How do I determine the best website search engine or listing to use (e.g., Google, Yahoo, LocalVets?)

Simply by having a website, you have a presence on the Web and in search engines. That does not mean, however, that you will be satisfied with your ranking. Many things can enhance your placement in the search engine rankings, such as updating your site frequently, putting a title with a commonly searched phrase on each page, and using key words and phrases in the copy on each page. Be careful with this last suggestion, though, because search engines calculate ratiosif you use too many key words and phrases, the engines read that as abuse, and if you use too few, you may not get the recognition you seek. Work with a skilled developer to maximize your ranking simply by building your site well. It need not be a situation that requires a monthly investment.

Links to your site on other sites are also a great tool to build your ranking, so partner with others to provide a direct link to your website.

Another area to investigate is your local phone company or telephone book. If you have a presence in the phone book, it may come with an online listing that is free or costs a small monthly fee. Be sure the placement on the search engine page is desirable to you before you commit to this fee, though, even if it is small. The local telephone company may offer a similar service for an online presence, so be sure to ask about the options.

If you would like to investigate additional online marketing avenues, be sure you are comparing apples with apples when presented with the programs these sites offer. Most important is having your ad targeted to those most likely to need and use your service.

How can I determine our marketing budget for the year, and what percentage of gross revenue should I spend on advertising?

The amount to spend on marketing should be directly related to what you want to accomplish; then work backward to determine what that will cost. A key determinant is also the stage the business is in. If you are a fairly new business, you'll likely need to spend more money than if you are a more mature one. But again, it depends on your situationyour demographics; competition, if any; the visibility of your practice; its reputation; and so on. The most important aspect of marketing is that any outreach effort be part of a larger overall plan and not be conducted ad hoc or on a whim when things get slow. You will gain the most traction and spend less money overall if your messaging is consistent, concise, and creative.

New businesses or ones that are in a position of rebranding may pay up to 10 percent of revenue to accomplish goals in line with these initiatives. More mature practices may invest 3 to 7 percent of annual revenue to maintain a fresh, interactive, and broad-based marketing program. Anything less than this is reserved for businesses that have little competition, those that have developed a very effective method of consistent communication and feedback with their clientele, and those that receive the majority of their new clients by referral. If you are in this last group, it is still important to review your marketing plan regularly and not get complacent about what has worked in the past. That typically is not what will work in the future, so your ability to adapt is key to staying in a good position in the marketplace.

How much should I be spending on yellow pages advertising?

Every practice should track how new clients hear about it; this information should be gathered when processing a new client file. It then is easy to run regular reports to see which outreach efforts are driving new clients to the practice. If a sizable portion of new clients are coming in as a result of the yellow pages, then an argument can be made to continue with a presence in that publication. With new technology and other preferred means of sourcing a health care provider for a pet, though, it is more likely that few to no new clients actually schedule appointments as a result of an advertisement in the yellow pages. If that is the case, then you may want to consider only a basic listing there in one or more sections, depending on how the publication classifies its sections under "Veterinary Services." This often comes with an online listing as well, which is ideal.

It is important to know your practice's demographics and which types of sourcing information your audience uses to find a new resource for a desired product or service. As a general rule, whatever percentage of new business comes to you from the yellow pages should be the percentage of your advertising budget directed to this medium. For instance, if 10 percent of your new clients come to you as a result of seeing an ad in the yellow pages, then 10 percent of the funds you budget for marketing should go toward your yellow pages presence. The only practices that should give the yellow pages a bit more thought are those that have an emergency services component. But again, the percentage of clients coming to you as a result of the yellow pages ad should dictate how much you continue to spend there. In most cases, you can divert the funds once used for the yellow pages to refresh your website or pursue a newer, more popular method of reaching new clients.

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