The Dental Patient Experience Is Broken
Prospective patients are especially difficult to convert to actual patients. If we compare to other consumer experiences, the challenges faced by dental practices are profound. When purchasing a shirt online, the process is easy. You browse, you click, you pay, you’re done. But if you need an appointment with a dentist, you must first locate a practice in your area, assess its quality and services, call the front desk (during business hours), wait on hold, determine if your insurance is accepted, and volley with the receptionist over scheduling options.
When you factor in the anxiety many people feel about dentistry and their reluctance to book an appointment, it makes acquiring patients more difficult than most any other business. This is why it’s crucial for dental practices to develop and implement a marketing plan specific to the unique concerns of prospective patients.
Dental practices aren’t easy to find
Dentistry is an essential need for all people—and yet, finding a dental practice can be challenging, especially when you consider the transient nature of our society. According to a recent survey by Move.org, 38% of respondents plan to move in 2021 (https://www.move.org/2020-moving-stats-and-trends/). When they do, a large percentage will need a new dentist. But it’s not merely the newly relocated who are seeking a dental practice. With COVID-19 travel restrictions lifted and a majority of Americans vaccinated, vacations and business trips are beginning to return to pre-pandemic numbers. According to the TSA, on July 2, 2021, nearly 2.2 million travelers passed through airport checkpoints, over three times more than the same date in 2020 and even a little greater than 2019 (https://www.tsa.gov/coronavirus/passenger-throughput). With more people on the move, there will be more dental emergencies away from home—and more people seeking dental services.The problem for anyone seeking dental care is that the quality, services, and proliferation varies tremendously from region to region. Most practices succeed through word-of-mouth, meaning a small number of well-established practices capture the majority of the market, and this makes bookings hard to come by.
The stakes are high; the scrutiny is intense
When it comes to marketing, one might easily compare dental practices to doctors’ offices—but aside from a little gentle poking, your annual physical rarely results in any discomfort, and there’s little potential that inexperienced hands will cause you pain.
Advancements in techniques and technology continue to make annual teeth cleaning a more tolerable experience, but the dentist’s chair is still no one’s favorite place to sit. For some, it causes anxiety well beyond what they might experience in other medical settings. This is why people evaluate dental practices more than they might other forms of medical care.
But as important as the level of care might be, it’s only the beginning of what prospective patients will consider.
People with orthodontic needs might look for a practice that offers an invisible aligner treatment. Those with children need a practice experienced in pediatric dentistry. Some may be concerned about filling options. Others may want to get a sense of how likely the practice may recommend surgery or if they’re more focused on prevention. How modern the equipment is may also be a factor.
Website reviews may help alleviate some of those concerns. Written testimonials are increasingly important to consumers. In 2020, 87% of consumers read online reviews of local businesses—a 6% increase from the previous year—and medical practices were the third most likely to have been read. But consumers are also keenly aware of the growing prevalence of fake reviews and regard written testimonials with some skepticism.
Booking a dentist is hard
We could categorize prospective patients into two types: those seeking routine care and those seeking urgent care. In both cases, it may be most desirable to book an appointment after regular business hours. People seeking routine care may not feel a pressing need to book an appointment and will therefore wait to do so until after work when they’re less busy. Meanwhile, people with an urgent need will book an appointment the moment they feel any pain—but that moment can come at any time of the day or night. So to accommodate most patients, it’s necessary to enable them to book appointments after the practice has closed for the day.
Compounding the issue is just how much time it takes to locate a suitable dentist. As we discussed in the previous section, people scrutinize dental practices extremely closely, even for a medical service. They will take time to research the options, and people simply lack the time to do so at work.
How to Make Your Practice Easy to Find with Local SEO and Pay-Per-Click Ads
Having a great website isn’t worth much if people can’t find it. The two most common methods to get your site in front of people’s eyes are local search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
Search engines like Google and Bing employ sophisticated algorithms to determine what websites appear when you enter a search term and in what order. And the results will change from user to user based on past behavior and the demographic information the search engines have collected about you.
If you work in IT and frequently search for computer equipment, the term “Apple” will likely result in the website for Apple Inc. But if you’re a fruit farmer and often search for farming equipment, the same term might return websites for apple seed suppliers. The ambition of search engines is to return results that are most relevant to each user. The ambition of businesses, of course, is to become that most relevant site. This is where SEO can help.
It’s worth noting that the algorithms used by search engines are proprietary, highly secret, and change without warning. Only a few employees at these search engines truly know exactly how they work. But we do have a general sense of what criteria they’re looking at, and this can help us optimize our sites to be more likely to show up in searches (thus the term “search engine optimization”). Some of the criteria search engines look at include page content (the search engine will examine the words on the site to determine relevancy), how many other sites have linked to yours, how long the site has existed, how often it’s updated, and, in some cases, where the owner of the site is located.
