Beyond the Trifecta: Elevating DSO Patient Acquisition in the Face of Inflation, Consumer Shifts, and Google Updates

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Amol Nirgudkar, CEO
February 16, 2024

As we reflect on the tumultuous journey of 2023, it became evident that the landscape of new patient acquisition underwent a significant transformation, particularly in the fourth quarter. This period marked a stark downturn in new patient leads, attributed to a confluence of factors that caught many within the dental support organization (DSO) sector off guard. At the onset of 2023, amidst a backdrop of optimism fueled by pent-up demand, numerous DSOs took a bold step in slashing their marketing and advertising budgets, in some instances, to less than 2% of forecasted revenue. However, as the year progressed, an unforeseen adversary emerged—escalating inflation, which began to erode the purchasing power of the American consumer by the third quarter.  In addition, Google, the most effective digital marketing tool to date, made several changes to their algorithm and its platforms that required an immediate calibration of campaign and content strategy. 

Consumer Sentiment Shifted Late 2023

This shift in consumer behavior was highlighted by various reports, including a decline in retail sales volumes as outlined by The Wall Street Journal in October 2023, a survey by Deloitte shared by CNBC in November revealing 42% of Americans planning to curtail their holiday spending due to inflation, and NPR’s December narrative on the tough choices Americans faced in prioritizing essential over discretionary expenses. These observations were further corroborated by surveys from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the University of Michigan, which painted a picture of elevated inflation expectations and a diminishing consumer sentiment index, respectively, underscoring the cautious outlook of consumers towards the economy and their spending habits.

Google Changes the Rules – Again!

2023 saw several significant updates to Google Ads that impacted digital marketing strategies, including those related to SEO. While Google Ads primarily deals with paid advertising and SEO with organic search, changes in one can influence tactics in the other due to the interconnected nature of search.

Privacy-Driven Targeting:

  • Google phased out certain audience features like Similar Audiences, reflecting industry-wide privacy concerns and the move away from cookies. This has necessitated adapting to new machine learning-powered tactics like optimized targeting and audience expansion.

Shifting Ad Formats:

  • Expanded text ads and smart shopping campaigns are being phased out for more automated formats like responsive search ads and Performance Max campaigns. These leverage machine learning to optimize ad performance, changing how ads are created and managed.

Attribution Evolution:

  • Google Ads and Analytics 4 now use data-driven attribution as the default, replacing older models like first-click. This AI-powered model evaluates each touchpoint’s impact on conversions, potentially affecting how businesses measure and optimize SEO efforts.

Performance Max and Beyond:

  • Performance Max campaigns combine various assets for automated, goal-based advertising across Google’s channels. This might influence how businesses structure SEO and content strategies for broader platform visibility.

Additional notes:

  • Universal Analytics Sunset: Remember the switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 in July 2023? This impacted data and analytics for both SEO and paid advertising, requiring adjustments in campaign measurement and optimization.
  • SEO and Paid Advertising: Intertwined, but Distinct: While some might argue Google Ads changes directly impact SEO strategies less, it’s crucial to acknowledge their interconnectedness within the broader digital marketing landscape. Adapting to these updates, like the shift to Performance Max campaigns, can inform and enhance your overall online presence, even if the SEO impact isn’t always a direct one.
  • Pixel Tracking and FTC Crackdown: Remember the FTC’s December 2023 crackdown on excessive tracking in the healthcare industry and the potential implications for HIPAA compliance? This adds another layer of complexity to data collection and audience targeting strategies, requiring even more focus on user privacy and ethical practices.

Trifecta that slowed New Patient Growth

The downturn in new patient flow can largely be attributed to a trifecta of critical factors that synergistically exacerbated the challenges faced by DSOs. First, the steep reductions in marketing and advertising budgets at the year’s commencement left DSOs vulnerable to rapidly changing market dynamics. Secondly, the palpable shift in consumer spending behavior, fueled by inflationary pressures, directly impacted discretionary healthcare expenditures, including dental services. Compounding these issues were significant alterations to the Google platform, which phased out traditional methodologies for understanding online consumer behavior and introduced new technologies aimed at optimizing campaigns. This transformation necessitated a reevaluation of digital marketing strategies, underscoring the necessity for DSOs to adapt swiftly to maintain and enhance patient flow amidst these evolving digital landscapes.

How Patient Prism Can Help 

In response to these multifaceted challenges, Patient Prism’s introduction of our generational upgrade, Version 3, represents a strategic asset for DSOs focused on hyper-optimizing their marketing campaigns. With direct integration into leading ad platforms such as Google, Bing, and Meta, complemented by the analytical insights from Google Analytics and bolstered by our AI-driven conversion reporting, Patient Prism offers a superior level of marketing efficacy understanding. This unique capability empowers DSOs to make informed, real-time decisions concerning budgets, cost-per-lead, cost-per-booking, and cost per acquisition metrics. As DSOs strategize to achieve same-store growth goals in 2024, the insights and operational agility provided by Patient Prism are invaluable for navigating the complexities of today’s digital marketing ecosystem and driving sustained growth in patient acquisition.

Closing Thoughts

As we embark on the journey towards 2024, it’s clear that the path ahead demands a strategic partnership capable of navigating the intricacies of the current economic and digital marketing landscape. Patient Prism stands ready to support DSO executives, marketing VPs, and CMOs in achieving their new patient flow goals through our innovative platform and comprehensive insights. I invite you to schedule a time to chat with our growth team to explore how we can tailor our solutions to meet your specific needs and help you achieve your growth objectives in the coming year. Together, we can transform these challenges into opportunities for success.