Getting the most from physician online ads

The Internet can provide practices with great ways to reach specific audiences, but doctors’ advertising campaigns must be managed correctly.

By — Posted Feb. 4, 2013.

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When a medical practice’s budget is modest, it’s important for a little bit to go a long way. The key is to ensure that any advertisements reach the people they are supposed to reach, and that money isn’t wasted on bringing ads to an audience not being targeted. If done correctly, Internet ads can provide that value.

Health care marketer Matthew Fanelli said the difference between successful ad campaigns and wasteful ones is the amount of planning and homework that go into identifying the right audience, crafting the most effective message, and deciding what the audience’s call to action should be.

If you’re new to online advertising, here’s how it works: Submit a bid to a particular search engine, social network or other website for how much you are willing to pay each time your ad is displayed, which is referred to as an impression, or how often someone clicks on it. On search engines such as Google and Yahoo, the highest bidders with the highest click-through rates get the highest placement on search result pages. On Facebook, the higher the bid, the more times your ad goes out.

Online marketing gives you the ability to target specific groups by bidding on certain keywords you think your target audience would use in a search to find you (“family physician Chicago,” for example). In the case of Facebook, ads are generated to specific demographics based on the Facebook profiles of your target audience (married women over 40 who work for Chicago Public Schools, for example).

Most marketers, including Bob McDaniel, founder of Practice Marketing Pros, a Houston-based online health marketing firm, think search engine ads are far more effective than Facebook ads because, considering the fact that someone typed that search term, the people seeing them actually are looking for your product or service. With Facebook ads, you are a targeting a population of people who you think might be interested in what you have to offer.

Finding the right audience

Identifying who your ads should target might be harder than you think. The target is not always the patient, said Fanelli, vice president of digital at Targeted Media Health, a Time Inc. company that focuses on health care-related communications. Fanelli once worked with a urology group that found women, not men, were the most effective target audience for a campaign they were running.

“When it comes to prostate issues, guys generally tend to not be the ones who are searching for the doctor. They don’t want to go, and it’s their wives or significant others who are pushing them to go,” he said.

Further analysis will help determine the best times to reach the target demographic (the middle of the day, for example, might not the best time to reach working mothers), as some programs allow advertisers to pick a time of day to display their ads.

Most online ad programs allow users to select geographic areas. A physician’s primary patient population may come from within a 10-mile radius, but he or she may be the only physician offering a particular procedure within a 50-mile radius.

Creating the ad

Once the target audience is identified, the practice needs to study the terms, phrases, images and content that would resonate with them, Fanelli said. That will help them create an attention-getting ad.

Scott Lorenz, president of public relations and marketing firm Westwind Communications in Plymouth, Mich., recommends creating a couple of ads to test and then determine the most effective one. The content of the ads can and should be tweaked on a regular basis, based on an ongoing analysis of what is working best. Google also offers free analytic tools that can help with this analysis.

In addition to content that will grab someone’s attention, Fanelli said, the ad must have a call to action. Tell the audience what you want it to do: Click for more information, for example, or click for an appointment.

Deciding what to spend

An advantage to online marketing is the ability to set a budget that can be as low or high as you want. The disadvantage is that it’s often difficult to tell what, exactly, you are getting for your money. Marketers say this is the hardest part of any online campaign.

Depending on the venue, budgets can be set up by the maximum dollar amount you want to spend in general, or in a specified amount of time. Once those budgets are met, the ads no longer will appear, and the advertiser will stop being charged.

Even though the budget can be set low, it needs to be realistic, or what little money is spent will disappear with no measurable results. To determine what is adequate, measure the size of the potential audience and how many times your ad might be seen by that audience, especially compared with competing ads. For example, a $1,000 budget for a family physician targeting the entire Chicago area probably will not generate a lot of clicks. Either the bid would need to be very high to be seen due to the competition, or the ads would be buried. But ads for a particular procedure, targeting a specific ZIP code, might be more successful, because the target is smaller and easier to hit, and there are fewer competing ads.

It’s difficult to determine how successful something is if you haven’t defined success. McDaniel said some practices measure success by the number of calls they receive, or by the number of visits that come out of a marketing effort. Others may be interested only in driving more traffic to their websites, or in collecting email addresses for continuing engagement.

The goal is to see how much of the desired activity occurred because of the ads. If it took 10 clicks to get one phone call, and the 10 clicks cost $10 apiece, that phone call cost $100. That’s OK if the call leads to a new patient, but it may not be worth the investment if it doesn’t.

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