In this episode, Barbara and Spencer discuss:

  • Talking to your patients to put yourself in their shoes when considering marketing. 
  • What digital metrics you should pay attention to as a healthcare professional. 
  • Website accessibility, marketing, and HIPAA compliance. 


Key Takeaways:

  • Pay attention to the language that the patient or client uses compared to the language that you use. 
  • Pick and choose the metrics that you are choosing to pay attention to. The ultimate goal is conversion. 
  • To play it safe, don’t upload anything beyond the email addresses into your email marketing system. 


“Pay close attention to your patients for your marketing cues. Successful marketing is understanding the map in the patient’s head, then working to bridge the gap between what they know and what they don’t know.” —  Spencer Brooks


Barbara:         Welcome to another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors. I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales.

Today’s guest, Spencer Brooks, is the founder and principal of Brooks Digital, a digital firm that empowers health nonprofits to use their web presence to improve the lives of patients. He’s helped organizations such as The diaTribe Foundation scale their digital presence from a few thousand annual visitors and subscribers to over 2.5 million visitors and 200,000 subscribers. Wow! Spencer’s superpower is helping organizations get their complex, difficult-to-use website under control so they can provide the right information to the right person at the right time. Welcome to the show, Spencer.


Spencer:        Absolutely, Barbara. Thank you for having me today. I’m really excited to be speaking with you.


Barbara:         Tell me, Spencer, how do you put yourself in the shoes of an ideal patient to understand what they want?


Spencer:        That’s a great question, Barbara, because I think this is a very difficult thing to do. One of the things that I’ve found after working with a number of health organizations over the years and really just honestly anyone who’s worked in a particular discipline or specialty for a long time, myself included, has trouble actually looking if you think about like reading your own label almost, putting yourself in the shoes of someone who is maybe new to your specialty. And that can be very difficult because in terms of marketing you’re going to struggle to understand the language to use. What words do I even use?

How does someone who doesn’t know what I know describe what I do? And how do I structure my website, how do I — there are so many things that come from being able to put yourself in the shoes of an ideal patient. So I think that’s first of all the challenge of even doing that, is we want to be able to be outside, like I said, almost outside the jar to read your own label.


So I think to start doing that obviously you have to begin by defining your ideal patient and that’s a prerequisite. I’d like to think about this at least with my background in working with health organizations is thinking about maybe the qualities or characteristics of the people that you can not only help the most but that you enjoy working with. And what do those people embody?

What are some words and phrases or even just literal people that you know? And assuming you have that — And I think that’s a whole separate discussion there. We could do a whole episode on that. But going and actually talking to them I think is the real nuts and bolts of how you would go about putting yourself in the shoes of that ideal patient.


And from my perspective, I think it’s important to do that in the context of a separate, maybe meeting outside of your normal interactions with a patient because there’s an interesting dynamic when you are the expert and when you’re putting yourself in the shoes of an ideal patient. The conversation needs to be about them.

They are the expert and you’re learning from them. And so having a separate conversation where the goal is just to sit down and listen to them and pay close attention, the things that I would be looking for are the language that they use, their vocabulary. What words and phrases are they using to describe your work, the outcomes, their pain points, whatever that is that you’re not using? You know the exact terms and the vocabulary and there’s a way that you speak. There’s a way that a patient speaks. So really paying attention to how they describe that is very important.


And also their journey as well from becoming aware of a problem, a condition and then going all the way through to receiving and completing their care and hopefully, you know if it’s something that’s not chronic or ongoing that they are done and through. But each patient has a journey. And so there’s a number of things like the events that have been triggered, like that would trigger them to seek care, lots of little details in that process that you can start to unpack and begin to develop empathy for that ideal patient.


Barbara:         Well, as a health professional, what digital metrics should one be paying attention to?


Spencer:        Well, Barbara, there’s a lot of digital metrics. So certainly, the challenge with that is that no one – Even a digital expert like myself who spends all day working in the field, I don’t have time to go through and look at all the potential numbers that you could be looking at. And I think certainly for someone who’s running a private practice and is doing many other things besides marketing, there’s no way you’re going to actually be able to keep track of all that.

So, I think the first step in that process of even understanding what you should be paying attention to is understanding that you don’t have to pay attention to it all. Because if you do, not only are you going to get really overwhelmed I think with everything and you’re going to miss the signal and the noise with all that, right? Yeah, exactly. It’s just, it’s going to be too much.


