Dental Tribune USA

Patient appeal ratings: The science behind Web sites that work

By Frith Maier, USA
December 19, 2009

Cosmetic dentists are clinical perfectionists. To an extraordinary degree, you take personal pride in the smiles you restore and think of the patients wearing these smiles as walking advertisements for your work. Until now, there has been a dearth of information regarding what consumers care about and how they respond to cosmetic dentists’ sites. No longer.

Earlier this year at the AACD Annual Session, Sesame Communications shared the results of a breakthrough market research study that investigated how patients choose a cosmetic dentist online.

In this study, participants from across the United States were recruited and screened by Resolution Research, an independent market research firm, to ensure that they were currently searching for a cosmetic dentist.

Participants were between the ages of 21 and 59, had a household income of at least $60,000 and intended to make an appointment within 60 days.

The facilitator and the participants were connected and recorded via telephone and the Internet in one-on-one interviews. Participants were asked to think out loud as they navigated the Web sites and provide honest feedback, either positive or negative. No consideration was given to the company that designed the sites.

At the end of each session, the prospective patients completed a survey about the likelihood of them making an appointment with the cosmetic dentist whose site they evaluated. Amazingly, 80 per cent of the Web sites reviewed by prospective patients failed to persuade them to make an appointment.

After reviewing the results of this research, Dr Mickey Bernstein commented, “This study reveals the mind-set of today’s dental patients. It deserves a long, hard look!”

Following are some specific findings regarding patient preferences and what appeals to them in a dental practice Web site. Some of the discoveries may well surprise you.

Cosmetic dentistry shoppers are different. In two previous studies commissioned by Sesame Communications, prospective general dentistry and orthodontic patients gave high scores to Web sites that conveyed a warm, personable practice.

Cosmetic dentistry patients, on the other hand, are more focused on treatment options. They consistently go straight to the procedures page of your Web site. They want to know what conditions are corrected by specific procedures, what the procedures involve, how long they take, and they want before and after photos.

Reality reigns. Patients want to see images of 'regular people' just like them. They found sites that were overly glamorous, contained advertising images or photos of celebrities or models to be disingenuous.

Cosmetic dentistry shoppers are impatient. Anything that slows consumers down or forces them to think about where to find information is likely to send them on to another Web site. Introduction pages, flash sites with small page size, pop-up and auto-play music and video all led patients to click off.

Other factors that drove patients away were hard-to-use menus or navigation, pages with an overwhelming amount of text and coming soon signs.

Don’t try to sell them. Newsletter sign-ups that pop up, promotional coupons and too many call now! messages turned out to be a turn-off. Participants reported that these made them feel the doctor was desperate.

Information attracts. Patients are more likely to call for an appointment when your Web site makes it easy to find answers to their questions. They want to know about the clinician’s credentials and the team’s commitment to ongoing education. Information about the modern technologies used in the practice impact their perception about how current you are on clinical skills. Finally, without going into specifics of fees, your Web site needs to make clear that you provide financial options.

From the findings of the Cosmetic Dentist Consumer Behavior Study emerged a Patient Appeal Rating™ that quantifies the effectiveness of cosmetic Web sites. This data-driven tool empowers you to create a custom Web site that uniquely differentiates your practice while ensuring that it will be high performance.

“Sesame’s research was eye-opening,” said Dr Corky Willhite. “The findings were specifically related to the cosmetic patients I want to attract and they used this information in the design of my new Web site. The result greatly exceeded my expectations!”

With the tough economy and increasing competition, it’s important to be online and be in touch. A complete patient connection strategy needs to incorporate secure access for patients to their appointment, account and treatment information, reminders, feedback and survey mechanisms, search engine optimization and online collaboration as well as online marketing.

It all starts with your Web site: building it to attract new patients and making it work 24/7 to maintain their trust.

I encourage you to download a complimentary copy of the complete whitepaper reporting on the Cosmetic Dentist Consumer Behavior Study at

While you’re there, you can request a free Patient Appeal Rating for your Web site to find out how your site ranks with prospective patients.

About the author

Frith Maier writes and lectures frequently on how dentists can best serve their patients in a 24/7 online world. As founder and CEO of Sesame Communications, she has championed extensive market research studies on dental patient behavior to understand their communications preferences.

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