You’ve likely seen the statistics – increasingly, patients are looking for and choosing doctors online – so chances are, making sure you and your practice are searchable is something you’ve thought about. Rightly so: In 2012, Forrester Research analyzed over 77,000 consumer orders to figure out where customers, not just traffic, were coming from. They confirmed that search engines are still king when it comes to driving website visits that end up in conversions and revenue.
Most people start search marketing by dipping their toes into Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Google AdWords has been around for over 13 years and is still one of the best converting online marketing channels. The beauty of AdWords is that you can track exactly how much you’re making versus how much you’re spending. If you’re good, then you can figure out how your Cost Per Click (CPC) translates into a Cost Per Lead (CPL) and a Cost to Acquire each Customer (CAC) – or patient, in this case. Once you have that, you have everything. You know exactly how much you are able to spend (or invest) to consistently acquire patients and continue to grow your practice.
It works so perfectly, it’s almost too good to be true. And that’s because it is…
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Why the Downside of AdWords is a Product of its Success
Online ad spending is up over 16 percent this year – from $8.3 billion a year ago to $9.3 billion in the first quarter of 2013, according to paidContent. Ad dollars are going from opaque offline sources – like print – to the Internet, and while on the one hand that’s good because we know more about the return on investment, it’s also bad because things keep getting more expensive. When more new companies start using AdWords, and existing companies start increasing their budget and spending in that area, the cost to compete rises dramatically.
As your effective Cost Per Click (CPC) rises steadily, the cost to eventually acquire each patient also continues to grow. This means your profit – or the amount of money you make after advertising – shrinks on a per patient basis. The ROI is actually getting worse. And you hit the point of diminishing returns faster. So what should you do? Start investing in other “inbound” marketing channels.
Why Digital, “Inbound” Marketing Provides the Best ROI
Over a decade ago, Seth Godin published Permission Marketing, based on a simple insight: the future of advertising and marketing will be more about earning attention, and less about trying to get noticed by interrupting people. Fast forward to 2009, and the founder of software company HubSpot coined the term inbound marketing, which is basically the process of using content and media to bring customers in. Different title, same premise. Instead of “pushing” messages out, the idea is that we should focus more on “pulling” people in. Not only do customers prefer this approach, but it also makes more business sense.
Reason #1: Inbound marketing ROI increases over time.
On a very basic level, here’s how advertising works: You invest $100 to make $120 in revenue (and $20 profit). Then you continue to reinvest the $100 to grow. You can optimize individual pieces of the ad and improve a little over time. But you’re largely stuck in a fixed ratio of spend-to-return. Want more profit? Then spend more on advertising.
Inbound marketing is a little different. Organic search traffic is one of the best performing online marketing channels because, as with AdWords, people show intent by typing in exactly what they’re looking for. However, it’s more profitable than spending money on advertising because your investment scales indefinitely. For example, you invest a fixed amount each month (depicted by the red line below) and your results get better over time. So even though you spend the same time and money in month 12 as month one, your ROI compounds. Why does this happen? Because inbound tactics and channels are optimized when integrated — not in isolation like advertising channels.
Reason #2: Inbound marketing channels and tactics work together.
One of the primary reasons inbound marketing scales more effectively than advertising is because the channels and tactics work together. You start by creating high-quality, excellent content on your website – posts and pages that will help answer your patients’ common questions and pain points. Your content is educational, instructional, and entertaining. And it positions you as a thought leader in your area of expertise.
New readers like what they’re reading so much that they subscribe to receive more updates. Now, they’re eagerly awaiting more content and begin checking in on your site on a regular basis. As you publish more, these readers “like,” share and link to your pages. They want to recommend it to their friends, family and readers because they think others can benefit as well. And all of these things help improve SEO because besides links, Google’s algorithm now also takes into account things like your:
- Past browsing history (e.g. websites you’ve visited in the past)
- Physical location (i.e. prioritizing local information and results)
- Social media connections (e.g. fans, friends, followers, etc.)
- Social signals (e.g. “likes,” “tweets,” etc.)
- Website’s usage data (e.g. visits, bounce rate, etc.)
As these elements improve, so does your visibility in search results. You’ll begin to get more organic search traffic, which leads to more new potential patients finding you. And a virtuous cycle develops. So the more you use content creation, social media, analytics, conversion optimization and email marketing together, the better your SEO will ultimately become. It takes a while, but it pays off.
Try this with AdWords, or any other form of advertising, and it’s hard to see the same compounding effect. The cumulative results of inbound marketing creates a powerful flywheel that continuously generates more awareness, loyalty, and patients for your practice. It scales better than other forms of promotion (both online and off), and yet works together with those seamlessly.
Now, here’s the catch. It takes persistence, creativity, time, and patience to see results. And it takes trust and faith to know that those results are coming. You won’t see instant gratification like running AdWords. But it can be incredibly more profitable if you stick with it.
Brad Smith is a digital marketing consultant and the editor of The Doctor’s Journal, an online publication that chronciles how healthcare is changing and evolving. His advice has been featured in well known online media properties like the New York Times, Business Insider, and more. This is one of a series of posts on The Doctor Blog about marketing for physicians.