So the good news is you can give yourself permission to ignore some of the stuff. And the difficult part of that, of course, is that when you read a lot of articles on digital marketing or you talk to a lot of people, everyone has their own opinion and, you know, even myself included. So, it can be hard sometimes because you get into a position where you add something from a conversation that you had with someone then you add another thing and you add another thing. And before you know it, it’s just a bunch of noise.

So to maybe simplify your way of thinking about this, I like to think about metrics in three buckets. And those buckets are awareness, engagement, and conversion. And those represent to me just these three big steps on the role of converting someone from a position of not even knowing your name, the name of your practice, whatever to a patient, an advocate.


And so that starts with awareness from that point of getting someone who’s never seen or heard of you and getting your name, the name of your practice in front of their face. That’s step one. Because of course, if you can’t do that, then nothing else really matters. So the metrics that would be related to the awareness I would think about, I mean, website traffic is a very obvious one, the number of users you get. I think that almost goes without saying everyone’s tracking that.

But I think sometimes I see people focusing on that as a vanity metric I guess as they say where the bigger that number is, the better you’re doing. But of course, it doesn’t really end just with website traffic. It only matters in so much as that traffic takes action in some way.


Barbara:         Yes, the engagement is so much more important.


Spencer:        Yeah, exactly. And the goal of course is to get that traffic and to start engaging them in some way and getting them to do something. And by the way, under the awareness category before I talk a little bit more about engagement, you would also consider things like social media reach, the number of followers, and kind of these big round numbers that represent the number of people that are aware of you. And so, you can think of them in that bucket.


So, engagement would be the subset of metrics that involve someone taking a meaningful step. And when I say meaningful, that could be just going to different pages on your website. It could be, you know, maybe leaving a review. That’s very valuable. So, metrics that I have noted down that would be engagement metrics that you could pay attention to are things like how long someone is spending on your website.

                                                   Google Analytics

They call that the session duration usually in a tool like Google Analytics. So of course, the longer someone is spending on your site, the more likely that they’re interested and that is a relevant person for you. Also, the number of pages they visit per browsing session is a relevant one as well as your bounce rate. And so, what that is is — A bounce is any time someone comes, lands on one page, and then leaves without doing anything. So, the bounce rate is just the percentage of people who did that. And the lower it is the better. And under that, you might also group things like your email opens and clicks and things like that as well.


Now, I’m giving right now some examples of different metrics. And when I actually list them out, it’s quite a lot. But my goal here is to give the individual categories and then some examples within those categories and you can start to pick and choose. Maybe you’re not doing a lot of email marketing. Okay, you can ignore that. Or if it’s just something that you are doing but maybe not doing well, you have my permission to ignore that and focus on a few things that really matter. So, as I list some of these things, just keep that in mind. Again, it’s all under the context of picking and choosing the things that are most important to you.

                                                   Conversion metrics

And then finally that leads into the conversion metrics which are the real things that you want people to do, the ultimate goals. That’s going to be someone scheduling an appointment or it’s some kind of lead, right? It could be a smaller step but still something like subscribing to your email list. That’s another type of conversion. Maybe it’s not the ultimate thing that you want someone to do but it is that tangible step of someone going from maybe this visitor that’s an unknown, unnamed visitor to someone you have a name and their contact information.


And so to recap, awareness, engagement, and conversion are these three buckets that you can think about your digital metrics inside of and then start to choose a few of those that match the marketing channels that you’re using and seeing some success with. And I think that’ll hopefully give some heuristics to think about how you might approach this complex web of digital metrics.

                                  Google Analytics and Google Alert

Barbara:         One thing I would like to point out now for our listeners is that Google gives us two fantastic and free gifts that anyone can avail themselves of. The first one being Google Analytics so that you can do some study or analysis evaluation of your website and the people that are coming to it. And another is called Google Alert.

You put in whatever name or word that you want on there so that whenever anybody clicks or surfs to search that term, Google lets you know that whether it be your name, the name of your practice or, you know, even a category like a knee surgery or, you know, any type of medical term. And whether it’s from social media or whether it is anywhere on the web, you become aware of it. This way you can respond to it and you will also see what’s trending.


