Health & Medical SMBs Spend More On Marketing Than Other Industries

When we conducted an online survey of 668 US small and medium-sized businesses in October 2013, a large number of these businesses (just over 20%) classified themselves as belonging to the Health & Medical Industry. This group consisted of a wide spread of specialists, including chiropractors, dentists, mental health practices, medical family practices, pharmacies, psychologists and general physicians.

We asked them a number of questions related to their attitudes and use of internet and mobile marketing, and their engagement with search agencies. Interestingly, we found they spent more on marketing than other small businesses. (You can view the full survey findings online: SMB Internet Marketing Survey 2013.)

We have taken a closer look at the responses from the Health & Medical businesses and compared these to the all-industry results. The following set of charts cover some of the key findings.

Q1. How Much Money Do You Allocate To Marketing Your Business Each Month?

monthly marketing spend

Key Findings:

  • Average marketing spend is $475/month  (16% higher than the all-industry average)
  • 21% of businesses spend more than $1,000/month (vs. just 7% across all industries)


Health & Medical SMBs spend more on marketing than the average SMB. The value per customer can be very high in this industry (depending on the specialist and/or treatments), so businesses in this sector can afford to spend more on marketing than the average SMB.

This makes it an attractive industry for marketing and search agencies to target; however, the volume of purchases is low and lead time from inquiry to sale can be long, which needs to be taken into consideration when pitching to this sector.

Q2. What Percentage Of Your Marketing Money Do You Spend On Internet Or Mobile Marketing?

percentage of marketing

Key findings:

  • Health & Medical SMBs spend 32% of the marketing budget on internet marketing (vs. 46% across all industries)


Health/Medical businesses spend a lower percentage on internet marketing than the average SMB. A number of possible conclusions can be drawn from these findings:

  • Online marketing is simply less effective for healthcare businesses (see Charts in Q3 below).
  • Offline marketing is more effective (although this seems unlikely).
  • SMBs within the medical discipline simply don’t know enough about search marketing.

Taking these findings into consideration, let’s look at what marketing channels are considered the most important.

Q3. Which Of The Following Marketing Channels Are Most Effective At Bringing You New Leads & Customers?

effective marketing channels

Key Findings:

  • Word of mouth is the most effective channel, with 29.5% of respondents having selected this (vs. 26% across all industries)
  • SEO is the 2nd most effective channel at 17% (vs. 19% across all industries)
  • 1% of businesses said that PPC was an effective customer acquisition channel


It’s not surprising that word-of-mouth is considered the most effective channel. This applies even more to the Health & Medical industry than to the average SMB (29.5% vs. 26%). Given the delicate or sensitive nature of the service provided by Health/Medical professionals, customers are likely to consult with friends or colleagues before using one — so personal recommendation is very important.

Interestingly, traditional offline marketing remains strong in this sector. Channels such as local newspaper advertising/directories, flyers, and paper directories perform as well as digital channels such as email marketing and mobile marketing.

PPC was the worst performing channel, with just 1% of businesses saying it was an effective channel.

When we aggregate the above channels into offline and online, we can see that offline channels are more effective than online.

online vs offline copy

Key Findings:

  • Offline marketing is more effective than online marketing
  • Online channels grabbed just 44.8% of the votes (vs. 54.1% across all industries)

Q4. Do You Have A Mobile Ready/Mobile Optimized Website?

do you have a mobile site

Key Findings:

  • 42% do have a mobile site (vs. 59% across all industries)
  • 39% don’t have a mobile site (vs. 26% across all industries)


Medical/Health businesses are lagging behind other industries in mobile — 17% fewer businesses have a mobile-ready/optimized site, and many more are not even sure if they do!

So “mobile” appears to be much lower on the agenda for this sector, and that could be because of the nature of their service. Choosing which doctor/dentist/specialist to use doesn’t lend itself to spur-of-the-moment purchasing as the research phase is longer and more involved, so the final selection is very considered.

Looking toward the future, the health/medical industry is divided on the importance of mobile and mobile marketing to their business. future of mobile

Key Findings:

  • 55% say that mobile is going to be an important channel (vs. 77% across all industries)
  • 45% either don’t know enough about mobile and mobile marketing, or simply don’t think it’s relevant to their business

RKG’s quarterly research (Q2 2012 to Q3 2013) showed that one quarter of all organic visits comes from mobile devices, yet this is one area where medical SMBs are lagging behind other industries.

Q5. How Many Times Per Week Are You Contacted By An Internet/SEO Agency?

agency contact

Key Findings:

  • 27% are contacted every day (vs. 32% across all industries)
  • 18% say 2-3 times a week (vs. 25% across all industries)
  • 21% say they are rarely contacted (vs. 12% across all industries)


It appears that healthcare and medical SMBs are contacted less often by internet marketing companies than SMBs from other industries.

Once again, there are a number of conclusions that could be drawn from this. We already know that medical SMBs are less enthusiastic about internet marketing than SMBs from other industries, so it could be fair to suggest that this has filtered through to agencies, who have become more reluctant to overly engage with a target market that has proven to be less receptive in the past.

Alternatively, could it be that there are simply not enough agencies/consultants with the necessary experience and skill set to confidently approach SMBs within the medical industry? Do other industries represent easier wins?

The full findings of the Health & Medial Internet Marketing Survey can be viewed here.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column | SEM Industry | SEM Industry: Stats | Stats | Stats: General


About The Author: is Founder & CEO of BrightLocal provides local SEO tools for local businesses; see their research section for the latest findings about the local search market.

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  • Mark Warner

    Not too surprising. Sweet profit margins in those areas and lots of people finding those businesses through search – true that there are lots of referrals and recommendations involved in the decision process for those consumers, but also lots of research and that is usually where the search side comes into play.

  • Laura Nadler

    I found it interesting in the comments between questions 2 & 3 that statements were made as fact about effectiveness or lack of effectiveness, when the only indicator was the provider’s opinion. I’ve been in the healthcare space for over 20 years, and have been in the SEM space for just a year, focusing on healthcare. My observation has been that doctors often cling to, and claim effective, the methods they have used from the start (print media, direct mail), but when asked how they track their ROI, they have no solid data to show that these spends brought them any real revenue.
    When talking to them about internet marketing services we need to focus on attribution, and the ability to link their spend to real results – patients in the chair.

  • Pat D

    Couldn’t agree more and thought the exact same thing. ‘We think/hope word of mouth is most productive.’ But it’s very likely not hard data.

  • Pat D

    Couldn’t agree more and thought the exact same thing. ‘We think/hope word of mouth is most productive.’ But it’s very likely not hard data.


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