Inspiration often comes from the most unexpected places. During my “What I Believe” speech at this year’s Graham Sessions, I offhandedly suggested an easy, free way to boost PT site traffic. It was a totally anecdotal part of my talk, but I received an enormously positive response about it. In fact, people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for the suggestion. That got me thinking: rising costs and declining reimbursements are obstacles that all PTs face, but amid those financial hurdles, therapy business owners still have to dedicate part of their budget to marketing and drumming up business. Those marketing costs can add up—but they don’t have to. So, I’m dedicating this month’s founder letter to helping you improve your clinic’s marketing without ever cracking open the piggy bank.

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1. Optimize your website for search and draw in traffic with keywords.

The first free way to improve your PT practice’s marketing without breaking the bank (or without so much as looking at the bank) is to improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) power using a targeted keyword strategy. This is the suggestion I made at the Graham Sessions, and it’s one that—if executed correctly—can have huge returns. According to the Pew Research Center, “nearly eight-in-ten (77%) of online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo.” That’s a huge pool of potential patients that you can tap for business—if you can access them in the first place.

The Key to Keywords

Keywords are the phrases (or standalone words) that people type into a search engine (e.g., Google) to find the information they’re looking for. For example, if a patient is looking for a PT in Seattle, he or she might type “Seattle-based physical therapy.” So, if you want to ensure that your website displays in that patient’s Google results, weave those keywords into the text on your website—in page titles, headers, body copy, URLs, and meta descriptions. (A word of caution: Don’t get too overzealous with your keywords. Google dings you if you haphazardly pack them into your website copy.)

Google Search Console

At this point, you might be wondering which keywords to target on your website. Enter Google Search Console: a free tool that gives you personalized keyword insights, including:

  • A list of keywords that direct people to your site;
  • The keywords that land your site in a searcher’s results, but don’t convert the searcher into a site visitor; and
  • Any errors on your site.

All this information is actionable, and—when used appropriately—it can seriously improve your site’s visibility and draw to potential patients.

2. Create a blog, tailor it to your target audience, and keep it updated.

One way to keep your website relevant and engaging is to create a blog that you update regularly. Blogging is an effective way to attract potential patients to your site—and all it requires is time. But before you bust out your keyboard and hunker down in a booth at the nearest coffee shop, set some content guidelines—both for yourself and anyone else who you ask to contribute.

Tone and Consistency

For starters, establish a tone for your articles that matches your brand—and appeals to your target audience. For example, if you’re writing to attract the attention of the average patient, you probably shouldn’t include anatomical jargon. But, on the other hand, you wouldn’t want to write so casually that patients doubt the accuracy and medical authority of your content. Additionally, be sure to set some deadlines for yourself and determine how frequently you want to post. You don’t need to post content every day—or even every week, for that matter. But you do want to create a schedule that you (and any contributors) can adhere to. Consistency is key!

Blogging and Keywords

Publishing a blog is also a convenient way to expand your keyword reach—particularly to potential patients who may not know that PT is their best treatment option. Want to attract triathlon athletes suffering from overuse injuries? Research common triathlon keywords and create blog content around them. If “triathlon injuries” appears to be a valuable keyword, dedicate a few posts to common triathlon injuries in which you explain how athletes can adjust their training (or their shoes) to avoid them. You should see an influx of this “ideal” patient population on your website—and hopefully, in your practice.

3. Refer patients to other healthcare providers.

Instead of waiting for a healthcare provider to refer patients to you, pick up the referral gauntlet and refer your patients to them (when it’s medically appropriate). Afterward, follow up with those providers and form mutually beneficial referral relationships. Referring out patients is a great way to bump your (and your practice’s) name to the tip-top of other providers’ mental list—which makes them much more likely to think of you when they encounter a patient who could benefit from physical therapy. Referring patients to other healthcare providers also benefits the PT industry as a whole, because it establishes PTs as healthcare authorities and demonstrates that we’re more than capable of managing a patient’s medical journey.

