Digital Marketing

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Harness this powerful tool to reach and grow your target audience.

By Heidi Rose Bender, MBA

In today’s social media age, a successful marketing plan must include digital marketing tools.

According to Pew Research, 72 percent of internet users looked online for health information within the past year.1 As a physical therapist in private practice, digital marketing is a powerful way to reach those internet users who are searching for physical therapy in your area.

What Is Digital Marketing?

If you are not particularly internet- or tech-savvy, your first question might be: What in the world is digital marketing? Digital marketing is the promotion of products or services (such as physical therapy) through electronic media. Your second question might be: How can I use digital marketing to help my practice? The following quick-start guide will give you insight on how to begin using digital media in your marketing plans.

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Defined: This form of marketing involves creating and sharing content on social media networks in order to attract potential patients to your practice. Some of today’s most popular networks include Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Plus.

How-to tips: As a physical therapist, you can share educational content as well as content about your own practice, including helpful articles, staff photos, inspirational quotes, posts about local events, and live videos of your staff giving exercise tips or talking about treatment techniques. Some successful practices choose to feature patient success stories. This is a plus for your featured patient as well as prospective patients. Your featured patient feels an extra acknowledgment of their success, and your prospective patients see the positive results they may have if they seek treatment at your practice. Caution: If you want to use a patient in your social media campaign, make sure you obtain a media release from the patient in order to protect yourself from a potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Defined: SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in natural or nonpaid search engine results. SEO focuses on improving your website’s rankings, driving traffic, and increasing awareness in search engines.

How-to tips: Identifying and targeting a keyword for each page of your website is vital. The phrase should be repeated several times throughout the page. So if you have a page focusing on your temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) treatment program, make sure you use the words TMJD treatment more than once on the page. Also, update your content frequently. Search engines are continually crawling websites for new and relevant content. Keep your website fresh. Lastly, use alt tags (alternative text descriptions) and metadata (summary of web page’s content) to allow search engines to locate your page quickly.

Pay-per-click Advertising (PPC)

Defined: PPC is a model of internet marketing in which advertisers pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked. Essentially, it’s a way of buying visits to your site, rather than attempting to “earn” those visits organically through SEO. Search engine advertising is one of the most popular forms of PPC.

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How-to tips: Google has the most traffic of any search engine. Yahoo and Bing have lower traffic and therefore lower costs. So if you want to try PPC advertising and keep your budget low, Yahoo and/or Bing may be the way to go. Keywords are as important in your digital ads as they are on your website. Make sure you use the words “physical therapy” in your ad. Geotargeting is crucial as it allows you to target those internet users in your local area. Lastly, make sure you track conversions, which is when a patient sees your ad and calls your office to make an appointment as a result. There are multiple call tracking systems available that are relatively inexpensive and can assist you in tracking conversions.

Content Marketing

Defined: Content marketing is a unique concept in that you aren’t directly promoting your practice but rather creating and publishing valuable, relevant, and consistent information to attract a target audience and generate leads.

How-to tips: The Canadian clothing brand Frank and Oak does creative content marketing through their blog The Handbook, which is featured on the Frank and Oak website. The Handbook features “stories and advice on good living.” It does not directly promote the clothing line but offers unique content like playlist recommendations and “6 easy ways to travel green.” These helpful and interesting articles drive potential consumers to their website. As a physical therapist, one way to content market would be to develop a blog on your website featuring healthy living articles and information, which would also improve your SEO optimization. Another would be through FaceBook posts that feature helpful content as opposed to ones directly promoting your practice.

Email Marketing

Defined: Email marketing is the practice of sending emails to past patients to capture their attention and encourage patients to maintain a relationship with your clinic.

How-to tips: Make sure the content is relevant and interesting. You can use content marketing in your emails by sending injury prevention tips or a cold-weather safety checklist. You can also use email to directly promote your practice if you are inviting patients to an open house or letting them know that you are offering a new program. Do not email for the sake of emailing. If you do, your past patients will unsubscribe themselves from your mailing list. I would recommend two to four emails per month at a maximum.


1 Fox S, Duggan M. Accessed July 28, 2018.

Heidi Rose Bender, MBA, is vice president of operations for MRS Physical Therapy and Medical Rehabilitation Services in Erie, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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