Spencer:        Those are some fantastic resources, Barbara, and I think the great thing is that a lot of these things are free. So you know, you don’t have to pay a lot of money for them. I know that at least in the space that I work in if, for example, with nonprofits, even some of them — And if you’re listening today and you know a nonprofit provider or maybe you are one, there’s free, a lot of these analytics tools. For example, Hotjar is one that allows you to add heat maps onto your website. And actually, even if you’re not a 501(c)(3) organization, you can still get a free account there. You just don’t get all the perks and the pluses.


Barbara:         Sorry.


Spencer:        I’m hearing Siri there. I was like, wait, you don’t understand. Oh sorry, Siri. That’s okay.


Barbara:         Well, Siri doesn’t have to understand, just our listeners.



Spencer:        That’s right. That was great timing. So as I was saying, Hotjar is a tool that will allow you to add different things like heat maps to your website as an example. So that’s where you can see how far people have scrolled down a page on your site and maybe the things that they’ve clicked on. And those are very useful pieces of information if you’re trying to understand where your website might be a little confusing or what things people are actually clicking on and maybe more importantly what things are they not clicking on. And that allows you, it gives you some tangible feedback so you can improve your website. And it does a lot of other things as well. You can set up polls and surveys and all kinds of useful goodies if you care about that sort of thing.

But that’s free as well and that’s something that I would point out. And for nonprofit providers and any other nonprofits, they do get quite a lot of free advertising money from Google AdWords. And so if you are a nonprofit provider, I’m sure you’re aware of that but that’s — My point being that there’s actually quite a lot of free resources and you don’t necessarily have to be a charitable organization to get at it so.


Barbara:         And that’s great information to know. Tell me what role does website accessibility play in marketing your practice?


Spencer:        I’m glad you asked that Barbara, because website accessibility is — It’s a question I see a lot of, I hear a lot of people asking me about but there’s so much unknown around that. Like what is, how do I make my website more accessible? Is it even important? And I think that what you have to consider, and especially for any type of provider, private practice, you need to consider the patients that you’re seeing.

So as an example, a client that Brooks Digital has worked with is the Vestibular Disorders Association. And so, symptoms include vertigo. So, what we absolutely don’t want to do when designing a website with someone that has vertigo is we don’t want moving elements on the screen.

We don’t want sliders and these animated things happening on the screen because someone who’s struggling with being dizzy is going to have a real hard time navigating that website, right? And so you know, you might not think about that but you really have to consider your patients. And particularly if you’re sitting in a specialty that’s going to give you a lot of clues, maybe start thinking about, “Well, okay, if I’m maybe a diabetes educator and my patients have diabetic retinopathy, are they using screen readers? Can they actually see the site?” And there are so many considerations like that, you know. I’m just pulling up examples from organizations that we’ve worked with, right?


Barbara:         Got it, yeah. Completely. There are certain applications that you can use where when they click on the site it actually reads it to you so that it eliminates that difficulty in seeing altogether.


Spencer:        Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that too because you can take these tools and start to actually use them as if you had a disability to see how someone would use your site and where those may be some gaps lie. And so obviously, the tools that you use are going to depend on the disabilities or impairments that a typical visitor might have when they visit your website but

I also think it’s just a good practice in general to at least be cognizant of. And website accessibility goes in tiers. So it’s not just an on and off switch. It usually requires a significant level of investment certainly for a larger site. For a smaller site, perhaps not so much. But it does, it requires a lot of work to make something progressively more and more accessible and friendly to someone with disabilities.

So I think there’s a number of tools that you can use to create your website for not only things, not only accessibility but things like performance as well. They’ll spit out a grade for you and say, “Hey, here’s how your website does on just basic accessibility practices.” And then you can get an idea of the baseline of how your website is doing. And those tools aren’t the be-all, end-all for accessibility problems so I would still encourage you to think about medical conditions that visitors may have. For example, an automatic tool might not catch the contrast on your website is pretty low and someone that has vision problems could have issues seeing that. And you still need to consider things like that but honestly just being aware I think of that possibility is a great first step.


Barbara:         Sure. Well, you know, in April when we were still on national lockdown and we finally discovered that this is not just going to come and go quickly, people were scrambling to offer telehealth which had not perhaps been offered by these practices before. But you know, let’s face it. People needed to be able to speak to their doctor. And so the various associations and regulations said, “Okay, you know what, for the time being until you get started, we’re going to suspend like HIPAA regulation so that you can actually speak to somebody, that you could go onto a website or FaceTime and get to offer your medical advice to people who are suffering before becoming HIPAA compliant.” But as time goes on, obviously, these restrictions and guidelines are going to be reenacted. So how do you ensure your digital marketing is HIPAA compliant?


