Zed Williamson

Digital advertising for medical practices: What to know before you spend any money

Considering using digital advertising to market your medical practice? Discover what you need to know to get a good return on your money.

Medical practice considering digital advertising

Patients love the internet.

In fact, around 5% of all Google searches are health-related, and the people who are searching span many age groups. More than 67% of patients 65 years and older are active internet users – up from 14% nearly a decade ago!

Given this data, it’s smart to consider digital advertising for your medical practice. However, the decision to go digital isn’t that straightforward. If not done right, digital advertising can end up burning tons of cash with little to show for it.

The more you know about a potential product or service, the smarter buying decision you can make – and this is true for digital advertising. We all do our research in advance to make sure we’re getting a good value for the money we hand over.

So, let’s go deeper on this topic so you can be armed with the best knowledge as you consider digital channels for your practice!

How Digital Advertising Actually Works: A Look Behind the Curtain

Digital advertising (done well) has a number of variables that go into it. Like all products and services, digital advertising is buying “inventory”. This is called programmatic advertising, but we can just refer to it as digital advertising for the sake of simplicity.

This inventory comes from a digital platform – whether that’s Facebook, Google, or Google’s display network (ads you may see on CNN.com for example) – and there’s a limited amount of inventory available for those prime spots.

Plus, there is a bidding war among all the businesses that want to purchase that inventory. As a result, not all “digital advertising buys” are created equal.

The good news? Digital ads can be very precise in who they target.

You could run ads to women between the ages of 20 and 40, or perhaps target an older demographic whose search behavior suggests they may be dealing with knee pain.

The targeting options allow you to focus your ad dollars on traits such as age, gender, interests, etc. While that can help drive the right patients to your medical practice, targeting is only one piece of the puzzle!

This also explains why it’s easy to “sell digital advertising” like a media house might, and not actually sell any inventory worth buying. We dive more into that in the points to follow!

Alright, let’s zoom back out and talk about what you need to know.

5 Questions to Answer Before Buying Digital Ads

1. Who are you buying ads from?

Anybody can sell digital advertising. In fact, you could jump online, set up a Google Account, tell Google what you want to show up for, and start running ads by lunch today.

As we tell our clients, Google will gladly take your money (unfortunately).

Ads can also be sold through media companies that essentially buy access and broker their inventory to customers through these networks.

  • This is most likely what happens when you’re approached by a radio or TV station who sells “digital advertising” as part of their packages.

As the move to digital increases, media and advertising companies are worried about being left behind. This creates a multiple provider market because these companies hire other companies to keep up – instead of building out a digital advertising function internally.

You may work with someone who is hiring a different company, that hires a different company, to fulfill the "work." What ends up is ads that you bought from person A, but they’re way farther down in the chain of who is actually running them.

This could result in advertisers (like a medical practice) paying for three companies’ worth of profit to advertise (as explained in the example above).

Takeaway: Know who you’re buying the ads from and where they are in that chain of command.

2. What types of ads will you be running?

Is someone going to see your ad and call you to book a procedure? Not likely.

But your ad will influence decisions along all points of the patient journey.

Repeat after me: The message of the ad is more important than the format or type!

Imagine an ad message that speaks to the patient about what they are suffering with; messaging that clearly communicates that you understand their situation. It may drive them to your website, or it could just plant your practice name in their mind for the next time they need the services you provide.

The important thing here is that your medical practice connects with a patient’s needs. And whether it’s static display or video, the goal of ads is always to connect with the patient.

Takeaway: It’s more about the patient that your practice name or branding. Spending digital advertising to “get your name out” is a recipe for disappointment.

3. What is your budget and new patient goal?

Budgeting is always a priority, but it can be risky choosing advertising based on price alone. In some ways, the price shouldn’t even be a factor. The return on your ad spend – or what you get for those dollars – is what matters.

It starts by understanding how much your practice can (and should) spend to generate a new patient. Plus, you also need to look at open capacity in the practice and build your budget from there.

Here’s how:

  • Take your total revenue from the year and divide it by the number of patients you helped in the year (individual patients, not total visits).
  • Now multiply that by your gross profit margin and subtract your percent of total expenses.
  • Take that number, multiply it by your monthly unused capacity, and don't spend more than that number.

The budget equation should look something like this:

>> If you’re looking for help in determining a budget, request a free budget analysis from our team. We build budgets for practices every day!

Takeaway: In order to effectively invest in digital advertising, you need to know your numbers. If you need help with this, feel free to book a free ad analysis with our team.

4. When and where are the ads running?

This is usually the biggest source of dollars on fire.

We’ve seen people advertising on sites where the patient population would never visit – at times where the patient population would never be online! You can have the best digital advertising and messaging in the world, but without the right time and place, you’re talking to an empty room.

As mentioned in the section above, it’s also important to know where your media buyer is buying the ad inventory. Just like any product, there is a specific amount of “inventory” to buy from, and many ad buyers don’t have access to the best inventory out there. If they don’t have access, neither do you (if you work with them).

Takeaway: Get a detailed report of where your ads are running and where their inventory is coming from. If they can’t provide this, you may be paying for less than effective placements.

5. How do you measure digital advertising performance?

You can't track progress and assess digital advertising performance if you don't know where you are today.

  1. Determine what you want to measure and how you’re performing in those areas now
  2. How many new patient appointments do you have each week?
  3. If you are targeting a specific patient population, what diagnostic codes can you measure on a weekly basis?

These are the kinds of areas to focus on for a medical practice.

Advertising companies will talk about views and clicks, but those metrics don’t tell the whole story. You need to see how advertising campaigns are driving (or not) progress. That means accelerating patient demand and specifically understanding whether these campaigns are reaching the right audience.

Once you know how you’re going to measure campaign performance, you can then track changes over time to determine their effectiveness and value.

No fear here, just words from experience . . .

This may be positioned as a “buyer beware” message, but it’s because we’re big believers of digital advertising at TrackableMed. We’ve used it as part of our marketing mix to generate over one million inbound calls for our customers in the last decade.

However, we’ve also taken over digital campaigns from other companies and witnessed the cash burn firsthand. The reason these questions are so important to answer is because it does work – it just has to be done right.  

Taking the next step to explore digital advertising

If you’re curious and would like to explore what this might look like for your practice, we have a “digital advertising budgeting process” that we use with clients. Simply set up a free consultation with our team and we'll be happy to walk you through that.


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