When your practice is searching for an online marketing provider, you’ll hear a lot of sales pitches about why each company is the best one for you. Naturally, every company puts their best foot forward when they’re trying to make the sale. That said, it’s easy to get swayed by a sales pitch, especially if you’re busy and don’t have time to learn all the ins and outs of online marketing.
At P3, we certainly hope we’re the right fit for every potential customer we speak to, but we also understand that we aren’t the right group for every medical practice. However, we at least want to help you make sure you are finding the right fit. We’ve seen practices get burned by unfair contracts and terms that they never thought to ask about ahead of time, and we want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.
When considering an online marketing firm for your practice, we recommend asking the following questions.
1. What is the minimum contract term for your service?
Everything might sound great during the sales process, but sometimes when you actually begin working with a new vendor, it becomes clear that things aren’t going to work out. But the contract terms don’t always make it easy to leave. If you’re locked into a one-year contract, but you’re ready to leave by month two, it’s a pretty tough situation to be in.
Sometimes that minimum contract term is just a part of doing business–it’s there to protect the vendor. Some of our services do require three-month or six-month terms, partly to protect us, and partly because that’s the amount of time that’s needed for a practice to see the full benefit of the service. That said, there’s nothing wrong with doing your due diligence to protect your practice by asking questions about the contract. It’s important to know how painful it would be to leave if and when it comes to that, especially before you sign anything.
2. Are there any termination fees if we decide to leave?
In addition to the minimum contract term, it’s important to know if there are any termination fees even after that minimum term is over. Sometimes you’ll find that in the fine print of your contract, and hopefully you notice before you actually sign it. While we’ve never charged termination fees at P3, it’s not unheard of in the marketing industry, especially for subscription-based services.
3. Do we get to keep our website, content, etc., or is it licensed?
This is a really important question to ask. Some marketing firms won’t charge an upfront fee for things like website development, content writing, etc., and will instead charge a higher monthly fee for the entire time you use the service. This can sometimes mean that you are licensing the website design and/or content from the vendor, and won’t be allowed to take it with you if you switch to another vendor. This is less common if the marketing firm charges you an upfront fee for those services, but it’s still a good idea to ask.
The potential issue with licensing your website design and content is that if you ever decide to move over to a new vendor, you will be starting from scratch. You’ll have to invest a lot more time and money into building a completely new website and writing new content. All of the content that search engines indexed previously would be gone, and your website’s search ranking can take a hit if your new vendor isn’t really diligent about planning for that before launching your new website.
4. Are we required to transfer ownership of our domain, online listings, and analytics accounts over to you?
We’ve had some occasions where we onboarded new practices, and their previous vendor had sole ownership of the practice’s analytics data and online listings and refused to turn it over. On some occasions, we’ve even heard of instances where the marketing vendor required the practice to turn over ownership of their domain. While we do often own clients’ domains and have top-level access to online listings, we also have no issue with letting the practice own and have access to it at any time.
The potential issue with an outside marketing firm owning your domain and online listings is that these are key elements of your online brand. If you don’t own them, you don’t have full control over what happens to them. It is usually possible to take back ownership of your listings by completing different verification requirements, but it’s often a much longer and drawn out process than it would be if the vendor just transferred ownership to you. And if your marketing vendor refuses to transfer ownership of your domain back to you, you may not be able to get it back.
Being able to access and own your analytics data is less important from a brand preservation perspective, but it does mean that you lose out on key benchmarks if you move to another vendor. It’s not the end of the world, but it is nice to be able to look at past data to identify trends and see where you can improve.
5. What metrics are you using to show success?
Along the lines of owning analytics data, we’ve heard from some clients that their previous vendors would give them highly curated reports. Those reports often seemed to cherry-pick data that made the marketers look good, but the metrics shown didn’t necessarily match up with the practice’s goals or the patients they wanted to target. In some of those instances, the marketing company wouldn’t allow the practice to access their full analytics data. Just a bit of friendly advice: If a marketer is only showing you the positive results and refuses to show you all the data when asked, RUN. It usually means that there’s something they don’t want you to see.
There’s nothing wrong with a curated report. In fact, we use them with our own clients to distill the data down to the key points they want to see. That said, we create those curated reports based on what the client wants and not what makes us look good. Sometimes we will try something with online marketing that doesn’t produce the desired results; that’s not abnormal because there are a lot of factors outside of our (and your) control. The red flag comes when your marketing partner refuses to admit when something didn’t work, because then you might not find the thing that does work.
Another potential analytics issue? Using Google Analytics to report success metrics. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) issued a bulletin in December 2022 suggesting that the use of Google Analytics is not HIPAA compliant, and the use of this tool could result in monetary penalties. For our own clients, we have implemented a new analytics tool that is HIPAA compliant.
6. Why are you recommending certain services?
This is a simple one. Your online marketing provider should have a clear reason for recommending each service they want you to use, and that reasoning should tie into your practice’s goals. Ideally, they are able to explain without throwing a bunch of marketing terminology at you. You explain things to your patients using terms they understand, and your marketing provider should do the same for you. You should not have to become a marketing expert yourself to know why you need a particular service.
7. Do you create original content, or is it based on a template?
A lot of times, if you can’t take your content with you when you leave, the content isn’t fully original. Usually what happens is they start with a basic template of content about the condition or treatment you want to target, and then add in your practice’s name and location in a few key areas.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this approach from an SEO perspective, depending on your market. Sometimes this type of content can perform well enough to get you decent search engine ranking. That said, when potential patients actually get to your site, it may not be doing much to convince those potential patients to book an appointment. That’s a more nuanced conversation that isn’t always easily trackable in the data tools marketers have available, but it’s important to think about. Are you more likely to see a doctor with fairly generic information about conditions and treatments, or one who talks about their specific treatment approach and philosophy?
8. How do I get support if I need it?
If you have a request or need help with something, how do you get in touch with your marketing partners? Can you get a direct email to the people you need to contact, or talk to someone on the phone? Or do you have to submit a ticket through a website to get support? The answer might not be a dealbreaker to you, but it’s important to know how involved of a process it is to get help. Do you want to work with a marketing partner who you can easily contact, or do you want to be passed along to several team members before you can finally get in touch with someone who can help you?
Protect Your Practice by Asking the Right Questions
Choosing a marketing vendor for your practice is a decision you shouldn’t take lightly. A thorough online marketing strategy is not cheap, and it could be a costly mistake if you choose the wrong vendor for your practice. There is nothing wrong with asking a lot of questions and considering all of your options before signing a contract. Your practice is your livelihood, and you have to protect it.