The Dental Marketers’ Epic Playbook: Vanquish the Competition and Win the DMV Smile Wars

The Dental Marketers’ Epic Playbook: Vanquish the Competition and Win the DMV Smile Wars

It’s getting harder and harder to be a dentist in the United States.

Insurance companies squeeze you on reimbursements. Dental management companies with piles of cash and an assembly-line business model eclipse solo practices. And mounting pressures to see more patients each day make your chair spin and your legs ache.

And those competitive pressures are worst in the Washington, DC region, which claims the highest concentration of dentists anywhere in the country.

Graph showing dentist concentration vs population in DMV, part of RS Gonzales’s dental marketing research

Where is the adventure in entrepreneurship and freedom you imagined when you first bought or launched your practice?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Your dental practice can give you the financial security you always dreamed of. The space and energy for high-quality patient care. And the freedom to take that long-forgotten vacation.

Your answer may lie online.

In the fierce showdown for clients, dentists in the National Capitol region who embrace the digital age are grinning ear to ear. On the flip side, those who neglect to brush (their online image) are facing the toothache of dwindling patient numbers.

In this all-encompassing guide to the DMV dental market, we’ll look at what it really takes to make your dental office the plaque to be!

Fierce competition for dental patients in the DMV…

First, let’s validate the anxiety you may feel about your practice with some cold, hard facts.

We analyzed dozens of data sets across all 50 states, trying to pull out economic and demographic trends that affect dental practices in our region.

For dentists in the DMV, the results weren’t pretty.

With its affluent population, and a high concentration of federal employees with good health insurance, dentists flock to the National Capitol region. The result is an over-saturation of dentists, with all the expected impacts on supply and demand:

  • Fewer patients per dentist

  • Lower dental salaries

  • Higher advertising rates

…Puts downward pressure on Dentists’ incomes

Between a glut of dentists and sky-high costs for office space, dental practices feel the squeeze on profits.

In fact, when adjusted for cost of living, salaries for dentists in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia are among the lowest in the country.


Infographic showcasing dentist salaries versus living costs in the DMV area, analyzed by RS Gonzales.

But the DC market is all smiles for dentists with a bright online presence

Did you know that in the Washington, DC region, a whopping 142,000 people search online for “dentist near me” each and every month?

Sure, people still ask their neighbors to refer them to the local dentist. But gone are the days when a solo dentist could “advertise” with no more than a shingle on the front lawn and still enjoy a bustling practice.

Today, patients trust Google to recommend their next dentist. In fact, more than 2% of DMV residents are searching for a new dentist at any given time.

To give you a sense of scale: If you landed even one of every 10,000 online searchers in the region (that’s a measly .01%), you’d go from zero to a million-dollar practice in just three years.

But if your online presence isn’t pearly white, you’re missing out annually on hundreds of new patients, ready and eager to jump into your dentist’s chair.

Graph illustrating'Dentists Near Me' Google searches in the DMV region, presented by RS Gonzales

What does it take to win patients online?

As with any high-stakes game, there are winners and losers.

And in the National Capitol region, winning dentists win big. In fact, the average revenue at a DC dental practice is projected to top $4 million by 2024, but that’s largely because mammoth practices and dental management companies distort the data.

The majority of solo practices still languish below $1 million in revenue, with the owner taking home a median income of $181,400. That’s about the same as a senior federal government employee. Not bad, but certainly not a home run, when you consider four years of dental school, student loans, and the risk and 60-hour weeks associated with building a practice.

So let’s look at what it takes to floss out the competition and rise to the top of the toothpaste tube.

A website does NOT make your practice visible

First, let’s debunk a common assumption: having a website is not enough. In fact, it barely gets you to the starting line.

Too often, dentists put up a three-page website, slap in some stock photos, and then…do nothing. Years pass and their website remains a living fossil, untouched and not improved with age.

In fact, if you don’t keep up with competitors who are constantly improving their online presence, adding pages to their websites, and strengthening their reviews, your dental practice might linger in digital purgatory.

Case Study: Invisible Dentists in Northwest DC

To prove this theory, we went to the epicenter of the DC market’s dental oversupply: the 5000 block of Wisconsin Avenue, NW.

With a bustling commercial corridor, quality office space, an affluent and well-insured population, and two nearby metro stops, it’s no wonder the Tenleytown-Friendship Heights neighborhood attracts dentists like iron fillings to a magnet.

Within a half-mile radius, there are 20 dental practices serving a neighborhood population of approximately 11,000.

That’s nearly double the district-wide average of one dentist per 961 people — and close to four times the national average.

So, you’d think that dentists in Tenleytown and Friendship Heights would really bring their A-game? Amazingly, the opposite is true:

Analysis of dentist online presence on Wisconsin Avenue, DMV, by RS Gonzales.

