I’ve been helping startups with Google ads for doctors and we saw a great lift in new bookings within just a few weeks.
We discovered hidden “pockets” of patients that were affordable and not too competitive. In this mini-guide, I’ll show you how you can get more bookings on a small scale by finding your own “pockets” of patients before considering if it’s worth spending more energy with this marketing channel.
Google ads is a great place for doctors or tech startups to promote as we can reach people that are looking to book a consultation right now.
If we compare with other popular platforms like Facebook ads, we can tap into a direct need whereas on Facebook we target people based on their interests. That’s great for building excitement and the ads are generally more affordable but for our purpose, the people we reach also need more information (a longer sales funnel) to drive paying bookings online as it’s challenging to reach those ready to book.
When we talk about Google ads, we are not talking about Youtube or display ads that are technically also Google ads and managed under the same dashboard (which can make it confusing). We are talking about Google search ads like these:
The challenge with Google search ads is that they are more established as an advertising platform and their benefits are more well-known, meaning that they tend to be more competitive and more expensive.
In the game of online ads, there are two overarching stages in making ads drive affordable bookings. The first is creating an ad that converts visitors into bookings. The second is optimizing the ad to do it at an affordable price. Google likes ads that are highly relevant to the people who see them so much so that they offer a better price, the more relevant the ad is because it gives a better experience to their users.
As a rule of thumb don’t worry about optimizing the ad price until you know it works since that requires a different process than placing it in the first place.
Let’s get started. The first step is to reach the right people since the world’s best ad does nothing if it doesn’t reach the people it is intended for.
With Google ads for doctors reaching the right people is everything
Let’s begin with an overview of the most important elements and then dive into the practical steps.
With Google ads we reach people via the keywords we select to show up for when people search on Google.
But that isn’t enough. Since there are many different keywords to search for, we need just the right ones to indicate that someone is ready to book a consultation.
We can guess those by looking at the intent behind each keyword (called search intent) to pick just the right ones for us.
Two common ones that doctors and tech startups in our industry tend to run into are information searches (such as ‘flu symptoms’) and booking searches (such as ‘general physician near me’). Obviously, booking-phrases are more attractive to us at first but competitors might feel the same way, and so they become more expensive.
The rule of thumb tends to be that the more time we spend finding the right keywords the better chance we have of digging up ones that convert bookings, yet aren’t too expensive as other businesses haven’t bothered diving this deep in their research. I’ve noticed that what tends to show up during the first two hours, is what everyone else finds too, and so will be more competitive.
A good way to find relevant keywords is to first brainstorm high-level group topics before looking for the specific keywords in each one. I’ve gone ahead and prepared a few examples like:
- Competing doctor/clinic names that would serve the same patients in your area
- General ‘book now’ keywords for your services in your area (e.g. general consultation in denver, pediatric consultation in denver, etc.)
- Information keywords like ‘what causes a headache’ or ‘flu symptoms’
Next, let’s give them what they are looking for.
Give them what they are looking for
We are unlikely to see great results if we promote a ‘book consultation now’ page to people that are looking for information on what causes a headache because they are just looking to learn more, they haven’t yet concluded that visiting a doctor is the right next step.
To figure out which keywords work best for your clinic, we’ll have to place the ads and look at the results since we can track those who click and buys based on each specific ad. If we have, say, five ads running, we can then pause the three that don’t work and keep the two we are happy with.
We can cheat a little and go directly for the booking keywords as we know they tend to work the best. Often the booking keywords don’t have as many searches as the information keywords simply because fewer people have gone through the phases and concluded that they want to see a doctor now.
We can look at the keywords as stages. For example:
- What causes a headache (here they might be looking for information)
- What cures a headache (here they might be looking for a solution and learn that a consultation is relevant)
- Best pediatric clinic in seattle (now they are looking for a specific clinic to visit)
- Dr. Chan’s pediatric clinic seattle book consultation (now they are looking to book with that specific clinic)
We can imagine this as a funnel with different stages. At each stage, some people get what they are looking for and drop off instead of continuing to the next step. Each stage can be worth going after but the further down the funnel they go, the fewer people search and the more expensive and competitive it gets.
To win at the top, we might provide information that fits that keyword, anticipate what they want next and give it to them before they go back to Google to search for the next stage of keywords. That could for example be by suggesting a relevant article at the bottom of the one they are reading if you know they are looking for a solution after having diagnosed the problem.
I know what you are thinking: ‘I want bookings now’ and see if it works before doing all the writing stuff–I hear ya. So let’s dive into the practical steps of setting up your first Google search ad. But first a note.
Be wary of Google reps, many are good but some are too focused on their own agenda than your business. There can be a tendency to focus e.g. on the click rate to your website because that technically makes your ad perform better on the surface but that doesn’t correlate with bookings for your business.
So, remember to focus on what’s important for you (e.g. bookings and revenue) rather than arbitrary metrics like clicks if you are told that they are performing well.
Practical steps of setting up a Google search ad
Let’s dive into the practical steps of getting your ad up and running.
The first step is to follow the setup-wizard, create your ad account and familiarize yourself with Google’s advertising policies in the healthcare space as it differs country by country. In some cases, you may need to apply for a medical certification and what some reps recommend is to apply via the ‘online pharmacy’ button since there isn’t any for doctors.
If your ads get flagged for review and require the certification, consider asking your rep, if you have the opportunity.
The five (surprisingly easy) steps to set up Google ads for doctors
By now, you should have an ad account set up with Google ads. The next step is to pick the keywords we are going to target our ad for. It might come as a surprise but this is more important than the ad itself since a mediocre ad to the right people can still get us bookings but an amazing ad to the wrong people will never get us results.
