The dental industry is worth $10 billion on the Australian market. It’s a fiercely competitive market where local individual practices are in the same fighting pit as big multi-million dollar corporations with several hundred employees.
In this market, Pacific Smiles is the leader. Since the company was founded in 2002, the group has grown to amass an annual revenue of over $96 million (TTM) and is valued at a market cap of $251 million in 2018.
Rocking over 800 employees across 69 locations, this company is far from the local dentist practitioner.
It’s more like a dentist supermarket.
However, their crushing success online deserves to be analysed so that we can understand how smaller dentists can compete with such a powerhouse. The digital marketing strategies used by companies such as Pacific Smiles are replicable and can be used by local dentist practitioner to fight on the same level as these massive corporations.
Although smaller dentists might consider themselves as David vs. Goliath, Google has prioritized local search results above massive companies to give a chance to local dentists to appear in the search results.
But it’s only by fully understanding how to optimise digital marketing strategies and leverage these tactics that any other dental company has a glimpse of a chance to appear in the Google search results page alongside huge companies like Pacific Smiles. With locations all across Australia and growing, it will get more and more difficult for independent dentists to compete with these dental centres if they don’t act fast.
As we will discover in this article, local practitioners and smaller companies also have the possibility of exploiting channels that larger companies haven’t bet their money on such as social media. And you’d be very surprised at how effective these can be.
We will go through why Pacific Smiles’ has such a great success online in the dental market through SEO and a highly convertible website, but we’ll also reveal what opportunities they are missing out on and where smaller practices can invest to beat this giant player.
But let’s dive into this case study right now by looking at what Pacific Smiles is doing with their website and how their user experience allows their pages to convert users into customers.
Disclaimer: I do not have access to any of the internal information at Pacific Smiles. I have not been in contact with any of the Pacific Smiles staff or have had access to analytics from inside the company. This analysis has been conducted using 3rd party tools and data along with what I can see online. Recommendations and analysis are based on knowledge and how I would optimise their website.
Pacific Smiles’ online success mainly comes from two channels: SEO and its website. The website contains all necessary information for patients to feel secure about booking an appointment with one of Pacific Smiles’ dentists. And more…
What Pacific Smiles’ does much better than many of its competitors online is that its websites allows for all the necessary components to make it easy for a customer to get comfortable with the brand and book appointments.
However, it also lacks some essential components that a corporation of this size has difficulties to implement but is much easier for a small practitioner to do. We’ll cover those at the end of this section.
But let’s start by looking at their Home Page.
The Home Page
Pacific Smiles has understood something that strangely, many other dental websites seem to ignore; people search for dental websites because they want to book an appointment. I see many websites across the internet focusing on the “about” page or “why us” or “our services” but completely forgetting about the possibility of booking online.
Obviously, it’s essential to have all of those pages, but those are not call-to-actions that will allow users to move forward towards booking an appointment with a dentist.
Giving the possibility of booking is essential, and should very clearly appear above the fold on the Home Page, in such a way that Pacific Smiles has presented it.
And let me show you why by having a look at the attention and heat maps of this Home Page above the fold.
See how the attention span of users is laser focused towards the title, the call-to-action button “Book now” and the beautiful smiles of the picture?
These are the exact components of a successful landing page in the dental industry. It’s very important to make the customer journey simple by guiding the users towards the possibility of booking NOW. And through their amazing tool to book directly on the website, they have a clear advantage over competitors whom users need to contact via message or telephone before booking an appointment (but we’ll talk about that later).
That being said, the company can now start showing off other essential components on this page such as the services provided.
But first, let’s have a look at what happens when I enter a postcode into the postcode box.
As soon as I’ve entered my postcode, I instantly receive the information about the practices that are closest to my location, as well as extra possibilities of booking an appointment or making an enquiry. What I’m trying to say here is that everything is geared towards helping me booking an appointment with these 3 crucial elements:
- A location close to me
- The possibility of booking RIGHT NOW
- Overall simplicity
Alright, let’s keep going by scrolling down this Home Page to the Services section.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, Pacific Smiles is like a dental supermarket. This means that they have a huge range of services that they provide. And although smaller dentists won’t have the possibility of showcasing as many services as Pacific Smiles, this section of the Home Page provides important information that every dental company should show. The service itself.
