How a Medical Company Used Content Marketing to Increase Traffic from 1k to 120k Visitors Per Month
The case study of Alaska Sleep Clinic is a pretty amazing one. The employee who pulled it off is pretty amazing as well. This post is long, but trust me, you’ll smile and learn a lot reading it–Marcus Sheridan
What do you get when you cross an Alaskan journeyman carpenter with a local sleep clinic? If you guessed an incredible inbound marketing success story, you’re not only right, but you should have your own psychic TV show, because that guess was amazing (or maybe you just read the title and used reasonable deduction. Either way, I would still rather watch your show than Long Island Medium).
Hi, I’m Kevin Phillips: husband, father, construction worker, snowboarder, lifelong Alaskan, bookworm, Yeti enthusiast (I’m dead serious. Check my fan page), aspiring writer, content marketer, and more recently a member of The Sales Lion family. And yes, it’s strange to find myself in a den of lions, as there haven’t been any large predatory cats in Alaska for thousands of years.
What I’m about to share with you here today is as real as it gets. It’s powerful yet simple. Not only that, but it’s my story. And here it is: INBOUND MARKETING REALLY DOES WORK.
Oh, you’ve heard that before? Okay, so maybe this statement may not be all that mind blowing for you as nearly every marketer has been telling you this for the past couple of years. And maybe you think Marcus’s River Pools and Spas story was less a case of savvy businessman crushes online marketing through strategy and perseverance, and more pool boy stumbles across golden ticket to incredible success.
But I’m here to tell you that the success Marcus had with his pool company can easily be replicated with just about any type of business you could imagine. For example, I just Googled “weirdest businesses,” and came across goat rentals. I don’t know why people would want to rent a goat, but I do know that if I had a goat rental business, I could own that space in 6 months. Probably less, as I doubt it’s extremely competitive.
Take it from someone who up until June of 2014 had never even heard the phrase “inbound marketing” let alone had any inkling into the ideology behind it. Add in the fact that I joined a company specializing in sleep medicine, and had almost no knowledge of sleep disorders aside from seeing memes that Bane from The Dark Knight Rises wears that goofy mask because he has sleep apnea.
How a Carpenter Became a Content Marketer
I had been a carpenter for many years, and as good as I was at it, I didn’t love it. The money was great, but picture yourself working outside at twenty to thirty below zero for 8-10 hours a day. Now imagine that through 20 years of snowboarding you’ve broken, sprained, smashed, pulled, tore, tweaked, and bruised just about every bone, joint, and muscle in your body, and when it gets cold outside, those injuries start to ache.
How long would you last? If it’s more than 11 years, you’re more man than I am, and I’ll gladly put in a good word for you with some of my old foremen. But for me, my heart was never really into construction work. I did it for the money, and because in a small blue-collar town like Fairbanks, Alaska, construction work is often one of your only real opportunities for success, unless of course you start your own goat rental business because that business might just blossom up there.
But what I’ve always dreamed about doing with my life was writing. I’ve known since the third grade that I wanted to be a writer. Sure there was a time in my teens to early twenties when that dream took a backseat to wanting to be a professional snowboarder. And I gave that second dream an honest shot, but as it turned out…I wasn’t nearly as good at snowboarding as I thought I was.
Around 2007 I decided to go back to school to pursue an English degree. Why? Because I wanted a really expensive wall decoration to hang in my house. That’s why.
Working days and going to classes at night I was on the fast extremely slow track towards a degree that most people told me was probably useless (well, the jokes on them because it’s only kind of useless).
I finally graduated college at the tender age of 33, and with degree in hand…I headed down to the union hall to get back on the list because I couldn’t find any jobs requiring an English degree that didn’t also call for an Education Minor (why didn’t anyone tell me this while I was still in school!!?).
I took a chance on Craigslist one day and clicked on “writing” under the “Jobs” header. There was a job posted looking for a writer with video editing skills. There was no company name, no company address, no company phone number. Just “looking for a writer with video editing skills. Respond with resume.” Sounded legit enough, and not something like a cat-fisher or serial killer would post at all.
So I responded.
Being a snowboard nerd, I had made a 20-minute documentary for a film class showcasing my failed snowboard skills. I sent a link to the video along with a writing sample of an article I had written for the campus paper about “what it’s like being a dad at a birthing class.” In short, it’s very freaking weird. There was a lady soothing and burping a plastic child. Not even as a demonstration. She was just doing it as I walked in.
