Online Advertising Guide for Therapists
Exclusive excerpt from Clicking with Clients: Online Marketing for Private Practice Therapists. Courtesy of Daniel Wendler from Marketing For Therapists
Online advertising is a fantastic way to bring new clients to your therapy practice – or to lose a ton of money.
While sites like Yelp and Adwords Express promise to bring new clients without you lifting a finger, the truth is that successful online advertising requires a lot of work and a fair amount of expert knowledge.
The good news is that you’ve got an expert on your side – me! Before starting my graduate studies in psychology, I worked in online marketing for several years and managed millions of dollars in advertising for my clients. While I can’t teach you everything I know, I can give you a crash course head start.
Of course, there’s a reason I call this a crash course. I could easily write an entire book on online advertising and not tell you everything there is to know.
But a little knowledge goes a long way. Follow these tips, and you are much more likely to make a profit when advertising your practice.
Get a good website first
Online advertising generally sends visitors to your website. If your website is poorly designed, those visitors will leave and never come back.
So before you invest in online advertising, make sure your website is looking good. If you have a Brighter Vision site, you’re already ahead of the game here – if not, talk to them today! You can also review my free guide to web design for therapists to see if there are any extra improvements you can make to your site.
Pick platforms to advertise your therapy practice on
You have a lot of options for advertising online.
- Search engines, like Google Adwords or Bing.
- Therapist directories, like Good Therapy and Psychology Today.
- Local directories, like Yelp and Yellowpages.com
- Social media like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter.
These different places to advertise are called “advertising platforms.” It’s important to pick the right platforms, because not all platforms will get you the same performance.
Here’s some advice on choosing the right platform:
Good Therapy and Psychology Today are the most user friendly options for novice advertisers, but they are absolutely flooded with therapists, and it can be very difficult to stand out among the crowd. There are a few things you can try to improve performance, but ultimately your performance on therapist directories is up to luck more than anything else. I recommend trying them and seeing if they’re profitable. If not, take your money elsewhere.
I haven’t heard good things about local directories such as Yelp and Yellowpages.com, although you are welcome to test them and see what kind of results you get. Keep in mind that ethically, you cannot respond to client reviews on Yelp (since this would reveal confidential patient information).
I wouldn’t advertise on any directory you haven’t heard of. If you haven’t heard of it, clients probably haven’t either. Save your money for the big-name directories.
If you’d like to experiment with more advanced online advertising, try Facebook. Their advertising tool is fairly user friendly, but it’s also powerful enough that you can learn the basics of online advertising strategy.
Bear in mind that it’s easy to lose money on Facebook unless you target specific ads to specific groups. For instance, you might make an ad for a men’s anger management group and target it only to men, and an ad for couple’s counseling and target it only to married people.
Fair warning: plan to lose money at first. Facebook generally requires a lot of experimentation to find the right groups to target and the best way to reach them. While you might get lucky out of the gate, it’s more likely that you’ll need to do some trial-and-error before you become profitable. Start with low bids and low daily budgets to keep your costs under control while you experiment. Also, read Adspresso’s guide to Facebook ads before you begin.
Google Adwords & Bing
Search engines such as Google or Bing are one of the best places to advertise, because you can reach people right when they’re looking for therapy. Someone who searches for “couple’s counseling” is definitely interested in couple’s counseling. Someone who scrolls past your couple’s counseling ad on Facebook might not be.
The problem is that search engines are very difficult to advertise on profitably. Although Google offers Adwords Express as a user-friendly option, Adwords Express usually doesn’t get you very good results. The reason is that Adwords Express tends to show your ads to lots of people who are searching for something related to what you offer, but not actually what you offer. For instance, if you decide to advertise to people searching for therapy practices, Adwords Express might show your ad to someone who searches for the Private Practice TV show or someone searching for a physical therapy clinic –wasting your advertising dollars.
That’s why I recommend that most therapists hire a professional if they want to advertise on Adwords or Bing. A professional is able to get you the best possible results and avoid the beginner mistakes that drain your advertising budget. I discuss hiring a professional at the end of this section, so stay tuned.
Other Ad Platforms
There are many other platforms that you can advertise on, such as Reddit, Twitter and Linkedin. You’re welcome to experiment with them, but I think directories, Facebook and search engines are the platforms best suited for therapists.
If you do advertise on another platform, make sure it’s a platform that allows you to geographically target your users within a small radius. Some platforms only allow you to target a specific country, which is not helpful at all (unless you happen to own a practice in a very small country!).
This is less of an issue if you offer online therapy, but online therapy has many ethical and practical challenges that must be overcome before you can offer it. I suspect most therapists stick to in-person therapy, which means using platforms that can target their local area.
Track your ad performance
Many therapists don’t track the performance of their online advertising. If you’re one of them, you could be wasting money every month without knowing it.
