Online Ads Trump Yellow Pages

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The type of device site visitors are using can be determined.

HICKORY, N.C.—"I knew we needed to do more online advertising after carefully tracking our marketing and becoming frustrated that we were spending a lot on the yellow pages and not getting much return on investment," said Jean Shankles, marketing director of Graystone Eye, a five-location group offering ophthalmology along with optical dispensing.

However, switching from the old-fashioned and ineffective directories to the up-to-date electronic format was not her decision alone. "We have 14 doctors and have to build consensus, but the older doctors thought we had to be in the yellow pages." Convincing them that more people get their information and find telephone numbers online was a start, then finally letting the holdouts know that they'd still get a free listing in the yellow pages gave Shankles the opportunity to test out online marketing. She took all of her yellow pages budget and spent it on online advertising.

Finding an Online Specialist
As a marketing professional with 30 years' experience, Shankles was careful to find a specialist. "We do eyes. That's all we do, and we do it well," she said. Similarly, "I wanted someone that this is all they do; that they don't sell any other media." Netsertive in Morrisville, N.C., in the state's Research Triangle Region stood out as the company that could deliver what they were looking for, a way to turn people searching online for eyecare and eyewear in their part of North Carolina into patients making appointments at one of their five locations.

A specialist in search engine advertising, Netsertive does not create websites, develop social media plans or assist with organic search engine optimization like the potpourri of services that are offered by many other internet marketing companies. The company helps optical clients "who spend money on advertising, the ones who want to proactively grow their business," explained Brandon Sifrar, key account executive with Netsertive.

Currently, the company has fewer than 50 clients in the optical field but has just under 1,000 accounts in other specialties that rely more on advertising and less on insurance to bring in patients, elective medical specialties that include optometry, ophthalmology, dentistry, orthodontics, plastic surgery, etc.

Shankles described the simple process for working with Netsertive to get Graystone Eye up and running with its online advertising campaign: "We gave them categories and then the ad words that people might be searching for, such as eyeglasses or floaters, and they use their patent pending technology to attract visitors." Its impact was immediate, with appointments scheduled online exploding after they launched in December 2012.

Online Appointments Explode
"In November 2012, I had 15 online appointments made. In January of this year, I had 58 online appointments made," she said. "We have eight appointment secretaries, but at first we didn't include them in this initiative. Then we asked them if they were getting more appointments online after we started our advertising campaign. ‘What is going on?' they asked. ‘We were seeing three to five a week, and now we're seeing five to eight a day!'"

In the first month alone, website visits doubled and new patient conversions tripled, according to Shankles, who can monitor these up-to-the-second statistics live online. "At my dashboard, I can track how many website visits were driven by my ad," she said, as she rattled off the numbers. "Right now, from the first of the year, 2,647 views resulted in 352 conversions. That means that those people actually took action such as filling out a contact form."

Shankles chose to target a 50-mile radius around Graystone's five locations in northwestern North Carolina. That proved to be a challenge, however, because the Lincolnton location is close to Charlotte, but Graystone didn't want to compete for patients from that city. "If I included the Charlotte zip code that would eat into my budget," she said, "so we just took out the Charlotte zip code." This represents just one of the many tweaks that can be made when advertising online in order to fine tune a campaign. Keywords, zip codes, and other variables can all be both carefully planned out or adjusted on the fly.

Four-Pronged Approach
Netsertive's account executive Sifrar explained in more detail exactly how the company turns people in the area who are searching for eyewear and eyecare into appointments for Graystone. Netsertive's four-pronged approach incorporates 1) search, 2) display, 3) retargeting and 4) mobile.

"Search" ensures that a text-based paid search advertisement appears "above the fold" on the web page when prospective clients type selected keywords into search engines. "Display" brands a practice by placing display advertisements on contextually relevant websites as new patients begin their search. "Retargeting" creates stickiness for the internet advertiser. This is done by having the company's ad appear on the subsequent websites the person who initiated the original search visits for 30 days after the initial visit to the advertiser's site. Because 25 percent of clicks on Google right now come from a "mobile" device, Netsertive's approach includes smartphones and tablets in its advertising programs as well.

Much of this four-pronged approach is based on the following industry trends:

  • 77 percent of people search online for a practice before scheduling an appointment
  • 90 percent of clicks come on page one, and 85 percent of ad clicks are in the first three spots
  • If a practice is not consistently visible online, they will not be considered an option by potential new patients
  • Unlike search engine optimization, search marketing is highly controllable and generates faster results
  • 84 percent of patients use both online and offline resources
  • 61 percent visit two or more websites before converting
  • 48 percent research more than two weeks before scheduling an appointment

Combining awareness of these online search habits with its four-pronged approach plus the fact that the company was hand-picked by Google to be a part of the AdWords Premier SMB Partner program, Netsertive has proven effective at turning searches into appointments.

Not only is Graystone Eye's marketing director, Jean Shankles, convinced that switching from the yellow pages to online advertising was the right move for this five-location North Carolina group practice, but so are its doctors...as well as its CEO. "I was putting my reputation and credibility on the line by talking my doctors into such a bold transition," said Shankles. Now, they all agree, "we found something that really works that has been a tremendous boost to all of our locations."

Graystone Eye can track up-to-the-moment statistics for each ad word searched.

 

Regularly monitoring its dashboard enables Graystone Eye to adjust its online advertising.

 

Each zip code’s performance can also be tracked.

 

For more from the current edition of "dba: Doing Business in Optical’s Local Markets," (as well as archived issues), click here.