Marketing in the Digital Age

    By Sophia Bennett

    Gone are the days when people would flip open a phone book when they needed a dentist. Most of today’s consumers seek out information on search engines, social media and other digital platforms. If you’re a dentist looking to grow your practice, you need to meet consumers where they are, which means wading into the online space.

    Digital marketing offers some real advantages to companies. A website gives you control over your message and the ability to share information with people who are looking for it. Advertising on Google and other websites tends to be more affordable than television or print. The powerful analytics tools provided by social media platforms make it easier to track how many people see and respond to your ads.

    “More and more businesses are recognizing that traditional marketing tends to be saturated and lacks innovation,” says Dan DelMain, owner of DelMain Analytics, a Portland, Oregon full-service digital marketing firm that works with dentists and other small business owners. “If you’re a dentist looking to grow, you probably want to put your money in areas that are very scalable. There are a lot of opportunities to attract new clients as you grow your website traffic, keyword ranking and ultimately your leads.”

    That’s not to say that traditional marketing tools are no longer effective. “We look at the digital space as another tool in the toolbox,” says Jenn Schaff, a media strategist for Arrowhead Marketing, a full-service advertising agency in Billings, Montana. In addition to channels such as TV and radio, “now we have these devices like computers and smartphones that people spend six or seven hours in front of daily that are a valid way of delivering a message. The majority of consumers still get their news and enjoy recreating by watching television, so it’s still the most effective media, but digital is rapidly approaching it.”

    For some dentists, the main downside to digital marketing is that they don’t understand it. Others may be engaged in digital marketing but are struggling with how to take their efforts to the next level. We developed this guide to help both groups gain a better understanding of the most popular digital marketing platforms out there today. Each of the following sections shares ideas, resources and ways to keep your marketing efforts both cost effective and time efficient. Anyone can succeed with these platforms with a little information, investment and effort.


    “Your website is the first portal to any consumer,” says Schaff. “I try to remind clients that this is literally an investment in the storefront of their business even if it’s not something they can touch.”

    Whether you create a website yourself using a simple template, or hire a firm to do it for you, there are several things to keep in mind. It’s vital that the website be mobile-friendly, DelMain says. It should also meet the basic criteria laid out by search engines or it won’t show up in searches.

    A website should be visually appealing and graphic. “Information is absolutely important, but it has to be designed in a visual way,” Schaff says. “Consumers are looking for a clean, easy-to-read websites where they can get information at a glance. Use large headings and titles that are easy to navigate.”

    Specialists or dentists who provide costly services need to provide resources on their website. “People want information about things that are big investments, like implants or orthodontics,” Schaff says. “You need to have information on your website because it sets you apart as an expert.”

    This can also improve your ranking in searches. One of the many things search engines look for is commonly used words or phrases on your website. These keywords help them direct people who are looking for various services to you. If you provide blog posts, white papers or other client resources, search engines will log all of those and count your website as a good resource. This tactic is part of search engine optimization or SEO.

    Make sure your website frequently mentions any buzzwords that make you different from your competitors. “Do you really brand yourself as a family dentist?” DelMain asks. “Maybe you’re on the cutting edge of sustainability. Are you a biological dentist or green dentist?” You want consumers looking for these keywords to find you before they find anyone else.

    If you offer services such as emergency care or evening and weekend appointments, make sure that’s mentioned in prime positions on your website. Also, make sure you list any insurance providers you work with. “From an SEO standpoint, it always surprises us how many people in a local area are looking for a dentist that accepts ‘fill in the blank’ insurance,” says DelMain. “This is an underutilized tactic with dentists, to promote all the insurances they accept.”

    To further help with SEO, “you want to have a website that’s very user experience focused,” he says. “When a person comes into a website you should be able to quickly funnel them to the information they’re looking for, such as your location, hours and contact page.”

    Although you should mention all of your services on the home page, the bulk of the information about each service should be listed on its own page. “That helps Google to credit that page,” DelMain says. “You’re more likely to get a lead from that page that’s very individualized for that service than from a bullet point statement.”

    If you’re designing or overhauling a website, make sure a few people (including someone who isn’t a dentist) review it as if they were the end consumer, says Angela Byrnes with Roadside Dental Marketing, a website development and digital marketing company in Marysville, Washington. “Is it too technical? Does it show your office’s personality? Does it make you want to go through that practice’s door?” If it doesn’t, make some revisions before it’s published.

    Keep in mind that a website is never truly finished. “Ten years ago you could create a website and put it out on the internet and not really think about it again,” Schaff says. “They’ve evolved into living and breathing organisms that need to constantly change and adapt to what’s going on in your business and with technology.”

    Websites don’t have to be redesigned every six months, but it’s important to keep them up-to-date. Remove outdated graphics or events promptly. Mention new technology or services as soon as they become available. Change the photos on occasion so there are new things to look at. This can be done by a private person through a website maintenance program, or by a tech-savvy person in your office who agrees to take on the responsibility.

    Email Newsletter

    Of all the digital marketing avenues that exist, email newsletters consistently rank as the most effective way to reach your audience. “They don’t tend to be great for getting first-time patients, but they’re great with what we call lifetime value with existing clients,” says DelMain. Among other things, newsletters remind people to schedule an exam and keep you top-of-mind so they’re more likely to refer you to friends.

