Medical Marketing & SEO - Singaporean doctors, but all so different!

It’s been almost 10 years since I started consulting on healthcare marketing and publicity regulations. I’ve crafted hundreds of campaigns and have given advice on things as ridiculous as where to put clinic refrigerators and what to store in it.

I no longer do medical SEO, medical marketing and simply spend time running a few childcare centres and schools I currently own. But that 10-year journey has taught me a few things. And these insider tips work for:

The key thing to note is that medical businesses all come with different obstacles and unique solutions. There is no one-size-fits-all medical marketing approach. Here’s how to handle the different challenges based on the business type.

Specialists

Considered the elite of the medical profession in Singapore, specialists also have it the easiest when they go private. As of 2017, there are 1,693 specialists in Private Practice so it isn’t as smooth sailing as the 80s and 90s, but specialists still have many things going for them.

Patient numbers and profitability are rarely a huge issue. Specialists don’t even “need” publicity. Between peer referrals and Medisave/insurance claims, the business will always be stable. What specialists need is not “advertising” but more of “validation”.These days, just because a peer refers to a patient, it doesn’t mean they fully trust you. Patients today search and research online. You’d need some PR and SEO for doctors to maintain a good reputation so patients know you’re a name they can trust. Project a professional image and be seen as an authority or subject expert but do it DISCRETELY. That’s far more critical to specialists than big-scale advertising and marketing.

Dentists

Dentists

Unlike doctors, there are no public dental institutions in Singapore. Dentists are forced to compete in the private sector. Also unlike doctors, the base salaries of private dentists are lower, with a bigger commission cut. Coupled with the fact that cross-practice referrals are rare (whatever Dentist A can do, Dentist B can also do), dentistry becomes highly reliant on sales and marketing. But when every new dentist out there is gunning for the same thing, it creates a highly competitive digital marketing space where only the fittest (or richest) survive. The other challenge is that to convince prospective patients of the more profitable treatments such as braces and crowns, it often requires you to show Before & After photos. This is strictly prohibited by both MOH and SDC.

What you need is to market your clinic through social media, using a mix of images and videos that comply with the PHMC Publicity Act. In addition, an organic search on Google must also bring up a slew of content showcasing your experience and insights. Sounds impossible, but it can be done. After all, we’ve been doing it for 10 years now.

It’s not just about marketing your product. It’s about building up your own name as a known dentist, orthodontist or dental surgeon.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics

61% of private practices in Singapore are non-specialists (2016), with medical aesthetics being the biggest draw. GP to aesthetics attrition rates have reached an all-time high.

And marketing for aesthetics works. Plain and simple. It WORKS.

However, if you observe closely, you’d realize the same few clinics are constantly packed, while others struggle to get a queue. Of the HUNDREDS of aesthetic clinics in Singapore today, how is it that patients pretty much only go to the same 20-30 clinics?

Because of how effective marketing is for this niche, we’re now caught in a situation where “the rich get richer”. Big boys are not afraid to dump more into marketing to flood out the competition. In fact, from handling such accounts before, I can reveal that many of the established clinics don’t even make positive returns on marketing spend. Much of marketing is done to simply dominate the space and maintain the status quo.

As a newer clinic with less firepower, you’d need to go with smarter, leaner guerilla tactics. This is similar to dentistry, where you’d need to use clever content on Facebook and Instagram to your advantage. The challenge is in being creative enough to craft this content in ways that don’t violate MOH’s regulations.

PS: Did you know there are ways to LIVE stream treatments in compliance with guidelines?

Medical Groups

You’d think big medical groups have it easy. But in truth, they have it toughest. The problem is always the same. Medical groups rely on having superstar doctors. These doctors account for the majority of patient revenue at group level.

However, because things are so skewed towards these doctors, others might start to complain about how the group isn’t supporting them enough. To make matters worse, when a group successfully markets and creates a superstar doctor, they leave and start their own private practice! It becomes a tiring and never-ending cycle of attrition and replacement.

A few groups have tried to counter this by turning 180 degrees and marketing the brand instead of the doctors. This is BAD. By creating such an impersonal image, patients don’t feel they’re being cared for as you lack the human touch. Healthcare is very much a people business. The patient-doctor bond is something that is strong, human and cannot be ignored.

The correct solution here is to tie in your doctor marketing with the brand. Also, create a marketing system where the doctors benefit more from the publicity and exposure the group brings compared to venturing out.

Medical Suppliers

Local support. Overseas training. Invitational speaking slots. Business-class tickets. These are just some of the perks suppliers provide to get doctors using their products. But what happens when a new product comes along, or another supplier offers the same product for a lower price? The doctors switch instantly.

Wouldn’t it be better if doctors constantly request your products, instead of hiring a big sales team to beg doctors to buy?

The trick here is to collaborate with partner doctors to also bring publicity for your products and brand. Over time, you NEED to build your brand as a supplier. Other vendors might be able to sell the same products, but they won’t be able to impersonate your brand.

In addition, it’s important to be a source of patient referrals and leads to your partner doctors. Above and beyond the basic benefits you bring, doctors must feel that sticking with your brand gives them DIRECT PATIENTS. Do they at least DOUBLE their revenue by sticking with your brand VS switching to a cheaper supplier? If the answer is “No”, then you should consider working towards that.

Hint: Clinics like to order popular products. You can push new products to doctors, but regulations stop them from advertising with before/after photos and promotions endorsing you. That’s them. You’re not a clinic.

General Practitioners

This is very much a location-centric business. It’s also the easiest one to help. Marketing and publicity are NOT important but some visibility is good.

general practitioners

Data from Google shows more than 18,000 people searching for “clinic near me” EVERY MONTH.

All you need is basic 1-time SEO to get your clinic showing on Google’s maps. It probably costs you less than $1-2k and lasts forever.

But do make sure your website content is checked through and vetted by a PHMC Publicity Act regulations expert. Going with inexperienced copywriting and web designers can be a very costly mistake.

Veterinarians

There are more than 80 licensed vet clinics in private practice as of 2016. Competition has never been fiercer and clinics feel stuck relying on word-of-mouth.

Pet owners are a savvy crowd, evidenced by more than 10,000 searches on Google for “pet doctor” related services every month. SEO and Google Ads are both effective for vets and there’s no escaping that fact.

