by Anita d’Alessandro
How four orthodontists use the Web to promote their practices
Randall C. Moles, DDS, MS, has private practices in Racine, Wis, and Milwaukee, and he routinely contributes to the research and development of new products and advanced treatment methods. He regularly travels the world to teach other dentists and orthodontists the most progressive orthodontic and TMJ procedures. He is certified by the American Board of Orthodontics, and he is a former associate clinical professor of orthodontics at Marquette. His Web site is www.molesorthodontics.com, and he can be reached at [email protected].
Michael B. Rogers, DDS, has private practices in Augusta, Thompson, and Washington, Ga. He has been in practice for more than 30 years. He has spoken at a number of AAO Annual Sessions, and he will also be a speaker on the doctors and staff program at this year’s AAO Annual Session in Las Vegas. His Web site is www.smilesinmotion.com, and he can be reached at (706) 733-1182.
Patricia A. Simon, DDS, has practiced orthodontics in the Lakewood area of Dallas since 1998. She lectures and has published regarding dentists’ responsibilities to recognize and report child abuse. Additionally, she is frequently called to speak to dental residents regarding the marketing of their specialty practices. She is a diplomate of the America Board of Orthodontists, and she maintains a volunteer position at the University of Texas Southwestern. Her Web site is www.lakewoodortho.net, and she can be reached at [email protected].
OP: Do you do your own online marketing, or do you outsource it?
Alizadeh: We do some of our own online marketing, and we outsource some. We like to control a lot of the content on our Web site. We feel it is very important to keep the site up to date. We believe it shows a lack of attention to detail when a Web site is not constantly updated. We outsource some online marketing because some companies already have good products or services in place at reasonable costs.
Moles: I outsource most of my online marketing. (This is true for almost all of our marketing.) I leave it to the professionals. I feel that is the way to get a quality result that will best project the quality of my practice.
Rogers: We currently do our own online marketing, because we are mainly marketing toward building relationships with our patients.
Simon: Technically, we’ve outsourced our online marketing. In actuality, it is a collaborative effort with the company we’ve hired. Our Web site was designed and is hosted by them. On a quarterly basis, they design newsletters that are consistent with our Web site design. We are given a selection of articles that we may choose to include or not include, and we are able to decide in which order they appear. On an as-needed basis, we send emails regarding upcoming events in our office or other pertinent information, as well as predesigned holiday cards. Although the company designs and writes our online marketing material, we have absolute control over what automatically goes out. It is a huge time savings. Let’s face it: If it were up to me to write the articles or get the emails out, they’d never get done!
OP: What specific online marketing tactics do you use?
Alizadeh: We utilize a number of online marketing tactics. One is our Web site, which has been professionally designed. When we did the Web site, we had it set up so we could easily update the text and photos. To name a few things we do on our Web site: We have an office tour, we list our staff with individual bios, we list the various contests going on in the office, we show who’s new to the office, we list patient birthdays, we explain our “Ortho Bucks” program, and we list current news from the office. Patients can also log on and access their appointment and account information online as well as pay their fees using a credit card. We also have access to our online office Fantasy Football contest. The program is provided and administered by a company we worked with. We update our patients on the contest on our Web site as well as at the office. We give out weekly prizes to the top three performers and a championship prize to the overall winners. We also email our patients with reminders on appointments, missed appointments, and past-due notices. We can email birthday and holiday greetings and mass email information on office functions and contests. A company that we work with also provides the tools to produce monthly newsletters that we can email to our patients and post on our Web site.
Moles: We have our own custom-made Web site, and we also work with an online communications company.
Rogers: We use our Web site and two services to target our patients, their friends, and their families. The Web site is an extremely informative site. It provides the new patient or current patient with information regarding orthodontics, such as how to care for their braces or what to do in an emergency. It is also a place where patients can see their friends or themselves in pictures of our patient parties and contest winners. Patients can look up appointments, print their own financial ledgers, receive email appointment reminders, and make their payments online 24 hours per day. Having several computers in our practice that are designated “patient” computers lets patients navigate their way through our Web site while they are in the office. We feel that this allows them to feel more comfortable going home to show the parent who was not present at the exam the information we discussed with them. An added benefit of having the Web site accessible throughout the office is for the assistant to be able to show the parent and patient a new appliance. They can easily access a photograph and information on the Web site in the treatment area, and the patient can access it at home.
OP: What has been the most successful?
Alizadeh: Fantasy Football has been very popular during the football season. We get a lot of positive feedback on the email notices and newsletters as well.
Moles: First, we have to define success. At this point, I am not expecting my online programs to bring patients to the office by themselves. It does happen, however, and that is great. But my main focus with online programs is to augment our other marketing efforts and to add value for the patients and referring doctors. If I were to pick out one activity, I would say it’s our work with the online communications company.
