The rules for marketing dental practices online

rules marketing dental practices online

How do you go about marketing dental practices online without upsetting AHPRA? Here’s how. By Daniel Warren

The rules for marketing dental practices are different to those for a shop or a beautician or a digital marketing agency. But companies selling marketing services to dentists frequently don’t understand they’re dealing with different rules.

 “We often have dentists and other marketing agencies say to us, ‘That rule about testimonials, you can’t really get busted for that, can you?” says Rob Johnson, director of Engage Content, a company that produces digital content for dental practices.

“But you can,” he explains. Section 133 of the National Law that covers advertising for your practice says any advertising, blog, or social media post breaks the law if it:

  • is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be so;
  • offers a gift, discount or other inducement to attract a user of the health service without stating the terms and conditions of the offer;
  • uses testimonials or purported testimonials;
  • creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, and/or encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services.

“That’s frustrating if you’ve got a happy client, who wants to tell the world what a wonderful job you did making their smile perfect,” says Johnson. “But even to look for a way around the rule is missing the point. You don’t want to risk your registration on the off-chance that no-one notices the patient testimonials on your site. And you don’t want to cop a $5000-to-$10,000 fine if a competitor dobs you in.”

The one thing all these forbidden practices have in common is they are ‘salesy’. They are all about luring people into the practice with promises—like the way a shop lures you in with the promise of a discount or a fashionable look.

But how do you create digital content that will make your practice appealing without doing the hard sell?

The best type of digital content

The answer is to offer timely, accurate information that benefits consumers. If your starting point is, ‘how do I help someone with information?’, it is not only okay. It’s good.

“There is a way you can plan your blog and social media to ensure it complies with the law,” Johnson explains. “It involves making a basic plan for your blog and social posts to educate patients. That leads them to the natural conclusion that they should book an appointment with you.”

Start with an intention to publish 12 blog posts. Get a blank piece of paper and divide it into three columns. In the left-hand column, write the numbers one to six. In the middle column, write one to four. In the right hand column, write one and  two.

The answer is to offer timely, accurate information that benefits consumers. If your starting point is ‘how do I help someone with information?’, it is not only okay, it’s good.

Go back to the left-hand column. Beside each number, write a problem or symptom that a patient may have. Don’t use professional language. Write them in the language a patient would us, like ‘teeth grinding’ or ‘yellow stains’ or ‘tooth pain’.

In the middle column, write four solutions to the problems. They may be general approaches, like ‘preventative dentistry’, or specific treatments, like ‘snoring appliances’.

In the third column, write two, and only two, areas of your expertise. I know you have more than two. But right now, we just want two.

Creating the link

Now you have 12 subjects to blog about. Before you start writing, draw some lines between the columns. This shows you a natural path from a problem, that leads to a treatment, that leads to your expertise.

When you start writing, start at the third column; the two articles about your expertise. Not only will they be the easiest to write, but they will be the ones you are most confident about writing. When you have finished, publish them on your website.

Then tackle the next four. With each one, end it with a bolded sentence or two pointing readers to one of the two articles about your own experience.

Finally, write the six articles in the left-hand column. At the end of each one, include a call-to-action. This should point readers to those most recent four articles as shown on your plan; the ones about treatments.

Making it social

Then use your Facebook page to post about the articles. You can also promote those posts, or boost them, with the view to getting people back to your website to read them. Those boosted posts are advertisements. But they do not contravene any laws, because they are trying to educate people, not mislead them.

The articles people are most likely to read are the first six. When they reach the end, they see a natural path leading them to the next four articles. And when they read them, they are led to an article about your expertise.

“Approaching your digital content in a way that is meant to enlighten people, rather than sell to them, will not only keep you on the right side of the law with the Dental Board,” says Johnson in conclusion. “It will also lead to better Google results, and better educated patients. So everyone wins.” 


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