As many services as the company has, Pacific Smiles has made the smart choice of showcasing their most popular services in this section, starting with best sellers such as “Dental Check-ups” or “Emergency Dental”.
Smaller practitioners should make sure that they showcase the most important and popular services first, as they have the highest chance of switching a simple user searching for information into a paying customer.
Let’s keep scrolling.
The “about” section
Earlier, I criticised dentist websites that would make the “about” section a priority. But don’t get me wrong, the “about” section is a crucial element to a good Home Page in the dental sector, and a strong website.
Especially with such a sensitive case as dentistry, people want to make sure they choose the right dentist to take care of their teeth. Users want to know what they’re getting into and want to feel comfortable.
And the “about” section does just that.
I’d like to dive a bit deeper into the optimised content that Pacific Smiles has created here, as it’s much more important, both psychologically and for digital marketing, than most people understand.
In the first paragraph, using phrases such as “absolutely committed to provide quality dental care”, “modern, comfortable dental clinics” and “just down the road” cements the company’s position as a quality dental practice that’s easily accessible for users across the country.
But then there’s a shift in the positioning and in the subject. In the 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraph of the about section, the company takes an empathic position towards users to show they understand their problems, and more importantly, have a solution to them.
As local practitioners trying to compete with big corporations, understanding customers pain points and messaging the “about” section accordingly can make or break a business. Answering these pain points with specific solutions is the key to successfully message your services.
Correct wording and a powerful message provides trust and confidence for users, essential components of a successful business in such a sensitive sector. That’s why this section is so important.
According to DentistryIQ, the “about” page is the second-most visited page on a dentist website, because choosing the right dentist is a personal choice. In this regard, local practitioners have an advantage over Pacific Smiles, who don’t have the personalised experience of “meeting” the dentists directly on their websites. And actually, Pacific Smiles doesn’t even have an “about” page on its website, so here is a very clear point where locals have the advantage.
Here are two examples of “about” pages that local dentists should follow to make sure users feel good and secure.
To make sure you make the most out of your “about” page, here are some elements that are recommended to include:
- A picture of yourself, your staff and your location
- Information about why you do what you do. What makes your practice special?
- Write about your philosophy and your view of dentistry
- A few words about technology and experience
- Some personal information about the dentists
- Reviews of previous patients
The ultimate goal is to make sure your visitors feel secure.
But we’ve gotten slightly off-track here, so let’s get back to Pacific Smiles’ Home Page and keep scrolling down.
This section is a big one. Not only because it contains a lot of information but because payment methods can be crucial for the decision of users’ dentists.
If someone is hesitating between two dentists and one accepts a certain payment method while the other doesn’t, this person is very quickly going to choose which one suits best.
This is why a local practitioner (or any dentist in fact) should make sure to accept as many payment methods and health funds as possible, as well as proposing various payment plans and other benefits.
And this, of course, might not always be possible, but in that case dentists should make sure to accept the methods that are most used in their area.
The News Section
News sections and blogs are great for any website. They allow companies to keep in touch with their audience and stay up to date. Through news pages and blogs, various content marketing strategies are also possible to attract more links to the website and thus increase rankings on Google.
If your articles are interesting, other people will start talking about them and sharing them on social media, which will also provide a huge boost in traffic. Writing interesting, in-depth articles will provide users with quality content that they enjoy reading.
As a result, users will spend more time on the website and come back more often, creating a stronger relationship between the brand and the visitors. It’s an investment surely, and one that smaller practices might not afford. However, if the possibility arises, this type of section on a website can seriously boost online visibility and rankings on Google.
The Footer is an essential part in the navigation of a website and every website should have one with links to the most important pages.
There are two main reasons for the importance of footers, and we’ll discuss them more in the SEO section. Briefly, it helps the navigation of your users and allows them to access the most important pages wherever they are on the website.
But I really feel that something on this page is missing. Can you guess what it is?
Positive reviews are an extremely effective way of providing trust to new customers. People care about what other people think, and showcasing reviews on the Home Page can instantly provide trustworthy testimonials for users who are still hesitating.
