3 Tips for Effective Acupuncture Websites

Everyone says you need a website.  Now they’re telling you how to get noticed.  They’re telling you to blog.  They’re telling you you can make money online with advertising.  Web marketing isn’t your business. It shouldn’t have to be.  Here are three things to consider when creating, adding or updating a website.

First, who is your website target market.  Use the language people will use to look for you throughout your website.  If I live in “Somewhere, USA” then my audience will look for me under “Somewhere acupuncture” or “Somewhere acupuncturist”.  I should use those terms in my site on headlines, titles and in the content.  My name and my business name are likely to draw people who already know about me from a referral or who have seen me before.  I should use those terms so they can find the site for contact information but when it comes to new patients, the local area and the words “acupuncture” and “acupuncturist” are important.

Local area terms don’t need to just be your city.  I live in the Seattle area.  The broadest area is East King County. I also work in the Snoqualmie Valley.  The first general term is probably too broad as East King County covers a lot of area (and a lot of acupuncturists) but the second term is appropriate for patients as many of the cities in the Snoqualmie Valley are small and potential patients may search that term for someone nearby.

Second, if you’ve decided that writing a regular blog is important, who do you want to read your posts?   Web masters talk about keywords all the time.  They’ll give you places to go to see what terms are being searched and suggest you write articles that incorporate those ideas (for instance, “acupuncture and weight loss”).  The problem with this approach is that it’s too broad.  Keyword searches typically search larger areas than most acupuncturists will use.  You don’t want to write for Google search, either, because a search engine is a piece of software and unlikely to use your clinic for help.   Talk to people at any local gathering places. Find out the concerns of your local area.

I live in an area that floods.  Perhaps I can write about the types of health problems that flooding can cause.  Or I can take an energetic approach and talk about dampness.  If I live in an area with high winds, that’s an excellent time to talk about Wind as a pathogen.  Your posts will be timely and targeted towards the people you want to bring in.

Third, your website is there to bring in new patients and create added value to existing patients.  Throwing up google ads on your site defeats the purpose.  Your existing patients are likely to find the advertising annoying.  Potential new patients may see an ad that takes them off the site to another site that offers them something instead of an acupuncture treatment. You might get .03 cents for such a click but you’ve lost the income from that potential patient.  Advertising has a place.   Finding targeted information your potential patients and existing patients want can be very effective.

Patients often want to know more about acupuncture.  Reviewing a few acupuncture books for lay people on Amazon and using affiliate links to those products can be a way to make some extra money.  Other ideas are to advertise products you already promote, if that seems appropriate.  Some practitioners love the biomat.  You can promote the sales of the biomat on your site.  Several acupuncture website practitioners have e-books and items of interest that you can use on your website to bring in some extra income.  In all cases, these items are designed to supplement what you do and offer an added value (as well as some passive income) rather than just letting people click off your site without ever coming back.  Consider your advertising carefully.

What to Put on Your Website

Should you should pictures of people getting acupuncture on your website? I’m all about showing off the needles and making people comfortable with the idea of acupuncture.  I was looking at friend’s site one day as she added new photos of her interacting with children.  The photographer had done an excellent job of capturing the practitioner and  the children.  They were all happy and talking and laughing.  She was showing them different tools as they sat on her lap.   Mom was sitting comfortably with another child looking on.  It could have been story time.

That image resonated with me because of what it said.  It said this practitioner was safe to be around.  She understood how to interact with kids.  She was friendly and trust worthy.  She knew what she was doing.  The subconscious conclusion to this is that I could be comfortable with her too. She could help me. I could trust her.

Since then I have looked around at acupuncture sites.  There are always the pictures that show people getting acupuncture. Many of them are beautiful. Certainly they educate me but do they make me comfortable?  If someone is going to come into an acupuncturist they need to trust and they need to feel safe.  While images of an acupuncture treatment or doing treatments are great, the better image is one of people who look happy.  Have the practitioner interacting with people who look happy and healthy.   Show patients being educated and having fun.

There are reasons television commercials often force people to watch what seems like random shots before they figure out what’s being sold. The advertisers aare not selling the product. They’re selling a feeling of trust or power or confidence.  Once they sell the concept they then associate the product name with the concept.

