By Caitlyn Fagan
People don't buy from businesses anymore. They buy from people they trust. In the orthodontic field, you, your team, and your office are the brand. Your interactions with patients, the way you treat one another as co-workers, and your level of professionalism send the message of what your practice represents. To best serve your practice, you need to represent your brand in all you do.
The golden rule of marketing is to have a presence where your customer base is. More and more, that means online. According to a 2010 Local Search Usage study, 70% of consumers go online first for local business information. Of all online local business searches, 90% will go through a search engine. These numbers will only go up.
Web marketing can't create the story—it can only tell it. Make sure it's a good one. When you're crafting your Web presence, think of it as a cupcake. You want to create something satisfying that people want and, better yet, want to share with their friends. Your Web site is a firm, dense body made of quality content—the delicious cake. Your social media is the frosting, designed to entice and engage your audience. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) allows you to share your content easily and effectively—like a cupcake wrapper. Let's look more closely at the ingredients that make up a successful Web presence.
The Cake: Content
Web marketing revolves around quality content. Just as you wouldn't choose a cupcake made of cardboard and paste, your potential customers are looking for quality ingredients to fulfill their needs. A strong Web site is one that answers questions and offers solutions to your potential patients. Matt Cutts, head of Google's web spam team, says that quality content is key to Google rankings, and that you should try to make your site so fantastic that you become an authority in your niche. The main purpose of content is to answer patients' questions and fulfill their needs.
Great content provides original information, research, and reporting. You should view content as an outlet for all the knowledge, ideas, and passion you have rolling around in your brain. It's a way to share that expertise with patients and assure them that they are in great hands with you and your practice. It should be complete and comprehensive. As with mixing cake batter, leaving out ingredients will result in a poor, flat substitute for the product you're trying to provide.
Fresh new content goes further than stale, neglected content. When consumers research information, they want frequently updated sites that demonstrate a commitment to continued satisfaction. If your site looks abandoned, neglected, or just plain bedraggled, a potential patient may not consider you trustworthy, or believe your service is worth their time or financial investment. An easy way to have consistently updated content on a Web site is to maintain a blog. According to a recent study done by Brafton, a content marketing agency, 52% of consumers say blogs have impacted their purchasing decisions. Creating a truly tempting and satisfying Web site will entice customers who are on the hunt for quality orthodontic care.
The Frosting: Social Media
When it comes to cupcakes, the frosting plays a big role in helping you make your choice. Are you a fan of cream cheese icing or chocolate ganache? Your social media presence may be the first experience potential patients have with your business. As the frosting on top of your great Web site cake, social media needs to be rich. You're feeding the needs of customers in broader strokes. Posts to social media should be relevant to the community as a whole. Social media is not the platform to slather on your sales pitch. No matter how beneficial your services may be, your audience will view another sales pitch on social sites like a daily dose of vitamins when they're looking for delectable delights.
Social media sites allow you to humanize your brand, create content with personality, and—perhaps most importantly—Google counts social media when considering page rank. "Likes" and sharing are a sign of excellent content. Google uses this information to determine your business's reliability and relevance to user queries.
Social media content is much more conversational than Web content. It should be written in your own voice. Remember to think about your audience. In the orthodontic world, clients may be both children and adult patients. Remember that what might be interesting to you (such as a new scanning technology) will only be interesting to your patients if they see how it will benefit them. Relate what's exciting to you to how it can impact the community you're interacting with. Does that new scanning technology translate into quicker visits for the patient? Turn this information from esoteric to engaging by tailoring it to the needs of your customer base.
Nearly all of your potential patients will use search engines, but, according to that same 2010 Local Search Usage study, today's tech-savvy shopper typically uses eight different media sources for research, and 69% of consumers are more likely to use a local business if it has information available on a social media site. Never underestimate the allure of tasty frosting.
The Wrapper: SEO
No matter how delicious, a cupcake won't go very far without the proper packaging. The same applies to your Web site. A Web site with great content helps build a strong brand, but to make the most of it, you need to use SEO. SEO allows that great content to go out into the world and be shared with the people who are looking for it. It comes in several different varieties.
On-page SEO is a form of organic (non-paid) SEO that makes a Web page more attractive to search-engine indexing. Some facets of on-page SEO include relevant keywords, good URLs, extensive internal and external linking, and, of course, high-quality and linkable content on all of your pages. Packaging and presentation do matter. From crafted thumbnail images to clear and understandable URLs, small changes to how you present your web presence can increase the appeal and reach of your content. According to Google, there are more than 200 SEO factors that it uses to determine page rank.
