by Ed Challinor June 2, 2017

The Dentist’s Ultimate Guide to Local Facebook Advertising

Let’s be honest, local Facebook advertising is hard for most dentists. Unfortunately, there’s a reason for that.

If you’re a dentist trying to advertise on Facebook, most of the “best practices” taught by the leaders in digital marketing won’t work for you.

The sad fact of the matter is, much of the content you read online is written by marketing agencies trying to sell themselves to the world. A lot of it can be useful (or at least, educational), but you have to take it with a grain of salt.

After all, they’re trying to sell you something, right?

Me, on the other hand, I’m not trying to sell anything with this article (unless you want to come and have Dental Implants in Liverpool, that is…). I’ve spent years figuring out how to use Facebook ads to grow Liverpool’s most popular dental practice and I’ve written this article because I want to help other dental practices achieve the same sort of success as Smileworks.

I care deeply about the dental industry and about local businesses in general and see so many local marketers making the same mistakes I made. We take advice from “gurus” which is simply not relevant to either the dental sector or to local advertising in general.

However, after spending years learning from digital marketing greats like John Loomer, Ryan Deiss (I was a Beta member of the “Certificate in Digital Marketing Practice” CDMP from Digital Marketer), Fred Joyal and Gary Takacs, spending more than £50,000 on local paid traffic and growing Smileworks from nothing to over 1M turnover, I feel like I’ve cracked the code on how to grow a dental practice using local Facebook advertising.

My Facebook ads have reached 836,000 people in the Liverpool area, we’ve had more than 236,000 clicks on our ads and built a mailing list with well over 10,000 subscribers. But those are just vanity metrics. More importantly, I’ve grown Smileworks from a standing start to a business that employs 19 people and has helped thousands of patients.

The ROI for that is incalculable (unlike the ROI for our spend which has been between 288-556%).

And here’s the kicker: I taught myself to do all this. You might feel overwhelmed by Facebook Ads now, but I’ve done the legwork for you. Trust me, you can do this. I’m going to share everything I’ve learned over the years so you can get these sorts of results for your own dental practice.

Why Dentists Struggle with Local Facebook Ads

When it comes to advertising your dental practice on Facebook, the first problem you’ll face is that more than 90% of chat online about Facebook advertising is for businesses who don’t have a physical product.

Most Facebook gurus you come across (and I follow them all) are experts at marketing businesses that sell information products to everyone in the world who speaks English.

If you think about it, this makes sense. When people realized you could sell an eBook about how to buy traffic (Ryan Deiss) or how to play the stock market (Jeff Walker) or even how to be successful at Facebook advertising (Jon Loomer) a new economy was born. And what happens with any emerging economy? It generates a ton of spinoff businesses telling everybody how to work the opportunities and make a load of money overnight.

Which is great…if you happen to be selling information products to English speakers.

As a dentist who isn’t marketing an information product, you need to be very careful about the advice you take. All of these big players made their fortunes selling products that can be downloaded or read on the screen. For the most part, they wouldn’t even know where to start getting customers to actually come into their office and buy something.

Local social advertising is an art. But it’s an art that is woefully under-resourced, which is odd considering that most of the economy is made up of small businesses that can’t afford to spend money on advertising that doesn’t work.

And, at the moment, that describes most local advertising on Facebook.

Even the people at Facebook are a little unsure of the difference between their all-seeing global network and your very local business, which puts dentists in a bit of sticky situation. After all, how do you advertise your dental practice when no one—including Facebook itself—knows how to run decent local ads on Facebook?

Advertising to Small Audiences on Facebook

Facebook is the king of big data. However, when it comes to small data, Facebook tends to be more pauper than prince. This poses a problem for dentists, who need to advertise to a small audience—not a big one.

In fact, Facebook knows so much about you that marketing should be easy. But wait! Before you go off creating campaigns you need to know that many of these brilliant targeting methods are seriously limited for local audiences. There just aren’t enough data points in a small user base for it to give you anything you can use.

Now, this isn’t Facebook’s fault, it’s just what happens once you take a smaller audience sample. There simply aren’t enough people in a local Facebook audience to maintain the required data integrity for a successful campaign.

