By Shawn Miele, CEO, MyAdvice
What’s the difference between a practice that ranks #1 on Google (and earns 5-star ratings) and one that’s buried online?
The answer: Possibly not much, except, perhaps, that the successful practice made the right digital marketing moves to ensure its online presence.
In today’s digital consumer landscape, a solid online strategy— including website performance, SEO, and ratings —is no longer a “nice to have” but a “must have” when it comes to engaging patients. Given that 85 percent of U.S. consumers own a smartphone, and nearly 60% of them use digital devices to search for doctors and health information, setting yourself apart requires digital marketing prowess.
The 10 leading physician practices in any given specialty often share similar credentials, education backgrounds, clinical expertise, and professionalism. But consumers, who increasingly look online to find healthcare providers, aren’t necessarily swayed if a physician has a slight advantage in one of these areas. Often, the tipping point is what they find on the Internet related to ratings, reviews, and a strong digital footprint.
That’s why it’s critical for medical and dental practices to understand who they are marketing to, so they can shape their digital marketing strategies to attract that desired, coveted demographic – especially the most uber-digital consumers, who are growing in numbers.
How Communication Preferences Have Evolved
Millennials and their Gen Z successors grew up in a world immersed in high-speed broadband connectivity and online communications. Adults reaching their 18th birthday in 2022 were born the year that Facebook launched, and were toddlers when Twitter went live. And the oldest millennials, who turn 40 in 2020, entered college with mobile devices and email accounts.
Unsurprisingly, younger generations prefer digital everything, from communications to actual physician encounters, especially in the last 18 months since the onset of COVID-19 forced a global transition to the virtual realm. As a recent Accenture consumer study noted, about one-third of Gen X (32%) consumers and 43% of millennials trust tech companies for health and wellness services, compared with 20% of baby boomers.
However, other studies indicate middle-age Gen X consumers and younger Baby Boomers are becoming more digitally savvy: 83% of consumers ages 50-63 own a smartphone, according to recent figures, and 73% in that age bracket uses social media (up from 36% in 2011).
The problem is that many medical practices haven’t caught up with subsequent preferences for a sophisticated and “consumerized” digital experience. For example, practices often express surprise when one-and-done emails don’t generate high click-through or open rates. What they fail to consider is that most consumers, and especially working-age consumers, are bombarded with Google ads embedded in their social media feeds and dozens of email messages in their spam email inboxes (in multiple email accounts).
Raising the Digital Bar
Low open rates are just one indicator that a singular or “one-off” Internet marketing approach — like sending a single email blast to 5,000 patients about a new service — doesn’t generate the desired impact or response rate. A practice must consider a broad range of digital tactics, as well as website presence, SEO, online physician ratings, and social media, when trying to attract new patients and retain existing ones. In reality, email is considered more of a forced “push” marketing strategy, while other tactics have the ability to draw in patients seeking out specific services, leading to better match-ups and revenue opportunities.
With that in mind, here are six ideas that healthcare organizations, particularly physician practices, can employ to reach the most uber-digital consumers:
1. Improve first impressions. The website is the face of a physicians practice, the modern-day version of the Marcus Welby-era ‘shingle’ that hangs in the front of the doctor’s office. It needs to be fluid and load easily. Consumers want information at the touch of a button, and if information is hard to find or the website looks archaic, they’ll navigate elsewhere.
2. Improve local SEO. Whether a potential patient searches for an OB/GYN or a dentist, they won’t be searching far and wide — they’ll want someone close by. Practices should, at a minimum, maintain updated and accurate directory listings to strengthen local SEO to ensure they show up higher when someone searches for their specialty in a particular community.
3. Strengthen content strategy. Blog posts and social media updates are great ways to get the word out about a practice’s services or educate clients about a particular drug or disease. The problem is that many of these hours-long efforts fall on deaf ears, either because they aren’t written in an engaging way, are rife with grammatical errors, or are void of trending SEO terms. Every piece of content, from 140 characters to 800 words, needs to be developed with the goal of generating high engagement from its intended audience.
4. Ask for feedback. New evidence reveals that the younger a patient is, the less loyal he or she is to a particular physician or practice. Keeping patients from taking flight requires ongoing commitment to the highest quality, value, and service. Practices should consider surveying patients after every patient encounter, or even just their initial visit, so they can ensure they are delivering what they promise.
5. Respond to online reviews. Poor online ratings or negative comments that show up in Google Reviews or outlets like Healthgrades can drag down a physician’s reputation. While physician practices can’t always control consumer perception and perceived experience, responding to all ratings, positive or negative, demonstrates to potential clients that a practice is engaged and cares about the quality and professionalism of the services rendered.
6. Outsource to amplify reach. Doing everything that needs to be done to reach — and motivate — the uber-digital consumer is a difficult task for a practice that doesn’t employ a dedicated digital marketing professional. A third-party partner or consultant with digital marketing expertise might be a better and more cost-effective option to support digital marketing initiatives including website optimization, lead generation, and social media growth.
Closing the gap between your practice and the ones that rank #1 on Google searches isn’t just about providing exceptional medical care and customer service. It’s about reaching a new breed of digitally savvy consumers the right way. Employing these strategies is the most effective way to achieve this goal.
Shawn Miele is the CEO and cofounder of MyAdvice.
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