Marketing for Dentists: Understanding the Patient Pathway [Infographic]

“If you build it they will come” does not apply in this day and age when it comes to your practice. Marketing for dentists means attracting the right patients, and it’s not as simple as opening up shop and waiting for the phone to ring.

Digital marketing works in phases. Though some people are looking for a dentist right away, most of your potential patients conduct research on several dentists before they make a choice. Once they visit your website, you can’t just assume they’re ready to plop down in your dentist’s chair.

Your patients need to see your passion and expertise when they’re researching your practice. They also need to know what kind of person you are. Useful, audience-oriented content turns a visitor into a lead. Leads aren’t always ready to commit right off the bat, so a patient might not go straight from a Google search to your waiting room.

They need time to think and do research, and you need to nurture them along the way.

There is a natural sequence for turning strangers into new patients and promoters. See for yourself…

Marketing for dentists

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The 5 Phases Patients Experience

These five phases represent your potential patient’s journey, from stranger to promoter. As they research your practice, give you their contact information in exchange for useful content, and eventually become a patient, you have the chance to delight them every step of the way.

Phase 1: Stranger

Before they booked their first appointment, each of your patients were a stranger to your practice. They didn’t know what to expect and they didn’t know how you operate until they entered your waiting room and reached the end of their appointment.

That’s where your potential customers are starting– as strangers. But who are your potential patients? You need to define your potential patient, a process known as “defining the buyer persona.”

To turn strangers into visitors, you need to craft a marketing message that resonates with your ideal patient. What are their fears? What are their concerns? How can your services turn them into a better version of themselves?

Your marketing message should reflect your ideal patient’s needs. You should solve their problems and explain the tangible benefits of choosing your dental practice.

Phase 2: Visitor

Your marketing message has to reach the stranger where they hang out, online. It might be as simple as finding your website with a Google search, or it might be because a friend recommended you to them on Twitter.

Ideally, you should engage your potential patients everywhere they spend time online. Social media, search engines, forums, review websites– the more, the better.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how they heard about you. If they’re interested, they’re going to visit your website. That’s why the next step is so important.

Phase 3: Lead

Most dentist’s websites skip this step, which is good news for you. If you’re the only dentist in your area proactively capturing leads, it creates a profitable opportunity for your practice.

The goal during this phase is to convert your website visitors into leads, which allows you to thoughtfully follow up with them until they become patients.

I like to think of a lead as someone who has “raised their hand” and exchanged their contact information for valuable content. We call that valuable content a “lead magnet.”

My team and I create lead magnets for dentists all the time, so we know they work. If you want to create one, you need to focus on what your patients want to know. How can your knowledge add value to their lives? If you’re interested in creating your own lead magnet, I recommend starting with this article from

Good news! Most doctor websites skip this step, thus creating a profitable opportunity for your practice.  The goal here is to convert your website visitors into leads, allowing you to follow up with them until they become patients. What’s a lead? Someone who has “raised their hand” and has provided you their contact information in exchange for something else of value (a.k.a. a “lead magnet”).

Phase 4: Patient

When they arrive at phase four, your leads have not given you any money. Unfortunately, not every lead is ready to become a patient, yet. That’s why it’s important to engage your leads, with content they’ll find useful and interesting, after they’ve given you their contact information.

We call that process “nurturing.” eNewsletters, autoresponder emails, and follow up sequences help keep you on the top of your lead’s mind– without seeming overly pushy.

Basically, you’re keeping in touch until they become a new patient.

Phase 5: Promoter

Finally, the stranger-turned-visitor-turned-lead is your patient. Congratulations!

Don’t stop here, though. Your current patient base can be cultivated to expand your online visibility, and they can help grow your practice with word of mouth referrals. Even after they’ve left your practice, you should continue to inform and delight them

The patient becomes a brand advocate or promoter. They’ll help you market your practice because they like you so much.

Applying the Patient Pathway to Your Practice

Sure, this is good information and all, but how does it apply to your practice?

Great question. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s like a patient calling your office over the phone and, without an exam and consultation, asking you to fix a toothache.

Every practice is different, and yours is no exception. Marketing for dentists isn’t a cookie cutter affair.

To move a potential patient through all five phases of their journey, you’ll need to do some work. That means identifying your ideal patient, figuring out how to meet their specific needs, creating useful content, getting their contact information, keeping in touch, and delighting them even after they’ve become a patient.

If you need any help along the way, I suggest you take a look at our free cheat sheets for dentists, or just give me a call.

To your marketing success!