Dear Doctor, You’re Doing it Wrong – Paid Search for Physicians changing healthcare landscape has contributed to the need for more and more physicians to reach beyond their advertising comfort zone (namely print media and occasional radio spots), and try to find people online.

To this end, search engines are a logical venue for physician advertising. According to’s latest healthcare study, 85% of U.S. adults use the Internet and 72% say they’ve looked for health info online within the last year. I mean, where else do you go for healthcare information these days? Personally, I find that Google is way more informative than my family physician has ever been, particularly when researching complex health issue such as surgery and treatment options for serious illnesses (and, unfortunately, I HAVE had to deal with that in the last year). Dislaimer: Always consult your physician before following any healthcare advice you read on the interwebs.

I’m in a unique position to manage campaigns for my physician clients – all of whom are surgeons – because not only am I an expert in paid search, but like many of us I’m also a healthcare consumer and a BIG one. Trust me on that.

It is, however, deceptively simple to launch a search campaign on Google or (possibly a little less so) on Microsoft’s Adcenter (Bing & Yahoo). Google even has a program called AdWords Express which I advise you to stay far, far away from.

Physicians face a lot of the same problems in finding new patients as most small businesses do in finding new customers. They face competition, particularly certain specialties in certain metropolitican and geographic regions, lack of name recognition, the rising costs of running the business and the need to continually reach new healthcare consumers while keeping their existing patients happy. They also have the added complexities of healthcare billing and insurance to deal with, so mistakes can be even more costly because even qualified leads (e.g., patients who are really motivated to choose a doctor and read to begin seeing him or her) can be turned away due to lack of insurance, lack of the correct insurance, or the fact that they’re on Medicare.

Here’s a summary of some mistakes that can end up being very costly:

Mistake Number 1: Using your existing Web designer/company to build, launch and manage your paid search campaign. This really is mistake NUMBER ONE. You have a relationship with your web design agency. You trust them. They offer all kinds off add-on services to help you promote your web site including SEO and something they call “web marketing” and you’ve been wanting to try out paid Google ads, so you figure why not? But the problems I run into when taking over campaigns that have been built and managed by Web design companies are many. They really don’t understand how to build and manage paid search campaigns and, as a result, by the time my clients come to me they’ve already diagnosed paid search as an abysmal failure.

Mistake Number 2: You’re not tracking leads and calls properly, or at all. You can easily track phone calls coming in from search (or any other advertising  venue) and, if you’re a physician’s office, you should. If you’re not doing this right and just going by your gut (e.g., new patient calls seemed really slow this week), then you’re doing it wrong. You can diagnose a patient based on your experience, but the only true way to diagnose a search campaign is through statistics. Track, track, track your results! Did I mention you need to track?

Mistake Number 3: You used a Google rep to help you build and launch your campaign, and then never looked at it again. This can be a very expensive mistake. Google will happily build and launch a campaign for you, then they tend to disappear but your credit card keeps getting charged each month. When I look at these campaigns (and I’ve seen a lot of them), they tend to be well-built to an extent, but the campaign parameters are often on what I call the “bleed money” setting. Auto-bidding, broad match, display network, 100% all-in for all devices, etc. etc. The first two are the most devastating in terms of how much you’re paying per click – if a campaign is set to auto-bidding and you have broad match keywords in the account, then Google will regulate your bid based on what it perceives as good performance for a given keyword (e.g., it will force the bid higher so the ad appears prominently for a given keyword). This can lead to clicks that cost $10, $12, $20 or more. That’s a lot of money for one click!

Take the term “plastic surgery” – maybe you’re a plastic surgeon and you really want to show up in the top spot for that keyword in your region. That’s fine. It’s even fine to bid high for the term (e.g., $10.00 per click) because it will tend to convert well for you and bring you new patients. HOWEVER, if the campaign is set to auto-bidding and the the term is set to “broad match” then the term “breast augmentation” might very well trigger your ad. But maybe you don’t do breasts. Maybe you’re strictly a nose and face guy. That means you’re spending upwards of $9.00 or more per click for terms that aren’t even relevant to your business. You see? Bleeding money.

Mistake Number 4: You or, more likely, your agency is not paying enough attention to the campaign. Paid search requires some amount of manual labor. All of the automated tools in the world can’t replace an experienced paid search manager’s eyes on your campaign several times per week. An example of this the simple act of filtering out keywords from your campaign by adding them as “negative” match terms. You may have set up a bunch of standard negatives when you launched the campaign, but it is really critical to monitor all of your search activity (particularly if you’re bidding on “broad” match terms) and add negatives on a weekly basis. This way you’re not showing up for terms like “michael jackson’s plastic surgery” when you bid on the term “plastic surgery” (for example).

Mistake Number 5: You’re not paying enough attention to the campaign. I know this was also mistake number four, but it’s THAT important. I am not ashamed to admit that I have a team of three people (including me) managing all of my clients’ paid search campaigns. We cover each other, have unique skills and between the three of us we are always looking at, managing, optimizing and pulling reports on the campaigns. It can be a full-time job for one person, but for three people, it’s manageable and very effective. This is another reason to stay away from your web design agency for paid search – the person who is running your campaign likely has a lot more on their plate then just your campaign OR they’re trying to “manage” 40 different campaigns…meaning, no one is looking at your campaign.

There are a few things I didn’t touch on – landing pages, ad copy and properly incorporating display into your search campaign, but alas, my time is short. I just may need to do a part-two for this post.