It’s often said “no margin, no mission” in health care—and making a financial impact has never been more important to the long-term success of hospitals and health systems. Learn how healthcare marketing leaders are driving recovery and generating revenue with these patient acquisition best practices and examples.
As the end of the COVID ‑19 pandemic moves closer, the job of responding to the crisis is, in some ways, just beginning for healthcare marketers as the focus pivots to patient retention and patient acquisition.
While communities turned to healthcare providers as a trusted resource throughout the pandemic, marketing played a critical role in transparently sharing information on infection rates, social distancing and masking protocols, vaccination and more.
The role of a local hospital or health system as a pillar of the community has been solidified—not only as a resource critical for community health but one that’s also critical to a local economy.
For a healthcare system to continue to thrive as the backbone of a community, healthcare marketers now need to turn their attention to strategies that drive revenue.
Here are a few key patient acquisition best practices to consider as you structure your marketing plans.
Campaign Tactics and Best Practices
Lead generation, and converting those leads to patients, for hospitals is no easy task. With increasing noise and content saturation online, evolving rules around how to target for and promote healthcare services digitally, and tightening budgets, healthcare marketers have to get creative to build highly effective and efficient marketing strategies to improve patient acquisition.
When working to plan a high-performing marketing engine, there are a few must-have strategies and tactics to consider.
In a recent Healthcare Insight podcast interview, Matt Gove shared his perspective that a health systems website is their single most important marketing asset. The vast majority of consumers will visit your site at least once before making a purchase decision. They will be looking for information on the services you offer, providers, ratings and reviews, locations and more to make sure your offering aligns with their needs.
Consider these best practices to optimize your website to support patient acquisition priorities:
- Make sure that your site has a strong UI and UX. If a website isn’t searchable, mobile-friendly, intuitive and easy to use, you’ll likely lose valuable web traffic. These elements along with load speed, security and other elements that impact the page experience will become more important ranking factors with the Core Web Vitals update beginning in mid-June. Most importantly: In 2021, consumers expect practically zero friction in their online experiences with brands—and will quickly move on if you can’t live up to expectations.
- Consolidate your digital footprint as much as possible. If your brand currently maintains multiple websites for various hospital locations, services, etc. that can become confusing and cumbersome to navigate for consumers, and it is likely worth considering a move to a single site experience.
- Optimize your content for organic search performance. Your website content should be aligned to the services you offer and with consumer search trends to ensure you’re easily found when your key audiences are searching for healthcare information. Content should be developed according to SEO best practices across key conditions and services that you offer to effectively answer consumer questions and guide them towards an appropriate next best action. If your website currently focuses on services, programs, locations and providers, consider expanding your content to conditions and symptoms. Consumers often search first with a question, rather than a solution, and providing them the guidance they’re looking for will position your brand as a trusted resource when they’re to solve it.
- Create opportunities for conversion. For example, this can include an e‑newsletter sign-up form for consumers in the research phase of the healthcare journey, a downloadable guide on a specific condition for those evaluating and comparing providers, and a click-to-call option for those ready to schedule an appointment.
Digital Paid Media Strategies
Paid campaign strategies are a critical part of healthcare lead generation strategies, particularly for a health system’s highest priority service lines.
For many health systems digital campaign efforts are focused on:
- Top of the funnel strategies like primary care, cancer and cardiovascular screening offerings, urgent care and women’s health that solidify patient relationships early in the journey and provide a funnel for referrals into specialty care
- Highest priority specialty care service lines like orthopedics, cancer care, bariatric surgery and more
For organizations focused on providing imaging care services, ENT care, vein and vascular care, GI, urology and more, patient acquisition has historically been focused on building provider relationships and driving referrals. However, as healthcare consumers become savvier advocates of their own healthcare journey and spending, these digital paid media strategies are becoming increasingly critical to driving direct consumer lead generation as well.
Patient acquisition in practice: Learn how US Radiology is driving outpatient imaging volumes through direct to consumer digital marketing.
To be successful with digital campaigns, marketers must think strategically about the channels that will most efficiently power patient acquisition priorities for a particular service line.
Here are a few keys to consider:
- Paid search should be an “always on” strategy for your brand and high priority service lines, and it should be focused on the highest consumer intent search volume to make sure you’re connecting the right consumers with the right messages at the right time. Closely monitor your click-through rates, cost per click and conversion rates to constantly optimize your keyword bids for efficiency, total lead volume and cost per lead. Learn more about effective paid search for healthcare marketers in this guide.
