Cosmetic surgery marketing has seen tremendous changes over the last 10 years – changes that the pandemic greatly accelerated.
Between an explosion in online searches for cosmetic surgery procedures, the emergence of TikTok as a platform for marketing plastic surgeons, and increased costs for PPC ads, cosmetic surgery marketing trends have shifted quite unpredictably.
In this article, I share some insights into cosmetic surgery marketing trends from 2020 to 2023, including data on demand for several of the top plastic surgery procedures as reflected in search. I also share my thoughts on the “Zoom Boom” explanation for these increases and why I don’t think they can be attributed to increased teleconferencing during the pandemic.
I also get into the challenges being presented by the shift towards having more privacy online, as well as AI-content.
Online Marketing Continues to Overtake Outdoor Advertising
20 years ago, plastic surgery marketing largely consisted of outdoor advertising (billboards, radio, print, and television). Over the last 10 years, there has been a strong trend away from traditional advertising such as billboards, radio, and television, and plastic surgeons’ advertising dollars have trended the same way.
While there is no published data on digital advertising spend for plastic surgeons, the IAB did publish a study that showed an increase in digital ad spend of 12% during the pandemic.
This seems to be the case with cosmetic surgeons as well, many of whom never spent any money on advertising previously, only to begin advertising as interest in digital marketing has grown. The difficulty of measuring the return on investment of outdoor advertising often didn’t align with the risk tolerance of some plastic surgeons, but digital marketing doesn’t suffer from this problem.
Given the measurability of digital marketing, many plastic surgeons are now more open to testing different digital marketing channels—many of whom had never previously advertised.
Of the plastic surgery practices that we met with in 2020 and 2021, 2/3 had never previously spent any money on digital marketing.
Conversion Attribution is Getting Harder for Digital Marketers
Many browsers have built-in tracking protection that prevents Google Analytics and Facebook from collecting information about visitors.
As you can see below, my Firefox browser is preventing me from seeing myself in the analytics of my own website:
As this grows, it will likely become more and more difficult for plastic surgeons and medical spas to track the performance of their campaigns.
The only solution we have right now is the use of call tracking. Services such as Callrail can help you to understand how patients found you — if they call.
If they filled out a contact form, odds are you will have anywhere from 10%-25% of them show up as “direct” traffic (basically, we won’t know how they found you).
SEO Continues to Grow in Impact
Online searches for plastic surgery procedures have increased across the board over the last 4 years. More people are turning to Google not only to get information about procedures but to find and vet plastic surgeons. SEO is how plastic surgery practices get in front of these searchers.
What is SEO?
SEO is the practice of getting a website in front of patients when they search on Google. There are countless activities that go into SEO, but they usually fall into one of three categories:
- Ensuring Google can optimally crawl and index a website.
- Maximizing the relevance of a website’s content to the searches a business’s customers perform.
- Maximizing the trustworthiness and authoritativeness of a brand/website.
There Have Been Big Increases in Google Searches for Cosmetic Surgery Procedures
The last four years have seen increases in searches for almost every major cosmetic surgery procedure. The pandemic saw an acceleration of these trends, peaking in July and August of 2020. These two months were a respite between the first wave and second wave of the pandemic, during which it is likely that some pent-up demand was finally met.
These increases in monthly searches for cosmetic surgery mean one thing: greater opportunity for a plastic surgery practice to generate consults through Google Ads and SEO.
No one really knows why demand for cosmetic surgery has increased, but a number of theories explaining the trend are floating around.
The Zoom Boom Theory
The “Zoom Boom” is the most common theory—that people spend all day seeing themselves on Zoom, only to become more self-conscious about their features. Personally, I do not believe this since the biggest increases were searches for Brazilian butt lifts, which isn’t a body part normally seen on Zoom.
My personal theory is that a larger trend towards a de-stigmatization of plastic surgery (i.e., fewer statements such as “she’s had some work done”) combined with the option to recover from home vs. in an office has boosted demand.
Whatever the cause, there were large increases in searches for almost all procedures during the pandemic.
Searches for rhinoplasty were already increasing before the pandemic, with monthly averages increasing from around 40k-60k to 70k-90k in 2019. The pandemic saw an almost immediate increase to around 110k monthly searches, with demand cooling off throughout 2021, dipping to pre-pandemic levels in September 2021.
There was a trend of increasing monthly searches for “facelifts” going back the last four years, which continued during the pandemic. There was an increase from around 18k monthly searches back in 2017 to peaking around 30k during the pandemic and dipping once again to pre-pandemic numbers in September 2021.
Brazilian Butt Lift Trends
There are several interesting trends with Brazilian Butt Lifts (BBL).
To start, it’s seen the largest increases in monthly searches of all the procedures listed in this article. Before the pandemic, monthly searches for Brazilian Butt Lift hovered around 40k searches per month; September 2021 saw 118k searches, almost a 300% increase:
That being the case, I would argue that it punches a hole in the “Zoom Boom” theory for the increase in plastic surgery interest during the pandemic.
The theory that people want more procedures now that they are looking at their own faces all day doesn’t explain the large increases in searches for Brazilian Butt Lift. While it is entirely possible that this could be attributable to an influencer, it could also mean that Zoom wasn’t necessarily the reason why more people researched cosmetic surgery (personally, I don’t believe the Zoom Boom Theory).
