Asking “How Did You Hear About Us?” Might Not Work in the Digital Age

Sarah Suddreth


Consider the number of avenues a prospective patient has to find your practice—mailers, referrals, Google searches, social media, billboards… the list goes on. It is overwhelming and confusing to accurately track where new patients come from. 

Asking patients how they found your practice isn’t precise. For starters, patients aren’t incentivized to give correct and detailed information. Second, patients may not fully remember what led them to you. For example, if patients see your ad on Facebook, click through to your website, and then call, they may just say they found you “online.”

To advertise effectively, better utilize your marketing spend, and capture a shrinking market, you need insight into which online sources are performing best. Whether you’re a novice or a well-seasoned digital marketer, it’s crucial to understand which digital marketing efforts tie to phone calls. Even if you’re paying a third-party provider to manage your marketing strategy, it’s important you review what you’re paying for to ensure your efforts are resulting in new patients. 

At least 85% of consumers use the Internet to find businesses. Your practice is likely receiving phone calls from web-surfing patients. But how did they discover your practice? Are patients calling after seeing an ad on Facebook and visiting your website? Are they searching for certain services, such as Invisalign, or clicking on your practice’s local listing in a search engine?

There are several ways to capture the patient’s online journey. Some platforms show you the highest-searched keywords. Others display the top referring web pages that are driving patients to your site.

However, the next and most important step to understand your patients’ online journey is tying form-fill and phone calls from your website to the keywords and referring sources that drove patients to the website. 

What are your top keywords and referring sources that drove visitors to your website who then placed a call? If you can tie phone calls to the user session, keywords, and online information that led to each phone call, you then can optimize your marketing efforts around phone calls. 

Let’s consider a few common online paths potential patients are taking to discover your practice and how you can capitalize on each one.

Patient Journey #1

Tina pulls up Google and searches “affordable best teeth whitening tri-state area.” She sees your practice’s website at the top of the page, clicks on it, finds a phone number in the top right corner, and places a call. Your front desk employee answers and schedules Tina for an appointment the following week. 

Let’s say your digital marketing campaign’s data depicts a high volume of phone calls continuing to come in from patients similar to Tina who want their pearly whites much pearlier. It’s fair to assume there’s a high demand for this service within your market. If your practice can handle the patient volume, the next logical step is to increase your spending on whitening campaigns to drive more of this patient type.

Knowing which searched keywords are giving you the most call conversions can help you understand which keywords to use in your marketing campaigns. If you are leveraging dynamic website tracking or Google call extensions, you’ll have insight into keywords driving the most phone calls. Once you identify your top performing keywords, you can place text ads with those keywords.

Taking advantage of the fact that patients are looking for teeth whitening, coupled with knowing your team can accommodate these types of patients, will allow you to best optimize your marketing spend. 

Patient Journey #2 

Xavier had a poor experience with his current (now past) dentist and is looking for a new one. He finds an online review site that has hundreds of dental practices listed. He searches for your practice by name from a short list of offices recommended by friends. Xavier is interested to see what other patients think about their experience at your office. He sees a few positive reviews for your practice, then heads over to your Facebook and Instagram accounts. There are only a few reviews on social media, but they are all positive so he decides to call your practice. Your staff quickly connects the call and schedules Xavier for a new patient consultation.

Reviews are a critical factor in the patient’s digital journey, so much so that almost half of all Internet users look online for information on health professionals prior to deciding on a provider. If your website performance shows your visitors are searching “[your practice’s name] patient reviews,” that’s an indicator your online presence is as equally important as the patient experience you’re providing in office. Ensure that the white-glove service you provide your patients in person translates to online review sites, and you’ll continue seeing a steady flow of new patients coming through your doors.

Designate someone to monitor your reviews, respond quickly to both positive and negative reviews, and reach out to negative reviewers as necessary, via email or phone to address their concerns. Additionally, if you are tracking phone calls and see a large number of patients originating from an online review service or your social media pages, spend more time, effort, and dollars in those areas.

Patient Journey #3

Katie is new to the area and needs a periodontist to address her special gum issue. She Google searches “Jacksonville dentist treating periodontitis” and sees a website that provides a list of speciality providers at the top of her search results. She clicks on the site and finds your practice at the top of the list, reads the reviews, looks at Google reviews, and, finally, checks out your practice’s Facebook page. From Facebook, Katie clicks to your website and places a phone call after seeing periodontitis treatment options listed on your website. After hanging up while on hold, Katie calls back and your staff books her an appointment. 

In Katie’s patient journey, she only called after confirming on your website that you could help treat her condition. It’s crucial your staff continues to keep website information up to date to provide patients with the most accurate information at all times. There were also multiple touch points that contributed to Katie picking up the phone and calling.

With that being said, visit the third-party advertisement sites your practice is listed on often and make updates as necessary to capture patients whom you can actually help. You may even discover you’re missing out on new appointment opportunities by not clearly identifying products or services that you offer. Frequently monitor your online presence. It’s a major component of the patient journey in the Digital Age. 

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

It’s important to grasp the path(s) that patients are taking to find you. Once you understand where your patients are coming from and the services they are looking for, you can build digital marketing campaigns around that knowledge.

Digital marketing campaigns work best when your practice is able to monitor its online presence, handle phone call and form-fill traffic, and tweak campaigns as needed. On a weekly basis, examine performance based on the following considerations:

  • Do you need to spend more or less on a particular advertising source?
  • Should you optimize campaigns around specific services or products listed on your website?
  • Is your phone ringing more, but you’re still not seeing more appointments on the schedule? Spend time refreshing your staff on how to handle new patient and specific-service inquiry phone calls.
  • If the phone seems to be ringing off the hook and staff members are constantly placing callers on hold, have you considered adjusting staffing schedules? Callers are likely hanging up while on hold or reaching voicemail if you don’t have the support staff to handle your call volume.
  • Use a dynamic website tracking solution like Dynamic Number Insertion (DNI). DNI ties a patient’s web session to his or her phone call, helping you see which ads, keywords searched, or sites visited are actually driving new appointments. 

If you’re looking to grow your practice or see more efficient results from marketing spend, understanding the patient’s digital journey is pivotal. As Google predicts mobile call volume to businesses will reach 169 billion calls by 2020—a 35% increase from 2018—ensure you have data-driven insight displaying where callers are coming from and that they’re being adequately helped.

Ms. Suddreth is the director of business development at Call Box, the leading telephony and artificial intelligence technology firm that works with smaller dental practices as well as large DSOs such as InterDent, Heartland Dental, and MB2 to deliver more insight into their phone calls. Dental providers turn to Call Box when there is difficulty attributing marketing efforts to phone calls and staff accountability issues continue to arise. Living in Dallas, Sarah works with corporate VPs and marketing directors across the nation to enhance their practices’ bottom line and boost revenue.

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