Marketers often refer to how a business represents itself as its ‘presence’. In the past, presence included signage, marketing materials, advertising, a website and more, but in the modern world, building your presence across multiple online platforms is vital. In the first of a digital marketing series, we explore why this is the case and the key components required to start to build your own online presence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven Australians online in numbers never seen before. Weekly online shopping is now at a level previously only experienced during Black Friday or the late Christmas rush; streaming entertainment has become the norm; and more people are working remotely.
If your webpage effectively establishes the personality of your brand and begins to build a customer relationship, then a user is much more likely to stay on your page rather than look elsewhere
While a study conducted by Pew Research1 showed that in 2016, 72% of Internet users had looked online for health information within the past year, that number jumped to an average of 83% in 2020.
Even with the imminent release of a coronavirus vaccine and a gradual return to some semblance of normalcy, it’s highly unlikely that Australians, now that they have become accustomed to the convenience of the online world, will revert to old habits. With more people than ever before going online for goods and services, a practice that doesn’t fully embrace the digital world runs a serious risk of being left behind.
2020 was a tough year all round emotionally, and for a great number of people it was financially devastating. As a result, many people put off seeing to their healthcare. Practices around the country, across all healthcare verticals, felt this financial impact in terms of reduced bookings.
That said, an end to the pandemic will likely bring with it a resurging job market, allowing people who have ignored problems, put off regular testing, or those simply in need of a new set of spectacles, to book appointments without fear of financial pressure. After a year of relying on the Internet for a number of their needs, if this group of resurgent patients can’t find your practice online then the chances of them booking with you are slim.
Of course, embracing the online world doesn’t necessarily mean a business has to move their services online – effective optometry will always require face-to-face contact with patients. However it’s important to consider the ways in which a potential patient can go about finding your practice and booking an appointment. That’s where your online presence comes in.
YOUR WEBSITE IS YOUR BUILDING BLOCK
According to Euan McDonald-Madden, Marketing Executive at ProVision, your website is “the building block for your digital presence”.
Indeed, your company website should be the centrepiece of your digital presence and it needs to be engaging because people are notoriously fickle when it comes to online attention spans. Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, a content analytics software company discovered, in the 2014 Data State of the Union, that the average user only spent around 15 seconds on a web page before moving on, meaning that if a website doesn’t immediately engage, users will look elsewhere.
Your website must also reflect your brand because in many cases, it will be the first point of contact between a potential patient and your practice – it’s where they will learn about your practice, its values and personality. “It needs to have the same sort of logos, and look and feel the same as your practice, your physical bricks and mortar,” said Mr McDonald-Madden.
“It also needs to really create that emotional connection when you land on the site. So you really want to get those core things that independent practices are – like quality health care, like tailored products and the fact you take the time and care – across straight away”.
E-COMMERCE IS ESSENTIAL
If your webpage effectively establishes the personality of your brand and begins to build a customer relationship, then a user is much more likely to stay on your page rather than look elsewhere. How you go about establishing that brand personality depends on the individual brand and your target demographic. You may concentrate more on showcasing fashion frames, the importance of childhood eye tests, budget friendly eyewear solutions or the like… however you go about it, there is one feature that has become a mainstay of a modern digital presence that you can’t ignore. That is giving users the ability to book or purchase online.
Online shopping makes up a huge portion of retail, and while this may not be something that applies to all practices, those that sell disposable contact lenses, non-prescription eye-drops, sunglasses and the like can benefit from implementing an eCommerce solution on their site. For healthcare though, there is something far more important to the average practice than online shopping – the ability for patients to be able to book appointments online.
Online booking statistics from MyHealth1st show that a vast majority of Australians prefer to book their healthcare appointments online. What’s more, around 55% of all online bookings are made after hours, meaning that practices relying on phone calls for bookings either miss out or have to waste time calling people back to try and arrange time for an appointment. Having a strong digital presence, and well positioned booking buttons allows a patient not only to find your site and begin a relationship with your practice, but simply book an appointment at any time of the day or night.
