There is a famous saying in advertising that goes: "We know that 50% of our advertising works; we just don't know which 50%." This is more of a challenge for veterinary practices when we have minimal funds for promotion and we are faced with more choices than ever to get the word out about our businesses.
From social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to newsletters and websites, we face such an abundance of options that it is almost paralyzing. The challenge then becomes: How do we get the most bang for our buck?
If we assume that the ultimate goal of any advertising or marketing campaign is to make consumers aware of the services and products a business offers, then in this digital age, we must make it easy for people to find our businesses online. Much like we know which instruments we need to perform a medical procedure, we need to effectively integrate several digital platforms to ensure success. This will involve the use of your hospital’s web page, a Google Business profile and an active social media presence.
The most important online real estate a business can own is its web page. It functions as the reservoir of all of the information about your veterinary business. Whether it is directions, staff information, services offered or hours that you are open, your web page has everything anyone would want to know about your clinic. Not only should it be informative, but it should be engaging enough to make prospective clients want to pick up the phone and call to book an appointment.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind when reviewing your website. Viewers favor sites that try to tell a story with pictures rather than paragraph upon paragraph of dry text using scientific terminology. Also, people want to see photos of the vets and staff, not equipment or facilities. Prospective clients make the decision about which vet to use based on who the people are and not their fancy equipment.
Search Engine Optimization
Now the challenge is how to get your website found. We all live in a Google world, so where a business ranks in a web search is crucial. If your business is not ranked in the top three listings for your customer’s search (or at least on the first page), you might as well not exist.
There are three key ways to do this. The first is search engine optimization or SEO. Wikipedia defines SEO this way: “SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's ‘natural’ or un-paid (‘organic’) search results.”
Many factors affect the organic ranking of a website, and they change and evolve regularly. Part of your SEO strategy may be to take into consideration how search engines work, how people are searching for your product or service online, and learning which words or phrases (keywords) people are entering into the search engines to find the answers to their questions. Once you have researched these keywords, you can create valuable and relevant content incorporating these search terms your customers are using.
For example, if you want your equine dentistry section to be found in search engines, you should make sure that relevant search terms like “teeth floating” or “horse dentist” are included in your descriptions in that section. Figuring out a SEO strategy is typically something that a business will not do internally. There are companies that specialize in this service, and they are worth the extra expense.
Another tool available to businesses is your Google Places for Business page. You can see this when you search a business on Google and click on the map or location of a business that shows up next to the listing. A complete and properly filled-out profile may help your website’s search rankings and increase your visibility to customers searching for you or the types of services you provide.
Another way to increase your search rankings is by using social media. If your website is the center of your universe, consider the social media platforms you use as planets that are circling your website. They are outreaches that can help people find you easier online.
There are many ways that social media influences the visibility of your website in search results. For example, likes, shares, comments and re-tweets that link back to a website help with page authority since search engines think this means content is new and interesting. They can also increase the number of inbound links to your website, which will favor your search ranking.
We all know horse owners are enthusiastic and passionate about horses, and using social media is an ideal way to help share information about your business and engage with your current and prospective clients. Many people wonder if social media is so popular, why should they bother having a website?
There are a couple of reasons for this. While almost all North Americans use the Internet, not all of them use social media. Depending on the age or location of your clientele, you may find that a significant amount of them do not use social media, so by focusing entirely on Facebook or Twitter, you are effectively ignoring them.
The other reason is that you are using Facebook or Twitter on their terms. If you consider your website as real estate that you own, think of the various social media platforms as properties you rent with very specific terms. We all know that the terms of a rental can change. Facebook is the giant platform now, but who knows if it will be in a year or two? If you placed all of your efforts in using only Facebook, you might be at a disadvantage when the next great thing takes over.
There are several things to assess before committing your business to digital marketing. First you must have a strategy that has these four elements:
- Target audience
- Platforms to reach the goals
- Measurement of efforts
Without a goal, it is impossible to assess whether your strategy is working. Goals can be as simple as increasing the number of new clients or increasing awareness (sales) of a new service. Goals also give you a focus so you are not trying to do everything and ending up with nothing. If increasing the number of lameness exams is a goal, then you wouldn’t waste your efforts on promoting dentistry services, for example.
Once you have a goal, then you can focus on your audience. For example, are you targeting existing clients, or are you trying to reach middle-aged professional women? Each demographic has a preferred means of communication. This helps as you put together a plan of action using the various digital platforms.
If you are targeting existing clients, you can use their email addresses and send them an e-newsletter. If you are going after a younger urban clientele, then you might consider Twitter. On the other hand, if you have a rural clientele that consists primarily of middle-aged men, you probably won’t get much traction using digital marketing. This demographic is the smallest audience using social media. Women, in general, are the largest group using social media, so if they are your target, then Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest can be part of your strategy.
Finally, you need to measure your efforts to see if they are working. Most digital platforms have analytics that can help you measure your activities. They can tell you how many people “liked” or commented on a Facebook post or how many people watched a YouTube video.
Electronic newsletters sent using Constant Contact or Mail Chimp can benefit from very specific metrics. They will tell you how many people opened a newsletter, which links the readers clicked on, and even how many people clicked the unsubscribe button. The possibilities are endless, so it is best to identify a handful of key metrics that you will monitor to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts.
The other thing to consider is whether your digital marketing efforts will add financial value by increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Most digital marketing platforms are free to use, but there is a labor cost associated with having someone post information or respond to online comments. Yet if your business has been mailing newsletters, there could be a considerable savings on postage and paper if you transfer to an email newsletter. The benefits have to outweigh the costs involved.
It is true that consumers searching online will think less of a business that doesn’t have a current website or even a Facebook page, but if your business is thriving with little digital effort, you might not find enough benefit in embracing an aggressive online presence. When considering what to do online with your business, think of the four key components of a digital marketing campaign:
- Know your goal.
- Know who your audience is.
- Know how you will reach your goal.
- Know how you will measure the success of your efforts.
By keeping a tight focus on the results you want, your business will profit without spending money foolishly.