- Paid social should be used for service lines most in need of volume, and should feature CTAs that are appropriate for a passive audience. For top of funnel services, focus on promoting providers and the conditions that a consumer might use the service for to build awareness and drive lead volume. For specialty care service lines, leverage social media advertising to promote downloadable guides, quizzes and assessments, patient testimonials and other resources that can build a relationship and loyalty with a potential patient. Further, fine-tune your audiences based on an ideal customer profile and optimize your ads and targeting strategy constantly during your campaigns to maximize your effectiveness.
- Display marketing and streaming service promotion can be great complements to more strategically targeted digital marketing. These channels are going to be purely focused on brand building, moreover conversions, and should be used for new service lines, those most in need of volume, promoting services around health observances like mammograms in October, etc.
Utilization of direct mail by brands in various sectors, and consumer response to it, seems to be waxing and waning over the last few years. Today, direct mail is becoming increasingly effective in healthcare as a complement to digital strategies for driving service line revenues.
Here are a few smart direct mail use cases to consider:
- Promoting new locations and new providers to targeted audiences for primary care, general pediatrics and women’s health
- Annual mammogram reminders, birthday mailings for colonoscopy, targeted mailings to promote lung CT and cardiovascular screening offerings to drive top of the funnel specialty care volumes
- New mover campaigns to position your brand front and center with new community members
- High impact (more substantial than a standard postcard) mailings to provider audiences to drive physician referrals to high acuity service lines
- High impact deployments to highly targeted audiences to promote new service lines or those with a particular need for volume — this can work well for services like joint replacement, cosmetic surgery, bariatric surgery and more
In all cases, your direct mail campaign should have multiple touches (at least two within a 30-day window), content and creative that resonates with the specific audience demographic, as much personalization as possible within budget (consider a map based on location) and a clear call to action that guides recipients on the best next step.
Blog and Organic Social Media
Your blog strategy and organic social media efforts play a key role in SEO performance, top-of-funnel engagement, and brand perception and loyalty. These efforts should emphasize your brand as a health and wellness partner and helpful resource on a consumer’s healthcare journey, complementing your website content strategies and other mid-bottom of funnel tactics.
Here are a few keys to consider in optimizing, and leveraging your blog and social media efforts:
- Make sure you separate your blog from your website—not necessarily physically, but be constantly mindful of the difference in purpose between website content and blog content. If you find yourself using a blog to define a condition or provide treatment advice, consider leveraging that content as a website page instead. Blog content should be engaging and educational at the top of the funnel with opportunities to further explore the topic and connect with experts through strategic calls to action. Here’s one example: “what is osteoporosis?” should live on your website, while “5 foods to manage with osteoporosis” would be appropriate for the blog.
- When planning and executing blog content, think first about your service line priorities, second about consumer search trends, and third about creativity. Each of the three is critical to creating highly searchable and engaging content that adds value to your health system.
- Promote your content through social media, email and native advertising to build an audience. Particularly if you’re running focused service line campaigns, include promotion of relevant blog posts in your monthly media plans. That said, if you’re not seeing at least 60% of your blog traffic coming from organic search, it’s time to reevaluate your approach to SEO.
- Engage your communities on social media. Consumers leverage the tools for conversation and connectivity, and it’s important that your brand engages with your audience, including responding to negativity and complaints. If you’re a large healthcare system, it’s likely worth investing in an online reputation management tool to support this work.
- Start small if you’re just getting started. For blogs, this might mean writing 3–5 posts per month for a specific audience to start getting comfortable with your blog strategy and make optimizations before expanding. On social media, focus on 1 or 2 channels where consumers are actually engaging with healthcare content. Today, healthcare engagement on social media is primarily focused on Facebook, though some organizations are successfully leveraging Instagram as well.
Patient acquisition in practice: Learn how Methodist Health System generates organic traffic and qualified leads through the SHINE Online blog.
For many healthcare marketers, optimizing the use of email marketing resources is going to be a critical task in 2021 and 2022. Unlike social media audiences, your consumer email addresses are yours. You own them and have control, and responsibility, over how they’re used to add value for both the consumer and your business. Investing in a powerful marketing automation tool could boost the effectiveness of your campaign strategies, and become a cost-effective lead generation tool as well.