Butt Implant Trends in Search
The pandemic saw an initial 50% increase in monthly searches for butt implants which dropped around September 2020 to levels seen in late 2017. This could be seen as evidence that the aforementioned increase in searches for Brazilian Butt Lift was likely due to influencers and not a general desire for enhancement of that part of the body.
Liposuction Search Trends
Searches for liposuction grew during the months preceding the summers of 2019, 2020, and 2021, though by slightly greater percentages during the pandemic. Despite the reported weight gains suffered by many during the pandemic, searches for liposuction didn’t increase as dramatically as they did for other procedures.
Tummy Tuck Search Trends
Searches for tummy tucks almost doubled at its peak in the summer of 2020, leveling out at around a 50% increase over pre-pandemic levels throughout 2021:
Breast Implant Search Trends
The pandemic saw a 50% bump in searches for breast implants, which quickly reversed to pre-pandemic levels by mid-2020.
AI-Generated Content is Here
Tools such as ChatGPT are getting better and better and many marketers are using them to produce content for health websites like yours.
We recommend against this.
I predict that SEOs and marketers will churn out low quality AI-generated content, forcing Google to take action to stop them. Websites that made good-faith efforts to create valuable content leveraging AI tools such as ChatGPT may become collateral damage.
PPC increases in competition
Pay-per-click (PPC) is a form of advertising where the advertiser only pays when a customer clicks on the ad. Most PPC advertising is done on the Google Ads platform.
As more plastic surgeons explore paid search on Google Ads, competition and costs have increased. However, its costs continue to be significantly lower than other industries, such as legal services, where the cost per click can range into the hundreds of dollars for some keywords.
The cost per click for almost any cosmetic procedure remains in the two-dollar to five-dollar range, with a cost per acquisition of anywhere from $75-$250 (cost per acquisition = cost per email submission or phone call from a prospective patient).
Cost Per Click by Procedure
Given the wild variation and profitability of different procedures, the cost per click for related keywords can vary quite a bit. Additionally, some procedures are traditionally easier to convert a click into a patient.
Although we don’t have any hard numbers on any of these, we’ve had clients comment on how much more likely a prospective patient is to cancel for body procedures like liposuction vs. rhinoplasty or lip lift.
In other words, the cost per click and the cost per conversion doesn’t tell the entire story.
Social Media is Effective at Nurturing Leads, as Well as Brand Building
Social media‘s role in the marketing of plastic surgery practices has not changed much over the past three years, but the platforms have shifted. While Facebook was the dominant social media channel for cosmetic surgery marketing 3 to 5 years ago, that has now shifted to Instagram and TikTok.
Social Media’s Role in Cosmetic Surgery Marketing
While SEO and PPC are the preferred marketing channels to target potential patients during the research phase, social media tends to be effective at brand building and earning the trust of patients.
There are numerous plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists that have become Instagram or TikTok famous. They have built audiences that trust them and consume their content enthusiastically. Plastic surgeons such as Dr. Anthony Youn have built enormous audiences:
7.3 million followers is a lot of followers.
On Instagram, however, the same plastic surgeon has 1 million followers; a large number, but 1/7th the audience he has on TikTok.
This trust has expanded their reach from their local markets to national and even international reach.
During the consideration phase, when a patient is considering whether to book a consult or whether to follow through with a procedure at a particular practice, social media plays a role in that decision process.
A cosmetic surgery practice’s social media presence can have a great influence on both the decision to follow through with the procedure and who will perform it.
From the reviews past patients have left on Facebook pages to the education plastic surgeons provide on their social media profiles to the overall feeling a plastic surgeon conveys through social media, patients are influenced by social media content.
Demographic trends on different social media channels
Recent trends in the demographics of users on each of the major social media platforms have shifted each platform’s effectiveness.
Young people have left Facebook for TikTok and Instagram, while all the demographics have not yet followed.
Plastic surgeons that focus primarily on procedures chosen by 18 to 35-year-olds, such as breast implants, will have a much harder time reaching their audience on Facebook than they will on TikTok, for example. Plastic surgeons that focus more on facelifts or mommy makeovers will have a tougher time finding an audience on TikTok than on Instagram or Facebook, despite its greater discoverability.
Let’s talk a little bit more about TikTok‘s discoverability.
Discoverability for Plastic Surgeons is Much Greater on TikTok than Any Other Social Media Channel
While it has been many years since Facebook has allowed for any sort of organic reach of a brand’s content, Instagram still continues to be better, delivering content suggestions on its “discover” page, but its organic reach lags behind TikTok ‘s.
Let’s take the example of Dr. Daniel Barrett, one of the plastic surgeons with the strongest social media presences in the industry. He posted the same video to both Instagram and TikTok, with the TikTok video gaining substantially more reach than the same post on Instagram:
Instagram – 325 likes
TikTok – 2800 likes
The discoverability of content on TikTok helps get an account like Dr. Barrett’s in front of people that are likely to engage with his content in a way that Instagram simply doesn’t. This is likely the reason why his TikTok account boasts 1.8 million followers vs. 98k on Instagram.
Cosmetic Surgery Marketing Will Continue to Evolve into Next Year and Beyond
As more plastic surgeons promote themselves online, we will see increases in PPC costs, similar to what we’ve seen in the legal industry. As TikTok matures as a platform, attracting the older demographics that are the core market for cosmetic surgery, it will become an even more attractive platform for plastic surgeons to promote themselves.
The one thing we can be assured of is that the marketing mix for a plastic surgery practice will continue to evolve. What is working today will not necessarily work in two years.