Online Presence

Go Google Yourself!

Your pharmacy's marketing success may depend on taking control of your online presence — even if you didn't know you have one.

using a tabletHave you ever Googled yourself? You might be surprised to find out what other people are learning about you online. That may not seem important if someone finds out you are a new grandparent, or you like Hawaiian pizza. But when it’s your business, you want to take control of what people see and make sure it’s working for you.

If you’re just getting started on an online presence for your business, the first surprise waiting for you is likely that your business already has one. It may be bare-bones, but search engines will use directory information to build their results. If you have a brick-and-mortar business, chances are at least minimal information about it, like address and phone number, is already on the web even if you’ve never done anything to put it there.

The good news is the wealth of tools you can use to build your online image, and you can start with the basics for free. “There are online directories. If folks aren’t taking advantage of that, that’s a huge mess because number one, the vast majority of them are free. Number two, it gives lots of information not only to Google, which is focused on what the user needs and getting people to the right resources and credible companies to connect the dots,” says Christina Throndson, vice president of VGM Forbin. She recommends Google My Business as your first step.

“That is one of the number one areas you need to claim so you have control over it. This is a free resource that has the ability to send a lot of traffic to your website,” she says. “When you find your listing — if you don’t have one you contact Google and submit for one — at the bottom of the listing it says ‘Own this business?’ If you’ve never claimed that, you need to click that. You need to claim ownership of that listing because it represents your business.”

Google My Business and directory websites like Yelp! have links in business entries that let the owners claim and modify their listings. Many directory sites have maps with “pins” and live indicators showing whether the business is open or closed based on the information you enter in the form, so it’s important to make sure the details are correct. Directories also offer free promotional opportunities.

“If you don’t have any web presence at all, nothing is going to come back in that local search,” says Lisa Wells, vice president of marketing at Cure Medical and the author of four books for the home care industry. Patients will search with terms like ‘drugstore near me’ and click on the results they get back. If that’s not your business, “You don’t realize how much traffic you are losing because you never see them in the first place.”

Not only do patients search for businesses and products, “A lot of people self-diagnose or, after they’ve been diagnosed, go and do research online so they can better understand their condition,” Throndson says. That’s an opportunity to find your website, if you have the right content. You can attract consumers by educating them about their conditions. “If I don’t know that one of the solutions to my pain points is X or Y and that you supply it, I’m not going to think about coming back to you. It’s that education… It doesn’t have to be salesy, it comes out as the solution.”

You need a website to make full use of that, but even the directories often let you add content and pictures. “They provide all these super free tools. Google My Business has the question-answer directly on the online directory listing. People don’t use it, or they don’t respond to the answers. So it’s peers that are often answering those questions,” Throndson says. “Folks are always asking, ‘How can I control some of these things?’ There’s a huge answer. You can put postings out there, events, images, things you can control because that is one of the most frequently used platform for your online presence and it’s free.”

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Taming the directory beast can be time consuming but it’s relatively simple, because your goal is making sure basic information is correct, and your audience is anyone who does online searches. To get value out of online tools like a website, social media and search engine promotions, you need to know who your target audience is and what you want them to do.

“When you are deciding how much and where to focus, look at your customers. Also look at your competitors and see what they’re doing,” Wells says. You already have a general idea from the people you see every day, and your files have data like customer ages and ZIP codes, what your bestselling products are and most-treated conditions. That information can help you decide what, where and to whom you are marketing.

“Once you identify the age range of people buying from your store, then look for where they are on social media,” Wells says. “You don’t choose your social platform first. Facebook is now the ‘senior’ social media. Almost everybody that’s younger is using Instagram. If you’re in high school or younger you’re using TikTok” (and therefore probably not your target audience).

SOCIAL MEDIA: A BRIDGE, NOT A DESTINATION

If you’re going to use social media, it requires someone to keep content fresh and respond to inquiries to keep the audience interested and engaged. “I would say if you have somebody internally doing your social media, they need to put something up every day,” Wells says.

Having your own website lets you create an environment that makes it easy for patients to interact with you and gives you greater control of security, as well as more chances to engage with the patient. Websites also have analytic tools to show who’s finding you and where they’re coming from, which will help guide your marketing plans.

“Social media is meant to be a bridge that brings people into your point of engagement or transaction. If you don’t have a company or store website, there is no point of transaction or engagement. It stays right there on social,” Wells says. “It’s really hard to get people to leave Facebook to come to your store. You’ve got to give them a connection point that gives them the information they need to know you are the place they are looking for. Most of the time you want that to reside on your website.”

WHY A WEBSITE?

“Facebook is a way to make your business known, to have a presence, but that’s not really why people go there,” Throndson says. “You might be missing out. Facebook does really well in search engine rankings, but is that where your targeted audience is? Is that really the best solution?”

The first thing most searchers look for after finding directory information or your social media is a link your website. If you don’t have one, it’s time to build one, pronto, Wells says. “Having a website established is foundational and fundamental before you can launch any kind of additional campaign, because you need something to tie people back to.”

It doesn’t have to be a transactional (online store) website, but if you choose an informational site it should engage visitors with content that makes them turn to you for solutions to their health problems. Ideally, the information they find online will bring them through the doors. “It’s not just about having a website, it’s about having a website that will meet a need or deliver a purpose,” Throndson says. “Actions and goals and how we are targeting them fall into what we call the ‘customer journey.’ It starts with who is [the customer] and what can we offer them, what is the value? If we don’t identify that, we’ll never be able to attract them.”

If you plan to build your own website, you aren’t entirely on your own. You can build content with free FAQs and advice about conditions from advocacy groups like the American Diabetes Association or The Mobility Project; product information and photos from manufacturers and distributors; links to community resources and a review area that helps build your community reputation.

IN-HOUSE OR OUTSOURCE?

How much of an online presence you want will help determine whether you want to manage it in-house or hire outside help. It takes time and skill to direct your marketing efforts and curate your online image, whether it’s directories or more complex tools, so it can’t be an afterthought.

“Taking inventory of online directories — that can take hours to set up initially, but also as those things become available you are updating it,” Throndson says. “There has to be somebody that is the owner of that, and it might be multiple somebodies. Just maintaining the reviews can be a big task. It doesn’t happen overnight, either. It’s not just, ‘you build this and here they come.’ If it’s important it’s something you put focus into.”

A common misconception is that you can create a website, populate it with information and then forget it. “It’s not a one-and-done. That would make it really easy,” Throndson says. “You are supposed to upgrade your site every two or three years, but that doesn’t mean from day one of launch, for two or three years you don’t have to touch it. If you want certain results, you have to set out and make sure you are putting the right things in front of the customer.”

If that’s overwhelming, there’s also no shame in admitting you’re not a tech wizard. You can seek recommendations and help from your software provider, distributors and industry groups and farm out most of your online presence.

“This industry, they have the customer experience nailed, especially when it comes to in-person. They have the care, they go the extra mile, they make sure that things are taken care of,” Throndson says. “Having that experience modeled well online is often a challenge. I get it. They wear a lot of hats.”

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy April 2020 issue of HME Business.

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