This article originally appeared in the September/2017 issue of the Academy of General Dentistry’s AGD Impact magazine.
Gone are the days of advertising in the Yellow Pages and relying on word-of-mouth to promote your practice. Sure, your patients are happy to refer you to their friends, but ultimately, it’s your practice’s online reputation that defines you.
Your online reputation is how people — i.e., prospective patients — view you (or your practice) based on your online presence, which includes your website, your social media channels, your presence in local online directories such as Bing, Google, Healthgrades and Yelp, as well as reviews from patients.
Managing your reputation across all of these platforms is an important factor in maintaining the success of your practice. Your online reputation is what allows patients to connect with you before they even click on a link to schedule an appointment. With this in mind, think about what people find when they search for your practice online.
Your Practice’s Website
Your website is your primary source of contact for both new and current patients. What image does your website convey? Is it appealing and user-friendly? Has it been recently updated? Does it explain how you are different from the dentist across the street? Does it showcase your office’s unique personality? Does it include the items listed below?
- Images. A combination of posed and candid images are ideal to promote both your professionalism and your genuine personality. Stock images may be convenient (and, in some cases, free), but they are used all over the web and do not resonate with viewers. Stick to posting real images of your office and your team to appeal to the maximum number of people.
- Call-to-action. Each webpage — not just your homepage — should have a call-to-action. A call-to-action is a word, phrase or piece of content otherwise that incites a visitor to do something (or take action). When a patient is motivated to contact you for a consultation or treatment, it should be easy for them to do so. Include a button or link so that patients won’t have to click all over your site looking for a way to contact you.
Whether your patients learn about you from a friend or via a Facebook ad, they will eventually end up on your website, the foundation of your online marketing efforts. Make sure that what they see when they find your site is inviting and gives them a reason to schedule an appointment with you.
Your Practice’s Social Media Accounts
Posting to social media platforms such as Facebook is essential to ensuring that you leave a digital footprint. When people search for dental practices online, Facebook and other sites appear among the search retrieval options; having an active social media presence is integral to building a positive online reputation. Here’s a reminder of some social media basics if you’re just getting started:
- Share regularly. Post multiple times a week to stay in the forefront of your patients’ minds. Keep in mind that your posts and the content you share, as well as how often you post, should match the platform. People tend to post less on Facebook (perhaps once a day), more on Instagram and even more on Twitter. Experiment with how often you post and at what times you post on each platform. In addition, don’t forget about the visual aspect of sharing on social media; posts that feature images and video tend to get more engagement than those that don’t.
- Encourage engagement. Get your followers to interact with your posts. Ask them to respond to a question, for instance (“How much does the tooth fairy give your child?”). Eighty percent of the posts you share should be fun and entertaining (such as those with photos of office parties or of your staff participating in community events), and the remaining 20 percent can promote your services.
- Respond. If someone has taken the time to reply to one of your posts or to leave a comment on your page, then the least you can do is respond. Doing so shows your gratitude, makes your followers (whether they are patients or potential patients) feel valued and helps you build genuine relationships that lead to loyalty.
- Using social media does not have to be your full-time job. You went to school to practice dentistry; involve your team members to help with content ideas so you can spend more time caring for your patients.
Your Practice’s Inclusion in Online Business Directories
To help digitally legitimize your business, you need to make sure your practice is listed properly on all of the major online business directories. These help signal search engines such as Google that you are an established business.
These are the digital equivalent to the old-fashioned hard copy of the Yellow Pages. A lot of these sites will be returned in search results for people searching for your practice. Submit your name to a variety of online directories to increase your chances of being seen by potential patients. The more directories you’re included in, the better your chances of being found when someone searches for a dentist. Be sure to submit your business information to Google, Bing, Yelp, Superpages and Yellow Pages, just to name a few. All of these sites have easy tools you can use to claim or list your practice and make sure it’s being represented the way it should be.
None of the above matter if your listings are not synchronized. All of your listings — your website, Facebook page, Google My Business listing and citations — must contain the same information. Something as simple as one address being “Main Street” and another being “Main St.” can sabotage your efforts. Have a team member maintain your accounts to ensure that your information is identical from one site to another.
Businesses with more citations have the potential to rank higher in searches than those without. To improve your rankings on Google and other search engines, work on increasing the number of citations your practice receives.
Your Practice’s Reviews
Reviews are vital to your online presence. According to a Futuredontics® 2013 Consumer Survey, 70 percent of patients consult online reviews before deciding to commit to a dentist. Because people rely so heavily on digital sources for reviews, you must make leaving reviews easy for your patients. Some things to consider:
- Review location. Where your patients leave reviews for your practice is almost as important as what they say. Stick to reviews on Google or Facebook and avoid third-party review sites such as Rate-a-biz, as they don’t have the traffic necessary to make a difference.
- Protect your reputation. It is important to respond to reviews — both positive and negative — keeping in mind that you cannot disclose or confirm whether or not the person leaving the review is a patient at your practice. Craft a generic yet sincere (and HIPAA-compliant) response to negative reviews and try to take the matter offline. Even if these reviews were based on something out of your control (a malfunctioning air conditioner, for example), you should be proactive to protect the reputation of your practice. Make sure your positive reviews outweigh the negative by soliciting reviews from patients you know were satisfied with their treatment.