Google is the number-one source of website traffic. It’s also the number-one source of new patients. That being said, the only way it can be a profitable source is if your dental website is effectively optimized for search engines.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to improving your online visibility. However, when it comes to getting patient-ready visitors to your site, a local-focused strategy is essential.
Learn below how a sound local dental SEO strategy will help prospective new patients – who have yet to hear about you – discover your practice online and choose you over the potentially dozens of other dentists in your area.
What is Local Dental SEO?
SEO can be a trying practice in itself. When targeting a local audience, it can be even more challenging. You’re familiar with popular search engines like Google and Bing. But did you know that each of these search engines have their own local search function?
Local search engines are databases of geographical information that pertain to local businesses. These databases comprise listings that contain basic information about a business. The listings, like you would see in Google Maps, include your practice’s contact details and a map of your office location.
To set up your listing, you’ll first need to claim or add it. Click the links below to get started (note: if you are a Smile Marketing client, we’ve already claimed your listing on your behalf):
Say that you practice in Corpus Christi, and you specialize in orthodontics. Ideally, your dental Google My Business listing will show up when someone searches something like, “orthodontist in Corpus Christi.” Such visibility could translate into highly qualified visitors to your website.
Think about it: These are local residents searching for your specific services offered near your office. They are already primed to convert into new patients.
When to Think About Dental Search Engine Marketing
Unfortunately, many dentists don’t consider SEO until after their website has launched. While some search engine optimization can’t take place until your website is live, some of the fundamental SEO work needs to occur before it goes live.
For instance, a competitor analysis needs to be done before any work begins. Keyword research needs to be completed before the content is written. You need to know your target jurisdiction, which keywords to use, and how the site needs to be structured to engage your audience.
If you work with a freelance designer who is just getting paid to design a beautiful site, odds are these critical factors will not be considered. After all, SEO isn't part of their job description. Their job is to build a beautiful website design. End of story.
But what does that get you?
Sure, you may have a cutting-edge website design, but that doesn’t mean anything if no one can find it in the search engines.
How to Set Your Dental Practice SEO Up For Success
You should partner with a website provider who specializes in creating conversion-friendly, search engine optimized practice websites. And this partner needs to practice “white hat” SEO techniques (strategies that conform to Google’s terms of service). Attempts to game the system through the use of “black hat” techniques can result in a website penalty that may keep your site from ever being seen on page one. Or page two, for that matter.
Here are a few examples of highly effective white hat SEO strategies:
- Filling your website with engaging, persuasive, and valuable content
- Utilizing appropriate keywords in a natural manner (not stuffing the content with keywords to fool the search engines)
- Having a mobile-friendly (responsive) website design
- Making sure your web pages load quickly
- Designing a site that is user-friendly and easy to understand
User experience actually carries more weight with Google than you may realize. They use metrics such as the length of time a visitor stays on your site and how may pages they visit to determine the quality of your webpages.
If visitors are consistently going to your website then clicking the “back” button right away, this sends a bad signal to Google. Clearly your website isn’t providing searchers with the information they need. It could cause your rankings to drop.
On the other hand, if most visitors spend a few minutes on your website and click through to multiple pages, this sends a great signal to Google. Obviously, they’re finding the information they’re looking for, therefore, Google will continue to show your website in the search results for those keywords that produce engaged visitors.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. To reach your SEO goals (and conclude this dental practice SEO guide), consider the following six best practices…
1. Accurate Practice Information
Arguably the most important component of local dental SEO is the trinity of information known as NAP (name, address, and phone number). Local search engines have to validate your existence. In order to do so, they must ensure that all the data aligns.
There are hundreds of places around the Web where your website can be mentioned. These places are called “citations.” A citation is an online reference to your practice on a third-party website. The key is not only to find these places, but to list correct information.
Be sure that your practice name, address, and phone number are accurate and consistent throughout your website and on external sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook.
This includes every minor detail.
If the name of your practice is Johnson’s Family Orthodontics, make sure the grammar and spelling is 100 percent accurate. All it takes is a misplaced apostrophe for your practice to be registered inaccurately. Your address is also something to be aware of. For instance, Google might see “123 Manchester St., Ste. A” different from “123 Manchester Street, Suite A.”
2. Optimize Content and Meta Information
On-page SEO conforms to many traditional SEO tactics. It is the practice of optimizing the content and HTML information on individual pages throughout your site. Meanwhile, off-page SEO refers to techniques you do away from your site to improve your ranking search results.
