About three years ago our laboratory—Thayer Dental Lab in Mechanicsburg, PA—began to notice a sharp decline in the response rate to our direct mail efforts. In an effort to bolster our marketing strategy, we embraced digital marketing by revising our website, building an opt-in email database, creating electronic advertisements and getting involved with social media.
We implemented the following strategies to better manage our website and increase traffic; the site currently gets about 27 dentist hits a day, for a total of over 800 unique dentist visits per month. However, it's not just about the number of visits, it's about the quality of the visit, including time spent on the site, etc. For instance on our website, visitors spend an average of two minutes and view at least three pages. To achieve similar results on your own website, here are my recommendations:
Use a user-friendly content management system (CMS). To create a website 10 years ago, you had to work with a programmer who knew html. Today, user-friendly CMS programs have templates that allow you to create and maintain a website very easily; you can add, edit and organize content in an environment similar to Microsoft Office.
One popular program I recommend for beginners is WordPress. It offers a simple format as well as several different features you can choose from—some free and some paid—like a smart phone app that allows you to manage your website from anywhere. Many web hosting companies also offer their own CMSs.
Optimize your website for all browsers, like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer® and Safari. Your site will look different on each one and will need some programming tweaking to look its best on each. Keep in mind that you also want it to look as good on a smartphone as it does on a desktop. If you're using WordPress, a number of templates are optimized for most browsers, but you'll need to install a plugin for mobile devices like WP Mobile Detector.
To get your name out to a wider audience, place "social sharing" buttons on every page so users can instantly promote or share what they think is interesting or valuable on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
Have ways to capture users contact information. For instance, our lab offers white papers and educational information on various subjects and in order to download the PDF, the dentist must first provide his contact information.
Once he does, the web server automatically sends two emails: one to the dentist thanking him for his interest in Thayer Dental Laboratory, and a second to me so I can alert a customer service rep to follow up. For instance, we can call and say, "I see you requested some information on our implant services. Do you have any questions or problems we can help you with?" If he does, we put him touch with our implant coordinator.
Last year, I received an email from a dentist requesting a restorative guide. Since a salesperson happened to be in that dentist's area, I immediately notified him and the salesperson arrived at the dentist's office that very afternoon with the information he wanted. That day, we got five cases from him and, within one year, he became one of our top 10 accounts. It doesn't always work like that, but it's possible when you have the right mechanisms in place.
Take advantage of Google Analytics, a free service that provides website stats like how many hits you get a day, where users are located geographically, which browsers they're using most and which pages get the most traffic. You can then use that information to help improve your site. For instance, if you see that a page isn't getting any interest, ask yourself what you need to change: do you need to add information, a video or a testimonial?
To sign up, visit http://www.google.com/analytics/; you'll receive a programming code that needs to be embedded in your website.
Maximize search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of improving the visibility of your website in search engines like Google; in general, the higher on the page and more frequently a site appears in a search results list, the more visitors it will receive. When it comes to SEO, there's no one factor that will work best, it's about several things working in unison. For example:
Content is king. The more pages you have for Google to index, the better off your SEO will be. So rather than listing all your product offerings on one page, for example, break them into separate pages.
Each page of your website should have page titles and keywords that describe their content. Use unique titles for each page, limit them to 70 characters or less, and avoid using more than four keywords. For instance, one page on our site is titled "Metal Free Restorations" and its associated keywords are "ceramic, composite, esthetic and metal free."
Include external links. For example, we offer Captek restorations, so we include a link to Captek.com: it's a reputable site and gets more traffic than we do, so it makes us look good to Google's web crawling algorithms. Another tip: check links often to be sure they work; bad links can negatively affect your SEO.'
On every page of your website, include your laboratory name somewhere in the text. Don't only have your lab name in a logo or graphic because it can't be "crawled" by Google search engines.
