The Myth of the “Google First Page Guarantee”

Most likely, if your website is more than two or three years old, it needs a serious refresh, if not a total redo. And there are a lot of website companies out First Page Now Poster 1there willing to build you a site and “guarantee” to get you on the first page in a Google search.

There are a number of reasons why that is not possible, and the promise is a false one.  But the primary reason is this: Google gives different results to different people based on their search history.  In other words, you could be sitting there on your laptop, and do a search for “comedy clubs in Baltimore”, and your spouse could be sitting next to you using her iPad, and do the exact same search, and you would get two different results.

That’s because Google has built a profile on you based on your previous searches, and tries to decide what your preferences might be.  Their goal is to give the best possible result for you,  and they have a number of tricks to figure that out. This is not unlike what Amazon does, offering you recommendations based on what you previously bought and viewed.

The fact is that Google gives search results based on anywhere from 400-800 bits of information, much of it variable, particularly location, but most of them Google does not tell us, as they don’t want companies “gaming” the search and stealing the clicks.  Also, different devices and browsers affect results.  For example, if you use Google Chrome, it’s looking at your Google+ page to see what you post, share and comment on relative to that search.  All in milliseconds, of course.

So what does that website designer mean when they make this “promise”? They mean that they can get you to appear on the first page of Google on one computer, one time, and they are going to take a screen shot to show you that it happened, so they can bill you for the website and keep your money.

Why do they promise this?   Because that’s what dentists tell them they want.  Of course. Who doesn’t want to be on the first page?  But when half the dentists in your area have a website, you’re not all going to get on the first page, unless the screen is the size of a movie theater screen. And even if you do appear today on the first page, it won’t mean you’ll be there tomorrow. Or an hour from now.

So what’s a dentist to do?  The operative principle is to have truly relevant, ever-changing  content on a website that is visually appealing and easy to navigate. It used to be that you just needed relevant content. (Of course what I’m talking about here is appearing organically, or naturally, in a search, not bidding on AdWords to show up there.  But even when you bid on AdWords, your site needs to be relevant to the search criteria to appear.)

What is going to happen is that, as people get more and more sophisticated in their searching, they are going to put in more detail in the search box, otherwise they will get too many results, and none of those will be precisely what they’re looking for.  So, for example, instead of searching for “dentist Spokane” they will search “dentist 99026 Saturday hours reviews CEREC”, and get a much more refined SERP. (SERP stands for “search engine results page”, which is an acronym you will start to see more and more.)

This will mean that the more relevant, precise content you have in your website, the more Google will be able to offer you as a first page result when people get this specific.  Google is also advancing to the point where you can ask detailed questions, rather than just putting in keywords, and get relevant results.

But remember where I mentioned that Google wants “ever-changing content”?  This is where your website most likely needs to change.  You need to be able to have reviews appearing automatically, and easily change various texts, images and videos on your website. This has become essential.

And be aware that it has been well-documented that people are making judgments about the quality of your dentistry based on the quality of your website. It doesn’t matter that these two things are factually unrelated–this is what they do with most businesses, and it often makes sense to do so. This is why your website needs to look fresh and modern, and be easily navigated.

I hope this gives you some insight into the escalating importance of having a high-quality website, while also making you suspect of anyone promising you magical results.  Good luck!

P.S. I’m doing a free webinar on September 10 where I go into deep detail on everything you need to be doing to satisfy Google on your website.  It’s free, and if you want to register click here.  Also, it will be recorded, so if you can’t make it at that time, register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording.

 

 

Darwin Comes to Dentistry; Are You Evolving?

Most people reduce Darwinism to “survival of the fittest,” but his theory actually states that the species that survive are the ones who most effectively adapt.

And let’s face it–humans are not the fittest species.  We couldn’t outrun a housecat, we swim slower than a goldfish, we need clothing to keep from freezing to death. Half of us need glasses to even see.  And yet we dominate the planet, because we are highly adaptive.

But like most species, we only adapt when we need to. We resist it, we ignore it, and sometimes we legislate against it, but change comes anyway. (Witness the battle going on over Uber in various states.)change-resistant cartoon

Well, in dentistry today, we need to evolve.

Because my company deals with dental consumers all over the country, dentists ask me what I think the future of dentistry will be.  The answer may vary somewhat depending on where they are, but one of the things I always tell them is that I believe that within a generation the solo practice will not be a sustainable business model.  There are forces at work that never existed before, not just trends but tectonic shifts.

These are the main ones:

  • Corporate dentistry is growing at 15% annually
  • Convenient hours are the norm for most service businesses
  • Consumers use and trust online reviews in ever-increasing numbers (translation: word of mouth has gone digital)
  • Dental insurance companies are systematically decreasing reimbursements
  • Dental school tuition has skyrocketed
  • Discretionary income has shrunk for every segment of American society except the top 10%

Need I go on?