There’s a large weighting towards on-page content in local search results. So it’s important that, where appropriate, you squeeze the most value out of your content.
When you look at a search result in Google, you will see a webpage’s title and description. Not only does this tell searchers what your webpage is about, it also tells Google. Here’s an example:
- Title: Google shows up to 70 characters (including spaces) of a page’s title in its search results.
- Description: Google shows up to 156 characters (including spaces) of a page's description tag. The description tells what your page is about.
Website content is also important. Include your location and dental specialties on your site in as many places as it makes sense. But don’t overdo it. Any keyword added to a page must appear natural. Degrading the integrity of your content with over-optimization is bad for the user and your SEO.
3. Build Citations
Citations help establish credibility, as long as they display your NAP accurately and consistently. Your goal should be to build a strong core of high quality citations. Here are a few sources to start with:
- Review websites: Getting listed on sites like Foursquare and Yelp builds confidence from local search engines.
- Local directories: Targeting a specific geographic area, local directories like Best of the Web are well-indexed by local search engines.
- Industry directories: In addition to getting more of your NAP data indexed, quality dental-related directories show search engines what your website is about.
4. Online Reviews
Much of local SEO is under your control. You create your listings. You optimize your website. And on and on. But there’s a big component you don’t have complete control over. And that is reviews.
A positive online reputation can go a long way at improving your local rankings. Of course, you can’t force patients to review your practice online. You can, however, encourage them to (depending on your jurisdiction). Sources like Google, Yelp, and Facebook can have a substantial impact on local rankings.
Here are a few ways to promote five-star reviews:
- Be active on social media
- Send monthly newsletters to your patients
- Feature prominent “Review Us” buttons throughout your website
- Send an online new patient survey
Be careful: Learn how not to get dental patient reviews in one of our previous blog posts.
5. Local Link Building
While link building has lost some of its bluster over the years, it’s still a powerful ranking signal. As long you’re acquiring links naturally. The key is to earn them.
In addition to citations, here are more ways to earn local links:
- Get quoted in local online publications
- Write an article for a local publication
- Line up an interview with a local columnist
- Guest blog on a high authority website
- Become a member of a local organization
- Contribute to a local charity that lists its donors on their website
6. Internal Linking
Linking to other pages on your website within each page is important. It escalates time-on-site while helping search engines to crawl the various pages of your site more easily.
Google finds your pages best when they are linked to from elsewhere on the Internet. The same goes for internal links (links on your site that direct to other pages on your site). They build bridges among your content while giving Google an idea of the structure of your site.
In a way, internal linking creates a hierarchy on your site, allowing you to give the most important pages more weight than less valuable pages.
To build an effective internal linking strategy, you should first determine your most important content. Generally speaking, this will be your best content. The most informative. Most persuasive. It’s the content you want prospective patients to read to convince them to choose you.
To make sure Google knows this is important content, be sure to link to as appropriate from other pages on your site.
7. Format Correctly
Whether it’s your homepage, an internal page, or a blog post, it’s important to format your content so it’s easy for users to digest. That being said, the user experience isn’t the only factor. By following best practices for webpage formatting, you make your pages easier for Google to crawl.
For example, by adding keyword-rich headings throughout you’re telling Google what the following paragraphs are about. This helps the algorithm prioritize you in the rankings.
Moreover, people love bullet points. They provide an easy way for users to get bite-sized snippets. It also helps search engines. In fact, Google has something called “Featured Snippets” which bumps a search result to the top of the search results.
Where appropriate, Google likes to add bulleted content to these featured snippets – which gives you prime real estate.
8. Website Engagement
Long gone are the days when a consultant can make a few tweaks and artificially inflate search engine rankings. In fact, those techniques run counter to Google’s policies, potentially getting such sites banned or severely crippling their rankings.
Because so many website owners hired consultants to “game” the system, Google is placing more value on what website visitors actually do on a website.
That’s why Google algorithm changes seem to have placed greater emphasis on user engagement. For instance, a high rate of website clicks in Google results could provide better rankings. To improve your click-through rates, try tweaking your page titles and descriptions.
Website engagement metrics also seem to impact local search rankings. That is, the journey visitors take after landing on your website.
- Do they immediately click the back button?
- Do they visit multiple pages on your site?
- How long do they spend on each page?
It’s crucial to have compelling content and a website design that keeps visitors engaged. This, combined with a stellar local SEO strategy, can produce a host of new patients for your practice.