Tim Kelley and Tim Healy started TNT Dental, a Web site development company in the Dallas area, from their experiences in the dental industry. After five years of helping dental practices address e-marketing agendas in light of today’s online technological advancements, they have a wealth of experience to share with Dr. John H. Jameson.
Dr. Jameson: As we begin to consider the e-marketing concept of the dental practice, it’s hard to ignore the attention that’s been given to the Internet revolution with online sales and various search engines. What do you think has been the Internet’s main effect on today’s dental marketing environment?
Kelley: We’ve seen effects in four major areas. Online insurance claim processing and laboratory communications are two capabilities that the Web has enabled. But, in our business, the greatest impact we are seeing today is in patient communication, since a Web site serves as the hub for that type of communication. Online research is another key development that our industry is only on the brink of embracing. By online research, I am including blogs as a resource. A blog is a Web log; it’s almost like an online diary. Blogs quickly are becoming the choice for delivering news and information in a timely manner. Here, I’m specifically referring to dentalblogs.com, which should be a big revolution for researching anything dental. In other industries, blogging is already well-known. For example, it has markedly affected journalism. It helped “bloggers” (or journalists using an online blog) to reveal errors in Dan Rather’s highly publicized presidential election story last year.
Healy: Much goes into building and maintaining a traditional Web site. Blogs are a great way to direct traffic to your Web site and add personality to your message. If you can send an e-mail message, you can blog.
Dr. Jameson: As you mentioned, we have known that insurance claim processing was one of the first areas in which digital connectivity impacted the dental practice. Laboratory communication has improved with the capabilities of entering prescriptions and photographs. But, in your environment of Web site development, what are some of the services that are being requested by your clients for communicating most effectively with their patient base?
Kelley: Without question, practices that focus on online patient communication are by far the most effective marketers. We are asked, “How do I e-mail my patients effectively?” and “How do I effectively use the information I have on a Web site?” So, all of the features we’re offering involve interactive communication of some sort - whether it be an improvement on the “Ask the Doctor” section that’s been popular on practice sites for some time or whether it includes patient surveys and more flexibility in the “request an appointment” part of a Web site. All of these involve some kind of linked e-mail or an avenue for potential patient contact with the practice through a Web site.
Dr. Jameson: Are patients able to log onto a practice’s site and access their own file to view notes or treatments plans? Do you have anything like this that relates to existing management software?
Kelley: Absolutely. In our experience, we have a number of clients who utilize their site in password-protected, secure areas to augment treatment plan presentation and provide a number of visual enhancements. Dentrix still leads the way in providing patient information in a secure area through a Web site. We have hooked up a number of clients to the Dentrix online module.
Healy: We see the Web site as communication central - for example, with elements like the Dentrix plug-in - for providing more Web site functionality. There are also convenience factors we can add such as a link to CareCredit in which patients can access online financing options, and get preapproved for a specific treatment amount. After all, a new patient may already have an idea of what he or she wants, having been educated through the Web site before ever stepping foot into your practice.
Dr. Jameson: There is most definitely a time-saving, efficiency-increasing aspect to e-marketing via a Web site today.
Healy: Yes, we view the dental Web sites we build as an extension of the practice itself - consistent in tone, service emphasis, and everything else that makes a practice tick. A Web site is a great way to introduce your practice to new patients, and let current patients know what else you can do for them.
Dr. Jameson: In your experience with Web sites, what are the most effective areas for marketing patient education?
Kelley: We have talked about interactive patient communication pieces (forms, links, etc.). Those, along with well-organized “before-and-after photo galleries” are by far the highest traffic areas of a site. We recommend using all the photos and interactive elements that make sense for your practice. We also have seen many practice sites that have been built from a template of some kind. A practice will want us to change the site because it is not getting the desired results. They look fine, but the custom sites we work with attract far more traffic than those built from templates.
Dr. Jameson: I’m sure that hits home with many of our readers who have a Web site but find it’s not bringing the results they anticipated. What are their options? What can they do if they are not pleased with the appearance of their site or the type of response it has created?
Kelley: This is something we see and hear often. In this case, we always recommend that dentists turn to a professional Web site company that specializes in dentistry. In this situation, we encourage a dentist to interview several companies and find the right fit. There is great value in having a company that specializes in dental sites and can recreate your practice online.