But what’s even more effective is social media. This is because it can showcase emotions, which are a major part of the relationship between owners and their beloved pets. However, regulations seemingly restrict testimonials, reviews, photo results and even promotions. Fortunately, if you study the clauses closely enough, there still remains a large number of ways to do all of the above.

Hint: Yes. It’s possible to create 100% compliant, emotional content and push it through Facebook and Instagram to pet owners.

Conclusion

marketing challenges

The marketing challenges you face as a medical business are real and very different. However, these challenges are hardly a bad thing. In fact, they’re AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE for clinics that know how to do proper medical marketing, acting as a perfect barrier to entry for competitors and rival clinics.

Find a marketer that is also a consultant for healthcare publicity regulations and you’d start to realize just how powerful clinic marketing in Singapore can be.

Bad Medical Marketing gets Singapore doctor MOH warning

Trust me. You don’t want to receive a letter like that.

But this is what happens when your digital marketing agency inputs a SINGLE INCORRECT SETTING on Google or Facebook.

It’d be good if we can ignore marketing completely, or tell our marketer to play it extremely safe (AKA “accept horrible marketing results and end up wasting time/money”). Sadly, the modern world forces us to keep up with times to stay relevant.

As of 2017, there were 4,788 specialists with 1,693 (35%) in Private Practice. The number of licensed doctors also hit a record high of 13,006 in 2016, with there being even more today. Ask younger colleagues how long they’ve been waiting to get residency and you’d realize there’s now an oversupply.

Doctors are still one of the most respected and elite professions, but life is not so easy anymore. It gets harder when you consider how difficult it is to properly market a doctor.

Medical Marketing Is Sensitive

Unaware of how strict publicity regulations surrounding private clinics are, agencies often cause headaches despite having your best interests at heart. Just recall, it was you who told your marketer to study the PHMC Publicity Act, wasn’t it? But isn’t it more worrying how it’s the doctor teaching the marketer what to do for marketing?

In addition, all material you put out has to comply with SMC/SDC guidelines and Google, Facebook policies. These regulations are constantly updated and busy medical professionals lack time to study each new revision (doctors are busy enough taking endless exams and certifications). Take for instance the 2019 update to MOH’s publicity guidelines. Rather than clarify matters, it ended up bringing a host of new questions.

So what’s the best way to ensure SAFE PUBLICITY?

There are 3 COMMON MISTAKES that get clinics into trouble with the Ministry of Health. Avoid them to drastically reduce the chances of a MOH love letter.

#1 Google Ad Experts

“Wait. What? Advice from a Google marketing expert is BAD?”

Think about it. There are 2 factors here.

  1. Advertising
  2. Regulations

Would you hire a lawyer to do clinic marketing for you? No.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Google experts optimize for technical performance, without a deep understanding of how clinics run. A few technical “improvements” can cause ads to be written very differently. 2 highly dangerous techniques you want to avoid are “Keyword insertion” and “Dynamic ads”.

Without going into technicalities, both of them were created by Google to improve ad relevance by crafting them from what users type into the search box. This often ends up with ads like this:

Dr LimTTSH Knee Specialist  – Located at Katong i12
Call Dr Tan at 9111 4321
Cheapest Heart Stenting in Singapore
Visit our clinic at #99-01 Mt Elizabeth Novena

The incongruence, impersonation and general violations are caused by a mixture of predefined and dynamic variables. It might result in better technical performance but puts you into hot soup. NOT worth it.

However, these are the very things Google Experts and professional marketers will advise you to do! Be VERY careful about whose advice you take.

So the next time you get a call from a Google Expert or read a marketing sales email, think twice before getting lured in by the beautiful promises.

#2 Testimonials

The 2019 update to the PHMC Publicity Act brought about 1 major change that got every doctor talking.

I know this because 4 different doctors sent it to me the moment they received it. To be fair, our man on the inside tells us it’s something MOH has been discussing for the longest time. If you attended their doctor dialogue sessions, you’d also realize this to be one of the most frequently asked about topics.

To summarize, patient testimonials are now allowed on your website. Feel free to dynamically display your clinic’s official Google Reviews, though this very much acts as a double-edged sword.

Lasik journey

Apart from that, any form of testimonial cannot directly be used in your publicity materials. What about 3rd parties and bloggers then? This is where the grey area sits right now. I personally don’t recommend any of my clients to do shady things like sponsoring a treatment then telling the blogger to keep hush or fake a payment receipt. Doctors are a highly respected profession and should behave in a more ethical manner. But should a patient really love your service and write a glowing review, good job.

Nonetheless, to protect yourself from unwanted violations:

  1. Do NOT share anything laudatory on social media. From our experience, it’s mostly the front desk or counter staff who post, so remember to brief them about this.
  2. Do NOT link out from your website to testimonials or patient reviews. Your web developer should know this. In fact, to play safe, don’t link to anyone from your website.
  3. Ensure your marketer or Google Expert is NOT using the “review callout” feature on your Google Ads. That counts as testimonial marketing and can get you into trouble.

Still, testimonials and past work are POWERFUL and the #1 thing that convinces patients.

There are also ways to use patient testimonials that are completely within the scope of the law. How? The medical marketing methods are proprietary to Healthmark but we’d be happy to tell you over coffee. Your treat. 😀

#3 Package Pricing

Package Pricing

To start, PACKAGE PRICES ARE ALLOWED. Once again, it’s not something that’s overtly stated, and you’d do well to keep it that way.

The mistake many clinics make is in publicly displaying information that lets patients see an advantage in taking the package. Let’s use a quick example here:

PRICELISTSpine checkup - $200Knee checkup - $200Spine + Knee checkup - $320

The above violates regulations because having a combined checkup is clearly cheaper than choosing only 1. This can be seen as persuading the patient to take the combined checkup, which is very much frowned upon by the authorities.

What if we did this then?

PRICELISTSpine + Knee checkup - $320

Now, this suddenly becomes 100% compliant. There’s nothing else for patients to compare the price to and thus, you’re not seen as trying to get patients picking 1 option over another.

The other question then becomes, “are there restrictions on how I price packages?”

Singapore authorities generally let market forces dictate prices in the private sector. However, this is completely subject to the discretion of MOH and you can be asked to explain your prices if they seem abnormal.

