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Making every click count for independent optometrists

Many independent optometry practices struggle to convert web browsing consumers into fully fledged customers because their websites are neither optimised for patient acquisition, nor are they regularly updated. But a new strategic alliance between ProVision and EyeCarePro is working to overcome that in Australia.

Holdfastbay Optometry has always considered its website a vital cog in its marketing strategy. Relatively speaking, it served its function but with the emergence of new digital marketing techniques, there was potential to achieve more return from its key digital asset. In need of a redesign, attention turned to how the new website could be built and professionally managed amid the daily demands of running the business.

“The work we had undertaken positioning our practice and offering, both from a clinical and retail perspective, had moved during the five years since our previous revamp and wasn’t reflected in the style of the graphics, so a major overhaul was needed,” Ms Joanne Thomas, optometrist at the ProVision-aligned Adelaide practice, says.

“Our previous website was a mixture of new content added over the years, and original content from an initial site. Like extending old houses, sometimes the better option is to start with a clean slate and no restrictions to get the outcome you need.”

This was the position Holdfastbay Optometry was in when approached to join a pilot program stemming from a new strategic partnership between ProVision and EyeCarePro, an international digital marketing company solely focused on optometry businesses.

Ms Joanne Thomas, optometrist at Holdfastbay Optometry, says the ongoing cost of having a ‘wow’ website is more than offset by the business it brings in.

The pilot has involved a cross-section of 14 single and multi-site practices – regional and city based – as well as clinical interest destinations versus general optometry. Since the trial, Holdfastbay Optometry reported an almost immediate increase in bookings, particularly from the “becoming presbyopic” demographic helping balance its patient base. In fact, it reported a couple of record months. And the new website quickly began outperforming the previous one, with Google rankings showing it is now 89% optimised for mobile devices and has a site score of 100/100 for SEO.

Encouraging data from other ProVision independents who have had their websites revamped and managed as part of the pilot shows for every dollar spent on their site, $10 to $50 in revenue has been generated. And every new patient was acquired from as low as $5 to an average of $20.

How these practices have been able to achieve such stark and rapid results lies in the complex and evolving world of digital marketing services. This involves terms like search engine optimisation (SEO), mobile-first websites, search advertising and Google’s Analytics and My Business platforms. These are vital for modern optometry practices, but have become too difficult for time-poor optometrists to manage alone.

As part of the initiative, optometrists gain access to EyeCarePro’s team of over 80 staff comprising web designers, SEO strategists and marketing experts, who also take care of ongoing website and system improvements.

After the website is built, practices then receive local support with ProVision’s digital marketing specialist Mr Euan McDonald-Madden who has had extensive training with EyeCarePro to understand its system, gain insights from results and drive future growth strategies. He is now training other colleagues to provide members with monthly monitoring meetings to tweak their strategies, as well as plan monthly campaigns around areas of special interest, eyewear, eyecare, and seasonal opportunities from a large portfolio of digital campaign options.

Outsourcing the expertise

When it comes to the quality of independent optometry websites in Australia, ProVision marketing manager Sarah O’Connor says the spectrum is broad. At one end there are those with powerful sites that rank well on Google to capture local search traffic. In the middle sit underperforming sites typically due to poor user experience and technical responsiveness, basic content, and no SEO strategy. Then there are those with a non-existent digital footprint.

Sarah O’Connor, ProVision.

“Websites are often ‘set and forget’ for many practices due to limited resources and know-how when it comes to regular content updates,” she explains.

“SEO and search advertising needs to be outsourced due to the expertise required, however, knowing who to trust, what to spend and having a clear view of the ROI can be challenging for practices. Any website designer can create a great looking site, but this does not mean it’s going to effectively attract, engage, and convert new patients.”

O’Connor says “content is king” but this is often the number one sticking point for practices. As optometrists and most web designers are not search engine marketing experts, the content isn’t always written to capture local eye health queries and showcase expertise in areas like dry eye, myopia, Ortho-K and contact lenses.

“This optimising of content and many other technical aspects that influence a site’s visibility in Google, will often be absent, and can result in an underperforming digital asset for a practice that may have invested in it considerably. In many circumstances, we notice that Google Analytics are either not in place or set up correctly and reviewed to understand how it’s performing, which is totally understandable as it’s not their expertise,” O’Connor says.

Recent ProVision consumer research (EY Sweeney, ProVision Consumer Purchasing Behaviour Quantitative Report, Dec 2020) identified the importance of a digital presence to influence store visitation and purchase. Six in 10 consumers indicated they would conduct research online before visiting an optometrist, with 70% of these likely to purchase from an optometrist they researched online.

In terms of what constitutes “a high functioning website”, O’Connor believes it ranks near the top of Google search results in targeted catchments that convert web browsers into customers. It loads quickly, is mobile-first in design, has relevant content refreshed regularly and is engaging people with a great user experience and clear ‘calls to action’.