Rogers: When we launched our Web site, we set up a contest on the Web site for our patients. The idea behind this was to get as much exposure as possible by having patients invite their friends and family onto the Web site and enter with their name. The only catch was that there was a limit of only one entry per email address. The grand prize was a personal computer. Since patients had many chances to win if they invited their friends and family, we ended up receiving entries from all over the United States. We even received one entry from the White House! The winning email was chosen randomly and was actually from the friend of a patient. We displayed the computer in the office for the 4 months of the contest, and it created a lot of buzz.
Simon: I think that Web presence is probably the most successful. However, it is very difficult to quantify which aspects of the online marketing are most effective. As with any type of marketing, it is the combined effect of a consistent and coherent message through various mediums that provides results. To eliminate one aspect of the marketing, despite its ineffectiveness, may weaken the overall impact.
OP: Do you have different strategies to appeal to parents and teenagers?
Alizadeh: The ability to access account and appointment information is obviously trying to appeal to the parents. The email reminders and newsletters are also geared to help the parents. The Fantasy Football appeals to all ages. We have many fathers who are playing online with us or helping their kids play. The Web site has been designed to also appeal to all ages. Ninety percent of our patients are under the age of 18, so we try to market heavily to that age group.
Moles: I think it is important to have content for both groups, but my primary focus is the person who will be paying the bills. That’s not to say we don’t really focus on the young patients; however, that effort is directed to their experience in our office.
Rogers: For our last patient party, we purchased tickets for our area hockey game. The tickets were valued at $15 each, so we did not want to just hand them out. We had the parents go on our Web site to reserve or cancel their tickets. This helped the practice know how many tickets were actually needed for the game; it greatly reduced the number of telephone calls coming into the practice; and it was more convenient for the patient, since they could register any time of the day. In addition, for every registration received, the patient was entered in the “Star of the Game” contest. The winner, or “Star,” received $200 in dinner certificates to a local restaurant, a limo ride to the game for him/her and nine friends, and autographed hockey memorabilia for their entire party. In addition, the winner and his/her friends were introduced during the game; they participated in an intermission event; and they had a meet-and-greet with the players after the game.
Simon: My practice is composed of predominantly adults, so our marketing efforts are very different than the “average” orthodontic practice. Our online look is more mature and sleek. We do, however, attempt to touch the teenager and the “tweenager” with our newsletter and kid-friendly emails regarding contests and events specifically for them.
OP: What percentage of your patients hear about you online?
Alizadeh: I don’t know if that many of our patients actually hear about us online. We believe our Web site is mainly used by our existing patients, or by patients who have already been referred to us and are accessing the site to find out more about us. Whenever we get a new-patient call, we always tell them about our office on the phone, we send them a brochure, and we direct them to our Web site to find out more about us.
Moles: Getting an exact number is difficult, since most patients will first hear about us and then “check us out” online. As a matter of fact, we direct all of our patients to go to our Web site if they would like to learn more about our practice and to download their new-patient forms. At this point, around 5% are purely online referrals.
Rogers: In 2005, we tracked approximately 15% of our patients who were referred to our practice through our Web site or through the Web site of our aligner provider.
Simon: Approximately 5% of our new patients state that they found us online. The key to any successful Web presence is to be at the top of the search engines. Again, our online communications company provides the technology to make that happen. I personally believe that the best referral source of patients is still the general dentist. However, the dentists often give out more than one card. Web presence is a source of information for patients who may have been referred to us by other means, and solidifies their decision to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment.
OP: How much of your overall marketing spending is dedicated to online marketing?
Alizadeh: We allocate roughly 3% of our revenue to marketing. We probably spend around 10% of our marketing budget on online marketing.
Moles: It is about 15% of our total marketing budget. However, I break it out as a separate item because it covers a much larger area than just marketing—it is a value-added service that benefits the office, too.
Rogers: We have not currently specified a budget for online marketing.
Simon: Approximately 10% of our marketing budget is dedicated to online marketing. Approximately the same amount is spent on print ads. The majority of our marketing budget is spent on building relationships with our referring doctors and their staffs.
OP: What new methods of online marketing are you planning to try this year?
Alizadeh: We may try a “March Madness” competition. We also may try to add our health history and other new-patient forms on our Web site so they can be downloaded or filled out online. We plan to continuously try to update and modify our Web site to keep it fresh and interesting.
Moles: We are constantly upgrading the system. Currently, we are getting ready to roll out an updated Web site with video streaming and where patients will be able to fill out their forms online. This year, we will also allow patients to see their before-and-after treatment target models online.
Rogers: Due to the overwhelming response and the exposure that our Web site has received in the past year, we will continue to use our Web site as a tool for patient education, patient contests, patient information, and fun.
Anita D’Alessandro is a contributing writer for Orthodontic Products.