My New Book Is Out!

After a year of writing and editing, my second book has finally been published. It’s called Becoming Remarkable: Creating a Dental Practice Everyone Talks About.  It takes the ideas in my first book to the next level.  It’s called “Becoming Remarkable” because that’s what you literally have to be.  Your practice experience has to be so amazing and unique that people can’t resist talking about you.

That has become more important than ever because when people talk now, they do it with their thumbs.  They post it somewhere, whether it’s on Facebook, or Yelp, or as a Google review.  They are adding it to your online identity and reputation, and it’s searchable, likable, sharable, and perhaps most importantly, undeletable.

I love signing books. It's very flattering to an author when people ask.

I love signing books. It’s very flattering to an author when people ask.

Some of the things that I cover in the book are:

  • The impact of corporate dentistry on private practice, and why you either need to join them or compete effectively with them;
  • How the dental patient has changed in the past 8 years, from their attitude about insurance to their expectation of convenience;
  • Where to put your time, energy and money online for the best results;
  • The impact of technology on your practice and on patients’ perception of value;
  • Why your trustworthiness is the most important element in your practice, and what increases or decreases it;
  • And much more.

Some of you may find my various suggestions and predictions controversial.  But I’ve never been one to shy away from the debates about the industry’s direction.  I’m passionate about the future of dentistry, and the urgency to evolve and grow.

I also feature six remarkable dentists and their unique stories and approaches.  What I found striking was how differently they all approached their practices, except for one thing: the patient always came first.  I hope to discover many more remarkable dentists in the coming months, and will feature their stories in this blog.

Meanwhile, I hope you take the time to read my new book, and that it gives you insights and practical tools to build and maintain a remarkable practice over the coming decades.  You can order it here, or buy the Kindle version on Amazon.

I’m recording the audio version next week, so it won’t be available for about a month. Hey, I’ve been busy!

SEO: Can You Ever Stay Ahead of It?

Every business dreams of coming up on the first page in an organic web search.  And every day I talk to dentists who want to improve the SEO of their website.  All while Google keeps changing how the results look and what satisfies their search algorithms.  They just did it again on August 6th in a fairly big way.

Let’s talk about that change first.  The big differences are:

1. The map results on computers now only show 3 practices. This now mirrors what happens on mobile phones.

2. The full address of the practice is gone.

3. Everything “above the fold”–what is immediately viewable on a computer screen–is now essentially paid for.

SEO search resultsThere are still listings of organic results on the first page, meaning if you scroll down you will see them, and not have to click to see the next page of results, but in this particular search Yelp had the first three “organic” positions.  This is because they know how to maximize SEO, and can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars making sure they are doing everything that Google wants. You can’t do that.

Also, notice that on the right the paid ads do get their address to show up.  And they can even offer specials or a have a specific message.  But clearly Google makes it easy to get to the paid advertisers’ websites.  And you can be sure that the bidding for those places is escalating all the time.

This is all happening because Google is in the ad sales business, and they want you to pay to appear.  The results are even more narrowed toward paying advertisers when you search on a mobile device (which is where more than 60% of searches begin, by the way.)

Face it, when you have 80% of dentists who now have a website, they’re not all going to show up on the first page organically. It’s not physically possible, and clearly getting more challenging all the time.

So what should your strategy be?

You still need to find as many ways to create good SEO as possible. But don’t fall for some company guaranteeing that they can get you on the first page. There are too many factors out of anyone’s control. Read my previous blog on this for more insight on that.  It’s more true now that ever.

Here’s what you need:

1. A dynamic website that allows you to change content easily yourself and have constant new content feeding to it automatically.  It should be simple, modern-looking, and easy to navigate.

2. Reviews are powerful content, and if you are surveying your patients using PatientActivator or some other application, then you can have those appear automatically.

3. Embed Yelp reviews in your site.  It will only show three, but it will keep people from leaving your website and going to Yelp to see reviews.

4. Add new patient testimonial videos every week.

5. Write a blog, and link it to your website. It should have your town included in most posts, as well as some key dental phrases. Your blog is for Google to read. Most humans won’t. So being local and with relevant words is what matters most.

6. Make sure all the directories across the web have the exact same information about your practice. ReputationMonitor, which is included with PatientActivator, makes it much easier to do this.

7. Have a form where patients can request an appointment.

8. Make sure your website is responsive, meaning it plays properly on every device–particularly mobile phones–and in every browser.  The first test is to look at your website on your own phone.  Easy to read? Pretty? Better be!

But overall, concentrate on giving a great patient experience, because your website is only one part of your promotion and practice awareness. Social media and review sites will play a larger and larger part of that with every passing month.  It all has to work together, with your website as the hub.  And what patients post out there matters more than ever.

