by Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA
Today, 85% of the United States is connected, which means that the vast majority of your prospective and existing patient community is online. Mobile technology advancements, low-cost Internet access, and an explosion of applications and content have made the Internet a central part of life for most of your patient base. This shift in patient behavior fundamentally changes the way you must market your practice. While superior oral care is still critical, it is no longer enough for attracting a sufficient amount of new patients or ensuring that you maintain a loyal patient community.
There are three core principles of connected patient behavior that your practice can and should leverage to drive practice growth and profitability.
Connected patients search
When you consider that 93% of online experiences begin with a search, it's clear the connected patient relies on this service. Another noteworthy statistic is that 90% of those searching click on the first three results in Google. This makes search engine optimization (SEO) a critical component of any practice marketing strategy. Too often, practices take a "build it and they will come" approach to their website without considering SEO. Most prospective patients, however, will choose a practice through the top-listed search results. If you're not listed, they will move on to a competitive practice.
The connected patient doesn't just rely on major search engines such as Google; they also use what is known as topical or vertical search. According to a ComScore study, topical search traffic has increased in usage by 8% while traditional search engine traffic has declined by 3%. Healthgrades, where more than 20 million visitors search for a local dental care provider, is the best example of a topical search site for dental providers. Other mainstream topical search sites include Amazon, eBay, and WebMD.
In order to engage with connected patients, your practice's marketing plan must include a comprehensive SEO and topical search strategy.
Connected patients are social
The use of social media by the connected patient is undeniably significant. Last year, 78% of Internet users between the ages of 30 and 49 were active on social media. What's even more interesting is the fact that 47% of Americans named Facebook as their number one influencer of purchases, as compared to 24% in 2011. As your connected patients rely more on social media for help making decisions and for referring friends to your practice, they also expect a new level of quality content and interaction. The days of using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ as billboards are long gone. Your practice's marketing plan should include a social media strategy by which you consistently add compelling content and allocate time to interact with your patient community.
The practice that can engage its connected patients on social media will foster the type of loyalty needed to ensure long-term, profitable relationships.
Connected patients are mobile
All you have to do is look at the patients in your waiting room to know that connected patients are mobile. In fact, mobile Internet usage in 2014 will surpass desktop Internet usage. With this pattern of mobile adoption, it's more important than ever to reevaluate your patient engagement and communication, your website, and your social media channels in order to ensure that they are optimized for mobile viewing.
This has two very important implications for your digital marketing strategy. First, it is imperative that your website render optimally on any mobile device. In today's technology, responsive design is the recommended approach by Google and an obvious choice for your practice. A website that employs responsive design automatically adapts to the varied screen sizes of today's smartphones and tablets and is easier for search engines to index. Second, your patient portal should also use responsive design in order to ensure that your patients are able to view their accounts, pay their bills, confirm their appointments, and access their records from any device.
The future success of your practice is dependent on your ability to attract and engage patients within the digital world. Traditional marketing tactics do not sway connected patients. Connected patients want to find you-quickly-when they are online, and they want to build mutual trust through consistent digital interaction. To help drive the growth and profitability of your practice, your marketing strategy needs to use these core principles for appealing to the connected patient.
Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA, is president and chief executive officer of Sesame Communications. She has a 20-year track record of success in leading dental innovation and marketing. Contact Diana at [email protected].