I sunk into my chair mid-morning, staring at the Macbook screen and dreading the file “epic medical PPC 4000” that took forever to open. The spreadsheet staring back at me deserved to be displayed on a bigger screen but there’s a charm to making things work in the early stages of a new business. It’s not as if I could fit a second screen on my desk anyway.
In the best startup fashion, I shared the desk with the rest of the team. It was a mess with documents and old coffee cups laying around everywhere. Exactly what you’d expect from a new business finding its legs.
Since school, my friends and I have had an ongoing joke of naming files and folders with the most ridiculous, impossible-to-remember names. I guess that stuck.
Despite the stupid filename, the epic spreadsheet was well organized with half the screen covered with ads in the local language and the other half with their English counterpart in an attempt to get an overview of each ad’s performance and content.
This epic spreadsheet was the basis for a medical PPC case study significantly growing this business’ patient acquisition with direct and effective search ads.
Medical PPC case study: 27x increase in new patient bookings and 50% decrease in CAC
This is a case study of building search ads campaigns to attract new patient bookings after a less successful attempt at making Facebook ads.
The problem and the goal
Sometimes there’s a specific business problem to solve and other times you just need to acquire more patients. That was the case for one business we helped. They offered primary care and a series of specialty care services.
They had been running ads on different digital platforms like Facebook and Google offering discounts and acquiring customers at $48 a pop but struggled to optimize that to something more meaningful and worth scaling.
A CAC like that can be painful but ok to live with if you just need some patients to test out your product but for this business, it was time to acquire a little more patients than that and at $48 a head, it quickly becomes very expensive — not to mention the fear that it might appear like the popular but non-sustainable approach of sustaining growth only with advertising.
Within just a few short months we managed to optimize that from $48 to just $19 per new patient that booked and completed an appointment — and best of all, we found a better value proposition than a generic discount.
That led to 27x more patients coming in the door every month and attracted higher quality patients that purchased more care services over time.
Insights we learned
The first order of business was to understand which part of their existing campaigns didn’t work and why by diving into the data.
After moving a small portion of the budget from display ads into search ads and optimizing the campaigns over a few “rounds” (more on those in a minute), we saw hints of strong performance with a better customer acquisition cost (CAC). The problem and the trade-off with these campaigns were that they were small “pockets” of well-converting traffic but with a ceiling of how many patients it could drive every day.
Within weeks, the ads had outperformed all the other digital channels we tested, and it was time to move more of the budget, build more campaigns and scale.
As is the case with many campaigns, it’s not as simple as just piling more money into the ads. The self-service platforms that sell the ads will happily accept our money but that doesn’t mean we get more performance out on the other end.
Usually, the deal is that we have to trade a portion of the CAC for higher patient volume and the idea is to scale it until you reach the best outcome in terms of revenue. The same was true in this situation as we built out campaigns to grow the patient volume to more than 10x while only having to pay 2x more on a $9 CAC in exchange for the added patient volume. A great deal overall.
Two well-performing medical PPC campaigns you can steal
To make this a little more fun and specific, let’s dive deeper and look at two campaign types that have performed well in past experiments.
Dividing the two campaigns up by the type of keywords is most relevant to get us off the ground. I’ve seen good results with these two campaigns:
- Keywords for local competitors in your area
- Keywords such as ‘clinics near me’ or ‘best X clinic in Y city”
Keywords for local competitors in your area
Search engines offer us a surprisingly easy way to target patients that are interested in a competing clinic brand simply by targeting people searching for keywords for certain brands.
If you aren’t sure if they are also located within your service area, instead of doing the dreadful work of looking up each clinic brand we can simply configure the geographical targeting of our ad to only serve within an area relevant to us. That way, we’ll also capture those patients who don’t know that a competing brand might not be available in your service area and they might see your ad instead.
