7 Building Blocks to a Profitable Google Ads Campaign for Your Dental Practice

dentist typing on a computer
You’ve talked to other dentists, and no doubt you’ve heard mixed reviews about running PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ads. Maybe you’ve tried running Google Ads yourself, but you ended up spending a bundle without seeing much in the way of concrete results. You know PPC for dentists works for some practices. But how can you use Google Ads to bring in new patients at a reasonable cost?

We’ve run Google Ads for many clients. We’ve also analyzed plenty of ad accounts for dentists as they consider becoming clients of DDSRank. In other words, we’ve seen what works for dentists and what just wastes money. If you use these 7 building blocks, you’ll be on your way to affordably bringing in new patients in no time.

1. Use Google Ads, not Google AdWords Express

When you sign up for a Google Ad account, by default you are using what is called “Smart Mode.” This was formerly known as AdWords Express, which is a truncated version of the full Google Ads (now referred to as “Expert Mode”). Google created Smart Mode with the intention of making it easier and faster for businesses to set up and manage their ads. A noble goal, but unfortunately this simplified version takes away many of the options you need to maximize the profitability of your ad campaign.

We’ll talk about some of those options in the rest of this article. For now, be sure that you choose Expert Mode when you see this screen:

google ads expert mode

2. Only Run Ads on the Search Network

When you set up your campaign, you have the option to run your ads on the Display Network as well as the Search Network. To understand why using only the Search Network makes sense for most dental practices, we need to understand the difference in the two networks.

The Search Network comprises the Google search engine results pages (SERPs) and “search partners,” or other much smaller search engines like Ask as well as other Google-owned properties. When someone types “dentist near me” into Google’s search bar, they are shown the SERPs, which contain a list of dental practices nearby (a maps section and then organic results) and a series of ads at the top and bottom of that results page. We’ve all seen these pages.

The Display Network, on the other hand, is made up of other websites on the internet like blogs and news sites that allow ads to be shown somewhere on the page.
a display ad on a news website
So why only use the Search Network? When a person types a question or phrase into the search bar, that person is actively in search mode: they are trying to find something specific. Alternatively, when someone is reading a blog or a news article, that person is not necessarily actively in the market for a dental service. And although you don’t pay unless someone clicks on the ad, my bet is that most clicks you get from these sources are accidental or from people who will not spend much time on your website.

Click-through rates (CTRs) are much lower on the Display Network than on the Search Network. The only time it makes sense to run ads on the Display Network is when you have a large enough budget to separate a portion for use on a brand awareness campaign. And those types of campaigns should only be run on the Display Network (not Search) and should include eye-catching visuals rather than text only. So stick to the Search Network in the beginning.

3. Target a Reasonable Radius of Miles from Your Dental Practice

Often dentists think in terms of targeting their entire town, city, or metro area. But how far will new patients realistically drive to get to your practice? This number depends on your location as well as the type of practice you have. For practices located in the suburbs or more rural areas, people will usually drive farther than for those in a dense metro area. And if you have more of a specialty practice, such as pediatric dentistry, people will be likely to drive farther to get to you than for a general dentistry practice.

So rather than typing in town or city names, or even zip codes, select Advanced search:
the option to go to advanced search
And then select Radius and enter the number of miles you think the average new patient would be likely to drive to reach your office.
pointing to the radius button
You can see from this example that this practice’s Google My Business (GMB) location comes up as an option for the center of the radius. That’s there because we connected our GMB account with our Google Ad account. You can find more information about how to do this in this article.

One other important choice to make as you are setting up your targeting: don’t go with Google’s recommended targeting option. Instead, choose People in or regularly in your targeted locations.
choosing the correct location options
If you use their recommendation, you will be showing your ad to people who at some time in the past have searched for something in your area. We see this mistake often when auditing ad accounts. The result is that you’ll be paying for clicks from other states and even other countries on occasion. These clicks will result in more money for Google (perhaps why they recommend that option?), less money for you, and no new patients. For example, I’m in eastern Pennsylvania right now and just did a search for “dentist surprise az,” a suburb of Phoenix. I was shown this ad:

ad for dentist in surprise AZ

There’s no chance I’ll cross the country to get to this dental office, yet I could easily choose to click on the ad. The only surprise here will be when this dentist gets his Google Ads bill.

