How to attract self-referred patients to your practice with online marketing

Could you be attracting more new patients to your practice online? This comprehensive overview by London-based physiotherapist James Turgis offers some practical firsthand advice on getting started with digital marketing.

Guest author

James Turgis, Excellence Physiotherapy·

An illustration of a man with a magnet on a yellow background

Over the last 10 years or so, more and more patients are looking for healthcare services by doing research on Google and contacting the practice of their choice directly, without necessarily passing it by their doctor. Having seen this clear evolution in my own physiotherapy practice, we have now made the choice to put all our efforts into digital marketing rather than relying only on doctors’ referrals.

As every busy practitioner knows, you need to make a choice on how to bring on new patients — and it is important to decide in advance which strategy you want to adopt in order to optimise your time.

After spending many hours networking in the early years of our practice, we eventually realised that relying on doctor referrals was not necessarily sustainable and was a very time consuming way to achieve results that often faded over time for multiple reasons:

  • Doctors refer to multiple physio clinics
  • Every year new physios contact them for referrals
  • You are dependent on the number of patients that the doctor sees. A good example is what happened during the pandemic, where physiotherapy practices that were only relying on doctors had very few patients and some even had to close because the doctors that used to refer to them had fewer patients themselves.
  • One of the doctors that refers to you on regular basis can retire or change location

This strategy is very time consuming — time that physios and other allied health practitioners don't necessarily have while they run their practice. It is  therefore a good idea to think long term and to have a strong online marketing plan, which is more sustainable and gives you greater control of your flow of patients.

What are the main online marketing assets you can use to get more patients?

Create a logo

Your logo is important as it represents your brand and your identity. Think about big companies like Apple or Amazon: just by seeing their logo, you have the brand in mind straight away. Your logo helps  to increase your brand awareness— patients will remember you and if an injury occurs, you’re likely to be the first practice in their mind.

Creating a logo is very simple, you only need to think about the message you want it to represent. Once you have the idea, you can hire a freelance graphic designer to create your professional logo.

Create an effective website

A compelling website that shows the identity and spirit of your practice is a must-have. Your website is where you need to spend the most time at the beginning, as it plays a major part of your online marketing. But remember that once it is done, you may only need to significantly update it from time to time over the years. So it’s a good idea to be very involved at the beginning until you are satisfied.

The first step of creating an effective website is to think about the message you want to send to your patients and how your content will make them decide to book with you rather than with your competitors. Your website also needs to have a strong design that is easy for your patients to navigate.

Tip 1

Write about your personal story so patients can understand why you are passionate about your work.

If you want to create your website by yourself, there are now some very easy platforms that you can use. For example, Wordpress.com or Wix.com allow you to design your website without knowing how to code. These platforms also have different plug-ins to increase your search engine optimisation (SEO).

If you don’t want to create your website by yourself, but don’t have a big budget, you can use web designer freelancers on platforms like upwork.com or freelancer.com. These offer some great deals for good quality websites.

Tip 2

Don’t choose the cheapest option as your website will become your future source of income. Make sure the code is clean and well done, so you don’t have to redo it in the future.

If you have the budget, you can use a web design agency, so you know the code will be sustainable in the long term. They can also help you with design ideas and brand identity.

Tip 3

If you choose this option, remember to keep control of your website. Ask the web designer to show you how to add or modify content. Otherwise, it can cost you each time you want to do a simple change that you could potentially do on your own!

Optimise your website, SEO is the key

If your website is not well optimised, a potential patient will never be able to find it. This is why SEO is really important. SEO is an art and you might need a professional if you want to be on the first page of Google, but there is a lot you can do yourself if you know the basics.

