Digital Marketing for Therapists: Start Acquiring Customers with Google Ads

By Bruce Hogan

Digital Marketing For Therapists: Start Acquiring Customers with Google Ads

This is the first entry in our in-depth series about digital marketing for therapists. Paid Google campaigns are one of the most effective, immediate ways to bring new clients to your practice and should play a key role in your marketing strategy. There's a reason why most marketers start with Google to drive impact.

About This Free SoftwarePundit Guide

Who it's for: This in-depth guide to digital marketing is written specifically for mental health professionals who want a complete step-by-step guide to start marketing online with Google. It is perfect for beginners, those who have tried digital marketing and felt overwhelmed, and those who know the basics and want to round out their knowledge. We'll also highlight some pro tips for more advanced readers.

What you'll need: To follow the steps in the article, you'll need four things: a live website, the ability to add a snippet of javascript to your website, a credit card, and internet access. That's it!

What you'll learn from this article: It's a long article (and it's meant to be), but if you stick with it, by the end of the article you'll have built a keyword-based paid search campaign that consistently brings potential customers to your website. The guide will take you step by step through the full process of creating your Google Analytics and Ads accounts, doing keyword research, building out a paid search campaign, analyzing it, and determining your return on investment (ROI). We've provided a table of contents to make it easy to navigate between sections.

Definitions: We'll define the most important concepts in these boxes. If you already know them, you can save time and skip ahead.
Don't Miss: Critical details will be highlighted in yellow. Make sure you don't miss these!
Pro Tip: We'll highlight valuable pro tips in blue. Tackle these opportunities once you've mastered the basics.

Digital Marketing for Therapists

More people are starting their search for therapists online. According to SEMrush, people in the United States search for "therapists near me" 135,000 times per month. What's more, this online activity is becoming more common. The data from Google below shows how quickly the volume of online searches for "therapists near me" is growing.

Your customers are increasingly online, and you should be there too. When a potential client in your zip code searches "therapist near me", your practice should appear at the top of Google's results. In this guide, we've carefully documented each step required to go from nothing, to having a paid search campaign capturing traffic from popular search terms like "therapist near me".

Please share your feedback and questions in the comments below.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Set Up Accounts for Google, Google Analytics, and Ads

As mentioned above, we'll assume that you already have a live website up and running. In this step, we'll create your Google Analytics & Google Ads accounts.

Create a Google Account

We'll assume you don't have a Google account. If you already do, then you can skip this step. To create a Google account, visit this page. This is what the create account page looks like:

Create a Google account

Pick an email address, enter your password and a few other pieces of information, and your Google account will be set up. This will be the account for your Gmail, and the one you use to log into other Google applications like Google Analytics and Google Adwords.

Don't Miss: Make sure that you use this same Gmail address to create your Google Analytics and Adwords accounts in the steps below.

Create a Google Analytics Account

Definitions: What is Google Analytics?

This is the application that tracks what is happening on your website, which you'll use to monitor traffic coming from your paid marketing campaigns and track the number of new clients who sign up. If your website was a physical retail store, Google Analytics would be watching how many people walk in the door, keeping track of which parts of the store they visit, and recording how many of them actually check out at the register.

Registering a Google Analytics Account for Your Website

The next account to create is for Google Analytics, which is free. To register your Google Analytics account visit this page. Click "Start for Free" and sign in with your Google account. When you do, you'll be taken to a page that looks like this:

Create a Google account

You create an account name, enter your website name and URL and your Google Analytics account is live.

Adding the Google Analytics Tracking Code to Your Website

The next step is to add a short bit of software code to your website header. This code is what allows Google Analytics to monitor what is happening on each page. Without this code, it cannot pull any data into its system, and you won't be able to measure how your marketing campaigns are performing.

Don't Miss: You need to add the code highlighted below to the header section of each page on your website for Google Analytics to work.

Google Analytics website tracking snippet


If you are familiar with HTML, this should be simple to do. If not, and you had someone help you create your website, we recommend asking them to complete this step. Finally, popular website tools have articles to help you do this: see SquareSpace, Shopify, Wordpress, and Wix guides.

Create a Google Ads Account

Definitions: What is Google Ads?

Google Ads is the tool you will use to build and manage your online marketing campaigns. It's the place you pick what search terms you want to target with your ads, where you build the ads themselves, where you enter your credit card to pay for your campaigns, and where you monitor how well your campaigns are performing.