Another major ingredient of SEO is link-building. When link-building is done right, it means real sites linking to yours and increasing your credibility. When done wrong, it can get you banned from Google.
There are two major forms of link-building: backlinking and internal linking. A backlink is a link coming from another Web site (such as social media, forums, or a listing site) to your own site, the sole purpose of which is to drive traffic. Once interested patients land on your site, internal linking helps them navigate where they want to go. Internal linking allows you to cross-reference your content in a natural way. A prime example of this is getting people from the "About Us" page to the "Request an Appointment" page. Traffic should flow organically through your pages so that visitors can find the information they want as easily as possible.
A major component of link-building is localization, a process in which you claim business listings on the most popular listing sites such as Google, Bing, Yellow Pages, and Yelp to ensure that all the business information is correct and optimized to help your online rankings. Actively creating and managing your online reputation creates an actual personality in listings and local directories. Along with creating quality backlinks, another goal of localization is to capture customer testimonials so that you can manage your reputation and, if necessary, respond in a timely manner. Your practice is going to make mistakes. Hiding them is less effective than showing potential clients and customers that you are committed to their satisfaction.
Many businesses that are building their online presence are immediately drawn to another search engine marketing tactic called pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. PPC represents an "instant gratification" version of SEO. Natural SEO methods take time, but with PPC, you can see your ad move up the search engine rankings almost immediately.
Google AdWords is a service that allows advertisers to bid on keywords they want to match up with their advertisement. For instance, when a customer enters one of those keywords in a search query, the advertiser's link and brief description may appear on the screen following the query.
To make the most of these tools, you need a calculated understanding of keywords and you need to determine whether investing in keywords offers a reasonable return for your practice.
When used efficiently, these resources will increase the appeal and accessibility of your Web site. However, just like sprinkles on a cupcake, an ineffectual overuse is wasteful and can reduce your appeal.
The Future of Web Marketing
SEO has changed significantly in the past 2 years. We've gone from the option of chocolate or vanilla to a bevy of options, packages, and campaign strategies. Identifying and promoting your page's keywords are crucial for effective recognition by Google's Web crawlers.
Once upon a time, your site could simply use whited-out terms on a white background to shoot to the top of Google's rankings. Google's recent updates have changed the game. As part of its effort to assure the quality of query results, Google launched the Panda updates in early 2011 and the Penguin updates in April 2012. Sites flagged by Panda or Penguin have experienced a significant drop in rankings, which is why quality content is so crucial.
The Panda update was designed to weed out pages that aren't necessarily spam but also aren't great quality, while Penguin uses a sophisticated algorithm to target spam. According to Google, "The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google's existing quality guidelines." This update will penalize you for once-common SEO practices such as keyword stuffing. Penguin has impacted about 3.1% of searches so far. Many of these sites aren't easily recognized as spam, but Google believes those affected are engaging in tactics to manipulate search engine rankings. Dedication to detail and awareness of updates to Google's policies will continue to be crucial to staying on top of rankings.
Just as many orthodontists are beginning to understand the importance of Web marketing, a new outlet has arisen for those searching for reliable local businesses: the mobile site. According to a New Media Trend Watch article, 95% of smartphone users will search for local business information on their phones, 61% of smartphone users will call a business after searching, and 59% will visit the location. Your big, bulky Web site won't cut it on a 3-inch screen. With smartphone sales outnumbering those of personal computers, now is the time to create a mobile site.
Why go to the trouble? According to a 2011 Compuware article, 57% of users said they would not recommended a business with a bad mobile site.
At the end of the day, you are a small-business owner. You have to decide where your time is best spent. To be a successful orthodontist, your primary focus is most likely on the quality of your patient care. There are plenty of businesses that specialize in Web marketing. Use them. By creating and living your brand, you have provided all of the ingredients. Let the chefs bake the cupcakes.
Caitlyn Fagan has two great passions in this world. The first is her passion for helping companies create their brand and tell their story through strategic social media and Web marketing campaigns. For the last 2 years, Caitlyn has helped lead Web marketing at the Automated Marketing Group (AMG). Her other passion, clearly, is cupcakes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.