By optimizing your email nurturing strategies, you’ll stay connected to HRA leads, whitepaper downloads, seminar attendees and more to drive a downstream conversion at a higher rate than your pre-email nurturing efforts.
Building an audience of opted-in subscribers, who you know at least something about from a demographic or healthcare status perspective, will allow you to include email campaigns in your lead generation efforts.
This approach is incredibly cost-effective compared to paid social and search campaigns, and serves as a strong complement to those efforts.
Patient acquisition in practice: Learn how Baptist Health leveraged email marketing to convert prospects into patients.
Measurement and Optimization
Campaign-specific measurement and optimizations are critical tasks when it comes to constantly optimizing your patient acquisition strategies for effectiveness and efficiency. The task extends from setting and managing KPIs to tactically how you execute on your analytics plan and finally how you communicate results back up the chain to continue to reinforce the value of investing in marketing efforts.
When measuring the impact of patient acquisition campaigns, there are three key metrics that most accurately demonstrate performance: click through rate (CTR), conversion rate (CVR) and cost per lead (CPL).
We emphasize these metrics for patient acquisition campaigns for the following reasons:
You can control the outcomes. Unlike reach, impressions and other metrics at the mercy of search and social media algorithms, the CTR, CVR and CPL of patient acquisition campaigns are completely driven by marketing activity.
They paint a clear picture of campaign performance. More than other metrics, these three are a direct reflection of how well your campaign elements deliver on the search intent, motivate the user to take action and ultimately influence the decision to convert.
They serve as a barometer of success (or learnings) when optimizing campaigns. When making changes to the ad creative, the call to action on your landing page and other elements, these three key metrics demonstrate their impact on performance.
They are easy to articulate to leadership and other non-marketing peers. Avoid the eye rolls of your leadership by focusing on the metrics that connect the dots between marketing investment and outcomes.
Let’s take a closer look at these three key metrics:
Click through rate (CTR)
Definition: The total clicks on an ad divided by total impressions, measured as the percentage of people who view and ad and actually click.
CTR is a clear measure of whether or not you’re targeting the right consumer search volume with the right message. This metric is essential to your paid search success because it directly affects both your Quality Score and how much you pay every time someone clicks your search ad. You can also look at CTR by keyword to see if there are underperforming queries that you might adjust your bids for. The CTR on social media, while as a standard much lower than search, is especially important as it indicates whether you’re reaching the right consumers with the right messages and can indicate when you might be hitting saturation.
Average CTR for search ads in healthcare: 1.79%
True North campaign average: 5.96% CTR
Average CTR for Facebook ads in healthcare: 0.83%
True North campaign average: 1.4% CTR
How to improve CTR
- Use clear, simple language in your ads — avoid buzzwords or jargon (e.g. heart health not cardiovascular care)
- Be specific with the step you’re asking visitors to take, using active words like “learn” and “schedule now”
- Look at your CTR by keyword to see if there are underperforming queries that you might adjust your bids for
Conversion rate (CVR)
Definition: The percentage of visitors to your website or landing page that complete a desired goal (a conversion) compared to the total number of visitors.
The CVR reflects whether your landing page is effectively “selling” consumers on your services. It’s important to note that a strong CVR starts by getting the right consumers to your landing page in the first place.
Average CVR for search ads in healthcare: 2.51% CVR
True North campaign average: 18.27% CVR
Avergae CVR for Facebook ads in healthcare: 2–3% CVR
True North campaign average: 6.30% CVR
How to improve CVR
- Evaluate imagery and messaging to ensure alignment with your target audience
- Test the wording of your call to action to see what resonates best
- Analyze underperforming keyword bids and ads — even if a keyword or ad is driving a high CTR, it won’t add value for your business if it’s not converting
Cost per Lead
Definition: Your media spend divided by the total number of leads generated.
Driving down cost per lead should be a core focus of any service line campaign, and this can be accomplished by great targeting and messaging strategies that drive up CPL and CVR—meaning you’re capitalizing on every opportunity to drive a lead. A couple notes to keep in mind when measuring cost per lead:
- Top of funnel leads are going to be high volume / lower cost, but less qualified than bottom of funnel appointment leads
- Competition in your market will be a driver of CPL and CVR — this metric shouldn’t be benchmarked
- Some terms may be worth spending a high CPL, thus higher CVR, if they add high value for your business
Final thoughts on measuring patient acquisition campaigns
- Track these metrics each month at a minimum.