Even therapists that do track their results often track the wrong results. It’s common for online advertising platforms to report metrics like likes, shares, and views. But you can’t pay your bills with likes or shares. You need dollars for that, and your dollars come from clients.
So the metric you should pay attention to is called “Cost per acquisition” (CPA.) It’s also called “cost per lead” or “cost per conversion” depending on who you ask. This metric measures the average amount you need to pay to get a new client. You calculate it by dividing the number of clients that an advertising platform has brought you by the amount you’ve spent on that platform. If you spent $500 on Adwords last month and brought in 5 clients, your Adwords CPA would be $100 (500/5).
Cost per acquisition determines the profit you earn from each new client. Let’s say the average client comes to 8 sessions and pays you $100 per session. If you got a new client for free, then you would earn $800 in profit from that client. (For the sake of easy math, I am ignoring insurance and other variables, but make sure you factor them in. If you charge clients $100 but only receive $50 after insurance, use $50 to calculate your true profit per client.)
If your cost per acquisition is $100, then you earn $700 in profit from a new client ($800 in revenue – $100 in advertising = $700 profit). You’re probably happy to earn $700 for 8 sessions of work, so this is a good CPA.
If your cost per acquisition is $700, then you only pocket $100 after working with the client for 8 sessions. That means you earned just $12.50 per hour — probably not worth your time.
And if your cost per acquisition is more than $800, then you are losing money on each new client!
So it’s essential to track your cost per acquisition. That way, you know how much you are earning (or losing) from each new client that finds you through your ads.
The easiest way to track your CPA is to set up Google Analytics on your website. Then, set up conversion tracking within Google Analytics to record every time that someone fills out your contact form.
Setting up Google Analytics on your site and configuring conversion tracking sounds complicated, but it’s not too bad. The Brighter Vision team should be able to set this up for you no problem.
Once you’ve done this, you can see how many clients you received from your different advertising platforms. At the end of the month, take the number of clients you received from each advertising platform, divide it by the amount you spent on that platform and viola, you know what your CPA is for each platform.
Keep in mind that the results in Google Analytics are estimates. Google Analytics doesn’t track the people who called you instead of filling out a contact form. It also measures the number of people who emailed you – but some people who email you might not end up coming in for therapy. So your actual cost per new client might be higher or lower than the cost per acquisition number you calculate. But even an estimate should help you make informed decisions.
Follow the money
Once you start tracking your performance, you can use that information to adjust your marketing budget.
If your cost per acquisition is highly profitable, you might consider spending more on advertising. If it’s unprofitable, you might want to change your advertising strategy or hire a professional.
It’s common for some platforms to be more profitable than others. Let’s say Adwords brings you new clients at a $50 CPA and Facebook brings you new clients at a $125 CPA. That might be a sign that you should spend more money on Adwords and less on Facebook.
It might also mean you should rewrite your Facebook ads to improve performance. Or if you are satisfied with a $125 CPA, it might mean you should spend more money on both Adwords and Facebook. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy; you need to consider your unique business needs when considering your results.
One final note: Performance does change over time. So check back every few months to stay up to date, and make the appropriate changes.
Many online advertising platforms function on a bidding system. You choose the maximum amount you are willing to spend per click (or per view). The higher your bid, the more likely your ad shows instead of a competitor’s.
Bidding strategy is complicated, and generally you need a professional to make the best possible bidding decisions. But there’s a few things you can keep in mind to get started.
First, understand the relationship between traffic, cost per acquisition, and your bid. By raising your bid, you will increase your traffic, but you will also increase your cost per acquisition. So your goal is to raise your bid high enough that you get a lot of clients, but not so high that your cost per acquisition becomes unprofitable.
Second, your ads should have different bids based on their performance. If your couple’s counseling ad is performing much better than your individual therapy ad, you probably want to raise the bids for your couple’s counseling ad and lower the bids for your individual therapy ad.
Third, you should consider your advertising budget when choosing your bids. If you bid too low, you will get very little traffic and won’t be able to spend your whole budget each day. If you bid too high, you will blow through your budget very quickly, and you will also get little traffic. It’s best to bid just enough that your budget lasts all day and runs out towards the end. As a rule of thumb, if you are spending your entire budget every day, your bids are probably a little too high and you should consider lowering them. If you never spend your entire daily budget, your bids are probably too low and you should consider raising them.
Again, bidding strategy is complicated, and it’s okay if you are confused at first. As you continue to experiment with online advertising, it will start to make more sense.
Research advertising best practices
Before you decide to advertise on a new platform, do some research first. If you take the time to learn the best strategies and techniques for that platform, your ads are more likely to be profitable.
An easy way to generate a reading list is to go to Google and search for the following:
- [Name of Platform] advertising strategies
- [Name of Platform] advertising guide
- [Name of Platform] advertising best practices
Please don’t skip this step. I know it seems tedious to spend hours reading about online advertising strategy. But if you don’t take the time, how well do you think your ads will perform against competitors who have hired a professional? Give yourself a fighting chance and do your homework.