Registering a Google Ads Account for Your Website

The final account you will have to create is your Google Ads account. You can create your account with Ads here. If you are signed into your Google account, you will be taken to a page that looks like this:

Google Ads landing page
Pro Tip: When you sign up, Ads will walk you through the creation of your first campaign. Treat this as a learning experience, and don't worry about getting it perfect. This initial campaign will not actually launch, and you can always edit it later.

We recommend using "Get more calls" if your client acquisition model is phone-based. We recommend "Get more website sales or sign-ups" if you have an online client registration form that new clients can use to contact you or schedule a first appointment. Once you pick your goal, Ads will take you through the following steps:

  • Enter your business name and website
  • Enter your geography and details about your product or service
  • Create your first text ad
  • Enter a budget (don't worry, nothing will actually start running)
  • Add your payment info

Step 2: Connecting Your Google Analytics and Ads Accounts

Why Do I Need to Connect Google Analytics and Google Ads?

Google Analytics and Google Ads are both essential online marketing tools. However, they are built to solve different problems. Google Analytics is built to help you understand how your marketing campaigns and website is performing, while Ads is built to create and manage the online marketing campaigns themselves. To run a full marketing campaign, you need both.

Google Analytics is like the spreadsheet you use to track how many new clients are coming from each referral source, and Ads is the marketing agency you work with to put up advertising billboards, hand out flyers, and get in the newspaper. The more you can tell your marketing agency about where your new clients are coming from, the better their campaigns will perform.

How to Connect Your Accounts

It's relatively simple to connect Google Analytics and Ads. Here's the steps:

  • Open Google Analytics
  • Click "Administrator" in the lower left part of the screen
  • Click "Google Ads Linking"

You should now see a screen that looks like the one below. Select your Google Ads account and click "continue". Name the Ads account and click "Link accounts".

linking adwords in analytics

Step 3: Set up Events & Goals in Google Analytics

Congratulations! You now have Analytics and Ads linked and ready to go. In this step, we'll set up Google Analytics so that it is tracking the right customer actions to enable you measure true return on investment (ROI). More specifically, you need to teach Google Analytics how to measure a new customer booking a consultation, or requesting an appointment on your website.

Set up an Event

Definitions: What are Events in Google Analytics?

According to Google, events are user interactions with content that can be measured independently from a web-page or screen load. Downloads, link clicks, form submissions, and video plays are all examples of actions you might want to analyze as Events.

Your most important event for an acquisition campaign is likely when a new client books a consultation, or requests an appointment. If you don't set up this event, you won't be able to measure how successful any of your campaigns really are.

Add Your Events to Your Website

Adding your events to your website is the last technical step in this guide. To add your events, you will need to be able to access the HTML for your website. In the HTML, your developer will need to add the code specified in Google's developer article on measuring events.

As mentioned above, the most important event for new client acquisition is probably when a new client books a consultation, or requests an appointment. We know this step is somewhat technical. It's fantastic if you are able to complete it right away, if not, show this section of the guide to your developer and they should be able to help you.

Don't Miss: While important and ideal to have, events are not essential to have right away. If you were not able to set up your events, we still recommend that you continue with the guide to set up your marketing campaigns

Set up a Goal

Definitions: What are Goals in Google Analytics?

According to Google, a goal represents a completed activity, called a conversion, that contributes to the success of your business. Examples of goals include making a purchase (for an ecommerce site), completing a game level (for a mobile gaming app), or submitting a contact information form (for a marketing or lead generation site).

Your most important goal for an acquisition campaign is probably when a new client books a consultation, or requests an appointment.

Create Your First Goal

Once you have your event set up, the next step is creating a goal in Google Analytics. To create a goal, click on the administrator icon in the lower left of Google Analytic's screen. Then look in the farthest column to the right and click "Goals". Your screen should look similar to this:

setting up a goal in google analytics

To create your first goal, follow these steps:

  • Click "New Goal"
  • Click "Custom" and "Continue"
  • Name your goal something like: "New client consultation request" or "New client appointment request"
  • Under Type, select Event
  • For Event Conditions, add the Category, Action, and Label fields that correspond to the event you set up in the previous step in this article.
  • Optional: If you know the dollar value of a new client consultation (or the goal you chose) enter that dollar amount into the "Value" field.
  • Click Save
Don't Miss: Similar to events, goals are very important to have long-term, but not essential to launching an effective campaign. If you were not able to set up your goal, we still recommend that you continue with the guide to set up and launch your paid search marketing campaign.

