Dental Marketing, Dental SEO, Practice Marketing, Search Marketing

SEO For Dentists & Dental Practices [An In-Depth Guide]

Today, almost everything is internet-based. Most people carry their smartphone everywhere and can access a world of information anytime they want. For this reason, many dental practices are focusing on search engine optimization, or SEO, to make sure their business is in front of prospective new patients at the touch of a button. However, understanding the basics of SEO can be confusing. This in-depth guide is designed to explain SEO and the importance of good SEO for your dental practice.

SEO And Dentistry – A Dental Analogy and History of SEO

Could worms cause cavities?

This idea pervaded dentistry for thousands of years, from 5000 BC Sumeria to 14th century Europe – before modern dentistry really got its start. At the time, it made a little bit of sense. Cavities tended to look like they had been bored through by a small worm. Unfortunately, the treatment for getting rid of worms was at best unhelpful, and at worst, probably did more harm than good.

We can laugh at these ideas now – with the benefit of everything we know about modern dentistry. Dental care has been studied, perfected, and practiced for hundreds of years. There’s little debate about how to fix a cavity, or what causes them. But imagine if dentistry was only in its first decade of being practiced and understood. That’s where search engines are now.

The History of SEO

Search engines have only been around just a couple decades. They’re just coming out of the “worms cause cavities” stage. For example, you might have heard of people “keyword stuffing” their web pages so they would rank well for a variety of terms.

Populating your pages with a bunch of unrelated keywords used to be an effective technique, used by SEO experts to get an edge. Of course, it made webpages worse – just like treatments for getting rid of tooth worms didn’t help anyone’s teeth. So, we’re still in the dark ages of really understanding the best ways to build, use and understand search engines.

That’s why we see so many changes and new rules being replaced by even newer rules on such a regular basis. And it’s why the Internet is still a very wild place. It seems ridiculous, because the Internet feels so well developed, understood and commonplace – but it’s still evolving rapidly. The ideas you heard about improving your search rank five years ago are almost laughable today.

Google Search Rules and Results Are Still Evolving

Right now, Google’s rules for search and how to best optimize your website go through a pretty circuitous and admittedly confusing pathway. In essence, Google sends out “spiders” to take pictures of websites, then another program analyzes the websites using a bunch of rules to see which sites best fit the criteria Google values. This process happens millions of times per second, over and over.

The system breaks down when there’s a disconnect between Google’s rules and the actual experience human users have on the page. In other words, there’s a problem when Google has rules in place that either result in a bad search or create a rule that interferes with user experience. Google knows about these breakdowns, but despite the billions of dollars and the years Google has spent refining this process, half of all searches result in a “bounce” – meaning users enter a search, click on a result, and immediately click back to Google’s result page.

That’s right: half of the time Google’s best search result guess is wrong. That’s still pretty good – and statistically it means the first page of results has what the user is searching for over 90% of the time. But surprisingly, people still use outdated methods of SEO – some “experts” still use keyword stuffing or other tricks to try to fool Google. And despite the advances made in dentistry, there were still people in the early 20th century who believed in tooth-worms.

While our understanding of the best practices for search engines is still evolving, we know a few things for sure. We know that it’s ideal to create user-focused sites that give people what they’re looking for in an honest and clear way. We’re getting closer and closer by the day to a time when a site that ranks well is identical to a site that is functionally sound for the user. And ideally, every time someone searches for something your practice should be a good match for, Google would display your practice in the top of the search results.

But because Google’s programs, bots and algorithms aren’t perfect, that might not always be the case. For the time being, Google is still working out the bugs – or worms – and it’s extremely important you employ a robust dental SEO strategy to ensure you rank on the first page for a variety of possible search terms.

SEO Dictionary for Dentists

Before you can do anything to improve your ranking, you have to understand some basic industry terms so you’ll know with certainty what to do. Here are nine of the most important terms you need to understand before you can help move your site up in the ranks.

  • Google Algorithm: A very detailed and ever-changing set of rules and tests that search engines use to validate and verify how well optimized a site is for search. Sites with lots of click bait, bad links, duplicate content, irrelevant content or obvious black-hat techniques will not pass the algorithm’s tests. Algorithms really serve as stand-ins for the human user – to try to figure out what users want so the search engine can display the most relevant and authentic search results.
  • White Hat/Black Hat: Just like in old cowboy movies, white hat SEO techniques are the good, proper SEO techniques that make a site well-suited to users who are likely to search for it. Conversely, black hat uses all kinds of tricks to fool the algorithm into giving a site a better ranking than it should. Google and other search engines are constantly finding ways to punish black hat techniques, so web masters who think they’ve “won” the SEO game with black hat do so at their own risk. Black hat techniques don’t last, and they’re a terrible way to try to build an online reputation for a dental practice.
  • Organic Listings: Having a site that matches well with search terms isn’t enough: the site also has to “test” well with search engine algorithms, which look at a variety of factors to determine how good a site will be as a legitimate search result. Sites with good organic reach satisfy a variety of “reputation” metrics that algorithms look into, like linking between other reputable sites, social media presence, the overall content of the site, advertising, and original content.
  • Search Engine Results Page (SERP): What sites show up in a search engine when a user searches for specific terms. Search engines use somewhat complicated methods for displaying the results, but they mainly focus on matching specific search terms with sites that have good organic reach, or good paid reach.
  • Local Listings (7-Pack): Search engines display between 4-10 local businesses that best fit the search terms. The 7-pack shows the top closest, best ranked businesses that match.
  • Bounce Rate: The percentage of people who click on your site only to immediately hit the “back” button to return to the search engine. It’s an action that tells the search engine your site was not what they were looking for. If your site has a high bounce-rate, it will hurt its page rank. Part of SEO is figuring out why your page causes bounces, and how to fix it so it doesn’t happen as often.
  • Keywords: Keywords are the individual words that make up a searcher’s query. When the same keywords or keyword phrases are used in the content of your website as the search query, search engine algorithms may potentially rank your site well for the given query.
  • Crawlers/Robots/Spiders: Simple programs that surf the web by following hyperlinks on webpages. They make copies of what they find and then use their algorithms to index them for quick retrieval when someone enters a search in the search engine.
  • Impressions: How many users see a page or ad – not the same as a click. It’s important because it’s the most commonly used technique for measuring and accounting for web advertising.