Based on local search data from Google, the two sponsored listings and the three top organic listings will get more than 90% of all clicks or calls. Since sponsored listings are typically from dentists outside the neighborhood, that means that only 3 of 20 neighborhood dentists will get any benefit from their online presence.

And the remaining 85% of dentists? Virtually invisible.

The recipe for success has three simple ingredients

No dentist wants their practice to be a closely-guarded secret. But the lesson from the practices in Tenleytown and Friendship Heights is that it’s not actually that hard to rise above the competition.

Your competition banks on a few, easy-to-track metrics and you can use that intelligence to dominate your local dental market!

#1: Get found with a Google Business Profile

And hold on to your dental chairs because the average star rating for dentists’ GMB profiles in the DMV region is a whopping 4.5 out of 5. Talk about acing the patient satisfaction game!

Your Google Business Profile is customers’ first port of call when they search for a new dentist on Google. Formally known as Google My Business (and still colloquially referred to as GMB), your profile gives customers a summary of all the information they need to make a speedy buying decision: your phone number and other contact information, a list and description of your services, and the number and quality of reviews.

Infographic highlighting the impact of complete GMB listings on views in DMV, presented by RS Gonzales.

And that’s just as Google intended: they want searchers (aka their customers) to stay within the Google ecosystem. That means giving them all the information they need to book their next hygiene visit without ever needing to jump to your website.

In short, the Google algorithm rewards businesses that satisfy Google’s goal. That means it serves up listings that appear complete, professional, and customer-approved.

Top-rated dental stars based on reviews and ratings in DMV, showcased by RS Gonzales.

Your competitors are ignoring the patient-attracting power of GMB…

Hold onto your dentists’ chairs, because dentists in the National Capitol region fall far short in optimizing this easy-to-use resource.

Google owns almost 92.5% of the global search market. Nationally, 44% of all businesses have already claimed and verified their Google Business Profiles. It’s like a secret handshake that unlocks local visibility and connects you to your dream patients.

And yet, in the DMV, a scanty 30% of your competitors are making the effort.

The same is true with the quality of reviews. For better or worse, grade inflation is real. The average DMV dentist boasts a 4.5-star rating, which is really about the bare minimum most consumers will consider. While a perfect five-star review starts to look over-engineered, you really want to aim for the perfectly-imperfect sweet spot: 4.8 or 4.9.

…And falling short of stellar reviews

Local dentists do no better on reviews.

Those sweet, sweet patient reviews play a huge role in building trust and credibility with potential patients. And, like the Google Business Profile itself, they’re totally free.

Reviews also influence buying decisions. Interestingly, studies conclude that 91% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

In our review of hundreds of dentists’ profiles in 15 different neighborhoods and towns in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, we found that the average dentist acquires 20 to 30 reviews. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually as little as one-tenth of what you really need to dominate in local searches.

Analysis of Top 3 Dentists in DMV Regions (Reviews) | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

To find yourself sitting pretty at the top of the map, you need an average of 157 reviews. And if you really want to set yourself a high bar, the top 10 dentists nationally have an average of 2400 reviews each.

Analysis of Top 3 Dentists in DMV Regions (Ratings) | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

#2: Boost credibility with a review feedback loop

Done properly, online reviews act like a super-charged word-of-mouth network — free, powerful, but on a much larger scale.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), patient reviews on Google, Yelp or Facebook significantly influence patients when looking for a dentist. Whether it’s a glowing review or some constructive feedback, responding thoughtfully shows you care about your patients’ experience.

As we discovered above, the quantity and quality of reviews also determine whether search engines present your profile at the top of the all-important “near me” searches.

Finally, they serve as an on-the-spot survey that keeps your team on its toes and helps you continuously improve your business.

Put simply, online reviews shape a dentist’s reputation and make or break patient acquisition and retention.

So why do so few dentists have a system for consistently generating reviews?

Outshine the competition by listening to your patients

Take a look at this top-notch Google Business Profile from a dentist in Arlington, Virginia. First, the profile is complete, with multiple (authentic) images and detailed information about the hours of operation and services. But what really stands out is the dental team’s straightforward and genuine response to each and every review, whether it’s a welcome 5-star or an inconvenient 2-stars.

Google profile snapshot of'Tend Dental Ballston' in DMV, exemplifying a well-structured dentist listing, analyzed by RS Gonzales.

Encourage patients to leave reviews and testimonials, showcasing your stellar service. Then, respond to their feedback with grace and gratitude.

Happy customers will attract more happy customers. Conversely, you’ll hold you and your team accountable for lapses in customer service, compelling you to fine tune systems, and bolster staff training.

With an intentional approach, reviews will elevate your dental practice to new heights!