I meet dentists every week who are hoping to coast to the end of their practice run without upgrading their facility, refreshing their patient base, or offering any sort of convenient hours, and hope to get a nice payday when they sell their practice.  Would you put your house on the market without painting it, doing some landscaping, and getting rid of that scary couch in the living room? Yet this is what dentists are doing all across the country, and what will happen is someone won’t buy the practice, they’ll just open across the street with a new facility, convenient hours, same day dentistry, and they’ll vacuum half the patients out of that practice in a year or two.

Just because you don’t see big changes coming doesn’t mean they’re not looming on the horizon. For the first time in the 30 years I’ve been working in dentistry, I’ve witnessed dentists losing their entire practice, having virtually nothing to sell at the end. Others have declined 30% in a single year (2008) and then 10% every year thereafter.  Many others are still surviving, and some are thriving. But times have really changed.

What can/should you do? 

1. Consider bringing in an associate or two.  And maybe a specialist or two. You have a million-dollar surgical facility that you’re using 35 hours a week, if that.  Get someone else in there.

2. Take a close look at your patient base.  Does it merit taking some insurance plans?  I know that the goal for many years was to be a completely fee-for-service practice, but I’m not seeing that as viable for most practices in the years ahead. Dr. Mike Barr, in this brilliant blog post, argues against that with a very good strategy, but it involves a determined effort to evolve and change.

3. Tech up. I’m mystified that when a dentist doesn’t get that same day dentistry like CEREC is not a consumer benefit of major proportions.  What patient wants two visits instead of one?  They don’t want the first one!

4. Offer more convenient hours.  Test them to see what your patient base needs. Early mornings, evenings, Saturdays, see what fills up fastest in the schedule.

4. Have a comprehensive digital strategy. This starts with a rock solid, dynamic website, but doesn’t end there. You need a strategy for online reviews* and social media.

5. Network.  You and your team need to interact with your community.  You can’t just take another clinical course and hope patients will get all excited about your new skill level and start lining up outside.

6. Get more efficient.  Use digital communications like PatientActivator. Get a practice coach.  Every successful athlete has at least one coach, simply because they don’t know what they’re doing wrong and how they can get better. A good consultant can get you and your team there faster.

Dentistry can be a fantastic profession for many years, perhaps many generations to come, but it’s evolve or die, just like everything else on the planet.

 

*I’m doing a webinar on online reviews this week entitled “Yelp! The Dentist Survival Guide”.  It happens on Thursday at 11am PST. It’s free, and you can register by clicking here.

There is also an excellent DentalTown article with opposing viewpoints on this very topic: “The End of the Solo Era?”

Feel free to subscribe to my blog in the box up on the right, then you’ll never miss a post. Bookmark it and you’ll end up forgetting it’s there–this is better!

 

 

Email…Dead, or Very Much Alive?

I occasionally meet dentists who think their patients don’t want to get emails. Some even say that email is dead–nobody uses it anymore.  It reminds me of the old Yogi Berra line about a particular restaurant, “No wonder nobody comes here–it’s too crowded!”shutterstock_175676759

The fact is, people spend more time using email than every other online activity except social media, averaging 39 minutes a day.  Also, 91% of consumers check email at least daily, and more than 50% check it on a smartphone (Helplama).  Snail mail may be dead, yellow pages may be dead, but email is far from it.

I often tell practices that the best time-saving tool ever created in dentistry is automated digital communications.  Applications like PatientActivator, RevenueWell and others all save time while increasing production and marketing capability. My friend Gary Takacs asserts that it saves his clients more than 20% of their time, time that allows them to talk to the patients that need a phone call.  And office managers I meet confirm that over and over again.

Dentists considering PatientActivator will often ask, “How many email addresses should I have before it’s worthwhile?”

The answer is, “As few as zero.”

Why? Because the fewer you have, the more you need to start collecting this very valuable bit of information. Pair this with the fact that I will also meet dentists who say, “I’m waiting until my team has gathered enough email addresses to justify using your application.”  Then I’ll meet them six months later and they have exactly the same number of email addresses, simply because they have no effective way of gathering them.

What’s the best way to get something done in business? Make it systematic, and make it easy. The solution here is a Daily Confirmation Sheet. PatientActivator–and most of the other applications–have one that you can print out. It lists every patient coming in that day, and shows whatever information may be missing or need to be updated.  Use this, and before you know it you’ll have a nice fat email list, as well as everyone’s cell number.

And every person you can send an email or text to is one less person you have to call. How can that NOT save time?

“But patients don’t want to give us their email.”

It all depends on how you ask.  I ran into an office manager who told me she had the email for 95% of their patients. “Wow,” I said. “That’s amazing.  How did you do it?”  She said, “We treat it just like their phone number and their home address.  If they ask why we need it, we say email and text are the main ways we communicate with patients. If you don’t want us to email you, we won’t, but we would still like it in case of an unusual occurrence where we have to contact our patients, like a power failure or natural disaster.”