Why is Dental SEO Needed?

Currently, there are over 460 million active websites on the Internet. In a sea so vast, it’s no surprise that getting noticed can be difficult. Many dentists, and small businesses, are turning to search engine optimization (SEO) to help them get better rankings on search results online. That way when a prospective new patient searches Google for “dentist in [city],” their practice appears.

How Does Dental SEO Help Patients Find You?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of marketing your website to highlight the services you provide, so prospective patients can easily find your website when performing an online search. An effective SEO strategy uses various online marketing methods to help improve your ranking on major search engines such as Yahoo!, Bing, and Google. Combined, these methods communicate with search engines, telling them that your website is relevant for particular search keywords.

Dental SEO isn’t just an easy way for new patients to find you online. Having an optimized website gives prospective patients the opportunity to connect with your practice and learn more about the services they’re interested in. Optimization proves to search engines that you relate to a searcher’s needs, allowing the searcher (prospective patient) to believe you are a credible answer to their problem.

If you’re interested in learning more, get our FREE whitepaper: A Dentist’s Guide to Local Search and How It’s Affecting Your Practice for more information and ideas on what you can do to improve your rankings and visibility to potential new patients today. Download your copy here.

How To Know If Your Dental SEO Is Working?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies available for dentists. It can also be the one the hardest to quantify. While there are many sophisticated tools out there, they can also be very pricey. Luckily, there are other ways to understand if your SEO efforts are working without an additional investment. Before you can quantify your results from SEO, you’ll need to have the right tools in place. We recommend using Google’s free tools: Google Analytics and Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools). You’ll also need a Google account to get started.

NOTE: ProSites members already have Google Analytics implemented on their website. Please reach out to your Account Advisor to obtain access to your analytics profile.

Key Considerations Before You Start Optimizing Your Dental Practice’s Website

You (or your website/SEO provider) should first identify your website’s benchmark data before implementing SEO for your dental office. That way you can track how your campaign is progressing based on where you started. We recommend gathering the following metrics via Google Analytics to understand the quantity and quality of your website’s traffic. You can set up a Google Analytics account yourself or ask your website provider if they’ve set one up for you.

  1. Keywords with Ranking Position: Most dentists think that by searching for their practice on a search engine, they can find out how well they rank. However, what most don’t know is that there will always be some degree of personalization applied to your search results. Therefore, you may actually see results that are skewed to what Google thinks you prefer based on your location, search history, and even IP address. The best way to get non-personalized results is through the Search Analytics dashboard via your Google Search Console account. This dashboard shows you the keywords that you are ranking for along with their position on the page (e.g. 1 = first result). Once you implement SEO, overtime you should see your positions move down to a lower number (e.g. position 6 to position 3) for the keywords that you are targeting.
  2. Keyword Clickthrough Rate: Clickthrough rate is the number of clicks that your website gets divided by the number of times your website appears in search results. For example, if your website appeared in search results 100 times, and it was clicked 10, then your CTR would be 10%. Over time, your click-thru-rate should increase.
  3. Organic Traffic: Organic traffic is the amount of visitors who come to your website as a result of an unpaid search result. You (or your SEO provider) should take a look at your average organic website traffic month to month and then work to improve the number of visits. SEO works to increase qualified traffic to your website.
  4. Bounce Rate: Your bounce rate is how many people leave your website immediately after visiting the first page. For example, a bounce rate of 50% in a month means that out of 100 visits, 50 visitors may have chosen to hit the ‘back’ button once they were on your website. Having a high bounce rate could indicate a poor user experience on your site, or unqualified traffic going to your website. SEO should work to decrease your bounce rate over time.
  5. Top Landing Pages: It’s also important to identify which web pages are attracting the most traffic to your website (known as a landing page). This information can help you determine if you’re attracting the right kind of visitors to your practice, and the information that people are most interested in. Being the most popular pages, SEO should work to enhance these pages to turn more visitors into new patients.

Key Considerations During Your Dental Website SEO Program

Whether you decide to do SEO yourself or hire a professional, you’ll need consider a few things first:

  1. Amount of time. When it comes to SEO, results vary per each individual based on a variety of factors such as level of competition in their area and where the website is starting. For example, someone who is showing on page 5 for “dentist in Temecula” may take more time to optimize than someone who is ranking on page 2.
  2. Align your keywords with marketing goals. Ensure that your targeted keywords are aligned with your marketing goals and avoid optimizing any negative keywords for your practice. For example, a pediatric dentist may not want to rank for the term “dental implants.
  3. Increase traffic from targeted keywords. Once you’ve obtained better rankings for targeted keywords, you’ll want to understand if people are actually visiting your website. If your SEO efforts are working, you should see a gradual increase in organic traffic to your preferred landing pages over time.
  4. Remember, no two cases are alike. It’s easy to think that because a colleague saw results from SEO in a short amount of time that you will too. And, while that’s sometimes the case, the state of your website will vastly differ from another practice’s SEO. Rather than comparing your progress to a colleague, make sure to compare your performance to your initial benchmark data to track your performance.

If you’re hiring an SEO provider, they should be able to provide you with this type of information initially, as well as monthly to give you a full understanding of your SEO strategy’s progress. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what is included in your program so that you can be sure that you are getting what you need for your website.

How Do You Know If You Need SEO Assistance?

While it’s true that most websites could benefit from SEO, there are instances where some websites need it more than others. So, how can you tell if you need it? Ask yourself these following questions:

Q: Where am I currently ranking on major search engines?

  • One of the benefits of search engine optimization is the potential for it to improve your ranking on popular search engines. As search engines try to present Internet users with the most relevant information, an optimized site can be tailored to provide just that.
  • Start by searching the simplest term, such as your city and main service (e.g. Los Angeles dentist). Then, scroll through each of the results until you find your website. If you are not within the first few pages, your practice is missing a ton of new patient opportunities. SEO can help improve this search engine ranking.

Q: Do I have landing pages that focus on the services I offer?

  • The goal of your website should be to sell the services you offer. If you want to sell higher-ticket items such as dental implants or veneers, rather than a general cleaning, make sure you have landing pages that highlight these services. The ideal SEO strategy includes showcasing and marketing the services you most want to be known for.