Caulfield Park has a great reviews section on their Home Page, showcasing a couple of Google testimonials along with 5-star ratings from Whitecoat.
This is what it looks like.
It’s easy to display and has a great impact on the brand. Reviews are an important part of any Home Page and Pacific Smiles would really upgrade theirs if they added this section!
But now that we’ve gone through the Home Page, let’s go further and have a look at the awesome booking platform available on Pacific Smiles.
The Booking Platform
Being able to book directly on a website is a huge plus for all parties in this process. It eases procedures for the dentists who can simply welcome guests who have directly booked on the website without any intervention and users can simply book the time and dentist that suits them best.
As we can see in the following screenshots and heat maps, this booking platform is very intuitive and draws the user’s attention to the various steps and call-to-actions available.
A dropdown menu allows users to select the required treatment, and the second step allows users to select the best available day and time for their consultation.
As you can see on the screenshot above, it is even possible to book on the day! That makes it very convenient for users.
Further down the Booking page, Pacific Smiles also smartly chooses to show opening times, available services and a map to show the location of the dental practice that has been chosen for me based on my location.
All these elements make it easy for me as a new user to find all the required information to easily book an appointment online and know where to go.
The essential thing to remember here is that information is crucial. We don’t want users to have to go to Google Maps to find out where our dental practice is. And we don’t either want users to have to check other pages of our website or on Google at what time our practice is open.
Having all information available in the same place makes everything easier for the user and reassures users that they are in the right place.
A few more steps are required to finalize the booking, as seen in the screenshots below.
Here’s another awesome tip regarding booking platforms and contact forms in general. It’s great to have step-by-step forms like this one. Why? Because old school forms that simply ask for a name, an e-mail address and a message (you know those, right?) are so impersonal that people just don’t know what to write.
With a step-by-step booking process like this one, people can easily go through the booking entering one information at a time. It makes the process more interactive and easier to follow.
In 3 easy-to-follow steps, the patient has filled all necessary information and is ready to book.
On the other hand, it also allows the practice to filter through the users who are just “tyre kickers”. Going through all of these steps can be a little time consuming, so the users who go through it until the end have a great chance of actually becoming clients.
And that’s it! I’ve now booked my appointment. One of the easiest ways I’ve seen on the internet to book a dentist whether I’m a new client or have been there before.
Let’s check out what it looks like on Mobile.
Mobile is getting more and more important in today’s world. In 2016, the volume of browsing on mobile surpassed the volume on Desktop, prompting Google to pay stronger attention to mobile websites.
In 2018, Google made the decision to fully depend on Mobile for its rankings, barely even looking at Desktop anymore.
This is why it’s absolutely crucial for dental websites to be responsive and mobile optimized.
Here’s what Pacific Smiles’ website looks like on Mobile.
The Home Page
Pacific Smiles’ Home Page is responsive and very well adapted to mobile. So far, there is no reason whatsoever for Google to flag this website for not being mobile optimised.
The Booking Platform
On mobile, the booking platform is almost even more intuitive to use than the desktop version. It feels very easy to navigate and perfectly optimised for mobile devices.
All information is available just as it is on desktop, making this mobile version perfectly responsive and optimised.
The simplicity of Pacific Smiles’ website is one of their big strengths. However, it’s of no use to have a great website if no one visits it.
And that’s exactly why Pacific Smiles are so powerful online. Their rankings are on another level, and their organic traffic is huge.
Let’s have a look.
There are many channels from which to get traffic from, but every digital marketer on the face of this earth will tell you that SEO is the most powerful one.
Why is that? For one main reason: it’s FREE… And it’s long term.
Although I feel that Pacific Smiles have missed opportunities on other channels such as Social Media (from which they get a grand total of 0.00% of their traffic), their strong SEO really compensates for this as their organic rankings hauls in over 20,000 visitors per month on average.
Traffic & Rankings
So how does Pacific Smiles manage to get such great results out of SEO?
Well, it’s all about ranking for the correct keywords. As we can see on the following graph, Pacific Smiles doesn’t actually rank for that many keywords (although 5.6k is a lot for this industry), but most of all, they rank very well for keywords with a high search volume.