Keywords such as ‘clinics near me’ or ‘best X clinic in Y city”
Another campaign type is one targeting keywords like:
- Clinics near me
- Pediatric clinic near me (if you offer pediatric care)
- Pediatric clinics in X city
- Best pediatric clinic in X city
- Pediatric clinic reviews
- [Brand name] reviews
- Book pediatric doctor today
- Pediatric doctor same day appointment
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as me saying that you can simply replicate the exact campaigns and you’ll see the same results. I find that things have a habit of performing a little differently every time, so it’s worth testing and experimenting for yourself as well.
When we run medical PPC campaigns, there’s a general 3-step framework we can use to organize our experiments easily. We can imagine it almost as three rounds in a boxing ring, except the boxers are our ads fighting each other and the competition for the best performance.
Round 1 – Medical PPC: targeting
The first round of running ads is all about reaching the right people first since no matter what we offer them, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t the target customers we intended to reach.
With search ads, there are different options like geographical and device targeting but any meaningful performance is usually found in targeting the right keywords.
Related reading: see the checklist and discover which learn more about what good healthcare keywords look like (no email sign up needed).
Round 2 – The offer
The offer and our value proposition is the reason that the patient should take action and claim it right when they see it on their screen.
This other article on Google ads for doctors goes into more detail about the value proposition halfway through the article.
Round 3 – Finishing touches
After completing round one and two, if done right, we are left with an ad campaign targeting the right people with the right offer and the final step is to optimize its performance for the right balance between new patient volume and the cost of each new patient – not the click rate or other pointless metrics that only marketers and advertising platforms care about.
That usually means testing a bunch of ad copy and landing pages, rotating well-performing ads to avoid them decaying too fast along with removing any non-converting audience pockets before planning to scale the patient volume.
Other notes on Medical PPC campaigns
There are a few more points I’d like to share but don’t fit in anywhere in particular:
I’m not a fan of big secrets but if there was one, it lies in approaching these campaigns systematically. One example is deciding how much each ad should spend before we can deem it’s performance worth comparing with our existing ads, and then based on how much we can afford to spend, calculate how long it takes to reach that goal.
For example, if we spend $100 per day and we need to spend $100 on each ad to feel out its performance, it would take one day. But we need more ads to compare with l, so if we create three ads, it would take three days to see the results. That means we have a 3-day cycle and need to prepare new ads in the meantime in order to replace the ones that finish with new fresh ones for each cycle without wasting valuable time.
Another example is systematically expanding the campaigns to target new audiences rather than throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, since the same ads won’t necessarily perform well with other audiences or intent/targeting.
An interesting observation I’ve made over the years is that patients often don’t convert directly on the campaign like we see in many other industries. That means they might not be trackable in your analytics tools even if they convert offline as a direct result of the campaign — we need to be flexible with tracking.
If you are not super familiar with digital acquisition channels, it can be confusing to figure out how they all fit together. Medical PPC (often referred to as ads on search engines) tend to be a good fit at the early stages but harder to use for true scale at later stages. Though, in some cases even if you overpay per click, medical PPC can be a fast and effective way to acquire patients for your startup.
The idea is to make this channel “good enough” and then move on – you will not become the world’s best PPC ads specialist, and you don’t need to.
Medical pay per click means advertising on a pay per click basis rather than paying for an assumed view of an ad like we might with traditional media. The benefit is that a click of an ad shows more intent from the consumer and a click usually means that they visit the brand’s website. That tends to be more valuable than a view of an ad where no one really knows how much attention is paid to the message.
- With medical PPC, often less is more at the early stages and a simple but effective campaign can make a big difference without having to be too complicated – there are two medical PPC campaign types that works well here
- A simple advertising framework is running a few rounds of optimization with the first being targeting the right people, the second creating the right offer and finally, optimizing the ad, landing page and other details in the third round
- If your CAC doesn’t decline significantly after those three rounds of optimization, there is often a misjudged assumption along the way and you’ll need a big change