To show you what I mean, let’s take the Lookalike Audiences feature as an example (for more info on Lookalike Audiences, click here). What Team Digital have found over at Smileworks Liverpool is that Lookalike Audiences simply don’t perform in any of our tests.

In fact, the results from crude Lookalike Audiences are no better than our results with basic interest targeting. Which, in turn, is no better than properly messaged bare demographic and behavioral targeting.

That’s a problem.

I’ve tested Lookalike Audiences using our full customer lists, lists with just our high value customers, favorite customers, email signup lists, other custom audiences—just about every way possible. I’ve tested all of it and the CPA never beats the targeting options we will discuss below.

I was so excited when they released lookalike audiences. Finally, we had an algorithm that was working for marketers rather than against them.  I was so excited and then so disappointed with the results.

But, my Lookalike-letdown was the Eureka moment that led me to my current targeting strategy and the best results of any Liverpool Dentist I’ve come across. Of any dentist I’ve come across full stop. In fact we’re doing better than about 80% of businesses I speak to—even in the marketing industry.

How to Effectively Target Local Audiences on Facebook

To really explain how to do effective local targeting on Facebook, let’s start by looking at how your typical international audience on Facebook differs from a local audience.

Here are the numbers we deal with over at Smileworks:

International                                                         Local

USA                 206,000,000                                       Birmingham    800,000

Australia         15,000,000                                          Manchester    650,000

UK                   39,000,000                                          Liverpool         400,000­

New Zealand  3,000,000                                            Stafford           43,000

In this table, we have some big and small countries and some big and small towns. Not to bad, eh?

However, once you start adding interest targeting (let’s say “Dentist”) into the mix, things change quite a bit:

International                                                        Local

USA                 3,800,000                                            Birmingham    19,000

Australia         320,000                                               Manchester    21,000

UK                   870,000                                                Liverpool         11,000

New Zealand  39,000                                                  Stafford           710

If you’re a dentist in Stafford—a moderately sized market town in the Midlands (where I grew up and where there are lots of great dentists)—does that mean you have to make do with a target group of 710 people?

Any marketer will tell you that 710 people is pretty poor reach—especially when you consider the fact that many of those 710 users will actually be dentists, therapists, hygienists, not potential patients.

So what’s a digital marketer to do when the leading sources of information tell you that the targeting ‘sweet spot’ or perfect number is between 500,000 and 1,000,000 users? (and that’s their idea of “laser targeting”, by the way).

Now, these are good numbers to go by…for a national or international campaign, but it should be pretty clear why this isn’t going to work for local campaigns. No matter how you slice it, you can’t get an audience of 500,000-1,000,000 users out of a local audience of 43,000 people.

The Problem with Interest Targeting

So, are these 710 people (who go to their dentist regularly and probably love her to bits) your best shot on Facebook? Of course not!

Even in a town like Stafford with only 43,000 people, you have thousands of potential patients to advertise to. The trick is getting in front of them.

With that in mind, let’s think about dentistry for a minute. Who are your customers? Most smart marketing consultants would tell you that if you’re a cosmetic dentist then your customers are wealthy people who value their smile and go to the dentist regularly.

This is true to an extent but if you think about it harder…won’t wealthy people who care about their smiles have a Dentist already?  Sure they will.

So, maybe you should be looking to target people who don’t have a dentist but are wondering how they could improve their smile? Or maybe just target everyone? Or maybe even target everyone who cares about the way that they look?

Now we’re starting to get somewhere…

In my experience, it’s always best to go with demographic targeting and behavioral targeting over interest targeting for a local dental audiences.

For example, let’s assume you want to target patients who want dental implants so you select ‘dentures’ from your interest targeting options.  This seems like a smart play since people who have dentures definitely have missing teeth and may well want to find out about getting implants.

So, you put in Dentures and up comes 6,000 users. Pretty good, right?

Well, now use the ‘narrow audience’ tool to find out how many of those are actual patients who might want to use your dental services.

Go ahead and exclude everyone who works in a dental laboratory (making dentures,) all the cosmetic dentists in your area (also selling dentures) all the denture material companies (selling stuff dentures are made from) and employees of those companies (working to help get all that stuff done), all the people with a free denture from the government and all the people who’ve googled Harrison Ford’s (awesome) dentures, etc and see what you’re left with.

