Long before the age of the internet in 1971, political scientist Herbert Simon said “….information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

So how big is the internet now? Have you been keeping count? There are 60 trillion websites out there and two million new books (mostly digital) are launched every year. Let’s not forget the 16,000 new films and 30 billion blog posts. It’s mind-boggling to say the least. How does one get noticed if one is running an inconspicuous dental practice in the heartlands? It was easy back in the early 2000s when few dentists advertised on Google or knew how to generate buzz and traffic on their sites. That was when I capitalised on my knowledge and brought my practice to the next level.

But within a few years, clueless folks running “generic” internet marketing services came into the scene. They didn’t manage to make dental websites more interesting, but they certainly managed to bid Google ad rates to stratospheric heights. As early as 2006, I had to find ways to avoid bidding against the fools. A keyword like “dental implants” was going at $50 per click at one time. I could have run a Google Adsense on a site to earn money from clicks on my competitors’ ads, but these sites would compete for eyeballs with my own clinic website. A bit counter-productive there.

I decided to rely on my writing and creativity to attract hits while avoiding the trappings of Google ads which would burn a hole in the dentist’s pocket. And many a teething dental practice must have wasted a ton of money paying the “professionals” to promote their sites.

The 10/2016 issue of Dental Tribune recommended 9 tips for dentists to make their sites more visible to the public. Let me evaluate them from a Singaporean point of view.

1. SEO
Short for search engine optimisation and make no mistake, though SEO is free if you DIY, there is an enormous amount of competition in this area and for the shopper, finding your site is only the beginning. Does your website impress him/her without giving your competitors an excuse to complain to the authorities?

2. Google review
Few people will do it unless the rewards are substantial. It may also get you into trouble if a competitor complains that you are paying people to give reviews. Some dental practices sponsor bloggers and get them to give positive reviews on their blogs. This works, but it’s not a magic bullet and may lie in the “grey area” as far as regulations are concerned. I have not heard of anyone getting into trouble for getting bloggers to post positive reviews.

3. Connect with patients
Would anyone want to connect with you unless you are offering some spectacularly different treatment (which you can’t advertise to that effect) or have some interesting non-dental content? And if you generate content which are considered “unbecoming of the profession”, you’ll also get into trouble when a competitor complains.

4. Engage through video
If you’re not into YouTube, forget it. Testimonials are not allowed on your site and the Dental Council states specifically that you cannot initiate contact with potential patients online.

5. Collect email addresses by sponsoring free wi-fi
That’s a good one, but I doubt it’s cost effective. Users may just unsubscribe once they don’t need your wi-fi.

6. Publishing newsletters.
Yao mo gao chor ah? I don’t mind writing the newsletter for you for a fee, but honestly, I don’t think anyone would read it. I can write in such a way that people will read it, but then, that will certainly get you into trouble if your competitor complains.

7. Deal with online enquiries in a polished manner.
Of course, but make sure you have the time outside clinical sessions to do that. You can’t expect your assistant to be able to do it in a “polished manner”.

8. Create memorable new patient experience.
Definitely, but then, it’s a bit off topic as far as marketing and getting noticed is concerned.

9. Employ a strict end-of-treatment protocol to collect reviews, feedback and testimonials.
Again, you can’t publicise these reviews or else you’ll get into trouble if a competitor complains.

To sum up, most of the “tips” given in Dental Tribune is quite useless. Marketing dental practices online with cool and engaging content will still draw the eyeballs and give you superior traffic over your competitors, but the authorities in Singapore may jump on you if someone complains about the kind of content you use to generate traffic. This leaves you the expensive options of using Google or Facebook ads (which the article discourages) or the even more expensive option of holding public seminars. What to do? Our hands are tied.

Dental Phobia by Chan Joon Yee