A website is designed to sell.  Set it up to sell with images which make people think of feeling good, health, understanding and safety.  They’re already looking for acupuncture. Now let them know you’re the one who is safe.  Once you hook them in, they’ll remember you.  Your site is the one that stood out.


Hedging Your Posts

HedgingOne of the acupuncturists that I think of as a really good writer and blogger had a great question on the last post. Sometimes we hedge because we’re afraid of making sweeping statements that will mislead people or are not true.

I am not an attorney so I cannot speak to the legalities of writing beyond what I understand.  This was a disclaimer.  When you’re a medical professional and are writing about what you know online it’s always good to have a disclaimer on your blog or website.  You want to write about what you know and what you know as true but you can’t have people reading what you say and decide they have a level of expertise they do not have.  Remind people that the information you are presenting is not for self diagnosis and no one try treatments without consulting a medical professional.  If you are writing about acupuncture, then this should be an acupuncturist.

Beyond the disclaimer how do you write strongly written articles that are true but take into account that nothing is 100% effective.  First, there’s the percentage indicator.  “Most”,” many”, “some”, “several”, and “a few” are vague.  90% is concrete and not vague and makes a much stronger statement than using a more general term.  “Three out of four patients got relief” is also a stronger term than the vague amounts of most or many.   “All patients at my clinic have cancelled back pain surgeries within 6 treatments,” is also an accurate and verifiable statement.  If you feel you need to hedge that further, “To date, all patients at my clinic have cancelled back pain surgeries within 6 treatments.”  That statement actually is true.  However, I have only had three patients who had already scheduled surgery prior to coming into my clinic.  All three subsequently cancelled their surgeries at the recommendation of their surgeon.

When trying to avoid hedging, get more specific.  Being very specific means that you are far less worried about the general public but only about people who fall in the specific sub category about which you are writing.  If you are talking about back pain in general, use an example like the one above.  That is true but it makes no promises.

Another way to hedge is to be purposely broad.  “Acupuncture helps back pain,” is a true statement and is verifiable by studies done at the NIH.   This is a strong sentence that can be backed up with minimal research.  While I know this statement to be verifiable as the truth, it is tempting to write, “Acupuncture helps most people with back pain.”  This is not such a strong sentence.  Technically it is also true because nothing helps 100% of the people 100% of the time.  The first sentence is perfectly legitimate because it is broad enough to encompass a generality.  Acupuncture is the subject.  What is it doing? It is helping.  Does acupuncture help?  Yes.  What does it help with in the sentence?  It is helping with back pain.  It makes no claims to how many people or how often it helps.  The only claim is that it helps.

It is possible to write strong articles and hedge the promises if you write mindfully. Be creative about not using sweeping statements.  Words like “every time”, “everyone” and “always” are just as bad as “most”, “many”, “several” and “a few.”  The “every” words make promises that cannot be kept 100% of the time.  In the same way “most” weakens the sentence when something is only 90% effective.  As a reader, I feel more empowered to try something knowing that it is 80, 90 or 75% effective than that it is effective “most” of the time.

Letting the English Major Free

I read a lot of blogs. I also try and read what acupuncturists and other complementary care providers are writing.  The vast majority of people do a great job.There are a few others that can use some tips.  How do you get me to keep reading?

First, who is your target audience. I don’t want to read something that challenges my understanding of health and medicine one day only to be patronized the next. Be consistent. If you are writing for patients, always write for patients.  If you are writing for other healthcare providers, write at a level other providers will understand.

Look at your blog in several different browsers and make sure it’s readable. If you don’t know how to install more than one browser, get some trusted friends who might have different browsers and ask them what the text looks like. Sometimes text doesn’t render well on all systems.  Use  a common font.  Make sure that grammatical characters like commas and semi-colons render correctly.

Don’t over use the exclamation point. The exclamation point is for when someone is really excited. When I say excited I mean someone yelling “Fire!” or “Help!”.If your sentence doesn’t have that same urgency toss the exclamation point.

Don’t be afraid to assert your opinion. You are writing the article. Avoid hedges like might and maybe. I do it all the time. I can tell you that any good English teacher will remind you that your article is stronger if you make a solid statement that leaves no room for doubt. If you are going to say sometimes, give me a closer percentage, like half the time or three quarters of the people rather than using vague terms like “most” or “some.” Certainly in medicine there is a need to hedge because nothing is ever certain but the assumption on a blog is that it is your experience. If you are quoting someone else find out the best statistics you can and site them and let people know where you sourced something.