In other words, she didn’t make it optional.  Make it a benefit instead: “This way we don’t have to disturb you with a phone call, and you can put it right in your calendar if you haven’t already.”

Was she an anomaly?  I decided to check on our PatientActivator clients.   The one with the most also has 95% of their patient emails.  Sure, you say, maybe in Silicon Valley. Nope, this is Austin, Texas.  Another one in Plano has 93%.  A third in Fort Mill, South Carolina has 87%.  So it’s possible. Everywhere.

On average, our clients have around 25%.  But if you have that many emails, that’s 25% less calls you have to make. Add that to the cell numbers you have, and every one is saving a call–it’s that simple.  Even if you had 10% email and 10% cell numbers it would be a huge timesaver.

And also keep in mind that you can turn email messages off or on individually for each patient,  so you can tailor it to what each patient prefers.  Because the truth of the matter is that many people no longer want a phone call, particularly at work.  They don’t find it personal, they find it annoying.  They are used to digital communication in every aspect of their lives.

And let’s not forget the other two big bonuses to email in your practice.  First, it’s a great way to do promotions to your patients–whitening specials, Invisalign discounts, or free implant exams, for example–and it also gives them something they can easily share with a friend.  74% of consumers prefer email promotions over any other source, and they prefer them 5 to 1 over direct mail (Merkle).  Why? Because they can view them whenever they want, delete them easily, or store them for later.

The other big bonus is you can use email to request reviews on Yelp and Google from your patients, and with one click they can go to your business on those sites.  (Going back to my previous point about making it systematic and making it easy. For more detail on that, read this previous blog.)  And at this point, because Google and Yelp will discard reviews that come from the same place (the i.p. address, as it’s referred to), then this is practically the only effective method of requesting reviews, short of personally asking your patients to do it.

Long live email, I say.  As a matter of fact, subscribe to this blog and I’ll email my post to you the moment it’s published!

Be sure to check out my next webinar, “Yelp! The Dentist Survival Guide.” It’s free, and happens on June 19 at 11am PST.

The Biggest Marketing Mistake: the ETLID Fallacy

What is the biggest blunder in practice marketing? Is it not answering the phone properly? Or not tracking your advertising man stepping off cliffresults?  Perhaps not having a good, dynamic website? Nope. Those are all up there, but the biggest marketing mistake that business owners make is thinking that everyone thinks and acts like you do.

Why is that so bad? Because it influences all your other marketing and advertising decisions, and it’s not based on statistical data.  I hear these opinions all the time from dentists and, to a lesser degree, office managers.  Things like, “I believe in calling all our patients rather than texting them. It’s more personal,” or “People are tired of surveys.”

What the person saying this means is that he thinks phone calls are more personal than texting, or she is tired of surveys, and therefore everyone is. The reality is that 30% of people who use texting prefer it to a phone call.  So they don’t find a phone call personal, they find it annoying.  And when it comes to surveys and reviews, if you get 1 out of 20 people to respond, that is an excellent result and will boost your SEO considerably.  So what if some people have “survey fatigue”?

In the early years of 1-800-DENTIST I would have dentists telling me all the time what TV shows I should be advertising on.  This was based on the shows that they liked to watch.  Instead, I used the statistical data that told me which shows got the most response and the best quality of patient.  Call me crazy.  I never watched an entire episode of Oprah, but she got several million dollars from us over the years.  Why? because I didn’t use my opinion as the paradigm.

I don’t mean to sound all high and mighty about this.  It’s a reflex response.  I recently spoke to the dental students at Harvard, and one of the students remarked, “I’m not attracted to all that personal stuff on Facebook business pages. It seems frivolous and irrelevant.”  She may be right about that with regard to many other businesses, but the fact is many people are looking for exactly that on a dental practice Facebook page, because the experience of being a patient is what influences them to go, stay and accept treatment, not clinical skills. They see a video of your best crown prep and they’re gone.

I have a name for this: the ETLID Fallacy. (Everyone Thinks Like I Do).  Hey, it’s not catchy, but it fits.

Some other classic ETLID assumptions :

“Facebook is kid stuff.” The fact is that the largest group of Facebook users is 25-34 and the fastest growing group of Facebook users is the over-60 population.

“People don’t care about design when it comes to spending.”  Really?  Look at the pricing difference between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, or Apple versus Dell, and tell me if that opinion passes the reality check.  We spend based on packaging, and that goes for your dental office just as much as a bottle of Grey Goose.

“My patients don’t use email.” Wrong. 97% of Americans have email, and over 90% check it every day.

“No one is going to pick a dentist on Facebook.” Except that 25% of Facebook users said they would be willing to find a dentist that way.