So which keywords are they? The following sample table will explain you more.
The most impressive of these rankings is obviously for the keyword “dentist near me” with a monthly Search Volume of 18,100 in Australia. This keyword alone is responsible for almost 15% of the total organic traffic that Pacific, Smiles receives from Google.
That’s 8507 people coming to the website monthly after having typed this exact keyword into Google. Or in other words, 283 per day.
And as you can see on the following screenshot of the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) when searching for “dentist near me”, Pacific Smiles doesn’t only hold the #1 ranking for this keyword but also the second position.
However, that’s not all of it. As you can see on the keyword table above in blue, the website also ranks very well for local keywords containing specific locations such as “dentist Melbourne CBD” or “dentist cranbourne”.
This is a result of an overall strong website with solid SEO.
So the big question is, how do they do it?
Well, Google’s algorithm is constituted of over 200 criteria for ranking its search results, which makes it difficult to know exactly what makes Google rank this website so well. However, there are some very clear signals that we can identify, such as their backlink profile.
As digital marketers, we understand how difficult it can be to forge a solid reputation online. Having other websites talking about us or inserting links to our website in their content can be a tricky task.
But as online reputation (or what we call “off-page” SEO) is an integral part of Google’s positive ranking signals, having a solid profile of incoming links from high-authority websites is a big priority.
As we can see on this image from ahrefs, Pacific Smiles has a strong 8.14k backlinks coming in to their websites from 166 different third-party websites.
That last number isn’t actually that high, but when comparing to other competitors in the industry, it’s solid enough to be one of the highest on the market (I mean, not that many people want to link to a dentist website on their blog…)
The important point here is to have a high number of backlinks and a high number of referring domains, but most importantly, these have to come from websites with high authority. No one wants to have small sketchy websites talking about them. And Google certainly doesn’t like it.
The number of referring domains has been stable for the website over the last year, which on one hand sounds reassuring, but on the other shows a lack of growth. For Pacific Smiles, it would be great to keep this number going up and making sure that they grow their online reputation through backlinks.
So what are actionable things that local dentists can do to increase their number of backlinks and referring domains?
Local dentists should make sure first of all that they leave a great impression on clients who come to their practice. There is no better marketing than word-of-mouth from a happy customer.
That being said, it would also make sense to ask these happy customers to talk about their experience online in two different ways.
- Write reviews directly on the website or via social media (Google+ reviews being awesome)
- Inserting a link to their dentist on their private or company website
These two ways of showcasing customer satisfaction will give huge boosts to dentists’ websites.
Another way to increase backlinks and referring domains is to make sure your website is visible in the local directories. Some SEO professionals might say this is a bad thing, but ultimately it can be really beneficial for your company to appear in local search engines, both in a user friendly way and from an SEO perspective.
But how do you make sure to leverage those links to the maximum? We do this by structuring our website in a simple way and making it easily navigable through a process called internal linking.
Internal linking is an important process that allows all pages from your website to be easily accessible from wherever you are. This makes a website easy to navigate as all pages are easy to find.
As we can see on the Click Depth chart above, Pacific Smiles has almost 70% of their pages that are only 2 clicks away from the Home Page, and 20% that are only 1 click away. This is awesome, as a general rule of thumb says that any page of a website should be maximum two clicks away from any other page.
How do they do this? By adding internal links in their pages that direct users to other pages.
Remember the Footer that we talked about earlier? Footers and menus are the most common ways of creating an internal linking structure to help users to navigate a website, but that’s not the only way to do it.
Adding internal links directly into the content is another way of helping users to navigate through the website, just as we can see here in the Services section of the Home Page.
So what does this have to do with leveraging links that come from external sources, you might ask?
Well, I believe the following illustration from Walter Ponce will explain it better than me.
When an external website links to one of your pages, it provides your website with “link juice”, a positive signal to Google that your website is of high quality.
So, to make sure all of your pages get a little bit of this link juice to boost their rankings, it’s essential to have links to all pages helping the juice flow through your website.
Last but not least, internal links help Google bot who crawls your website to determine its quality. This bot navigates your website just like any user would, so the easier it is for the bot to navigate it, the easier it is for it to determine the quality.