    There are several affordable and easy-to-use services for creating email newsletters, including MailChimp, Constant Contact and VerticalResponse. If you use any type of customer relationship management (CRM) software, it’s possible it has the ability to do the same thing. Email newsletters are the most powerful when you have upward of 750 subscribers, DelMain reports.

    Before you launch one, make sure you read up on how to not be labeled a spammer. There can be significant fines for sending people unwanted messages. All of the email newsletter services described above can provide information and resources on this.

    Paid search and retargeting

    When you search a product or services on Google, you may have noticed that the first few results are marked with a small icon that says “Ad.” Companies are getting those precious top of the browser placements by paying to have their company appear whenever someone searches certain terms.

    This is known as paid search, and it’s becoming an important part of the digital marketing landscape. Most of these ads follow a pay-per-click model, where you pay a website a certain amount for each click (or lead) in exchange for being listed at the top of their site.

    An important subset of paid search is call-only ads, which offer online users quick and easy access to your phone number. This can be especially helpful for dentists who provide emergency care. “If someone is searching ‘broken tooth,’ they need a dentist immediately,” Schaff says. “Giving the patient the opportunity to click to call from a mobile device is priceless. It removes consumer obstacles, which is generally very successful.”

    “We’ve found the call-only ads that target users in a radius around a practice and focus on people with mobiles are more affordable and have a better return on investment than pay-per-click campaigns,” says Kelsey Halvarson with Roadside Dental Marketing.

    Another opportunity available through paid search is retargeting or remarketing. Whenever someone visits your website, internet companies can make a note of that and show additional ads to that consumer on other websites they visit. The ads serve as a reminder that you offer what they’re looking for. “You already have someone who’s read something on your website and has a need,” says Schaff. “Retargeting can help a patient convert and make that call.”

    Social Media

    It’s important to look at social media not as a place for promoting a practice, but as a way to build stronger relationships with your clients. “When we manage a social media presence for a client, we like to set expectations that Facebook is a useful tool in customer retention,” says Schaff. “We don’t find it’s one of the best for bringing in new patients, especially in the dental category. We do find it’s good at maintaining relationships.”

    While social media posts may occasionally contain promotions, the majority should be educational and inspirational. “People don’t want to be sold when they go to Facebook,” Schaff says. Instead, focus on posts that share information about a free dental day or community event, pictures of teens who just had their braces removed, or stories that allow people to get to know the staff better.

    “Facebook, here in the Northwest especially, is the No. 1 social media platform,” Schaff says. Because it’s the largest site, there’s something to be said for maintaining a presence there. It’s likely people will be looking for you or talking about you there. Encouraging people to post messages to your officially-sanctioned page gives you a better opportunity to track what they’re saying and respond to them.

    The photo-driven site Instagram has become wildly popular in recent years and can be an effective tool for some dental practices. “If you have a fun, outgoing office that likes to do quirky things and document that on Instagram, those accounts tend to thrive,” says Halvarson.

    Other large platforms include YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Snapchat. But don’t feel like you need to be on all of them. Pick the one or two that you’re familiar with or that seem to work best for your peers and start there. You can always branch out if social media turns out to be an effective marketing tool for your practice.

    It’s important that the appearance and messaging on your social media sites be consistent with your website and offline marketing collateral. “Is the name and imagery the same on all of your social accounts? If someone finds you anywhere online, do they know they’re in the right spot?” asks Byrnes with Roadside Dental Marketing. Consistency is important across all marketing messages; if consumers get confused, they can quickly lose interest in your business.

    DelMain has moved away from doing social media management for dental practices. “We’re heavily reliant on the client to give us inside information,” he says. “In the amount of time it takes them to package social media posts and send them over to us, they could have done it themselves.”

    His aim now is to equip dentists with the tools they need to make social media management less time-consuming. Using Facebook’s scheduling tool, or outside scheduling resources such as HootSuite or Buffer, is the best example of this. These sites allow you to schedule multiple social media posts that will be shared over the coming weeks or month. Rather than carving out time every day to make your posts, sit down and schedule them all in one sitting. After that, all you need to do is monitor the pages for questions and comments.

    If you have a specific goal in mind, all social media sites offer paid advertising. But if the aim of these sites is more relationship maintenance than client recruitment, think carefully about what you hope to achieve before investing in this.

    Content Marketing

    DelMain places heavy emphasis on content marketing, which is typically done through a blog. “Blogging serves multiple purposes,” he says. “It demonstrates authority as a subject matter expert.” It gives people an excuse to link to your website, which can potentially drive more traffic to you.

    “Blogs are a way to constantly update your website without changing the format,” says Schaff. “It shows Google that your website is alive.”

    Blogs should be updated at least once a month and preferably more. “People think it can be time consuming, but if your staff is already doing things like writing newsletters, you can put articles or the whole newsletter into the blog,” says Schaff. This will cut down on the amount of original content you need and keep the process of content marketing streamlined.

    If you host special or charitable events, participate in community gatherings, make changes at the practice, or have tips and advice to share with consumers, share that information through short and punchy blog posts (not just your website or social media accounts). It’s also possible to hire outside content writers who can pen original keyword-rich articles designed to draw people to your website.