As a sales and marketing tool, publishing platform, and publicly accessible online environment, the Internet has been popular since the mid-1990s.
That said, by now your aesthetic practice should have a presence on the World Wide Web. You will lose credibility with your patients and prospective patients when they ask for your Web site address and you don’t have one.
Your Web site is your digital calling card. Patients and prospective patients use it to check out your credibility, your services, your hours of operation, and more—their research helps them decide if you are the right practitioner for them. Some of them have heard about you from friends and family, but they want to learn more before they actually make contact with you.
HOW PROSPECTIVE PATIENTS FIND YOU
What is truly exciting about the Internet is the sheer number of visitors who could find their way to your Web site. No matter how big your practice or how long you’ve been in practice, Internet marketing levels the playing field for everyone. The rules have changed the old “brick and mortar” days of storefronts and simple ads in the yellow pages.
Having said that, you cannot assume that “if you build it, they will come.” Don’t assume that thousands of new prospects will be lining up to see what you’re offering, just because you have a Web page with your picture and a phone number. It isn’t that easy.
You can potentially connect with new patients via cyberspace; you have to work at making your Web site successful.
INFORMATIONAL VERSUS INTERACTIVE
First, you need to establish the purpose of your Web site. Before you spend a dime, ask yourself what you want your Web site to do. Do you want it to attract new aesthetic patients to your practice? Do you want it to help answer the endless routine questions about your hours, telephone number, and location?
Decide the purpose of your Web site, and then create a strategy to achieve that goal as well as determine your budget.
To help you get centered, here are examples of two popular types of aesthetic Web sites:
The informational, or “brochure,” site gives your online visitors specific information about your practice, where it is located, and what services it provides.
This site type functions much like the informational brochure that you hand out to patients.
The interactive site, on the other hand, encourages Web visitors to learn about your business, but you get information from them in return. An interactive Web site helps you build relationships with prospective patients and/or better relationships with existing patients.
For example, visitors can download special reports after providing their e-mail address, respond to an “ask the doctor” feature with questions, download special offer coupons to apply to the consultation/appointment, use financial calculators, and view online learning modules that illustrate your procedures.
Using the interactive site, patients can fill out paperwork ahead of their initial consultation and even watch videos of you appearing in the media, demonstrating a procedure, and/or consulting with a patient.
All of these interactive tools help the visiting prospective patient stay on your Web site longer in order to get to know you better.
The more you educate them, the more likely they will call or e-mail you for an appointment or additional information.
HOW DO YOU ATTRACT TRAFFIC TO YOUR WEB SITE?
This is where the majority of your time, money, and effort will be spent—or at least delegated to professionals who are paid to drive traffic to your site.
How Popular Is the Internet?
- 232 million North Americans use the Internet.
- Eighty-five percent of them use search engines to find information.
- On any given day, 60 million people search using Google (53%), Yahoo! (28%), or MSN (13%).
- Only e-mail traffic is bigger than search engine traffic—60 billion e-mails are sent by Internet users daily.
- Search engine traffic grows at a rate of more than 20% per year.
- Seventy-eight percent of online shoppers purchase via an e-mail link.
- Fifty-four percent of small businesses rate e-mail as the top online promotion vehicle that drives new and existing customers to Web sites.
Your ultimate goal is to get the number one position on Web search engine results, and as nobody knows exactly how Google and Yahoo! rank Web sites, it’s important to use every tool possible to get a high ranking in search results pages.
The following popular strategies are good places to start:
- Pay-per-click—You can pay for traffic by working with Google AdWords or Yahoo! AdWords on a pay-per-click program. These firms place ads on Web sites that are relevant to your market, and you have a budget to pay them a small amount per click when a user actually clicks on the advertisement that sends them to visit your Web site. Typically, you bid on keyword phrases relevant to your target market.
The amount you pay per click is based on how many people type in relevant phrases (or keywords) in a 24-hour period, the number of competing sites that use each phrase, how much your competitors pay to use those phrases, and the amount you would have to pay to receive a higher search-page-results ranking over your competitors.
The more popular the keywords used in a pay-per-click arrangement, the more expensive they are. The downside of this approach? After you have depleted your allocated daily budget you disappear from the search engine results, which means you are only renting the ad space for a limited time until your budget runs out.
As a result, you have to keep a close eye on the keywords that work and those that do not, and make adjustments (at times daily) in order to maintain high rankings. It can be time-consuming even for someone with a lot of time on his or her hands.
Sample Interactive Web Site Features
- Visitors can download special reports after providing their e-mail addresses.
- They can “Ask the Doctor” questions to which you can respond using the e-mail address provided.