I’m sure you’ve all seen “Complete Health Screening Package for $138” in packed clinics. But what happens if you bring the price down to $1? Or FREE? Such a low price might then be seen as soliciting for patients and get you into trouble.

In summary, feel free to create packages for your patients. However, refrain from giving them ala-carte prices as comparison points and always make sure your prices don’t stray too much from prevailing market rates.

Closing Notes

Finally, why is there so much more emphasis on adhering to MOH’s guidelines as compared to SMC/SDC? Most of you reading this will be doctors, so all I will say is this:

“Compare the reporting process required for each one”.

You probably know the answer now.

In any case, there are multiple ways to get past the restrictive regulations surrounding clinic and doctor marketing. The smartest option is to work with a marketing guru who is also well-versed in regulations.

SEO Singapore – Beat GIANT competitors in 3 months

I’ve written a number of articles about SEO Singapore.

This next one’s slightly different. It’d shed light on a small experiment I began running around March 2017.

As someone who relied on word-of-mouth for business, I’ve never done SEO in Singapore for my own blog. I’ve helped numerous private clients but never bothered tackling my own space because I’m limited in the number of new cases I can take (I’m not an SEO agency Singapore, but a private consultant. So my own time is required to plan and execute for clients).

SEO Singapore – The Hypothesis

As discussed previously, certain SEO companies in Singapore leave the technical aspects of SEO to overseas vendors, effectively acting as the middle-man. When that happens, we lose quality control over the standard of search engine optimization work is done.

Who assesses the link profile? Who gauges the link velocity? Who plans the link network and schema? Does anyone even know what the previous 3 questions even mean?

Leaving all technical details to outsourced vendors means the knowledge lies with them. My hypothesis was that this created a relatively weak local SEO competition. Weak local SEO competition should mean it’s easier to beat.

I needed to test this.

SEO Singapore – The Experiment

To test this hypothesis, I needed to go after the toughest competition in Singapore.

I eventually settled on the medical niche and SEO Singapore itself.

Medical terms are some of the most competitive in the country. Words like “Invisalign Singapore”, “Dermatologist Singapore”, “Acne Treatment Singapore” etc. They constantly attract AdWords bids of over $10 and the money aesthetic clinics, plastic surgeons, orthopaedics, eye centres and dentists pour into digital marketing is OBSCENE. It’d be a good area to test my hypothesis.

SEO Keywords

data pulled directly from Google Keyword Tool

The 2nd test area is “SEO agency Singapore” and “SEO company Singapore”. These keywords trigger nearly 700 searches every month on Google and signal clear buying intent. Thus, it’s not surprising bids up to $30+ (the most expensive industry in Singapore!) are commonplace on Google AdWords. This makes sense. After all, this is the area in which SEO agencies have the BIGGEST INCENTIVE to do well in!

3 questions to answer were:

SEO Singapore – The Results

My choice for the medical niche was a brand new website, doctorXdentist. It’s a not-for-profit blog targeted at raising health awareness in Singapore. I found that a very noble cause and offered to market it pro-bono (Dr Ethan is a really cool guy too). He also found me at a time when I was planning this experiment, which was perfect.

I started ramping up the SEO around March. Here are the results.

SEO Singapore - doctorXdentist

Domain age is extremely important in the Google SEO ranking algorithm, so I myself was surprised it ranked top 10 for multiple keywords WITHIN 3 MONTHS.

With that out of the way, I could spend a little more time on optimizing my own blog.

AskNateWang.com was set up in late 2015. But I never really did anything for it apart from sharing advice and marketing that through social media. I had to relook at all my previous posts and pick which ones I wanted to rank for “SEO agency Singapore” and “SEO company Singapore” among others.

Here’s a snapshot of the results 3 months after starting the experiment.

SEO Singapore - AskNateWang

Once again, this test proves it’s possible to beat industry giants who’ve spent TENS of THOUSANDS of dollars on SEO over 10, 15 YEARS. And it’s possible to do it in a matter of months.

SEO Singapore – The conclusion

I think my biggest takeaway from these set of tests is the confirmation that SEO has changed a lot since 2015. Methods that worked back then no longer work now.

The game is a lot more technical these days, so simply outsourcing doesn’t work well anymore. It’s always best to have an extremely high level of expertise in-house to lead the overall strategy.

I’d probably stop these 2 experiments here but might have another one lined up for the finance industry (another insanely competitive space) if I can find a good partner.

What’s Next? NEGATIVE SEO!

Yep. It is possible to bring down competitor websites with anti-SEO. My blog’s already been targeted twice in 3 months. I’m sure it’d be an even bigger target with the release of this article.

This is just one of the reasons why I hesitate revealing too much information. I fully expect my SEO rankings to be hit, or the blog hosting to get overloaded, but I guess it’s just something I have to live with.

For the ones thinking of hiring me to do against your competitors… I’m sorry, but that service isn’t available. I don’t think this world needs more negative SEO going around.

Caveat: This post ITSELF is actually the final step of the experiment in ranking for the SEO Singapore industry space.

Business stuck making $2,000/mth? Here’s $100,000.

SMEs have it rough in Singapore. This ST report from 2017 shows more businesses closing down every year. Closure rate for retail in particular almost DOUBLES!

retail closing

People often cite the high rental costs in Singapore as the main problem. I disagree.

If high rentals kill all businesses, then you won’t see any offices and shops occupied anymore. But there are plenty of people paying sky-high rentals PSF and their business are doing VERY well. High rental is a problem, but it affects profitability more than scaling up.

Building a profitable business is easy. Every business can make profits. You can start a home bakery and just sell to friends alone. Word-of-mouth alone is PROFITABLE. Then you earn maybe $200-$300/mth. You can give private tuition and make $1,000/mth. But can you grow these? Profits are STUCK.

In my experience, the real hurdles to business growth are:

Manpower problem

Small businesses rely on manpower to scale. Without people to help you, you can’t ever grow.

If you’ve ever tried hiring, you will realise it’s impossible to get good talent at a reasonable rate. SMEs cannot offer the same status or salaries as MNCs (banks can offer up to $5,000+ for an admin role). And if you decide to hire foreigners, you’d soon be asking “Why is there is a quota on lower-cost foreign workers, but MNCs can hire as many foreign managers as they like!?”

Some of you might say you’ve never considered hiring before. After all, how can you afford to hire if you’re only making $2k to $4k? Times were much better in the 90s and early 2000s. Business was easier to do.

