Imagine a world where—much like the King of the Seven Kingdoms must gain the approval of his councilors before making any major decisions—patients have to consult their primary care physicians before they can see any other healthcare provider (whether that’s a dentist or a chiropractor). Sounds ridiculous, right? And if every health and wellness professional relied on physician referrals to keep a steady flow of patients, the competition would be pretty steep—and it’d be much harder to run any successful health-related business.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the scenario to which PTs have been shackled for many years. Instead of marketing directly to patients (like most first-line providers) and taking advantage of the fact that all 50 states now allow some form of direct access, therapists clamor for physician referrals like the Westeros aristocrats battle it out for the Iron Throne. (Maybe not quite like that—but you get the idea.) What’s worse, in relying too heavily on MD “middlemen,” we’ve inadvertently made ourselves virtually inaccessible to the rapidly growing population of patient-consumers. For some clinics, this strategy might work (for now), but we need to face facts: relying on physician referrals is becoming less sustainable every day, and continuing to do so is a kiss of death for our profession.

What’s the alternative?

Perhaps PTs’ tendency to rely on physician referrals explains the number of private practices that rise and fall like the characters in a George RR Martin novel. If you ask me, it’s high time physical therapists take a lesson from our dentist and chiro peers and begin marketing themselves as first-line providers—directly to prospective patients. Unfortunately, many PTs believe marketing is just too complex (or worse, not important), which means they opt to accept the status quo and forgo a consumer-facing marketing strategy. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, there are little things you can do right now that will boost your marketing efforts, increase your online visibility, and ultimately, bring more new patients to your practice. (And the fact that many clinics don’t engage in online marketing means it can have even greater returns for the clinics that do—even if they do the bare minimum.) With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of super-basic, super-simple things practices can do right now to boost their self-referred patient volume:

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1. Always track where the lead came from.

Hopefully, this is something you’re already doing on some level, but if not, it’s never too late to start. Add a line to your intake form—or better yet, your front office team’s script for scheduling new patient appointments—and track those responses over time. That way, you’ll know which of your marketing efforts are the most successful, which means you can allocate your marketing dollars more strategically.

What specific referral information should PTs track?

It’s not enough to enter “direct access” for your referral source and call it a day. You should be differentiating based on specific marketing sources and monitoring the ones that are giving you the most bang for your buck. Don’t simply ask patients how they heard about you (e.g., search engine results page, advertisement, social media, friend referral, etc.). Instead, drill down into specifics like:

  • which search engine or social media platform they were using;
  • whether they received a marketing email;
  • the name of the in-person referrer; and
  • where they saw your advertisement.

Is this trackable in WebPT?

Yes! If you use WebPT, you can track marketing sources using the Referral Report by adding a marketing referral contact to the patient’s case at intake. Current WebPT Members can view a step-by-step guide on how to do this here. (And for more information on all of the awesome reports available in WebPT, check out this blog post.)

Retention, Please: Why Patient Dropout is Killing Rehab Therapy Practices— and How to Stop It - Regular BannerRetention, Please: Why Patient Dropout is Killing Rehab Therapy Practices— and How to Stop It - Small Banner

2. Use keywords in your website copy to boost your search engine ranking.

Recently, I was addressing a group of PTs at an industry event, and I casually mentioned something about search engine optimization. Specifically, I explained that using certain keywords within your website copy (that’s marketing speak for the text on your website) will boost your search engine ranking and thus, increase the chances that an online searcher will find your website. This concept, while very simple, took my peers by surprise.

Which keywords should PTs use?

Generally speaking, people who hunt for a physical therapist on Google, Bing, or any other search engine use some variation of “physical therapy + city name + state” when running a Google search. For example, someone in Phoenix would likely run a search for “physical therapy phoenix arizona.” (They might also run a search like “physical therapy clinic phoenix arizona” or simply “physical therapy phoenix.”)

Other keyword ideas are:

  • anything around a specific service you offer (e.g., “aquatic therapy in Phoenix”), and
  • your clinic name (which is an easy one many PTs overlook).

3. Make sure your NAP is consistent (and present) everywhere online.

This is a big one that too many practices get wrong, and it majorly impacts their search rankings. In this context, NAP means, “Name. Address. Phone number.” And it needs to be everywhere your clinic is present on the World Wide Web. Furthermore, it needs to be consistent in all of those places. So, as you set up your social media profile(s) and get listed on local directories, make sure your NAP is the same every time.

Why does NAP consistency matter?

It should be obvious, but you may be surprised by how many practices don’t even list their NAP on their website. I can’t help but cringe when I see this, because—for one thing—how are site visitors supposed to know where you’re located or that they’re looking at your clinic’s website (as opposed to a clinic with a similar name)? But beyond that, having a consistent NAP is essential to optimizing your website for search engines.

In fact, keeping your NAP identical across all corners of the Internet can actually boost your search engine rankings. That’s because search engines want to give their users results with high degrees of confidence. Unfortunately, those search engines just aren’t smart enough to figure out that a clinic called Targaryen Physical Therapy could also be known as Targaryen PT. So, when a name doesn’t match perfectly, the search engine feels less confident about the listing—and it’ll opt to provide another clinic’s listing if it feels more confident about that one.

What are some NAP best practices?

