How to ethically attract more new patients online

By: Grace Rizza

By learning to avoid the most common digital marketing mistakes, dentists can create an ethical and effective plan.

When seeking oral health care, millions of Americans, knowingly or unknowingly, turn to search engines and digital ads to assist in choosing a dentist. Besides word of mouth marketing, digital marketing is the most noted source of new-patient acquisition.

While digital marketing provides tangible results for many, it also leads to frustrations for many dental business owners. Its complex nature, combined with the false promises made by service providers, leads to frustrated dentists who cannot depend on their marketing to consistently accelerate their growth. By learning to avoid the most common digital marketing mistakes, dentists can create an ethical and effective plan.

A poll with members of the Facebook Group “Dentistry’s Growing with Grace” revealed their top frustrations with digital marketing. Each of the responses was related to one of these categories: return on investment (ROI), trust in the marketer, and the complexity of do-it-yourself campaigns. Most of the responses were related to a lack of ROI or an inability to properly track ROI. These concerns can be directly tied to common and preventable mistakes.

The importance of ROI

To avoid frustration about ROI calculations, ensure you have the proper data and phone skills. A simple, monthly report of new patients and their referral sources will help to quickly assess the effectiveness of your marketing. Dentists often skip this step, or the data entered by team members is not accurate. This leads to guessing and the inability to make confident decisions related to your marketing budget.

Be sure to have your team ask each new patient at the time of scheduling who to thank for their referral. This will allow patients to provide accurate data while it’s fresh in their minds. Every month request a complete report of new patients and their referral sources from your team. Ideally, your team’s phone skills should be audited monthly to allow for accountability and training. To do this, hire a practice management consultant who has mastered phone skills and communication. Allow the consultant to review five to 10 new-patient phone calls per month and provide scores for those calls. This will ensure that your team is properly recording new-patient references, as well as using other important verbal skills that allow for confident, compassionate communication. This ultimately leads to accelerated practice growth.

Many marketers recommend leveraging unique phone numbers attached to each ad campaign to evaluate the effectiveness of the ads. It’s imperative with this method to understand that your reported data will likely be inaccurate. This is because existing patients often click ads to schedule. It’s not uncommon for marketing companies to identify all of these callers as new patients and include their revenues in the ROI reports. In many instances, these methods show an inflated ROI and make it difficult to assess actual practice growth attributable to digital marketing. When these services are cancelled, the phone numbers may be leased to other dentists. Marketing agencies can inadvertently redirect your patients to other practices. If using tracking numbers, be sure to own the numbers or have the ability to renew or maintain them.

What are your goals?

Prior to launching digital marketing, be sure to clearly identify the goals of each campaign. No marketer can tell you the exact number of new patients that will be attracted from a given campaign, however, they can outline your intended audience, message, and range of expected new patients based on budget. Digital marketing campaigns rely on these components for effectiveness: proper budget, audience selection and set up, and proper messaging.

When selecting a budget, be sure you are clear about exactly how the budget will be used. Many marketing companies are not transparent in their use of an ad spend (reach). Ideally, if you use a marketing agency, they will be fully transparent in reporting how your marketing dollars are used. Ensure you know exactly what portion of the budget is going to management and optimization of the campaign, and which portion is used for ad spend. The portion of the budget used for reach should be paid directly to the platform, such as Google or Facebook, and be tied to your individual ad campaign.

Companies who refuse to share this information and be transparent have nothing to stop them from periodically pausing or decreasing ad spend, thus increasing their own profit margins. Be cautious when signing a long-term contract. If a campaign is not producing an ROI in the form of brand recognition, relevant traffic, and most importantly, new patients, you should have the ability to pause and reevaluate the message or cancel.

Google and Facebook have their own sets of rules, as do all other advertising platforms. It may seem simple to set up your own campaign and be up and running in no time, however, most DIY campaigns result in significant lost opportunity. This happens for two reasons.

First, the budgets are often wasted on irrelevant keywords (i.e., free dentistry, cheap dentistry) or irrelevant areas. If a person in another location can see your ad and use your budget, the ad hasn’t been set up properly. Negative keywords, blocked locations, and proper targeting minimizes wasted ad spend. This is the expertise you want when hiring a marketer to help with the setup process.

Second, the messages lack meaning. When marketing a practice, consider your ideal new patient. Don’t rely primarily on steep discounts to attract new patients who only want freebies. It’s unlikely they will become a long-term part of your practice. Consider the psychographics of your ideal patients rather than simply defining them by gender, age, or other demographics. It’s best to attract new patients who align with your core values. By communicating your core values, you’ll attract the types of patients who grow to know and love you and refer their friends and family, and this often yields the highest return on investment.

Digital marketing is a powerful way to connect with and educate your community. When seeking to grow your practice, ask yourself why you became a dentist, who you’d like to serve, and what you value. Most importantly, think about what your community knows about your dental care. Always be honest about your values. Allow your marketing to serve you by letting it first serve your community.


GRACE RIZZA is the founder and CEO of Identity Dental Marketing. She has guided the growth of more than 1,000 successful businesses while building a business and family of her own. Her mentality, approach to business, and leadership perspective will challenge dentists to think big, act bigger, and amplify their lives. Rizza was recently selected as a 2019 honoree at the Daily Herald Business Ledger’s Influential Women in Business Awards

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