Q: Is my website bringing in new patients each month?

  • When you ask new patients how they found out about your practice, are they saying they found you online? A website should serve as part of your selling process. If it isn’t selling your services to online prospects, SEO may improve your visibility on search engines, while providing prospects with better information about your services.

Q: My website does bring in new patients, but why aren’t they the demographic that I want?

  • If your website is bringing in new patients, but they aren’t the type of patients you want, search engine optimization can help you market the services that will attract your desired demographic.
  • For example, a restorative dentist may prefer patients with severe esthetic problems or patients needing dental implants, rather than patients wanting general dentistry services. A targeted SEO strategy can highlight the services you want it to, so you weed out less desirable patients.

Local Google Ranking Factors

What are the most important areas to focus on in your dental practice’s SEO program?

When it comes to getting and keeping your website at the top of search engine results pages, it’s not an easy task. Doing so involves local search engine optimization (SEO), and with algorithms constantly changing and more dental practices being created and marketing themselves online, it’s hard to keep up!

Each year, industry thought-leaders analyze thousands of small business websites to understand and weigh the factors that have the biggest influence on your local search rankings. Local search is different from regular searches because users are specifically looking for products or services near their geographical location. Here’s what influencing your rankings.

On-Page Signals 20.3%

On-page signals are keywords within your website’s copy and metadata. On-page signals are used by search engines to determine if a searcher is looking for services near their geographical location. It’s essential to include keywords in your website’s title tags and meta descriptions (types of meta data), because those appear on search engine results pages and will help searchers decide if they want to continue to your website.

Your title tags should include a list of your services, city, and business name while sounding natural.

For example: Find a Dentist in Los Angeles | John Doe, DDS. Also, ensure that your practice name, complete address, and local phone number appear throughout your website so search engines know exactly where you are located.

Link Signals 20%

Link signals are hyperlinks that connect from other websites back to yours, known as backlinks. Search engines scrutinize backlinks because they use them as a “reference” for your website, just like a reference you would provide to a potential employer. In order for search engines to deem it as a quality backlink, they should come from websites that are relevant to yours, such as being in the same industry or location.

Here are three types of links you should pursue for your website:

  • Location-specific links from directories, including directory listings from a local chamber of commerce and links from your local college or local news station website
  • Industry-specific directories like the ADA or your local state association
  • Authority sites like top dental blogs or magazines

Google My Business Signals 14.7%

This refers to your Google Maps listing and is considered the most important signal for ranking in Google’s snack pack. Google uses the information from your website and Google Maps listing to triangulate your proximity to the searcher. It’s imperative to verify your Google Maps listing and fill out all the information to improve your chances of ranking in the first three positions of the snack pack.

External Location Signals 13.6%

These are directories that Google looks at to triangulate your name, address, and phone number (NAP) to identify your location. The most common directories Google looks at are Yelp, Yellowpages, Manta, and CitySearch. It’s essential to ensure NAP consistency by using the exact same name, address, and phone number in each directory. Doing so helps Google avoid any confusion when they compare your NAP data from each directory, your website and Google Maps listing.

In addition to being consistent, it’s important to not have duplicate listings in any online directory. Duplicate listings can confuse search engines, as they won’t be able to differentiate whether you have multiple businesses or locations. You may have to go through a verification process for each directory to edit your NAP info and report any duplicate listings within the directory.

Behavioral/Mob Signals 9.5%

This refers to how many visitors click your website from the list of organic search results. Remember, using the right keyword in title tags and meta descriptions influence a searchers decision to click your website. If a searcher recognizes their keyword within the blue text (title tag), they are more likely to click on your site. The more people who click, the higher your click-thru-rate, which signals the page’s popularity to search engines, and thus improves your chances of ranking higher down the road.

Personalization Signals 8.5%

Personalization happens when a search engine customizes the list of results based on the users search history, physical proximity to a business, and past behavior with other websites. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to get around this with local SEO. What you can do is consider pay-per-click advertising (PPC). It’s paid ads on search engines that gets you in front of searchers who may not see your practice in the organic results. PPC is an excellent way for dentists to target prospective patients in different markets. Where SEO takes weeks to see results, PPC campaigns can drive traffic to your website within a matter of days.

Review Signals 8.4%

While it is still largely debated whether reviews directly help your rankings or if they simply influence engagement, they are still important to your practice’s online visibility. From a marketing standpoint, potential patients are more likely to contact you if they see reviews for your practice. And Google lets searchers to call a business directly from their results pages. Collecting reviews can be the difference of searchers immediately contacting you or visiting a competitor.

Social Signals 5%

Do likes, comments, and shares actually do anything for your rankings? It’s debatable. However, they do add credibility to your brand. Google takes into consideration how many times your business is mentioned throughout the Internet. Be present and active on social networks while including information about your services and location within your profiles.

dental online business

Best Dental Website SEO Practices: A Complete Checklist (Onsite)

While SEO has changed quite a bit over the past 10 years, one thing has stayed relatively constant and important above all else. The entire point of SEO is to “optimize” your site to ensure it has the best possible search engine ranking. In the world of search engines, that means one thing: showing up on the first page of results. Most people never click over to the 2nd, let alone 3rd or 4th pages. Why would they when Google gives them five to ten compelling options on the first page?

In search, if you’re not on the first page, you might as well not exist. To be clear, optimizing your practice’s web presence IS THE ONLY WAY to get first-page billing. And even if you’re not actively seeking new patients, you should care about having a good ranking. That’s because your practice’s current patients frequently look for your practice with an online search.

The following sections cover some of the best practices to understand in order to optimize your website.

Best Dental Website SEO Practices

Do a little homework before starting any actual work. SEO for dental websites is not something you want to do on the fly.