There are so many competitors nowadays. Rents are high. People are hard to hire. Customers go online or the product you’re selling is no longer in trend. Multiple reasons.

MNC in Singapore

*infographic from SingStat showing how MNCs dominate Singapore

MNCs makeup only 1% of registered companies but hire 35% of the workforce. Large local/regional companies and chains are taking over retail (try naming 5 restaurants in shopping malls not owned by groups or major chains).

These guys have money; can pay high wages, access to the best people, big budgets. You feel like you’re slowly being squeezed out.

Solution: The key to many businesses is creating more efficient SOPs. Traditionally run businesses rely on experienced heads to run things. You cannot clone your old generals. But by creating clearer and more structured systems and steps, you can hire young warriors to help fight the battle. AI, computerised systems and automation help streamline the rest.

No new customers

Think back to the earlier example. Word-of-mouth alone is enough for you to run a profitable business. The problem is always about scaling up. So when you have manpower and operations all worked out, how do you get the next 100 customers?

The usual advice on the street is paying for a good SEO agency Singapore, do Facebook ads, hire a social media agency etc. Other more traditional B2B businesses rely on radio ads, door-to-door salesmen and events/seminars. They’re all correct. Different industries need different tactics.

Marketing can work to the point where it outpaces your operations capability. Ever seen business owners ask you to stop giving them more customers? I have. Plenty of times. 

Too many customers

The problem with young businesses is they know they NEED marketing, but they can’t AFFORD it.

Talking about just digital marketing, REAL SEO costs at least $1,500/mth. Google AdWords will be another $2,000/mth (including agency fees). Social media plus content production easily takes up another $1,000 to $3,000. And that’s just marketing. We haven’t even gone into sales SOPs, inquiry follows ups etc. Effective marketing costs around $5,000/mth. Small businesses cannot afford that.

No $$$? You can’t do proper marketing. Everything you try will likely be half-baked and end up losing more $$$.

Solution: None exist on the market today. I’m not smart enough to figure something out too. Maybe if a reader has a way to help small businesses with this cost, you can drop me an email. I’d be happy to try it. Thousands of businesses in Singapore will thank you.

So here’s the $100,000.

Or less. Or more. Depending on your business.

Since my last blog post (more than a year ago!!!), I’ve been busy taking a stake in businesses and helping them grow. It was this old post of mine that got me thinking hard about my digital marketing role.

I’m looking for 10 high potential businesses ($50k to $300k) to invest in.

My experience is in business management and marketing. I’ve helped a number of small businesses go from struggling to prospering.

So, if you’re a small business owner:

Tell me more about your business and why you think I’m a suitable partner. Looking to sell your business? Let me know too.

Maybe we can work something out. Cheers.

Can You Teach Me Data Analytics?

So a friend recently asked me to teach her data analytics and market segmentation for 2 very high-paying job interviews coming up.

“Data analytics refers to qualitative and quantitative techniques and processes used to enhance productivity and business gain. Data is extracted and categorized to identify and analyze behavioural data and patterns, and techniques vary according to organizational requirements.” – Technopedia.

Now, the thing about Data Analytics is that it’s really an approach/technique. You can’t teach it unless it’s specific to a particular case. Nonetheless, it’s a common question so I thought why not put it into an article.

Data Analytics Requires Data

This is the lifeblood of analytics. You need to be studying a dataset. Before you go “LIKE, DUH!?”… it’d also be surprised to know that’s not the starting point of analytics.

It’s common for organizations to throw you thousands of data sets and ask you to discover something. Sadly, if that’s all you do, you’re not going to maximise your use of data at all. It’s one of the reasons why so many MNCs and governments have BIG DATA but never actually get anything outta it (reason #2 being an inability to act on data).

Online analytics are confusing featured

A good data scientist will always plan for what needs to be known and design the systems to collect data in a way that gives those insights. Massaging raw, unstructured data is the toughest task in the world, because you’re trying to piece random information together to discover that eureka moment. Of course, many situations are unplanned and that’s often all you have to work with. But if you have ANY control over the project at all, PLAN THE DATA YOU WANT TO COLLECT.

Learn From Big Brother Google

Digital/online campaigns are the easiest ones to use data analytics on. The very nature of the internet and websites creates millions of data points we can capture and analyze. Let’s use the simple case of studying whether or not visitors like your website (a topic your good web design agency should guide you on)

Sounds like an easy task. We install Google Analytics and everything’s there for us to see. Pages per visit, Time spent on the website, New VS returning visitors, bounce rate, the content they’re reading, navigation flow, etc.

However, did you ever stop to think that if Google Analytics didn’t exist, you’d have to come up with all those metrics yourself? You will have to decide what actually defines “visitors liking a website” and design your system to capture those specific points!

Not so easy now, is it?

Google made the job so easy for webmasters, they rarely stopped to think about how the analytics system was designed. When was the last time you questioned why Google selected those metrics?

To explain any further, I’d need to start using specific examples. Let’s explore the case of the Singapore government’s initiative for us to return our own trays at hawker centres/food courts. It’s a good initiative and reduces Singapore’s reliance on low-cost workers.

So in an imaginary world, where you get placed in charge by the Singapore government, how would you use data analytics to help drive this?

Step 1: Knowing what to track

Before you start executing all your crazy ideas, let’s take a step back.

We know Singaporeans don’t return our trays. That’s why there are so many empty trays and plates lying around and cleaners scramble to keep the tables clean.

How big is the issue? Do 9/10 people fail to return their trays? Do 10 trays go missing for every 100 carried off? How do you even improve the problem if you don’t know exactly how severe or minor it is? Everything we think we “know” is simply based on what our eyes see. You, the project manager, has ZERO numbers. That’s NOT good.

Step 1 is to start thinking about what the important data points are.

Deciding on these requires substantial knowledge of the industry as well as a clear problem definition. It is a collaborative effort between your entire team and requires your clients’/superiors’ approvals. Ultimately, this is a project, and the project succeeds only if the client/superior feels it has succeeded.

The good thing about agreeing on data points early on is that clueless superiors can’t rate you based on their emotions/experience at the end of the project. Data is data. Numbers don’t lie.

Step 2: Collecting the data

After you’ve decided upon how “success” will look like, it’s time to start looking at solutions that will actually track those metrics. Google Analytics makes it easy for us to do this for website user behaviour. This time, you’re on your own.

