I tend to spend more time talking about patient acquisition than most other problems around growth and marketing for a medical practice.
It’s usually the first problem a new startup faces in the healthcare industry, while other problems present themselves later on down the journey. In this article, we’ll go over three secrets around marketing for medical practices that I’ve used in past projects to increase patient bookings significantly.
Now, these are ideas I’m sharing because I don’t think they should be secrets but they took me some work to uncover–hopefully, you can jump right into executing.
The first secret is two tricks we can use in our search marketing to ensure that what we are actually spending our energy working on, is also converting new patient bookings. This one helped me prioritize certain search marketing items to improve performance by working on what made the biggest impact first.
The second idea is around alternative channels to the traditional offline billboards, search marketing and Facebook ads.
The final idea is around turning one of your winning ideas or tactics into something bigger by building upon the momentum.
Let’s jump in!
Marketing for a medical practice secret 1: test keywords with ads before building organic traffic
Since search is the backbone of marketing for medical practices, let’s start there. I can’t think of any medical practice where search marketing isn’t an obvious fit for an experiment or two.
It can be split up into two distinct areas: organic search or paid search (ads). If you haven’t done search marketing before, a simple way to look at it is that paid search ads is a quick win whereas organic search is a big win.
It’s an oversimplification but it works for now since paid ads will enable your medical practice to show up when people search for relevant healthcare keywords like “optometrist near me” and you can get exposure starting today or tomorrow.
In comparison, organic search can take months to produce visible results since we have to first publish a piece of content like an article, and then submit it to search engines like Google. They choose when they will add the page to their search results (it’s automated) and after that, it will climb the search results slowly as time progresses.
Sometimes, if the keyword we are going after isn’t competitive, it can produce results within mere weeks or a month but don’t expect it. The big upside is that our growth is generally fairly predictable month after month, although search engines can of course change it with new content being published by others, or changes to the search engine or our website.
Meaning that in a simplified world, we can expect the same article to produce bookings and interest month after month once it’s found a place in the search engines.
In most cases, one article will make little difference and we’ll need a library of content to really see a big win in bookings and traffic. On the other hand, with a serious effort, it can be a game-changing play for growth especially if you are backed by VC funding as the CAC and predictability tend to be strong over time.
Instead of choosing which keywords to create content around based on experience or guesses, a great place to start is to begin by running paid search ads to discover and isolate the best-performing keywords related to marketing for your medical practice. Then create top-notch content around them to drive organic traffic since you already know they convert well via ads.
That can help you get buy-in to continue your growth efforts as you are more likely to see fast results with a marketing channel that can otherwise feel slow.
Bonus idea: use a search ‘scouting campaign’ to discover new, profitable keywords
Another great trick that someone a lot better at search campaigns than I showed me, is that we can run a small discovery campaign to find new keywords that we would otherwise not have thought about. The simple idea is to run ads to a broad but relevant keyword to see what people search for, capture the best phrases and add them to our campaigns.
In Google search ads, we have certain keyword match options which is how the search engine interprets our keyword. For example, can our keyword be part of a longer sentence?
One example would be showing up when people search for the keyword “doctor” but does that also mean we’ll show up for longer sentences including the word like “24h doctor emergency near me”?
We can choose both yes or no depending on our intention with that specific advertising campaign. The trick is to keep the budget low, the keywords broad and let it chug along as you experiment. I bet you’ll find some hidden gems that you never thought of before.
Once you’ve got the first set of marketing channels performing well and under control, it’s time to look for alternatives.
Marketing for medical practice secret 2: experiment with creative partnerships instead of traditional (and expensive) channels
Sometimes the traditional marketing platforms like offline billboards or Facebook ads can seem daunting, expensive and not the obvious choice to drive results. Often they are the lazy marketers’ preferred way to bruteforce results, yet it can feel as if there are no other solid alternatives to market your medical practice when search is maxed out.
Oftentimes there are great but non-obvious partnerships hiding in the wild if you are willing to look for them.
It can be challenging to get the grey hair going during the first brainstorming session and one of the effective ways to get the creative juices flowing is to set yourself limits when brainstorming.
Ironically, many of us find it challenging to come up with good ideas when there are no rules – it feels like the canvas is too empty and we get some sort of writer’s block staring at the blank page.
The trick is to create artificial limits for ourselves since we can always remove them again later. That could for example be:
- That we can only spend $1,000 in total for this idea
- We have to be able to fully execute it this month
- It has to be doable with just ten hours per week
It’s hard to give you any specific websites since it is crucial that they attract potential patients that are within your local area of care. Some markets have forums or Q&A sites (question and answer) like Quora but specifically for medical and health-related questions. They can be a good fit, especially if you can find a subsection related to your local service area.
The reason these alternative sources of new patients tend to convert well is painfully simple: your competitors are unlikely to have thought about them and if they have, they are even more unlikely to have done anything about it for the same reason you haven’t. Sometimes we’ve simply had to prioritize other projects.
Marketing for medical practice secret 3: turning tactics into major wins
The other secrets have been tactical and things we can go about implementing right away. This last secret of marketing for medical practices is more of an ongoing thing to ensure marketing success as you progress. On the surface, it looks like nothing but I’ve found this “secret” to be the key to multiplying your wins after you’ve begun to see patients book digitally.
Sure, it’s amazing to have someone around us that has done exactly what we are trying to do and can guide us on which pitfalls to avoid and which direction to pursue.
The reality is that we often don’t have that privilege and even if we do, our situation might not be exactly the same. Meaning that we need to continue experimenting, which is usually the approach we want to go to maximize marketing performance anyway.
Whether that turns out to be a highly profitable endeavor or an expensive roller coaster comes down to the performance of the day to day operations over time.
An effective marketing team can run many experiments side by side, week in and week out. If we take the reasonable portfolio approach and assume that 10%-20% of the experiments will make serious improvements to the business and the rest will be a mix of performing similarly to the existing work or worse, we know that the more experiments we can run, the more impactful gains to the business we’ll create. For every ten experiments, a couple of them will be game-changing.
The daily processes for running experiments then dictate whether we’ll run, say, one per week or five. Over the course of a year (50 weeks), that’s 50 experiments (50*1) against 250 (50*5) which takes the business from 5-10 to 25-50 major wins a year. At that stage, it’s almost not fair as the better performing team will dominate the other one fast, and it all comes down to the details day to day.
My point is that tactics are a great way to get going but consistency is what turns that into something meaningful over time. It’s like zooming out and instead of focusing on who can come up with the best tactic, making sure you are testing new experiments consistently.
To do that we need a strong but straightforward process that is easy to execute. The first thing people usually think when they hear this is that they have to become some sort of crazy productivity robot.
That is not true, the process exists exactly so we can avoid that by always knowing what the next step is, since the biggest challenge for many marketing departments is not being able to prioritize between a million random tactics and execute them systematically without being caught up in the emotion surrounding the idea.
Since implementing too many things at once often leads to things getting worse, I’ll keep it simple for now. I’ve found that the two most important things are to forecast what kind of impact or results you expect from each project, and measure or check in on the progress projects you are serious about every day.
When you forecast results, it’s okay to be wrong since it builds our intuition and understanding of growth as long as we don’t make the same mistake over and over again.
- Consider testing the performance of a keyword with ads before building out organic content, so you know it will perform as expected
- Look for alternative ways to market your medical practice with creative partnerships instead of the standard channels that are usually much more expensive
- Forecast the impact or results you expect on the business from the projects you are considering, so you can avoid the projects that take a lot of energy but produces no meaningful impact