It’s this last criterion that has created the practice of local SEO, which emphasizes the location of the site, so it’s more likely to appear when people nearby conduct a web search. Local SEO will also help the business appear on Google Maps, and is how practices get most of their patients.
Show up on maps with local SEO
The most important action you can take for local SEO is also the easiest—register your business with Google My Business.
Registering your business with Google My Business is straightforward and only takes a minute. This won’t guarantee your business a high ranking in local searches, but it will, quite literally, put your business on the map. In fact, when you register with Google My Business, you will be given the opportunity to specify the exact location of your dental practice by dropping a pin on a map.
After you register with Google My Business and a quick verification process, you’ll be able to upload photos of your dental practice. It’s a good idea to upload photos of both the interior and exterior and to use a smartphone or camera with geotagging capabilities. Google will recognize where the photos were taken, which will also help your local SEO.
Once your Google My Business page is up and running, it is critical to increase the number of positive reviews that you have for your page by asking your happy patients to write a review. Practices with a large number of reviews typically tend to rank much higher, which is a great way to drive organic SEO that you do not need to pay for.
Though Google enjoys a massive 90% share of the search engine market, Bing’s popularity is growing, and you should register there as well. Their equivalent to Google My Business is Bing Places. Bing Places will first ask you to check if a listing for your dental practice has already been automatically created—there’s a good chance it has. If so, it’s then a matter of claiming your practice through a verification process similar to Google My Business.
If Bing Places does not already have a listing for your practice, it’s easy to create one. There’s even an option to import data from Google My Business.Lastly, you should register your business with Apple Maps. As the default map for iOS and used on countless devices, it’s essential your dental practice is registered with this service. You can do that through Maps Connect. Like Google My Business and Bing Places, it’s a straightforward process.
A primary appeal of SEO is that it’s free. This is why it’s sometimes referred to as “organic” or “earned” results. But you can also pay to have your site appear when someone enters a search by setting up a web ad.
This is pay-per-click advertising. The quality of PPC that makes it unique from other forms of more traditional advertising is that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad (this means that, yes, every time you click an ad on Google, someone gets charged). PPC advertising can be especially effective because it allows keyword searches to trigger the ad, and you can target the ad for specific demographics and locations.
The two most common platforms for PPC advertising are Google Ads and Facebook advertising—but they function somewhat differently.
Google Ads lets you to set up campaigns configured for specific goals, including sales, leads, website traffic, brand awareness, and app promotion. Once you’ve selected a goal, you’re then able to choose from various campaign types that determine how and where the ads are displayed. This includes text ads, video ads, and banner ads. Google Ads is especially useful for targeting consumers searching for specific goods and services, making it a powerful marketing tool for dental practices.
Though you can target ads for specific demographics, Google is usually only guessing about the demographic makeup of the end user based on previous search history and information gathered from authorized apps.
Unlike Google Ads, Facebook advertising is precise with its demographic info, enabling advertisers to micro-target populations based on age, sex, relationship status, location, interests, education, and job title. This allows you to more accurately target consumers in precise locations and tailor multiple ads for different age groups. Facebook advertising is probably less ideal for dental practices as the platform is less suited for capturing an audience at the precise moment they’re seeking a service. But if you wish to broadly promote your practice within a specified area, Facebook advertising could be a useful tool.
Skip to the front of the line with pay-per-click advertising
There are several types of campaigns you can select with Google Ads, but for dental practices, you’ll probably want to use a standard search campaign. The other campaigns are designed for retail, restaurant, and home services like lawn mowing. Search campaigns are text ads that are triggered in sidebars by predefined keywords.
With a search campaign, the primary consideration is keywords. These are the search terms you select to trigger the ad. You can select any combination of words and phrases. Some types of businesses, especially ones that generate a lot of written content, will invest a lot of time and resources researching the best keywords, but for many businesses, the appropriate keywords are fairly obvious. This is especially true for dental practices. For example, “dentists in X town” should be first on your list of keywords. If your practice specializes in any services, be sure to include those on your list, as well. Basically, the idea is to anticipate every possible search term a prospective patient might use when searching for a dental practice.
If you’re looking for keyword ideas, one common research technique is to use the Google autocomplete feature. Type your primary keyword (such as “dentist”) into the Google search engine, and a list of suggestions will appear. These are terms other people are using—and if they make sense for your practice, you should absolutely use them as keywords in Google Ads.
