Internet marketing: Then, now and in the future
Interview with an Internet marketing specialist on what ophthalmology practices should know to more effectively position themselves online.
“Google loves brands — build one.”
“You use Google to test everything and get the message right — and then you go to the other places.”
“It used to be that if you wanted sophisticated marketing tools, you had to be rich. That’s not the case on the Internet. Anyone can compete.”
John B. Pinto
In 1995, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford University. Larry, 22, was considering Stanford for a graduate degree in computer science. Sergey, 21, was assigned to show him around. The story goes that they disagreed about almost everything during this first meeting.
Just 1 year later and only 15 short years ago, they started to collaborate on a search engine. Its name? BackRub.
As Google reports its history, Larry and Sergey decided that the BackRub search engine needed a new name. After some brainstorming, they went with Google — a play on the word “googol,” a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. The use of the term reflects their mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the Web.
Ten years ago, Google had just emerged from beta phase. A lot has changed since then. There is a Google for Earth and Moon, Mail, Maps, Romance (a hoax, actually), Finance, Images, Books and Patents. Google owns YouTube. Google owns Motorola Mobility. Google owns Y-O-U.
Since the Web has become the one medium every ophthalmology practice of any scale should harness to attract new patients and better serve existing patients, let’s examine just a few changes that have taken place in the world of Internet marketing and particularly search engine optimization — things you should be doing today — and what to expect in the future.
A long time ago, about the same time that Larry and Sergey were coming up with BackRub, I first met marketing man Bill Fukui of Page 1 Solutions in Denver. Back then Bill was helping eye surgeons around the country promote their cataract and refractive surgery practices using the then-current cumbersome and costly tools: television, radio and print advertising. His company was Network Affiliates Inc., the original ophthalmic advertising syndicator.
Once marketing efforts shifted to the Web, Page 1 Solutions was among the first ad agencies to offer specialized search engine optimization to ophthalmology practices. I asked Bill to share some of his insights on the past, present and future of Internet marketing for ophthalmology.
Ocular Surgery News: How has the Internet changed as it relates to ophthalmology practices over the years?
Mr. Fukui: Obviously there are too many to list them all here, but I would say the biggest change is not in technology, but rather people. In the early years, consumers were much more limited in their online activities, expectations and experience and focused more on information gathering and research. Today they are all over the place, doing a wider variety of activities — and frankly, there are a lot more options to choose from. And it is not just young people. The age demographics now cover the entire spectrum. Although this creates more opportunities for ophthalmologists, it also requires a much more focused and comprehensive marketing strategy. The days of just hiring a Web designer or graphic artist to do your website marketing are gone. You really need to think like an online marketer.
OSN: What should practices be doing today to address these changes and maximize their online marketing efforts?
Mr. Fukui: Practices need to constantly look closely at the activities of online users, as well as the technology and information they now access and demand. The growing need for mobile browser websites is an example. Although only about 8% of website visits are done through mobile browsers today, that is up from 4% less than a year ago. Shortly it will likely exceed 12%. The growth is exponential.
An even more immediate recommendation is to proactively market reviews and ratings from satisfied patients. More consumers now search for online reviews and ratings when choosing a medical provider. Helping our clients generate positive reviews and get them posted on their websites and Facebook pages, as well as on review websites such as Google Places, Insider Pages and Citysearch, is now essential.
Consumers are more focused on the convenience and immediacy the Internet provides. Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have made two-way communication commonplace. Ophthalmologists should take advantage of this trend by adding interactive elements to their own websites. As an example, our instant chat service has significantly increased website activity and lead generation for providers.
OSN: What about the latest buzz concerning changes at Google?
Mr. Fukui: More local results and your Google Places business listing are the most obvious changes. Today, claiming and optimizing your Places page and getting listings on other authority websites are key to getting your Places page high listings. Getting Google reviews from Google users can also make a major impact. Reviews on other review sites still have some impact, but not as much as they once did.
You may have also noticed the new +1 button. Google is in beta stage of its Google+ social media project to compete with Facebook, but it appears that all of this will also have some influence on Google’s search engine results in the near future. Stay tuned.
OSN: You mentioned Facebook. What role should social media play in practice promotion?
Mr. Fukui: Social media is part of this tremendous shift we see in the online community. The key word is “community.” Your practice should constantly be participating in and growing its online community. The goal is not just advertising, but relationship and rapport building. Keep in mind, patients choose a practice or surgeon not just because of a perception that they are the best, but because they feel a greater connection and trust with them than with others. That is why custom video has become a big part of our clients’ websites and their social media marketing. Video on a patient’s computer screen, just like a video TV spot, allows you to connect emotionally with prospective patients.
Another suggestion is to email satisfied patients a picture of them with the surgeon after their surgery and include a suggestion to share their new vision with their friends and family on their Facebook page. It can help stimulate online conversations and word-of-mouth referrals. The key is to leverage your patients’ Facebook pages and their connections.
OSN: What do you expect to see over the next 10 years?
Mr. Fukui: I would be purely speculating on any details, but generally I am positive that marketing on the Web will continue to grow exponentially and will continue to become more diverse and complex, pushing aside traditional media efforts. Target audiences will be even savvier and continue to fragment as more and more Internet activities, channels and new technologies penetrate this medium. The opportunities to market online will increase, but so will the amount of time and investment necessary to succeed.
Most important, changes will come much more quickly and practices will need to react, adjust and be more decisive if they want to capture emerging opportunities. It took 15 years for Google to take over the planet. It took only about 6 years for Facebook to grow to a trillion page views and have a major motion picture chronicle its story. Buckle up. We’re all in for a wild ride.
- John B. Pinto is president of J. Pinto & Associates Inc., an ophthalmic practice management consulting firm established in 1979. He is the author of John Pinto’s Little Green Book of Ophthalmology; Turnaround: 21 Weeks to Ophthalmic Practice Survival and Permanent Improvement; Cash Flow: The Practical Art of Earning More From Your Ophthalmology Practice; The Efficient Ophthalmologist: How to See More Patients, Provide Better Care and Prosper in an Era of Falling Fees; The Women of Ophthalmology; and his new book, Legal Issues in Ophthalmology: A Review for Surgeons and Administrators. He can be reached at 619-223-2233; email: email@example.com; website: www.pintoinc.com.
- Bill Fukui is the chief operating officer of Page1 Solutions, an Internet marketing firm specializing in developing ophthalmology websites, search engine marketing and online marketing campaigns. He can be reached at 800-916-3886; email: BillF@Page1Solutions.com.