And no, that doesn’t mean digital as in ones and zeros or bits and bytes
It means online promotion is a digital world where elective healthcare practices either get ranked sufficiently high in search engines to make impressions or they don’t. A practice website is viewed by potential patient eyeballs, or it’s not. The healthcare provider receives a phone call, an email inquiry, or a newsletter subscription, or it does not.
There’s no such thing as half a surgery or half a procedure. Likewise, in online medical marketing, there aren’t half impressions, half clicks, or half inquiries.
When executing a successful online marketing campaign, it’s all or nothing
Why do we care about all this? We care because too often practice professionals make a critically flawed assumption, one which leads to lost investment, lost ROI, and years of lacklustre performance in search engines and market share.
Before embarking upon a website project, savvy practice professionals ask many questions and learn about SEO, website design, calls to action and site conversions. They learn that successful online marketing demands investment, time and persistence; but when done correctly, it delivers a significant Return on Investment (ROI). But for this to occur, potential patients must follow each step from “awareness of need” to office consult or the marketing investment is lost. When potential patients are unable to find a practice in search or the website doesn’t provide the information or impression expected, the patient simply finds another local provider. That competitor receives the inquiry and opportunity to impress with excellent quality of care. They’re able to provide services, follow up procedures and to receive referrals from happy patients.
Less experienced practice professionals receive the same information, and they appreciate the “R” of ROI, but they discard the necessity of the “I” in ROI. Specifically, they assume that a fraction of the ROI can be achieved with an equal fraction of the investment. Not true. Investing less than is necessary to guide potential patients all the way through to office consults delivers almost zero return. Medical practices must invest sufficiently in online marketing to acquire office visits or delay until sufficient capital, time and attention are available. Go big or go home.
Consumer Behaviour in Elective Healthcare Decisions
From the perspective of potential patients, elective healthcare procedures are rarely reimbursed by insurance. Therefore these patients are particularly careful in researching procedures and vetting medical providers. They employ search engines in every aspect: to research conditions and procedures, and ultimately to find local providers; but rarely do those patients travel beyond the first or second page results. Instead they’ll perform shallow initial queries followed up quickly by equally shallow queries using newly acquired targeted keywords derived from the initial query results.
For the practice ranking 500th in search results on the fiftieth page of Google, a move of 460 positions to the fortieth position (fourth page) feels like a dramatic improvement and it certainly requires investment; but measured in actual return, the dollar improvement is nearly zero. Fortieth search position may register significantly better as a performance metric; but it provides no additional impressions or clicks.
An exception to the rule of “go big or go home” is when marketers deploy various off line tactics for patient impressions/engagement rather than SEO. This typically will include more traditional channels like billboards, post cards, or seminars. Instead of “pulling in” researching consumers through search, the marketer is “pushing out” to a slightly less urgent/less targeted audience. In this strategy, the marketer will drive patients back to the website manually by communicating the website URL.
Website investment with this strategy may be less since SEO isn’t a factor, but patients must still be impressed, educated, informed and motivated to take action. It’s a legitimate strategy in certain market segments where “big money” competitors can dominate search. For elective healthcare practices, potential ROI is so high and the likelihood of an overly dominant local search competitor is so remote that we question: 1. Why starve your potential ROI by ignoring potential patients seeking services online anonymously from the comfort of their home or office? and 2. How much additional effort/expenditure will you spend to blanket a mass audience versus targeting patients that are seeking out your specific services in search engines?
Brent Cavender is a co-founder of MetaMed Marketing. He heads up business development and marketing for MetaMed where he is the organization's chief practice educator and primary point of contact.