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I talk about Web marketing frequently for good reason. It’s been estimated that around 80 percent of consumers look for health-related information on the Web. With more and more of your prospective patients growing up on the Internet, an increasing number of them are throwing out their phone books and reaching for their mouse when shopping for a service.

I realize that a good number of you already have practice websites. However, remember that launching a website is really just the beginning.

Give very careful thought to the message your website delivers. When a patient enters your practice for the very first time, I’m sure you and your staff do everything you can to make a great first impression. However, often this isn’t their first impression of your practice. Many patients have already been introduced to you through your website. What sort of message does it communicate? Is it hard to navigate and riddled with typos? Is the writing dry and clinical? Are there images that fail to load or broken links? Is it full of unattractive photographs of decayed teeth? Or is it a straightforward, lively website that captures the personality and philosophy of your practice? Patients who find you through your website will be judging you solely on your site’s content, so every word and image counts. Choose them wisely.

Once you have a website, you need to keep it optimized. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) determines how often your website will show up in Web searches. It may sound simple, but this is one of the most difficult processes in marketing today. SEO is a process that will likely be completely alien to someone without extensive Internet marketing expertise, so make sure the company you contract with to design your practice website also provides ongoing SEO. Also, don’t worry if your website doesn’t land at the very top. With more and more dentists on the Web, it’s getting difficult to achieve this goal — and often appearing within the top three or four in your area is just as good.

Don’t forget your current patient base. If properly designed, your website should not only attract new patients, but function as an informative brochure for your practice. You can explain the services and technology you offer at your practice in compelling, enticing language. You can introduce new staff members online or invite your long-term patients to contribute content from the patient’s perspective. Remember, most patients don’t know what it is that you actually do at your practice. Your website could be a great way to start informing them.

If you have a website, you have one of the most effective marketing tools available at your disposal. However, investing in sharp, well-realized design, content and management is crucial. After all, your website is the most widely seen part of your practice. A great website can convince a patient to call and make an appointment — and just as easily, a bad or average one can keep them away. So what’s it going to be?

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