What They’re Searching For

by Larry Emmott on June 15, 2010

in Digital Marketing,Internet

In case you missed it here is the article I wrote for the June issue of DPR:

As a dentist in the digital Internet age there are four numbers you need to know: 97, 5, 90 and 80.

These numbers emerged from two 2009 Sesame Communications research projects designed to identify what web-savvy patients are looking for online. The first study focused on General Dental and Orthodontic practices, and the second study, in collaboration with the AACD, focused on cosmetic patients.

One of the most significant findings is that patient preference has shifted drastically with an astounding 97% preferring to contact you online rather than calling your practice during office hours.

That means that traditional print marketing like Yellow Pages and newsletters are obsolete. However what is even more important is that the undisputed, time honored, king of professional dental marketing “Word of Mouth” has also changed. Now when a prospective new patient gets a great word of mouth referral from a friend or relative they no longer call the office, the first thing they do is check you out online.

Will your practice website attract and convert this potential new patient?

The Sesame research found that the vast majority of patients make up their minds about the dental practice after viewing just 5 pages which account for almost 65% of all page views.

The most viewed page was, as expected, the home (index) page (37.7% of all page views). This was followed by “meet the doctor” (9.35%), “meet the team” (6.94%), contact information (5.87%) and first visit / office policy (5.02%). Interestingly, with few exceptions, clinical content pages, which dentists always like, accounted for little more than 1% of page views. The few exceptions, in terms of time patient spent on clinical pages were found when patients were seeking specific treatment options they had heard about; for example “cosmetic dentistry” or “sedation dentistry”.

Patients seeking cosmetic dentistry are unique in that they use before and after galleries as the primary means of assessing a dentist. However to be effective the gallery cases need to be clear,  compelling and, most importantly feature main stream patients rather than glamorized model type photography.

An extensive analysis of page views revealed that web sites with lots and lots of pages did no better than smaller sites.

The research shows that the practice has just 90 seconds to capture a web site visitor’s attention. With just 90 seconds to work with it is easy to see why very large dental web sites do no better than smaller sites. In fact a March 2010 Sesame survey which tracked 24,523 page views over six months  seemed to indicate there is even a weak negative correlation between the number of pages on the site and the time spent on the site. In other words the larger the site, the less time potential patients spent on it.

Overall the average web site visit lasted 142.7 seconds.

So how are we doing?

According to the Sesame research; not so good. A study of 88 cosmetic dentistry practice web sites reviewed by prospective patients indicated that a significant 80% failed to persuade prospects to make appointments.

State of the art web site design advancements have introduced flash animation, videos, sound, expansive clinical content and social network hyperlinks as components of cutting edge sites. These new developments are technologically amazing, visually appealing, extra cool and hip but there is no evidence they make a difference in attracting new patients. In fact the 2009 Sesame research in collaboration with the AACD actually demonstrated that anything that slows the ability of prospective patients to reach the information they seek is likely to make them click out of your site and go check out a competitor.

Those things that get in the way, slow down the prospective patient and drive them to another site, interestingly, are precisely those cool jazzed up features like flash animation, auto play music and video and pop-ups we often believe make our web site stand out from the crowd. 

If you study the top five pages viewed it shows us what does matter. And what matters now in the digital age is what has always mattered. That is people and relationships. The top items patient want to know about are meeting the team and the doctor. Next they want to know where the office is, how to get there, what will happen at and how they can pay for the first visit.

Building an effective web site follows the true and tested rules of dentistry – it is all about the patients. Feature the information and content they want, make the site easy for them to navigate, and most importantly be personable and warm.

What is important to people in choosing a dentist hasn’t changed, what has changed is how we deliver that information. A practice web page has become the most important method to deliver that critical – what matters – information. Making your web page effective seems to have very little to do with providing flash and pages of clinical content and a lot to do with five critical pages.

Let’s review; 97% of dental patients prefer to communicate with the office online rather than on the phone. Web users spend the majority of their time on just 5 pages of your web site. You have 90 seconds to capture the attention of a web surfing potential new patient. The bad news is that the vast majority, 80%, of the web sites studied failed to convert a web surfing prospect to an appointment making new patient.

Your practice web site will be an important item in the future of your practice. Make it an effective item. The future is coming and it will be amazing!

Free downloads of the Sesame research whitepapers can be downloaded here:

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