4. Tap your most satisfied, loyal patients for online reviews.

Another way to give your marketing a little more punch with a little less dough is to solicit reviews from your happiest patients. Truly happy, loyal patients are typically more than willing to help out your practice and leave great reviews—and all you need to do is ask. It would also behoove you to make the review process as easy and painless as possible. If you send an email to patients asking for a review, for instance, include a link to the review page.

Happy Patients; Great Reviews

Every practice—no matter how devoted the staff—is liable to have some unhappy patients. Needless to say, you don’t want to solicit reviews from patients who are determined to make your ratings plummet. Before sending out review requests, gauge your patients’ general loyalty to—and satisfaction with—your clinic using a Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) survey. Once your patients take the NPS survey, you can send the happy ones a review request and reap the rewards of great reviews. It’s as simple as that.

One bonus to using NPS is that it doesn’t require licensure, so the survey is entirely free to send. While you can pay for a top-notch service (like WebPT Reach) to automate the NPS distribution and collection process, you don’t have to—especially if you feel like you’re already operating on a shoestring budget. That said, I urge you to weigh the pros and cons of NPS automation—and automation in general. Often, the cost of time spent performing repetitive, time-consuming tasks far outweighs the cost of an automated technology.

5. Contribute articles and content to outlets that reach your target audience.

Contributing content to other outlets is a great way to reach a fresh audience and establish yourself as a knowledgeable industry authority. However, the content you write—and outlets you choose—should align with the audience you’re trying to reach. If you’re looking to stir up some physician referrals, you could contribute an article on physical therapy’s role in solving the opioid crisis to a physician-oriented publication. But if you want to catch the eye of a niche patient population—say, snowboarders—you would be better served contributing an article about proper warmups to a blog for snowboarding enthusiasts. In other words, be sure to think critically about the audience you’re trying to reach—and think outside the box when it comes to how to reach them.

To that end, go beyond writing for local newspapers—although that’s a decent place to start. Instead, consider syncing up with businesses that are tangential to your specialty—and that produce their own newsletters or publications. They’re probably looking for high-quality content to fill their pages week after week. I personally love contributing to Evidence in Motion each month, and I take immense pride in sharing my knowledge, thoughts, and predictions with other therapists who value progression in our industry. And if writing isn’t your forte, no sweat! Consider reaching out to the hosts of different healthcare podcasts. Find an outlet that makes contributing feel like a passion project. Trust me—it helps!

6. Distribute a newsletter.

Our final frugal marketing tip is yet another form of content generation—because while content marketing may be time-consuming, it’s free and incredibly effective. A newsletter can help you drum up new appointments, increase website traffic, and obtain emails—depending on your focus. And speaking of focus, before you cobble together any old newsletter, determine its purpose. Ask yourself: what’s the ultimate goal of my newsletter? Once you have that nailed down, you can curate content that aligns with your goal—which ultimately creates a more cohesive reading experience. Like your blog, you don’t need to churn out an email newsletter every single week; you can make it a monthly effort in order to reduce the burden on you—or anyone else to whom you delegate its creation.

Free Software

You don’t have to dish out a lot of money (or any money) to create and send out an email newsletter. There’s free software out there that—while limited—can help you perfect your newsletter-creation process. Check out this list and decide which platform is best for you. Who knows? If you start to see large returns from your email campaigns, you might want to upgrade to a better email software, like Emma or Constant Contact.

For a PT, sliding into the shoes of a marketer might feel a little overwhelming—but we must do so if we want our profession to thrive in this new era of the patient-consumer. More patients than ever before are searching for their own healthcare solutions, and we need to put our knowledge and expertise out there so patients find therapists (not chiros or other providers) to entrust with their musculoskeletal care. Plus, marketing enables us to keep our doors open, so we can continue to do what we love: help our patients.  What free marketing strategies have worked well in your clinic? Share your thoughts and stories below!

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