  1. Establish a benchmark. Note where you’re currently at by pinpointing key analytics such as rankings, visitors to the site, conversions (visitors who fill out a form), and bounce rate. Utilize free analytics tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics to better understand your dental website’s performance and measure improvements as you implement SEO. (Click here to read our blog about using Search Console on your dental website.)
  2. Identify goals. Best dental SEO practices dictate that your benchmark data should also be a window into where you’re doing well, and what areas you can improve upon. Whether you’re looking to increase reach, page visits, time on page, decrease bounce rates, or improve conversions, get clear about your goals and identify how you’ll measure success.
  3. Optimize page titles and meta descriptions. Page titles and meta descriptions are within the code of each web page and should be unique for each page on your website. This text is also displayed on search engine results pages to give searchers an idea of what your website is about. To optimize your page title and meta descriptions, add relevant keywords and include your practice’s city and state within the copy. Note that the page title must remain under 60 characters and meta descriptions under 156.
  4. Optimize website content. Optimizing content requires a balance of including enough keywords within your copy for search engines while also sounding natural to readers. Assign specific keywords to each page of your website and include them in headers, paragraphs, bulleted lists and in the call to action of the page.
  5. Insert Local Structured Data Mark-up – Structured data mark-up is what search engines use to gain more information about your website. It’s added directly to a page’s HTML mark up and makes it easier for web crawlers to determine basics about your practice such as reviews, services you offer, and hours of operation. Google then uses the mark-up to highlight that information directly onto search engine results pages like the one shown below.

Structured data helps your practice stand out in search results by highlighting your practice in a ‘rich snippet’ which is an enhanced Google result listing (example below). In this case, Google has also provided an aggregate Yelp review rating.

Test your website for structured data by using this. Then, ask your website provider to help you implement Local Business mark-up code using this generator. Copy and paste the code for your website provider to implement.

SEO Factors to Consider (Offsite)

We’ve explored all the factors that help and hurt your SEO. However, search engine optimization does not happen in a vacuum; your competitors are likely doing the same things that you are to optimize their online visibility.

To get an edge over your competition, prioritize the 6 following items:

  1. Generate high-quality backlinks. Claim your business on online directories, put your website on social media profiles, and ask your professional associations and societies if they can list your website on their membership directory. Ultimately, the more credible and authoritative backlinks to your website will help you see better rankings.
  2. Have a consistent name, address, and phone number (NAP data) in your online directories. Remember that searchers and search engines use NAP data to learn who you are and what you do. Look for hidden duplicate listings that may appear under an old address, name or phone number by taking advantage of free tools such as Moz’s Local Listing Scanner, which will give you a consistency score. It will also tell you where you could add more information within your online directories, where your NAP data is inconsistent, and if you have duplicate listings so you may report them.
  3. Improve your website’s domain authority. Your domain authority (DA) will gradually increase over time as you do steps 1 & 2. It largely depends on the quality and quantity of websites linking back your site. Here’s how you can increase your website’s DA:
    • Ensure technical SEO is in place – improve aspects of your website such as site structure, ease of navigation, breadcrumbs, URL structure, meta tags, header tags, word counts, keywords, and alt tags. At times, some of these items may be difficult to implement depending on who your website provider is or your level of comfort with website design. If you’re with ProSites, these aspects are taken care of for you.
    • Link internally – linking internally on your website from one web page to another creates a network that searchers and search engine crawlers can use to get around your website and it helps keep your content organized. For example, on your services page, have a link that goes to your pricing page (where it makes sense).
    • Remove bad backlinks – your website is scrutinized by search engines based on your backlinks. That’s why removing bad backlinks from your website is important. Although time-consuming, it’s worth taking the time to remove these links so that you reduce the risk of being penalized. Identify which links are pointing back to your website with free tools such as Open Site Explorer or Search Console and identify any that are pointing to your site that may not make sense. For example, a website from another country that does not mention a topic related to your business is an irrelevant link and should be removed by disavowing it – which essentially tells Google that you have an unwanted backlink and they should disregard it when evaluating your website.
  1. List your most important categories first on Google My Business. Google categories largely dictate which keywords your practice will show up for within Google’s snack pack. Ensure to include the correct categories on your page, listing the most important category first.
  2. Increase your number of Google reviews. Implement a strategy to garner more online reviews from your patients, naturally over time. Regularly encourage patients to leave reviews for your practice online through email, after you’ve helped them, and on social media. Make sure that you respond to all reviews in a professional and genuine manner!
  3. Improve your click-through rate from search results. Click-through rate is a behavioral factor that Google will look at to determine interest in a specific page i.e. how often searchers choose to click on a listing from a search engine results page matters. You can influence whether someone will click on your webpage by optimizing each page title and meta description across your website’s pages.
  4. Embed your practice’s verified Google Maps listing to your website. A minor, yet impactful step. Embedding a map on your site helps confirm to Google your true location. Note: this step must take place after you claim and verify ownership of your Google maps listing. Dental SEO can be complex – but at a minimum, exploiting these basic strategies can help you start off on the right foot. To learn more about improving your website’s rankings in 2018, download the free whitepaper about local search and getting better rankings by filling out the form below.
  5. Claim ownership of your Google My Business (GMB) listing and other online directories. Local search is vital to your online marketing strategy when implementing SEO for dental websites! Your GMB listing must be claimed and verified by your dental practice to give Google confirmation of your location. This is critical since Google utilizes location and proximity as a ranking factor, so when someone searches for a dentist near you, you’ll appear higher than someone farther away. In addition to claiming your GMB profile, you want to ensure you don’t have two profiles with the same or conflicting information. Click here to read about removing duplicate listings. Once you claim GMB, repeat a similar process across these top directories for dentists. Remember to ensure consistency with your practice name, address, and phone number.

An In-depth Look at Backlinks

A backlink is a hyperlink that connects from another website to your own. Both the quality and quantity of the websites pointing back to your own website matter. Google considers backlinks to your website a vote of confidence but will look at the relevancy of those sites to you in order to determine the backlink quality. This, and relevancy of your website content to the topic in the search, all helps Google determine your own website’s domain authority.

To be considered as a highly authoritative website, other highly authoritative websites must link back to you. But having a range of authority from your backlinks is OK as long as the way the links connect back to your site is logical. For example, if you have someone pointing back to you from a website about stereos, but content illogically mentions your dental practice, then this would be considered irrelevant and therefore a low-quality link.

Remember, you can always use tools like Google Search Console and Open Site Explorer to find out who is linking back to you and what your domain authority score is.

Backlinks worth pursuing include location-specific links, industry-specific directories and authority sites.