These three reasons make internal linking an essential part of a strong website structure and a big impact on your Google rankings. Let’s summarize them.
- Internal links help your users to navigate your website and find the information they need
- Internal links help to spread the link juice from external links across all pages of the website, boosting overall rankings
- Internal links help the Googlebot to navigate your website and determine its quality
Now, let’s go over one last part about SEO that will boost website rankings and help local dentist websites to compete with the larger website: Page Speed.
The loading speed of a website can make it or break it. Everyone has had an experience where they’ve left a website because the pages took too long to load. You don’t want this to be your website!
Let’s have a look at Pacific Smiles’ page speed.
Pacific Smiles’ page loading speed is relatively slow. It takes a full 5 seconds to load the first page of the website.
Ideally, Pacific Smiles’ would want their website to have this number as low as possible, as it has a whole range of benefits from ease of use to a Google ranking boost.
As a small practice, chances are high that dentists can leverage this point and make a super-fast website that loads very quickly. This will give a clear boost in rankings for the website and make it overall more accessible.
Here are a few actionable things that dentists can implement to their websites to make them load faster:
- Making sure the website is hosted on a high-quality server
- Making sure the website’s code is as optimised and short as possible
- Use as few images as possible, but when used, making sure that they are compressed correctly and light
- Minimizing redirects
- Combine and minify scripts
As we can see on the following screenshot, Pacific Smiles’ page speed is mostly hurt by images and scripts, both of which can quite easily be fixed.
Alright, now that we’ve covered Pacific Smiles’ strengths and understood what makes them so powerful online, let’s dive into what the company could do better, or in other words, how small dentist websites can use different tactics to reach their customers and compete with the corporations.
I was very surprised when I first started analysing Pacific Smiles online. And not because the company is so great in SEO, but because it’s completely focused on that single channel.
As we saw on the Traffic Sources chart earlier, Pacific Smiles has 0% of traffic coming from Social and Display. Also, the company is barely doing any Paid traffic on Google via Adwords, which is a huge opportunity that smaller local practitioners can leverage.
Let’s go over these channels and see what opportunities lay there.
There are more and more social media channels out there, which allows dental practices to express themselves and communicate with their audience in many different ways. As it would take a full article to talk about all the different channels, I’m going to focus on the two where I see the most opportunity in the dental market: Facebook and YouTube.
Facebook is one of the best ways to communicate with customers on social media. It’s one of the greatest ways to share content with a target audience and educate potential new clients with high quality information on how and why they should choose a particular dental practice.
As seen on the above screenshot, Pacific Smiles only has 1.3k page likes. And if we scroll down on their page, we quickly realize that they don’t use Facebook much at all.
I mean, look at this.
At the time of writing this article, they haven’t published anything since December 2017. And before that, it was in October. They seem to have completely given up on this channel.
This is a huge opportunity for local practices to compete in their area. Using Facebook Ads and posting on the Facebook page is a great way to communicate with your audience and grow trust. By showing off that you care about your image on social media, people will understand that you care about what you do.
Facebook has proven to be a great source of traffic for many businesses across all industries. It’s about providing the right message to the right people and understanding what makes an audience tick.
Using Facebook Ads in the right way is a great opportunity for local dentists to bring in more qualitative, convertible traffic to their website.
Video marketing just keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. There’s just video everywhere these days.
And there should definitely be in the dental market, too.
Pacific Smiles isn’t leveraging this opportunity enough, as they haven’t created any videos since 2015. They do have some nice introductory videos on their website though, just like this one.
This is actually a very nice introductory video. But it’s not appearing on the Home Page, which would be a great place to show off their video content.
Today, creating short, accessible, friendly and fun videos is a great way to connect with an audience. And it doesn’t necessarily have to look professional.
You might’ve heard of the singing dentist. I’ve never met this guy, yet I love him! If he was a dentist in my local area, I’d most definitely pay him a visit. And not only because he’s funny, but because he seems really professional at what he does.
Look at this.
Creating video content is not only about being formal or professional and presenting your product (yet, these are important). It’s also about showing who’s behind the work, what your personality is and what your beliefs are.
