The Reality of Retargeting: Keep Your Practice Top of Mind (without Creeping People Out)

The email’s subject line — We Were Just Getting Started — certainly caught my eye. We were just getting started with what?

Turns out it was from an airline whose website I’d recently visited without completing a booking. Based on my actions on their website (and my membership in their loyalty plan), they no doubt figured I was still a good prospect and decided to follow-up in the hopes that I’d change my mind.

They also provided a good example of retargeting, the marketing technique in which companies follow the digital trail of your web-surfing to deliver emails and display ads targeted to an interest you’ve previously expressed. For Internet users, it’s a fact of online life; for businesses, including medical practices, it’s a tactic that needs to be both understood and used judiciously.

The beauty of remarketing is that the people you retarget have already expressed interest in your organization or interacted with you, writes Craig Johnson, connection strategist at HTK Marketing Communications. They are “warm” leads.

On the other hand, we’ve all had that creepy feeling when we see ads or emails that pitch us products or services that suggest someone is looking over our digital shoulder. (As someone who writes about aesthetic marketing, I see a lot of ads for surgeries on body parts I don’t actually possess.)

And as Johnson notes, healthcare presents its own challenges:

Healthcare ads that introduce your organization, reinforce your expertise, invite people to take a heart healthy quiz or read a blog are perfect for retargeting. Ads that offer a specific procedure, especially if it implies the person viewing the ad may need the procedure, are a big no-no.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that it can be hard to determine the effectiveness of retargeting, especially when it comes to ads. Unlike emails, where open rates, CTRs, etc., are fairly easy to track, Internet users’ behavior regarding targeted ads is less clear-cut. According to a survey by Choicestream, less than half of consumers (44%) responded to an online ad by clicking on it vs. 56% who responded by conducting a search or typing in the company’s URL.

And those non-click responses make it even harder to harder to track the effectiveness of retargeting. When the folks at Choicestream asked, “How long would you generally wait [after seeing an ad] until you research more information about the company or product?” respondents said:

  • Within the hour: 16%
  • Within 24 hours: 23%
  • Days later: 26%
  • Weeks later: 27%

Needless to say, the longer the gap, the harder to tell what impact that half-remembered ad had. So does that mean you should forgo retargeting altogether? Not necessarily. Ads (and emails) that show up here and there can serve to keep your practice top of mind during the course of potential patients’ ongoing research. They may not click on your ad the first or second time they see it but as they work their way toward a decision, it may very well prompt them to click on it the third or fourth time and/or browse directly to your site. If nothing else, it’s certainly better to have your practice show up on their screens than a competitor’s.

Doctor Takeaway

When the path to purchase is non-linear, it pays to think outside the lines

Given the convoluted routes aesthetic consumers take before choosing a doctor, retargeting can help build awareness, drive traffic to your site and provide a good ROI. But the only way to know is to track results, look beyond the raw numbers and maintain a good grasp of consumer behavior. Unless you have the time and inclination to do it yourself, it clearly warrants a serious talk with your marketing team or agency.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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