Track people

There’s actually a similar initiative by the government to reduce manpower for toilet cleaning. One of the methods used to track key data points was to install a “people counter” at the toilet entrance. People counters are usually cameras with the ability to recognize a human subject and automatically count people entering a specific location.

Stage 1 involves just counting the number of people. Cleaners still went in to do their routine cleaning.

However, when a large enough dataset is collected, patterns will emerge. The system can then predict when a toilet needs cleaning, based on how many people have used it. This means that cleaners no longer have to waste manpower cleaning toilets with no visitors, and manpower can also be allocated when there is a spike in usage (perhaps due to an event nearby).

The solutions you pick to collect the data are very much determined by the type of data you decided to collect. Until you know exactly what metrics you need, it’d be impossible to design the data collection system, and any data sets collected (even BIG data) becomes rather wasted.

Step 3: Define existing benchmarks

The next step is actually pretty easy. Once you’ve started tracking, take a snapshot of the current situation. Collect enough data and patterns might even emerge. You might realise a deeper problem or a more straightforward solution that will surprise you.

In any case, the snapshot will now act as your benchmark. Your job now is to implement solutions to improve these metrics.

Step 4: Data analytics

And at long last, we come to “data analytics”. The very thing people ask me to teach them about. I hope it’s clear by now that it isn’t a skill in itself, but actually part of a very logical set of processes.

People often have the impression that data analytics is this really geeky subject and get scared off. But if you’ve structured everything right, this is actually the easiest part. Of course, when data sets get big enough, you always have the choice to dig deeper and find correlations, build models on it, optimize based on data etc. THAT will be the geeky stuff but your team of math geniuses and engineers will help you out.

Just remember, the least you can do to help your data scientists out is to help them design a system that collects meaningful data. Not throw millions of data points at them and expect them to perform miracles.

2017 Predictions for Digital Marketing (for students & businesses)

20 years ago, everywhere on Straits Times or TV, you’d see Channel 8 celebrities endorsing beauty salons.

I predicted a decline in the beauty salon industry in an old article.

We rarely see beauty salons advertising anymore these days. The only one recall seeing is that SlimFit advert of the rollerblading woman. But this industry has mostly already been replaced by Medical Aesthetic Clinics.

Decline in the beauty salon industry

Likewise, today, all signs point towards digital marketing as the future. Businesses want to start advertising. Students want degrees in it so they can secure good careers. But are there signs of opportunities? Or danger?

FB ads in 2015 targeting a custom audience in the women/beauty segment

FB ads in 2015 targeting a custom audience in the women/beauty segment

FB ads targeting the same segment in 2017

FB ads targeting the same segment in 2017

The above images show my campaigns in 2015 and 2017. In 2017, I improved the Relevance and CTR to the point where my ads should cost 50% CHEAPER than in 2015 … But instead, I’m paying more in 2017! What the heck is happening!?

Observe the column “CPM”, which means “cost-to-reach-1000-people”. Notice how it doubled from 2015 to 2017?

Digital Marketing Compared to Property

Digital Marketing Compared to Property

Let’s use the simple analogy of property here (because Singaporeans love property).

Property/Land = Google, Facebook, Stomp, YouTube, HardWareZone, PropertyGuru, etc

Property agents = Digital marketers

Homebuyers/Investors = Advertisers

Today’s market is one where the property is overheated. The cash-rich Chinese (MNCs, government grants, SMEs with high profits) are bidding for every property they can find. This pushes the price of everything up. Property agents (digital marketers) are simply there to help the MNCs buy these overheated properties.

All these results in 2 major problems.

Problem #1 – Digital Marketing Salaries Suppressed

Because of how hot the market is, more agents are entering every year. The growth rate of property agents exceeds the growth rate of property buyers.

This only causes the commissions (salary) of the agents to drop. Don’t want the deal for a measly 1% commission? 100 other agents are queuing up.

A good agent can be the difference between a losing deal and be making a profit. Powerful agents might even have their own exclusive buyer/seller network. Unfortunately, property buyers are unable to tell who’s good, and usually, just go for the cheapest agents.

The future isn’t promising for agents (digital marketers).

Problem #2 – Small-time Home Buyers Lose Out

Think back to the above Facebook ads example. Now imagine Mary, young Singaporean lady who’s about to get married.

Coca-Cola, a wedding photographer and cake shop all want her business. How much can they pay?

Both Coke and the wedding photographer can afford to pay high prices for this space. This puts our cake shop in a dilemma.

Match their bids and pay today’s property (advertising) prices? Or give up? Match their bids and you lose money. Give up and your business can’t grow fast.

Remember, my Facebook ad statistics only compared from 2015 to 2017. I did not show the ridiculous increase from 2010 till 2017. I suspect it’d continue to rise and double up again within the next 3-5 years.

In this overheated property market, there is simply no room left for the retail investor/home buyer (small businesses).

But as with any market in crisis, there is always opportunity.

Opportunity #1 – Become a Property Developer

Become a Property Developer

We are in this situation today because of 2 things:

Point #2 is a KEY opportunity. Basically, anything that creates new advertising space online WILL be able to generate revenue. SGAG, XiaXue and other blogs, random niche websites, Carousel. Get enough traffic and advertisers WILL come.

Don’t be a property investor. Become a property developer. Hot money is looking for properties. Build properties for them!

Opportunity #2 – Train the Agents

With the growing popularity of digital marketing, more youths and mid-career upgraders are looking to pick up the skill.

Recall the Facebook ad example again. See how much can change in just 2 years? This also means no school syllabus will ever prepare digital marketers for the real world. To the poly and university undergrads here, I’m sorry to say but whatever you learn in school is ALREADY outdated.

Constant upgrading is needed in this industry. And what better way to take advantage of it than to teach aspiring marketers? Courses funded by SkillsFuture credit and those that can issue certificates are the most sought after.

Opportunity #3 – Invest in Stocks/Bonds Instead

Invest in Stocks/Bonds

What do major funds do when a property is overpriced? They seek alternative properties or simply look at stocks, bonds, startups and everything else that might give a better return. Here are some key areas that I personally feel are much more promising than digital marketing:

Closing notes on Digital Marketing

So if you’re a small company, what options are left for you? Basically, I feel AdWords and SEO will always be money makers. They target specific buying intent so profit will be there. The only problem is it’s limited in volume.