We talked earlier about the importance of the “about” page is communicating with the audience. Videos can do exactly the same, but in an even more personal way.
Creating original, easy-going, fun-but-I’m-still-the-best-at-what-I-do videos is an awesome way of creating a community around a local dental practice.
Alright, let’s keep going into another channel that Pacific Smile is barely using and that the company most definitely could improve on: Google Ads
Currently, Pacific Smiles has fewer than 100 visitors coming from Adwords, as seen in the following chart.
Bidding on only 28 keywords on the Australian market, Pacific Smiles doesn’t seem to invest a lot of time into AdWords.
And I believe they will have two arguments for this.
- Adwords is an “expensive” channel
- Organic traffic is better
And I will answer both of these arguments.
First, AdWords is considered expensive by many. And when thinking of it as an absolute number, it is. CPC for dental keywords usually range between $5 and $10.
However, there’s another way to look at it. If the website (or more specifically, the landing page) that these AdWords ads target has a high conversion rate, meaning that many of the people that visit this page actually become customers, then isn’t it totally worth investing in?
There are many strategies to make landing pages highly convertible, and the booking platform that Pacific Smiles has is one of them! Making it easy for users to become customers highly increases the chance of conversion.
The second argument is also valid, but why should anyone focus on one single source of traffic when there are positive impacts on using several of them?
Organic traffic is the best, certainly. It’s free and it’s genuine. But combining organic traffic with paid AdWords traffic is the best way to go. Having a result appear twice on a results page, once in the paid section and once in the organic section, shows users that this website is very present and available, which most likely translates into “this is a good website”.
Here’s a look at what Pacific Smiles’ current Ad copy looks like, for the keywords they bid on.
As we can see, the company is trying to bid on local keywords to compete with the dentists in these areas. These ads lead directly to the local landing pages, as this example for Mount Gravatt.
The keyword “dentist mt gravatt” currently sits at a CPC of $6.39 according to SEMRush. But if the person that clicks this ad then becomes a paying customer spending $100 at the dental practice, that click has a positive return of $93.61 !
Obviously, not all clicks turn into customers. That’s why it’s extremely important to send this traffic to a highly convertible landing page such as this one.
Depending on the average spend of a customer in your dental practice, you can easily calculate exactly how much you can spend on Google AdWords to bring profitable traffic to your website.
And don’t forget, if this user becomes a regular client, you’d have won even more from spending those 6 bucks on AdWords.
As a local practitioner, make sure to leverage this opportunity and target keywords of your local area.
And last but not least, let’s check out opportunities that lie behind Display Advertising.
Let’s talk a little about Display Advertising and Remarketing, which Pacific Smiles’ apparently doesn’t use at all.
But as we can see with this little puppy up here, Pacific Smiles is missing out on a treasure box full of gold coins.
Remarketing through Display Advertising has proven to be an extremely effective digital marketing strategy. Remarketing Ads have a high CTR, high conversion rate (sometimes up to 50%) and best of all, they’re cheap.
For those of you who don’t know what display remarketing is, it’s basically this feeling that you’re being followed around by the same ad throughout the internet.
When a visitor visits a website, this website has the opportunity to place a cookie on this user to remarket ads across other websites through Google Ads.
Used a lot in the Fashion industry, this strategy can be applied to all industries, as seen in the following example.
That little box on the right handside is a remarketing ad from Supple.
Imagine if your ads could appear this way? Don’t forget, most of them are in the CPC-model (as opposed to CPM), which means that if someone sees it but doesn’t click on it, it’s basically free publicity.
Remarketing is especially powerful because you’re targeting people who have already been on your website, meaning they already know about your brand. Maybe they just didn’t book the first time because something else came up and they didn’t have the opportunity to finish the booking? This ad will remind them to come back to the website and book!
Pacific Smiles is the clear leader in the online dental market. And it’s going to be difficult to compete with such great SEO and their awesome website.
However, it’s anything but impossible. Local practices should learn how to use digital marketing or ask for help in order to leverage these strategies and grow their presence online. As we’ve seen in this article, there are plenty of opportunities to compete online against such a big company as Pacific Smiles.