We build websites with our WebDirector product, but there are other reputable companies out there as well.  You can tell who they are because they don’t promise magical results.  We will also help you integrate all the social media aspects that you need to make everything look consistent and connect to each other.

It’s a daunting, moving target, I know. But it’s the way of the world, and ignoring it or thinking it doesn’t relate to your neighborhood is going to prove to be failed strategy.  So stay on it!

 

 

 

Google+ Down, Mobile Up, Facebook Up and Down

Here are some up-to-the-minute changes in social media.

  1. Google+, as far as dental practices go, is over.  Let me be the first one to tell you that you can stop posting there. Google+ is morphing away from being a social media site, as it failed the “me too” challenge with Facebook. I know, in my book I told you to mirror everything you did on Facebook on Google+.  Stuff changes–don’t shoot the messenger!  However, you should still request reviews for your Google+ page, as they will still show up in a Google search, and are valuable for SEO and influencing searching consumers. [Thanks to Jason K. for pointing that out!]
  2. Your activity, likes, and recommendations on your Facebook page are no longer indexed by Google.  No one knows exactly when this happened, but it’s over. So you get no Google juice (my term for SEO) out of your activity. This doesn’t mean you stop using Facebook.  It’s still the best medium to show the experience of being a patient of yours.
  3. On April 21, Google is modifying its algorithms (how it ranks websites) with respect to mobile sites. If your mobile site is not responsive or reformatted to play well on mobile devices, it is going to hurt your ranking.  Not the first time I’ve told you how important the mobile version of your website is.
  4. 74% of consumers will abandon your mobile website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Not the second time I’ve told you how important the mobile version of your website is.  More than 60% of web searches begin on smartphones, by the way.
  5. Videos now start playing automatically on Facebook as people scroll down their wall. (Unless you turn the function off.) This is engaging FB users in a big way. How big? Well, media analyst Socialbakers’ recent study showed video has twice the organic reach on Facebook as photos. And Facebook also has twice the number of videos with 1 million views that YouTube has. That’s serious.
  6. Because of this, I maintain that patient testimonial videos are your best marketing tool. Also, make sure you post natively on Facebook, which means don’t link a YouTube video or other URL source, upload it using Instagram or straight to Facebook with your computer or device.  If you don’t know how to get them done, read this blog post.
  7. Physicists now believe that gravity can leak into parallel universes, creating tiny black holes, and that the Large Hadron Collider may be able to detect them.  This may not seem important now, but wait 50 years. You’ll be saying, “Yeah, I knew about that back in 2015!”

That’s it for now.  But expect more changes.  Social media is a rapidly moving target.  And of course, if your website isn’t playing right on mobile, check out WebDirector.

And Jack Hadley, from My Social Practice, had this important point to add:

Fred, your statement under #2 is only partially true, “So you get no Google juice (my term for SEO) out of your activity.”

Cyrus Shepard, a super-smart SEO guy at MOZ, wrote the following just a couple of days ago… “The basic argument goes like this: ‘Google says they don’t use Facebook likes or Tweet counts to rank websites. Therefore, social activity doesn’t matter to SEO.’ This statement is half right, but can you guess which half? It’s true that Google does not use metrics such as Facebook shares or Twitter Followers directly in search rankings. On the other hand, successful social activity can have significant secondary effects on your SEO efforts. Social activity helps address two of the major tasks facing SEO: 1) Search engine discovery and indexation 2) Content distribution, which leads to links and shares.”

I wholeheartedly agree when you say, “It (social) is still the best medium to show the experience of being a patient of yours.” Spot on! However, in addition, there ARE SEO benefits that result from social media activity. We see it with our clients all the time.

Oh, BTW, if anyone wants to read Cyrus Shepard’s post, here is the link: http://moz.com/blog/seo-myths.

Thanks, Jack!

Are You Drowning in Functionality?

My smartphone makes me feel like an idiot.  It does too much.  For example, it used to frantic web woman phonetake me five steps to play my iTunes, until someone showed me that I just had to swipe up and tap “play”. Or I could just tell Siri to “open music”, if I could just remember to use it.

Our lives are packed with software, applications and technology that have so much functionality that we barely use 10% of them.  And it’s frustrating when we discover that we’ve been doing something the hard way, or wishing we had a solution, when we often had it right at our fingertips.

Why just 10%?  Partly because it’s overwhelming, but also because we don’t have a systematic way of learning and incorporating those functions that we want into our already busy lives.

The average person has more than 30 apps on their phone, and only uses five of them regularly. (Messaging, email, Facebook, CandyCrush, and the camera, if you must know–phone calls don’t even make the top five!)  They forget that they even have the other apps, and sometimes try to download ones they already have.

How does this relate to your practice?

