This post is for all of you who have been considering or actively using listings in therapist directories. I frequently get asked from consultees which directories they should list in. I also frequently see colleagues debating on bulletin boards and listservs the merits and demerits of individual directories. So I figure it’s time to offer you my perspective. Please bear in mind that I am sharing my experience and opinions here, and if you’ve had a different one, hopefully you’ll mention it on the comments. If you own a directory service, I hope you’ll disclose that as well.
When I started building my practice, I had a lot of time to spend filling out various online directories. I literally spent hours filling out profiles that promised to make me visible to potential patients. To be fair it gave me the opportunity to hone my bio and elevator speech, but other than that I now think that I was wasting my time. But let’s talk a little about why directories may be a waste of your time, because I think it points to a larger misconception about marketing your practice online.
Billboard in a bottle.
Many therapists still approach the internet as if it was a giant Yellow Pages. We often create static content, the equivalent of a business card, cover letter and resume, and then slap it up on a website, or a directory. Then we sit back and wait for the phone to ring. It’s like we imagine that we created a giant billboard and threw it into the world wide web. But in reality, it’s more like a message in a bottle, thrown in a vast ocean. We imagine that that will get us recognized. It usually doesn’t, and here’s why.
If you google “find a therapist” you will literally find dozens of website directories guaranteed to help patients find the right provider. If you’re ambitious you could spend hours and days finding all of them and entering your information. Many of them are free, some charge money, and a few don’t let you know whether they will charge or not until you’ve entered all of your information. One of the main problems with directories is exactly that there are so many of them.
One thing I’ve learned from starting up social networks for other companies is that you always need a critical mass of members as quickly as possible. If you launch a site you have a few days to a week to achieve this in most cases. Otherwise potential members will log in to your site, look around and see little activity, and leave. So low enrollment of providers in a directory will drive little traffic to it.
On the other hand, if you take a directory like Psychology Today’s you will see that they did achieve a critical mass, and have more traffic. But the problem here is that this is because every therapist and her maiden aunt is now listed there. So the problem becomes how to set yourself apart from the rest. If you are determined to spend time on listing yourself in a directory, I’d suggest that you pay for the PT one and try to distinguish yourself as best you can. In fact, the Psychology Today site is the only directory I even try to keep current and pay for anymore.
Speaking of keeping current, here’s the other potential pitfall of directories: The more you participate in, the more you’ll need to update your content, remember more passwords, and check back in. Some directories require you to log in any time you get a message from a potential client (or spam) in an effort to drive up their traffic. It’s a lot of hassle for little ROI.
If you are determined to list yourself in directories, please consider the following:
- If you are planning on practicing online, does the directory have global traffic?
- If you are planning on practicing in a certain geographic location, does the directory get traffic from your part of the world?
When I review my practice referrals, I received probably %10 of them from a directory, usually Psychology Today. The majority of my referrals came from word of mouth, insurance company lists, and increasingly my blog and articles. By now, many of you will know where I am going with this: It is content and interaction that convert visits to your website into referrals. There is not a similar conversion rate from visits to your directory profile and calls to you, or even visits to your website.
Some may disagree with me, but my take on directories is that they are a waste of time, and that they capitalize on therapists’ reluctance to generate interactive and dynamic content. Put simply, people want to hang up their cybershingle and then go back to passively waiting for the phone to ring.
To spend a lot of time finding and listing yourself in a therapist directory is to confuse worry with effort. What you should be doing (Oh Nos! A therapist used the word “should” ) is generating content and creating opportunities for interaction with colleagues and potential patients. Examples of generating content include:
- writing brief informative blog posts
- tweeting links to articles that you find interesting to establish your “brand”
- offering a free hangout on Google+ on your niche topic
- creating a meditation podcast that people can download from your site
- networking in Second Life or attending the Online Therapy Institute’s open office hours
- doing a five-minute vblog on a CBT technique
I’ve done many of the above, and this blog post is another example. I guarantee you that this post will generate a new referral for me at some point soon, much sooner than my Psychology Today profile will.
So please take the time you could be playing it safe cutting and pasting your info into yet another directory, and instead take some risks, create some new content, or join in a conversation online. Web 2.0 is not about being a digital classified ad. Use your time marketing to do what therapists do best: Relate.
Mike Langlois, LICSW
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