  • A location-specific link refers to any directory that helps Google understand where your dental office is located. This is known as a structured citation. It can also refer to any link you may receive from a website that also originates from your general geographic location, like a mention from a local university or dental society. A link from a directory within a chamber of commerce website would fulfill both definitions since a local chamber of commerce is related to your geographical location and lists your NAP info:
  • An industry specific link includes websites that are relevant to you through your industry. For example, gaining a link from a state dental association back to your website.
  • Authority sites include major news sites and industry publications that may mention your practice. Admittedly, this type of link is difficult to obtain since these tend to be contextual and most often appear on content that is newsworthy.

Your User Experience Is Just as Important as SEO

Search Engine Optimization takes time. But there’s a way to make an immediate, positive impact on the results you’re getting from search engine traffic. While you’re using all the right technical, SEO best practices to please Google – you should take a step back and think about how you can improve user experience.

Most of what you (and your competitors) are told about optimizing your website for search engines deals with making changes to the site to make it more appealing to search engine algorithms. That is, many tips deal with giving the search engine what it wants in order to improve your organic rank.

But there’s another side of the SEO coin – and it’s especially important for dentists.

Search engines don’t make dental appointments – people do. So, while focusing on what the search engine wants, also consider what your prospective patient wants. Whatever organic traffic you get now is not likely to change overnight based on improvements you make for search engines – but you could improve the number of leads that turn into patients based on changes you make for the user.

Here are three specific ways to immediately make your website more user friendly – and get more out of your existing organic traffic:

  1. Include an urgent, obvious call to action on your website – When a prospective patient lands on your website, give them a clear action to take. Even better, direct a call to action at new patients by including a special offer. Something like: “New patient special offer: enter your email here to get an appointment within the next 10 days.” New patients don’t want to wait months and months for an appointment – so give them a reason to schedule one immediately and they’ll be more likely to take that action.
  2. Display your contact information on all pages – Make sure all of your web pages have at least a phone number and address prominently displayed near the top of the page. That way, no matter what page someone ends up on, they have the opportunity to reach you by phone or see your location.
  3. Update your meta-descriptions to be more personal and informative – A meta-description is the text within your website’s code that search engines use to generate your search engine results listing Changing your meta-descriptions is a little more technical than some of these other suggestions, but it can have a big impact. You can change your meta-descriptions in your website control panel. When you do, keep in mind the keywords that your prospective patients may be searching for. When updating your content on your website, make it personal to you, your staff and the environment of your practice and what you stand for. Keep in mind you only have about 160 or so characters to work with, so keep it short and to the point. Depending on the search engine, you may get more room. Introduce yourself in the first person, using “I” phrases. Most dental meta-descriptions use “we” phrases, which is much less personal. Talk about what you do, where you do it and why. Example: “I’m Dr. Smith, a periodontist working on 124 Pine St here in Springfield. I specialize in quick, trouble-free implants for every budget. My appointment turnaround time averages under 10 days.”

When you improve user experience and begin to get more clicks and activity on your webpages, search engines will take notice and will also improve your search engine ranking. Think of it as user-experience based SEO. In the end, user experience and search engine rules are converging towards the same goal: making search engines a place where people can find and use exactly what they’re looking for.

What Are Organic Listings and What Do They Mean?

Localized organic listings refer to the actual list of results, once you get past the ads. Why should you pursue organic listings? There are two main reasons to consider:

  1. The top organic listings have always been considered coveted real estate because searchers are most likely to click on the first few results, and people will rarely go to the next page. Instead, they refine their search to try to get Google to understand what they mean.
  2. Google is always making changes to their results pages. Nowadays, even though many organic listings are pushed further and further down the page, they still garger a good amount of traffic. The “snack pack” near the top of many geo specific search results as well as Google ads are two features that can push down the regular organic listings.

Now let’s go over what you need to rank well within organic listings. Improving your organic rankings relies heavily on backlinks, content, metadata, behavioral factors, and geographical proximity of the searcher to your business.

Behavior and Geographic Location

How often people click through to your website from a Google search results page is used as an indicator of how interested they are in your website. Google uses this information as a trigger and will eventually rank pages who have a better click through rate higher. You can improve click-through rates through page titles and meta descriptions which are displayed on a search engine results page:

By writing your titles in a way that’s easy for people to read, along with a meta description that provides enough information to help searchers decide whether they want to click through, you’re more likely to encourage searchers to click through.

Of course, since these results could potentially lead people to actual places in the real world, Google takes into consideration how close a searcher is to the “brick-and-mortar” business they could potentially visit. Because of this, search results may vary slightly depending on where the searcher is located. Because it is so important for Google to figure out where you are located in real life, be sure to name the city where your practice is located throughout your content.

Now that we’ve covered overall ranking factors, and snack pack and organic listing ranking factors, you should be able to look at your website and start identifying areas that need improvement by:

  • Ensuring all page titles and meta descriptions with keywords and the city you are located in
  • Updating your content with contextual mentions of the city and state of your dental practice
  • Claiming and verifying your Google Maps listing, followed by Yelp and Yellow Pages

The Differences Between HTTP and HTTPS Websites

HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) is the protocol over which data is exchanged between your browser and the website to which it’s connected. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP. When a website has HTTPS, all communications between browser and website are encrypted, making it much harder for third parties to interpret, alter, or delete information.

What This Means for Dental Practices

No one likes to see a warning sign that a website isn’t secure. Even if the information that you are requesting on your site is benign (like name and email), a glaring security warning is enough to cause most visitors to close your page and move on to a secure site. To ensure you don’t miss out on getting new patient inquiries or requests to your office, an SSL certificate (which makes your site HTTPS) is a recommended addition to your online security.

When you couple an HTTPS website with secure patient email and a HIPAA-compliant patient portal, you show patients that the safety of their data is a priority for your practice. Taking this extra step not only protects patients, it makes them feel good about your practice, which will help to create a foundation of loyal patients for years to come.

Your Website Must Be Mobile-Friendly

If you haven’t yet heard, Google has officially stated that mobile-friendly sites will be favorably ranked in search engine results. For years Google (and other search engines) have been nudging, prodding and not-so-subtly telling us what they’re looking for in terms of good ways to optimize for search for mobile devices. Google is done with sites that aren’t mobile-friendly. They’ve spelled it out in black and white – and we need to take notice.

