Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article by Mr. Carter do not necessarily reflect those of Acupuncture Today and/or MPA Media.
People may not be searching for your services directly.
Don't be self-absorbed! Your prospects are focused on their problem, not on you, and they don't realize you are the solution - yet. Find out what your prospect's problems are and what he or she is looking for on the Web, and then meet him or her there. Give prospects useful content that establishes you as a reliable expert, and some of them will become interested in you and your services. Then, they call you for an appointment.
The best way to get patients online is to write articles about the things they have problems with!
Sure, many directories, like the ones on acupuncturetoday.com or PulseMed, can list you under your city for a fee. But it's even better if you write an article on a profitable keyword that fits with something your prospects have a problem with.
Doesn't this seem like common sense - even a big "Duh!"? I hope it does. Of course, I've been thinking about this for five years, and it's a big part of my everyday activities, so it's obvious to me. I hope I'm making it clear to you.
Creating an acupuncturist directory originally wasn't important to me. I started The Pulse to share my enthusiasm about Chinese medicine with as many people as possible. I then added more writers, who started to receive e-mails and phone calls from patients. I set up an acupuncturist directory later, partly as service to readers and partly to save myself time - I was always finishing responses to reader e-mails with the line, "Go see a local acupuncturist, one-on-one," and then I had to give them info about how to find an acupuncturist, so I finally set it all up as part of the site.
Since it was more important to me to get more writers for my site, I included people as recommended acupuncturists if they contributed an article, and provided a paid option for those who didn't feel comfortable writing, or didn't have the time. The concept has worked for every writer I've checked in on. It makes sense - by the end of the article, the readers see you as an expert. And if you live in their cities, they're going to want to see you more than just any old name or face in the phonebook.
Let's look at the directories in more detail. If I didn't list your directory, I'm sorry, but it means I couldn't find it easily with www.google.com, so it probably doesn't get much traffic anyway. You can say I'm biased because I own one of them, but you'll see below that, to be fair, I tried to expose its weaknesses, just like the others. I'm not saying there's nothing good about these directories - in fact, you'll also see below that I recommend you join them all. My purpose here is to point out the problems so that all the directories will improve, we'll all get more patients, and acupuncture will help more people.
AcupunctureToday.com: I can't find a place that says how much it costs to list there, and when I try to get a password, the window that pops up has no scroll bar - and I can't get to the submit button! Plus, when I search for acupuncturists, I only get a certain number of results, and the search isn't very customizable because the content provider is so worried about protecting its list!
AcupunctureBySpecialty.com: The most expensive directory. Of course, we only need one patient from it to profit from the effort, but it doesn't list any practitioner testimonials. I want to know what kind of results it's gotten for other acupuncturists. When I try to search for acupuncturists in my city on a specific specialty, I get no results. Prospects won't use this if there aren't enough acupuncturists participating.
AcuFinder.com: What's good about this site, along with acupuncturetoday.com, and www.pulsemed.org, is that it includes articles about health issues. This makes it more likely that prospects looking for information about their problems will find the Web site. It also makes it more likely the search engines will rank them highly, because search engines try to deliver useful results to their users. However, AcuFinder.com does not leverage profitable keywords on individual pages as well as www.pulsemed.org.
AmericanAcupuncture.com: Like the others, there's no indication of what kind of results you'll get. And there are no testimonials; when I click on a city in the directory, I simply get a list of names - there's no address for the practitioners, not even a phone number. It's only $50 a year, but if it makes people go to the Yellow Pages for my number, then I have to compete in the Yellow Pages, too! I did see one practitioner in all of California with a linked website. That's nice, but it makes me wonder if the rest of the list was just populated to make it not look empty. Two people in New York state have phone numbers, but the rest are just names; the presentation is blasé. This is actually the practice Web site of a Michigan MD who practices acupuncture. It contains some articles, plus this limited directory.
Gancao.net: More or less free. If you've already joined a professional organization, you can get in for free. If not, take an hour and write up a case study, and it costs you whatever an hour of your time is worth. Does it get results? The site's webmaster, Al Stone said, "I've gotten some positive feedback such as 'within a week, I had two new patients,' but I haven't honestly gone in search of this information."
PulseMed.org: Confusing layout - it's not immediately obvious that the cities listed are only for the recommended acupuncturists. The databases and other links require another click to get to. Otherwise, it includes plenty of acupuncturists and pictures, gets loads of traffic, and the people who list there get results.
The problems with most online acupuncturist directories are:
low traffic rankings;
no indication of probable results (how many patients you'll get);
no report on what kind of people go through the site; and
some have so few acupuncturists (sometimes none in a specific area) that you wonder if prospective patients will use them - or even return - later on.
So, Which Directories Should You Get Listed On?
All of the directories are so inexpensive that you'd only have to get one patient a year from each to profit from this marketing strategy. So, join them all! If you can't afford that, then get listed on the free ones first, and start using the paid ones as soon as you can in order, ranging from the best traffic ranking to the worst.
An Unethical Site to Avoid
Al Stone contributed this warning - a "heads-up" about acupuncturesite.com:
These guys use spam to get people to sign up. The problem with spam, which makes up about 50 percent of all traffic online, is that people actually buy the stuff that comes into their email boxes.
The operators of this site harvest e-mail addresses from sites like Gancao.net to create a large database of acupuncturist e-mail addresses. They then send advertisements to these addresses, and no matter how many requests you make to be taken off their lists, it never takes place.
I've used the "click here to unsubscribe" links, and I've gone to its Web site and requested this, but still I get this spam, and it is totally indiscriminate about where it sends its ads. For instance, I administer three mailing lists at Gancao.net, and all three of them are on its spam list, and so I constantly get "bounce" messages from my list server because it doesn't accept its spam announcements.
I would never ever spend a penny on this service because of its profound lack of ethics. Not only that, but it is about 70 times more expensive then a simple Web site somewhere or an inclusion on a free list.
I've been spammed by this group, too. Spamming and ignoring removal requests is against federal law, and perhaps more important, it's annoying. Plus, the site gets so little traffic, it doesn't even have a traffic ranking on Alexa.com. So, my advice would be to ignore its spam, and don't give it any money until it rethinks (or thinks about for the first time) its ethics.
Click here for previous articles by Brian Carter, MSCi, LAc.