Digital communication applications like PatientActivator, RevenueWell and DemandForce are perhaps the biggest practice time saver o appear in the past 20 years.  Practice coach Gary Takacs, who also owns a dental practice in Phoenix, says their app saves them 30% of the time on the phone, allowing them to focus on the people who do need to have a live conversation.  And that is just using the part of the software that does appointment reminders and confirmations by text and email.

The real juicy stuff, the functions that increase production, are grossly under-utilized by most of our clients precisely because they do so much.  Adapting new systems in a practice is always a challenge.

My solution is simple: make it a process where you incorporate one new function at a time into the practice behavior.  So, if you have or are just getting PatientActivator or another app, this is how I would proceed.

Stages:

The Setup. Here is where you incorporate the basic functions of appointment reminders and confirmations, as well as birthday greetings and other niceties.  You also want to make sure that all your social media is active and linked to the app.  The app is going to start surveying patients automatically.  You will put those responses to good use later.

Updating your Patient Records. Now you want to make sure that you have email addresses and cell numbers for all your patients. This is an ongoing process of updating that information with each patient visit.  Make this systematic.

Requesting Patient Reviews.  This is for Google and Yelp.  The most effective way to get reviews is to email your patients and ask them.  Within that email there needs to be a link that they can click on that takes them directly to your practice profile.  Don’t do this with all your patients at once! You want to be generating a steady stream of reviews.  So once a month, do an email blast to two groups of maybe 50-100 patents.  The first group is patients with a gmail address (those are the only people who can do Google reviews) and the second group you send a request for a Yelp review. If you average one review a week you’re doing great, so don’t expect 100% response rate or anything close to that.  For more on this read this blog post.

Choose Your Newsletter Topics. There are dozens of pre-written articles that allow you to share all the services your practice offers. You want these going out every month, or every two months.  This adheres to the most basic principle of marketing: tell people over and over what you do, so that you catch them at the moment when they care. This can be also done as an earlier step, because it really only has to be done once every six months or a year, but often the dentist wants to write an article or two herself, and this can slow things down.

Posting Reviews on Your Website.  These are the reviews that are generated automatically by the surveys being sent out.  You want to have them load automatically to a review page on your website.  Consumers will want to read them, and it’s huge for SEO. Can’t do that? Then you need a dynamic website like we build with WebDirector.  For more on this, read this blog.

Posting Reviews on Social Media. This is a smaller but very valuable step.  As the survey responses come in, you have the option to post them to Facebook and other social media with essentially a single click.  This should become part of your social media person’s role.  Which means that you need someone in the practice who is responsible for social media.

PA patientCalls_iphone_5Utilizing the Smartphone App. PatientActivator and one or two other services have a phone app as part of the service, which allows you to see your practice schedule. Each team member should download the app. This will serve two purposes.  One, if you have someone who is taking after-hour calls for emergencies, they can see the schedule and tell the person when to come in.  But of equal or greater value is that the dentists can now easily do their evening check-in calls, because the app shows the names and phone numbers of the patients you’ve seen that day.

Doing Marketing Campaigns. Because you have increased your email base, you can do occasional marketing emails such as discounts or contests, or simply letting them know what you do.  You can do a whole variety of these, from free implant exams to Invisalign discounts, to CEREC awareness, and new patient contests. You can also alert patients at the end of the year to use up their insurance eligibility before they lose it. We have templates for all of these.

Of course, your patients can individually opt in or out of newsletters, texts, emails, surveys and marketing campaigns, so you’ll be adjusting this on a regular basis. But doing these steps will tighten your recall and increase your patient awareness, along with giving you new patient flow.  It has become an essential and integral part of your practice marketing.

Do these steps at whatever pace gets them fully integrated into your practice behavior.  You can go too fast, but the real risk is not doing them at all, and missing out on all the production and efficiency that you can achieve. If you’re a client of ours, we offer unlimited customer service, so we’ll talk you through each step when your ready.

Another big plus to fully utilizing these tools is it gives your patients the impression of a modern high-tech practice, which is also a good thing.

The worst scenario is to stop at the basic functionality.  Just like learning to use Siri has kept me from trying to read a text in the car, and Google Maps is teaching me new shortcuts in my hometown, taking greater advantage of all the functionality that you have around you will make you more productive, successful, and smiling a lot more!

By the way, I think this staged approach is useful no matter what technology you’re deciding to adapt.  You may not need all the tools at your disposal, but I’ll bet there are some great functions with a lot of your tech that you don’t even know about or take advantage of.

“Am I Spending Too Much on Marketing?”

flushing money

Feels like this sometimes, doesn’t it?

When most dentists ask me this, they usually are asking about their advertising spending, not their marketing, which encompasses much more.  And my answer is that it’s more likely that they’re probably not spending enough, or they’re spending it in the wrong places.

