By David Bolthouse

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Google and its partners represent about 85% of all search traffic, so to reach the bulk of the people who are searching, we have to do the “Google dance.” Unfortunately, Google is getting more and more restrictive and more complicated, which is leading us to seek other advertising avenues to supplement it. We even fear that Google will someday listen to the liberal voices calling for the banning of therapeutic programs for minors, and ban such advertising, like they did with rehabs and some other industries this year.

From the beginning of Exceed’s assistance to residential programs twelve years ago, our firm has known that the search by the parents or family for a program for their loved one is done quietly, mostly alone, within Google, and with little social interaction or knowledge by friends and family. That has fits well with our in-depth knowledge of Google and other search engines, which goes back almost 20 years, coupled with two previous decades of traditional advertising and marketing consulting and implementation.

We look to Google as a means of being there when a person needs help. On our website we call it “Time of Need Tactics” or TNT. Our key approach has been to provide our clients with a strong organic and paid online search presence — to be there when people need to find them. It continues to be the most powerful and least costly method of advertising. The individuals who therefore land on our clients’ websites prequalify themselves by the search terms they initially use, their location, their demographics, etc. The ad copy or organic listing information that they saw before clicking through to the site further qualifies 2 them. We therefore get the most targeted individuals who are visiting our clients’ websites, versus the shotgun approach of general advertising.

Most other sources like Facebook are more for branding ads – designed to build image and name recognition. These are the most expensive forms of advertising. They are less effective because they are reaching a broad audience, not just parents who are searching for a solution. There are little to no Facebook groups about troubled teens or addicted adults, since they don’t typically want to broadcast their loved one’s problems or associate with groups that do. Of the Facebook groups, most of the followers of those groups are therapists and people who work with teens in programs like yours, not the loved ones who will be making such a placement decision.

As we work with clients, we seek to maintain a reasonable cost per conversion (lead) by various means of filtering and targeting and bidding on keywords. Google remains the only choice to get the number of leads most programs demand. We have a few other advertising mediums that we will be testing, and will recommend implementing them across all of our clients as we find them effective. Our goal for most clients is to acquire one student or resident for $750 – $1,500 in ad spend.

Some have asked why we don’t just pull out of Google altogether? Once that happens, it will impact your organic rankings as well, though Google claims it won’t. I have tested this many times and shutting down Google ads for even a short time causes a reboot which can take six months or more to get back to the low cost per conversion the client once enjoyed. In some cases, and for some top keywords, others will swoop in and you won’t get your place back, no matter how high you bid. That is also why it is critical to make sure your ads are not down too long for nonpayment. If it is down too long (usually more than two weeks), Google will throw away all history in regard to your account (in their machine learning algorithm, not in your account statistics) and start over as if you are a brand new account. It can also cause ads that were previously approved to again be evaluated and possibly disapproved.

By the way, we are working on some significant breakthroughs in regard to how we can cross-promote within the various online platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.), including taking visitor data from your website and retargeting those individuals with ads in the other social media and search engine platforms. Google will not allow us to do typical retargeting within their own platform, since therapeutic programs and rehabs are considered too sensitive for Google retargeting, but we can pull analytics data of site visits and match up those same people in other social media platforms and retarget them there. Retargeting people is a much more effective means of gradually marketing to people who have already shown a slight interest, if it is done in a way that further educates them about your program and doesn’t make it seem like they are being followed around on the Internet. It can and will be done with taste and tact.