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How Dental Practices Are Being Affected by COVID-19 & What to Do About It

Dentist looking on the computer

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, states in the US are still trying to figure out this question: “Is dentistry considered an ‘essential service’?”

You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.

While some states claim dentists are “non-essential,” and therefore their offices should remain closed during business shutdown periods related to COVID-19, a few have revised their statements to specify that emergency or life-threatening dental services should be maintained.

Regardless of how individual states are defining it, the reality is that dental care is critical to consumers’ overall health, and as a result, demand will truly never truly disappear—placing dental practices in a better position than many other types of businesses for surviving the coronavirus pandemic, or a recession that could potentially follow.

All you have to do is look to the past to see that dentistry is a recession-proof industry.

According to analysis of the top recession-proof industries, the field of dentistry is on the list, with the industry experiencing growth each year of the Great Recession while other industries were struggling to stay in the black. Experts attribute that growth to the fact that people will only fend off tooth pain and serious dental health issues for so long, even when money is tight (or, say, they’re encouraged to stay home).

This does not mean dental practices are not struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been an extremely difficult month for dental practices across the nation, and we’re looking at another several challenging weeks ahead. However, as a dentist or dental practice owner, you should remember that you are in a prime position to get through these uncertain times and bounce back—especially if you take the appropriate measures now to safeguard your business.

To help you set up your practice for success, below are some of the industry trends you should be aware of right now, as well as how to best adjust your marketing strategy at this time to strengthen your practice.

Search trends: patients are looking for different types of services

“Dentist” searches remained fairly consistent over the past year before starting to decline in early March, in alignment with growing concerns over the coronavirus. While the daily search rate for the term “dentist” has declined over the past couple of weeks, we do expect this to be temporary, with search interest likely to return back to normal within the next couple of months.

Search interest for “dentist” over the last 12 months:

Search interest for “dentist near me” over the last 12 months:

However, while general “dentist” searches have been declining, we’ve seen growth in specific types of searches – particularly for those related to emergency dentists, which makes sense considering that people still need their urgent dental care needs addressed, even when they’re under stay-at-home orders.

Here’s a look at how emergency dentist-related terms have been trending on Google...

Search interest for “emergency dentist” over the last 12 months:

Search interest for “emergency dentist near me” over the last 12 months:

Rising interest in specific emergency dentist-related terms:

So, what do these search trends mean for your dental practice? Here are a few points to consider:

  1. While we’re seeing general search activity slow down at this time, these lulls are only temporary. You should expect search activity and business to pick up again within the next couple of months when the stay-at-home orders are lifted and life starts returning back to normal.

  2. There are still patients who need dental care—it’s just that the momentum in the types of services needed has shifted to emergency dental care. As a result, if you still want to see patients at this time, you’ll need to shift the focus of your search campaigns and leverage keywords such as “emergency dentist” and “emergency dentist near me.”

The good news: patients are still engaging with dental practices online

Even in light of all the chaos and uncertainty that comes with the coronavirus pandemic, dentists can rest assured about one thing—patients are still engaging with dental practices online, whether they are simply learning about dentists in their local area or contacting their offices to ask questions or schedule appointments for now or in the future.

In recent weeks, we have seen the following outcomes across our dental clients’ digital marketing campaigns—as of mid-March:

  • Leads are up 5.55% in the last 28 days compared to the previous 28 days.
  • Leads are up 74% now compared to two months ago.
  • Website traffic from paid advertising is up 8% over the last 28 days.
  • Total website traffic is also up 8% over the last 28 days.
  • Clicks for “emergency dentist” campaigns recently spiked 60% in the span of a week.

We have also been hearing from some of our dental clients that they’re getting calls from people who want to book appointments for May, as they want to get ahead of the rush of patients who will likely start flooding in once the stay-at-home orders are finally lifted and dental offices are in operation again. (People will inevitably want to catch up on delayed care.)

Despite the ongoing online activity by patients and the continued need for certain types of dental care, dental practices across the country are either cutting back on their digital marketing or eliminating their budgets altogether until business returns back to normal. This comes as no big surprise, as practices are being forced to close their doors for the majority of their services, and they’re dealing with serious cash flow issues due to considerable dips in monthly revenue.

However, it should be noted that when marketing is stopped, three things tend to happen:

  1. Dental practices that drastically cut their budgets become less visible, which means they’re less likely to get new appointments now (for the essential services they’re able to perform), and they’re also less likely to fill their calendars to their full potential post-COVID-19.

  2. Dental practices that cut their budgets aren’t staying top-of-mind to potential patients. And this means it’s easier for other practices (the ones that are still marketing themselves) to steal those patients away when they’re finally ready to begin scheduling appointments again.

  3. Reduced competition typically results in a drop in advertising costs, creating greater opportunity for the dental practices that choose to continue their marketing. (So far, we’ve noticed a 10% decrease in cost per click and counting.) As a result, now is actually a great time for dental practices to invest in their digital branding and marketing efforts.

What this all means for your marketing: 5 steps to follow

With all these consumer and marketing trends in mind, we want to leave you with some advice for how to best proceed with your marketing in the weeks and months ahead. Here are five steps to follow to help you better serve your patients and maintain stability for your practice during COVID-19:

  1. Do whatever you can to avoid putting your digital marketing on hold. Instead, adjust your strategy so you’re getting in front of the right potential patients for the right types of services.

  2. Take advantage of lower advertising costs while you can. This is a great opportunity to make your dental practice stand out when other practices are scaling back.

  3. For many of your services, you may need to switch your focus to more brand awareness-focused marketing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube where consumers are spending more of their time these days. This allows you to stay visible to potential patients (even when they’re not ready to come in for an appointment), and it also allows you to take advantage of the lower advertising costs typically associated with these platforms, compared to paid search.

  4. Don’t go quiet—keep communicating with patients and let them know you’re here to help. Whether it’s through blog posts, social media posts, or email newsletters, you’ll want to find ways to serve as a helpful resource. This not only helps you better serve prospective and current patients in their time of need, but it also allows you to build stronger relationships with them, making it more likely they’ll choose your practice now and in the future.

  5. Don’t stop talking about the importance of preventative care and restorative procedures. While it may feel like no one is listening at the moment, you need to prepare for the influx of business that is likely to occur once stay-at-home orders are lifted. Let your prospective and existing patients know how important it is to stay on top of their oral health and continue their regular checkups and dental care as soon as they’re able to.

If you have any questions about the information shared above or about specific steps you can take for your practice during the coronavirus epidemic, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team. You can also check out our COVID-19 resource page for additional insights.

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