4. Take Advantage of Ad Extensions

When you create your ad, you are allowed a set number of characters for headlines and descriptions. If you only enter the minimum amount of information, you have a small ad. Minimalism is beneficial in some applications, but not in Google Ads. The goal is to take up as much real estate on the search results page as possible, which has a direct relationship to your click-through rate. More extensions equal more clicks.

Google offers a series of extensions for you to choose from. If you have connected your GMB account to your Google Ad account as we talked about earlier, then you will automatically see a location extension added to your ad. If you’ve entered your phone number, you’ll see a call extension. But there are quite a few other extension types you can manually ad to expand your reach.

The ones to be sure to add include:

  • Call-out extensions. Any text can go in these, like the three phrases in the ad below:

    example of call out extensions

  • Sitelink extensions. These are links to other pages on your website besides the ad’s landing page. Sometimes they will get lots of space and show descriptions like the “Testimonies” and “Before & After Pics” in the Surprise, AZ ad above. Other times they will just be shown in a horizontal lists as the ad below shows, but that is still additional space your ad takes up and therefore is valuable.

    example of sitelink extensions

  • Structured snippet extension. To use this extension, you must choose from Google’s predetermined categories. For dental practices, the most common one is “Services.” This gives you an opportunity to list the services offered by your practice, or at least the ones you’d like to focus on with your ad. Here’s an example:

    example of structured snippet extension

Some extensions aren’t used often by dentists, and that can make your ad stand out. A promotion extension can be used to show special deals your office is running:

example of a promotion extension

It’s also rare to see price extensions used in dentists’ ads, but if you aren’t afraid to list a minimum price (or you can even choose a label like “usually” or “typically” to give yourself wiggle room):

example of a price extension

5. Choose Keywords with High Intent and Proper Match Type

Keywords are the words and phrases you want your ad to show up for when people type in their query into the search bar. Choosing the best keywords with the correct match type for your ad group is of primary importance, so let’s take a few minutes to talk about what’s on someone’s mind when they begin a search.

Because there are millions of searches done every day, we need a way to decide which ones we want our ad to show up for. If our searcher types “dentist” into the bar, is that person looking for a dentist to visit, or wondering about how to become a dentist? We don’t have any idea, so it’s best to stay away from that word alone. However, if the person types “dentist near me,” that’s a much better indication of having a strong intention to visit a dentist in the near future. So what we are really trying to do is get inside the head of someone actively seeking our services, and choose those words or phrases for keywords. “Dentist open Saturday” and “Dentist that accepts cigna insurance” would both be considered high intent keywords. You will pay more for clicks on high intent keywords, but it’s worth it to find people with a higher likelihood of becoming new patients.

When you choose your keywords, you also make the decision of which match type you will choose. There are three primary match types: broad, phrase, and exact. If you choose broad match, then Google can show your ad for any search query Google deems as related to that keyword. For example, a broad match for the keyword “dentist Tucson” will allow the ad to be shown for the following searches: “Dr Jones dentist Tucson” (and all of your other competitors); “dental specialist who does root canals on main street Tucson” (and all other dental services and addresses); and “phone number for affordable dentures in Tucson AZ.” As you can see, it’s a wide range of queries, some of which you want, and some you don’t.

One of the reasons we advised you to steer clear of AdWords Express is that the only match type you can use with Express is broad. If you were to change the match type of the keyword “dentist Tucson” to phrase match, then only search queries that contained that phrase or a very close alternative can be shown your ad. So a phrase match here would allow “Jim Smith DDS Tuscon” (still all competitors), “dentist Tucson that takes Medicaid,” and “best dentist Tucson.” Better, but you will still pick up searches for your competitors. Most of the time someone searching for a specific dentist wants that dentist, so if they click the phone extension on your ad and call you, they will hang up and you’ve just wasted money.

The safest match type to start with is the exact match. If we choose to use an exact match type with “dentist Tucson,” we’ll only get people searching for a narrow range of terms like “dentist Tucson AZ,” “Tucson dentists,” and “Tucson dentistry.” These searchers likely have an open mind about which dentist they will choose, so here your ad has a chance to get their attention and prompt a call or visit to your website.

