The addiction treatment field is littered with the rotting carcasses of damaged websites and reputations. That might sound like an exaggeration, but I have seen first-hand the damage done by unqualified agencies and individuals. They have published terrible content, bought links, optimized to death every page, and undermined long-term growth. They have run PPC campaigns with worthless keywords, poorly written ads, and awkward landing pages.
I have heard many of these treatment centers complain about their lack of Internet business. They often look for a villain. Someone out there is doing something to me. I used to get Internet calls but now I don’t. Who is stealing my business?
In truth, the villain is probably someone you hired.
It can be hard to recognize this truth because the damage can take a while to show. It’s sort of like addiction: it can take years of progressive abuse before anyone recognizes there is even a problem, but at some point everything falls apart.
The Big Agency Fallacy
Sometimes people fall for the Big Agency.
“These guys are good. They did PPC for this huge online store.”
Most agencies have zero behavioral health experience. When they start running campaigns this lack of knowledge shows. They may luck out with some obvious keyword campaigns that land on a decent website you’ve built, but when it comes down to really optimizing your paid search, they fall short. Why? Because they don’t know their audience. They don’t understand who is searching, why they are searching, or how they make a decision about treatment. They don’t understand the way a team works in behavioral health – the regular interaction between your front line marketing experts, writers, designers, and your call center and the trust that must be built between the marketing team and the intake teams.
Internet marketing experience outside the behavioral health field does not prepare agencies or other players for the complexity of converting this particular online consumer to client. They will rely on their “tried-and-true” methods and talk to you about Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and media buying and trying this or that. As they continue to hit the wall they will find new ways to explain their failures: it must be your call center; it must be these employees; maybe it’s your designers. They will buy radio time or throw up a scarily bad TV ad. The calls will be Medicaid-dominated or otherwise completely unqualified. They will write articles that mimic the thousands of other low quality articles. Their SMEs will be low-paid interns or entry-level writers spitting out content that says nothing new and draws little interest.
The unfortunate truth is most behavioral health companies will be led down this garden path for years before they realize they have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on “experts” who have no expertise. Companies have seen large-scale failure due to agencies who are expert at manipulating data and obfuscating their lack of knowledge. You can recognize their presentations as they are filled with industry in-speak and finger pointing.
The truth is if you hire a new agency and your traffic and calls are dropping consistently over the next few months, it’s time to cut the cord. If after a year the traffic is static and call quality is deteriorating you may have waited too long. Some of these agencies do serious damage to a website’s reputation with Google.
Before you hire the next agency ask them on the spot: do they know the difference between bipolar and borderline? What do they believe are the stages of decision-making when someone develops an addiction? How does a consumer choose one treatment center over another? How does trauma play a role in how people choose treatment? If they were to develop three pieces of content that would garner interest from those seeking treatment for mental health or addiction issues, what would they be? If their answers make sense and are clear and precise, maybe they know what they are doing. If they avoid direct answers and start talking about how they ran a campaign for this company (non-behavioral health) or how their media buying will fix everything, keep looking.
The problem with these agencies is they think all marketing is the same. The truth is: you cannot market something you do not understand.
Vera Appleyard is the founder of Tabitha Digital. She has a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from New York University. She has worked in the behavioral health space since 2000.