Internet Marketing for Plastic Surgeons – Less Scary than You Think

April 29th, 2008 by Will Scott

Internet marketing for plastic surgeons presents some interesting challenges. Surgical practices make a lot of money and are attractive targets. Unfortunately, more often than not, the results haven’t matched the promises.

Right when it came out I pointed to a recent article in the NY Times. This post is intended to clarify my thoughts in response.

Table of Contents

The good news:

  • You can’t ship a procedure, so the customer is most likely local
  • There’s a limited number of strong competitors (in most markets)
  • Directory and portal sites have to spread their effort
  • There are 10 spaces on page 1
  • The return on investment is high enough to absorb less than perfect targeting
  • Searches with local intent are both easier to compete for and more likely to lead to sales (cases)

The bad news:

  • It’s a noisy, channel – given the returns, everybody’s got an angle
  • “50% of my marketing budget is wasted, if only I knew which 50%”
  • The metrics a sales rep gives don’t mean anything
    • A former partner resold Infospace advertising, they showed 4.5 million unique visitors a month — how many were in Topeka?
    • There’s a lot of searches for non-selling search terms — I’d rather rank for “Portland rhinoplasty specialist” than “Maine plastic surgeon” — see point above
  • It’s easy for a portal to be the flavor of the month — get ranked, make sales, fall off
  • Every time you pay for advertising in this vertical (maybe all) you increase the incentive for your publisher to outrank you
  • As my old partner used to say, “A good salesman can sell anything once” — often that sexy sales pitch is just a pitch — more style than substance

We originally started working in this market around 2 years ago. Our first client was a very niche product peripheral to the mainstream practice. We did well for them and now have a number of cosmetic surgery practices under management and those who’ve been up a while are seeing great results.

So how do we do it? Obviously we can’t give away all the secrets, but surprisingly it’s good old-fashioned SEO, link-building and PPC. What we’ve found is that all the techniques which have historically driven ranking still work.

There is always “the new”, blogging, video optimization, Facebook, social media and the like but the basic unsexy blocking and tackling of traditional online marketing still works like a charm!

We often wonder, given the old – tried and true – methods still work, why is everyone else talking about buzzwords and gadgets. Maybe they’re not willing to put in the effort.

Return on Investment Analysis

One of the great things about modern web site analytics tools is that you can get really granular on the value of a click. What I mean is that we can know where visitors came from, what they wanted and how the contact was made (did they call, did they email).

In some cases, of course, we have less granular data but we can still get within a few percentage points of the value of an ad buy.

I’ve already posted about our use of call-tracking numbers. Honestly, we want to know what’s working. Since we don’t have a directory and we’re not a one-trick pony PPC aggregator we have some latitude. We don’t have a property in which we need to outrank you.

Since our relationship is with our client we get to be agnostic to the medium. We get to focus instead on the massage.

For example, every one of our clients knows to forward us contacts from directory sites whether new or renewing. In each instance, particularly on renewal we will check referrer traffic and see what we’ve gotten.

No traffic, no renewal!

Tracking, tracking, tracking

Web Position - Keyword Visibility Index

By tracking where users end up within our site analytics we can get a pretty good view of what actions are being taken by site visitors.

I agree with Jennifer Laycock when she says that it’s more important to focus on incremental improvement rather than out of the box domination. We tend to be more focused on growth in ranking, growth in contacts and of course growth in revenue.

As mentioned above, given you can’t ship a procedure, much of our focus needs to be on the offline conversion which we track by way of call-tracking numbers. Tim of Convert Offline is evaluating a new system which he reports integrates nicely with Google Analytics, but for now we’re doing it the old fashioned way with numbers from VoiceStar

(recently acquired by Marchex) and manual association of the data at the end of each month.

Again, it’s about growth in traffic, not a straight out of the gates flood.

What’s a hard-working plastic surgeon to do?

First and foremost, check references. Good ranking doesn’t necessarily mean results and if you can’t follow the trail from eyeballs on a site to procedures in your office run away.

Know that you are the authority! You don’t have to sell your soul to portals and lead generation sites just to fill your office. And the great news is when you consider the return, the investment is minimal.

Own the content, own the links coming in at YOUR site and you’ll never need to worry about the price going up. It takes work month after month, but at least it’s building your online reputation.

I’m not trying to blow our own horn here, but we verifiably drive leads at a cost of $20 – $50 per contact. The crazy thing is that Google Pay-Per-Click in major markets can cost as much as $15.00 / click for competitive phrases. In case you haven’t already figured it out there’s a big difference between a click and a contact. In fact, you’re doing great if you get above 5% conversion (contact) rate on a click.

The most important thing to remember is you can and should be hyper critical and insist on metrics. There’s no reason you can’t measure this stuff. There’s a margin for error but at a minimum you can see what your team is doing and look for those incremental improvements. As the bankers say “the trend is your friend”.

And… if you don’t know what the money you’re spending buys you, question it and insist on metrics to back up the answers.

Free tip:

If you’re a member of ASPS or ASAPS, sign up for their practice profile. They’re cheap as heck and you can’t get a more higher quality industry reference. And, if you’re a Mentor implant customer sign up for – it’s coming up fast and I think there’s a deal for Mentor surgeons.

Yellow Pages Advertising for Plastic Surgeons

I know it’s scary, but it’s really OK to shut down that Yellow Pages ad. You’re not missing anything with just a bold listing. And, you can get way more bang for that buck online.

One last thing:

For our own information we keep a list of which directory / portal sites are ranking where.

If you want to know who’s ranking well in your town give us a call (504) 208-3900.

Here’s a quick sample (as of March 29th):

fort lauderdale breast enlargement
Site Current Rank Last Sample Not in first 20. NA Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * 10 NA * Not in first 20. NA * 1 NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * 6 NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA * Not in first 20. NA

Feel free to call with any questions — we love this stuff! (504) 208-3900