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Why Your Dental Website Might Be Missing the Mark & Costing You Clients

(Content warning: this post contains graphic dental imagery & really questionable dental website design)

Dentists, like a lot of other folks in the service industry, have been done a disservice when it comes to online representation. For most professionals, a website is, at best, secondary to the set up of their office and, at worst, a complete afterthought. You know you should probably have a web presence, but you have other, more important, things to deal with.

I watch dentists struggle with this all of the time. After all, you went to school so you could do dentistry, not to have to do marketing or design a website.

The Pitfalls of Dental Website Templates

So when it comes to creating a website, most dentists opt for web designing services that offer the path of least resistance. Companies that offer hosting services and website templates aimed at your specific field become very enticing. But here’s the problem, in most cases those websites are being designed based on dental stereotypes, by people who think they know what a dental website should look like—and in most cases, they’re wrong.

They assume that dental websites should show stock images of smiling people, dentists in lab coats, or dentists working on “happy” patients. And on the surface, that sounds good. But patients want more than shiny, superficial pictures. They want to meet you and know what your office feels like before they ever step foot in it. Will they be comfortable and at ease at your office? Will the interactions feel pleasant or should they be ready for a fight or flight response?

In a search of dental logos, there was an overwhelming number that used a tooth as their primary image. This does little to set you apart from the pack. If at all possible, think outside of the box and avoid tooth iconography altogether. I guarantee you, everything cute and interesting has been done. Instead, find a logo that describes the culture of your office.

In a search of dental logos, there was an overwhelming number that used a tooth as their primary image. This does little to set you apart from the pack. If at all possible, think outside of the box and avoid tooth iconography altogether. I guarantee you, everything cute and interesting has been done. Instead, find a logo that describes the culture of your office.

Dental Tropes

Most dental websites use stereotypical images that work against the image you are trying to build as a trusted, pain-free dentist. Very few sites actually convey the culture of the office. Instead, they’re usually filled with dental icons (teeth, pliers, toothbrush, etc.), smiling people, male dentists in masks (sometimes holding dental instruments), etc.

Imagine that you are someone who is scared of the dentist (which is about 60% of the adult population). Do you think you are more or less likely to visit a dentist who displays imagery that triggers your worst dental fears?

You Want Your Site to Work FOR You, Not Against You

Most dentists make the mistake of designing a website that is all about communicating who they are. “I AM A DENTIST, LOOK AT THE TECHNICAL SKILLS I HAVE, AND THE THINGS I CAN DO TO YOUR MOUTH.”

Instead, you should be designing a website that focuses on easing your potential client’s concerns. Your website is going to be the first impression your clients have of you. Does it accurately convey the culture and feel of your office or will you spend their first visit (if they actually decide to make an appointment) back-tracking to make sure they have an accurate impression of you and your staff?

What Not to Do

First, let’s talk about what not to do. You don’t want to scare away your potential clients before they are ever presented with the chance to contact you.

DON’T use a lot of tooth imagery. It’s been done. It won’t help to differentiate you from the other 15 dentists who work within a 2-mile radius of your office. And I can guarantee you that the potential client is already well aware that you are a dentist.

DON’T show a lot of images of the dental chair. Dental chairs, dental instruments, and anything associated with the pain of dentistry are HUGE triggers. You’ll scare them away before they ever get a chance to meet you and your staff.

Along with this idea, DON’T use a dental chair—or any dental instruments—in your logo. It’s not cute or clever.

DON’T overdo it on the happy stock images.

Dental tropes to avoid

Your potential client’s are savvy web users. They know fake images when they see them.

DON’T show pictures of dentistry being done on a patient.

The quickest way to scare off a dental phobic is to show them triggering images.

The quickest way to scare off a dental phobic is to show them triggering images.

View the images you present from the patient’s perspective. And if you can’t, then ask your patients to give you their honest opinions on the images you’re considering. The website template below may display what looks like a nice picture of a happy woman getting dental work done, but for some women, images like this can be triggering on a number of levels—not just related to dental phobia, but also loss of control, being objectified, and even sexualized. Showing women in a passive position (with their mouth open) while a doctor is in the dominant position will work to subconsciously repel some clients.

Dental tropes to avoid

The following image has completely different messaging depending on the perspective.

From the dentist’s perspective, it says “Look at the pretty, smiling assistant in the foreground, she’s a happy employee, which must mean I’m a good boss.”

Some patients might see this, however, and think, “I’m going to be placed in a powerless position, and poked with sharp instruments by some masked doctor standing over me while the assistant completely ignores me & my anxiety.”

Dental tropes to avoid

Just know that what may appear harmless and innocuous to you, may be just the opposite to a potential patient.

Lastly, DON’T show before and after close up shots of your work. These are great for text books or peer reviews, but will only serve to gross out potential patients and possibly scare them away.

Dental tropes to avoid

If you want to show a before and after shot, take a picture of your patient that doesn’t isolate & zoom in on their mouth. You can take less invasive (and honestly, less frightening) pictures without risking HIPAA compliance by taking a more natural picture of the mouth, nose, and chin area. OR just save these images for an informational brochure that you hand to your client AFTER they’ve had their consultation and feel comfortable with you.

Remember, even though you’re the expert, you need to market to your patients in a way that won’t gross them out or scare them off. Your website is the prospective patient’s introduction to you and your staff. Show images of your office, so when patients visit for the first time, they’ll have a sense of recognition and comfort. And whatever you do, avoid the triggering imagery and cutesy dental tropes.

Nicole DeytonComment