Jenny Stradling

CEO at Eminent SEO. Working on making the web a better place through design and business sustainability.

Dear Addiction Rehab Owners

Dear Addiction Rehab Owners

At Eminent SEO, we service a wide array of industries, but we are especially well versed in the addiction treatment space.  12 years ago when I started marketing, I landed a large drug rehab client and that lead to more and more connections and relationships within the industry.

Over the years I have performed an enormous amount of research for addiction treatment centers. It’s a very competitive industry and it’s also full of shady marketing techniques. You can’t even imagine the issues and tactics we have encountered over the years. It’s gnarly.

So, I decided to write this letter:

Dear Rehab Owners,

Before you start asking what you should be doing to gain new business online, let’s start by talking about what you should NOT be doing. Please listen up. This is important.

  1. Do NOT Patient Broker

This should be obvious, but if you follow addiction treatment center news at all you know not everyone is playing by the rules. It is illegal to sell or buy patient records. It’s your responsibility as a rehab owner to protect the information and privacy of anyone who contacts you for help. It is also your responsibility to know how your leads are acquired and to ensure your marketers are doing their jobs legally.

  1. Do NOT Market Services You Can’t Legally Provide

You should hear some of the ideas that rehab owners have presented to us over the past 12 years. “What if we just put all 50 states on our site and market to them all even though we are only in one?”
Or, this one: “We have a license for IOP but we place people in sober homes. Can we market as residential?” No. Not only is it dishonest and unethical to misrepresent where you are and what you offer, but in many states it’s illegal.

  1. Do NOT Use Fake Addresses to Gain More Local Listings

This topic really deserves its own blog post, but I’ll just say this: STOP DOING THIS, SPAMMERS.

No, you should not use your home address as another location for your facility. A Google My Business page contains a map and directions to your physical address. You do not want your patients driving to a location that is not your facility, right? Don’t trick Google and please don’t trick your patients. I just cannot emphasize how important it is for an addiction treatment center to always practice ethical marketing techniques. If you don’t, it will catch up with you. Guaranteed. You might create mistrust and reputation issues online. Google could penalize you. Or, worse, you could get sued or shut down.

  1. Do NOT Place Mediocre Content on Your Website

As the saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing the right way. This absolutely applies online.    We all know that the Internet is already full of outdated, thin and redundant content. Please don’t contribute to the mediocrity that is relentlessly shared by your competition. Digital marketing has moved above and beyond keyword stuffing. If you are going to add content to your site, whether it’s a blog post or a service page, it must be high quality. These days, Google’s sophisticated algorithms can spot the difference.

  1. Do NOT Use Triggering Images or Video Content

Many who have undergone treatment have issues with visual content that contains images of drugs, needles, pills and alcohol. Dramatic imagery with gloomy settings might seem relevant to potential clients, but they can also trigger cravings and other toxic feelings that a patient may be trying to avoid. A poorly written blog post may even unintentionally encourage a person to avoid going to treatment. Instead, share facts, hopeful messages and positive images from your facility. There are many ways to enhance your content visually without using triggering media.

  1. Do NOT Use Tools That Are Not HIPAA Compliant

What is HIPAA? HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, passed into law in 1996. It provides data privacy and security precautions for protecting medical records. If a tool claims it’s HIPAA compliant, that means that the tool was designed to operate within these guidelines and rules. Do you know what those are? Here are the basics, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Physical Safeguards – You must enforce limited facility access and have authorized controls in place for management. Those with access to physical and electronic protected health information must know how to properly transfer, remove, dispose and re-use the data.
  • Technical Safeguards – You must require verification to view and control any health data. Access controls should include unique user logins, an emergency procedure, log-off controls, encryption and decryption. Tracking logs should be used to keep record of any activity should there be a security violation.
  • Technical Policies -Your policies should include integrity measures to ensure that no records are altered or deleted. You need an IT disaster plan that ensures any data errors or failures can be corrected immediately.
  • Network and Transmission Security – Your website, apps and tools should offer proper levels of security to protect against unauthorized access. This includes any secure email servers, website form submissions and client contact record tools.

You can see that many measures have to be taken in order to be compliant with the law. If you are collecting and housing medical records, you MUST use systems that are HIPAA Complaint. Failure to do so could put your entire facility in danger of being shut down by the federal government.

You can read more on this subject on my partner Jim Peake of Addiction-Reps’ website blog: How Businesses Commonly Make HIPAA Violations Without Even Knowing It

This is also an interesting news feed from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website: HIPAA News Releases & Bulletins

  1. Do NOT Run Click to Call Ads as Your Primary Marketing Campaign

Not every website visitor is ready to pick up the phone when they first visit your site. Not every Facebook follower wants to chat on the phone after they become a fan of the page. In fact, many agree the younger generations (Millennials) prefer to text message or use an app to chat over calling someone on the phone. Then why are so many drug rehab owners dead set on click to call ads? Can a call-to-action go above and beyond asking potential clients to dial the phone?

