Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Michael Salzhauer is a plastic surgeon with a passion for Internet marketing. He attributes virtually all of his new-patient business to it. His company, Bal Harbour Plastic Surgery, has posted videos on YouTube that have attracted many views. The company’s Twitter page has more than 11,000 followers.
We recently spoke with Dr. Salzhauer about how, exactly, one goes about marketing a medical practice on the web.
Web Marketing Today: Tell us about your medical practice, please.
Dr. Michael Salzhauer: “I am a board certified plastic surgeon located on the northern tip of Miami Beach, Fla., in an area called Bal Harbour. I do only cosmetic surgery: breast implants, tummy tucks, nose jobs, liposuction and butt lifts. I’ve been in private practice for nine years. I’ve had a web presence since the very beginning — pre-Facebook and all of that. My practice grew with social media and with Google, AdWords.”
WMT: Have you always been orientated towards the web and technology oriented?
Dr. Salzhauer: “Yes. I got my first computer in 1985. I’ve stayed up to date pretty much since then. I always had an inclination towards incorporating computers and computer based marketing into my practice.”
WMT: Tell us about your web marketing activities. You have an extensive website. You do a lot of social media activities. Tell us about all of them, please.
Dr. Salzhauer: “Let me take it a few steps back. When the practice first opened, very few medical practices had a website. So it was fairly easy to dominate online most of the competitors, at least down here in Florida. Once other practices started getting websites we had to stay a little head of the game, and the first thing we did was hook up with Yahoo! and Google and pay-per-click and all that. As many practices and businesses have learned, sometimes painfully, that can be very expensive. And not only expensive but difficult to track your return on investment when the pay-per-click budget gets out of control.
“As more and more of our competitors started competing for the same keywords in the same market, the prices just went up. When we first went into pay-per-click, we could get a pretty valuable keyword at 25 cents a click. Now it’s $5 to $7 dollars for good keywords. We found ourselves spending a lot more money on pay-per-click. From 2006 to 2009 it went from $1,000 a month to $40,000 a month. That made us pause and ask, ‘What is our true ROI and are there less expensive ways to get the same attention and the same traffic?’
“We refocused our marketing efforts with zero assumptions. We went back to square one and asked, ‘What if we turned off pay-per-click? What if we turned off everything and just started putting things back on one piece at a time to see really where the bang for the buck is?’ We started doing that about a year ago. What we noticed is that the social media efforts are not only less expensive but they also create not just customers but, in some cases, even fans. So, what we did was we took the weight of the practice and our marketing efforts and we just re-shifted the focus away from pay-per-click. We just shifted to social media in the last year and it has really paid off.”
WMT:How much of your practice, in terms of new patients, is attributable — directly or indirectly — to your web marketing activities?
Dr. Salzhauer: “If you go indirectly I would say 95 percent. There are very few patients that either haven’t found us online or looked us up online. Even if they get a word of mouth reference, they’re still going to look you up before they make an appointment. There’s so much information that’s available easily online that even your word-of-mouth referrals are looking you up online and their checking you out.”
WMT: I suspect most physicians aren’t as sophisticated as you, in terms of Internet marketing. What’s your advice for them?
Dr. Salzhauer: “I try to read or listen to an audio book on marketing at least once a month. Just download a couple of marketing basics books to increase your knowledge base, and try to get an understanding of exactly what marketing is and how much it affects your business. There’s no substitute for just putting in the time to learn the basics and doing it yourself.”
WMT: What are some audio books that come to mind? Can you think of a title or two that particularly helped you recently?
Dr. Salzhauer: “If I were going to start anywhere, I’d start with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People to begin with. It’s not really a marketing book, but it gives you an idea of how you should be thinking. After that I would start with some basic sales books from authors like Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and that crowd, because what you’re doing is essentially is selling your practice or selling yourself at all times.
“Because the web changes so fast, the books I read even 3 to 4 years ago are not as relevant as they are today. So I would look for whatever the latest social media guru books are and start reading them. The basic sales principles and the basic marketing principles always stay the same. It’s just the specific techniques that change as the web changes. I definitely want to mention the importance of online video in the last year or two. I think that as smart phones become ubiquitous you need to start thinking about marketing your business using video.”
WMT: Tell us what you’ve done with your video.