Making sites mobile-friendly is all about making your site look and operate appropriately to rank well in Google – but it’s more than just search. It’s about making your site look as good as possible in every format.

Some Common SEO Questions Answered

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a key component in your practice’s successful online marketing strategy. But it’s a very complex topic. We thought we’d highlight some of the most common questions below in case you too have the same questions for your dental practice’s marketing.

Q: Do hashtags (#) help?

A: This handy icon helps current and prospective patients find posts on a specific topic in the social media arena (i.e., #teethwhitening). Hashtags are great for helping you distribute content on social media platforms and are a potential source of backlinks to your practice’s site. However, hashtags don’t yet apply to search engine optimization algorithms.

Q: Is it possible to use too many keywords?

A: Keywords are great – up to a point. These relevant words can be included in titles, content headers, image alt tags (i.e., descriptors that appear in place of an image), and throughout the copy. But be careful – you know what they say about too much of a good thing. As a best practice, if your copy sounds unnatural when read aloud, you’re probably guilty of keyword stuffing. And, since search engines are about as forgiving as a waistband after Thanksgiving dinner, your page ranking will suffer.

Q: How long does it take to verify a Google Maps listing?

A: Google throws shade to the old adage, “Good thinks come to those who wait,” by confirming your Google+ listing in less than fifteen minutes. Just ensure you are physically in the office because Google will call the phone number associated with the street address to verify your account.

Q: How do I correct my Google Maps location?

A: Having the wrong location shown in Google Maps is just as bad as giving prospective patients a business card with the wrong phone number. Fortunately, it’s a pretty simple fix.

Simply log into the Google dashboard and move the pin on the map to reflect the correct location. Make sure that the correct address is showing in your dashboard as well. Please note that if you are seeing an old address in Google’s search results, you’ll need to report your old location as “moved” via the edit menu in Google Maps to avoid a duplicate listing. (Learn about duplicate listings and why they’re bad for your rankings here.)

Q: When should I add SEO to my online marketing strategy?

A: Now! Search engine optimization takes time to produce results, which means starting now will set you up for success in time for busy season.

Local SEO for Attracting Local Patients

Marketing your practice online is an intimidating task. The Internet is vast and ever-changing, which makes it difficult to stay abreast of Internet marketing best practices; however, one thing is certain: whether you’re marketing your services on social media or implementing search engine optimization, targeting your local audience is critical. In fact, 67% of all online searchers specify a location within their queries. If you haven’t started targeting your local audience, the time to start is now.

The following methods are ways you can start incorporating location into your online marketing strategy:

  1. Infuse location into your content – When writing the content on your website, it’s important to personalize it with your location to get in front of your relevant audience. You can use Google Analytics to determine where, geographically, your website visitors reside. Incorporate these locations into your content for better reach.
  2. Focus on quality locations – All too often, doctors think the more cities they show up for in search, the better. Some even see ranking for their state as the Holy Grail. This method of thinking isn’t always lucrative. Prospective patients are much more likely to search “San Diego dentist” than something as broad as “California dentist”. The more targeted your location is, the better chance you’ll have at converting online searchers into your new patients.
  3. Join your local Chamber of Commerce – Not only will most chambers link to their members’ websites but being affiliated with a community organization will give your website increased local exposure.
  4. Encourage Facebook or Foursquare check-ins – When a patient visits your practice and checks-in, each check-in reiterates your location to search engines and shares it with all of your patients’ social connections. This can drastically increase your exposure among local prospects.
  5. Add optimized Alt tags to your images – Alt tags help search engines “see” the images you add to your website, as they cannot determine what the image is on their own. When you add an image to your site in the WebEngine, right-click on the photo, and select “Image Properties”. Then, within the “Image Alt Text” field, type a descriptive sentence that includes the cities your practice serves. Save your changes; publish your website; and you’re done!
  6. List your address and phone number on every page – Search engines don’t always scan every page of your website to determine its ranking on their results pages. Adding your address and phone number to every page will ensure the search engines see it, no matter which pages they scan.

How Local Search Affects Your Practice

Remember the commercial that repeatedly interrupted your favorite television show last week? Chances are you don’t – because we’ve trained our brains to tune out what isn’t relevant to our immediate surroundings and needs. It’s estimated that we are bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of data a day. If we didn’t filter out most non-essential messages, we couldn’t function.

Does this mean advertising is dead? No, but it does mean that service providers, including doctors, need to change their traditional marketing approach. By using Internet searches to your advantage, there is a way to get in front of prospective patients in that fleeting moment where you’ll be seen as a solution and not an interruption. The key is search engine optimization (SEO).

Simply put, SEO brings visitors to your website by helping your practice appear high on the list of results when prospective patients search for a dentist or doctor online. Over 85% of searchers do not go past the first page of results, so where you appear is critical. As far as SEO is concerned, if you’re not on the first page, you may as well be on the last.

ProSites’ publication, Local Search and How It’s Affecting Your Practice, breaks down SEO and all that goes into it. From search engine crawlers and algorithms to keyword density and metadata, this white paper outlines the basics in a manner you can understand. Looking for a quick overview? Read on for some highlights.

Keywords are at the core of SEO. These are the terms search engines use to find and rank your practice (i.e. orthodontist, teeth whitening, etc.). Though your services are important keywords to include on your website, so is your practice’s location. Since the average patient isn’t going to travel hundreds of miles to visit a dentist, chances are they will limit their search to providers in close proximity. Therefore, to attract local prospects, your website must be associated with your geographic location. This type of SEO is known as local SEO. And the backbone of successful local SEO is optimization, both on-page and off.

Just as the name implies, on-page optimization refers to changes made directly to your website. The most visible area for on-page optimization is website copy. When writing copy, remember to use phrases that prospective patients would use in their online searches. This allows search engines to correctly categorize your website, increasing the number of times your practice comes up in relevant searches. In addition to copy, on-page factors include HTML tags like page titles and meta descriptions. Backlinks and business listings are two off-page optimization strategies that take place outside your website but still impact your search engine ranking.

Backlinks are hyperlinks on other websites that connect back to your site. This may seem like a quick way to bump you ranking, but beware – Google considers context when giving you points for backlinks. This means that backlinks on irrelevant sites negatively impact your ranking.

