Think you know all there is to know about the Internet? Think again

To make money on the Internet, you need to understand the complexities of Internet marketing. This is made difficult by a number of common misperceptions that are circulating around the medical community. Here are 10 of them, along with explanations  of why they are untrue.

Myth 1: People search the Internet using very specific search strings.

Actually, more than 90% of the keyword searches on the Internet are performed using “root terms,” such as breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, or liposuction; statistically speaking, very few people add qualifiers to these terms. For example, whereas consumers search for the root term “breast augmentation” 125,000 times per month, the more specific, geographically targeted search term “breast augmentation California” is searched only 9,500 times per month. In other words, most Internet users are very simplistic in their search methods.

Myth 2: If you are already busy, you don’t need a Web site.

According to a survey by Harris Interactive, about 80% of all patients search the Internet for health-related information. By providing useful information on your Web site, you position yourself as a go-to source for these patients. Your Web site can also help patients manage their medical conditions properly. And by facilitating communication with patients, your Web site can increase patient compliance with prescribed treatments.

Myth 3: Internet users are just ‘lookie lous.’

Another Harris Interactive survey estimates that, as of January 2004, 22% of all adult Internet users were using the Web to shop! This includes shopping for a physician. On average, about 2% of the people who visit a practice’s Web site end up coming in for a procedure. This means that just 100 Web site visitors per month should result in two new patients per month in your chair.

Myth 4: Internet users only ask about price.

Before calling to ask how much breast augmentation costs, some people first go online to read about it. Many of your potential patients will look at several Web sites—including yours and those of your competitors—before choosing to call your practice. But why did they decide to call you? The answer often lies in consumer-friendly elements of your Web site, such as well-organized navigation and easy-to-understand information about procedures. In other words, practices that build Web sites catering to patient needs get more calls (cost-related and otherwise) than practices that don’t.

Myth 5: A Web site costs too much.

To put the cost of a Web site in perspective, ask yourself a few questions. How much did it cost you to develop a practice brochure, buy an ad in the Yellow Pages, record an “on hold” message, and hire someone to answer phones to give people directions to your practice? And how many of these strategies work when your office is closed?

Now, how much would you pay for something that would perform all of these functions 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, as well as showcase your work, send you additional patients, allow you to update information at any time, and give a great first impression to someone looking for an aesthetic surgeon? Your Web site could pay for itself in 1 day or 1 year, but rest assured that the cost of a Web site pales in comparison to the results it is capable of producing!

Myth 6: Anyone can build a Web site.

First impressions are everything, so they say, and the Internet is no exception. Right or wrong, Internet users looking for health care information judge a physician based on their initial impression of his or her Web site.

Think of your Web site as an interactive introduction between you and prospective patients; this is why, when choosing a Web-development firm, you should hire one whose Web sites convey elegance, class, and beauty. Achieving this means choosing a firm that pays close attention to five key elements of Web site development: appearance, architecture and navigation, consumer education, communication, and evaluation and improvement.

Myth 7: If you build it, they will come.

The time when you could build a Web site, put it online, and expect people to find it has long since passed. These days, you need an Internet marketing strategy to go along with your Web site. A basic Internet marketing campaign might consist of a Web site and an Internet directory listing. A more advanced campaign can include search engine optimization (SEO) or even bidding for the keywords under which you wish to be found on the major search engines (the latter of which is inadvisable without the help of a top-notch Internet marketing firm).

No matter which path you choose to take, one thing is certain: Once you have a Web site, you need to implement proven methods of getting people to see it. A well-designed Web site has no value if it is not seen. The Internet is a veritable sea of information. Therefore, “being found” is the most critical component, and the focus, of any successful Internet strategy.

Myth 8: The success of Web site traffic is measured by how many ‘hits’ it gets.

Contrary to popular belief, the number of “hits” a Web site receives does not correspond to the amount of traffic or the number of visitors to the site. Hits only gauge how may different images, or “elements,” within the site have been accessed for viewing. Some Web sites generate a huge number of hits simply because they contain numerous before-and-after pictures. To track Web site traffic correctly, you need to track the number of Web site “visits.” This tells you the number of people who have seen the site. Visits are most commonly tracked by counting the number of unique IP addresses that have visited your Web site.

Myth 9: Most patients don’t have a computer.

According to the results of a nationwide telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 69% of all adults in the United States are now online. Today, even people who don’t own a computer make their way online by borrowing a friend’s computer, going to the library, or using a computer at work. In fact, many studies have shown that most people access the Internet for personal use while at work. Our own internal statistics at Einstein Medical clearly show that most of the traffic to our Web sites arrives during the workday—the vast majority over the lunch hour. Even if a few of your patients don’t have a computer, they’re probably still using the Internet.

Myth 10: Most patients don’t use email.

OK, so most patients use the Internet, but do they really care about email? Yes. More to the point, 90% of adults who use the Internet would like to communicate with their physicians via email, according to Harris Interactive, and more than one third of them would be willing to pay for it. Furthermore, the majority surveyed said they would choose one health plan over another if it enabled them to communicate with their physicians online.

Getting Started

This may seem like a lot to swallow at once, so here’s what it comes down to: The medical practices that have achieved the most success on the Internet paid good money for an attractive, informative Web site built by a reputable Web-development firm that specializes in medicine. To attract potential patients to their Web sites, most of these practices invest in SEO, along with a listing from a top Internet medical directory. Ignore the myths, follow the example of these practices, and hire a good Web-development firm. The rest should fall into place. PSP

Robert C. Silkey is the founder, CEO, and president of Einstein Medical Inc, which provides Internet development to physicians and dentists. This article is an excerpt from the upcoming Einstein Medical white paper, “Ten Internet Myths,” copyright © Einstein Medical Inc 2005. For additional information, or to order other Internet-related white papers, contact Einstein Medical,