Spencer:        It’s a big question and I think the first thing that I’d like to delineate between is providing some sort of service, right, care, and then marketing which in the HIPAA world are two different things. So, you need permission to send marketing to patients particularly if that includes any sort of personal health information. So as a very, very basic requirement, make sure you get that signed agreement from your patients. And actually, I’ve talked more in-depth about this in an article that is on the Brooks Digital website.

It’s called I think the Three Levels of HIPAA Compliant Email Marketing. It has details about some of this in there. But the idea is that once you get that signed agreement, then you also need to consider the tools and the technology that you’re using. Because, for example, you could have someone in your EHR system, right, where you have all their data in there and that’s going to be HIPAA compliant or it should but as soon as you pull someone’s information out of that and you put it into, say, an email marketing program, well, now you’ve just transferred it to a whole separate container and that provider may not necessarily be HIPAA compliant.


And so you have to be really careful with those sorts of things because where you put that information and how you push it around between your systems, it matters. And there’s a lot of technical details about that. One thing that I would recommend when it comes to email specifically is if you want to play it safe, don’t use anything, and don’t upload any information into your email marketing system other than someone’s email address. And that way, you can just, you’ll play it safe because there’s not any first names or last names or addresses, whatever.

There’s nothing in there aside from a person’s email address and that will help protect you. And if you do want to start using someone’s personal information in any form, then there are certain email marketing providers that will be HIPAA compliant. I think Paubox is one of those. And then you can use a platform like that to start sending marketing emails to them that are HIPAA compliant. But those are just some ideas on making your marketing more HIPAA compliant specifically with email.


But I would encourage, you know, any provider listening, if you want to start marketing and you haven’t received permission from patients, then go back and see if there’s a few that might be willing to sign those agreements. And you can of course specify to them that, “Hey, I’m not going to use this to spam you with a bunch of stuff.” Right?

This is all under the assumption that your marketing is delivering some sort of value to patients, useful information, things that are making their lives better as opposed to being primarily just about me, me, me, us, us, us. And I think a patient would appreciate that. So those are some ideas on HIPAA compliant marketing. And it is a complex subject. And like I said, there’s some more information as well that I’ve written on the different levels of the email marketing ladder that might be useful for those who want to dig a little deeper into that.

                                                   Video Marketing

Barbara:         Sure. Do you recommend that doctors get involved in video marketing of the services that they provide?


Spencer:        Oh, that’s a wonderful idea. I love that because it’s really — Well, I’ll back up and say that any medium that is like this, you know, like a podcast like this you can hear my voice, on the video you can see someone, that’s developing a personal relationship. And from my perspective, that’s so much more valuable than just a website or articles or things like that. Those things I think must exist.

I think they’re the cost of entry because you still have to send someone. You know, you can’t just exist on YouTube, probably anyway. You usually are going to have people who might be watching these videos as part of a greater journey to decide to give you a call or book an appointment. But I think when you’re talking about, you know, a doctor, there’s sensitive stuff being shared.

Someone might, they might be scared. And using videos specifically I think is a wonderful tool to develop that rapport with someone without actually ever having to be there or talk to them on the phone, see them in person and just help them feel a little bit more comfortable with you before they ever reach out to you in the first place.


Barbara:         Absolutely. And Medicine really does lend itself towards creating videos because, you know, every procedure that you do, every person that you feel is a candidate for a particular procedure, you can walk them through the process.

If you have medical devices, you could show the medical device on the screen and how it works including giving preop and postop instructions on the video. So you know, for Medicine, it’s not a question of like, “Well, I’d like to make a video. I wonder what I should do with that.” Instead, you would ask yourself, what services do I provide, what products do I promote for my practice? And each one of these could merit its own video.


Spencer:        Absolutely. I find it fascinating that you know, for example, the number of videos of chiropractic adjustments on YouTube and the number of views that they have, it’s shocking to me. And you know, I’ve even found myself, I’m like looking at some of this, like wow, that must feel really good. I got to go see, you know, that person. And the same thing with Physical Therapy as an example.