Business listings are another type of off-page optimization that can not only drive traffic directly to your website, but also affect your search ranking. While it may seem obvious, consistency and accuracy are the two most important elements to optimizing your business listings. Your practice should be in a number of professional directories so be sure your NAP data (practice name, address, and phone) is correct and identical across all listings.

Ranking In the Google Snack Pack

Now that you understand which factors affect you overall, we’ll go into more detail on how to improve your rankings within Google’s snack pack (set of the top three local businesses that match a search query, displayed on Google’s search engine results page).

Here’s three reasons why it’s important that your practice ranks within a Google snack pack:

  1. A snack pack is prominently shown on a search engine results page above organic listings, incentivizing searchers to stop looking further down on the page
  2. Your reviews are highlighted within the pack, helping you earn searchers’ trust
  3. Searchers can easily navigate directly to your website, or call you from your listing.

Because Google’s snack pack has made it more convenient for searchers to find local businesses, it’s very competitive to appear within them.

Below are the top 3 factors that influence your ranking within the pack, and what you can do to improve each.

1. NAP Consistency

Your name, address and phone number (NAP) information must be consistent on your Google My Business profile, your website, and throughout major online directories. Small differences in your address can confuse search engines and ultimately prohibit you from appearing in the snack pack. For example, if your address is 123 Anywhere St., #201, Sunnyvale, CA, 92777, your address should always appear in that exact format – even interchanging # with Suite or Ste. can create confusion. If you’re not sure how your address should appear, visit USPS’ Zip Code lookup to find out how USPS standardizes your address.

It’s important to be nit-picky about your NAP info because software that collects local business information can get confused and push multiple listings for your business based on the small differences they find, creating what are called duplicate listings. Although this is hard to completely avoid, you can minimize your duplicates by maintaining consistency.

2. Domain Authority

Domain authority, based on the quality of backlinks to your dental website, refers to your domain authority score and can be looked up using Moz’s Open Site Explorer site. Most dental practices should have a score around 10/100, but we recommend that you search local competitors to find out how you compare.

Increasing your domain authority can take time because collecting quality links, or link-building, is time-intensive. To review, there are three types of links that you should be pursuing: location-specific links, industry-specific directories, and authority sites.

3. Google My Business

Of course, a well-optimized Google My Business profile is more likely to appear in the snack pack. If you’ve ever seen a business on Google Maps that seems to be missing a lot of information such as business hours, website information or even a phone number, you’re looking a listing that is not optimized and most likely without an owner. The good news is dentists can claim and optimize their orphaned listing. Here’s how to do it:

First, search for your business on Google Maps to check whether there is an existing listing for your business, then verify using Google’s phone or postcard verification process.

Second, fill out all information using your Google My Business dashboard (you’ll unlock access only after completing the verification process).

  1. That will include correct name, address with suite number, local phone number and web address. Do not use a toll-free number, or P.O. Box as that is against Google guidelines.
  2. Upload a cover photo and relevant images of your business. Photos of your interior, exterior, and staff are always appropriate.
  3. Ensure that you assign the correct categories for your practice. This is incredibly important since choosing the correct category will heavily determine which keywords your listing appears in the snack pack for. Categories that are available for dentists are:
    • Dentist
    • Periodontist
    • Oral Surgeon
    • Endodontist
    • Orthodontist
    • Pediatric Dentist
  1. Update the page that your profile is pointing to so that the title tag includes your city and state, example: John Doe, DDS | Sunnyvale CA

Local SEO – Online Directories

Allocating precious marketing funds is one of the most challenging tasks for business owners, especially in today’s economy. With numerous marketing channels including: banner ads, direct mail, print advertising, pay-per-click, search engine optimization, and so on, how do you decide where to start? The answer is simple… think local.

Since millions of prospective patients search for services based on location, it’s critical that you market your practice accordingly. With 83% of households using Internet search to find local businesses, local search marketing is one of the most powerful ways you can reach new patients online.

Local search marketing involves “claiming your listing” within the major online business directories (e.g., Google Plus, Bing Local, Yahoo! Local, Citysearch, Yelp, etc.). Claiming (and optimizing) your business listings will not only provide searchers with more information about your practice but can also get you better rankings within the search engines. Google, for example, often includes their maps/business listings right on the first page.

Numerous benefits stem from claiming your listings within online directories, and we’ve highlighted a few of them below:

  • Deliver Accurate Information – You can ensure prospective patients find up-to-date information about your practice such as contact information, office hours, services you offer, website address, and more.
  • Increase Patient Reviews – People choose businesses they trust. By encouraging patients to leave positive reviews on your local business listing pages, you can build credibility and trust among prospective patients.
  • Improved Online Visibility – When location is referenced within a search query, search engines often place local business listings at or near the top of results pages, therefore increasing your chances of being found by prospective patients in your area.
  • Drive More Traffic to Your Website – Including a link to your website within your local business listings not only builds more backlinks (which boosts SEO) but also encourages prospective patients to visit your website to learn more. Thus, you will drive more targeted, qualified traffic to your website and ideally generate more new patient appointments.

Bottom line – Local search marketing reaches millions of Internet users monthly which could translate into hundreds of new patients for your practice. It’s never too early to start reaching your local online audience. So, what are you waiting for?

Local SEO (Bad Practice – Duplicate Listings)

Have you ever had a patient call in to ask where your practice is located because their GPS took them to an old business address, only to miss their appointment? When someone searches the Internet for a dentist in your town, is it difficult for your practice to show up on the map results? Answering yes to either of these questions could mean that you have duplicate business listings for your practice. Duplicate listings are multiple listings within the same online directory with inconsistent business information. People and search engines depend on this information to find you.

A clean presence on local online directories is one of the most important, yet neglected, search engine optimization (SEO) components by dental and medical professionals seeking to improve rankings.

In fact, Moz’s 2015 Local SEO Ranking Factor study found that collectively, local business directories account for 30% of ranking factors. Consistency of NAP (name, address and phone) information among online directories is the number 2 ranking factor in Google’s map results in search engine results pages, referred to as the Snack Pack. This means your NAP information must be consistent across all online directories to have a chance at ranking favorably in local search results.