SEO has also changed a lot since 2015, and not many vendors in Singapore are updated about it. This is especially important for more competitive spaces such as medical, finance, weddings, law etc. If you try to SEO your site using the same methods you did in 2015, I guarantee you won’t get into the top 5. Look forward to a new article about a few experiments I’m running in the most competitive industries in Singapore and how the SEO changes have impacted all existing players.

Things are always changing in digital marketing. It’s up to individuals to keep up. Or better yet, go into Artificial Intelligence.

How to Dominate Local SEO in Singapore 2017

A very frustrated business owner sent me this email last week:

“Unfortunately, it was $2,300 per month for 9 months retainer. And I was still stuck at position 18-20 after that.

But it is a very competitive niche in finance industry competing with high authority sites of banks. The reason why I engaged this guy was that he helped my friend who’s in the same industry rank up no.3-4 for the same niche. He explained my failure as down to Google’s algorithmic changes. From what I see, the only thing he did was link building but most were from questionable sites. He probably outsourced them at a high margin like what you described in your articles.”

In the SEO expert's defence (and he is one of the premium ones in Singapore as you can see from his charges), the algorithms really did change.

If you have paid attention to your own industry, you should have observed that the old business stay top, and new ones rarely break-in. This is because many SEO agencies in Singapore are still performing search engine optimization as if this is 2015. What worked in 2015 no longer works. It’s time to keep up. Techniques for rank boosting have changed. But the biggest opportunity now lies in the new Local Listings.

Local SEO Listings Examples

Look at the image above. See how big that map and listings are? What you need to do is dominate it.

Just like that photo of Rochor Tau Huay (which I bloody love) at the top. If you’re searching for it, will it make sense for Google to show you Tampines Tau Huay or Jurong West Tau Huay? It’s probably a waste of time. Google knows this and is trying to make results as localized as possible.

When it comes to Local SEO, it is extremely important to make sure that you optimize both your off-site and your on-site SEO strategies.

Importance of Local SEO in Singapore

Singapore is a very special market when it comes to Google search, SEO and bidding for keywords. The competition in paid search is high and Google AdWords is very expensive. Average CPC (Cost per Click) easily goes above S$ 10 in more competitive niches. We are one of the MOST EXPENSIVE ad markets in the world (around 3x to 5x more expensive than HK and Japan)!!!

So if you plan to start an online business in a high volume/highly competitive industry, Search Engine Optimization should be your top priority.

With the importance of Local SEO in Singapore on the rise, here are some tactics that are still effective as of June 2017 to help you rank better for any local search term.

Step 1: Standardized Local SEO Info

NAP will be guiding light for Local SEO. NAP stands for:

You should use it (or part of it) whenever you can on the internet. Make sure you have your NAP somewhere on your website (even footer area works).

Use exactly the same Phone and Address on your Google Business Page (we will talk more about Google Business Page below).

Step 2: Use Local and Niche Directories

Approximately 4 out of 5 consumers will use a search engine to conduct a local search according to Google. However, many smaller businesses do not have a local business listing online, which is a huge missed opportunity.

It is very important to make sure your business is at the top of online business directories and that the information is correct. Make sure to use YelpSingapore Yellow Pages and other top online directories as well as any respectable local directories. Check your local industries to see if there is a directory your company can be listed in.

It is also important to make sure your company’s name, phone number, and address are part of large citation aggregators such as Factual, Acxiom, Neustar, and Infogroup. Check often to make sure that the information about your business is correct because if Google is not sure about the information it may end up being listed incorrectly or not at all.

Step 3: Google My Business Page

Google My Business (GMB) is a directory and could well be listed above.

However, it is so important that I feel it deserves a section of its own. It is extremely important to claim Google My Business page. This is a free service and can get you an incredible amount of exposure if your page is optimized enough to show up in the local three-pack for Google (as seen with the 3 toy shops in the image above)

Local SEO Google PIN example

In order to claim your Google My Business page simply go to the https://business.google.com. There is a verification process to go through where a postcard with a PIN will be sent to your physical business address (you need an actual physical mailing address to receive the mail). You can be verified with a phone call but this is offered only for certain businesses. Simply log in and enter the pin once you receive it.

This verification process allows Google to confirm that your business is legitimate and that you are the business owner. Only the owner of a business can claim a GMB page.

Once you have claimed your GMB page, make sure you optimize it using a solid company description, business hours, categories, types of payments accepted, etc. Also, make sure you upload photos of your business and your logo.

Not to be outdone, Bing has a similar system, called Bing Places. The customers coming from Bing aren’t many but it doesn’t hurt to register there as well. It only takes a few minutes and we don’t want to miss any opportunity to get new customers.

Step 4: Online Reviews

Google Reviews Graph

A recent survey by BrightLocal showed just how much people trust online reviews. What people say online about your business in Singapore is far more important than you blowing your own horn!

There are some reputation marketing software companies that manage, track and try to get reviews. Some of these include:

In addition, there are social media platforms such as Google Alerts and Hootsuite that will allow you to get alerts when your brand is mentioned. Now, bear in mind that these are more for SEO purposes than driving new customers. To REALLY influence your prospects… you’d need something a lot more creative. I will probably reveal that in a future article instead.

Nonetheless, it is important to respond to reviews, both positive and negative, as this shows you care what your customers think.

Focus on Facebook and your Google My Business page for reviews as they are the two big ones. Positive reviews on your Facebook page can help draw in new customers and positive reviews on your GMB page show up on Google when someone is looking at your business, which is very important.

Some industries have other specific platforms. For example, hotels need good reviews in Booking.com or and eateries can aim for good ratings in HungryGoWhere.

Once again, these are more for organic exposure rather a major impact on sales.

Step 5: Using Local Schema Markup

Structured data markup or local schema markup can be added to the code on your website in order to provide search engines with more information about your business such as the products you sell or services you offer.

Currently, only 31% of websites use this data markup. Simply adding this structured data to your site where it is appropriate is a great way to rank higher than your competitors.

There are several ways to add Local Schema Markup. One is using HTML 5 and Microdata while creating your website. This can be difficult because most of the web design companies in Singapore aren’t familiar with it or might implement it with errors and hurt your website. ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR VENDOR FIRST TO MAKE SURE THEY’RE FAMILIAR WITH THIS!!!

