by Lesley Ranft

How to use the Web to market your practice

Investing in an Internet strategy is crucial for all orthodontists’ practices today. The following statistics represent a clear indication that the Internet is a necessity for today’s consumers.

  • More than 100 million consumers use the Internet to seek health care information each year, according to Harris Interactive Inc.
  • Sixty-three percent of consumers say they would switch health care providers if they found credible content, e-mail communications, or scheduling online, according to Jupiter Research.
  • Seventy percent of information seekers say their health care choices were influenced by the Internet, according to Pew Internet Research.
  • Surveys show that 77% of the people seeking health care information want to get it from a physician, according to Cyber Dialog.
  • Forty-six percent of information seekers are most frustrated with irrelevant hits and 36% are most frustrated with lack of content credibility, according to Jupiter Research.

The Educational Web Site

The prospect of recruiting patients from the Internet is great today. The first decision to make is the type of strategies to invest in, especially in light of the ever-changing Internet marketplace. Your practice’s goals are the top priority for analysis.

Is the goal of the practice to establish credibility on the Internet through a simple practice Web site with educational content that addresses visitors’ concerns through educational information? As Jill Sabatino, marketing director for the office of Steven Sabatino, DDS, MS, PLLC, Phoenix, explains, “Our Web site has been the number one means for people to locate our new practice in its first year after relocation. A Yellow Pages ad would have taken months to appear, but thanks to our Internet support, we obtained immediate top-ranking positioning on the Internet.” To cover your bases for an initial Internet strategy, the Web site address must appear on all printed in-house material, traditional advertising, and public relations campaigns, and be mentioned over the phone with all prospective patients.

In terms of content, the information must be laid out in an easy-to-read format that is appealing to both youths and adult populations. In addition, it is extremely important to formulate a strong content objective that meets the needs of patients and the search engines alike. In fact, selecting content that is out of context, without respect to specific consumer needs, is frowned upon by the search engines. As Ryan Miller, founder and president of Etna Interactive, explains, “Online, it is very common for search engines to penalize sites that try too hard to manipulate results and force their way to the top of the search engine.”

Before-and-after photos are important as well. They provide testimonials from patients and demonstrate the practice’s work: two crucial components for consumers searching the Internet for credible orthodontic information.

Linking Strategies: Your practice’s Web site can look more credible and get higher search-engine positioning by cross-linking with content provided by dental organizations, relevant technology companies, referring professionals in the community, and media outlets that have produced press appearances. As Jay Galati, DDS, MSD, Phoenix, explains, “The manufacturing product links on my Web site have helped to better educate consumers about the ortho appliances available in my office. In turn, these patients are more responsive to my recommendations at the initial consultation.” Whenever you are considering cross-linking, make sure to take the following steps: 1) obtain outbound and inbound links; 2) verify credibility and ensure that content is relevant; and 3) check for a clause in your hosting-company contract that requires your approval of link additions. As John Pellman, Jr, founder of MedNet Technologies, explains, “Any true relational link that takes place between a practice Web site and a reputable company will help the dentist’s Web site significantly.”

Online Forms: Online patient forms substantially reduce clerical errors and redundant data. Online forms allow patients to focus on logistics in the privacy of their home and pay full attention to their care when they are in your practice. As Keith Rossein, DDS, Malverne, NY, explains, “This service eliminates illegible forms and the wasted time and misinformation associated with forms. In fact, online forms remove tension from the office setting, leaving the patients more relaxed and better able to communicate physicians’ history.” Practices can link the forms directly from their Web site or can use a service that doesn’t require them to have a Web site. As Jay Galati, DDS, MSD, adds, “Internal marketing that we have done for our Web site has proven valuable. There is no doubt that the Web site has created greater efficiency in our practice due to the online forms.”

Video: Videos on your Web site can help strengthen the orthodontist-patient bond by providing a rich, efficient learning experience. In fact, videos increase the time visitors spend on the site, which contributes to a prompt call-to-action response. Vince Stott, executive producer at The Media, says, “As the Web evolved from a static, page-based format to a rich, interactive medium, video has become the key offering for many information providers. The Web allows for a more accessible and inexpensive way to create and distribute video when compared with traditional marketing.”

Online Word of Mouth

If the goal of the practice is to use a Web site to extend word-of-mouth marketing, there are two innovative methods to derive leads: 1) direct e-mail leads provided by lead-generation firms through their own targeted campaigns; and 2) leads derived through collecting e-mail addresses of current patients, sending an e-newsletter to such patients, and having the patients forward the e-newsletter to the friends in their address book.

E-mail Newsletter Campaigns: E-mail newsletter campaigns have been known to produce up to 12% to 24% returns. It is important to note that the vendor should have a Business Associates Agreement available for both your and their protection. A Business Associates Agreement is required by law.

For a bonus section on how to use search-engine marketing to bring new patients into your practice, check out this month’s web exclusive, How to bring Web surfers into your practice by Lesley Ranft.

Pay-Per-Lead Services: Pay-per-lead services drive prequalified local leads to your practice via e-mail or live phone transfer. As Tom Arthur of Calliope Media explains, “Instead of waiting for patients to come to you, patients are saying ‘please call me.’ ” Because it is difficult to distinguish between those who are serious Internet information seekers and those who are not, pay-per-lead companies screen leads to identify the most highly qualified, meeting criteria set by the practice. Pay-per-lead campaigns offer genuine patients and trackable results.

Blogging: A blog is an online diary that an orthodontist can write and post directly online without the assistance of a Webmaster. Blogs may include written text, before-and-after photos, and videos. Blogs usually have the ability to promote more interaction with the Web site. Inviting consumers and other orthodontists to post comments to your blog can be very appealing to consumers. Some blogs are built directly into the Web site. Others are stand-alone technology. As Dan Goldstein, CEO of Page One Solutions, explains, “We believe in aggressively using blogs to add content directly to our clients’ Web sites and to help build internal links in the site. Blogging can be one of the most cost-effective methods in a comprehensive online marketing strategy.”

Social Networking: Social networking can help leverage your Web site, provided your campaign is relevant. For example, the AAO created a social networking campaign that has produced outstanding results for it to date. According to Bob Bray, DDS, MS, Atlantic City, NJ, who is secretary and treasurer of the association,”Our goal has been to reach out to mothers through traditional public relations in order to better educate them and their children about key issues in dental health and orthodontics through Since October of 2006, we’ve had over 900,000 first-time visitors to our Web site. Here, they can view information, interact with our videos, and locate an orthodontist in their area.” In short, networking with the right organizations may result in Internet strategy benefits that you would not otherwise be aware of.

Lesley Ranft is a freelance writer and independent Internet consultant. She can be reached at (619) 247-3778.