First, let’s find the keywords to see if there is enough interest to make it worth the effort. For example, with 100 searches a month, we might get 20 clicks to our website depending on the placement of our ad (the better the placement the more it costs). Out of those 20, perhaps only 30% are ready to book based on the info we give them, which comes out to 6 new patient bookings per month from that keyword.
That isn’t a lot and we can stack up many keywords to increase the number of bookings as there are many relevant ones out there. But we need to dig to find them.
Instead of guessing what people might search for, the great thing about online marketing is that it is trackable. We can find out which specific keywords people are searching for, get an idea of how many people that is each month, and then plan out which ones we want to put our energy into. There are many tools to do this and I like paid tools the most because the data tends to be more accurate but Google’s free keyword planner tool is good enough to get us started.
When you have it open, click ‘Discover new keywords’ and select your country, area, and type in a general keyword to get started (see example below).
When we’ve clicked ‘get results’, we are taken to the results-page. There’s a lot going on and I’ve highlighted the key details for you below. At the bottom you’ll be able to expand the rows or scroll to different pages to see more relevant keywords.
For now, I suggest focusing on the first two columns: keywords (by relevance) and avg. monthly searches. Pick the keywords that are relevant, click the ‘broad match’ dropdown menu and select ‘exact match’ followed by ‘add keywords to create plan’.
Navigate to ‘saved keywords’ in the left menubar and click the blue ‘create campaign’ button.
Write a campaign name and daily ad budget. Keep in mind that your ad budget will be the daily average, so it might be slightly higher or lower on certain days.
We’re now taken to the summary and can click ‘view campaign’.
While the campaign isn’t ready to go live it is automatically set to be so when it is ready. I suggest pausing it so you don’t get any surprises.
Then click ‘ads & extensions’ and ‘create ad’ followed by ‘responsive search ad’ and selecting your ad group to place the ad inside (there is only one).
The next step is to write your ad based on the keywords at the top of the screen. Google’s requirements change every now and then but this is what it looks like at the time of writing.
Follow the instructions under ‘ad strength’ in the right hand side and click the blue ‘save your ad’ button at the bottom when you are done. The ‘final URL’ is where you want to send people to and ‘display path’ is an opportunity to make the URL look a little prettier if it’s a long ugly one.
Writing great ad copy that converts bookings is a whole other topic that I might cover separately one day. For now, I’d focus on getting the keywords at the top and middle of the screen into the text in a way that sounds natural, and then write a number of variations that Google can experiment with to find out what works best for you.
It can feel a little confusing with the variations in there but that still only counts as one ad. I suggest at least making two ads in total but the more the better. The trick is to make the text as different as possible in order to get different results – I bet you’ll be surprised how differently they perform.
One approach could be to focus on one selling point for each ad (not variation). For example:
- See a doctor today (or in a few hours)
- Specialist in X problem or type of care
- Open at odd hours
- Comes to your house instead of you driving to the clinic
At the bottom of the screen you have ‘Ad URL options’:
In the tracking template input the following but change MYWEBSITE.com to your website and change AD1 to AD2 on the next ad you write so that you can tell the difference and see which ones get more bookings in your analytics later on.
Things at the bottom like ‘sitelink extensions’ are great but you will be able to start without them to get your feet wet. Click ‘save ad’. The ad will now be reviewed by Google before it can be set live. Either it will need to be revised and they will provide more details or it will be approved and we are ready to run.
Now we have the shell of an ad campaign with two ads written in it and targeted keywords we’d like to show up for.
Install analytics tracking
Finally, let’s install analytics tracking so we can see which keywords work the best and pause those that don’t provide results to avoid wasting our money. I know this sounds techy but these days it’s pretty straightforward to get started.
There are two main options, one if you already have Google analytics installed and have a goal created that shows when someone books a consultation. If you do, we can import that easily. If not, I’ll show you how to set it up from scratch below.
To import it from Google analytics, click ‘tools & settings’ in the top bar and then ‘conversions’.
Click the blue plus button and select ‘import’ in the right hand side.
If you don’t have Google analytics 4, select ‘Google analytics (UA)’ – the process is the same. You can now select the right goal from your analytics and move on. Below is an example of my own so yours will look slightly different.
Select one, import and move on.
If you don’t already have goals set up, let’s follow the same process since it feels easier if you are not tech/ads savvy. This link should take you directly to the right page in your Google analytics account – if it asks you to log in, do so and then open this link again to go directly.
First click the red button that reads ‘new goal’, use ‘register online’, scroll down and click ‘continue’.
Name the thing, make sure ‘destination’ is ticked and continue.
Next, find your ‘thank you’ page on your website or create one if you don’t have one (it’s just a simple page that says something like ‘thanks for booking…’, so that people know their booking is confirmed. Input the URL and save.
You’ll be sent back to the previous page and the goal is installed.
You can now go back into your ad account and follow the steps above to import the conversion goal into the ad campaign.
That’s it! Congrats, you now have Google ads ready to send you bookings! Remember to re-enable the campaign when you are ready to run by using the same button we used to pause it.
There’s more to it than that in order to get affordable bookings. It’s a fun ongoing process and these are the steps to get your started. The next steps are to analyze the data once it’s been running for a while to pause the keywords and ads that don’t send us bookings and keep those that do. We can also write new ads and tweak our website landing page to make it easier for patients to book. Let me know if you are interested in another guide about that.
- Spend extra time digging up good keywords to get better results
- Write at least two ad (not ad variation) so you can compare their performance after a few days
- Remember that this is an ongoing process to optimize the ads for better performance. The first step is getting bookings, the second step is getting more bookings and getting them at a more affordable price
- Dive deeper with healthcare keywords: the secret to affordable patient bookings online
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