Digital marketing has seen significant growth over the last handful of years. Most healthcare practices are now on board with at least dabbling in digital marketing. Unfortunately, we have found that most healthcare practices either:

  • Do not have a plan for their marketing dollars
  • Follow trends without truly knowing their needs
  • Avoid what they don’t understand

This winds up costing practices a lot more money and leaving them without a significant return on investment. Practices get frustrated and give up or continue to spin their wheels, not knowing where to turn. Smart practices are now evaluating their digital marketing and asking tough questions about where to invest their time and energy.

What’s More Important Than Where You Focus?

Smart practices that are beginning to invest in digital marketing or evaluating their marketing budget are asking, what types of digital marketing should I focus on? There are a lot of digital avenues (every marketer believes their solution is best) and most practices are left in a sea of confusion mixed with bad information. The truth is that the best place to invest your time and money is going to significantly depend on your unique practice and needs. In order of importance, before you focus on where you are going to spend, you need to follow these three general guidelines:

  • Have a plan and stick to it. Marketing is a long-term investment, not a quick fix. Hopefully, you will see short term results as well, but your mindset needs to be a marathon, not a sprint. Just because you don’t see immediate results, doesn’t mean that things are not working. Most campaigns need momentum. You also need to understand elements such as the length of your pipeline, season and if you need to play catch-up after years of non-marketing. It’s okay to tweak your campaigns as you go, but giving up on a tactic after a month or two and continually switching tactics will only waste your time and money.
  • Do something, but don’t do everything. Most practices have a limited marketing budget. There are very few that can afford to truly do everything well. Even those that seem to are likely spending poorly in many different directions. The truth is that effective marketing requires focus. We often suggest to clients that they spend less in an overall budget. Instead, spend it in a focused, concentrated manner. Trying to do everything usually leaves too little budget to do anything effectively and time spread too thin to do them well. Focus.
  • Know what you want before you start. What are your end goals? Most doctors would answer new patients. This is good, but do they have a long lead-to-close cycle or a short one? Do you need more patients in the door or simply a higher percentage of prospects to patients? Are you trying to build awareness for patients to come to you down the road or encourage referrals from other patients? All of these require starting at a different place and you need to be clear on what you’re trying to accomplish before you select your tactics.

Your Patients’ Unique Needs


Patient marketing


Your prospective patients have unique needs, and it’s important for your to understand what they are before you even market to them. In healthcare, there is a general patient journey that a patient follows:

  1. Awareness: In the early stages, someone who may be a patient one day may not even know you exist. The role of advertising in this stage is simply brand awareness – making sure the practice is top of mind in the event that you’re needed.
  2. Exploration: At this point, the patient is asking the questions: What do I do?, What is wrong with me? and How do I fix it? He/she is exploring the condition and options. Marketing in this stage is targeted to a patient looking for information and linking this information to the practice.
  3. Decision: Now that a patient knows what is wrong, the search is on for someone who can help treat what’s wrong. This may be a specific surgeon he/she has come across or have been referred. Or, this could be finding out who is the best doctor to address everything that was found in the “exploration” stage. A patient is doing final research on a doctor and likely making the call for an appointment, so that’s the focus of this stage of marketing.-
  4. Relationship: Once a patient has been treated, the relationship is not necessarily over. Patients may need to return for treatment in the future. They will very likely have the opportunity to recommend you to someone else. Patients asking the questions, Will I come back? or Will I recommend the practice? need to be marketed to, as well. Marketing to this stage of the patient journey builds loyalty and extends the relationship.

Deciding where your weaknesses, strengths, and needs are in the above areas will help you determine the most important places to focus your efforts. If you need to retain patients and get referrals, social media and email marketing may be most effective. If you have a new service people aren’t aware, they likely aren’t searching for it and SEO may not be your best bet. Highly targeted display advertising may be a much better avenue.

As a generalization, here is what works best in healthcare for different parts of the buyer journey:

  • Awareness: Social Media (esp. paid social media advertising), Highly Targeted Programmatic Display Ads
  • Exploration: Pay-Per-Click (PPC), SEO, Programmatic Display Ads, Retargeting, Lead Nurturing Funnels
  • Decision: PPC, SEO, Reputation Management, Retargeting, Lead Nurturing Funnels, Email Marketing
  • Relationship: Branded SEO, Reputation Management, Social Media, Lead Nurturing/Follow-Up, Email Marketing

What Is the Best Area to Focus On?

As we said before, it does depend on what your focus is and your goals are, but we also don’t like to dodge the question! Though cases may vary, we typically recommend beginning with a mix of SEO and PPC. There are a tremendous number of people searching for conditions, treatments and doctors online. SEO and PPC have become a staple for any healthcare practice. Practices with a bigger budget can expand to other areas, but if you’re limited in focus, this is where we recommend that you start. (You may even want to start here, get a foundation, then shift to different areas – again, it’s case specific!)

In certain long-cycle niches where retargeting is possible, we strongly recommend considering this option and putting a good amount of spend behind it. Retargeting ads are typically not too expensive, so you can often get a good amount of exposure without crippling your budget. The way retargeting basically works is by showing ads to users who have visited your site (or certain pages on your site), usually within a 30 to 90 day window. This can work very well for specialties where there is a non-urgent need (e.g., elective surgeries). The difficulty with retargeting in healthcare is that there are often privacy concerns. This needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Unfortunately, it may not be available for specific practices/specialties.

Social media, although discussed a great deal, is not worth significant investment in healthcare at this time. You certainly want to have a presence, but it is not worth high investment at the expense of other areas.

In summation, the best place to start is most likely with an assessment of your current marketing strategy and tactics. Once you know where you are, you can figure out where to go.

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