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Showcase Your Skills and Methodology on a Professional Website
Once patients find your practice, they’ll want to evaluate your skills. Make it easy for them with an informative, professional website. Don’t skimp on the design or copy. A modern, sophisticated look tells prospective patients you’re serious and competent.
Be sure to include a professional photo of yourself and a bio that highlights your professional experience, as well as some background on who you are outside of work to help fill out your profile and make you relatable to prospective patients. You may also want to do this for your staff. Hiring a professional, local photographer to visit your practice may be more affordable and less time-consuming than you realize.
A modern website design will make good use of clean typefaces and incorporate liquid and elastic layouts, enabling the site to be displayed on any device.
The importance of your website rendering properly on mobile devices cannot be overstated. In the first quarter of 2021, 47% of web traffic in the United States was on mobile devices. If the website for your practice does not display properly on an iPhone, iPad, Android phone, or other such devices, you stand to lose half your prospective patients.
If you built your site within the last few years using WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, or other similar DIY platforms, nearly all of the included templates will incorporate a flexible design for proper rendering on mobile devices. But if your website was built several years ago or with some other third party, you should immediately check how it loads on your phone. If the site does not display well, a site redesign should be your number one priority. Even if your SEO efforts are spectacularly successful and droves of prospective patients are finding your site, they will move on immediately if the site is difficult to navigate.
Perhaps the most important feature of any modern website for dental practices is allowing the user to schedule an appointment quickly and easily. A good online scheduling tool will have a polished and intuitive interface, the ability to view appointment availability at multiple locations, and the ability to select the type of appointment and will work on any device. We’ll discuss this in more detail in Chapter 4.
Demonstrating experience, skill, professionalism, and compassion with informative content is another important feature of a modern website for dental practices. The practice should articulate a care philosophy that emphasizes the importance of a positive patient experience. For many prospective patients, their primary concern is how they will be treated. Some people experience a great deal of anxiety in the dentist’s chair. Some may have neglected care in the past and fear being judged. There are those who simply wish to be reassured that the experience will be as painless as possible. Because there are so many reasons for prospective patients to be hesitant about selecting a dental practice, it’s important your site includes some recognition of patients’ concerns.
And, of course, once people have scheduled an appointment, you’ll want to make it easy for them to arrive on time to that first appointment. By embedding Google Maps into the site, prospective patients will easily find your office, explore public transportation options, and estimate the travel time from any location.
Let Patients Convert Right on Your Website, Any Time
We are accustomed to doing everything online. We order delivery, apply for jobs, reserve theater tickets, deposit checks, and even buy cars. If people can’t schedule a dental appointment on your website, they’ll move on to a site where they can. But an effective scheduling tool doesn’t merely offer advantages for the patient—it streamlines administrative tasks for the dental practice and increases retention.
Though daytime receptionists are indispensable for greeting patients and managing the office, meaning they are less effective at scheduling new patients. Since they are only able to schedule appointments when at their desk and not dealing with other matters. When you incorporate an automated scheduling tool into your site, it allows prospective patients to easily schedule appointments at any time, day or night. It also increases office efficiency by allowing your front office staff to focus on delighting patients with great service. This ensures your patients book follow ups on their way out — not to mention that your practice delivers a high quality experience and retains patients for years!
A modern online scheduling tool like NexHealth is ideally suited to handle the complexity of a dental practice. NexHealth allows patients to see your availability in real time and schedule appointments on-demand from any location or device.
The system also makes it easy to set up any patient appointment type, such as consultations, routine visits, post-operative checkups, and more. You can customize availability for one or multiple practice locations with just a few clicks, assign custom availability for each provider at your practice, and block off time for holidays and lunch hours. You can even reserve specific rooms, so you always have the right chair and equipment for dental procedures.
NexHealth also links to third-party services to track important practice metrics, including online conversions, appointments booked, messages sent, and behavioral data. This means that you’re not merely booking appointments—you’re collecting valuable data that can help improve efficiency, attract new patients, inform future marketing initiatives, and improve the overall patient experience.
What percentage of your patients last month received routine, preventive care and what percentage required more advanced procedures? And what were their age ranges? What times of day is your office the busiest, and when is it the quietest? By connecting your scheduling system to a tool like NexHealth, you can answer these questions and many more with a few simple clicks.
Transform Your Patient Experience and Convert More Appointments
Understanding the patient experience allows dental practices to create a comprehensive marketing strategy that covers both lead generation and conversions.
Prospective patients have very high standards when looking for a dental practice. They will conduct thorough research to ensure the best possible care. And they will require a convenient way to book an appointment. You need a scheduling tool that makes booking seamless, or patients will find another practice.
Ready to optimize your patient experience? Get in touch with NexHealth to learn more about our real-time patient booking platform.