The simpler option would be to use JSON Structured Data generator and add the generated code to your web page. But better leave that to a qualified SEO agency (read more about dangers when hiring an SEO agency in Singapore) as they will know what is the best way to do that.

Step 6: Meta Descriptions and Title Still Matter for Local SEO

When it comes to HTML elements that can be customized in order to reflect your content, meta descriptions and titles are still important. The text of the title along with meta description tags are displayed in search results and should be crafted carefully.

Generally speaking, the length of a title tag should be between 50 to 60 characters for best results. Meta descriptions should be between 150 to 180 characters. Take advantage of this space and make sure you use it wisely.

The Meta description is important ONLY for enticing people to click on your link. It does not affect your rankings!!!

Meta description snippet example

It is very frustrating to see nearly every SEO vendor in Singapore repeatedly talk about optimizing the meta description for SEO purposes. If you ever hear that from your SEO agency, I recommend switching off them immediately. You’re better off paying a monkey to do SEO.

Writing proper meta descriptions and titles is extremely important in the world of competing for search results. If the text is not descriptive, compelling, and unique, your click-through rate will suffer. In addition, an extra word or character can cut off your text with ellipses, which looks unprofessional, especially if it is in the middle of a sentence.

Every character in a title and description counts so make sure you provide helpful information. If you are attempting to reach local customers, including the area that it serves (example: cake shop in ANG MO KIO).

It is also important to focus on a targeted keyword and place it as close to the beginning of a tag as possible.

Summarizing the steps for Local SEO in Singapore

The steps described in this article will be enough to help most companies compete in the local SEO space here. There will always be highly competitive spaces that require a lot more link-building work and advanced techniques. Nonetheless, here’s a quick recap.

  1. Create a Google My Business Page and verify it.
  2. AFTER the business is verified, start registering your business in every possible citation source located in Singapore.
  3. Try to add Structured Data Markup on your website (recommend that be done by an SEO agency who understands Local SEO in details)
  4. Be careful and keep track of your business reviews on various sources.
  5. Make sure your website has proper titles and meta descriptions which demand attention (these can be outsourced to a good digital marketing agency in Singapore).
  6. And last but not least make sure you CONSTANTLY use your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) in Local Sources when you publish ANYTHING related to your business.

Good luck with your search engine optimization plan! You know where to reach me if you need help.

Page 1 SEO with just $1,000 over 2 months (Singapore startups and sole-props)

As everyone will know by now, SEO Singapore is a long-term play. Unfortunately, this also means you’d have to pay monthly SEO fees for 6 to 12 months before your website gets into Page 1.

24 months X $800 (average cost for solid SEO) = $19,200. That’s not something small businesses can readily invest.

Thankfully, there are shortcuts.

People in digital marketing always say “it depends”. Well, it’s true. Provided you meet the following conditions, you can actually get your website to Google Page 1 within a month.

You might be thinking “how can any weak space be worth it?”

Well, here’s an example of a weak space.

Searches

2,900 searches per month, in the super-competitive MEDICAL space, worth $6.50 per click. Assuming the #1 spot gets clicked 20% of the time, this translates to a monthly value of around $3,700!!!

Who’s #1 now? doctorxdentist.com – a friend of mine I’m helping pro-bono because I like his vision of a free online medical knowledgebase for Singaporeans. It took us less than 1-2 months to attack and dominate that keyword, with a relatively new website, beating out marketers who have been doing this for years.

This proves that weak spaces aren’t always packed with bad keywords. Who knows, maybe your industry is in a weak space too and you can dominate it easily without spending much.

Here are a few tools you can use to do your own SEO research:

If all else fails, just approach a real SEO expert.

Seriously? SEO Singapore too expensive for SMEs.

70% of companies planned to increase their digital marketing spend in 2015-2016. 78% of companies now have some form of social media. And why not? According to a report by ST, Singaporeans spend at least 3 hours on their phones daily, with 71% checking social networks at least once per day.

“Go with the times. Nowadays people don’t read the newspaper or watch TV Liao. All on handphone. We must reach them there.”

That’s what everyone says. And they’re right. So what’s the problem?

Shrinking real-estate

It’s a fact digital marketing budgets are increasing.

How about advertising space? Singapore is a developed nation with one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world. It’s unlikely we will see growth in this area.

Facebook decline

A Forbes report showed that Facebook users posted 30% less content in 2016. Facebook got scared and arrested the trend by showing fewer ads.

This is not a new trend. People hate ads.

Neilsen banner

The above is an eye-tracking study by Nielsen. See how people generally ignore ads?

The first digital ads launched in 1994 had 78/100 people clicking on them. Today, out of 100 people who see your post on Facebook or websites, how many clicks? You’d be lucky to get 5/100.

Digital marketing space in Singapore isn’t growing. And there isn’t enough population growth or internet penetration growth to fuel digital real-estate creation.

What’s happening now

Here’s a logical way to think about the current situation:

Digital marketing spend is up.

Digital marketing inventory is stagnant.

More people fighting for the same space.

Space gets more expensive.

In such a situation, the market regulates itself. Costs go up until a point where only the maximum bidders are allowed to stay.

Unfortunately, for most Singaporean businesses, this means you’d eventually be forced out. The ones remaining will be global MNCs or investor-backed groups with deep pockets. Many MNCs hardly bat an eye at a $200m budget. They also don’t need to profit directly from marketing. Marketing spend is simply a % of the revenue earned.

Let’s imagine both you and McDonald’s going after a famous “influencer” in Singapore. Assume the influencer only has time to do 1 video. You calculate that paying $2,000 lets you breakeven with a small profit. McDonald’s comes in with a $20,000 bid. Sorry. You’re out.

Problem. Solution?

This is a very real scenario today.

I talked to a doctor who just started her own clinic. Her digital marketing budget was around $800 a month. I know her competitor spends $30,000 monthly. She will be forced out of the space through a bidding war.

Another thing is AI optimization systems and bidding algorithms. Here’s the cold, hard truth. Those systems only help people with big budgets that can get big data.

Just like how real-world wealth and property will slowly be consolidated into the hands of the rich, the same will happen here. Eventually, all existing digital marketing space will be dominated by the rich and inequality will increase.