If your website is more than four years old, it may be built on frame architecture which inhibits SEO. If this is the case, your entire website needs to be created from scratch, which can be costly.
To find out if your site is built on frames, check with your webmaster or perform these simple steps: open your web browser, click the "View" menu, then select "Page Source" for Firefox or "Source" for Internet Explorer. Look through the HTML code for either "< FRAME >" or " < FRAMESET >." If you see them, your website is built on frames.
When compiling search results, Google looks at the time period for which you've registered your domain name—the registered name of your website, like the "LMTmag" in LMTmag.com—and the longer the timeframe, the better. For instance, if you register for 10 years instead of one, it will be viewed as a more valid site.
In 2011 and 2012 we did a fair amount of electronic advertising with mixed results. We received a lot of requests for information, but not a lot of on-going sales revenue. These efforts did, however, increase attendance at our continuing educational programs for dentists, hygienists and assistants. Currently, we are only running one electronic advertisement. Here are the strategies that worked best for us:
Get a free Google Places page. Once you have a page, when a dentist in your area does a Google search for "dental lab," your laboratory's name will appear on a map that the dentist can then click on for more details, including contact information, products, photos and a link to your website. To sign up, visit http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/.
Use landing pages—essentially a one-page website—to track the effectiveness of your advertising, whether they're print ads or digital.
For instance, if Thayer Dental Laboratory is advertising an upcoming implant seminar, rather than referring people to the lab's main site we use a unique landing page, like ThayerImplantCourse.com, so we can track how many hits the ad generates. The landing page also includes a link to Thayer's main website so the user can get more information on the laboratory and its other services.
You can create landing pages through your CMS program as you would for any other page on your site, but select an option that makes that page "non-public" and only available to certain users using a particular link.
Add QR codes to your advertising and marketing materials. A QR or Quick Response code is a type of barcode that allows smartphone users to scan the code and immediately be taken to a website or landing page. Since we added QR codes to our direct mail pieces and every printed piece of literature we use, we can track the effectiveness of each printed piece of collateral material that's used in a particular marketing area—as well as the response rate and our ROI. There are several websites that allow you to create and download a QR code for free, such as http://www.qrstuff.com/.
We frequently use email campaigns to invite dentists to courses or disseminate information and, while we've rented lists from dental publications, we've gotten the best response by building our own e-mail database of current and potential clients. We like using our Microsoft Exchange (Outlook) server for this purpose since the simple text format of an email will show up equally well on all devices, load quickly and send us a delivery receipt. The only limitation is that Exchange allows you to send a single email to a maximum of 500 recipients.
To comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, you must build an "opt-in email" database where users give you permission to send them emails. And, even once you have their permission, you must also include an "unsubscribe" link, or you can be suspected of spamming and have your email privileges suspended.
We offer three main ways for dentists to opt in—via our website, through our sales reps and at our seminars—and we now have an email database of about 500 dentists.
To maximize the success of your email marketing:
In your subject line, use less than 55 characters; don't use all caps; and avoid the words "free," "credit," "offers" and "act now" to prevent being mistaken for spam.
Include multiple calls to action. For instance, one recent email campaign gave recipients five different opportunities to respond: links to download an implant restorative guide, the implant coordinator's email, our website, pricing information and links to implant restorations.
Track the days and times you're getting highest click-throughs so you can refine the timing of future campaigns; we get the best response to our eblasts between 4:45-5:45pm. Most dentists check their email right before they leave for the day and, since most inboxes are setup to list the most recent emails first, ours is right at the top.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marketing guru Robert Gitman is the Company Administrator at Thayer Dental Laboratory, a full service laboratory in Mechanicsburg, PA, where he spearheads the lab's promotional efforts. He has been active in the dental business for over 30 years as a consultant, lecturer and author on a variety of topics including marketing and laboratory profitability.
What online marketing strategies has your lab used in the past? What have you found to be most effective? Share your thoughts in the comment box below—our readers would love to hear from you!