Tracking your results is essential to being able to answer this question.  You need to know the source of your patients, and this can be done primarily by making sure that the source–either promotion or existing patient–that a patient came from is entered in your PMS, so that you can run a production report on your advertising results.  And, more and more, you can track results back a few steps from there.

For example, with direct mail you can use a unique phone number that forwards to your main line, so that you can track exactly how many calls you received, not just how many patients you acquired.  And with Google, Yelp! and other digital advertising you can see a lot of data, particularly how many people clicked on your ad, so you can compare that to the new patient count.

But let’s get back to the main question.  There are only two reasons why you might be spending too much overall on advertising and promotion:

1. Your schedule is full for the next three to six weeks.  If you can’t see new patients within two or three days at the most, then you will be wasting money on advertising;

2. Word of mouth is not your number one source of new patients.  This the clearest indicator that the experience of being one of your patients does not inspire people to recommend you, and you need to fix that.

As far as your marketing/advertising budget, there are two ways to look at it: as a dollar amount, or as a percentage of your annual revenue.

As a rule of thumb, 5% of your annual revenue is a reasonable amount to spend on your advertising.  I know thriving practices that spend as high as 8%, because they know that their profitability is higher once they have paid their fixed expenses, so they can afford to invest in growth.

As a dollar amount, your marketing costs should range from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. This would be higher with a startup practice–perhaps double that amount–because you need to start building a patient base.

Here is how I would break down the spending:

1. Your Website.  This is the cornerstone of your practice promotion.  Even word of mouth patients are likely to visit your website before calling the practice.  And this is important to remember–your website is a work in progress.  It’s never done, because Google is looking every day at it, seeing what has changed. So you need a dynamic website, where content changes automatically and you can add and change content easily yourself.  For more on this, read my previous blog on websites.

Cost: $3000 for a new website, $75 per month to host and maintain it.

2. Social Media. This is a marketing cost, primarily.  You should be paying someone in your office to add posts, request them from patients, monitor and respond to them, and also keep track of online reviews. This cost is part of their pay, but 12-15 hours a month should be dedicated to this.  There are outside services that can do this, but they still need someone monitoring them.

Cost: $250 per month.

3. Discounts. This is part of your marketing cost, and often people forget that.  If you’re doing a free exam, cleaning and x-rays, the cost is not high if you have digital radiography, but it’s not nothing.  You still have to pay your hygienist.

Cost: $300 per month, assuming 10 new patients attracted this way.

4. Insurance plans.  Dentists often forget that this is a marketing cost.  You are discounting your work to attract patients through the plan.  This number is impossible for me to estimate for you, but I want you to be mindful of it as a promotional expense.  And you can calculate it fairly easily, since you know what you collect versus what you would have.

5. Advertising. This could be anything from bidding on AdWords to advertising on Yelp! or Facebook, doing direct mail, local newspaper ads, or even radio or TV.  Or referral programs like 1-800-DENTIST. I believe in doing everything that works. Keep in mind that the lifetime value of a new patient to your practice is substantial, and worth investing in. If you don’t get that yet, watch this video.

Cost: $1000 to 3000 per month.

Other factors that would increase your advertising cost:

1. You don’t have storefront visibility to your practice. This could add 20% or more to your budget.

2. You have limited hours, or less convenient hours than your local competitors.

3. You don’t take any emergency patients.

Anything that limits the convenience and appeal to a new patient is going to diminish your results, making advertising more expensive. What else could you be doing wrong?  Several things.

Let’s start with your front desk.  If you have someone who is not personable, or who is over-screening the patients, or generally not skilled at converting callers into patients who show up, your advertising spend is being largely wasted.  Fix that first.

You could also be spending too much on a particular marketing approach. Every medium will have diminishing results eventually, either as you increase the budget to too high a level, or over the course of time. Direct mail, for example, will almost always over-saturating a market eventually, and you need to stop for a few months. (1-800-DENTIST would be an exception, because we’re constantly modifying our advertising approach to compensate for this.)

You could be using a promotional approach that gets lots of calls, with very little conversion into real patients, or low production on them.  The wrong type of patients means either the message is wrong, or you aimed at the wrong target audience, or the medium is wrong.  I consider Groupon a classic example of this, and though a few people made it work, I’m glad it’s faded away from the dental world.

My main suggestion is to get professional help. Advertising as an industry is changing at a dizzying pace, and it’s all any of us can do to keep up. And get someone who works in the dental industry.  People behave very differently when it comes to dentistry, ( in case you haven’t noticed!) and you want a resource that understands that.

A good practice consultant and also your product distributor rep should both be resources for you to find the best help, and to make sure you’re getting the best results.