Dr. Salzhauer: “Our ultimate goal is having people Google us specifically, as oppose to just Googling a service or a general service or product. So the idea is to make the biggest splash and make as much noise as possible. The demographic that we’re targeting is young, between the ages of 15 and 35. So, we’ve done music videos, parodies of pop songs. We’ve made funny 30 to 45 second commercials online — just stuff that will get people talking and get people sharing. The idea is to project a young, kind of hip image of the practice. It has really worked remarkably well for us. We’ve seen that the patients that we’ve tracked and the clients that we attract to our practice fit the demographic that we were targeting very well.
“If you have a business and you know the specific demographic you’re trying to reach, do a little bit of market research and find out what they watch, what they listen to, and what attracts them, with the understanding that if you focus all that energy to that demographic you will get them. You may push away some other demographics. You may even offend some other demographics, but that’s okay as long as you know where you’re most profitable and most enjoyable clients come from. We’ve done music video, educational videos. We keep in touch with our patients through video. At one point we were doing a daily video with one of the girls in the office addressing what celebrities had plastic surgery this week.”
WMT: Are all of those on YouTube?
Dr. Salzhauer: “Yes.”
WMT: How do you measure the effectiveness of those? How do you know they’re working?
Dr. Salzhauer: “There’s no great metric system to convert a view on YouTube to an actual surgery. It’s a little bit difficult, so we use the number of views that a video gets, and the number of ‘shares.’ I think then number of shares is the most important metric. I think that’s the metric you need to look at to see if something is getting enough attention that people are sharing it with other people.
“As far as actually tracing the re-tweet or share back to an actual customer, there may be some sophisticated tracking software, but I don’t have it. I do know that when people come in they talk about it with me, and say, ‘Oh I saw your video I thought it was really funny’ or ‘I saw this or that ad and thought it was really funny’ or ‘I got a Tweet,’ because I ask them. Always ask your patients or your customers, ‘How did you find me? What was the first time you heard about me?'”
WMT: Are there legal or professional ethics issues that you have to deal with?
Dr. Salzhauer: “Always. Anything that is in print needs to have a disclaimer on the bottom, if it’s any kind of offer. There are laws in every state that are different. We only use real patients in our ads. But if you do use models you have to say that these are models and not patients. You don’t want to deceive anybody in that way.
“We’ve definitely pushed the boundary. We actually did a parody of an Old Spice commercial and we got a cease and desist letter from Procter & Gamble. It got 200,000 views on YouTube in about 48 hours before Procter & Gamble had YouTube pull the plug — but it was great. And that alone — we are talking about a video that shot for about $400. It took us about 2 hours one day before we did surgery. We did this 30-second thing and it went viral. Now that doesn’t happen every day. But it can happen. You’ve just got to keep putting out stuff until something catches on and gets peoples attention.
“You do have to be careful of certain things. For example in the Procter & Gamble incident, they just sent us a letter of cease and desist. We took it off YouTube. It’s not like they’re going to sue us into oblivion because we mocked their ad. But use common sense. You definitely don’t want to cross any significant legal lines. Parody is fine because there’s a lot of leeway in the copyright laws with parody. You don’t want to just blatantly copy somebody in a non-humorous way.”
WMT: Anything else for our audience?
Dr. Salzhauer: “Yeah, for those out there that are more sophisticated, I would definitely start focusing on online video, and I would look at Twitter as an enormous opportunity. By developing a Twitter following, we can get two or three thousand additional unique visitors to our website just by tweeting the right tweet. If you think about what it would cost you on a pay-per-click basis, I think Twitter is a huge opportunity.”
WMT:What’s an example of an effective tweet? Tell me one tweet that jumps out, where you received a lot of traffic.
Dr. Salzhauer: “Well, we have a program on our site that lets you take a picture and modify it to see what you’d look like — Kim Kardashian’s butt or something. And we’ll tweet that out and then people click and they’ll go to the software and start playing with it. Not every tweet is blatantly a sales pitch. In fact very few of them are sales pitches. Most of them are just, ‘Check this out. It’s really interesting or cool.’ If we have a link to our gallery — before and after pictures — people love that. And then of course, if we have a really good video that’s funny, we can get a pretty decent re-tweet rate of about 10 percent. A re-tweet rate of anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent is pretty average. But if you can get 10 percent of the people who you’ve tweeted to re-tweet, you’re doing pretty good.”