Know when to hire a professional
A professional marketer can significantly boost the performance of your online advertising. They can write more effective ads, target them to the right people, and make sure you are getting the most out of every advertising dollar.
Since professional marketers are expensive, you don’t want to spend money without a good reason. So how do you know it’s the right time to hire a professional?
Well, there’s no perfect answer. But I’d say there are three situations when it makes a lot of sense:
1) When your advertising budget is growing
A professional multiplies the effect of your advertising budget. They might be able to get 50%, 100% or even 200% more clients than you could from the same advertising dollars. (The exact amount depends on the difference between your skill and theirs.)
The larger your advertising budget, the more this multiplier matters.
If your current budget is large enough to get you one client per month and a professional can double your performance, then hiring a pro will get you one extra client per month – not very much. If your current budget is large enough to get you 30 clients per month, then hiring a pro will get you 30 extra clients per month – quite a lot!
That’s why the larger your budget grows, the more you should consider a professional. As a rule of thumb, you definitely don’t need a professional if you are spending less than $100 per month, and you probably do need a professional if you’re spending more than $1000. If your budget is between $100 and $1000, you should use your best judgement.
2) When your time is limited
Running online advertising campaigns takes time. You need to invest several hours in researching best practices, and then several more hours building and optimizing your advertising campaigns. If you’d rather spend the time on other parts of your business (or your personal life), it might make sense to hire a professional.
Also, consider the stress factor. If online advertising causes your blood pressure to rise, it might be a form of self-care to let a professional handle your ads.
3) When you’re not sure what you’re doing
Online advertising is complicated, and it can be tricky to learn. That’s why professionals are available to help.
As a general rule, you should hire a pro if you can’t turn a profit even after a few months of trying. You should also hire a professional if you can’t track your results well enough to determine if you’re profitable.
If you are bound and determined to manage your own advertising but struggle to turn a profit, consider hiring a professional to teach you the ropes. Coaching can be expensive, but it often pays off over the long run. This is especially a good option if you don’t have the time to do a lot of research and practice on your own.
Avoid unqualified professionals
Unlike therapists, online marketers are not required to become licensed. Pretty much anyone can declare themselves an online marketing guru, even if they have no clue what they’re doing. Here are a few tips to make sure you find an actual expert:
- Ask for references. Any qualified professional should be able to provide you with several happy customers you can contact.
- Find out how they will track performance and measure success. If their answer only discusses “clicks” “impressions” “likes” or other non-revenue generating metrics, be very suspicious. A good answer should include the ways their work will make you more money.
- Look for professionals with experience working for large clients. If a freelancer has successfully managed a client spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in online advertising, they can probably manage your account too. If a freelancer has only ever worked with mom and pop businesses, then be more suspicious. Unqualified people can still talk a small business into hiring them, but large businesses usually only hire experienced experts.
- Be suspicious of large monthly management fees. Legitimate professionals will usually not charge more than 25% of your monthly ad spend to manage your account (so if you spend $1000 on advertising each month, they shouldn’t charge more than $250 per month to manage it.) If they do have a large monthly management fee, ask them exactly what they are doing each month to justify that fee.
- Conversely, be suspicious of very low fees. A legitimate online marketing expert should charge $100 per hour or more. If they’re charging significantly less than that, triple-check their credentials. Remember that cutting costs by hiring a poorly qualified “expert” will cost you more in wasted advertising dollars than it will save.
How to find qualified therapist advertising professionals
I could be biased, but I think the easiest way to make sure you are working with an expert is to hire yours truly!
I have lots of references, a detailed explanation of how I track performance, more than four years of experience working for large clients, and very reasonable management fees. I’ve also helped dozens of therapists launch their accounts, and I’m training to be a therapist myself (so I understand the industry!) If you’re interested, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to chat with you further.
However, I want you to have all your options open. So if you want to hire someone else, I recommend you make a “help wanted” post in the forum at Reddit.com/r/PPC. Lots of qualified professionals frequent that forum, and you should be able to find someone who can help you. You can also ask questions in that forum and, if you’re lucky, helpful experts will offer you free advice.
I recommend against working with a marketing agency unless you are planning on spending several thousand dollars on advertising each month. Because marketing agencies have a lot of expenses (office rent, a sales team, etc), it’s usually not profitable for them to give excellent service to small clients like a private practice therapist. Therefore, they’ll either charge you a high rate to make your account worth their time, or give you very little service in order to cut their costs. Either way, you are unlikely to get your money’s worth.
Hire an individual freelancer instead. Freelancers have fewer expenses than agencies, so you are more likely to be an attractive client for them. Of course, it’s possible to find a good agency that will charge you a fair amount – but in general, a freelancer is a safer bet. That’s why I recommend you work with a freelancer from Reddit.com/r/PPC (or hire me!)
Want more online marketing advice? Read the full “Clicking with Clients” guide today!
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