Using the Internet to Grow Your Practice
The vast majority of potential clients now turn to the net when looking for veterinary services or information. A professional, well-maintained website and solid use of social media are vital to attracting their attention.
Many holistic veterinarians are highly skilled, yet their practices struggle to turn a profit. One main reason is that few have been well trained in practice marketing, and how to use the internet for that purpose. Those who have had any training were taught tactics that are likely now outmoded and generally ineffective, since strategies change yearly.
What does it take to successfully market your practice? Here are a number of things you should consider.
1 Take the time to develop a business/marketing plan for your business. Who are you targeting with your services? How can you most effectively reach them? Some pet owners are better targets than others. Think about your targets carefully. What words do your clients use when looking for your services?
2 In the crush of one’s practice, it’s easy to leave the marketing of your practice to another day. Have the discipline to run your practice like a business – setting aside at least 10% or more of every week for practice marketing. This time can be spent simply reading about the topic, surfing the web to look at colleague and competitor websites for new ideas, checking your search rank, or adding new content to your website or social media sites.
3 Don’t make your potential clients work too hard. Distinguish yourself right off the bat with a practice name that captures the essence of what you do in a very easy-to-understand way.
4 If you have a bricks and mortar business, location matters – and so does visibility. If you are a house-call or telephone consulting practice, having a strong internet presence and rank is absolutely crucial.
5 Set up an office or response system that is truly responsive to visitors, phone calls and emails. Remember at all times – you are in a service business. You are there to help – not sell.
CREATING AND MAINTAINING A WEBSITE
Everyone is aware of the internet – that wonderful platform of infinite information that’s available to us 24/7. What many people don’t realize is that a staggeringly large percentage of purchase decisions are now influenced by that same platform. In other words – a pet owner’s decision to call your practice for a consultation will very likely be tied to what they learn about you and your practice on the internet.
• If you don’t have one – you must get a website for your practice. This step is an absolute imperative. It is estimated that between 85% and 90% of all consumers search the web to find people like you. It’s best to build a website from scratch so you can customize it to your practice. The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy is currently offering its members a chance to get a solid, basic practice website for $500, plus some nominal costs for domain name and web hosting services. If you are not an AVH member, you should be able to get a custom website with site hosting for between $2,500 and $5,000. Doing it yourself is also possible – but more difficult for the reasons that follow.
• A key part of your website is its “back end”, which helps people actually get to your site. Don’t skimp on any part of your site. The key to successful internet marketing lies in being found by prospective clients, and being found means showing up on page one of a pet owner’s search results – 70% to 80% of consumers do not scroll beyond the first page of search results.
• When anyone searches for a term on the internet, they see paid ads (usually at the top of the page, and along the right hand side) as well as what are called “organic results”. The top three 44 IVC Spring 2014 organic search results of any internet inquiry typically get 70% or more of the clicks (clicks equal visits/calls to your site, which equals business).
• How do you get your site to appear on page one of a pet owner’s search? Internet search engines follow very sophisticated mathematical formulae to search the web, so you need to understand how they work. Each website is made up of visible text (the stuff you can easily see) and invisible text (or what is called source code). You must write both well in order to be found!
• Search engines look for key words that are relevant to the words the consumer types into the initial search box. Effective websites (those that produce page one results) make good use of keywords that match the words people use when they conduct a search. How does one determine best keywords for a site? Here is where experts can help, but there are also some internet tools like Google Adwords that can help guide you in the selection of appropriate key words.
• Effective websites require weekly care and feeding. Search engines like Google and Bing reward websites with content that is continually refreshed or renewed. Blogging is one way to keep your website filled with fresh content. You can also make a point of adding new content in the form of white papers and other free information. Making your website a resource to the community is a great way to build your practice.
• Another important factor is making sure you have plenty of links from other relevant and authoritative websites to your own. Search engines reward websites that have lots of these links – so you should seek to secure these. One way to do that is make sure you claim and update your business listing in all the local search directories, like Google Places and Yelp. Another way to gain links is through relevant reciprocal links – linking back and forth with service providers that might be relevant to your practice (e.g., groomers, etc.). Other good link sources are those from your veterinary college and any associations you belong to.
• Finally, make sure your website has eye appeal. Make good use of photography and fonts – and make sure site navigation is simple and very easy to follow.
ADD IN SOCIAL MEDIA
Once you have a well-designed, well-written website, you need to add social media to your marketing mix. Social media is a powerful new marketing tool that allows practice owners to build and nurture personal relationships with pet owners, and includes platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and more. It is also a platform that millions of pet owners use to communicate with each other, sharing content they find useful. You want your practice to be in their conversations – so be sure to add this element to your mix.
• Where does one start? Probably with Facebook. It is the largest social media platform and one of the easiest to launch. Pinterest is also a great platform – though it’s smaller and really best for photos and content like infographics.
• A well-run practice makes use of all its resources. Use your staff. Ask all who are willing to own a topic and a specific day each week to post on Facebook and/or write a monthly blog. You want to post to Facebook at least five days a week – if not seven.
• Promote your social media sites and blogs to your clients and the community at large, and encourage them to post comments and questions.
So what’s your key take away from this article? First, remember and take heart from the fact that there’s a burgeoning market for holistic veterinary services. To reach this growing market, however, you must make sure you understand the new tools that are crucial to practice growth – and use them well.