- Visitors can download special-offer coupons to bring to the consultation.
- They can use online financial tools to help them identify a payment program in advance of the first appointment.
- They can fill out paperwork online in order to save time at their initial consultation.
- Visitors can learn more about the procedure they are interested in by viewing online learning modules.
- They can also watch videos of you in the media, demonstrating a procedure, and/or consulting with a patient.
- Organic search—You can get good positioning for your Web site for free by doing it organically. The secret is content and coding that content to make it easy for the search engine spiders to find you online. Spiders are Web software “robots” that index sites on a regular basis.
- Vendor portals—Here is a shortcut worth considering. Get listed in aesthetic industry vendor, community, and local information portals. These sites attract a lot of people to their sites, and you can get exposure through their efforts.
For example, when the prospective patient enters the term “liposuction” in a search engine, it’s the job of the search engine spiders to go out into the Internet world and look for Web sites that contain that term. The more your site specifically mentions liposuction, the more likely the spiders will find you and the search engine will rank you higher.
HOW MUCH SHOULD WEB SITE DESIGN COST?
Web site design costs can vary greatly, and it’s worth it to shop around. You can buy a “templated” site—one in which you simply fill in some blanks on predesigned Web pages—for a few hundred dollars, or you can work with Web designers and spend thousands of dollars.
The key is to work with someone who understands not only Web site design but also the aesthetic enhancement industry and the aesthetic patient, so that they can translate your personality, as well as your patients’ wants and desires, to the Web.
You will pay substantially more for an interactive Web site. Such a site requires a designer who understands user interface design, content, search engine optimization, multimedia, and advancing technology, as well as the aesthetic industry and the aesthetic patient.
Work with the experts in this industry so you don’t waste time and money educating a generalist about your aesthetic practice.
You will not only pay an upfront fee for Web site design, but you will also incur monthly fees for enhancing and maintaining your search engine positioning. It takes constant revising and updating of your site to keep the search engine spiders happy.
Your pay-per-click budget will vary greatly as well. If your goal is to attract new Internet patients, then spend more at the beginning while you grow your positioning organically, as that can take months before you see results.
Once you have good positioning, you can then cut back on your pay-per-click budget or both approaches going to get the most exposure.
Gaining exposure via vendor portals can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the portal’s reach in the community and its popularity.
Now that you have your site up and running and you’ve got Web traffic, are you converting your visitors to cash-paying patients? Getting people to visit your site is important, but if no one sticks around or buys into what you’re promoting, then you probably have a “vanity site” that is not doing much for you, business-wise.
It isn’t enough to simply get noticed. When you have an online presence and want to attract new patients to your practice, you need to encourage visitors to take action once they arrive at your site.
Traffic conversion marketing is the process of taking visitors (or prospects) and giving them the proper incentives or information to make them your patients; after that, you want them to become repeat patients and then practice advocates who refer their friends to you.
Did you know the average Web site converts less than 2% of the traffic that visits? That isn’t good. Why do most sites convert at such a low rate? Basically, it’s because they do not give visitors a compelling reason to take action as a result of the Web site visit; namely, you want to get your visitors to call or e-mail you.
At the very least, your Web site goal should be to capture your visitors’ e-mail addresses. Without this information, all your efforts in getting them to your site will be lost. Provide an incentive for them to give you their e-mail address. Offer them a first-visit coupon or a special report—anything that requires no financial commitment from them.
Subsequently, you can follow up with those who leave their contact information and build a relationship with them. When they are ready for aesthetic enhancement they will remember you, as they will feel as if they know you.
IS IT WORTH THE EXPENSE?
The answer is always in the numbers. The good news about Internet marketing is the detailed reporting it provides, since every detail is traceable. You can monitor your campaigns as often as you like, and it’s well worth the time to test and measure to see what works best.
See also “Make Your Web Site Pop” by Glen Lubbert in the March 2007 issue of PSP.
Be sure your Internet vendors are supplying you with detailed monthly statistics that tell you, among other things, how many visitors came to your Web site, what search terms they used and which pages they viewed, and how long they remain on your site.
After that, it’s your job to track the rest of their experience. You want to track your own statistics, such as how many patient no-shows come from the Internet, what are the demographics of the Internet patients, in what are they interested, and are they converting to paying patients.
Compare the above statistics to the amount of money you spend on pay-per-click programs, search engine optimization programs, and Web site design and update costs. Is it profitable for you to recruit paying customers via the Web? Even if you merely break even, the time, money, and effort is worth it as your database of prospective patients grows.
Catherine Maley, MBA, specializes in attracting patients to aesthetic practices using public relations, advertising, and creative marketing strategies. She can be reached at or (877) 339-8833.