Step 4: Create & Launch Your Paid Search Campaign

In this step, we are going to create & launch your paid search campaign with Google to start acquiring new customers. Before we get started, we want to make sure that you are up to speed on the basic types of campaigns and the must-know concepts that we'll be using. If you already know this stuff, feel free to skip the next three definition callouts.

What Types of Google Campaigns Are There?

There are two main types of campaigns that therapists should know: search, and display. In this step, we're focusing on search.

Definitions: Paid Search Campaigns

Search campaigns are the ads that you see at the very top of the Google search result page. Each of these text ads is created in Google Adwords by the company running the campaign. Google knows to show their ad for this search keyword (i.e. "therapists near me") because the company added that keyword to its campaign in Google Adwords. Each of the results with the icon that says "Ad" in the image below are paid search advertisements.

therapist near me results
Definitions: Display Marketing Campaigns

Display marketing campaigns are the image advertisements you see when you are on specific websites. These ads do not show up in Google's search results. When you visit your favorite news or entertainment website, you're probably used to seeing image advertisements on the screen. Very often, these images are all from display marketing campaigns that the corresponding company has set up in Adwords. Here's an example of a display advertisement for SEMrush on a local state news website:

display campaign

Must Know Concepts for Paid Search

In order to successfully manage online marketing campaigns, it's important to have a basic understanding of the metrics and math you'll be using. Below, we've outlined some of the must-know concepts for paid search.

**Definitions: **
  • Budget: You will set a daily budget in Google Ads that controls the maximum amount you want to spend in a given day.
  • Conversions: Conversion refers to your target action that you want the client to take. For this acquisition campaign, it is most likely when a new client books a consultation, or requests an appointment.
  • Click-through rate: This is the number of times an individual ad is clicked on divided by the number of times it was shown. In marketing speak, this is the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions.
  • Bid: For each ad, you will set a target bid. This is how much you are willing to pay for one click or conversion. Note: this is a maximum, you will often pay less per click than your bid.
  • Bid types: Google lets you bid on campaigns in different ways. Here are the most common:
    • CPM: This stands for cost-per-mille (or thousand). You use this bid type if you want to pay based on the number of views, or impressions, you ad receives.
    • CPC: This stands for cost-per-click. This is the most common bid type – you will only pay if someone clicks on your ad.
    • CPA: This stands for cost-per-action. You use this bid type if you want to pay only when a user takes a given action, for example, a client registering on your website. While helpful, this bid type does not work well at low volumes.
    • Max Clicks: This bid type maximizes the number of clicks you get for a certain budget. It is similiar to CPC, and can help get you many cheap clicks.

Keyword Research

An critical part of paid search campaigns is figuring out what keywords you want to bid on. This is the first step in building your paid search campaign.

Pro Tip: The single biggest key to success is finding high-volume keywords that are cheap and perform well for your specific practice. Smart keyword research will help you identify these terms, as will using geographical targeting. Ultimately, you'll have to identify the keywords that work for you through experimentation with live campaigns.

The first step of keyword research is generating a large list of potential keywords. Once we have this large list, we’ll see 1) how much search volume they have, and 2) how expensive they are. Based upon that data, you can determine which keywords you want to bid against and build campaigns for.
Three methods to generate a large list of potential keywords

Here are three methods to generate your large list of potential keywords. Don't worry about being too picky at this point. The goal is to get a lot of options, we'll find the very best keywords later.

Don't Miss: While you're building your list, keep all your keywords in one spreadsheet. You can use Excel, Numbers or Sheets. Keep one keyword per row in the first column. This will save you a lot of time in the next step!


First method: Talk to your clients. You can ask your existing clients about their process for finding therapists online. What would they have typed into Google when they starting looking for a therapist? What did they type into Google immediately before booking? Write these keywords down in your spreadsheet.

Second method: Look at your Google Analytics account to see what search terms are already bringing you traffic. To get to the correct report, go into Google Analytics and click on Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords. This should take you to this report:

display campaign

Look for the keywords that are already bringing you a high volume of sessions. Also, look for keywords that have a high average session duration. A high average session duration generally means that the traffic is higher quality, and the visitors to your site have a decent level of interest.

Third method: Use SEMrush’s Keyword Magic tool to save time and consistently discover high-value keywords. SEMrush is free to try for 7 days, but does cost $99/month. We recommend paying once you've established that paid search works for your business. With that said, there's very little downside to taking advantage of the free trial for a week. Those interested in learning more about SEMrush can read our intro to its three best features here.

