on your website really comes into play and potentially saves you and your team a lot of time. FAQ should cover all aspects of the patient journey, from how to get in touch and make an appointment, to what to expect on arrival and the new systems and procedures a patient will encounter.

Whilst the FAQs will be bespoke to your own practice and procedures, if you would like to see some examples, please get in touch.

Infographics

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It will create the wrong impression for users and Google!

The announcement for dental practices to re-open following the Covid-19 issues took quite a few people by surprise, including dentists who were either part way through new website projects or still waiting to get going. Understandably this resulted in a rush of ‘phone calls and emails asking us to expedite project work ready for re-opening dates. Much of this we were able to achieve, but in a couple of cases we were asked to launch new websites with significant tranches of information missing.

Whilst you can understand the desire to a launch a new website quickly, where it isn’t finished, it’s not recommended – here are the main reasons why.

Credibility with users

Whilst it may feel like launching something is a good step forward, particularly if you have no website or a particularly poor one; unless it’s the finished article, it can cause more harm than good. This is because users expect to see a professional website with all information presented correctly, not “coming soon” messages or simply large sections excluded. This has the immediate effect of reducing credibility, particularly when you consider that a potential new patient may also have looked at your competitor’s website too. Much better to get those last bits of information collated and off to your preferred designer to get them added in properly before go-live.

Don’t spoil the launch!

It’s quite something to build and launch a great new website and an event which should be celebrated and done correctly. Letting your patients know and also broadcasting the event on social media would be the minimum we’d recommend. However, if you launch “half cocked” then the fanfare and positive effect will be hugely diluted; indeed if you must have a soft-launch, I’d hold off announcing anything until the new website if sufficiently robust.

Incomplete information for Google to index

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Information to improve your dental website SEO

Regular readers of this blog will know that periodically we publish articles designed to help dentists understand key elements of search optimisation, particularly how the Google search index works and how best to use it to promote dental practices prominently.

Not everyone outsources their SEO and so our regular updates are designed to be easy and straightforward for those who are trying the DIY approach. Equally, dentists who are successful on the web usually have more than a working knowledge of how search optimisation works, even if they do outsource the bulk of the work to companies like ours. What we try to do is distil the key concepts and then present it in the dental context so that you have the right information quickly and without having to wade through the raft of misinformation which often accompanies SEO discussion.

Typically we go straight to the ‘horse’s mouth’ when we need to update our own comprehensive SEO knowledge i.e. we refer direct to Google’s own sources. Today we’ll take a look at the Google Knowledge Graph and Knowledge Panels and how these can be targeted and used to boost your own ranking performance.

What is the Google Knowledge Graph and why does it matter?

Google tells us that their Knowledge Graph is like a “giant virtual encyclopaedia of facts” which they glean and then collate from multiple sources around the web. This has existed since 2012 and has over 500 billion facts and 5 billion entries about people, places and things – that’s an awful lot of information. Google gleans this from other references on the web and also from open source and licenced databases. The information is very carefully vetted to try to ensure that the content only comes from current, bona fide sources.

Google then uses information from the Knowledge Graph to create the Knowledge Panels which show up prominently in the search results.

What is a Knowledge Panel?

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Revamped Search Ranking Algorithm Makes Website User Experience A Priority

Google symbolAt the end of May, Google formally announced that they will be introducing new user experience metrics into their algorithm which evaluates and then ranks website pages in the search results. Measuring user experience is not new for Google when it comes to ranking, indeed factors such as page load time and mobile-friendliness have been around for a few years.

However, Google is upping the ante again and introducing a new set of web page “Core Vitals” to work alongside the existing page performance metrics. This suite of tools will allow them to automatically assess and then rank web pages based on how satisfying they are likely to be for users; in their words checking how “delightful” a website is for users across a range of browsers and devices. The pages which they deem to be best will outrank others in the search results simply because they feel that this offers a better user experience and ability to transact seamlessly.

What does it mean for your website?

Readers of this blog and clients of our services will know that we are very keen on form and function when it comes to website design. This ensures that those features which Google already examines, such as speed and mobile-optimisation, are built into the sites we create from scratch. This gives those websites the best possible start in the search results.

As we’ve discussed previously, most dental website designers don’t treat the technical function of sites with any degree of importance and end up with something where form is the only thing which is prioritised. This leads to websites which might look quite pretty and be full of “bells and whistles” but actually perform really badly. This is typical of the bloated WordPress sites you see which are built from templates. Even worse are the awful sites built on the likes of Squarespace and WIX – so please avoid these. When you check these types of websites using the official Google performance tools, invariably you see how badly they perform; but what you should also realise is that Google is also picking up on these metrics and using them in search ranking assessments.

Moving forwards, we can see that Google is increasing this type of analysis and giving us fair warning that it will be used to guide where websites appear in the search results.

Here are a couple of pages from the Google blog discussing the changes – perhaps given the second reference a miss as it’s not that interesting unless you are into website usability metrics!

https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2020/05/evaluating-page-experience.html

https://blog.chromium.org/2020/05/introducing-web-vitals-essential-metrics.html

When will this happen?

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Ensuring your communication and marketing is in shape post the Covid-19 lock-down

It’s certainly hectic at the moment as the Government and various dental authorities give practices the green-light to re-open. There are lots of sighs of relief but also significant confusion and indeed trepidation as dentists set out to navigate uncharted waters. The problems have been exacerbated by a lack of clear guidance on what can and can’t be done, together with a lack of notification. Practical problems also exist, for example lack (and cost) of PPE, fit-testing and even uncertainty over whether PPE is actually genuine or not. So lots of new challenges to take on and overcome.

It may well be a lot of unwelcome new work, but handling the Covid-19 crisis well actually gives opportunities to strengthen the bond with your patients and use those renewed relationships to help to grow your dental practice for the future.

Let’s take a look at some of the key ways you can help to kick-start your practice and get business moving again.

Communicate effectively and often

This has been a testing time for your patients as well as yourselves and staff so it’s essential to make sure that the new policies, procedures and opening times are communicated effectively. You will have implemented lots of new “Covid Secure” procedures and you need your patients to know what these are before they arrive for appointments. This could range from completing on-line assessments before arrival to waiting in the car before being called inside. Whatever your new “patient journey” entails, you need to make sure it’s communicated.

Here are some of the basics:

  • Re-scheduled appointments – email to advise the new appointment times or new procedures for re-booking
  • New practice working hours – email to advise what these are. You may be considering additional hours to deal with back-logs or perhaps even restricted hours to re-open gradually?
  • Safety protocols – email to ensure that patients know what to expect when they arrive and what is expected of them. As mentioned in an earlier blog, this is also an ideal opportunity to show your new procedures and facilities in the best light, instil confidence and also differentiate from other practices which may not be quite so robust

Update your practice website and blog

Don’t just stop with a few emails. Also make sure that your website and blog is updated too so that there is a real-time reference point for your patients should they need to check your latest information. Again, take the opportunity to really show what you’ve done to improve patient safety and build trust. We are updating hundreds of websites at the moment with exactly this in mind.

Don’t forget to update your online business listings

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