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An urgent care clinic, like any business, is only profitable if patients continue to use its services over time. Unfortunately, many urgent care facilities have a restricted marketing budget, which can severely limit new business volume and community engagement.
According to Andrew Ibbotson, Vice President of the National Research Corp. in Nebraska, “Urgent care traffic is driven more by online search results, geography, wait times, and availability than traditional healthcare delivery.” These added complications make identifying the most effective marketing strategies for your walk-in clinic even more essential to success.
At Experity, we see an increasing number of customers take an active interest in their marketing efforts, from simple print advertising to more complex and targeted online campaigns. Especially if you are considering implementing an online scheduling tool at your practice (or if you already have one in place), an awareness of marketing best practices is critical to driving patients to your website and maximizing your investment in technology.
This white paper takes a look at some general marketing best practices for walk-in and blended care environments (facilities that see a mixture of scheduled appointments and walk-ins) —as well as a few examples of urgent care marketing done right. You’ll also see some more specific takeaways for clinics that are utilizing online scheduling. Take a look to learn how to build a successful, integrated marketing strategy that incorporates all of the following steps:
Any marketing campaign – no matter your industry – begins with an understanding of your target audience.
So who are these target groups? Who is most likely to utilize the services provided by an urgent care clinic? What about an emergency room or a more specialized clinic?
The answer, of course, depends on the location of your clinic and your tailored offering. For example, an urgent care located in a suburban setting might see a clientele consisting mostly of middle- and upper-income homeowners with children. An urban location may see a higher volume of young professionals or students, while a rural location may support an entire community with no access to an emergency room.
Because of these differences, there are no tried and true demographics that apply to the urgent care market across the board. The reality is that anyone can need medical attention at any time.
However, there are a number of facts that are consistently true among urgent care users:
As you read further into the next few chapters and start outlining your marketing goals, consider the constraints of your market. Think carefully about your audience and how different marketing tactics and channels might appeal to them. Keep your focus narrow to ensure you’re making the most of your marketing budget.
Especially for newer clinics in competitive markets, getting the word out about your clinic is not only extremely difficult, it’s critical to operational success. Starting off with a grassroots marketing strategy—i.e. a strategy that will help plug you into the local community—is a great way to increase awareness of your clinic, prove your investment in the community, and get your staff involved in your marketing efforts.
The grassroots marketing activities available to you will depend on what is available in your community.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Are there any elementary, middle, or high schools in your area? What about colleges? Sponsorship of school events (parent-teacher associations, athletic booster clubs) and strategic advertising of relevant services can be very effective in this market. For example, flu clinics and wellness screenings are especially relevant to younger children and can be advertised in parent newsletters or in local newspapers. Providing physical forms to school nurses and establishing a referral relationship can also be helpful.
On college campuses, you can consider an advertisement in the campus paper, referrals from the student health center, or online ads on a student portal/website.
Similar to schools, athletic centers can be huge sources of referral traffic for walk-in clinics, especially because of the high volume of physical injuries associated with recreational activities. Many clinics have found success running seasonal promotions alongside popular sports seasons, such as a promotion for a physical at the beginning of the Spring and Fall sports seasons, or before summer camps. Keep in mind that children often need physicals every year, so this type of targeted promotion can help secure repeat patients.
Banner advertising and fliers at local health clubs and recreation centers are another way to get your name in front of the right audience.
Apartment complexes or new housing communities often have a high transient population and may include people who are entirely new to a community. This is a great opportunity to get your clinic in front of an audience of people who may need medical services, but aren’t familiar enough with the area to know where to look.
Work with the local leasing office or homeowners association to secure advertising opportunities, such as a flyer in a welcome kit or a brochure in the leasing office. Many communities also have newsletters or community events that would be great outlets for ads or sponsorships.
Partnering with these associations, as well as with realtors and local hotels, can help drive valuable word-of-mouth marketing for your clinic without a significant monetary investment.
Advertising and sponsorships are great, but many clinics see the equal value — if not more — from getting actual facetime with the people in their communities. Securing a booth or information table at a local event and engaging with your community can help build invaluable relationships, while also familiarizing people with your brand. Consider offering some sort of branded take-away or coming up with a fun game that will draw more traffic to your booth, giving you more opportunities to share your message face to face.