Acupuncturists have a lot of great information out online. Make sure yours isn’t overlooked because it’s not as readable as other blogs. It’s important for practitioners to communicate with each other about what they are finding and learning. The internet is a great media for helping disseminate information. We each have something to contribute to the medicine. Let’s make sure we communicate it well so we are take seriously.

The Art of Acupuncture: 2012 Calendar

I’ve been creating things for acupuncturists.  In fact, that is one reason I have moved this blog from general health to being more acupuncture oriented (again).  At any rate, I have had cards on Zazzle for a few years now and if you need something to send to patients, I think they’re great.   Certainly they aren’t for everyone, but I’m hoping that having a different, more playful Western take on the medicine, they’ll be remembered and noticed and not just by acupuncturists, but by their patients.

This last week I made a calendar with all acupuncture images.  After I did it, I wanted writing. I’m in the process of a move, so I couldn’t just find appropriate quotations so I stated looking at point names.  One of the great things about that was that it really reminded me about points and their meanings. Do you know how many points have “Gate” in the name?   I’m thinking that next year, perhaps, I’ll do one with a specific set of points, like Celestial Window. However, the calendar has to sell. I hope that you’ll take a look and even if it doesn’t suit you, I’d love it if you could pass the word along to other people.

How Are Acupuncturists Like Writers?

How are acupuncturists like writers?  They’re both artists.  Writers create worlds with their words and acupuncturists create health with their needles.  Both tend to love doing their art. Both tend to struggle to make ends meet.  There are always those out there who manage a business that feeds them, but in both professions, there are more who struggle to make ends meet.  I have always written so I follow some blogs on professional writing.  I’m intrigued by Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s work on the Business Rusch.  She’s writing for writers and there are a few common things writers tend to do that acupuncturists also tend to do.

Writers want to think that all they have to do to be a professional writer is write.  They want to leave publishing, marketing and getting paid to someone else.  Writers have the advantage here because there are systems in place that let them do this (although there are downsides to this, so don’t be too jealous).  Acupuncturists want to think they are professional if all they do is treat patients and do it well.  In both cases, they need to understand the business side of their art.

Kris has a great list for what writer’s don’t do, which I’m quoting here,

  • Writers strive for survival, not wealth
  • Writers don’t have financial goals
  • Writers don’t know their worth
  • Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich
  • Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power
  • Writers lack a sense of entitlement
Now substitute acupuncturist for writer.
While entitlement and the idea of Playing to Win (which is part of the conversation in the full article) may make people uncomfortable, note that Kris isn’t saying you must have a winner take all mentality.  You do, however, have to consider that you want to do your best work in all aspects of your business.  I can see a lot of practitioners saying they don’t care about getting rich.  You don’t have to get rich,  but care about taking care of yourself and asking for enough. Enough might be more than you think it is.
In order to be professional, you need to figure out the answers to a lot of those questions. It’s not bad to take care of yourself first.  How else do you have a way to care for others? How much better is your healing when you know that your rent is paid and you have enough for food?
The business side of the practice is not the most glamorous but it is the part that puts food on the table and keeps the roof over your head so you can keep doing what you love, which is healing people.  You have to be willing to know how to do both.  There are tons of great coaches out there to help.  There are books on the topic. Lisa Hanfileti even has the Acupuncture Business Academy. Learn what you need to learn. It’s important.  If you can’t learn it for yourself, learn it for the patient who will need you ten years from now. If you don’t, you may not be practicing in ten years.


Sell Your Destination

I read the title of a post called Sell the Destination, Not the Plane.  It’s about marketing and it talks about what you’d expect. You do not need to sell how you get there, but where you go to.  So acupuncturist,   why are you selling how you work with needles?  Why are you trying to sell “qi”?  Sell better health.  Sell less pain.  Sell “feel better”. Sell “I can get you back on the ski slopes 75% faster”.  Sell the goal.  Sell what your patient wants.

They don’t want to know the travel details until after they have made the commitment to try what you are doing.  Then you get to educate.

Please Universe, May I Have Some More?

I heard a comment from Mark Silver, who runs Heart of Business.  I have great hopes to take one of his longer courses, but right now my husband is planning on a move.   So I listen in whenever he has free calls.  Someone asked about the fact that they always seem to have “just enough.”