DIVERSIFY TO GROW YOUR PROFILE
Having a well-constructed and SEO optimised website may form the core of any digital presence strategy, but diversification is key to reaching the most potential patients. Andrew Bowden, owner, managing director and optometrist at Envision Optical on Queensland’s Gold Coast couldn’t agree more.
“If, at the bare minimum, you don’t have a good website, you’re not focused on your Google My Business profile, and you don’t have some presence on Facebook or Instagram, then you’re just kidding yourself,” he says, “because all of this enables you to target specific demographics or just engage in general and show some personality”.
A Google My Business profile has quickly become an incredibly important aspect of any company’s online profile as it immediately provides potential patients with important details about the business, including its contact details, location, and services. Furthermore, it can host a booking link, and most importantly, it can also host reviews.
Typically, optometrists are prohibited from using reviews in marketing materials, such as official posts or advertisements, or hosting user reviews or testimonials under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) National Law, as testimonials and reviews are considered to be advertising. However, as Google My Business is hosted by Google, AHPRA specifically states that your practice is free to have reviews on the platform. Essentially what this means is that patients are free to write testimonials or reviews and post them on their own social media or third party platforms like Google My Business, but you can’t use them in any other capacity. For more information refer to Optometry Board Australia’s recently amended Guidelines for advertising regulated health services.2
According to the Local Consumer Review Survey conducted by BrightLocal. com, 94% of consumers read reviews before deciding to make a booking or purchase. The same research showed that around 84% of people trusted online reviews roughly as much as a personal recommendation from a friend, and that 54% of people are likely to visit the website of a business after reading a positive review. AHPRA may not like reviews and testimonials, but patients definitely do.
TARGET, TRACK, MODIFY
Leveraging the power of social media to reach specific communities is an effective way to connect with potential patients and establish a brand presence and personality online. Along with Google advertising, Facebook advertising is one of the most effective and cost effective ways to market a brand, thanks to its ability to both specifically target audiences and track the results.
Being able to track results and modify campaigns on the fly is one of the most valuable aspects of social media and other online advertising, as it lets a practice truly analyse return on investment. A letterbox drop of 50,000 pamphlets at a cost of around AU$1000 for an expensive procedure (such as orthokeratology) may result in a handful of bookings, giving the campaign a decent return on investment, but there is no way to track engagement. Did people read the flyer? Did they ignore it because there was no easy ability to investigate more?
Social media and Google advertising let you know how many people looked, when they looked, if they clicked through to your site or hit a booking button embedded within a post. Of course this requires a website, the core of any digital presence, to be linked through to in the first place.
Mr McDonald-Madden reminds us that placing all your eggs in a single basket is a risky proposition when it comes to establishing presence. “If you’re going to rely on just your Facebook presence, or you’re going to rely on listings wherever they might be, you’re really at the beck and call of whoever provides that listing,” he said. “If you’re just relying on a Facebook page to be your digital presence, you know Facebook can change things overnight that could change the look and feel of your page, or how reach is calculated so your posts don’t go anywhere, or they might have to take health services down. That might not happen, but you really are at their beck and call. So we tell our members, you really need to have your own website. You can control that website, as well as the look and the feel of how your brand is presented.”
Daniel Wilks is the lead writer at MyHealth1st, a company dedicated to providing the tools and technology to help grow eye care practices and deliver healthcare to those in need across Australia. In addition to online booking, MyHealth1st has developed products to streamline the recall process and make referrals easy, pre- and post-appointment survey tools, mobile phone check-in services, managed digital marketing and more.
- Pew Research, PRC 2017 National Consumer Study.
- www.optometryboard.gov.au/Policies-Codes-Guidelines/ Advertising-a-regulated-health-service/Guidelines-foradvertising- regulated-health-services.aspx