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Dental Marketing Guide: Ideas and Tips to Grow Your Practice

Try these digital marketing tactics for dentists.

Gary Bird


Dental marketing is the key to growing your practice(s). Consistently generating new patients created through digital marketing will give you stability, long-term revenue, and even opportunities for expansion and acquiring additional locations.

Now, as a professional dental marketer who leads a company that spends all day creating new patients for hundreds of practices, I’d suggest that you save yourself time and energy by partnering with someone like us to do it. But if you want to tackle marketing on your own, here are some of the basics you’ll need to consider in order to get started. 

What is dental marketing (and why is it different from other marketing)?

Before we dive into specifics, let’s get on the same page about what dental marketing actually does. While referrals from happy existing patients are an important part of any growth strategy, dental marketers themselves focus on using ads, mostly on Google and Facebook, to drive potential patients (or leads) to contact you looking for an appointment. 

That’s the gist of it, anyway. There’s more involved — everything from your website to the way you answer your phones to your scheduling strategy — but big picture, dental marketing is about using digital marketing tools to achieve predictable new patient growth.

Simple enough, right? But there’s a reason most marketers aren’t also dental marketers. It’s a niche field! You can’t use the same tactics that would convince someone to buy a Coca-Cola on a patient shopping for All-on-4s — and you’d also be throwing away money by applying your All-on-4s approach to hygiene.

This means that as you build out your marketing, you’ll want to make it as dental-specific as possible, as well as appropriate to your specific specialty or treatment type. Make sure that you consider the unique pain points, buying cycles, motivations, and barriers to access that dental patients face on the road to treatment.

👉 Read more: our complete guide to building your own in-house dental marketing team.

What are the basic steps to marketing your dental practice?

Here’s a quick and dirty rundown of everything you need to consider before getting started with a new marketing campaign.

Create a dental marketing plan

Don’t try to wing it. Before you invest even one more dollar in your marketing, make sure that you know what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it.

Here are the fundamentals that go into a dental marketing campaign:

  • Set your monthly new patient target. Having a clear goal to work towards will make success much more possible. You can adjust your monthly target over time, but start by picking a number that will make a difference but also feels realistic.
  • Figure out a budget. This comes down to what you can afford to invest in your marketing plus how much it will cost you to use that marketing to acquire each new patient. If you’re running an efficient marketing funnel, your per-patient acquisition costs will typically be $200-$400 (for general dentistry patients), so multiply that range by your target new patient goal to get a rough idea of what you’ll need to spend each month.
  • Focus on ads over SEO to generate leads. While SEO absolutely has a place in dental marketing, it can take a year or more to start producing results, is much less predictable, and is also subject to the whims of Google’s search algorithm. We’ve found that focusing on PPC ads (mainly Facebook and Google) almost always produces faster, more consistent growth.

Have a system for tracking your results. If you’re not tracking your results (how many leads and new patients you’re getting, what you’re paying for them, and what kind of ROI you’re seeing), you’ll have no idea of whether your marketing is performing or what needs to be improved. At SMC, we track everything through our app, but you can also set up your own system. Whatever you do, though, be sure that you don’t include your non-marketing patients in your tracking, as that will screw up your data.

👉 Get key cost benchmarks, growth tactics, and insights from top dental marketers: Sign up for our annual State of Dental Marketing Report!

Get your whole team invested in growth

You might think that your marketing is separate from everything else that goes on in your office. But you’d be wrong.

In fact, your whole team needs to understand your marketing goals — and how they can help you achieve them. That’s because your marketing campaign is only one step in your new patient journey. 

If your front desk can’t turn a phone call from a marketing lead into a scheduled appointment, then it doesn’t matter how good your ad campaign is. If an appointment no-shows because they didn’t get a reminder text, even the most appealing web design won’t change that. 

And if your doctor is in too much of a hurry to take the time to connect with a new patient, well, that patient probably isn’t coming back — even if you’ve got a great SERP ranking.

How to get your team aligned here? Make sure everyone in your office knows your specific marketing goals: weekly new patients, per-patient cost targets, etc — and how close you are to meeting them.

Try going over this stuff in your morning meeting. You’ll see more buy-in and enthusiasm if everyone knows the score and how they can put points on the board.

Focus on your patient relationships

Pop quiz: Would you rather go to a practice where everybody treats you like a friend… or as just another task for them to get through? 

Yeah, me too. So let’s remember that as important as running a smart ad campaign is, the way you approach your current patients is just as essential to your new patient growth.

Fortunately, this isn’t complicated. Just be friendly, respectful, and most of all, take the time to listen to your patients — to understand why they’re coming to you and how you can help them.

