Successful Internet Marketing for Infertility Practices
Cliff Bernstein, Ph.D.
Presentation at the
This presentation is geared toward physicians who have had some experience with the Internet, and who:
Internet usage has dramatically increased over the last few years. Although there is much Internet hype, the Internet does offer a very effective means for promoting infertility services. This presentation offers some help in how to do this.
What is the Internet?
The Internet is a vast network of computers all connected via common communication protocols. There are many different technologies that make up the Internet (e.g., HTML, Web servers, HTTP, and Java). However, from a user point of view, the Internet is basically a giant ubiquitous communication system.
Most Commonly Used Internet Forms of Communication:
The Internet contains these major forms of communication, including:
Millions of Americans now use email to send electronic letters and newsletters to friends, family members, colleagues, or customers. The email arrives within seconds or minutes, rather than days like a postal letter.
World Wide Web (or just "Web"):
The Web is the most written about "place" on the Internet. It is typically the place where users go to get information or make purchases online. The structure of the Web is built around Web pages, which are typically part of a Web site, which is stored on a Web server. The Web is like a giant electronic file cabinet of limitless information that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Newsgroups and List Discussions:
Both of these forms of communication are based on affinity groups of people that share a common interest in a particular topic, such as infertility, adoption, or surrogacy. The over 30,000 Newsgroups allow users to interact with each other via online discussions. The Newsgroups require special software which allows users to post to, and follow, the conversation threads. The over 80,000 List Discussions use standard email. Periodic (e.g., daily) emails, filled with discussion comments, are sent to the list of pre-registered participants.
When these three communication forms are understood and properly used, they can be combined into a powerful and successful infertility marketing strategy, which will be discussed later.
Who's Using the Internet?
The demographics of Internet users are similar to that of infertility patients. This means that your potential target population is using the Internet. The Graphic, Visualization, & Usability Center's (GVU) 8th WWW User Survey found the following characteristics of Internet users:
Infertility physicians might compare these demographics to those of their patients. From my experience, the Internet demographics, except for the male-female ratio, are somewhat similar to those of infertility patients. Females are continuing to get online at a higher rate then males, so it is expected to even out to about 50/50.
Internet Features Which Make it Ideal for Marketing Any Product or Service
These features create numerous marketing advantages over traditional marketing:
Internet Features Which Make it Ideal for Marketing Infertility Services
Clinic can easily reach patients beyond its local area: Considering the high cost of ART treatment and the fact that patients are willing to travel distances for a specialist, an infertility organization can use the Internet to market its services far beyond its local area. For example, one infertility clinic has received patients from Japan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines via the Internet, at no additional cost. Many other clinics are drawing patients from other states or nearby counties. Since the Internet cost is basically the same to market locally versus globally, the Internet offers a significant cost advantage to those clinics that draw from beyond their local area.
Infertility patients are eager for more information: You can post dozens of pages of educational information on your Web site for these information-seeking patients. Although you might pay additional money to add the extra Web pages, after the initial cost, there are no additional ongoing costs. Contrast this with the additional ongoing cost of adding more information to a newspaper, magazine, or radio ad.
Potential infertility patients can obtain information anonymously. Infertility is a private and difficult issue for many individuals. The Web provides an easy vehicle from which to obtain information in the privacy of one's home. Users can anonymously read extensive infertility information, without having to call a clinic and give their name and address to request information by mail.
How Does a User Typically Find Infertility Information on the Internet?
Before talking about how to conduct Internet infertility marketing it's important to know how Internet users find infertility information on the Internet. Here is a typical scenario:
How to Promote Your Web site
The primary method that you can use to promote your infertility services on the Internet is to build and promote a Web site. Web site promotion methods include:
1. Register in Search Engines
Because there is so much information on the Internet, Web-based search engines have been developed to allow users to find specific information of interest. A user can go to a search engine, enter one or more keyword (e.g., "infertility" or "infertility Bay Area"), press a "submit" button, and the search engine then returns thousands of listings that fit their keywords.
You can register your Web site, for free, in Internet search engines. This is the simplest and most basic method to promote your Web site. After registering, the search engine sends out a robot to gather information about that Web site and adds the retrieved information to its existing database of information. Then, when an Internet user enters one or more keywords into the search engine, the search engine reviews its database and returns a list of Web pages that fit the entered keywords. The most popular search engines are:
Don't worry too much about registering your Web site with the smaller search engines, because they don't generate much traffic.
