Paid Traffic: is There a Place for it in Healthcare?
Whether there is a place for paid traffic in healthcare really comes down to the return-on-investment (ROI) calculation. We’ll return to that in a moment. But first, let’s review a brief history of advertising in medicine, then review how “paid traffic in healthcare” differs from “advertising in healthcare.” Finally, I will touch on the ROI of content marketing in healthcare, and – finally – get to the point: the value of paid traffic for your clinical practice.Whether paid traffic makes sense for YOUR practice depends on the worth of a new patient to your practice and the cost of the traffic Click To Tweet
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History of Advertising in Healthcare
If you practice in healthcare, particularly if you practice medicine, you may recall a time when a doctor was forbidden to advertise. In fact, according to a wonderful historical review published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2006:
“For generations following the first American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics in 1847, the relationship between doctors and advertising remained unambiguous – advertising was forbidden.”
That all changed in 1975, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) persuaded the AMA to lift this ban, under threat of “restraint of trade” violations.
Americans mistakenly believed that the competition created by allowing doctors to advertise would follow economic norms. If that had happened (clearly, it did not happen), it would have resulted in better healthcare, and less expensive healthcare. As we are all painfully aware, this did not happen.
I am in strong agreement with Dr. Tomycz that advertising has denigrated and defamed our profession. In other words, I think that advertising in healthcare has resulted in a decline in the quality of the physician-patient relationship. Read Dr. Tomycz’s editorial for his articular and impassioned insights here.
Paid Traffic vs Advertising
There IS a difference between traditional “advertising” and online paid traffic, however. And – because the ultimate outcome of visitors arriving at your professional website depends on the value that you provide for them, as well as their perception of your personality and your practice philosophy – it is my opinion that paid traffic for your healthcare practice is, in a word, okay. Maybe even better than okay. Maybe a great way to expand your audience.
That is, paying for people to be shown your content – articles or postings on social media – does not offer the same temptation of false claims, limited and or biased information that competitive “advertising” presents.
Furthermore, if you build your website as an archive of accurate, useful, health information as advised on this blog, your website is merely the first connection, the first step, in a long-term relationship with prospective patients. In other words, it’s up to you to provide value once visitors arrive at your website. If you are paying for those visitors (i.e., paid traffic), you have a pretty strong motive to give patients what they are looking for: sufficient value for them to stick around; for them to return; for them to consider your practice as their go-to resource for information and, ultimately, come to you for their care.
The ROI of Content Marketing in Healthcare
Once again, it all comes down to your ROI analysis.
As a brief review, ROI = profit/total investment … expressed as a percentage.
Typical ROI for traditional advertising is usually in single digits. Most traditional advertising campaign managers would be pleased with an ROI of 10% or greater. Note that the ROI for content marketing can run into double, or even triple digits! That is, comparing a paid traditional advertisement (let’s say print ads, or direct mail as an example) with an article on a social media platform reveals that the digital content outperforms traditional media by at least a factor of 10-50. Hello!!
In other words, given that the cost of content marketing comes close to free, the return divided by the investment will be impressive.
The downside of content marketing is time … it takes time for “organic traffic” to discover your content, and for your content to rise in the search rankings. Meaning, it takes time for Google to become aware of your website, and to index your articles.
Content marketing also takes your time (or someone’s time) to create the content. Of course, I’ve written extensively on creating content efficiently, with minimal time invested. But … even if you account for that time, and pay yourself an impressive hourly rate (say $100/hour) to produce your blog posts, content marketing still comes out waaay ahead of traditional marketing.
And paying for traffic can boost that equation, because …
Paying for traffic speeds up that timeline.
Whether the cost of paid traffic makes sense for your practice will depend on the value of a patient to your practice. And by “value of a patient,” don’t simply consider the revenue from the initial visit: consider the revenue that a patient brings to your practice over the lifetime of the patient-practice relationship! Only then can you make an informed ROI calculation.
The “800-pound gorillas” in online advertising are Google (duh…I know!) and Facebook. Paid traffic with Google includes Adwords, but also YouTube ads – both offer similar options and targeting based on demographics and search behavior (they use “cookies” on computers to know where people have visited online, and what they’ve searched for).
