This Rx was written for a physician-friend with a mental health counseling practice. Maybe it will help you too.
Step 1: Define Your Brand
Before you begin marketing, you have to know what you are selling. This is your brand. For example, focusing on marriage counseling would be part of your brand. Being a virtual therapy practice would be another part of your brand. Pricing would be a third part. Things like your company name and logo are more obvious parts.
On Being A Virtual Practice
The idea of having an entirely virtual (online) practice can seem like a good idea, if you view the Internet as a magic bullet. In reality, a purely virtual practice faces many difficulties and can be a very bad idea. You have to decide whether you want to be an online business, remain a local face-to-face business, or be a combination of the two. This decision will determine how you set up your website and other marketing efforts.
- Working as a nonlocal online practice means that you have a broader pool of possible clients, but there is also stiff competition from established doc-in-a-box websites such as breakthrough.com. Further, working online tends to mean cheaper fees because there is open competition from less qualified practitioners and clients have a commodity mindset that drives them to compare providers based purely on price. You may wind up with more patients, working twice as hard, yet earning less. And patients will have very little loyalty, because they are looking for a product, not a relationship with a therapist.
- This does not mean you cannot use virtual services to expand your hours or lower your overhead. It is one thing to make a patient’s life more convenient and another to give into the commoditization of your profession. In fact, setting yourself up as a local business with virtual services could give you a strong brand advantage because I am not aware of another practice in Miami that offers after-hours or lunchtime hours or weekend hours online. There is software available designed for doctors/therapists to make this possible, but the cost of the software and the ease of implementation varies. Skype is not HIPAA compliant, but other options are available.
- You can remain completely local and face-to-face. This does not mean you will curl up and die. It does mean you may have to rethink your marketing, and include things like direct mail in your marketing mix.
A tool such as Counsol allows therapists to have HIPAA-compliant online sessions and secure emails without adopting a completely virtual practice.
- Remain a face-to-face business but add the convenience of online sessions, particularly during lunch, early morning, after work, and weekend hours when clients can be available; working online makes these hours less odious to therapists.
- This will allow you to begin testing an online model without fully committing to it.
- Use a HIPAA compliant video-chat tool, such as Counsol, that includes secure emails, forms, etcetera…. The cost is $70 per month per therapist
- Online convenience should not lower price; the value of what you do stands on its own. A sliding scale is something else entirely.
Create A Business Identity
- Ideally, your business name and website name (domain) are the same and meet all requirements for a good domain
- It should be available as Gmail account to set up Google for local business.
- Your domain should include an important search term (keyword) + city.
- Your business identity must be consistent across the Internet, from your website to Google for local businesses to directory listings and any social media.
- Even if you do not use social media, lock in your name on social media to prevent it from being used by a competitor
- Choose a great domain first, then work backwards to make sure it is available as a DBA and on social media.
Step 2: Choose A Marketing Approach
You can either pay outside vendors to manage your marketing, or manage it yourself. An ad agency will take care of all your marketing, but this can be expensive and not always in your best interest. If you decide not to hire an ad agency, at the very least you will need to hire a web designer or web developer (same thing) to build your website. This requires deciding whether you want a turnkey solution or an open source solution.
A turnkey approach is easy but limits your control. Frankel Interactive provides various marketing services including turnkey medical websites made that can be easily tailored to include functions you may want, such as online appointments. If you use a pre-set template, the cost is as low as $750 for a small site that looks like other doc sites without online chat. The disadvantage is they use proprietary (not open source) software to build the website, so you are locked into the limits of the software and into using the vendor to maintain your site and make any changes. You may have to start from scratch if you want to fire them. Be aware you will still have to set up Google My Business, directory listings, etcetera.
Open Source Solution
An open-source approach gives you complete control, but it also gives you complete responsibility. If you understand what you need, this approach allows you to cherry pick services, vendors, and prices. If your website is built with open-source software like WordPress, you have access to a wide community of developers, the software meets best web practices, the code can be rewritten to add any function, and the design possibilities are unlimited. If you decide to fire your vendor, you won’t have to rebuild your site. The cost can be anywhere from $500 for a small site to more than $5000.
