Which is more important: your virtual or physical location?

December 6, 2012

By Chad Fleming, O.D., AOAExcel Business and Career consultant

This question leaves many optometrists caught between “our office has always been here” to “we need to move as the neighborhood becomes less and less family friendly” to “all the people with money live in the suburbs.”

Twenty years ago, the strategic model for practice growth was building a big office in a great location with easy access and great curbside appeal. This mindset of practice growth and viability continues to be very important but may not be the most important aspect in regards to location. Some of the highest net, most profitable practices are in physical locations that make you wonder how they built such a great practice.

When you ask your patients how they find out about your office, what is the typical answer you receive? I was driving by and noticed the $15,000 sign that you have up. Or was it that they were dining out one night and noticed your window display with the latest in designer eyewear?

Now don’t get me wrong, the practice model that depends on spending thousands of dollars on physical location and curbside appeal can definitely be profitable. Remember that in most cases your facility costs are in inverse proportion to your practice net.

The practice with the greatest finances available for facilities, typically large practices, are the ones that have the upper hand in attracting patients by physical location. With the onset of the Internet and now mobile devices, this advantage has changed. As small business owners, we no longer have to feel like we are at a competitive disadvantage with the big optometry practices or chains. We can compete head-to-head with the big guys, and it does not require a big budget.

Many small businesses have made this move outside of our industry and are reaping the rewards of the level playing field that the internet has created. In today’s mobile world, location, location, location is directly respective of where you land in the search engine results when top keywords are searched.

The top keyword for our industry is optometrist followed by the local city in which you practice. Take the time right now to open your browser and type in “optometrist ‘your city’” and see how you rank. If you did not show up on the first page, then you will most likely not be viewed by the majority of those who are searching for their next optometrist. Meaning they just drove past your virtual location and did not even notice you existed.

Here are a couple of actions you can take to improve the location of your virtual real estate.

1. Blog—If your practice does not have an active blog, you are missing out on search engines finding favor in your practice website. The blog does not need to be fancy; it just needs to exist and have regular posts.

2. Google+ Local—This has taken the place of Google Places. It is a free service on which you can list your business. Google search really likes that you buddy up with them and have a Google+ account. Many practices have Facebook accounts and post regularly to them, but Google does not seem to favor Facebook like it does Google+. I wonder why?

3. Pay someone to manage your website—The professionals will also do a great job keeping you at the top of the list. Be careful to monitor this as many companies will give great effort initially, but as their activity falls, your traffic and ranking drops significantly. This usually happens a month or two after your practice signs up. Also, just like you, they require a fee for their service, and many times those fees do not reflect what you are receiving. They may tell you that “X” number of people have hit your website, but if that does not result in scheduled exams there is minimal value. Make sure you ask for a copy of the origin of those website hits to make sure they haven’t hired a college dropout to hit your website 25 times a day.

4. Comment on other blogs—When you follow a blog such OptometryCEO .com, comment on the posts and make sure you leave your website URL address along with the comment. This is another way to build back links to your website, which is a favorable way to increase your virtual real estate.

5. Drive current patients to your website—When a practice has online health history forms, it is driving patients to the website. This is like the new restaurant in town everyone wants to try because they notice it is always busy. If search engines see your website is a popular place to be, they want to be where the party is at.

Finding the perfect physical real estate is not a bad strategic model for practice growth; however, the commitment, cost, and time requires you to be absolutely sure you pick the right physical location.

Unlike physical real estate, prime virtual real estate can be obtained at a relatively low cost, and the payoff is potentially much better.

Is owning the best virtual real estate the magic bullet? No, patient word of mouth still remains king, but many practices are growing due to a higher volume of patients looking to search engines for their next doctor.

If your virtual real estate is in a high-traffic area, the front page of search results, then odds are your practice will reap the benefits of continued practice growth.

Join Dr. Fleming Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. for his webinar on “Location, Location, Location: Growing Practices Own Coveted Online Real Estate.” The webinar is presented through AOA Excel. Register at www.ExcelOD.com/events.

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