Here are some questions that you would do well to answer positively – or get some help if you want to avoid being left behind: 1. Do you have a practice website? Sadly and incredibly, it is still necessary to ask this question. For reasons that will shortly become obvious, it is essential and not discretionary that your business has a web presence. 2. Is your website Search Engine Optimised? SEO is the methodology by which your web site becomes visible to Google’s searching servers. In practical terms, it’s about making sure that the words used at key places throughout your web site match the words used by those who are searching. So if your target market is affluent people between the ages of 35 and 60 and if they are searching with terms like ‘private dentist in our town’, ‘Tooth whitening in our town’, ‘Smile makeovers in our town’, ‘dental implants in our town’, then your site must contain references to those actual words throughout its virtual pages, particularly the home page. You can often spot an optimised site by scrolling all the way down to the foot of the homepage. What looks like a small-print site directory is actually a flag to Google saying ‘we’re over here!’. The latest published statistics are that 63% of new patient enquiries in UK private dentistry come from a Google search, a browse around your site and then a phone call. Also, The Sunday Times reports that 70% of Google searchers admit to avoiding the ‘sponsored links’ at the top and right hand side of a page – and look around the ‘open listings’ area to see what appears legitimately. 3. Does your web site pass the 4-second test? It is reported that the average human browser invests no more than 4 seconds in your homepage before they move on. So that home page has to be ‘sticky’, like fly-paper it must attract and then anchor you to the other pages on your site. How do you make your home page ‘sticky’? By making sure that, in 4-seconds, I know I am in the right place for my demographic and my needs. A mug shot of the principal, an out-dated logo or a list of dental qualifications and procedures is not going to cut the virtual mustard. Research shows that visitors to your site will look in the following order:
People: your team – do they look inviting and happy?
Premises: your common areas – does it look like a business-class lounge?
Promises: what do you have to say about your customer service?
Proof: can I read, see or watch testimonials from happy patients that are ‘just like me’?
Prices: are you reassuringly expensive?
Products: a little bit of information about your dental expertise?
4. Are you making me an offer? In these recessionary days, a private dentist is not competing with the NHS or with other private dentists. You are competing with the travel agency, the furniture store, the car showroom, the electrical goods retailer, with Apple! So there has to be a KEDO (a knock ’em dead offer) that will encourage me to make that first vital phone call. Examples are:
a free first consult with a treatment co-ordinator
half-price whitening on certain days of the week
free home whitening if I join your membership scheme
What’s the KEDO that is going to encourage me to call you? 5. Are you converting your patients into a virtual community? We are all part of the web – you had better get over it.
Over 96% of the UK population has a mobile phone and an increasing proportion of them have broadband access to the web from that phone
In August 2008 it was reported that 56% of UK homes had broadband access
Facebook membership is growing at 24% a month and many new members are in the adult category – mainly 25-35 year olds but an increasing number of the over 35’s. A friend of mine recently succumbed to Facebook membership after being admonished by her 83-year old grandmother who wanted her as a friend!
Twitter is growing at 100% per month and will soon overtake text messaging and IM as a means of virtual communication
6. Do you write a practice blog? Many of my friends in dentistry do – on the right hand menu bar of this blog you will see a list of blogging dentists as well as links to many of the best dental web sites I have visited. Blogging increases your Google ranking (the activity gets noticed) and is a means to communicate that latest news and ideas to your patients and other fans. If you have a referral practice, establish a separate blog for your referring dentists – that’s where you can share case studies and clinical conversations. 7. Have you created a Facebook group for your patients? Easy enough to do, and a superb way to keep them in a conversation about what’s going on in the practice and in dentistry. Real-time communication and chance to moderate an ongoing conversation about the benefits of dentistry. 8. Is there an IM chat box on the home page of your web site? In this way, patients and prospects can talk on-line in real time with your front desk. 9. Can you Skype from your practice? Free video phone calls to any patient with a fast internet connection, a web cam and a microphone and speaker/headset. 10. Do you have the right team in place? I’m not suggesting that you add ‘the internet’ to the already overwhelming list of things you have to do. You need access to the following:
a web architect – who understands how all of this works ‘backstage’
a graphic designer – who can make it look nice
an optimiser – who understands SEO and can keep you at the top of the search page
a community manager who can ‘look after’ all of this for your practice and make sure that all of your web presence remains fresh and regularly updated.
We are seeing the future unfold before us – don’t miss the boat!