The 6,000 is now 710!

Guess what? By using interest targeting, you are mainly serving your ad to your competitors and suppliers and people who want Harrison to be able to smile in the new Bladerunner movie…not exactly your target market.

Local Behavioral and Demographic Targeting

Behavioral and demographic targeting, on the other hand, delivers much better results for dentists. It gives you a much wider audience, excludes all those not interested in your product and ensures that your ad will get shown to more people who might be interested in your dental products.

There is no local sweet spot for Facebook advertising but if you want your ad to remain viable for at least a few good weeks at a positive ROI then you’ll need a good few thousand users in there at the least.  Your ad will be able to run for a good month or so and get you a decent amount of leads, conversions or engagement.

Now, picking the right behavioral and demographic targeting takes some critical thinking.

My mentor, Dan Bradbury, talks about this a lot. As he puts it, “business is an intellectual sport.” You need to spend less time running around fighting fires in your business and more time thinking about who your customers are.

Along the same lines, I encourage you to sit down and really think about tightening up your demographic targeting and trying to go it alone without the supremely dodgy interest targeting options clouding your results. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Take some time and think—really think—about your target audience. Are they predominantly male? Female? What age(s)? What sorts of events are going on in their lives?

Then, take that information and use behavioral and demographic targeting to narrow down your Facebook audience. Just for kicks, see if you can use behavioral and demographic targeting to get your audience down to just a few thousand users. You’ll learn a ton about who you’re really targeting.

At Smileworks we’ve got this down to an art—and if you send me an email I’ll tell you what targeting groups we use and what demographics will get you the best success. You can find my contact information on our website at and you’ll need to email me from your commercial accounts to help me not get spammed.

Dealing with the Competition

The final key to running an effective local campaign on Facebook is to keep close tabs on your competition.

With huge international audiences it doesn’t really matter what your competition is doing. You may see an increase in CPM over Black Friday or lumps and bumps due to seasonal variations. But it’s not really a biggie if you know the right bidding strategies.

For example, at Smileworks, we find that our campaigns are less effective around Easter, Christmas or Black Friday. On the other hand, when things are quiet for retailers, we get spikes in traffic.

Could this be because our competition in retail is out bidding us on Facebook and scatter gunning our audiences? Or maybe it’s because customers don’t want dental work at these times of the year when they’re seeing friends? I guess we’ll never know but the important thing is we’ve pegged the trend and can use it to our advantage.

However, when it comes to local advertising, you have to pay close attention to every change the competition makes.

In Facebook Advertising, you’re not a Wolf or a Lion. Unfortunately, most dentists are pretty arrogant people and will want to ‘dominate the platform’ or make a big splash. But on Facebook (on any platform for that matter) that’s a strategy that’s sure to lose you a load of money.

Instead, I think of myself as a fox or a squirrel. I ferret around looking for opportunities and exploiting them to my advantage. I focus on making myself 1% better in 100 different ways rather than trying to be 50% better in only one area.

So, if there are two main cosmetic dentistry players in your town, you need to be researching what they do, who they target and what sorts of customers they attract. Competitor research is not just for AdWords. A Facebook campaign that doesn’t take into account what competitors are doing has a much lower likelihood of success.


Ultimately, Facebook campaigns must be enormously diverse to succeed. You need to break your audience up into many many demographic and behavior-based segments. This sort of targeting isn’t ‘market segmentation’ in the classical marketing sense but a Facebook specific sort of segmentation of your audiences and a tailoring of your message to each.

This is the first of many articles, so stay tuned! In my next article, I’ll address campaign objectives for local audiences. Over the next few months, I’ll help you put together a massive library of up to date information on how to get the best results for your local dental campaigns.

I hope you enjoyed what we had to share and can see how these principles can help you build your private dentistry offering using Facebook marketing.

As I said earlier, if you want more information, please check out our site or hit up the good folks here at Disruptive Advertising. I look forward to hearing from you!


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Ed Challinor

Ed Challinor

Ed Challinor is the co-founder of Smileworks, Liverpool’s most popular dental practice. He is a self-taught local digital marketer who’s not only built his own business on Facebook but also helped a number of other small businesses in his network succeed.

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