“My patients love me.” Some do, for sure. But when we have clients using our ReActivation Pro product, where we use live operators to call dormant patients, how is it that 32% of those patients have found another dentist? That doesn’t count the 14% who have moved away.

“Website design doesn’t matter as much as content.”  Just the opposite. Research has shown that consumers are making judgments about your clinical skills based on the appearance of your website. I know that those two things are unrelated.  And in this example is another important point: many times those ETLID opinions are based on logic or reasonable assumptions.  The truth is that consumers don’t always act rationally or logically especially when it comes to dentistry.

“People are flakes when it comes to keeping their dental appointments.”  Okay, this one is true.

It isn’t just small business owners that make this mistake. I know executives as very large organizations making the same sort of “gut” decisions and putting millions of dollars behind it. With the same sad results.

Statistics tell you what most people do. I’ve been doing advertising long enough to stop trying to figure out why. I just go with the data. I accept that people act irrationally, and that most people don’t think the way I do about most things. And the numbers tell me that website design matters, social media is important, digital communication is the new norm, reviews influence consumers,  and everything a patient experiences in the practice influences their acceptance of treatment.

Valuable data is easier to access than ever. Use it to balance your opinion.  Hey, you may even be right sometimes!

 

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How NOT to Do Patient Videos

Video is more important than ever in marketing your dental practice.  And video testimonials from your patients have two extremely valuable aspects: their credibility and their versatility. They are credible because they are real, spoken endorsements of your practice experience.  They are versatile because you can use them in so many places: your website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, your Yelp and your Google+ page, and in email marketing to new and existing patients.  That’s a lot of exposure.

Videos are also quite easy to do.  But there are several mistakes that people make when doing patient testimonials. Wait, you say, they’re not easy–they take time, they cost money, and people don’t want to do them.  Which leads me to…

Mistake #1. Over-producing your videos

Patient testimonials should be done with a smartphone.  You don’t need extensive lighting or an expensive camera.  Getting fancy actually diminishes the credibility of the video.  Keep it simple and un-intrusive, and people will be much more willing to do them for you. (This is in contrast to office tour or the dentist videos, which I discuss in this post, which should have higher quality.)

Mistake #2. Doing multiple “takes”

Part of keeping it simple is to do it once. Don’t make it complicated or involved. Just ask the patient if they would be willing to do a simple video testimonial.  If they are reluctant, just say, “If you don’t like it, we certainly won’t use it.  But just say in your own words what it’s like to be a patient here.”

You’ll be amazed at what people will say when they speak from the heart.  Every time I’ve seen this done, the person does their most genuine testimonial on the first try.  After that, they tend to overthink it.  Of course, if they want to do it over, let them.

Mistake #3. Making the video too long

Most people can say what they think in 30-45 seconds, which is perfect.  If it gets longer than a minute, people stop watching.

Mistake #4. Editing the video

Along the lines of Mistake #3, trying to do longer takes and cutting them down drastically diminishes the credibility of the testimonial.  People will assume you’re cutting out the bad parts.  A natural flow in a single take is the best.  You can put titles on the front and back, using something like iMovie, with the patient’s name and your practice name and contact information, but that’s it.  No cuts.

Mistake #5. Bad sound

This is the only part of the “production value”, as we say in Hollywood, where you do want to improve the quality.  Either use a very quiet room, with little to no background noise, or use a simple boom microphone that attaches to your smartphone.

Mistake #6. Shaky cam

Hold still.  You’ll make people sick with unstable camera movements.  Which can be solved if you use to hands, which you need to do if you are avoiding the next mistake.

Mistake #7. Framing vertically

Frame your video horizontally.  That’s the aspect ratio used on YouTube, so conform to it.  Holding your phone horizontally with two hands will also keep the image stable.

 

Mistake #8. Not tagging the video

When you post the video on YouTube, be sure to add the proper notations, or “tags”, so that Google knows what the video is about.  The tags should include “dentistry”, “dental patient”, your practice name, and anything specific regarding treatment that the patient may mention (like braces or veneers).

Mistake #9. Not getting a patient release

Don’t use the video if the patient won’t sign a release.  This is true of all photos and video that you do with patients.  And the language should include “for use in all media, including social media, in perpetuity.”  Use LegalZoom or an attorney to make sure you are conforming to the rules in your state.

 Bonus idea:  Show patient videos to teams in your morning huddle. What a great way to inspire the team and let them know how much your patients appreciate them.

You don’t need to shoot a lot of these videos.  Doing one every two weeks gives you 25, which is plenty in a year. If you have a dynamic website, like we make with WebDirector, you can post them easily, along with posting them on social media.  And you know what else this process does? It reminds patients to talk about your practice.  Even better, the dentist and the team gets to hear how much patients appreciate them. It’s a nice thing to watch in a morning huddle to get fired up about your day.

 

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