“Having a website that captures this search quickly and displays your ‘why choose us’ – which should include your expertise, philosophy around care, as well as state-of-the-art technology and the latest eyewear solutions – essentially how you help patients to achieve great vision and eye health, is critical,” she adds.

Taking care of the technical 

SEO is perhaps a good example of the value EyeCarePro can bring to independents. In its simplest form, SEO provides signals and information that are vital for search engines to find a website and display it prominently.

Since the company’s inception in 2005 – during the “wild west” of SEO and websites – it has kept abreast of the latest developments to ensure its nearly 1,800 global optometry clients aren’t left behind.

“Since 2012, Google has been utilising semantic search instead of keywords. That means it is super important to use natural language on your website with content that your prospective patients are searching for,” founder and CEO Mr Daniel Rostenne explains.

Daniel Rostenne, EyeCarePro.

“For example, prospective patients may not know to search for dry eye, but they are searching for symptoms like ‘watery itchy eyes’. Having the symptoms optimised on the website will signal to Google and other search engines that you are an appropriate website to show in search results.”

During the website build, Rostenne says onboarding specialists ensure the practice chooses a design appropriate for the business, and its products and services are well represented. The SEO team checks the current site’s SEO scores so it can compare the old site’s performance with the new.

“If it isn’t broken, we don’t fix it. Our builders take stock of all your websites old pages and make sure to add your unique content to the new website. Most importantly, all of your old links will redirect to the new corresponding website pages so the SEO value of the old pages are preserved, and no links in search engines are broken,” he explains.

Optometrists had complained it was difficult to make website changes, so EyeCarePro created its own platform, GetSetPro, which features simple apps that allow the practice to easily make website changes.

Practices are charged a monthly subscription, rather than an upfront capital cost, and there are varying levels of membership. For example, ODSpecialty will attract high revenue specialty patients. The most popular and versatile program, ODEssentials, gives practices the basics to be found in local search with the addition of scheduled social media content. With two SEO-optimised blog posts a month and a monthly meeting with a digital marketing professional, the program is considered an ideal foundation for practice growth.

Rostenne says one of its most impactful services is called GetSetCampaigns, which features more than 700 complete marketing campaigns, including landing pages, blogs and social posts, to publicise elements of eyecare that are important to the practice.

O’Connor agrees this “incredible amount of content” to be localised for Australia drives major value for practices. The campaigns can be added to over time and scheduled months in advance – “an ‘always-on’ marketing approach”. At the touch of a button, a new landing page of content can be added, and Facebook and Google My Business posts automatically scheduled.

ProVision has also been impressed with the transparency, which sees all web traffic, appointments, and analytics fed into a dashboard where practices can see the ROI – based on EyeCarePro’s proprietary algorithm – at the end of each month.

“There’s also opportunity for future development of services – right now we are collaboratively investigating some plug-and-play patient-commerce functionality to further enhance the offering, particularly in the contact lens servicing space,” O’Connor adds.

Paying dividends

In the case of Holdfastbay Optometry, which opted for ODEssentials, Ms Thomas says the initiative has ultimately provided “maximum outcome for minimal input on our part”.

With small businesses unable to compete with the massive corporate budgets for external marketing, she says a professional-looking and user-friendly web presence is vital.

“For most practices the ongoing cost of having a ‘wow’ website is more than offset by the business it brings in,” Ms Thomas says.

Holdfastbay Optometry in Adelaide.

“Whilst we had been comfortable with our previous web design team, the opportunity to work with an organisation that has at its core a strong understanding of the nature of optometry seemed like a logical step to trial with very much less work required on our part.

“Very few practices are large enough to have dedicated staffing and resources to undertake all that is required for a successful marketing program. For most of us it’s another – albeit important – task which often gets pushed back when the day-to-day needs of the business take precedence, so for Holdfastbay Optometry it immediately made the whole process manageable and with a much-improved timeframe.”

Optometrist Ms Leah Meulendijks, of Kay Street Eyecare in the regional Victorian town of Traralgon, also found the daily upkeep her business’ website difficult.

“We are now subscribed to the ODEssential package. The value we see is that any updates to the site and other digital listings, whether that be in content or adjusting the site structure to keep Google happy, is all done by the experts at EyeCarePro. We also, with the help of ProVision, look at the stats behind the site so there is transparency around how it’s performing,” she explains.

“To have someone else look after the digital content has meant our staff can focus on customer service. One surprise has been how much digital traffic is driven by our Google My Business listing. EyeCarePro manage this listing for us and to know they are ensuring all the information is 100% correct and the listing is optimised will no doubt keep our business up in search when local people need to find an eyecare professional.”

Meulendijks says a high functioning website is critical for any business, but this is especially the case for an optometry practice.

“The website performs some major functions for the practice. Firstly, it shows that we are professional and if anyone needs information about eye health or eyecare, it’s there on the site,” she explains.

“Secondly it breaks down barriers to what you do, you can show eye tests and what happens in the practice and allay any fears people have about the unknown. Thirdly it can show people who you are and what you do and this makes people a lot more comfortable to book an appointment and relaxed when they come in.”

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