- Build your website using WordPress (open source software); you will have a plan for the site, which you can use to obtain estimates from any developer
- Hire vendors on an as-needed basis
- Do not hire anyone to do SEO for you
- Hire someone on a freelance basis to manage your marketing for you
Step 3: Assemble Assets
Assets are the basic things you use to create your marketing. This includes your logo, any photography, and ultimately the marketing creations themselves.
- Logo: your logo needs to make your business memorable
- The logo must be created in different formats for use on print materials, on your website, on Google+ and LinkedIn, and other media
- Brand Color/Type: consistent color palette and type fonts to be used online and offline (need a Google font)
- Headshots: consistent headshots (same lighting, same background) are needed because inconsistent headshots look unprofessional and “not part of the practice”
- Basic print materials: business cards, letterhead, forms, etc.
Step 4: Create Online Listings
Broadly speaking, online listings are any reference to you on the Internet aside from your website. These can include social media like LinkedIn, Google Maps listings, general sites like Yelp, and professional review sites like HealthGrades. They are incredibly important because not only do they show up on their own, they also influence how Google ranks your website. Generally, listings take about 3 months to populate and show results.
- Always do separate listings for the business and for the individual practitioners
- Online references and listings must be consistent, must not be duplicated, and must follow Google’s rules (for example, no city after medical practice name) or you may be inadvertently penalized by Google
- Create business listings (not therapist listings) on major business directories: Yelp, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Manta, Merchant Circle, Super Pages, Yellow Pages, Web Local, Local.com, Insider Pages; make sure information is uniformly consistent
- Create practitioner listings on major health review sites: HealthGrades, Vitals
- Create practitioner listings on directories like Psychology Today, AMA… only the top ones and the few that may apply specifically to your clients, such as Christian Therapists or LGBT Therapists
- LinkedIn: create business listing and practitioner listings with head shots
- Join possible referral sites like Doximity (physician only)
- Do not buy any listings/providers that charge you for listings
- Clean up all past listings that may be erroneous
Google My Business Listings
Google My Business helps businesses be found in search results using Google maps and Google+ reviews. Google My Business can make or break where you appear in Google results.
- Login to Gmail
- Create a Map and Google+ page for the business address, phone, hours and business name (use your logo and any visuals such as clinic image)
- Create a Map and Google+ page for each therapist using the business address, phone, hours without the business name, i.e. Jane Smith, MSW (include avatar)
Social Media Listings
- Your business and practitioners should be on LinkedIn
- The data mining practices of social media such as Facebook may violate HIPAA rules, depending on how that social media is used
- There is no HIPAA violation if you post information, but there may be if you engage in interactions. Even if you do not plan to use social media, you should lock in your business name on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. for security so that someone else cannot tarnish your brand name
- You can use Moz.com/local or Yext to manage local search directories and most social media listings
- You have to look up and do professional listings (Psychology Today, HealthGrades) listings by hand
- The easiest solution is to have a freelancer set it up for you (someone who knows what they are doing)
Step 6: Online Reviews Marketing
Online reviews are often part of listings. For example, Google+ listings and Yelp listings have reviews. People read reviews and rely on them. Reviews appear on their own in search results and affect where your website appears. You want good reviews for both the practice and individual practitioners. However, patients have to be aware of their HIPAA rights and that they are voluntarily releasing personal information to the public about themselves. Google+, Yelp and other sites do not allow anonymous reviews. Therefore, you have to ask for reviews while also reminding patients that their statements are public not anonymous. The best way to do this is to have a section of your website that includes links to the sites where you want reviews and a brief HIPAA statement advising that their review will be shared publicly. You will not get reviews unless you ask for them.
