(This article is a 9 minute read)
THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. The three reasons you should own your own veterinary website
2. The three problems with social media that you can’t control or fix
3. The hardest part of using content to market your practice, and how to overcome that problem.
Why bother having your own website when we all know where people spend time online? You can see for yourself if you catch a bus or sneak a look at clients’ screens while they’re in your waiting room. Chances are, they’ll be on Google or Facebook. But there are several sound business reasons to not only keep your own veterinary website, but expand it.
The three reasons why you should have your own veterinary website are:
* To own your own piece of cyber-land
* To create a trustworthy source of information for pet parents
* To build a relationship with those clients when their pet isn’t sick.
At the moment, the time you’re most likely to meeting a pet’s parent is when you’re least likely to be able to build a relationship with them. They are stressed and upset because their pet is unwell. You are focused on diagnosing the problem and making the animal better.
The most you can leave them with are a good impression and some instructions, which they may or may not follow. Having an online source of information they can go to when they’re calmer makes sense.
But your own website can be more than just a proxy for diagnosing. It can be a source of positive information. If you have knowledge or expertise in exotic pets, for example, you can share that on your site. Or share information on pet behaviour. Not necessarily behaviour when they’re sick, but also behaviour when they’re well.
The more positive and good information you can share, the more reasons people will have to visit you.
Is a social media site an alternative to a veterinary website?
Social media like Facebook or Instagram is a lot of fun, but it is not a replacement for your own website. The three main differences between a social media site and your own website are:
1. You don’t own your followers—the social media site does;
2. You are interrupting people with your messagaes while they're doing something else; and
3. You don't have any meaningful contact details for your business.
Hang on, you say—people put lots of information on their Facebook profiles. That’s true, but Facebook doesn’t make it easy for you to extract, store and track that information.
So someone called Fred Jones may have clicked “like” on that post you put up—but how many other posts has he liked? How close is he to your surgery? Is he liking your post because of its content, or because you added a cute cat picture? All those answers are impossible to know if all you have is the information that Facebook gives you.
Also, think for a minute about how your Facebook or Instagram page works. People don’t go there and look at all your posts. They just pop up in their feed. If you’re a business, they don’t even do that since Facebook changed their algorithm. You need to pay extra to boost the post.
I’ve done that before for a dental magazine and it does work. See this story I wrote about it called “I Boosted A Facebook Post, and you’ll never guess what happened next”. But just getting attention for one post doesn’t automatically lead to getting patients through the door.
So in essence, your post is interrupting people while they’re reading about other things. Even if they have liked your posts in the past, or opted in to following your social media profile, you can’t know that they want to hear from you at that exact time.
The two ways you can be popular
Marketing experts have talked about vanity metrics for the last few years. Vanity metrics are numbers that don’t mean anything beyond their face-value. Some popular tourism organisations, for example, boast about having a million Twitter followers. But that means nothing to them as a business if none of those followers book a holiday as a direct result of what they see on Twitter.
You can post nothing but funny cat videos on social media, and get thousands of likes and followers. But that means nothing if they don’t come to your surgery. All it means is those people have liked something you’ve posted.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a social media presence. I’m saying you should use that to attract people to your website in the first instance. Then, when you have their contact details, you should use your website (and email newsletters) to show them why you should be their vet of choice when they want to pay a visit.
What is best practice for your veterinary website?
To make your website a worthwhile destination for pet parents to visit, you should be doing three basic things:
* Publishing new content regularly for educational purposes first, and search engine optimisation second;
* Capturing the name and email address of people who actively want to hear more from you; and
* Monitoring your social media pages once a week for about half-an-hour.
If all your website does is give your contact details and a description of who you are, people have no reason to visit more than once. Regularly creating interesting, engaging content gives them a reason to return. It also gives you a reason to stay in touch with them. And it indicates to search engines that your website is active, so they are more likely to send searchers the link in a search-results page.
There are many cheap and easy forms you can find online that will give people the option of leaving their name and email address. If you have a WordPress website, it’s even easier to find plugins that will help you. We’ve recommended some in our article on Ten WordPress plugins we can’t live without. You should store those names and emails in a separate database to your patient database.
Monitoring social media is a way to keep track of how many potential leads are coming to you. But because these people aren’t patients yet, you shouldn’t spend too much time on it.
What’s the hardest part of all this?
If you do it all yourself, the hardest part is creating the content. If you don’t have time to do that, there are agencies (like us) who can do it for you for a fee. If you are going down this route, make sure they have some expertise in veterinary communication—you don’t want to have to rewrite something that has come out of a content farm.
Posting to social media to amplify your content is also time consuming. But there are apps like Coschedule and Hootsuite that make it much, much easier to do. Some others, like Meet Edgar, cost more but automate much more of the process. I normally spend about a day every six months preparing social media posts. After that, I only look at it when I need to, if someone has commented or asked a question.
If you use those options, you’ll find the easiest and most enjoyable work is maintaining your database. Because all you’re doing is keeping a record of people who have opted in to hear from you.