With the Keyword Magic tool, you enter one keyword, and SEMrush shows you that keyword and hundreds of related keywords. For each of these keywords, you can see the search volume, estimated cost per click and more. With the tool, I was able to generate all of the information below by typing in "therapist near me" into the Keyword Magic Tool:

SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool

Once you've completed all three of these, and any other ideas you have for generating keywords, we'll upload your list into Google Keyword Planner to get search volume and cost information.

Getting your search volume and cost information from Google Keyword Planner

To get search volume and cost for each of your keywords, we'll use Google Keyword Planner. When you get to keyword planner, select "Get search volume and forecasts". Now, take your Excel sheet of keywords from the last step and upload them.

Your screen should look like the image below. Using the keyword list for "therapists near me" from SEMrush, you can see that the average click through rate for paid advertisements in this market should be around 3.4% and the average cost per click is around $1.92. This will help us with bidding later.

Google Keyword Planner

Now, we need to download our list of keywords with volume and cost data so we can pick the keywords we really want to target. Go to the keywords tab and look for the download arrow in the top right part of the screen. When you click the arrow, you should see this window pop up in the top right of your screen. Select "Plan historical metrics" and your download should begin.

Google Keyword Planner

You now have a file with a large list of relevant keywords, their search volume, and estimated cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Now let's decide which ones you want target and group them.

How to decide which keywords to target

Initially deciding which keywords to target is both art and science. The first thing I would do is cut any keywords with less than 100 searches per month. For example, "where can i find a therapist near me?" is probably not worth focusing on. Then I would go through the list and delete any keywords that clearly won't work for you. If you see "therapy for PTSD", but that is not your specialty, then you can delete it.

From here, the key is to find a combination of keywords with high volume and low cost. I'd invest a few hours manually going through the list and deciding which keywords to keep. Once you've done that it's time to group them.

Pro Tip: As you're eliminating keywords that won't work for you, keep them on a separate list in a spreadsheet. We'll upload this list later as "negative keywords". Negative keywords are keywords you specifically tell Google not to bid for. It helps prevent high-volume low performing keywords from using all of your budget.
Grouping your keywords

Now you have your list of keywords to target, it's time to organize them into groups. If you spent the time looking through them to decide which to keep, you probably have a pretty good sense of what groups exist. There's no perfect way to group your keywords, I recommend trusting your judgment and iterating as you go. You might consider grouping by:

  • Geography (i.e. keywords that contain a specific location)
  • Service line (e.g. anxiety vs. depression)
  • Type of Customer (e.g. insurance, cash pay)
  • Landing Page (e.g. which webpage you anticipate the visitor landing on)

Build Your Paid Search Campaign in Ads

Congratulations if you've made it this far! All your preparation is done, now it's time to upload your keywords into Google Ads, set up the campaign and start advertising.

Definitions: What's the difference between keywords, ad groups, campaigns, and ads?

Keywords, ad groups, campaigns and ads are all terms you'll run into frequently in Google. It will take a little time to understand them fully, but hopefully these definitions will help you ramp up faster.

  • Keywords: Keywords are what you use to target specific search terms.
  • Ad Groups: Ad groups are made up of several keywords. For example, you might have an ad group, "Orlando Geography" for all the keywords that contain "Orlando". One important point is that all keywords in an ad group will see the same ads.
  • Campaigns: Campaigns are made up of several ad groups. For example, you might have a campaign that is "Geographic keywords." This campaign would contain "Orlando Geography", "Kissimmee Geography", and "Sanford Geography."
  • Ads: Ads are what your clients will see when they are browsing the internet. An ad can be set to target multiple keywords.

Start Your New Campaign

To get started, go to the campaigns tab and click the blue plus sign to select "New Campaign." Your screen should look like this:

Google ads new campaign

If your new campaign is to acquire customers, then we recommend choosing: Leads > Search > Website Visits.

Pro Tip: After you name your campaign, we recommend selecting just search network and do not leave the box checked for Google search partners. Google's search partners have lower quality traffic and will not produce as strong of results.

