Ask the Expert, featuring Stewart Gandolf

Sept. 19, 2009

By Stewart Gandolf and Lonnie Hirsch

Question #1: I finally broke down and bought an expensive Web site for my practice, and while it looks nice, it hasn't generated any new patients for me. What happened?

Answer: You are not alone; having a pretty Web site is rarely sufficient to attract patients. If you build it, they will NOT (necessarily) come. Instead, you need to look at your Web site as the first step of your Internet marketing strategy.

Consider the following two critical issues:

Issue 1: How will prospective patients find me?

Most dental Web sites are virtual ghost towns that no one visits. However, generating traffic can be relatively easy, once you understand the rules of the game.

Step 1: Consider pay-per-click advertising on all the major search engines. It turns out there are three major networks — Google, MSN, and Yahoo — which will buy you placement on over 95% of all relevant searches. As the name implies, you pay each time someone clicks on your ad, so you don't have to pay for wasted exposure. Generally, you buy local keywords, for example, Pittsburgh cosmetic dentist, and pay between 10 cents and $2 per click. You can "do-it-yourself" or go through an aggregator who does it all for a small commission. When it comes to our clients, we generally partner with one of these services because they handle the millions of details for very modest cost.

Step 2: Find out how to get free or organic search so that you move to the top on Yahoo, Google, and the rest. We call this strategy "pray for clicks." Start by making sure your site is search engine friendly. (Sadly, many pretty sites are completely invisible to search engines.) Assuming this, you'll want to make sure that your Web site has the right keywords, such as Pittsburgh cosmetic dentist, so you can be found. While we love free clicks, be aware that it usually takes six months or more to gain traction. Much of the search engine optimization (SEO) can be built into the Web site design initially, though few Web site companies do this. Instead, the Web site companies expect you to find a SEO company, and those fees often dwarf the cost of the Web site design.

Step 3: You may want to consider advertising on sites like AOL's Citysearch or various Internet yellow pages. These can work, especially if they come up as top 10 listings on organic searches such as Google.

Issue 2: How will you get inquiries from Web site visitors?

Generating traffic is only the first step. Getting people to CALL YOU is a lot harder than you may think. Rarely will more than 2% to 3% of visitors contact you, and oftentimes less than 1%. So the marketing efficacy of your Web site is critical, even though most designers spend time making a site pretty as opposed to effective.

You'll want to make sure your Web site is well designed and easy to navigate, but you'll also need to have calls to action (tell them what you want them to do), as well as offers that serve as extra incentives to respond.

Internet marketing is highly effective and profitable, though I've only scratched the surface here. For more details, read some of our relevant articles at

Question #2: What is the cheapest, most effective marketing strategy available?

Answer: The good news is, you've already heard about this. The bad news is, chances are you haven't consistently done it. The answer lies in asking patients for referrals. Click here to read an article that we wrote in Dental Economics.

Question #3: I just moved into my new office. How should I market it?

Answer: Moving into a new office offers you a terrific, one-time opportunity. You only get to be new once, and besides, there are a lot of purchases you'll have to make, such as stationery and brochures, so it makes sense to get it right the first time. Click here to view our recent article that covers this issue in detail.

Question #4: Are Yellow Pages obsolete?

Answer: Despite what you've heard, in many instances Yellow Pages still work extremely well, even though their heyday is over. Click here to read about how to make Yellow Pages work for you.

Please click here to submit any questions that you have about marketing your practice.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch are cofounders of Healthcare Success Strategies, and two of America's most experienced practice marketers. They have worked with dentists for a combined 30 years, written numerous articles on practice marketing, and consulted with more than 3,000 private health-care practices. Reach them at (888) 679-0050, through their Web site at, or via e-mail at [email protected].