You also must ensure that your practice appears in only ONE listing, per each directory. This is particularly important in Google Maps. Multiple listings for the same practice in a single directory leads to trouble with ranking well within Google’s Snack Pack. Because Google Maps accounts for nearly 15% of local search ranking factors, this article will concentrate on duplicates specific to this directory.

Common Google Duplicate Scenarios and How to Solve Them:

Problem #1: Your practice changed locations, but the old address is still showing.

Solution: Claim your old business listing using phone verification and then change the address. The old phone number will have to be in service for this to work. If you have already claimed the listing with the old address, simply log in to your Google My Business dashboard and update the address (this may prompt re-verification).

Learn how to claim your business on Google Maps here

Problem #2: You found a listing for your practice and another one for each doctor at your practice.

Solution: Find all listings on Google maps and submit a report for each repeated listing that you find. Generally, they will be the listings that contain each doctors’ name. After you find a listing on Google Maps, scroll down to find a “suggest an edit” button near the business hours:

Click on “suggest an edit” then toggle to “yes” when asked if this “Place is permanently closed or doesn’t exist”:

Finally, select the “duplicate” option and submit the form:

If you do this while logged into your Google account, you will get an email confirming the report submission. Once you report each duplicate listing, claim the remaining listing (the one with your official practice name) by going through the phone verification process.

Learn how to verify your address on Google Maps here

Problem #3: You bought a practice from another doctor.

Solution: Do not set up a completely new listing for your new practice! Instead, find the Google listing under the name of the practice that you bought and claim it through the phone verification process. If the listing is verified under the old doctor or dentist, simply request an ownership transfer through Google’s form. The owner will get an email and will then be able to transfer ownership of the listing to you through an existing Google account.

Learn how to transfer ownership of a Google Listing here

Other Top Directories to Consider for Duplicate Clean-up:

Below are some of the top directories for doctors, dentists and vets according to Moz Local Citations. You’ll need to identify which directories have duplicate listings and then report them according to each directory’s guidelines. Then, claim any listings that you did not report by registering with a business account in each directory. Each process will be different, but all may require phone verification through the business phone number so make sure be at the practice when you do this.

What NOT to do in your Dental Website SEO

Up to this point we’ve covered the basics of dental SEO, how to improve your rankings in the snack pack on Google, and how to get maximum visibility in local organic listings on search results. Now, we will focus on factors that can negatively impact your rankings and what you can do to fix them.

Negative On-page Ranking Factors

Negative ranking factors are things that may be making your website lose its rankings. The more ranking factors you’re doing (whether on purpose or by mistake), the more they’re harming your visibility. Here are the most common on-page (website) issues that may be hurting you.

  1. Your page titles do not include city and state. Your page title is a type of metadata and should include your city, state, and keywords (e.g. Dentist or Dentist in [City, State]). Page titles are shown on search engine results pages. Therefore, it essentially works to persuade visitors into clicking your website over the others listed on the page.
  2. Your meta descriptions don’t include your city and common keywords. Your dental website’s meta descriptions should include common keywords that searchers would use when they’re looking for your services. For example, “Family dental services in [City]”. Similar to a page title, meta descriptions appear on search results pages to help searchers understand what the web page is about and may impact their decision to click through to the website.
  3. You don’t have H1 tags on your web pages. An H1 tag creates a header for the copy on your page. Usually, the copy is enlarged and bolded to look like a title. And although enlarged copy vs. copy in an H1 tag visually look the same, a real H1 tag can be identified by <h1></h1> tags on the back end. To really nail your H1 tags, remember that they should include keywords that are commonly used in searches and only one should be included per page.
  4. You don’t have ALT tags on images. Anytime you have an image on your website, you should include an ALT tag to provide a clear text alternative of the image. Be sure to use keywords where applicable, too. (Note: These types of tags need to be coded in, so ask your webmaster for help adding these in.) For example, an ALT tag on a firm’s logo could read John Doe, DDS, Dental Practice Logo. This way, both “DDS” and “Dental Practice” are keywords, but also accurately describe the image.
  5. Your page is not optimized for Google My Business. If your Google My Business profile points to your website’s homepage (most dental practices do), make sure your homepage includes your name, address, and phone number exactly how it appears on Google My Business. Google relies on this information to triangulate it with the address on you Google My Business profile and understand your geographical location.
  6. Your website copy is not optimized for local search. In addition to highlighting your services, your website copy should include contextual references to your firm’s location (city and state). This way, when someone searches “Dentist in [City]” your website is optimized for that area. Make sure to read your website copy out loud to ensure that any mention of your city and state sounds natural.

Negative Off-page Ranking Factors

Negative off-page factors are things that occur outside of your website but could still be harming your rankings.

  1. You have inconsistent/duplicate name, address, and phone number information in online directories and on your website. Your business is likely listed in numerous online directories. You want to ensure that all of your name, address and phone (NAP) data is identical and accurate across all directories to avoid confusing the search engines. In addition to having consistent NAP data across online directories, it’s important that this information matches the contact information on your website too. You can check for consistency using Moz Local’s Listing Scanner. Simply enter your practice’s name and zip code to get a consistency score. With the results, you can claim and optimize listings that have wrong and/or missing information.
  2. You list virtual offices, P.O. boxes, and toll-free numbers in directories. Listing this type of information goes against most directories’ guidelines because it does not specify where you are located the same way that a physical address and area code would. If you do have a toll-free number, make sure to only include it in addition to a local phone number. Solely using a toll-free number prevents search engines from identifying where your practice is located.
  3. You selected the wrong business category. Most online directories (including Google) ask you to select a business category from a pick-list. Most dentists should list their primary category as “Dentist” or “Dental Clinic.” You can choose additional categories as well but always choose your most important category first. Note: Use this guide to help you decide which to choose.
  4. You do not have backlinks. Backlinks are links on other websites that link back to your website and are essential to helping you rank well organically on search results. It’s extremely time-intensive, but well worth it in the long run. To start building more backlinks, reach out to associations that you are part of and see if they have a membership directory where they can list your website.

If you aren’t sure about your SEO strategy – or even how well you might rank in Google or other search engines, we can help. We have SEO experts on staff who (believe it or not) love talking about SEO and how you can improve. Give us a call at (888) 932-3644 or email us at service@prosites.com to schedule a time to chat.

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