Someone who is NOT ready to call now might:

  • Private chat on Facebook
  • Chat on your website
  • Submit a form for a call or text back
  • Text from a mobile device
  • Download free content in exchange for their email
  • Subscribe to your free newsletter
  • Follow you on Twitter
  • Watch and review your video
  • Socially share your blog posts

These are all actions that can turn a visitor into a brand advocate or a solid lead that can be nurtured. An email address gives you time to nurture indefinitely. A phone call gives you one chance to convert.

As digital marketers, we have to strategically build lists and get our users to engage with us and share our content. Otherwise, we are only ever going to be able to convert leads that are ready to “call now”.

  1. Do NOT Try To Do Your Digital Marketing In-House

Maybe your staff has the bandwidth to write content, post on social media, engage with followers, manage a paid ad campaign and perform analysis to refine the marketing strategy. Even if that’s true, do they have time to accomplish all this while providing a high level of service to your clients?

You absolutely must rely on an expert team if you are going to be successful with digital marketing today. Unless you are willing to hire, train and manage a full, expert marketing team in-house, it makes much more sense to outsource. When you hire an agency you don’t have to worry about office space, equipment, furniture, tools, salaries, benefits and flexibility. You pay one bill and the digital marketing experts are responsible for the rest.

  1. Do NOT Buy Links To Gain More SEO Visibility

Links are a big grey area for a lot of websites. First, marketers were encouraged to buy every link that they could afford. Before long, the industry shifted its focus to content relevancy, context and anchor text. Today, buying links is looked at as a short-term substitute for honest, organic engagement with real people.

In order to gain more visibility and earn links from other websites, you’ll need a quality website with great content that is useful to the visitors. In fact, search engines can even gauge the quality of your content by analyzing click-through-rates, time on page/site, user engagement and conversations. If your website is offering valuable content and assets to your visitors, it will show in the data. Then it won’t be long before other websites take note and start linking to your awesome content. Earning links isn’t easy, but it is far more effective in the long-term than buying your company’s way to digital relevance.

  1. Do NOT Target All 50 States on Your Facility Site

To me there are really two main types of addiction treatment websites:

  • Facility Sites
  • Lead Generation Sites

Let’s start with facility sites. If you own a facility and you are located in one or a maybe a few states, WHY build a directory / content / ads for all 50 states? Your ideal audience is not always in your own neighborhood, but tricking a website user into thinking you are in a state that you are not in is bad for everyone involved. Let me break it down for you:

  1. Tricking a prospect into calling is not a good way to start off the relationship. Addiction treatment is about trust, why would a caller trust you if they feel tricked?
  2. Your call center / admit team has to work extra hard on “selling” a lead that should be prequalified and has to convince them to travel. This is hard and can burn out the team.
  3. Your center might appeal to a wide variety of people, but using your marketing budget to target all 50 states is just a waste of marketing dollars. You need to define who to target and then determine where to spend.
  4. Eventually, the content message will be diluted. What will Google rank you for? If you are in California, say it! If you hide where you are in hopes of boosting your rankings, then you’ll wind up ranking for nothing at all. It’s just too competitive for facility sites to rank in all 50 states organically.

Now, if you own a lead generation site and have the budget to do it the right way, you can actually target all 50 states. You’ll need to invest into a user friendly site that features a helpful directory and editorial and visual content that updates on a regular basis. It can be done, but let’s just be real, if you are going to compete with the existing big players in this space, you’re looking at a substantial investment of time, energy and funds.


The addiction treatment space is competitive. Getting an edge online is difficult, especially when the competition doesn’t always play nice. Thankfully, just because there are spammy marketers and business owners willing to pay them doesn’t mean you have to stoop to their level. It is possible to generate leads for your own business without resorting to unethical digital marketing.

Marketing addiction treatment centers online the right way matters. It matters beyond the goal of filling beds. It matters to the thousands of people dying every year from the opioid epidemic. It matters to the millions of people affected by drugs and alcohol and the future of our country. It matters to the honest rehab owners who are in this business for the right reason. It matters to the ethical marketers who care about more than just making a quick buck. It matters to me.

Learn more about how my team can help you with your Addiction Treatment Center Marketing here.

You Might Also Like

Defining Ethics: Is It Possible?

The Value in Trust

Why Your Addiction Treatment Center Needs to Offer MAT

The Right Way to Do Addiction Treatment Marketing

Why I Do Rehab Business Consulting

Why You Can’t Do Paid Ads on Mental Health and Addiction Related Content (even if you aren’t a treatment center)

A Rant on Being a Long Time Rehab Marketer

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