For private practices, we highly recommend using the geographical targeting feature you see on the screen. A good approach is to enter the zip codes that you'll be targeting. This may be a bit time consuming, but it will prevent anyone outside of those zip codes from seeing your ads. Here's a screenshot of this feature:

Google geographical targeting

Here are your next steps:

  • Enter your daily budget. We often get asked, "What should my budget be?" To start, we recommend between $10-20. Anything less and you won't get enough data, anything more and you might waste money before you have the chance to refine your campaigns.
  • Enter your maximum CPC. We know the average is around $1.92, so staring with $1.50 seems reasonable.
  • Add a call extension (see pro tip below)
Pro Tip: Set up and use a call extension. As you scroll down, you will see a section for Ad extensions. Click on the Call extension box and create a new call extension with your sales line. If you do this, your add will show up with a phone number underneath that potential clients can write down or call from their mobile phones. Consider using a custom phone number so you can track the number of calls you receive from your ad and measure ROI.
Create your ad groups

You will now be taken to a page to upload your first ad group's keywords. Remember how you already split your keywords into groups? All you have to do is upload one of those keyword groups here and name the ad group accordingly. If you'd like, you can add all your ad groups on this page.

Create your text ads

The next step is to create your text ads for each ad group. The page you are on should look like this:

Therapy text ads

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating your text ads is the keywords that you entered into the ad group. These are the search terms that potential clients will be searching, make sure the ad copy you choose is a relevant and compelling response. For example, if this is your Orlando ad group, use "Orlando" in your text copy. If the ad group is for anxiety, mention that specific word in your copy.

Here are Google's recommendations on creating effective text ads. A great feature here is that Google allows you to see an example of the text ad as you create it. One tip that Google does not mention in the previous link is that it's a good idea to mention your brand in the text ad. If you are just getting started and don't have a ton of brand awareness, you don't need to lead with your brand, but definitely include it. Raising brand awareness in your target market is important long-term.

Step 5: Measure Results

Congratulations! Your paid search campaign is live! Now let's walk through where you can see results and what to look for to make sure your campaign is running properly and measure your return on investment (ROI).

Google Ads

In Google Ads, you will be able to see the following metrics:

  • How much you've spent
  • How many impressions you received
  • How many clicks you received
  • Cost-per-click

You will also be able to segment your results in a few very helpful ways:

  • By device: How do your campaigns perform on mobile vs. desktop
  • By ad group: How does each ad group perform?
  • By day of week: How does each day perform?
  • By ad: Within an ad group, does one ad perform much better?
  • By keyword: Which keywords are receiving clicks and for how much?
Pro Tip: The data views in the list above will give you insights into what is driving your campaign performance and how it should be refined to improve performance. For example, if your campaigns are performing much better on mobile (i.e. more new appointments at a lower cost), you would probably increase the percentage of your budget targeting mobile vs. desktop. If you see a few keywords that are taking up most of your budget, and not leading to new clients, you should add them to your negative keyword list.

Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, you can visit the Acquisition > Google Ads > Campaigns report to see a ton of data. In the Campaigns report, you will be able to see performance for each campaign, including:

  • Sessions
  • Users
  • Average time on site
  • Cost
  • Cost per click
  • Goals

Here's what this report looks like in Google Analytics. You should see one row for each of your paid search campaigns. To see the data split out by add group, click "Secondary Dimension" and type "Google Ads: Ad Group".

Campaigns Report
Pro Tip: Remember the goals that we created in Google Analytics? If you set up goals (i.e. a new customer booking a consultation) the Acquisition > Google Ads > Campaigns report will tell you how many new consultations each paid search campaign generated. Want to know if your geography-based ad group led to more consultations than your service-line ad group? Want to know how much each new consultation cost you? This is the best way to see this data.

Measure Campaign ROI

As mentioned in the pro tip above, you'll need to get your Google Analytics events and goals working to properly measure your ROI. Once you have that working you will know how much you spent on each campaign and how many new consultations (or other goal) the campaign created. From this, you can calculate a cost-per consultation and cost-per new client value. For example, let's say you spent $300, got 10 new consultations, and 4 new clients. Each consultation cost you $30, and each new customer cost $75. In marketing terms, you have a $75 customer acquisition cost (CAC).

If you know the lifetime value of a new client, you should be able to compare this $75 to the lifetime value of an average client to determine if your campaign was ROI positive. As long as your acquisition cost is less than your lifetime value, then your campaign was ROI positive.

Bruce Hogan is a consumer internet expert that has launched and scaled online marketing channels for some of the largest internet businesses in the world. He's spent almost 10 years managing paid search campaigns and has managed 7-figure paid advertising budgets.

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