An easy recipe for better reviews…and a better practice

It’s not hard to boast hundreds of reviews, but it does require a steady, mindful commitment to great service and genuine followup. Make these steps part of your office culture and the way you train and reward your associates, hygienists and receptionists:

  • Provide Stellar Customer Service: Go the extra mile to ensure your patients have a delightful experience. This should go without saying, but quality, integrity and friendliness should be at the heart of your practice. Happy customers are more likely to leave positive reviews and recommend your practice to others.

  • Request Feedback Strategically: Don’t be shy to ask satisfied patients to leave reviews on platforms like Google, Yelp, or social media.

  • Be Consistent: Incorporate requests for reviews into your daily rhythm. Take five minutes at the beginning of the day to review your roster of patients and decide which ones you will ask personally for a review. Search engine algorithms reward a steady flow of new reviews. But beware the review glut: if you acquire hundreds of new reviews in a short period, your profile may be temporarily shuttered, as it’s a signal that you might be buying reviews (a big no-no).

  • Make it easy: Create a postcard with fun and friendly graphics. On one side, print a QR code linked to your review sites. On the other, offer a thank you coupon for a free ice cream. Give it to patients at the end of their appointment, and ask them to complete the review on-site (they’ll forget if they leave).

  • Be vulnerable and authentic: A sincere, personal appeal wins out over a hundred robo-requests via text. While many dentists office employ an automated system that sends out review requests after each appointment, the response rate is typically less than 1%. Explain that you are a small business owner trying to grow your business, and reviews are indispensable to your growth. Add that you value feedback and are always looking for ways to improve your practice. That type of request, especially when paired with a small thank you treat, can yield a response rate of 50% or higher.

#3: Reach patients affordably with Google Local Services Ads

If you’re new to marketing, balancing razor-thin margins, or stuck on page two of local searches, it’s wise to master the free techniques above before you spend a penny getting found online.

But once you’re ready, Google Local Services ads can turbocharge your dental practice, delivering a steady stream of leads at a relatively low cost.

8 Building Blocks to start Google Local Service Ads | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

In January 2023, Google added dentists to the list of more than 70 service industries that could capitalize on this budget-friendly alternative to Google pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Then, in April 2023, it added orthodontists to the list — the very first HIPAA-regulated verticals to be eligible for this small business set aside.

Digital marketing pros hailed the news as an exciting opportunity for dentists to find patients affordably. But the response from dentists in the DMV? Crickets.

In fact, for 90% of dentists in the DMV, Local Services Ads remain buried treasure.

Read on for your map to the hidden gold, and join the elite dentists who are enriching their practice with local ads.

What are Google Local Services Ads?

From electricians to landscapers, many small businesses have enjoyed a home court advantage since Google first rolled out its Local Services Ads in 2015. True to their name, local services ads are available only to businesses with a local presence in a given city or neighborhood. These ads appear at the top of search results when people search for services “near me.”

Google Local Services ads give you an unfair advantage over neighborhood competitors. They even appear above the organic results from businesses that have done the hard work of polishing their profiles and garnering hundreds of great reviews.

Google PPC Ads vs Google LSAs (PPL) | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

Crucially, local services ads employ a pay-per-lead model. What that means is that you only pay when someone takes a concrete action that could lead to a sale:

  • Call your office.

  • Book an appointment through Google’s free booking widget installed on your profile.

  • Text you from the free chat feature on your profile.

Further, you set a weekly budget and tell Google to “maximize your leads.” The algorithm will present your profile to searchers most likely to be your ideal customers, based on location, demographics and services requested. Over time, as the algorithm learns from successful leads, and as you (hopefully) improve your online presence and ads funnel in response to data and customer feedback, your cost per lead will decline.

Local Services Ads are built for small businesses

The pay-per-lead model is a welcome alternative to Google’s larger (and more lucrative) Pay Per Click (PPC) ads. PPC ads are the traditional text or display ads available to all competitors, local and national alike. Businesses pay each time someone clicks on their ad, regardless of whether the click leads to a sale or not.

Unsurprisingly, with PPC ads, small businesses rarely come out on top. Well-heeled national competitors drive up the price of each click, but when people actually visit a small business’s website—nothing. No call, no email, no lead.

In fact, one study estimates that changes in Google’s algorithm mean businesses spending less than $3,000 per month on Google Pay-Per-Click ads are simply wasting their money.

The economics of local ads for dentists

According to our independent analysis of hundreds of dentists in DC, Maryland and Virginia, fewer than 10 percent are taking advantage of Google Local Services ads. In contrast, 25% of health care professionals in the U.S employ local advertising online.

It’s as if someone gifted you a digital bullhorn, and you left it in the closet to gather dust

U.S. Local Service Ads stats for Dentists | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

Let’s look at the economics of local services ads.

Unlike other industries, Google does not yet publish data on estimated costs per lead for dentists based on zip codes. Look for data to be added to its Local Services Ads cost calculator in the future.