Facebook has unique insights into interests and behavior: Due to the depth of personal and behavioral data they have accrued, Facebook offers greater ability to limit those who are shown your ads. That is, you can “target” who they will show your content to on Facebook. You will not pay for someone to be shown your Facebook ad unless there is good evidence (data) that they have an interest in your topic. See next section for more…
The ROI of Paid Traffic in Healthcare
Paid traffic, especially the “targeted” paid traffic that is possible with Facebook, increased the ROI in this way: when you can limit the views of your “boosted” content or “ads” to only those people who have an interest, you’re not paying for irrelevant traffic. You don’t pay for spurious “clicks” or views of your content.
As examples, Facebook insights allows you to select those who are shown your ads by:
- Geo location
- “Events” (such as recently moved into your neighborhood)
- Other specialties (for example, only show your ads to practitioners with likelihood of referring patients to you)
Facebook is able to provide such “surgical targeting” through their huge data set they have accumulated on every Facebook user. If you routinely use Facebook to connect with friends, family, and colleagues, Facebook knows your gender, age, marital status, location, likes and dislikes (including cars, clothing, food), and much more. And…they also know these data for every one of the other people in your social network!
Approach with Caution
You must avoid HIPAA issues when “advertising” online. Never run an ad implying that you have specific expertise or will treat a specific diagnosis; never collect or share personally identifiable information (personal health info – PHI). For example, it is a huge no-no if your Facebook ad says, “Like our page if you have AIDS”!
Instead, offer information. Offer resources. And offer your CTA – your call-to-action to call your office for more information.
In my opinion, if you are conducting high-quality content marketing connecting, and want to increase traffic to your high-value website, paid traffic in healthcare can provide great ROI. However, managing the logistics and tech side of paid traffic can be overwhelming, especially for a busy practitioner or practice manager. My advice is to look for a reputable online ad manager.
If you have not already estimated the lifetime monetary value of a patient to your practice, these management services will seem pricey. But once you have a handle on your practice economics, it will become clear whether those management charges are justified.
My prediction: you will conclude that gaining even one new patient to your practice, is easily worth the cost of paid traffic to your website (your website, that provides accurate, useful health information that answers your patients’ and prospective patients’ health questions). Because people who are shown your content will return to your website as their go-to resource – they’ll be engaged – … and ultimately come to you for their care.
Typical full-service online traffic management firms will charge a monthly fee based on your monthly Facebook (or Adwords) ad-spend. You are advised to do your due diligence. Look for online reviews. Ask for recommendations from colleagues, and references from the services.
As always, I encourage you to tell me about your experience with paid traffic (comment, below). Or anything else you like.
Thanks for visiting. See you here again soon.
Until then … keep chillin’
- A History of Drug Advertising: The Evolving Roles of Consumers and Consumer Protection. Donohue, J. Millbank Quarterly Journal of Population Health and Health Policy. 2006 84:659-699.
- A Profession Selling Out: Lamenting the Paradigm Shift in Physician Advertising. Tomycz ND. Journal of Medical Ethics. 2006 32:26-28.
- 5 Ways to Use Facebook Ads to Grow Your Practice. Smith B. bagar.com 2015.
- Facebook Advertising for Medical Practices. Mclaughlin A. physicianspractice.com 2014.
- Why Facebook Advertising is Now a Best Practice for Medical Marketers. Catley J. mdconnectinc.com 2017.
- Target Competitors on Facebook Using Interest Based Audiences. Powell C. ppchero.com 2016.
- What is Good ROI for Marketing Campaigns? Burney K. com 2017.
- Inbound Marketing: 450% Average ROI From Facebook Advertising and Organic Content Effort. Hogg E. merketingsherpa.com 2015.
- SAVE You Marketing: Replace the Healthcare 4-Ps in Your Marketing. Faust R.
- Inbound Marketing: What are Your Patients Looking For? Faust R.
- Content Marketing in Healthcare. Faust R.
- Google Analytics Provides Your Practice KPIs. Faust R.