Yahoo is the most important search engine. If you don't register your site in any other search engine, make sure that you register it with Yahoo. Although Yahoo does not guarantee they will list your web site, if you carefully follow their online instructions, you will increase your chances of being listed.
You can find additional sources of information about search engines on these Web pages:
Due to the sheer volume of information, it is very difficult to get listed near the top of Internet search engines, where Internet users can find your Web site. For example, on 11/28/98, a search on "infertility" produced the following number of Web pages in the most popular search engines:
If your Web site listing were the 200th listing, a typical user would probably not find it. Consequently, to stand out, you might want to consider getting listed on an infertility Web directory.
2. Get Listed on Infertility Web Directories
In addition to search engines, a second major way that information is organized on the Internet is via topical Web directory sites. These Web sites provide dedicated information about a particular topic, such as golf, finance, or infertility.
There are some infertility Web directories that provide links to extensive infertility information, including infertility services. On a Web directory, it's easier for users to find an infertility clinic listing because the information is better organized and more selective than it is on a search engine.
Thus, you might want to consider obtaining a promotional listing on one of these sites to drive additional traffic to your site. Examples of these infertility Web directories include:
3. Send Email newsletters
When a user visits an infertility organization's Web site, they can be asked to sign a guest book or in some way leave their email address. The organization can then periodically send email newsletters to these users. Note that this method is only used after the Internet user has found the infertility web site. It can be an excellent method to regularly remind potential patients about your services. However, it takes additional time to gather email names and regularly develop the content
4. Participate in Newsgroups or List Discussions
Your staff members can visit online infertility Newsgroups and answer participants' medical questions. This is an excellent way to show potential patients that the clinic wants to help. A disadvantage is that it takes a lot of time to monitor the infertility Newsgroups and when clinic staff post messages, they must be careful to avoid appearing to "sell their services." This Web page has a list of consumer infertility Newsgroups and List Discussions:
5. Add your Email and Web Address to all Advertise your Web site in Print Media
Add your Web address to all print material including:
Many patients now expect to see this.
6. Buy Banner Ads
A banner ad is a graphic advertisement (typically about one-inch by six inches on a computer monitor) that displays on a Web page. When a user clicks on the banner ad they navigate to the advertiser's Web page. Infertility organizations buy banner ads on infertility Web directories or in search engines.
7. Buy Keywords in Search Engines
When purchased from search engines, banner ads are typically bought in conjunction with keywords. The process works as follows: an infertility organization buys, for example, the keyword "infertility" and supplies a banner ad to the search engine. Then when an Internet user enters "infertility" into the search engine, the advertiser's banner ad prominently displays at the top of search engine's Web page. As an example (on 11/29/98), the Genetics and IVF Institute (in Fairfax, Virginia and Gaithersburg, Maryland) had purchased the keyword "infertility" on the Alta Vista and Infoseek search engines. This tactic allows for very targeted marketing in search engines.
However, although this method allows the advertiser's message to stand out among the other infertility clinics, the search engines charge for this service, whereas a simple text listing is free. This tactic is only cost-effective for an infertility organization that has numerous clinics in numerous locations; it is not cost-effective for infertility clinics with only one location.
Additional Tips for Marketing Your Web Site
Most email packages allow users to set up a signature file which the email software automatically adds to the end of all of the outgoing emails. You should use a signature file in your emails. At a minimum, your signature file should contain your name, organization, email address, Web address, and perhaps a short promotional statement. If you post information in Newsgroups, a signature file allows participants to review your signature file and possibly contact you.
Criteria to Use When Hiring a Web Site Developer
If you do not currently have a Web site, and are considering hiring an outside company to build and market your Web site, here are some selection criteria:
Tips for Building Your Web Site to Increase Its Marketing Success
In addition to building an attractive, easy-to-use Web site, you can add features to your Web site which will increase its marketing success.
Some of the following tips require technical knowledge of Web site development, so you may want to discuss them with your Web site developer. Owners of Web pages can place hidden META keywords and META descriptions at the top of their Web pages. Most search engines will use this information in their database. You should ensure that your META keywords and/or description include the organization's city and the doctors' names. Doing this allows Internet users to search by entering keywords such as "infertility Dallas," in order to find infertility organizations in Dallas. Or, if they hear about one of your physicians, they may want to enter the doctor's name in a search engine to find your organization's Web site.
Some of the following tips require technical knowledge of Web site development, so you may want to discuss them with your Web site developer. Search Engine Watch 3 provides additional details on these tips.
Adding lots of educational Web pages (e.g., Frequently Asked Questions, explanations of procedures, etc.) facilitates successful marketing for numerous reasons: