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To Grow Your Practice, Word of Mouth Isn't Enough

Like most things in the digital age, acquiring and keeping new patients has been transformed by search engines. Many business owners learn the hard way how Internet presence and reviews can make or break a brand. Dental health care providers are no exception – if you want your practice to survive, attention to digital marketing is imperative. Continue below to learn how Google search results influence patient decisions.
Jared Kaltwasser
PUBLISHED: Monday, July 10, 2017

Having a strong brand and positive reviews are integral for building a successful 21st-century practice.

Once upon a time, the formula for growing a dental practice was simple. Susie books an appointment with Dr. Smith and leaves satisfied. She tells her friend Mary and soon Mary becomes a patient of Dr. Smith’s, too. Easy growth.

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Nowadays, that scenario is a little more complicated.
 
Graig Presti, CEO of the dental marketing firm Local Search for Dentists, explains it this way.
 
“In 1995, Mary just picked up the phone and gave Dr. Smith a call and made an appointment,” Presti said. “Now, Mary takes that recommendation from Susie and goes right to Google.”
 
In 2017, that Google search is the make-or-break moment. If Mary finds the dentist has a reassuring web presence and positive online reviews, she’ll likely pick up the phone. But if the dentist’s online presence is nonexistent, or inconsistent, or tarnished by bad reviews, Mary will likely move on.
 
“Perception is reality,” Presti said. “If she goes to the Internet and then all of a sudden finds out there’s an empty house, you’ll find out that essentially she’ll go to the competition now.”
 
Presti said he regularly hears from dentists who say they’re just not getting the referrals they used to. The problem, according to Presti, isn’t lack of referrals. It’s that when those referrals are made, prospective clients are being deterred by the dentist’s web presence, or lack thereof.
 
“The reality of the world now is we live in the digital age,” Presti said. “And that’s where everyone is.”
 
Presti has worked with thousands of dentists to help grow their businesses for 15 years, the last seven of which through his own firm. He’ll discuss ways dentists can grow and leverage a strong Internet brand during a session at this week’s Academy of General Dentistry meeting in Las Vegas.

Compared to other industries, the dental industry overall is very much behind the curve when it comes to marketing, and online marketing in particular, according to Presti.

“Part of what we do is help people have an A-plus internet presence, but I’d say the majority of people who come to us start with a D or have an F, but in no time at all we can get them to an A-plus,” he said.
 
The solution isn’t to run a bunch of new ad campaigns, start offering a long list of new services, or even necessarily to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy new website.
Rather, Presti says, the first step is to optimize what potential clients see when they google you. And in a perfect world, one thing they will see is fresh and abundant five-star Google reviews from customers.
 
Presti said Google reviews are by far the most important -- more important than Facebook reviews or reviews on third party sites. That’s because Google dominates search and outranks traditional media when it comes to consumer trust.
 
“[Patients] want to see it right from Google because they trust Google,” he said.
 
How does a practice get good Google reviews? First, they don’t ask every single patient.
 
“We don’t want to ask everyone for a review, because that’s how bad reviews happen,” Presti said. “We don’t want to automate our review process.”

Dentists and their staffs should focus on asking their best clients, and their satisfied clients for reviews. Moreover, they should ask patients to complete the review on their mobile phones while they are still in the office. That way, office staff can assist if the patient needs help. Asking even one satisfied client each business day to rate the practice can quickly lead to dozens of five-star Google reviews and a major bump in search-driven business.
 
However, Presti cautions that reviews aren’t everything. A dentist also needs to have a strong and cohesive Internet brand. Often, the search results for a given dentist are auto-generated by Google and could include misspellings of names, incorrectly rearranged names or old contact information.
 
“The most critical thing is to make sure your practice information is accurate,” he said. “And 99 percent of the time, when a doctor calls us we find errors and misspelling of names, and if you can’t spell your name properly on Google, do you really think a prospective patient is going to give you 10 to 15 thousand dollars for an implant procedure?”
 
When a dentist’s information is inconsistent, it can confuse or deter patients, and Google’s algorithm will devalue the dentist’s Internet presence.
 
And that brings Presti to another reality of 2017: Dentists need outside help. Algorithms, terms of service, and technology in general are changing so quickly that internal staff simply don’t have the expertise to effectively manage a practice’s online presence. In other words, dentists need outside marketing help. For instance, while it might seem simple to merge two Google listings for a single practice into one listing, a misstep can be costly.
 
“One of the worst things you can try to do is merge them yourself, because it’s not uncommon to lose all your reviews,” he said.
 
However, Presti said it’s also important to vet potential marketing firms to ensure you hire a company with a proven track record and legitimate technical expertise. Local Search for Dentists, for instance, has been ranked on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies for three straight years.
 
The good news is, getting your practice’s Internet house in order can have benefits far beyond attracting new clients. A strong brand will also increase your practice’s re-sale value, Presti said.
The first step, though, is understanding that local search and Internet marketing are here to stay.
 
“You’ve got to get in the game,” he said.
 
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