If a booth isn’t quite within your budget, a t-shirt sponsorship (i.e. getting your logo on the back of an event shirt) or on-site banner advertisements are also great options.
Grassroots marketing is about reaching your target audience where they live, work, and play. All of the following are possible outlets for grassroots marketing initiatives:
Other outlets to explore in your community include churches or religious organizations. Many of these groups organize yearly mission trips or volunteer trips abroad. Be sure that these groups are aware that you can support the immunization needs of any of their volunteers.
A partnership with your local chamber of commerce can also prove valuable to your clinic. As a promotional outlet for local businesses and business owners, a chamber of commerce can provide helpful and inexpensive exposure for your clinic, as well as backlinks to your clinic website (you can read more about the importance of backlinks in the next chapter).
Again, the full scope of community events and organizations that you can tap into will depend on your location. Regardless, the goal remains the same: to build lasting relationships with potential and existing patients and grow your reach within your market.
At its most basic level, SEO is about optimizing your website for search engines so that it appears on a search engine results page (SERP), such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo.
This is critical given that 77 percent of online health seekers say they began their last session at a search engine (Pew Research Center).
While Google’s search algorithm is anyone’s best guess, we do know that search engines are placing less and less emphasis on elements like your keywords and meta tags, and more emphasis on quality content. The higher the quality of your website content, the more authority your web domain has, and the more traffic it generates. This authority is key to your search ranking.
Let’s quickly review the common SEO elements that factor into your search ranking:
Today, search engines are looking for websites that offer valuable content to visitors, like blog posts, checklists, news articles, and more. Content is about more than the words on your website—ultimately, it’s about being a useful and helpful resource to your audience. Take a look at page nine for more content ideas.
The goal of creating all of this content is to generate high-quality inbound links, or links back to your site. The more links you have leading back to your website from reputable and credible sources, the greater your authority.
(Press releases are another popular tactic for generating inbound links. However, these types of inbound links are analyzed separately by Google and do not carry as much weight.)
Simply put, these are links on your website that point to other pages on your website. Internal links not only help to create a site architecture for your website, they also help spread ranking power across your website. Here’s a great guide from the SEO experts at Moz about how to set these up on your own site.
Keywords were once the name of the game when it came to SEO, and while “keyword stuffing” was long ago discredited as a disreputable SEO tactic, it’s important to identify and incorporate your top keywords into the content you’re creating for your website. For best results, your content and keywords should work hand in hand.
Title tags are meant to be concise descriptions of your webpage, and serve as an important signal to search engines for SEO. This is the excerpt of text that displays on a SERP and in your browser tab. Be sure to keep your title tags between 50 and 60 characters (55 to be safe), and to place your primary keywords as close to the beginning of the phrase as possible.
Meta descriptions, or the short descriptions that appear beneath a page title on a SERP, are less important for SEO and more important for getting people to click through to your website. Make sure that you write a compelling statement (between 150 and 160 characters max) to display here; otherwise, the search engine will automatically generate content for you.
These are a few of the more critical items to think about when optimizing your website for search. Just remember, if you must choose only one, content is king. Now, if you are considering a paid search advertising strategy to supplement your SEO efforts, the rules are a little different.
The phrase “search engine marketing” (SEM) is typically used to refer to paid advertising, or paid listings. The most popular paid platform for digital advertising is Google Adwords, which displays paid ads alongside organic listings on Google, typically at the top or side of the page. Other platforms include Bing, social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and pay-per-click advertising networks. Certain sites may also offer advertising opportunities that you must seek out directly (think back to the previous chapter on grassroots marketing opportunities).
The great thing about paid advertising is that your return on investment is mostly within your control. With services like Google Adwords, you can spend as much or as little as you want, shut your campaigns down at any time, or ramp them up if you’re getting good results. The key to successful paid advertising is to bid on keywords that have the right combination of relevance, low cost, and low competition.
Quality content is helpful, useful, and non-promotional. The healthcare industry, in particular, has an opportunity to make a big impact on consumers with content. The number three activity that consumers do online, behind checking their email and using a search engine, is look for answers to health questions. Healthcare organizations that are providing answers to these questions are positioning themselves as a helpful resource to patients before patients even step through their doors.
