“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.

 

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.

 

 

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 (ExactTarget).  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.

 

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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Dental Blogging Made Easy

You may be asking, “Do I really need a blog?  Who the heck is going to read it?” For most of you, the answer is, “Nobody. Except Google.”  In other words, you’re doing it for SEO, the Google juice. You are creating content relevant to dentistry that links back to your website and practice.  Google likes that a lot.Blog for theGooglejuice!

As far as consumers–patients–not that many are willing to read blogs written by dentists.  They like food blogs a lot more (like my wife’s, The High Heel Gourmet).  But if your blog is displayed in your website they will be more likely to at least glance at the posts.

But because search engines like Google are looking outside your website to see what other content or mentions there are about your practice, then a blog is critical, especially since it is unique content, and by that I mean not just content supplied by your website builder. Your blog doesn’t have to be brilliantly unique, just written by you or someone on your team.

GETTING STARTED:

Step one is to pick a blog hosting site.  I recommend WordPress or Blogger.  These are free, and if you pay a little, they don’t run little ads inside your blog.

Step two is to pick a theme.  Many of these themes are like online magazines, which is overkill for what you are intending.  Pick something simple, and also “responsive”, which means it adapts easily to any device and still looks good.  Something like “2011” in WordPress or “Simple” in Blogger.

DESIGNING YOUR BLOG LOOK:

As you set up your blog, they will ask you what you want to call it, and specific questions about how you want it to look.

You will need a name for your blog. Nothing long or elaborate, but not just your practice name or your website domain name.  More like this: “The Blog of Ed Flynn, DDS”.  Part of it should have “dental” or “dentist” or “smile” in it.  You want to be identified as dentistry, not just health care, or just you.

Then you will choose a domain name.  It’s going to have “blogspot” or “wordpress” as part of it right now. Let them add this. Don’t worry about your own domain just yet.  This domain name can be something shorter than your blog title, and they will show you if it’s available. Here again try to get “dental” or “dentistry” into it.

You can choose your favorite color palette and upload an image, possibly your practice logo or a picture of you or your team or even something that just looks good.

As part of your setup, you want to connect your blog to Google+, which you should already have a profile on for your practice. If not, you need to claim your business on Google, which means you need to read this blog and the blog it links to.

Believe it or not, you’re ready to start blogging.  You can tinker with the settings later, none of that is really critical at this point.  And you can even change the theme later on, and everything will change and nothing will be lost.

WHAT TO WRITE:

This is where you are going to write about dentistry, any way you can think of. Two short paragraphs, two or three sentences each.  You don’t need a lot of content here to be effective.

So write about:

  • Your technology
  • Your training
  • Your favorite electric toothbrush
  • Managing gum disease
  • Bad breath
  • Etc.

Get it?  Pretty much anything.

HOW OFTEN TO POST:

Weekly, ideally.  But you don’t have to do it every week. The beauty of blogging is you can schedule when they post.  In the “Publish” section on the blog composing page you can see where you can edit whether or not to publish immediately.  So you can write five or ten blogs at a time and schedule them to publish in sequence.

I don’t necessarily recommend the dentist be the author.  I think it could easily be the social media designee in the office.  Remember, you’re not publishing a paper for JADA.  You’re writing for spiders. (That’s the term for the Google robots that “read” everything on the internet.)

AMPLIFYING THE REACH AND SEO:

If you have a website that is dynamic, your blog can feed into it automatically.  This is one of the many reasons why you want a website like we build with WebDirector. To learn more about dynamic websites read this post.

You can also post your blog on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. There is a button in the blog editing page called “short code”, which gives you a simple code to put into a post on social media, and it doesn’t just provide a hotlink but also the title and beginning of the blog, as well as any picture you posted.

This is Blogging 101, to get you in the game.  You can certainly take it to the next level if you find it interesting to do.  An excellent example is Dr. Charles Payet’s blog, Smiles by Payet, which he has been writing for years, and doing a marvelous job.  In fact, he has multiple blogs, some for patients, some for dentists.

So get started. It will take months for Google to index your blog, and you can always go back and re-edit them after they were published.  You can do very little harm and eventually get a lot of Google juice out of it.

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