In the meantime, RS Gonzales contacted Google directly to request not-yet-public data on costs for local services ads in the DC region. Given that dentists are new to Local Services Ads, a Google ads specialist stated that data for the broader region is not comprehensive, but did provide some illustrative information on Costs Per Lead:

  • Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County: $135-145

  • Hagerstown, MD: $85-95

  • Baltimore, MD: $125-135

LSA Rate for Dentists in the DMV | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

Further, we reviewed hundreds of ads campaigns and discovered that in the National Capitol region, the average cost per click (CPC) is $15 to $25 and the Cost per Lead (CPL) is anywhere between $100 and $350 (although very rarely that high).

Your exact cost will vary depending on a number of factors:

  • Supply and demand: If other dentists in your neighborhood or community advertise, costs will be higher.

  • Community demographics: If Google data indicates the average value of a local customer is higher, the algorithm will drive up bids.

Again, while Google Local Services Ads appears more expensive, a click that costs you $15 to $25 could lead nowhere, while a lead means a prospective patient is ready to buy and actively in touch with your office.

Sky-high rates mean local ads aren’t for everyone

The headline number is staggering: more than $100 per lead?

Certainly, online advertising is not for the faint of heart. You need an appetite for risk, an established practice, and enough cash reserves to ride out at least a few months before your ads gain traction.

In short, if loosing $10,000 would herald the death knell for your practice, you’re not ready for LSAs.

It’s no wonder only 10% of DMV dentists are pursuing this marketing channel.

But for dentists with a stunning website, dozens of glowing reviews and a team on hand to answer each and every call, Local Services Ads can transform your practice and deliver high-ticket clients affordably.

How much does it cost to acquire a new dental patient from LSAs?

Let’s evaluate what these Cost Per Lead figures mean for the only number that matters: your customer acquisition cost.

In other words, leads could cost you a penny, but if those prospects don’t find their way to your dental chair, you’re wasting your money. Conversely, if a lead costs $1,000, but nets you $10,000, it’s a bargain.

The standard formula for customer acquisition cost is:
Customer Acquisition Cost = Cost Per Lead/Conversion Rate

Your conversion rate is the share of leads you convert into patients. Think of it as the part of your marketing funnel entirely within your control. Factors that will affect your conversion rate include:

  • The quality and quantity of reviews.

  • The ease of booking an appointment directly from your Google Business Profile or website.

  • A courteous and well-informed receptionist or call center that picks up calls, and responds to texts and emails 24/7 (or at least within minutes).

  • A beautiful website that speaks to your ideal patient, provides them with information and offers them multiple ways to get in touch.

Nationally, the average conversion rate among dentists hovers around 10%. For dentists in the DMV, that would put the cost of patient acquisition around $1,300 — but conceivably as high as $3,500.

With ads, it’s all about the high-ticket patients

Let’s make some conservative assumptions about the value of each patient to your practice.

A hygiene patient who visits twice per year and never gets a cavity is worth $500 to $1000 per year. If your practice has a high churn rate, and only retains patients for an average of two years, that patient may fall slightly short of the cost of acquisition.

But what if that patient needs a root canal? Teeth whitening? Or dental implants.

On the high end, dental implants may net you $30,000 to $60,000. In that case, your ad was a steal.

Interestingly, Google does not price local services ads according to the services you offer. So, if you opt to appear in searches when someone types “dental checkup near me,” you may not pay any less than if you only appear in searches for dental implants, crowns, or root canals. But the potential value of that patient might differ by an order of magnitude.

LSA Rates for Dentists according to Offered Services | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing

That’s not to say you should only market your niche practice and never target hygiene patients for ads.

Loyal long-term patients have significant value: they produce recurring revenue, come to you when they need additional dental work, and generate a chorus of voices telling friends and neighbors about your practice.

Ultimately, the question of whether you can make a profit from ads comes down to factors unique to your practice. Do you enjoy the high retention rates that make even the twice-a-day flosser with nary a cavity a cost-effective acquisition?

While it’s far from a no-brainer, the results are clear:

When done well, and sequenced after other marketing fundamentals, Google Local Service Ads can drive incredible profits for your practice.

Win the DMV Smile Wars: your practice is ready to rule the online galaxy

So there you have it, the scoop on how to claim your crown and become dental royalty.

Brace yourself, because the big tooth is that most dentists in the DMV aren’t even doing the basics to get found online!

For any dentist rooting for new patients, that’s great news. Claim and optimize your Google Business Profile, build a sterling online reputation and tap into the power of Google Local Services ads. And voila! Watch your profits soar.

In this wild world of dental competition, a strong online presence is the name of the game. So, brush up on our digital skills or leave it to the web-polishing pros to make your dental practice shine pearly white.

Schedule Now, for a meeting on how we can help you grow.

Dentists Book A Free Session | RS Gonzales - Small Business Marketing