Everybody knows that the Internet has changed the world, but for health care professionals, those changes have been particularly profound. Medics now have to be tech savvy, and an increasing number are realizing that the web can offer benefits not only to their clinical work but also in terms of marketing their practice to potential clients.

Online marketing

Like medicine, marketing has been fundamentally changed by the Internet. The web offers a huge potential audience to clinicians looking to sell their practice online, but online marketing practitioners are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it is up to practice staff to keep abreast of relevant techniques if they want to get the best results for their efforts.

An alternative is to engage a highly competent third party provider; however, given the ethical, regulatory and legal complications involved in health care marketing, it is prudent either to pick a provider that specializes in health care marketing, or one that has relevant experience.

Important elements

Some elements of online marketing are “must-haves.” For practices looking to recruit customers online, a good website is a basic requirement. Notice the use of “good”: websites are now so ubiquitous that it takes real flair and effort to make an impression.

A good practice can serve many purposes, but all can attract and/or retain customers. Some practice websites offer appointment booking and enquiry services, others provide helpful information, but all are driven by one question: what does the customer (or potential customer) want from this site?

That question is more than mere rhetoric. If a site offers little to a visitor, why would they hang around to find out more about the practice and, ultimately, book a consultation? This simple question, which is applicable to all online marketing, has generated a range of online techniques that can be useful to medical practices.

Content

Broadly, content is the text/video/audio/pictures that make up a website, and the way in which that website is presented. Content draws in or repels customers. Good content includes:

  • A website that is clear and easy to navigate.
  • Written, visual and/or video content that is relevant to the reader.
  • Written content that is of an appropriate style and easy for the reader to understand.
  • Written, visual or video content that is regularly updated and of current interest.
  • A considerable volume of content (studies suggest that a website needs to contain at least 20 articles in order to be regarded as authoritative).
  • A distinctive “voice” that marks out the site from its competition.

For most practice websites, the quality of content depends hugely upon the person or people who produce it. Many practices outsource their content to a copywriter or public relations agency, simply because the workload involved in producing regular, relevant copy is considerable. The fees for this vary, but as has been explained above, it is always worth paying a little extra for a practitioner with health care expertise.

Practices must bear in mind that it takes time for content marketing to generate sales. The longer a website has been in existence and consistently producing good content, the more authoritative it will appear, and thus more likely to generate sales leads. In terms of retention, however, the benefits are speedier. Given that many sales leads are generated by word-of-mouth references from existing clients, that alone justifies the use of good content.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Clearly, the ideal is to persuade readers who visit a practice's site to stick around long enough to develop an interest in the practice in particular, rather than the subject in general. However, many practices find that potential customers do not come across their site in the first place. That is where SEO comes in.

The aim of SEO is to get a website noticed: in particular, to apply various techniques that result in that site appearing early in search engine results when a potential client makes a relevant search. The use of keywords is perhaps the best known SEO technique, but in fact the algorithms used by the big search engines are now changing so often that SEO techniques must constantly change and adapt.

The use of SEO techniques can be highly effective in drawing potential customers in, but results are never immediate. Allow a matter of weeks or months for an SEO campaign to bear fruit, and given the constantly changing landscape of SEO, the use of a good third party provider can really pay off.

Plan to succeed

Although this is a great time to market a practice online, the importance of planning should never be overlooked. A great marketing plan should be the first task on any practice's marketing schedule, and everything else should flow from it. From that point on, its online world is in the practice's hands!