Referrals Are Not a Stand Alone Dental Marketing Tactic

I have been in the business of business development for over 20 years. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear business owners say “I get all my business from referrals.”

Years ago business owners may have been able to get away with relying on word-of-mouth referrals almost exclusively as a business development tactic. The internet has given people an unprecedented ability to check you out even after they get referred to your practice. The result is, you are missing out on referrals if you believe you don’t need a more comprehensive marketing plan.In this article I want to address some of the realities you face as a result of treating referrals as a stand-alone dental marketing tactic. More specifically, I am going to illustrate the need to, at a minimum, complement your referral strategy with a superb web presence.

Introductions vs. Endorsements

When someone tells a friend about your practice, they are introducing you to that friend, likely because the friend said they need a dentist. However, introductions, while commonly sought after as great referrals, are not the only kind of referral.

Sometimes a referral is just an endorsement. An endorsement happens when someone puts their own reputation on the line by telling someone else that you are the bomb. Endorsements that are not introductions are what most people refer to as reviews and testimonials. They are not personalized introductions.

An introduction that comes with an endorsement is what we should all be striving for.

Nowadays endorsements are going to be showing up somewhere on the web, both on and off your website. They count. They matter. People in study after study say those endorsements do matter.

The reason they do is because most people prefer to follow other people rather than be the pioneer. The voices of your current patients make it easy for prospective patients to sign up, but the referral itself is only the beginning.

Just the Beginning

I have a friend on Facebook who asked her friends if they knew any good dentists in the area. One of her friends came forward and gave a superb recommendation to one of my current clients. This was both an introduction and an endorsement.

I checked with my friend and asked if she went with my client. She did not. She went with another dentist who another friend referred her to. What does this say about the referral process?

  • People don’t get referrals from only one person. They typically hunt down more than one suggestion so they can comparative shop. That means that while you make the short list, you don’t necessarily win the patient.
  • There are many factors that go into making a decision to choose one dentist or another. I never found out why my friend went one way or another, but I can imagine it was any one or all factors including location, facility, web presence, or overall familiarity with the dentist of choice.

The fact is, once the referral is made you are still having to compete. Your web presence is one of the first places a referral goes to check you out, among other marketing variables like location and quality of your facility. In the end, the most important takeaway here is that your overall marketing plan, including your web presence is oftentimes what converts the referral to an actual patient.

SEO Gets you More Clicks

Search engine analytics, Google Analytics being the most common, provide insight into the behavior of internet users. Last year, while working to optimize an SEO for one of my clients, I noticed that there were a lot of searches for his name but not many actual clicks to the website.

I think it is fair to conclude that if someone is searching for a name, they likely came by that name via a referral of some sort. Internet users heard about my client and searched his name. When I noticed that he wasn’t getting many clicks to his website, I made a few tweaks to his web presence and voilá, not only more clicks, but more patients. This experience revealed that:

  • People will search the web to find out about you even when someone says you rock.
  • A portion of the patients you derive from referrals will be negatively impacted by an inferior web presence.

SEO is not just about ranking or appearing on page one. SEO is also a complement to an effective referral system and you cannot have SEO without a decent web presence. The two go hand in hand.

Being Present and Name Recognition

Without going into the details of the psychology of familiarity, I will just say, people often mindlessly choose that which they are most familiar with. If you already have a presence in the community, as well as in the mind of the person who was referred, you will surely be way ahead of any other dentist who is referred along with you.

If you take this into consideration along with the story above about my friend on Facebook, you can surely understand that, because you are still in a competitive marketing engagement even once you are referred, the more familiar people are with your practice, the more likely the referral will result in a new patient for you vs. your competition.

You Can’t Wait for People to Need You

Believing that referrals are all they need for business growth, many business owners – including dentists – often forget that the people they serve may not actually know people who need their services. Even when your referral systems are in place and you are rocking it, you are missing out on a boat load of other patients who may not be familiar with your present clientele,  but who still need your services.

I have a client who performs $50,000 smile makeovers. I asked him how many people his $50,000 smile makeover patients would know who also need a $50,000 smile makeover. The answer is obvious – if not zero, close to.

At a minimum, you should have a strong enough web presence to accommodate those people who search for your services online but don’t ask anyone their opinion about you.

Don’t Leave the Type of Dentistry you Practice to Chance

If you are of the mindset that you are a referral-based dental practice and that you don’t need to invest in a more comprehensive marketing plan, you may end up practicing the type of dentistry that is a byproduct of the people who you are referred to.

Take for example the case of the $50,000 smile makeover. If you want to do more of that type of dentistry, you cannot leave it to chance that your current patients or other referral sources will know the type of person who needs and will fund a $50,000 smile makeover.

If your marketing plan is not created to account for the need to proactively build a brand as this type of dentist, it is likely you will not be practicing much of this type of dentistry.


The reality of today’s business owner is that people almost never make their decisions to buy based on one touch point. More accurately, the people who need your dental services will need to experience you along a spectrum of touch points for you to become their dentist of choice.

The only way for people to experience you across the spectrum of touch points is to actually have a presence along that spectrum. Referrals from patients are great, but they are only one touch point. At a bare minimum, a more comprehensive, effective marketing plan will include a superior web presence, beginning with your website.

Moreover, if you rely on any one channel alone for your marketing efforts, particularly if you are in the $50,000 smile makeover category, you simply will not attract enough patients at that level without at least a decent website.

Referrals and websites are inseparable if you want to transfer your referrals into patients. If your web presence is not optimal, you are letting a lot of referrals slip through the cracks.

Vincent Messina is a valued consultant of MDPM Consulting. With a background in accounting and big business software, Vincent focuses on three industries (dentistry, accounting, and law) because he feels like it matters that he knows his clients’ businesses. Stay tuned for more information from Vincent, and learn more about him and his company, Otimo, here.

Are you ready to take your dental practice’s web presence to the next level? We’re here to help! Give Jill a call at (972) 781-8861 or send us an email at