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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Is the dash to Instagram marketing really worth it?

InstagramThere has been an awful lot of commentary recently about Instagram and its use as an (apparently) excellent vehicle for marketing and new patient acquisition.

Dental marketing companies and business coaches have been jumping on the bandwagon and someone has even written a book about it!

There’s certainly a lot of interest around Instagram at the moment, but is it as useful as some are making out or just another channel to investigate and test? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons so you can make an informed choice before investing lots of time and resources.

What is Instagram?

Before we jump in further, let’s have a brief reminder of what Instagram actually is and how it might be of use for dentists.

Instagram is a social network which came into being in 2010 and allows users to upload images and videos and share them with followers or selected friends. It very visual and consequently it is relatively easy to see how a business/brand could utilise the service for promotional purposes. It is also free and easy enough to use – so far so good. Similar to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram users have a profile and also a newsfeed; so if you are familiar with some of those other platforms, using Instagram will be quite straightforward.

However this blog post isn’t intended to illustrate the mechanics of using Instagram, more about the things to consider before you plough lots of time and effort into using it.

Instagram was acquired by Facebook back in 2012 and this is one of the important factors to remember when considering if it is the right platform to use to promote your dental business; but more on that later.

User characteristics

In terms of demographics, Instagram is more popular with females than males, approximately 68% to 32% at the time of writing. Users also tend to be quite young with 90% of the current 150 million users aged under 35 – another important feature to remember. Research also suggests that the number of higher earning users of Instagram tends to fall away quite quickly as salary increases.

In summary, at the moment it’s fair to conclude that Instagram is used primarily by younger people, early on in their earnings progression and with over twice as many females as males. Data like this is very important when considering if Instagram is right for your dental practice promotion and if so, which treatments.

The question of organic reach

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Dentists, beat the DIY ‘braces-by-post’ suppliers and the national providers!

Clear braces Invisalign The rush to attract new Invisalign patients appears to have reached a peak, exacerbated by dental practices trying to hit treatment targets set by Invisalign to secure lower laboratory costs and other perks.

The savings which can be made by hitting these targets are quite substantial and allow dentists to place attractive treatments offers into the market place to help attract new patients. If you are already an “Invisalign dentist” this will likely sound quite familiar!

However, it’s certainly not plain sailing. It seems that many practices now have an Invisalign provider and consequently competition for a finite number of patients is high. Add to this a couple of national providers of Invisalign treatment and competition from the “aligners by post” brigade, and it’s easy to see why there is a bit of a frenzy in the market at the moment.

Given the current landscape then, how do you compete effectively and ensure that you get those Invisalign cases through the door and into the treatment chair?

To help you get moving, here is an outline of the marketing tools and techniques you need to deploy to get ahead in the clear braces race, tested and proven by the digital marketing team here at Dental Media.

Let’s start with the obvious, i.e. an excellent website with exceptional orthodontics content. Then we’ll move on to the techniques you can use to get the traffic and enquiries you need and how to record and follow them up.

Your website

You may well already have a high-quality practice website, but does it have the depth of content needed to make the difference in Google? Many new enquiries will come via what is known as organic search i.e. people looking for your services and clicking on the traditional, free results they find. To be in the mix in Google you really need to be in the top three positions with the ultimate objective of securing the top spot. Couple this with gaining prominence in the local/map results and you are well on your way to securing over 60% of the traffic from people seeking out your service.

To ensure that Google considers your website to be authoritative, a key factor in securing good ranking positions, you should revisit your content and ensure that it is of the highest quality. This means making sure that you strike the right balance between usability for real people and keeping Google happy with a suitable depth of information – minimalist content won’t make the grade unfortunately, so you’ll have to do some work here. The usual rules apply, i.e. deployment of excellent textual content supplemented with videos, testimonials, case studies etc.

The golden rule here is that content which is appealing and works well for users, also tends to work very well for Google ranking too!

Search engine optimisation

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As competition continues to increase, here’s how to stay ahead

clicking on mouseUndeniably, it is now harder than ever before to get new patients into your practice, and with competition continuing to rise, this is only set to become even harder.

The days of new patients simply walking in and keeping dentist’s appointment books full are long gone other than in a few very fortunate circumstances. So now you have to do a fair bit more work to keep the practice busy and growing.

This is the case not just for new dentists starting out and looking to build their businesses, but also for more established practices looking to make up for churn and also to gain new business across a range of treatments.