Healy: That’s the premise on which we founded our company. Having someone who understands the dental business allows strategic conversations about where you want to go with a Web site. In fact, we have coined a phrase called “Web site rescue.”
Dr. Jameson: I think this is an interesting term. Tell us what services you provide to clinicians in need of “Web site rescue.”
Kelley: So many professionals we meet are in the same scenario. Someone has built a Web site, and it is functional to some degree. So there’s really no reason to start over. We can take an existing site, tweak it, and rearrange it without having to start again from the beginning. Services that a good Web site support company provide can take an existing site’s good features, emphasize those, and rearrange the parts that are not working. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we can salvage something into an effective site without a lot of expense up front.
Dr. Jameson: So, once you have the Web site of your dreams, as you look at the business management structure of the practice, how is this dream Web site most effectively used for marketing?
Kelley: I think the most important thing is to integrate the site into the way you already communicate with patients. First, make sure everyone on your team is aware of the site, understands how to navigate it, knows what information is there, believes in the power of the site, and understands their role in communicating better with patients via the site. If this happens, communication is fostered with patients. In turn, this develops into a fantastic tool for referrals. Current patients who know what is online can refer potential patients to the site to learn more. Unfortunately, it’s not like the “If you build it, they will come” motto. Rather, you have to educate your team that the site is there and it needs to be used. You have to refer patients online to complete a form, look at a photo of a similar case, or read and share articles about the treatment you’re providing. Once your internal team is aware of the site and believes in it, you are on a roll.
Dr. Jameson: So, first, have a great marketing plan in the practice, and use the Web site as an aspect of that. Then, everything has a homogenous appearance so other regular marketing tactics and the Web site are able to reach the common goal of patient education and practice building.
Kelley: Yes, that’s it. We have clients across the country who have traditional marketing plans in place into which we have weaved their new Web site. For instance, one client in California does a tremendous amount of radio advertising. So, we used the Web site to complement that. The site doesn’t replace what he was doing before since that approach was working for him. But it allows him to further maximize those results for an even greater return on his investment. Not only do radio and Web site messages get a harmonious point across, but this approach goes a step further. The radio ads are written to drive people to the Web site. The Web site is then able to track the responses to the radio ads. The benefit comes full circle.
Dr. Jameson: Looking into the future, we will have practices with Web sites that will be tied into great marketing plans, and we’ll have patient communication protocols that actively incorporate the Web site. So you might think that matters would be running perfectly. However, how do you maximize the search engine aspect so that people are able to find these Web sites that practices have developed and integrated so diligently?
Healy: That’s a great question. Typically, patients type in local area references as part of a search string, for example, “Plano Cosmetic Dentist.” For Web site rescue, we first analyze how a site is built to determine whether a site can be discovered this way. We also look at the underlying code to make sure a site is properly “tagged.” Once we understand what is important to the practice and research popular terms for the market area, we can establish an appropriate strategy for search engine discovery. We even can rebuild existing sites to make them more search engine friendly, if necessary.
Kelley: Ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the site is another key to maintaining a high search engine position. You can be in the top five one day but drop significantly the next since everyone is competing for those top rankings.
Healy: We also are starting to see and help build multiple sites owned by the same practice. You might have a Web site that explains everything your practice does in addition to a specialty site that emphasizes sedation or some other particular service. The sites complement each other, thus increasing your chances of discovery since you have more than one site promoting the practice.
After starting his career in sales, Tim Kelley’s focus has switched to dentistry. Since 1995, he has lectured on the introduction of new products and techniques into dental practices, gaining invaluable insights from offices across the country. These insights are the foundation of TNT’s proprietary Web site development and implementation protocol.
In the last 18 years, Tim Healy has been involved with the implementation of industry-leading sales and marketing strategies and the launch of numerous products. He has worked for one of the leading online education companies, and had extensive involvement in the dental lab industry prior to becoming a co-founder of TNT Dental in 2000.
Dr. John Jameson is chairman of the board of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental consulting firm. Representing JMI, he writes for numerous dental publications and provides research for manufacturers and marketing companies, as well as lectures worldwide on the leadership and integration of technology into the dental practice. He also manages the technology phase of the consulting program carried out by JMI consultants in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He may be reached at (877) 369-5558 or by visiting www.jamesonmanagement.com.