The Vet And The ’Net

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The Vet and the ’NetThe Vet and the ’Netcover stories, practicemgmtPosted: June 30, 2010By Jessica Tremayne

Veterinary Practice NewsThe days of using the Yellow Pages alone to promote a veterinary practice are long gone. Most veterinarians today have a hospital website and find the Internet to be an integral part of working in the industry.

The 2008 Digital Clinic Study, conducted by the global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard Inc., reported the patterns of veterinary professionals’ Internet use and is the only survey of its magnitude to date. The study showed that veterinarians are recognizing how to make the Internet work for them—from enhancing research capabilities to making the daily practice more efficient.

“We wanted to offer insight into how technology and digital communication play a role in meeting the needs of veterinarians, their staffs and clients,” says Greg Connel, senior vice president and co-chairman of Fleishman-Hillard’s animal care practice. “We had about 2,000 responses that showed that while research online is a priority for veterinarians, only 43 percent of respondents say they use the Internet for client communications.”

More clients than ever are using the Internet to find a veterinarian and learn about the practice before they make an appointment. If a practice doesn’t have a website and isn’t using search engine optimization (SEO), potential clients may not even know the practice exists.

Veterinary hospital website

“A veterinarian can spend $10,000 on creating an attractive website, but if it’s not SEO-friendly, none of that matters,” says CJ Levendoski, a partner at Creative Marketing Solutions LLC of St. Louis.

“Creating a website is the tip of the spear for veterinarians,” Levendoski continues. “One of the biggest points we can educate veterinarians on is client behavior and how content must appeal to pet owner interests. Their website has to come up in the top two or three listings or no one searching for a veterinarian will open the page.”

Levendoski contends that veterinarians who don’t invest in an optimized website are missing out on many new clients.

“More than half of all local Internet searches are done with the intent of making a purchase,” Levendoski says.

A Brief Opportunity
Once someone looks at your website, you have six or seven seconds to capture his attention before he goes elsewhere, says Jesse Davis, a senior Internet consultant for Internet Matrix Inc. in San Diego, Calif. Davis says knowing how to put money in the right place to maximize your return on investment is essential.

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What Veterinarians Think About the Internet

  • 88 percent say the Internet gives greater access to the latest science and research.
  • 64 percent say it makes practice and work more efficient.
  • 61 percent say it helps provide greater care for animals by informing on medical matters ranging from their veterinary association to animal genetics.
  • 43 percent say they use it for client communication.
  • 32 percent say it makes their practice more profitable.
  • 69 percent say their practice has a website.
  • 22 percent send e-mail reminders.
  • 18 percent send electronic newsletters.

“Having the right website content makes a big difference,” Davis says. “Including a virtual tour, videos and newsletters helps with optimization and appeal. Having additional options on your site like automated forms helps rate your site higher on search engines like Google.”

When considering a website for the practice, first consider what you want to achieve, experts say.

“Knowing what you want out of your website will help you and the site designer reach those goals,” says Rob McAllister, owner of McAllister Software Systems of Piedmont, Mo. “Consider how much you can or want to invest in creating a site and its maintenance. The final product will affect the way clients and potential clients perceive the practice as a whole.”

“Think about how the consumer will want to use the site,” McAllister says. “Reminders, practice updates, local zoonotic disease warnings, to schedule appointments, to see records or to make purchases.”

While many vets aren’t on board with texting clients or making the site smartphone friendly, experts say these things soon will be required to stay competitive in the marketplace.

“Veterinarians need to interact with their clients more today,” McAllister says. “Sending a text message when a pet is ready for pickup and keeping a blog to put a face on the practice are tips that can bring in clients and make a practice convenient, assisting with retention.

Unfortunately, about 90 percent of veterinarians say they do not have confidence in blogs created by other veterinary professionals.”

Compare Prices
Choosing a company to create a practice website can be tricky. The range of fees is like that of auto mechanics. While one company’s rates might be reasonable, the next one’s could have hidden fees that as much as double competitors’ rates.

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“A good website development company doesn’t need to only work with the veterinary industry, but should have examples of work they’ve done with vets,” Levendoski says. “You should be able to talk with customers and ask if they were happy with their results. Ask how long the site took to create and what feedback they’ve gotten from clients about the site.”

Asking for rates from Internet design and maintenance companies up front is standard. Decide whether the company will maintain the site, keeping online data timely. Also ask when the site will be functional.

“Veterinarians should think about the expense as an investment, considering its potential for bringing in new clients and client retention,” Davis says.

VetHubs, a subsidiary of HubShout LLC, an Internet direct marketing firm, says it’s essential to keep up with industry dynamics to appropriately react to trends.

“Search engines are a better mousetrap, so to speak,” says Chad Hill, co-founder of VetHubs. “Thirty percent of website results comes from the content included on your site and 70 percent comes from inbound links—other sites linking to yours.”

What Vets Say
The Digital Clinic Study found that 89 percent of veterinary professionals use the Internet personally and professionally.

Get Social
CJ Levendoski of Creative Marketing Solutions LLC says the four highest-ranking social media sites are Twitter, with 60 million users; Facebook, with 400 million users; YouTube and LinkedIn. The average Twitter user is a 31-year-old woman.

“Ten years ago people would say if you don’t have a website, you’re missing the bus,” Levendoski says. “Today, social media is the important thing.

Listening to people can be more valuable than trying to sell them something. Spend 80 percent of your online time adding value to your practice and 20 percent self-promoting and you’ll be in good shape.”

“The Internet wasn’t around when I was in school, so I didn’t have experience with it that way, but I have found it to be a great way to market my practice, communicate with potential and existing clients, watch webinars and perform research,” says Silvia Grossi-Stone, DVM, owner of Dr. Silvia’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

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“I consider my practice website to be the single best way to draw in new clients. When I ask clients how they heard about my practice, 80 percent say through the website.”

Dr. Grossi-Stone says she uses the Internet through her practice website to alert clients to rattlesnake awareness, dental month and other timely issues, sharing the maintenance duties with a staff member. She also uses the Internet for research.

John Sudduth, DVM, owner of Northwest Animal Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo., says he makes a lot of online purchases. He considered adding product sales to his site but held off after finding that only about 10 percent of his clients would be interested in the service.

“The more you add to your site, the more time it takes to maintain,” Dr. Sudduth notes. “I like the options available and plan on continuing to expand further to include options like purchases and online access to medical records.”

Sudduth says he knows there’s a lot of misinformation online and is cautious when perusing the Web. He spends three to five hours a day online.

“I rarely look in textbooks anymore,” Sudduth says. “Even if I do want to look at a specific textbook, I can do that online, too, with greater ease, as many are indexed. Younger vets tend to be more accustomed to using the Internet from the start of their practice, but for me it was something I incorporated after practicing many years without it.

“We are in an evolution of Internet and website use right now,” Sudduth says. “We’ll continue to see veterinarians adding options to their websites and becoming more active online in general.” <HOME>

This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Click here to become a subscriber.

The days of using the Yellow Pages alone to promote a veterinary practice are long gone. Most veterinarians today have a hospital website and find the Internet to be an integral part of working in the industry. The days of using the Yellow Pages alone to promote a veterinary practice are long gone. Most veterinarians today have a hospital website and find the Internet to be an integral part of working in the industry. veterinarians, Internet, vet, websites, veterinary, newsletters 12:22 PM

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