While exact match types are great to begin with, they are often the most expensive. And by using only exact matches, you’ll miss other valuable longer searches. For instance, an exact match for “dentist Tucson” will miss these searches: “dentist Tucson reviews,” “dentist in Tucson that does dental implants,” and “top Tucson dentist that accepts united healthcare.”

So how can you get the benefits of the phrase match type without your ad showing up for people searching for competitors or for insurances you don’t accept? The secret is by using negative keywords.

6. Use Negative Keywords

Just as you want your ad to show up for certain searches, you also want your ad NOT to show up for other searches. The way to make sure your ad doesn’t show up for those searches is to use negative keywords. By creating a negative keyword list, you have much more control over which queries prompt your ad. Continuing with our example from above, if you want to use “dentist Tucson” with a phrase match type to catch people searching for lots of beneficial long-tail searches, you can create a negative keyword list called “Competitors” and populate it with the names of rival dentists in your target area.

an example of a negative keyword list

And just as match type works for your targeted keywords, you can use them in this negative keyword list. Since you don’t know how someone will type in your competitor’s name, you can cover most forms by using a phrase match type. That’ll keep your ad from showing for “Dr. Stevens dentist Tucson” and “Tucson dentist Greg L. Stevens DDS on Park Street.”

No doubt you will miss entering some of your competitors. But if you regularly pay attention to the search queries that generate clicks on your ad, you can enter the new names that show up in the Search Terms column. That way you minimize the losses from competitor clicks and maximize your ability to show up for beneficial searches you might not have thought to add to your keyword list.

One more note about negative keywords: you should also have a list of general terms you don’t want your ad to show for. Words like “career,” “school,” and “free” often indicate the searcher is not looking to become a new patient. Placing these type of terms on their own negative keyword list helps you further make sure you are maximizing your ad’s profitability.

7. Be Sure to Track Conversions

It does little good to run an ad campaign without being able to pinpoint which keywords and which ads are bringing in new patients, and which are not generating results. Fortunately, Google allows you to determine which actions are important to your business, and to set up a conversion for each type of action. Conversions can be entered by going to Tools & Settings and looking under Measurement:

showing where to find conversions in Google Ads
The most popular type of conversion action for a dental practice is receiving a phone call as a result of the ad. We talked about call extensions earlier, and when you add a call extension to your ad or your account (and enable call reporting), you will automatically begin seeing a conversion action called Calls from ads when someone clicks on the phone number from your ad.

But what about if the person clicks on your ad, goes to your landing page, and then makes a call from your website? Or they fill out a request for appointment form? Or emails your office directly? You certainly want to count those valuable actions as conversions as well.

Being able to track other conversions besides those made through call extensions requires that code is embedded in your website. The good news is that you don’t need to come up with that code yourself: Google Ads will provide it for each conversion type you want to set up. You can then either forward the code to your website designer/manager, or if you are using content management software like WordPress, you can enter portions of the code there, and the rest through Google Tag Manager (GTM). Here’s a Google article that goes over the details.

When you are finished, you’ll have a set of conversions that are meaningful to your practice. And you’ll be able to trace which keywords and ads are bringing in the most new patients.

a sample of a list of conversions by keyword

Wrap Up

So once you set up your campaign correctly you can leave it alone, right? Not if you want to maximize your profits. By paying attention to your campaign’s details, you’ll find more words that need to become negative keywords, and you’ll discover search queries you hadn’t thought of to add as new keywords. You’ll be able to see which locations are bringing in the most conversions, as well as which ads need to be rewritten.

If all of this work seems overwhelming, then find a dental PPC management agency like DDSRank to take over for you. For only $350 per month (no set up fee), we’ll manage your campaigns for you. In fact, we’ll set up the campaigns, create the landing pages if needed, write the ads, and set up conversion tracking. To read more about our services, see our page on PPC management for dentists.

Running Google Ads can bring in new patients right away while you wait for dental SEO to move your practice up the organic portion of the search engine results pages. The short-term results of PPC and the long-term results of an SEO campaign can do wonders for your dental practice.