Here are some easy fixes you can implement right now to boost Google’s confidence in your listing:

  • Put it in the same spot on every page of your website—ideally at both the top of the page and the footer.
  • Make sure it’s the same—and that it’s up to date—on every site, from Google to Yelp.
  • Use your company’s full name and always write it the same way (e.g., “Targaryen Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine” versus “Targaryen PT”).
  • Decide how you want to write your address, and write it the exact same way across all of your website pages, social media profiles, and online listings (e.g., “123 N First St, #13” versus “123 North First Street, Suite 13”).
  • Make sure your phone number is also written consistently across all platforms and sites (e.g., “123.456.7890” versus “123-456-7890”).

4. Get as many positive ratings and reviews as possible.

To generate interest outside of physician referrals, you must first win the support of your existing subjects- er, patients. If you’ve followed the WebPT Blog for a while, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the importance of collecting reviews. In fact, during last month’s webinar on digital marketing, Scott Hebert, PT, DPT, and I drove home the importance of garnering a lot of positive reviews—as well as explained how to do so. Hebert pointed out that reviews are particularly crucial on Google, as they heavily impact your local search ranking. He also mentioned that Google reviews are the ones most people see when they search for providers online, which means putting effort into improving your Google rating will have the greatest return on investment.

How can I get more positive reviews?

Be easy to find.

Make sure you’re listed on the most popular review sites, including Facebook and Yelp. At the very least, get listed on Google, as this search engine giant has the most search traffic and will make you the most visible.

Make it easy.

Patients are far more likely to leave a review when you ask. To make it even easier, provide them a direct link to wherever you’d like them to leave the review. If you’re concerned that a patient may not leave a review on your chosen platform, you can always give them alternative options. Just be sure to include a link!

Ask your happiest patients.

Obviously, if you want positive reviews, you need to make sure the right people are providing them. But in order to approach the right patients, you must first identify them—and this is way easier to do if you track the patient experience using tools like the Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) survey.

What if I have a new practice?

If you’re new to the business, fear not—it’s still anybody’s game. But when you’re just getting started, cultivating a stellar online reputation can seem like a challenge. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll probably want to concentrate your efforts on:

  1. marketing to physicians to generate new patient referrals; and
  2. hosting community events to drum up interest in your new clinic.

Once you have patients, you can ask them to provide reviews—and your client list will grow from there. And if you’re feeling discouraged, remember: very few clinics are actively seeking reviews, so even having two or three good ones could be all the edge you need to stand out from the competition.

5. Put some money toward paid search ads.

The idea that paid search ads are, at best, complicated and, at worst, a waste of marketing dollars is a deep-seated myth in PT lore. But I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. Of course, marketing to existing patients is easy—and for that, you’d use email marketing. But when you’re trying to draw in prospective patients (i.e., ones who may not even know your clinic exists), paid ads are incredibly effective. That’s because pay-per-click (or “PPC”) ads are highly targeted, only appearing when someone is searching for specific terms. Assuming you’ve set up your Google Ads correctly (which WebPT’s own PPC expert walks you through here), then when a potential patient runs a Google search for local physical therapists, your website will not only show up in the organic search results, but it’ll also appear in the ad block at the top of the page.

How much should PTs spend on paid ads?

There’s no simple answer. As this resource from White Shark Media explains, the amount you pay on each ad will vary. Unlike billboards or radio ads—which tend to feature fairly static, consistent pricing—PPC ads function more like an auction marketplace, with businesses bidding on website visitors. So, the amount you spend will depend on how much you’re willing to bid. But here’s the best part: because so few PT clinics are taking advantage of PPC, the amount you spend on paid ads will be significantly lower than they would be in other, digital marketing-driven industries.

6. Use strong calls to action.

A call to action (CTA) is exactly what it sounds like: a short, clear directive that invites the reader to take a specific action. It’s the vehicle that drives the message of an advertisement, landing page, or marketing email. And as we mention in this post, “Without a CTA, your message is at best, incomplete—and at worst, a waste of time.”

You probably already use CTAs in your website text or marketing emails without even knowing it. You may have a button or a link that says “Book an Appointment” or “Contact Us”—both of which are common CTAs.

What CTAs should PTs use?

The answer to this question depends on the message, but here are some general guidelines for writing effective CTAs (along with some examples):

  • To really grab your reader’s attention, use strong, compelling words. You’ll often see words like “start/stop,” “reserve,” “now,” “free,” and “download” in CTAs, because these terms either (a) elicit an emotional response, or (b) instill a sense of urgency.
  • To get patients “over the line,” consider offering something free (e.g., “Book a Free Consultation”).
  • If you’re trying to educate your audience about services they may not be familiar with, tease them with the promise of more information and no/low commitment (e.g., “Learn More”).

Often, convincing PTs to end their reliance on physician referrals feels more challenging than convincing the leaders of the Seven Kingdoms that the white walkers are the real threat. PT services are more accessible to the public than ever before, and the only thing holding us back from becoming the first-line providers I know we can be is, well, ourselves. But if we can get over our fear of the unknown (i.e., marketing directly to patients) and decrease our reliance on physician referrals, we’ll establish ourselves as the first line of defense for pain and musculoskeletal disorders—physician permission (or Valyrian steel swords) not required.

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