Here are a few examples:
Search Engine Land provides a comprehensive breakdown of everything you need to know to get a paid search strategy off the ground, including more in-depth resources on ad targeting, best practices, and more. For healthcare and walk- in clinics more specifically, here are a few additional SEO and SEM tips:
Note: With healthcare, social advertising is typically more of an awareness play than a conversion play. Because a typical social audience is not looking for an immediate appointment at a healthcare facility, these ads are often more effective at increasing brand awareness than sourcing new online patients. That being said, many social media users will be influenced by your ad, make note of your services, and file that information away for the future, when medical attention is a more immediate need.
For more helpful resources on SEO and SEM, bookmark any or all of the following blogs and/or websites:
This chapter will outline important email best practices, as well as some ideas to get you started.
When people hear the word marketing, the first thing that often comes to mind is email. And it’s no wonder—the number one activity that consumers do online is check their email.
Unfortunately, the bombardment of marketing emails has become commonplace and accepted. We expect to see an inbox full of coupons, advertisements, and announcements whenever we open our email, often from companies that we’ve never even heard of.
But when done correctly, marketing emails can position your practice as a resource to patients, spread awareness of your services, and increase your revenue. The key is to create emails that your patients want to receive. Many healthcare facilities have had success with newsletters to keep their practices top of mind.
If you’re just kicking off your email efforts, you’ll need to find an email platform that can support the volume of emails you’ll be sending. Many email platforms can even assist with template creation, list segmentation, and reporting. Mailchimp and Constant Contact are two cost- effective options that many have chosen to support their email programs.
However, some larger companies have sought out more robust solutions that can support other marketing areas as well, such as social media posting and landing page creation. Pardot and Hubspot are two such marketing automation platforms, but are likely not worth the investment if you only plan to utilize the email functionality.
Once you have your email platform in place, it’s important to nail down the types of content that you plan to send. The idea is to provide useful and helpful content that isn’t focused on making a sale. If your goal is to send out a monthly newsletter to keep your practice top of mind for patients, the following are all possible types of content that could be included:
As a best practice, you’ll want to include teasers for your content instead of embedding an entire article in your email. You can then drive your email recipients to your website for more information, whether that’s to your blog, an appointments page, a staff interview, a news article, a checklist, or any other type of content hosted on your site. For more content ideas, refer to the previous chapter.
Arguably the most important part of any email-driven marketing strategy is securing subscribers. The caveat is that these subscribers need to be obtained in the right way. With email, this means that patients must opt in to receive your email communications (i.e. give you explicit permission to email them). This will prevent any damage to your email- sending reputation that results from patients getting unwanted emails. For healthcare providers, there are a few ways that this is commonly done:
Website subscriptions. One of the most common places to promote your newsletter is on your website. You can do this by including a sign-up form on the sidebar of your homepage, or having a standalone page on your website for newsletter sign- ups. Wherever you place your form, just be sure to outline expectations for the newsletter so that patients know how often they can expect to hear from you and what kind content they can expect to receive. Setting these expectations up front makes it less likely that your emails will get marked as SPAM down the line.
Online scheduling opt-ins. On many provider websites, patients have the option to request an appointment online by filling out a form and submitting their email address. This is an appropriate place to put a newsletter opt-in checkbox that patients can select if they’d like to receive regular communications from your practice. This checkbox can be automatically selected or you can leave it blank so that patients can select it themselves.
Front desk opt-ins. A third option to gain email subscribers is to place a sign-up sheet at your front desk. This will ensure that walk-in patients have an equal opportunity to sign up, and will give online patients another opportunity to opt in if they missed the form on your website. You may find that some patients will ask to be manually added, as well.
Once you have a list of opted-in email recipients and all of the content that you’d like to include, you’re ready to build and send your email! A few things to keep in mind:
Include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email. It is much better for your email reputation to have a recipient opt out than to have your email reported as SPAM.
Do not embed videos directly within your emails. This can hurt your deliverability. Instead, include a video thumbnail that takes the recipient to the video when it is clicked.
Include images, but don’t go overboard. Too many images compared to the level of text can cause your email to be sent straight to the SPAM folder.
Be sensitive to your email frequency. Stick to the expectations that you originally set and be careful not to overdo it.