To make my catfish/murderer theory even more on point, I got a call less than a half-hour later asking for more video samples. Figuring my future identity thief/murderer wanted to see more of my beautiful face before he stole it/carved it up, I complied and sent links to other videos I’d shot including one of myself doing a “trash the dress wedding photo shoot.” Yeah, I really did that, but I’m not sure we know each other well enough for me to share it. I’m done sharing it with potentially crazy Internet strangers. But if you read this whole article and leave a comment below, I might just give in.
So I Became a Content Marketing Officer
Well, to my (and probably your) disappointment, the ad was legit, and I got hired as a “Content Marketing Officer” (with no clue what that even meant) for a medical company specializing in sleep medicine the next day.
Here’s what I quickly learned on my first day:
- A sleep clinic with four locations throughout the state wanted to attract new patients to their clinic.
- They didn’t want to do any more traditional advertising at all.
- They wanted to do it all through attracting visitors online.
- They wanted me to write articles and shoot videos that would bring their website traffic, and their clinic new patients.
- I figured I had a month to enjoy a cushy office, before they realized they were nuts.
Seriously? Did they really think publishing non-promotional articles teaching people about sleep disorders was somehow going to increase website traffic and business? And they thought a guy who used to throw his body down mountains for fun and build countertops for money was going to do it for them? So what if he wrote an amazing essay on Anglo-Saxon poetry titled “Beowulf: The Archetype of a Badass”? It was doomed to fail.
But it still sounded better than going down to the union hall every day looking for a job where I could go pick two things up and nail them together, before grabbing two more things, and nailing them together too.
I wasn’t sure I totally believed in this crazy concept called content marketing, but I was going to give it everything I had.
Luckily for me I was going to get help from some “pool guy” in Virginia. And when you got a pool guy teaching you how to Internet, there’s no chance you can fail succeed.
Diving Headfirst into Inbound Waters (Thank God It was the Deep End of the Pool)
My first two weeks at Alaska Sleep I dove headfirst into the inbound pool (I like to imagine it’s a fiberglass pool for reasons I won’t disclose, but I assume you can surmise) and learned everything I could about content marketing and sleep medicine.
My first order of business was to talk with every employee of Alaska Sleep Clinic and ask them to give me a list of the top 25 questions they got asked on a daily basis.
While many questions overlapped, because I asked people from different departments, I got a fairly large list of unique questions. Many of which were specific to people in different job types.
The doctor got asked a lot about people’s sleep troubles, the night technicians got asked about diagnostic procedures, the durable medical equipment (DME) techs got asked about therapy, the administrative assistants got asked about scheduling, the accounts receivable/payable department got asked about prices, the weird teenager loitering outside got asked why he was always taking used cigarettes out of the butt-can. Okay, that last one may not be true, but as a former teenager myself, I knew better than to ask a teenager anything.
While researching my first articles, I was also getting help from The Sales Lion team (shout-out to George B. Thomas, Marcus Sheridan, and Tiffany Cavegn) to create all new site pages for the website to make them SEO friendly (whatever that meant), and receiving lessons on how to use HubSpot’s marketing platform.
Because I had no experience in the sleep medicine field, I figured the best way to approach each article was to treat it like I was writing a formal college essay. Unlike here, where I can sprinkle in my own brand of dorky humor, I figured that people combing the Internet for answers to their health problems wouldn’t be looking to be entertained in the process.
These people wanted straightforward answers, but written in a way that was easy to understand and sympathetic to their troubles. Most of the stuff I researched online was dense, using a lot of technical jargon/mumbo-jumbo that seemed more written towards professionals than patients.
I also looked at what had already been written on the ASC’s site and found some disturbingly terrible articles that had been written by a local marketing company that ASC had outsourced their content to for a few months.
And I’m not joking about them being terrible. They were short (around 200 words each), had almost no concrete information to them (the intros and outros were longer than the body), and most had nothing to do with anything that might actually bring someone into a clinic to get diagnosed.
Seriously, there were articles like “Celebrities have Sleep Troubles Too,” and “Slumber Party Success.” Why? Because when I’m not sure if I need a sleep study to help with my chronic sleep troubles, I need to know that George Clooney can’t sleep without the TV on. That’s why.
Articles that did address actual sleep problems that patients might have were so short with no meat to the article, that if by some miracle someone actually found the article, they would leave immediately to go search for real answers elsewhere.