You know, as a hobby, I enjoy strength training and I recently started a new barbell routine that involved squats. And as a result of that, I started noticing some nagging pain in my shoulder, you know, because of the bar. You know, there is a lot of weight on there, right? So I said, “Hey, you know what? This has been bugging me for a while. I need to start looking at going to find a physical therapist.” And you know, as part of this, I’m becoming aware of the issue in my shoulder and I’m researching what is the potential diagnosis for this, what are some stretches, some activities that I can do. And right there,

I’m on YouTube and I’m looking at, okay, all right, I could be doing this sort of stretch or strengthening and conditioning. And at that point, I’m not so much even thinking about “well, I’m just going to treat this myself” as much as I’m actually getting comfortable with what is involved in providing care so that when I reach out to the person of my choosing and I start to go around and read reviews, I kind of have an idea of what I’m going to expect. And so I think it’s almost like, it’s a preview of care in that way. And as a patient, I get to understand, okay, maybe, I’ve never been to physical therapy before but now I sort of understand a little bit about what this care is going to be like. And it suddenly becomes a little less scary and I’m a little — It’s a little more manageable to reach out so I really love that idea.


Barbara:         Yeah, that’s great. So as we’re winding down here, are there some tips that you could give to our listeners?


Spencer:        I think I’d close with maybe one controlling thought around this and we’ve talked about a few different things. Well, maybe I’ll cheat in two there. But the main one is to pay close attention to your patients for your marketing cues. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in our own way of thinking about our line of work. And whatever the structure is in your head, whatever patterns of thought, that map probably doesn’t match the map that is in the head of a potential patient, of that ideal patient.

So I think successful marketing for doctors and, you know, for providers in understanding the map that’s in the patient’s head and then working to bridge the gap between what they know and they don’t know and getting them to you. So that starts with listening to that ideal patient for your marketing cues.


And the other thing I’d mention is for, you know, for those who might know health, a nonprofit provider or you might be one of them, we talked a little bit about digital metrics. And in fact really for anyone, you can benchmark your digital presence even within Google Analytics to get an idea of how well your stats are doing. So when you choose your stats, you can say, “Hey, this is how well I’m doing.”

For nonprofit providers and other health organizations specifically, there are industry benchmarks and that’s the area in which I operate so I pay close attention to those things. You can go to the Brooks Digital website and I outlined and I took a look at the data specifically for nonprofit providers and said, “Hey, here are 10 digital benchmarks that are substantially different.” And it’s really important to just understand those benchmarks whether you’re a nonprofit provider or not just to get a sense of where you’re doing well and where you can maybe improve so you can target the things that aren’t performing well.


So I can throw those benchmarks and some of the resources I think that I mentioned as well such as the email marketing, the ladders article, maybe a link to the Paubox. And I can just throw them up on a page on the Brooks Digital website. Maybe something like, it might be a good one. And I can just put all that right there so that it’s easy and accessible for anyone who wants to maybe dig a little bit deeper into those things. So anyway, those are the two thoughts and things that I’d end with there.


Barbara:         Okay. Just so that we could clarify any confusion that our listeners are having at the moment. Is there a difference in the way a practice should market if they’re nonprofit versus regular practice?


Spencer:        I think that’s — Actually, it’s an interesting question, Barbara, because I think it’s going to depend on perhaps the specialty. I even think that you know — The providers that I would see in my space would be, for example, like clinics or they might be like mental health organizations. And I think whether you’re for-profit or nonprofit in that sense doesn’t matter a lot.

I think funding, however, does really matter because if you are a nonprofit then you might seek to raise money just outside of fees and billings, for example, and so that might —


Barbara:         Whereas the for-profit finds it more difficult to get people to just volunteer to give money.


Spencer:        Exactly, yeah, yeah. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy. So, I do think that there are some differences in that way where if you are a nonprofit then you might be sending marketing communications that are actually asking people to do or perform — It could be actually volunteering. It could be actually giving money for programs that you might have.

So, there are some differences there. But I think in terms of the core, this core loop of getting patients and then providing them care and hopefully sending them on their way in a better state, I think there are a lot of similarities. But of course, because there is a different tax structure, business structure for nonprofits, there is some specific stuff there. That’s where I’ve sort of positioned Brooks Digital in just to help some of those specific needs that a nonprofit might have.


Barbara:         Well, this has been a very enlightening session and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m sure our listeners have too. You’ve been listening with Spencer Brooks in Marketing Tips for Doctors. Again, I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Until next time.



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