Please review the list of resources at the end of this article for more in-depth information on email template design, subject lines, deliverability, and more.
Some clinics are not only trying to marketing their practice; they’re also trying to market their online scheduling offerings in order to get the most out of their investment.
Many of the tips mentioned in the previous chapter on SEO will help (after all, you need website traffic in order to convert website visitors into online patients), but there are a number of additional steps that clinics can take to increase the visibility of their online check-in offering, particularly if they’re using Clockwise.MD.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ve divided these ideas into two categories: print (in-lobby) marketing and digital marketing.
If you’ve read through the chapters on grassroots marketing and SEM, then you may already be incorporating your online check-in message into your online advertisements, promotional banners, and fliers for local events. At Clockwise. MD, we’ve seen a number of clients also use a mixture of the following print marketing tactics in their waiting rooms:
Make sure patients know where to check in with clear signage around your check-in kiosk. Consider wall-mounted posters, banners that hang from the ceiling above your kiosk, or floor signs by your clinic entrance and again by the kiosk.
Inform patients of your online check-in process at discharge. As patients check out, provide them with a postcard or magnet promoting online check-in. Be sure to include the following details on the card: information about where patients can check in online, clinic hours, and the clinic’s address. This will help increase the volume of online schedulers that are also return patients.
Experity Patient Engagement gives you the ability to broadcast patient queues via a television in your lobby. Since many of your patients will be referring to this screen for queue information, including walk-ins who may be unaware of your online scheduling offering, it’s a great place to advertise online check-in. Create a full-screen advertisement that you can rotate on the monitor between showing patient queues, similar to how airports display flight status.
Encourage your early-morning traffic to sign in online instead of waiting at the door. By promoting the fact that patients can make a reservation before the doors even open, you can thin out early-morning crowds and evenly distribute traffic throughout the day.
In addition to SEO, there are a number of ways to incorporate your online check-in messaging into your digital marketing. Here are a few ideas from our clients:
One of the easiest ways to let patients know about online check-in is to place a customizable widget on your website. This widget will include a button for website visitors to sign up for an appointment, and may also include clinic wait times. The important thing is to make sure that the widget is prominently placed and doesn’t end up hidden below your other site content. You can also place a button to “check in online” at the top of your homepage. Keep in mind that the fewer clicks it takes to get to your online reservation page, the higher your adoption.
Many customers choose to release announcements or news articles when they move to an online check-in system. These can be posted on your website or promoted across your social channels. Take a look at this example from Columbus Regional Health for inspiration. Press releases can also be used to promote any seasonal services you may be offering, or your involvement in upcoming community events.
To mitigate any confusion around how online check-in works, consider adding a page to your website explaining the benefits to patients, as well as more detailed instructions. Here’s an example of a page created by an Experity Patient Engagement customer.
Depending on your marketing budget, it may be possible to create a video promoting your online check-in system. We’ve seen Clockwise customers approach this in two ways. Some of our customers have chosen to film videos in which their own staff explain how the system works, such as this video by Doctors on Duty. Typically, these videos are placed on a provider website or included in press releases and news articles.
A second option is to create an animated video to promote online check-in, which in most cases involves working with an agency or contractor. Take a look at this great example from Aurora Health Care for inspiration.
Think about online scheduling as another part of your day- to-day service that needs to be promoted to your target audience. Just as you would advertise your normal services and competitive differentiators in your marketing materials, integrate online scheduling into as much of your marketing as you can to ensure maximum adoption.
Our last chapter covers a topic that has risen in importance over the past several years: your online reputation. This is particularly important within the healthcare industry, where patients see your online presence as a reflection of the care that they are going to receive within your clinic. For this reason and more, healthcare providers must be mindful of how their brand is represented online.
Review sites like Yelp have changed the way that brands are represented to consumers online. In fact, while these sites used to cater solely to restaurants and retail, more and more consumers are finding a use for them in the healthcare industry, primarily to review their experiences at healthcare facilities. In fact, according to ImageFIRST Connecticut, 50% of all healthcare-related Yelp reviews were written within the past two years alone. And that’s not all:
The quantitative reasons for online reputation management are compelling, but it’s not just about statistics. There are plenty of qualitative reasons that reinforce the need for providers to proactively monitor their online brands as well.