Few things in life function properly right out of the box. Purchase a guitar, and there are bridges to dial in and strings to replace. Buy a new car, and there are seats to adjust and a clock to set. Add a new computer, and there are desktop pictures to choose and hundreds of apps to personalize, including the email client and web browsers. It never ends. What about online management systems for medical practices, especially those claiming to integrate a handful of platforms in one easy-to-use package?
Smart management and marketing solutions may indeed simplify and fulfill multiple functions, but the learning curve for setup and operation is extensive. Following a successful launch, the proper management of all sources can increase sales by improving the quantity and quality of patients walking through the door.
Today’s virtual marketplace is chock full of paid services that can manage nearly all office operations for private-practice medical offices:
- Front of house — scheduling, insurance eligibility and patient contact
- Back office — accounts payable/receivable, bookkeeping and payroll
- Patient care — medical records, prescriptions and reports
- Marketing — web content, email marketing, blog writing and social media
Firms selling such solutions sometimes overpromise and under-deliver, so it is best to check their work, or as a Russian proverb says, “doveryai, no proveryai” ("trust, but verify"). It helps to have someone “watching the store” to maintain the best interests of the medical practice. That office rep may be the owner-physician, office manager or external consultant hired to oversee the interface and productivity, and their review is especially critical early in the game.
The focus of this writing is on three key marketing components offered by online solutions: web content, blog writing and email marketing.
After signing an agreement, medical offices are usually required to furnish a significant amount of written content for primary web pages, sections and headings as well as ongoing contributions to email marketing campaigns. Consequently, a basic knowledge of website functionality is needed to insure optimum engagement with the various publics.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” — from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Generally speaking, the most effective web writing borrows from the schools of journalism, public relations and creative writing. The first two sources provide focus, brevity and a sense of totality while the creative component adds wit and imagery. Authors should always provide the five Ws and how of journalism, leaving no stone unturned for the reader.
For a medical practice site, the writer must have command of medical terminology and be able to make the complicated simple. The writer doesn’t need to be a physician, but the content should be technically sound. Keep it professional to generate credibility; keep it conversational to maintain interest. Put yourself in the passenger seat and ask: “Would this be of interest to me if I was a patient?”
Less is more in the world of online writing, so the wise composer of primary web pages will follow Shakespeare’s above mantra.
Many home pages utilize templates resembling the front page of printed newspapers, but notice that few include extensive narratives. In fact, many homepages are composed almost entirely of headings, subheadings and bulleted lists with internal and external links.
Interior pages devoted to company histories, personnel, products, services and events may be populated with stand-alone topics or multiple sections, but limiting them to less than a total of 600 words is advisable to encourage read through. This content should not be confused with editorial, opinions or blog articles where the author may write considerably longer.
Finally, some experts say web viewers are scrolling more these days while others disagree. “The more I type, the more of you tune out,” said Farhad Manjoo in Slate. “And it’s not just me. It’s not just Slate. It’s everywhere online. When people land on a story, they very rarely make it all the way down the page. A lot of people don’t even make it halfway.”
Search Engine Optimization
Keywords are the building blocks of search engine optimization (SEO) and how the Google crawler (aka Googlebot) locates websites. As such, they are an integral part of quality web content, email marketing campaigns, and social media engagement. While entire books and organizations specialize in SEO, the office rep should at least have a working knowledge of keywords.
Keywords and keyword phrases (aka longtail keywords) should be applied in moderation throughout the website and beyond. There is no magic bullet to SEO, but it is important to be thorough in the various applications:
- Meta descriptions and page titles
- Primary pages, headings and subheadings
- File names of graphics and their alternate text
- Google Ad Words campaigns (i.e. pay-per-click)
- Blog articles
- External banner ads with back links to the medical office site
A medical practice may have dozens of keywords, but the focus should be on quality versus quantity.
For example, longtail keywords for a medical office near our headquarters in Petaluma, California may include “Petaluma family practice,” “Dr. Jones Petaluma,” “general practitioner Petaluma,” “Sonoma County MD,” “wine country cardiologist,” “board certified surgeon Santa Rosa,” “highest rated Petaluma MD,” “North Bay on-call physicians,” “Petaluma doctors open Saturdays,” and so on. The idea is to use, but not abuse them because Google penalizes keyword stuffing.
