The Internets Impact on Dentistry

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Part IV:

How can potential patients find you on the Web?

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Bill Kimball, DDS

I trust by now you have, or soon will have, your own practice Web site. If you`re still hesitating, please pull out the last few months of Dental Economics and read again the first few articles of this series. The Internet is here to stay and is becoming a part of everyday life. I have a friend who is purchasing almost everything online - including his groceries!

With so many readers calling to ask about the best way to drive traffic to their newly developed Web sites, I decided to devote this column to that very subject! (I sincerely appreciate your calls and the positive feedback to this series.)

I am seeing Web sites utilized very successfully in two basic ways. First, they are being used to improve the image of the office and provide interested parties with a nice practice brochure, post-op instructions, office hours, etc. Some sites even allow the patients to "virtually" tour the office, clicking on doors to go to the next room as if they were walking around themselves. These offices are putting their URL (uniform resource locator, the addressing system for the World Wide Web, such as www.yourofficename.com) on stationary, business cards, newsletters - anywhere their name is printed. This provides valuable information to those who want it, especially patients of record. If you don`t already have a URL, you can check on availability and reserve one at www.register.com or www.networksolutions.com. It costs $70 to claim a URL for two years.

The second way to successfully utilize the Internet is to generate new patients for the practice. "But how do potential patients find out about my site?" you ask. "My Web site has been up for months, but no one is calling because of it." Sound familiar? It does to me.

First the bad news: Search engines (Yahoo!, Infoseek, etc.) only search a small portion of the net. Finding a Web site can be like finding a needle in a haystack! There are approximately 800 million Web pages. With so much on the Web, search engines only look at about 40 percent of the available sites today. But the news gets worse. This 40 percent is combining all search engines. The best single search engines only look at about 16 percent of the total Internet. Search.com, NorthernLight. com, and Dogpile.com are metasearch engines that review multiple search engines and collate the results for you.

The point is that you won`t receive a lot of traffic on your Web site if you rely on someone stumbling onto your site. NorthernLight.com gave me 371,664 sites when I typed in "dentist." The reality is that Mr. Joe who is looking for a dentist probably won`t find your site, even if it looks great.

Now the good news: There are other ways to help potential patients find you on the Internet. A great option, that is sure to get results, is to spend thousands of dollars on a marketing and advertising campaign to direct Web surfers to your site. Not a feasible option for you?

An alternative is to join a service that promotes a central Web site where potential patients can go to search for a dentist near them. I interviewed Christine Smith, vice president of marketing at smileworks.com, a site that is spending $30 million a year on consumer advertising to generate new patients for its member dentists. "We understand that new patient flow is essential for practice growth. With millions of people now logging on to the Internet for health information, an effective, professional Internet presence offers a great opportunity to generate new patients."

This site reaches the public through television and radio commercials, product tie-ins, Internet links and banner ads, and other creative marketing programs aimed primarily at mothers, who are the principal healthcare decision-makers for their families. If you enjoy statistics, try these on for size:

- Unique visitors to date: 200,150 (over 2.5 million hits in just three months)

- Over 2,500 TV commercials per month aired in 55 markets; the commercials have run during the Golden Globes, the Grammys, and ABC Millennium Coverage

- Internet banner ad impressions: 13 million per month for a total of 150 million annually

- Advertising on the following Web sites: AOL, Women.com, iVillage.com, Looksmart, About.com, Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves, Excite, Go, Lycos, Hotbot, MSN, SNAP, Yahoo!, and SesameStreet.com

- Co-branded "mini-sites" on Women.com, iVillage.com, Looksmart, and SesameStreet.com

- Co-branded promotion with Columbia Pictures holiday release Stuart Little, including the "Smile with Stuart Sweepstakes" (more than 16,000 entries from Nov. 29, 1999 through Dec. 31, 1999)

- A commercial is included on 8 million Stuart Little videos (scheduled release date of April 17), and the new "Stuart Little`s smileworks Sweepstakes" promoted on Eonline, Entertaindom, and Sony.com

What all this advertising adds up to is increased exposure to potential new patients for participating dentists. Consumers are encouraged to visit the dentist regularly and to go to smileworks.com to find a dentist. They can also learn what modern dentistry has to offer in the comprehensive patient education section.

According to Christine Smith, "Most online services provide a directory of dentists, offering the same information as the phone book. Before being referred, each visitor to the site provides details such as name, address, chief complaint, special needs, payment method, etc., which helps us screen and match the patient to the appropriate member dentist, at no charge to the consumer. And the provided educational information creates patient interest and results in educated consumers motivated to accept dental care."

"But I`m already on the Web with one of the other companies out there," you might say.

Good for you! That`s what`s really great about jumping on the Internet bandwagon right now. You don`t have to choose just one. I suggest you try several. The more places you are on the Internet, the more exposure you have to the consumer. Since several of the online companies are currently offering free trial memberships (including smileworks.com), there`s no risk for you. You have plenty of time to compare results and see whether they work well for you.

The important thing is to get online now and create a Web presence. It`s getting easier and easier to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Internet. Don`t delay. Like your parents told you when you were growing up, "You`ll thank me when you`re older!"

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