Here are the four basic SEO factors you should know:

1Content

Good content brings new information to people or answers questions they ask on Google. If you write good content, the Google algorithm will recognise it and place your website in higher positions. While writing your content, remember these important points:

  • Don’t write super short content — each article should be at least 750 words.
  • Think about which keywords you want patients to use to find you (e.g. physiotherapist who treats back pain) and write an article for each of them.
  • Incorporate this keyword or key phrase (or their synonyms) a few times in your article, so Google understands that you want to be found through this keyword. Tip: Don’t do keyword stuffing (repeating the same keyword in your content too many times), it will damage your SEO and won’t help your patients.
  • For each article, make sure each paragraph is adding value to your reader, and for each paragraph create a catchy title for each of them and include your key word in it. Use the H1 and H2 function in your website

2Backlinks

An important factor to remember is that Google is used to judging the quality of your website by the number and quality of other websites that link to yours. If a website that refers to you has a high domain authority score and talks about similar topics to yours, the higher your website may rank on Google.

You can use a tool like ahrefs.com to check the authority of websites that link to your content. Try to link with websites that have higher than or equal authority domain to yours.

Tip 4

Do not buy backlinks! Some companies sell backlinks (links from third party website pointing toward yours), which you might think is a faster and easier way to get visibility on Google. But Google will penalise your SEO.

3Make your website mobile and tablet friendly

80% of searches on Google are made on tablet or mobile. It is therefore very important that your website is optimised for mobile. Google penalises websites that are not mobile friendly, which will damage your SEO and you might lose the 80% potential patients who will search for a new clinic on their mobile.

Use your website to get more bookings

To optimise your bookings when patients are on your website, you need to ensure people find the information they need rapidly.

For the best chance to increase bookings, consider including the following on your website:

  • A clear menu
  • An attractive home page (or landing page)
  • A contact page that’s easy to find, with your phone number, address and email
  • A contact form so patients can reach out at any time of the day and night. This is very helpful as many patients don’t have time to call  during your opening hours
  • An online booking facility. If you read this blog, you know about Cliniko. With Cliniko, you can easily embed your online booking link on your website.
  • A webchat application so patients can ask you quick questions without having to call you. Did you know that you can now embed your WhatsApp on your website with a simple plugin?
  • A newsletter subscription button. You can integrate Mailchimp to your website so patients can subscribe to your mailing list and you can start gathering emails, which is very valuable for your business.

Create a newsletter

You want both your patients and people who have visited your website to remember you. It is increasingly important to regularly remind your network that you are there for them. A newsletter is a fantastic tool, as you can communicate with your patients, inform them about what is new in your practice, give them health tips, promote new services, and educate them on the treatments you offer.

It is easy to create your newsletter on Mailchimp and send it to your community regularly.  You can also connect Cliniko to Mailchimp, so that each time you enter the details  of your patients in Cliniko, it will automatically populate  your mailing list in Mailchimp.

Tip 5

The content of your newsletter must be interesting and easy to read. Oftentimes shorter is better, as people won’t necessarily read the whole thing in detail. Use designs and colours to increase the visibility of the main message.

Create a social media community

Use the social media platform that suits your practice and create a community. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok — you have a lot of choice. But remember that when you start with social media, if you want to create a broad community, you need to upload regular and interesting content. You’re best to choose one or two social media platforms, as it will likely take you a lot of time to feature your content on many. Instead of posting quick but dull content, you would be better off spending your time making great content for fewer platforms and slowly building a community that believes in your philosophy and will refer you to their friends.

Tip 6

You can also prepare your posts in advance and programme them to post automatically on all your social media at the date and time that you wish. It’s a time saver!

Your basic online marketing is now ready!

With all these tools in place, you will see an increase of self-referred patients contacting you and soon realise that it is more sustainable than waiting for doctors to send you patients. This strategy has proven itself during the pandemic — our practice, which uses a fully online marketing strategy, had nearly no decrease in patients, as many people were online during this time, while other clinics relying on traditional referrals struggled much more.

So go for it and give it a try! You will appreciate the results. And if you ever have some spare time, despite all the new patients that this strategy will bring you, you can still go for a couple of doctor’s meetings. 😄

Author information

James is a physiotherapist, osteopath, and the Director at Excellence Physiotherapy in London, UK.

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