You can also create dividends by really thinking through your patient experience — everything from parking options to the way your office smells — but good old-fashioned human kindness and decency will go a long way even without any other bells and whistles.

The obvious win here is referrals. As I said before, referrals are a key source of patients for every dentist. And the key to getting more referrals is to build genuine relationships with your existing patients, and then ask for their help.

Those relationships will also make a huge difference when it comes to getting more positive Google reviews. Again, you need to ask your patients to leave a review (don’t assume they’ll do it on their own), but if they trust you and appreciate the care you provide, most people will be happy to oblige. 

Finally, you’ll see higher recare rates or more recurring patients than if you simply treat each appointment like another station on the assembly line.

👉 Want your patients to trust you? Make sure you can answer these 4 top new patient questions.

Adapt based on your specialty

Dental marketing is not one-size-fits-all. You’ll have to adapt your marketing plan to fit the kind of treatment you’re marketing for — lest you’ll end up throwing away money and missing out on the results you need.

One of the key concepts here is what’s called the buying cycle. General dentistry patients operate on a short buying cycle — once they’ve decided that they need a cleaning or help with a toothache, they’ll quickly research a local dentist and book an appointment.

Short buying cycles are straightforward for marketers too. We just run ads, drive traffic to your website, and turn those clicks into phone calls for your front desk to convert into scheduled appointments.

But most expensive specialty treatments have longer buying cycles. This is especially true for dental implants, where most patients spend months or years exploring their options before deciding to begin treatment, but is also common for Invisalign, regular orthodontics, and other high-dollar cosmetic procedures.

Dealing with a longer buying cycle means adding additional steps to your marketing funnel. Even if you quickly schedule a patient for a consult, they’re probably not going to commit to treatment right away. This means you’ll need to invest in long-term lead nurturing — or maintaining a relationship with a patient until they’re ready to say yes.

There can be other wrinkles, too. Many implant patients, for example, live in retirement communities, so you may have to think outside the digital marketing box in order to reach them.

👉 Need more implant patients? Read our complete guide to implant marketing.

Make your website work for you

Your website can make or break your new patient results. 

A great website that’s optimized for conversion will take traffic from your ad campaigns and turn it into phone calls to your front desk. A less thought-out site, though, will result in fewer contacts and higher conversion costs.

Typically, you’ll want a clean, contemporary design that highlights four things:

  1. The specific services that you provide
  2. Your doctors and team
  3. Any new patient specials you offer
  4. Social proof or testimonials from existing patients

Photos of your doctors are an especially important piece of the puzzle. A friendly photo will help you begin establishing trust before a patient even arrives at your office — and can make the prospect of going to the dentist feel a little less scary for anyone struggling with dental anxiety.

Oh, and while SEO shouldn’t be your main digital marketing strategy, you do want to make sure your site itself checks all the basic SEO boxes. 

Generally, it’s worth investing in working with someone who knows what they’re doing here. But you should also know that your website is only as good as the ad campaign that’s driving people to it — on its own, it won’t do much of anything for you.

Troubleshoot roadblocks and conversion issues

One of the biggest reasons why being able to track your marketing results is so essential? Because it helps you find and solve any problems blocking your new patient’s growth.

For example, phone conversion is a huge problem for most dental practices. The average practice misses roughly 35 percent of all phone calls (including those coming from potential new patients) and then only converts 40-60 percent of answered calls into scheduled appointments. 

This means that you could be throwing away 70 percent of what you spend on marketing — simply because you’re not picking up the phone or using best practices for call handling. That’s a ton of missed growth opportunities.

Other common red flags: You could be targeting the wrong people with your ads, struggling with same-day cancellations (try double-booking appointment slots if a patient doesn’t respond to their confirmation text or phone call), or losing patients due to slow scheduling.

There’s a lot that could go wrong in your funnel. But that’s okay — as long as you have the data you need in order to identify the problem and fix it.

👉 Read more: Learn how to solve the 3 most common problems blocking your new patient growth.

Consider getting expert help

I’ll end by saying the same thing I said at the beginning. If you really want steady, predictable new patient growth, your best bet is probably working with an experienced dental marketing agency.

Dental marketing is… complicated. We’re roughly 2000 words into this guide and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what goes into successfully generating X number of new patients every month. 

While you certainly can achieve great results on your own, you’ll probably need to go through a lot of trial and error first. Working with an agency that’s already been there, done that can save you the heartache and let you skip straight to seeing results.

Obviously, there are plenty of marketers out there who don’t have the dental chops to help you. But if you find a partner like SMC, you’ll be able to relax, knowing that your growth is in good hands.

👉 Read our complete guide to choosing the right dental marketing agency.

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