- The easiest way to ask for reviews is to use a card, “If you feel I have helped you, I would be grateful if you would provide a review” and include the URL to a page on your website with review site links and a casual HIPAA statement
- The most popular physician practice review sites are Yelp, HealthGrades, and RateMDS
- Google+ is the most important review site for individual therapists
- You can begin asking younger, tech-savvy clients to give you a review before you have your website up (older clients won’t have a clue)
Step 7: Build Your Website
A new website will take about 6 months to begin to get traffic. Do not believe SEO people who promise results; no one can promise anything. The basic SEO outlined in this document will be sufficient to get you into a strong position for local search results and you should not get involved in fancy efforts like link building. There is too much room for unsavory tactics that can backfire on you. The most important aspects of a website are that it:
- Be well organized
- Be able to accommodate lots of new content (writing and pictures)
- Work on mobile devices
- Load quickly
- Be scalable (able to grow functionally)
- Not be more than you need
WordPress is the most popular software for building websites. It can build any website with any function. You can use any theme (template) and customize it. You can use any web developer. And WordPress websites tend to do better in Google search than websites built on proprietary templates (such as Psychology Today templates).
- Do not host your website with the developer
- Websites need to be maintained (have software updated); the monthly cost depends on how complex your site is
Start Simple And Evolve
It’s nice to think you can build a better mousetrap and they will come. This is not true for websites. Content, not functionality, brings traffic (people) to websites through Google search. A plain blog with tons of great content will do better than a fancy website with all the bells and whistles, but less content. By starting small, you can save money and get results before investing in more website features.
- Start small and build up your traffic by adding great content
- When your traffic is good, replace it with a more sophisticated site… or better yet, just add new features
- When redesigning a site, you must be careful not to ruin your SEO (which means you must keep same content, same URLs, and same website software)
A website is not a permanent fixture. Except for massive e-commerce sites, websites are usually rebuilt every 3 to 4 years due to changes in technology. For example, today’s websites must be responsive and not use Flash or frames. But it is important to keep content and linking structures when a site is rebuilt to maintain the hard work done to rank well in Google.
Absolutely, Google will penalize you for non-original content, including content that is aggregated or that is somewhat similar to content elsewhere on the web. Never buy website packages that include content. Never. Provide your own quality content because this is the most important part of your website.
- Be careful with your own RSS feeds, because they can go to outside spammy sites and pull down your SEO. Your web developer should make them no-follow links for safety.
- You can run a RSS feed from Psychology Today (or other good site) without a problem
There are 350 searches per month in English in Miami for terms related to therapist. There are 390 searches in Spanish. There are 980 searches in English related to counselor; a similar number of searches are spread across related terms in Spanish. There are even more searches for precise terms, such as anger management or marriage counseling or addiction counseling.
- The website should include at least some copy in Spanish on each page related to the page keyword.
- The website should also include the ability to translate the site on the fly into languages you can serve
Be HIPAA Secure
Any website that collects payments and any website that may collect patient information must be secure. Basic HIPAA security is about the same as the security required for online payments. If you plan on getting into electronic prescriptions and remote medicine, you will need a higher level of security – and you are also looking at a very expensive website that may or may not get you more business (a reason to start small).
- Basic HIPAA security is met by having a SSL security certificate on your website; this is not possible for websites hosted on WordPress.com but it is possible for any website built using WordPress software
- Emails, contact forms, online appointments, etc. must be encrypted
- Skype is not HIPAA compliant but other video chat services are, such as GotoMeeting, Via3, VSee. LuxSci, MegaMeeting, Counsol
Counsol is a simple, somewhat ugly, HIPAA-compliant video chat, email, and documentation program created with therapists in mind. It can be used on any website that allows HTML links to be inserted onto a page.
- Website built using WordPress, hosting on Blue Host with SSL certificate
- Include Counsol links for each therapist (with secure emails and online sessions)
- Include e-commerce payments (not a set amount) via credit card, not PayPal
- See website content plan for more information on navigation, etc. (below)
The website needs to be structured with clean navigation that allows the addition of multiple pages and types of content. There are two ways to go with this: the hard but potentially better way, and the easy and probably more foolproof way.
- Ideally, the website would have a blog for each therapist that would allow therapists to post content under their own name by category so it appears in in Google search results with the therapists name in the title – not the name of the business. This requires a commitment from the therapists to post once a week; the therapists who post more frequently will rank higher than those who post less. This is a WordPress Multisite installation, so the developer must know how to work with WordPress in this way. In essence, a WordPress Multisite installation allows each therapist to run her own blog and gain the SEO credit for it, if the blogs are set up as subdomains. It also builds up content much more quickly.
- The simpler approach is a single installation with a single blog. Therapists can post under their own names (as users) but they do not get SEO credit – the overall business does. If therapists are not absolutely committed to producing content, this is the way to go.
Images must look good on Apple retina devices. Because retina-friendly photos must be larger and so take more time to load, minimize the use of photos (except team photos). Instead, use flat graphics and icons.
Needs to include clickable phone number and email contact icon that work on mobile devices. Do not include social media; this will be on a separate page. The header also needs to include Espanol link to Google site translation; or you can use a Google translation widget to translate page by page.
There should be a separate page for each service with at least 400 words of original copy. The services should be set up by what is treated. Ideally, you would match the services to the most popular search terms. Organization of the content should be the main category in the main navigation, with subcategories in the child menus (example below). Make sure that there is a consistent logic used in your menus and that this logic can include new categories.
There should be a separate page for each practitioner with the same headshot used in their directory listings, Google+ pages, etcetera. Each practitioner page would also have a Counsol link (preferably nicely done under an image) that links to video chat, etc. – if you decide to use Counsol.
A blog is where you add new posts (articles) each week about a specific topic. Blogs not only add content to a site (which helps its SEO), it also conveys the personality of the blogger. This can put a reader at ease and make them more likely to call you. Avoid writing in a stuffy style. Be natural. If you use a Multisite WordPress installation, each therapist would have her own blog and the difference in style would come through clearly. Therapists should worry less about writing well and more about speaking directly to an imaginary client, as they would in a session. Each blog should be organized by categories; you can use the same categories used in the main navigation menu.
Contact Us Page
Include secure contact form, Google map, downloadable new patient forms, address and phone number, any information needed to schedule an appointment, also include link to Insurances Accepted page
Include copyright info. Hide developer credit, unless you want to make it easy for a competitor to use your thinking. The developer may be pissed off, but oh well. Include pages:
- Insurances Accepted (this includes insurances accepted and any sliding scale)
- Recommend Us (This includes the review sites you want good reviews on and “nice” HIPAA statement)
- Make A Payment (This is for online payments if you do virtual sessions; payments should be made before session; this can be a single page but do not use PayPal because it has a poor image and costs the same as a regular credit card set up through Stripe; the payment has to be open-ended such that a user can enter any payment they want)
- Instead of using a dropdown menu, use a mega menu structure that is mobile friendly.
- Run all copy through Copyscape to check that it is original
Email is still the best way to market to an existing customer base. General information of use to your clients does not violate HIPAA laws and keeps you top of mind. Specific correspondence such as appointments must be HIPAA compliant.
Interim Online Marketing
Online marketing is not a quick fix. Local review listings may take 3 months to gain traction. Your website may take 6 months to begin to get traffic. In the interim, you need to rely on other methods to get business.
The easiest way to get traffic before your site begins to rank organically is to buy Google pay-per-click ads (PPC). As long as you confine your ads to very appropriate terms, include geo-targeting so your ads are only displayed in Miami (or even your immediate area) and you exclude terms that might “disqualify” a click (i.e, physical therapy: exclude physical)…. Plus have your ad link to a good page that relates to the ad and has a call to action… PPC can bring in viable leads without spending too much. In fact, you can set a daily budget. To learn more, go to Google AdWords for local business… they try to make it easy.
Groupon is useful only to build short-term business. It does not convert into quality customers. However, it is one way to get exposure. Try offering packages based around specific problems, for example, “6 Couples Therapy Sessions for $XXX.” Pricing is an art on Groupon, so you want to provide an incentive with a good discount off a high original price, but you do not want to make the package so cheap that you ruin your professionalism.
Local Print Marketing
- Do a bulk mailing campaign to local neighborhoods; include coupon for an introductory assessment or session at a reduced price (or some other offer; talk to your copywriter)
- Do a direct mail drop every 3 months… many people in your local area are older, have the right insurance or income level, and are not computer literate
- Billboards are great for local markets (there is one near you) but expensive