Whilst there is some suspicion regarding digital marketing within the dental community, borne out of too many “cowboy” services failing to deliver; when done well the benefits can be exceptional.

Today we’ll take a look at four key aspects of digital marketing and why it is a compelling way to help keep new enquiries flowing.

Visibility

Traditionally dental practices relied on advertisement in the local paper and leaflet drops to promote their presence in the community and to some degree, these mechanisms still have a place. However, the reach of Google, Facebook, Instagram and the like is way broader and a prominent presence on all of the main marketing channels is essential to get your brand noticed. Indeed, people expect modern businesses to have an active professional presence across the web and social media. Most of the time, this is where they will be looking for your services, even if it’s simply cross-checking a word-of-mouth recommendation they received.

Targetability

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Or should it be built to match your audience?

confused website userAs a long-standing provider of websites for dentists, it’s perhaps not surprising that we spend quite a lot of time speaking with dental business owners about how their new websites should look and function.

This is clearly important to ensure that what we build truly reflects the objectives, personality and aspirations of the practice.

Like all businesses, not all dentists are the same and the types of treatments they target can differ quite significantly depending on their expertise, facilities, location and more. This all has to be taken into account very carefully before a website is constructed.

However, what is noticeable in the industry at the moment is that some dentists are launching websites which look quite “flashy” but probably don’t best represent what they are actually trying to achieve. In fact their sites could actually be doing them a disservice rather than helping to attract new dental patients.

The mistake of trying to make yourself look like something you’re not was recently reinforced to me by a dentist who was commenting on another dental web agency whose websites he described as “all looking the same and like the websites of Dubai hotels”. This was despite the fact that a number of the websites he referenced were for relatively small practices based in industrial towns or small villages; some even with quite large NHS contracts. This was a bit of a lightbulb moment and I knew exactly what he meant and indeed the design style he was referencing.

Why does it matter?

You might think this is obvious but it is important to reiterate that the focus needs to be on the patient and not the personal ambitions and aspirations of the dentist – often the latter can be over-emphasised on websites, leaving patients confused. There is clearly a place for very ‘flashy’ websites, but perhaps not if you’re based in small village or town and serving a rather different demographic than if you were based in an exclusive borough in central London.

So matching your offer to your market is extremely important and whilst it’s absolutely fine (and indeed important) to have a professional web presence which showcases your skills and treatments, don’t go over the top with it. Remember the “Dubai hotel” comment from above which I think is absolutely bang on.

Don’t get flattered by your designer

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When it comes to paid advertising, where should dentists look first?

Google symbolContinuing the theme of questions we frequently hear from dentists, today’s blog takes a look at which channel to choose when first delving into the world of paid advertising on the web; Google or Facebook.

But before we jump in, it’s worth a recap on why dentists need to consider paid advertising at all – surely a good traditional, free Google position is enough isn’t it? Well unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as that, particularly these days.

What changed? Why the rush to paid advertising?

Historically it was fair to say that a great Google position was all you needed to secure lots of new patient enquiries from the web and in some cases this is still true. Great search engine positions are still the main cornerstones of digital marketing for all dentists and where competition is relatively light, can still be sufficient without complementary paid advertising.

However, with Google starting to publish more and more ads to the home page of its search engine, particularly in mobile view, and with Facebook minimising organic reach to those who liked your business page to lower than 4%, the picture starts to become clearer. Essentially what we are seeing is Google and Facebook forcing “pay-to-play” i.e. they are making it harder for you to use their respective platforms for free. Hence the upsurge in paid ads as dentists vie for position to get their message out to the public.

Unfortunately, the knock on effect is that it becomes increasingly expensive to advertise as more dental businesses jump into the same pool. That said, it is still very possible to make excellent returns from paid advertising, but you need to know what you’re doing. More of that later.

Facebook logoTo put it into context better, in Google, over 30% of all traffic now goes to websites via paid ads. If you then throw the “local/maps” results into the mix, another 30% of traffic, you’ll see that the remainder left for the traditional “organic” rankings is lower than ever before.

Using Facebook as an example, if your business page had 300 likes, at 4% organic reach, only around 12 people would see your posts – even though way more than that liked your page and were actually interested in your services! To reach them and lots of other Facebook users, you now have to pay for the privilege.

OK, so I may need to pay to advertise, but what next?

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