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Search Engine Optimization
By Naomi Cooper
• Define search engine optimization as it relates to dentists and dental practice marketing
• Identify the role of the dental practice website with regards to online visibility
• Highlight the most effective onsite tactics
• Learn the offsite tactics needed for a holistic SEO strategy
The Internet has forever changed the marketing game. An online presence is a must for every dentist. There are a host of tools that can help dentists maximize their online marketing, ensuring that patients can more easily find them. One of the most effective is search engine optimization (SEO).
Search Engine Optimization 101
What is a search engine? A search engine is a program that searches the Internet and identifies relevant sites based on corresponding keywords and relevant data. Google is the search engine that may first come to mind; Google is so frequently used today that in common parlance, the company name is even used as a verb synonymous with conducting an online search. Along with Google, Bing and Yahoo round out the top three most used search engines in the United States.
When a user enters in a keyword into a search engine, such as San Diego dentist, the search engine will produce a list of relevant websites on what is known as the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). The higher a website appears on the SERP, the more people are likely to see it.
SEO is the process of increasing a website’s ranking in those very search engine results. Search engines have “spiders” or robots which crawl through the Internet, indexing websites based on content and keywords. Search engines also use complex algorithms for determining which sites are most relevant based upon the keyword(s) searched. The more relevant the search engine determines a website to be, the higher the site will appear on the SERP.
Less than a decade ago, having a dental practice website was a big accomplishment. These days, having a website is a basic requirement for any modern dental practice. The question is how to make that site stand apart from the pack and how to utilize a web presence to differentiate your dental practice from the competition. That’s where SEO comes in.
Developing an SEO Strategy
Basic search engine optimization is essential in today’s digital world. A recent whitepaper titled “Practice Marketing and Patient Communication Platforms in the Digital Age of Dentistry,” coauthored by Dr. Rhonda Savage and Diana Friedman, CEO of Sesame Communications, cited an astounding statistic from comScore, a global leader in digital analytics, which reported that more than 139 million consumers use the Internet to find healthcare information on a monthly basis.
The bottom line is this: if patients are searching for dentists online, then that’s where dentists need to be focusing their marketing energy. However, before spending a dollar on search engine optimization, dentists need to have a strategy in place.
Step One: Determine the goal, or, more specifically, define what success means to you.
Of course, your goal could simply be to rank on page one of search engine results for the term “dentist” in your area, but SEO can accomplish much more than that. Success should also be defined by increasing traffic to the practice website, increasing new patient phone calls, or boosting online appointment requests.
Step Two: Develop a Strategy for Implementation.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is that there is no magic bullet when it comes to SEO. Achieving success in SEO depends on a number of factors working together to build momentum for the practice website. A modern website optimized for search, a strong online presence, patients who are raving fans and a strong professional network offline — all of these tactics serve to bolster a website’s visibility.
With SEO, implementation is a long-term commitment and comes at a price; a quality SEO strategy doesn’t come fast or cheap, but just because the practice’s online marketing budget may be modest doesn’t make success impossible. Identifying goals and defining a strategy will help determine how to best spend your online marketing dollars in general and your SEO budget in particular.
Before spending a dollar on search engine optimization, dentists need to have a strategy in place.
Because search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, by the time you read this very book, it’s almost certain that some of the information contained within this chapter will already be out of date. As a result, the purpose of this chapter is to provide an introduction to the basic concept of SEO for dentists and dental teams, but it’s critical to understand that getting professional help from a reputable SEO vendor that has extensive experience and success working with dental practices is a must.
The one universal truth of SEO is that content is king; to improve your rankings, both website visitors and search engines must perceive that you are a subject matter expert based on the depth, specificity and freshness of your website’s content. In the words of Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz.com and a preeminent SEO expert: “Best way to sell something: don’t sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect and trust of those who might buy.”
As a result of the dynamic nature of search engines and the constant need to change corresponding SEO strategies, it pays to work with a team of professionals whose job it is to keep abreast of the latest, most effective techniques. SEO is not a do-it-yourself marketing tactic, but rather a professional and technical area of expertise that should be performed by experts in the field. Reading this chapter, or even an entire book on SEO, cannot make a dental practitioner an expert in the subject matter. If you are tempted to build or optimize your own website, remember that SEO is a technical skill, and that dental practitioners are better served hiring a company whose employees dedicate every day to immersing themselves in its ever-evolving quirks and intricacies than attempting to go it alone.
Getting Started Understanding SEO
Traditional search engine optimization techniques focused on making the content of a website more search engine friendly are known as onsite tactics. Keywords play a huge role in what is known as “onsite SEO.” For a well-rounded strategy, these need to be used in conjunction with “offsite SEO” methods, which involve increasing the website’s visibility through external sources.
Onsite Optimization and Keywords
Determining the right keywords can mean success or failure when it comes to SEO. You have to understand what words and phrases your patients use when researching local dentists. Once you know these terms, you can build your website content to include these keywords, including them in the headlines, titles, and meta tags of your site’s pages. A good SEO vendor will do this research for you using an online tool such as Google’s Keyword Research Tool.
Analytics are incredibly important when it comes to choosing keywords. If you use keywords that you personally think are important, without having the research to back it up, it can spell abysmal results for your website, not to mention your budget. You could be spending money to drive the wrong type of prospective patient to your site — or worse yet, not reaching patients at all. It certainly pays to invest in keyword research.
The one universal truth of SEO is that content is king; to improve your rankings, both website visitors and search engines must perceive that you are a subject matter expert based on the depth, specificity and freshness of your website’s content.
After laying a basic foundation for understanding SEO and how it affects the dental practice website, let’s focus on the website itself. Think of your dental practice website as an online business card or patient brochure. One of the first impressions a patient will get when researching a dentist is the practice website. It goes without saying that having a website is an incredibly valuable component of the practice’s overall marketing plan, especially when it comes to search engine optimization.
Smart Website Design
Smart web design works to boost a dentist’s online visibility. But SEO does not exist in a vacuum — any dental practice website has to ultimately be designed to appeal to dental patients and be easy for them to navigate, not just to be attractive to search engines. If patients have a hard time finding the doctor’s bio, the practice’s location or its contact information, they can very quickly click off the website and onto a competitor’s site. And if a human has issues finding information, it’s practically a guarantee that a search engine robot won’t have an easy time either, resulting in a negative impact on search engine rankings.
Mike Mothner, founder and CEO of the online marketing and SEO firm Wpromote, points out, “User experience is often overlooked in SEO…a well-designed website accomplishes two goals. It gives patients what they are looking for while building unique content on the site, and search engines heavily reward sites that meet these criteria.”