Fearless columnist Natalie L. Marks is an educator, consultant and practicing Chicago veterinarian. Dr. Marks is a leader within the Fear Free movement, was a member of the original Fear Free advisory board and is Fear Free Certified Elite. She passionately believes that all veterinarians should be committed to the physical and emotional health of their patients.Read Articles Written by Natalie Marks
When I went to veterinary school many years ago, there were no marketing classes, no search engine optimization lectures, no discussion about social media or Twitter followers, and not a single hour on how a website can “make or break” your practice.
In fact, I don’t think these topics were even a glimmer in my mind as a fledgling DVM trying to pass the board exam. But now, as a practice owner, I spend quite a bit of time everyday creating content and reading analytics on these incredibly important marketing areas.
To be successful in marketing and growing a practice, one must know not only what the important measured parameters are, but also how to properly include and promote premier aspects of the practice, including new strategies to reduce fear, anxiety and stress in patients and clients. This isn’t a topic that comes naturally to most veterinarians, including myself, so let’s start with a brief introduction about the search engine world and why it is a crucial component of veterinary business today.
Can Pet Owners Find You?
Search engines are such an essential part of life for almost everyone with a mobile device that psychologists call our dependence “The Google Effect,” referring to the utilization of search engines as personal memory banks. This is important for practice owners to remember because two key indicators that should be measured are new-client acquisition numbers and where these clients heard about the practice.
According to SEO.com, when people search for something “near me,” 88 percent do it from a mobile device and 72 percent of clients actively visit a search result within five miles of their current location. These two percentages easily show veterinarians that the majority of marketing outreach needs to be local and readily available on a client’s cellphone. In Chicago, where I practice, Yelp and Google are the two most highly searched engines for practice reviews and website links.
Another statistic to consider is that the largest group of U.S pet owners is made up of millennials, according to the research firm GfK, and this group, ages 18 to 34, interacts with a smartphone more than anyone or anything else. However, knowing this data is not enough; it needs to be utilized to focus a targeted, measureable marketing plan. Make sure your client service representatives or receptionists are asking clients not only where they heard about the practice but also are documenting the answer in a field in the practice management software database so reports can be run. Additionally, email addresses should be collected or verified with every client interaction.
Get Their Attention
Once new-client demographics have been targeted and the major search engines in your region identified, the next step involves maximizing and interpreting search engine optimization (SEO). It is incredibly important to have original content on your website in the form of blogs, personal photos or videos. This is a perfect arena to promote and explain your strategies for helping to reduce fear, anxiety and stress in your patients and clients.
For example, post a video of a previously anxious patient responding favorably to an exam on the floor as classical music plays in the background. Highlight a newly divided waiting room for cats and dogs. Write a blog entry focusing on a Fear Free-certified associate veterinarian in the practice and why certification is important to her. Take two photos of a patient — one showing fearful or anxious body language before an exam and one displaying a relaxed posture after pheromone therapy and previsit sedatives. Clients today want a tailored, personalized and positive experience, and what better way to demonstrate this than to blog about the benefits of low-stress handling and high-reward treats?
When blogging, it’s very important to include other key words to narrow your practice location and help optimize searches. The great thing about this digital age is that metrics exist for just about everything. Place videos and photos on social media platforms and on your website blogs, and then measure the views and consider boosting the posts to get higher engagement and further the client reach.
Is It Working?
However, there is no reason to invest significant time and money in a website, social media or SEO analytics unless one follows the return on investment. Certain parameters should be measured monthly so you can watch for trends. These include phone calls originating from website traffic, appointment requests from new or returning clients, and conversion rates. For social media platforms like a business Facebook page, important percentages to measure include page engagement (how often people interact on the page), new page likes and organic reach (how many people viewed the post without an additional boost or advertisement).
If all this sounds too intimidating, don’t stress! The work should be low anxiety. Many marketing companies in the veterinary space can assist and partner with practices to compile and analyze data. This is a new language to most veterinarians and one that can take time to digest, understand and interpret.
Client Reviews Matter
I encourage you to start small. Since Google is the national search engine of choice, begin with two essential building blocks: Establish your Google business presence and a practice Facebook page. These require minimal social media knowledge, and they offer the opportunity for you to ask clients with favorable experiences to review your practice. Most of my practice’s positive reviews comment on the Fear Free experience of the patient and client. Once posted, these reviews can be placed strategically on your website.
Speaking of your website, when was the last time someone took a hard look at it? How long has it been since new content was added and hyperlinked? Has the practice promoted the Fear Free-certified veterinarians and staff? Does the website have a separate page describing the practice experience? Can clients find information about how to reduce a pet’s travel anxiety before a veterinary appointment, such as how to safely place a cat inside a carrier.
After one social media plan becomes easier and more routine, add another, like Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, and keep adding as long as the practice can commit to consistent nurturing of these pieces of the business. All these platforms are designed with the overarching goal of keeping clients coming back and encouraging new business.
Embrace the world of social media and see a direct correlation of more clients coming through the doors, higher average client transactions and increases in gross revenues. Clients want to give their pets the best veterinary experience possible, so show that they will find it at your practice.