Nevertheless, this blog isn’t just about hard truths. It must also provide solutions. Here are 2.

The next big thing

A rich company that moves fast is a nightmare for all competitors in that industry. But big companies often move very slowly.

Search engine optimization is tough unless you're one of the best SEO company in Singapore. Google AdWords bids are too high. Facebook marketing cost has got very expensive. There are too many influencers/bloggers are losing effectiveness.

This is very similar to the property market in Singapore. Did you buy 5 condos in the early 2000s? No? They’re all taken now. Those other people went in cheap and now dominate the space. Your chance has passed.

And once again, if this was property, what will you do? You’d either wait for a crash (which rarely happens in digital marketing) or you look for overseas markets that are still cheap.

Amazon Marketing

Have you tried OutBrain? Amazon marketing? Will WhatsApp introduce ads soon? Twitch will rise along with eSports. And there will be something new that’s not even invented yet today.

People will always be on the internet. The newest ways to reach them will always be the cheapest. But unlike the real world, even if you are a first mover, your advantage is eroded the moment the big boys come in(other than SEO, which factors in “time”, so the earlier you do it the better). Nonetheless, there will be a short period of time where you can get very good profits.

Improve conversions

If all marketing methods other than SEO Singapore will eventually get dominated by the rich businesses, what can an SME do?

Big boys often “follow the book”. This means that they can only optimize things based on the world they know.

You, however, can go beyond that world. There are multiple, unorthodox and underground methods to help convert customers at a higher rate. These are the so-called “secrets” that Google and Facebook employees themselves don’t know about. And this is your best bet to win the digital marketing game.

If your competitor converts 1/100 customers, and you convert 5/100, you can effectively challenge his $20,000 marketing with only $4,000.

Use smarter tactics to get higher returns, allowing you to challenge people with 4-5 times your budget.

Which Businesses Make Money in Singapore?

Throughout the course of my work, I’ve had the privilege to access confidential financial data of SMEs from various industries. One trend I’ve noticed is that the young entrepreneurs who approach me do NOT come from industries that really make money. This is really interesting. Why?

Nowadays, everyone seems tempted to do a tech startup, run an eCommerce platform, start a café or market a novel/new interesting business idea. I can get multiple emails per week looking for partnerships or growth hacking help for service portals, seminar sales, F&B marketing, novel products or “the next big idea”.

Perhaps in all this excitement about innovation, young entrepreneurs are overlooking other good opportunities?

Trading Companies

Know those little shop fronts you see in Lavender or Chinatown? Hardly any crowd, you wonder how they survive. But many are actually trading companies that supply products to businesses in Singapore. Many of the products you see on the shelves in big departmental stores or offices are supplied by trading companies situated in “ulu” locations.

One of the most interesting cases was a company that did nothing except buy pipe covers online from Alibaba and rent them to construction companies that needed to transport pipes. That’s all. Pipe covers. The warehouse had nothing but pipe covers.

If you know a certain trade well enough, you will know where the opportunities lie.

Childcare/Tuition/Education

Education/Childcare

If there’s 1 thing Singaporeans don’t save on, it’s their children’s futures. The margin in this industry might no longer be that great, but the demand is huge. This is the only big moneymaker left that isn’t strictly regulated. Financial, gambling, property, basically every other cash cow industry in Singapore is either outlawed or highly regulated.

It’s not an easy path though. NO BUSINESS IS EVER EASY. It’s blood, sweat and tears.

CNBC report on millionaire tutors making $1m/year.

The education/childcare industry has created plenty of new-rich business owners. 3 other areas that Singaporeans spend recklessly in are:

  1. baby related
  2. wedding
  3. home renovation

Import/Export

My good friend’s brother runs one of the few restaurant chains that are still privately owned (cafes not counted). But he only got it to work because he saved up enough capital from another business: importing and exporting computer parts in the 1990s.

For those who think such opportunities are over, think again. A famous ex-politician is now a multi-millionaire through exporting electronics to Africa. Many major brands like working with Singaporean distributors so if you can get a deal going, you can start distributing it to other parts of the undeveloped world.

Government Grants

Before any of you go to Google for government grants to apply for, I need to make myself clear.

The companies making great money from this are not the companies claiming the grant. They are the companies which products and services can be paid for using grants! PIC/ICV/CDG* are 3 of the most popular grants now.

“Your receipt printer is too old. You should replace it with a modern POS. Government paying anyway.”

“Why pay for marketing? Our agency can help you structure a branding campaign. Claim CDG $30,000.”

“$500 Skills Future to upgrade online marketing skills. Get more job opportunities. You don’t need to pay cash.”

These grants have already made a number of millionaires in Singapore, especially during the 2012/2013 PIC heydays. A similar alternative is selling online courses.

*PIC ends this year (This has my full support). ICV is strongly rumoured to be killed off this year (I strongly support this too) and replaced with a digitization scheme. CDG will likely stay.

Manufacturing/Machinery/Spare Parts

China factory line

Which business do you think makes more,

  1. Carousell (who everybody in Singapore knows)
  2. Selling ball-bearings to factories (who nobody in Singapore knows)

The 2nd one is likely a multi-millionaire, while the first will still need funding to grow and turn profitable (Caveat: profitability isn’t necessarily required for a tech startup to “succeed” as there are other ways to play it through capital markets).

There are many businesses that no one outside the trade knows about. Engine Remote Control System, Inert Gas System & Oxygen Analyser, Oil Discharge Monitoring System, Hydraulic Control Systems, Tank Gauging System. I don’t even know what any of those do, but there are big businesses that need and pay for them.

Key Lesson

Marketing works insanely well for growing profits for tuition centres and education services.

But for the rest, deals often come from relationships and a real need for tangible product/services. The relationships are part of their business system and usually passed down from generation to generation. So even for a marketer, whenever people tell me “everyone needs digital/newspaper/events marketing”, I just smile and keep quiet.

Apart from these, there are other brick & mortar businesses that make good profits.

These are all businesses that can grow and scale once you have a ready pool of loyal customers. So why are young entrepreneurs ignoring opportunities in more “old fashioned” businesses?Honestly, there are plenty of valid reasons.

Lifestyle, glamour, purpose, just for fun. They’re all valid. But it certainly would be nice to see more support for young entrepreneurs wanting to go into a less innovative, more old-school, real business.

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