First, Mark talked about how miraculous that was that they had “just enough.”  Then he re-framed that.  Clearly, just enough wasn’t quite enough or they wouldn’t be uncomfortable, so the question became, were you really asking for what you wanted and needed.?  It was a very interesting thought.  Am I asking for what I really need or am I settling for what I can get by on?  Maybe all I have to do is ask for more, and really feel that need.


3 Communication Tips: Ask, Ask and Ask.

Previous patients may be singing your praises, but is are the praises translating into more clients?  Consider how you are communicating with the people who want your services.  What do they really want to know and are you answering those questions?   How can you communicate with them more effectively so they want to come into your clinic.

First, listen to what the potential patient wants to know.  This may be different from the question they are asking.  Do they want to know if acupuncture works or do they want assurance than it will work for them?  Are they wondering if you know your stuff or if you’re just some flake?   Ask them more questions when they ask questions so you know the information they really want from you.

Second, keep your answers short.   If someone asks how acupuncture works (and everyone does) realize that acupuncturists go to school for years to learn this answer. You can’t do it justice in 30 seconds.   Let people know that.  Then ask them further questions about themselves and their condition and answer those questions.

Third, make sure all their questions are answered.  Once again, ask questions of the potential client.   Find out if they learned what they wanted to learn.  If not, find out what they need to know.   Be honest if you can’t answer that question in a short answer.  It’s fair to tell someone you went to school for three years to learn how acupuncture works.   Give them a short overview of how it can work for them.  Rather than talking about qi and blood, tell trauma patients that basically acupuncture works by bringing blood flow to the traumatized area and helps the body’s innate healing ability.   This may not be the most thorough or even technically correct answer, but it is the truth as far as it goes.  It’s also easy to understand and remember.

To sum up, ask questions, ask more questions and ask if all the questions have been answered.   Communicating that brings people in isn’t about talking about you as a practitioner or the greatness of the medicine.  It’s about showing an interest in the person considering the service.   Asking questions is one of the most important and effective ways to do this.

What Do People See When they See You?

I’ve been interviewing landscapers for a yard clean up the last few weeks.    Some of my thoughts made me wonder which landscaper I was most like when I was marketing my acupuncture practice.

First, I had a very confident man.  I understood him. He took the time to make sure he and I were on the same page about exactly what I wanted.  Sometimes I really didn’t know the answer and he gave me options and his opinions.    If I didn’t have to consult with my husband and get other bids, I’d have hired him right there.   He knew his work.  He was nice.  He cared about what I wanted.

Second, I interviewed a lower cost woman.  I found her name on a flyer and decided to call.   She was late to the meeting and didn’t let me know she would be that late.   She wandered around my yard and gave me a figure I thought was lower than it should have been and said I could get the bark mulch on my own as it was cheaper for me that way.  She didn’t know how much I should get.  She had no way of knowing.    I allowed her to leave thinking to myself that if she had no way of knowing how much bark, how could she price out an estimate on my yard.  I easily crossed her off my list.

Third I had a very nice man with a very thick accent.  I liked him.  He talked very knowledgeably and enthusiastically.  I was certain he knew what he was doing but I wasn’t sure he understood me, nor was I convinced I understood him.   His price was also a little low but not so low as the other person.   If I knew I could understand him, I’d have hired him. Unfortunately language was a barrier.   How often to acupuncture clients worry that they don’t speak the language of acupuncture and maybe chose another path?  Are we really communicating with them?

Finally, I had a man referred by a neighbor.  He worked for her.   His price was good.   He seemed to understand me, if not as well as the first man.  His price was within the budget my husband wanted to stay within.    He will probably be the person we chose, although like people everywhere wishing they could afford something a little higher end, I’d love to have higher the first man.

Who was I?  Was I the earnest man that wasn’t understood?  Was I the woman who priced things so low and said I don’t know too easily?  Was I the person who was  priced out of range?   I was probably each of them at certain points in my career for certain customers.   Did I pick the best landscaper?  I don’t know.  I picked the one who seemed to fit my needs at the time.  Maybe I’ll be loyal to him if he really does understand me and keeps me happy.   In many ways, marketing an acupuncture practice isn’t so different from that.