In a way it’s quite sickening. Alaska Sleep Clinic had hired out (and spent a bunch of money) to have another company run its content marketing campaign that either put zero effort into actually trying to attract new patients to the website, or had no clue what they were doing, but didn’t mind charging heftily anyways.
Darn Good Content, and Lot’s of It
Armed with Marcus’s “They Ask, You Answer” philosophy, and some helpful guidance along the way, I set out to write articles that were aimed at solving patients’ problems in a thorough and comprehensive manner (like a gosh darned hero…”Sleep Man”… Not the coolest superhero name, but you should see my costume ;-).
I treated each question like it was worthy of at least a 5-page college essay. For my first article, which tackled the most commonly asked question in a sleep clinic, “Why Am I So Tired All the Time, Even After a Full Night’s Sleep.” I chose not to jump right into telling the reader that they may have a sleep disorder and should have a study performed like so many other articles on the subject suggested. That approach just didn’t seem honest enough.
Rather, I started off by breaking down what the standard for a good night’s sleep is. I first explained how a patient could figure out how much sleep their individual body needs. I then gave tips on how they could improve their sleep. I urged people to try these techniques first, and if their sleep still didn’t improve then maybe they should have a consultation with a sleep specialist. I also included an e-book at the end of the post that gave more detailed information on how to practice better sleep hygiene.
And who would have guessed that a non-promotional (I only mention Alaska Sleep Clinic in the final sentence), empathetic, and thoroughly written article, with solid SEO could end up being so successful (not to brag, but it’s now got over 320 thousand views. Okay, you caught me, I’m totally bragging).
And that’s pretty much how I approached every single article I wrote. I wanted readers who found my articles to feel as if the question that had brought them there in the first place was answered completely. And if I was lucky, it might spark in them other questions they’d like answered, and I’d guide them to those answers with internal links.
Once I had amassed a healthy number of articles, I started to notice that the “patient’s journey” was very similar to a “buyer’s journey” (probably because they’re the exact same freaking thing. But everybody needs their own eureka moment).
People suffering from sleep troubles first look to finding what could be causing their problems. Then they want to know how it can be tested by a professional. And finally they want to know their treatment options.
And all of this takes place on the Internet. With the rising cost of medical care, it’s understandable that most people don’t want to make an appointment with a doctor unless they’re absolutely sure they’re dying. Because if they’re not, a hefty clean-bill-of-health will make them wish they were, if only to justify having to put a second mortgage on their house just to have an office visit.
I took groups of articles that were part of specific stages in the buyer’s/patient’s journey, created e-books out of them, and offered them up on the website. I built workflows based off specific list segmentations to send appropriate content to various leads depending on where they were in their journey.
And So the Traffic and Leads Begin…
In about three months I started to see significant traffic gains to the website. During my first month of blogging 2-3 times a week, I saw an increase of 600 visits: I was pleased. My second and third months I saw an increase of 3 thousand visits each month, and I was pumped. Month six I increased traffic by 12 thousand visitors in a month, and I was ecstatic.
And since then, there’s been significant gains to traffic to the website every month, and we’re expecting this October to top 120,000 visitors.. Not to mention that we’ve had 1,311 leads come in through the website.
At first I thought maybe I was some sort of super genius, and I had haphazardly cracked the SEO super code. It’s a lot easier to believe that than the truth: content marketing, at least conceptually, is incredibly simple.
I’m serious, content marketing really is easy. You just have to do it, do it often, and do it right. There’s not some secret formula. No secret sauce. It’s actually as basic as taking the time to listen to what people are asking, and writing answers to their questions. But you also can’t be afraid to tackle the more difficult questions like costs, comparisons, reviews, or the hardest of all, when your company may not be the best fit. If you approach each article from the point of view of the customer/patient, and really try and give them the answers they’re looking for, you WILL see results.
Is it really such a foreign concept that people want to do business with people they trust? It’s not, and you can trust me, because I’m a carpenter.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start up a goat rental business and write the kind of articles my goat loving fans want: “How much does it cost to Rent a Goat? (Prices, Taxes, Hidden Fees)” “Best Breeds of Goats to Rent: Pros, Cons, & Considerations),” Reviews of the Best Goat Rental Companies in Alaska”, “Compare Goat Rentals to Alpaca Rentals: Which is Best for my Party?”