Meta Descriptions & Search Results
Conducting a simple web search is an easy way to see SEO components such as keywords, page titles and meta descriptions in action. For example, the search term “family medicine santa rosa” yields 573,000 Google results, including the three depicted in the below screen shot from the first page of results.
The first line of bold text in each listing is the page title while the narrative below the URL is the meta description. The page title in the first example is truncated because it was too long while third is complete. The difference in the meta descriptions is also noteworthy.
In the first listing, Google sampled the first 150 characters of visible text from its homepage and used it as a description (probably because the embedded description didn’t meet Google standards) while the description of third example is exactly the same as its embedded meta description (we checked). Someone also placed a few nice keywords in the description such as “North Coast,” “medical care,” and “active Sonoma County families.”
Finally, using call-to-action sentences in meta descriptions (limited to about 155 characters) would be an upgrade and a great way to increase sales: “Learn more about Sonoma County’s highest rated board certified cardiologist, serving Petaluma, Novato, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa; now open on Saturdays.” Whew … 152 characters of pure bliss to a nerdy web guy.
SEO work simply needs to be good rather than great because these exercises will be applied hundreds of times throughout a typical website. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Writing blog articles is especially rewarding, but often challenging. Blogs offer medical professionals the opportunity to discuss healthcare trends, answer FAQs and share noteworthy research topics. The human body is so complex that a doctor could literally write about one subject for each remaining day of his/her life, but to quote Shakespeare again, “therein lies the rub.” While other professions may be hard pressed to find interesting topics, the physician’s challenge is finding time to write about them.
Many contracted marketing platforms offer “canned pieces” written by their editorial staffs, but those stories generally lack the personal touch of a homegrown article. The marketplace is flooded with contractors these days, so a saturation point for canned content may soon be reached. Two solutions come to mind:
- Curate canned pieces by writing a short personal introduction about why they are of merit to patients.
- Seek a professional web writer to collaborate with in-house physicians to generate original articles. These stories may be 750 words or much longer, but they should be optimized.
Email marketing is tough no matter how it is sliced. Consumers are inundated with messages from friends, family and businesses 24/7/365, and those are just the ones making it past SPAM filters.
The statistics from emailmonday.com support the notion that most people have little patience for unwanted messages. With viewing times averaging 15 – 20 seconds per email and 20 – 40% of mobile users spending less than three seconds in some instances, there is every reason to believe viewers are reaching for the delete button faster than one can say “click.” Furthermore, the healthcare industry ranked near the bottom with a dismal 20.65% of total email opens per EmailMonday.
Suggestions for Successful Email Marketing
Email marketers can increase their odds of garnering interest by following the basics:
Brevity Less is more in email marketing, especially with 30% of consumers now reading their email exclusively on mobile devices (EmailMonday). Apply the inverted pyramid used by journalists and public relations professionals (i.e. important information first).
Single-topic Messaging This is the flipside of brevity and will help maintain the focus of a viewing public that inherently resists focus. Simply stated, limit the content of each message to one topic. “Even if you only send a newsletter to your list once a month, it's time to test if a single-topic message with laser-focused creative will get a higher response rate,” said MarketingSherpa.
Segmentation This strategy works exactly as it sounds; segment mailing lists into groups sharing commonality and only send them relevant content. Opt-in surveys are a great way of determining group placements to insure viewers are receiving information that interests them.
Optimization and links Email marketing messages should be optimized with keywords just like web content; they should also contain links to support the content and provide external resources.
Design Suffice to say, studies have also shown the viewers respond more favorably to attractive email layouts.
Is Your Story Being Properly Told?
Well-appointed interiors with fine leather furniture, tropical plants, and rocky waterfalls are appealing, but most patients are more interested in the best healthcare at the best price. Solid web content, blog writing and email marketing provide medical offices with the means to express a commitment to excellence. Ultimately, increasing sales is a function of patient attraction and retention.
Metrics now exist for measuring the return on investment of most marketing functions, including the performance of web pages, blog articles, email blasts and social media. Expect to wait six-to-eight months before realizing a substantial increase in sales. During that period, the office rep should become familiar with reviewing the performance reports provided by the solutions company to make a proper assessment of each component.
CrossCheck’s medical RDC is one effective way for medical offices to generate extra time for marketing activities. The service provides electronic check processing from the office, eliminating extra bookkeeping and trips to the bank; guarantee options for patient payments; processing for insurance payments; and advanced transaction reporting. Learn more by downloading our free guide.