- Strategically select elements to test (headlines, offers, calls to action) as you optimize for performance.
- Experiment with new channels, CTAs, messaging and targeting over time—what works in digital marketing is a constant evolution.
- Compare performance against benchmarks, and set your own, to constantly be working towards smart goals.
Key Performance Indicators
As you build campaigns, it’s important to set smart KPIs for each channel, and appropriately set expectations with your team and agency partners. Paid search for example, should be uniquely tuned to conversions and cost per lead, while display advertising is more about impressions and clicks.
Here are a few channel-specific tips and metrics to consider:
- The goal of paid search campaigns should be to optimize total lead volume while maintaining a reasonable cost per lead. To do so, optimize your bid strategy for cost-effective and highly valuable keywords and terms, and constantly fine-tune your messaging to drive up click-through rates and conversion rates.
- In social media campaigns, work to continuously refine audience targeting and experiment with ad copy and imagery. When specific ads are at saturation, scale back and focus your resources on fresh content to optimize engagement. Further, make sure your CTAs are appropriate for a passive audience. For mammograms, appointment conversions may be appropriate. As you get further down the acuity funnel for orthopedics, for example, leverages quizzes, downloadable guides, patient stories and other engaging content to build relationships and drive encounters.
- Email marketing should be a constant evolution of testing subject lines and messaging, rethinking your audience targeting and experimenting with new ideas. While it’s critical to treat your subscriber list with care to minimize unsubscribes, it’s a low-cost way to reach a large audience with a specific message quickly, so have fun with email as you get started and really find out what works for your organization and audience.
Campaign Analytics Tools and Best Practices
With a plethora of tools and experts in the fields, this topic can quickly become messy and hard to navigate. Our biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple, especially if digital marketing and sophisticated analytics is new. Investing too quickly in new tools and resources can create a layered mess that’s hard to understand, hard to unravel and simply doesn’t add value.
Here’s a framework that may work for you as you consider a progression from basic campaign analytics to more sophisticated:
- Rely on Google analytics, Search Console and Facebook for campaign and organic search insight.
- Layer in data from Unbounce or other landing page tools, as well as call tracking tools like CallRail.
- Integrate campaigns with marketing automation solutions that can enable lead nurturing and the development of valuable owned consumer audiences.
- Consolidate analytics from all tools in custom Google Data Studio dashboards or other platforms that allow you to integrate various data sources to tell a campaign performance story.
- Integrate campaign lead data with CRM tools for downstream ROI analytics.
ROI and Reporting Outcomes to Leadership
Appropriately setting expectations with your senior leadership and communicating performance to them in a way they easily understand is critical to both getting and keeping healthy budgetary support of marketing efforts.
Here are a few tips to consider as you work with your leadership to set expectations and review marketing metrics:
- Be realistic about how much you can report on and don’t overpromise. For example, without the ability to match the marketing audience against patient encounters, you might not be able to get to total patient encounters and revenue generated by marketing.
- Work to educate your C‑suite on the value of brand building channels that don’t have the obvious engagement and return of paid social media and paid search. Blog, SEO and direct mail are still important tactics, and it’s important to help your leadership understand how they complement digital strategies and connect the dots between awareness and action.
- Develop a campaign reporting format that provides a snapshot of performance that strikes a good balance between detailed yet easily digestible. For each service line, hit on the key metrics you’re tracking for each channel, total leads generated and progress over time as a start.
Where to Start?
If patient acquisition is new for you, you’ll be surprised at how quickly and easily you can get started. By working with an agency partner like True North Custom, you could quickly set up simple yet strategic campaigns focused on driving revenue for key service lines that can serve as a great starting point for digital marketing.
Lead generation for healthcare is becoming more and more important, and increasingly challenging, but a strong partner will guide you towards a successful outcome.
By starting small with a few channels and one or two service lines, you’ll quickly prove the value of the investment in driving patient acquisition—and likely make a strong case for an increased marketing budget moving forward.
Let’s Build or Boost Your Patient Acquisition Strategy
Interested in learning more about how we can help? We’re happy to talk.