Search Engine Optimization: What You Should Know As A Dental Practitioner

By: Will Koziey-Kronas
As a dental practitioner, any investigation into dental marketing has no doubt involved encounters with the term "SEO" - and for good reason. "SEO", short for "search engine optimization", is a crucial component of a practice's marketing presence. To understand why, we have to start from the beginning: how are prospective patients finding dental practices?

Alongside referrals, another predominant source of patient traffic to dental practices are search engines. Prospective patients will generally search for the service they desire along with their location, such as "dental veneers Mississauga". From there - at best - they may browse the first two or three pages of results before finding a suitable practice. At worst, they won't make it past the first page, or even the first few results.

Now consider that your geographical area is likely home to well over ten competing practices. Then consider that search engines only display about ten results per page. The challenge is apparent: if your site isn't appearing within the first page or two, you miss out on a vital source of traffic - and with more than 10 other practices vying for those limited spots, the competition is stiff.

The snapshot of results for a Google Maps search of "Dentist Mississauga" (each red icon marks a practice). With that much location-specific competition, you need SEO to stand out.
This is the role of SEO: deliberately tune your practice's site so that it appears in the first few pages for searches such as "dental service + your location". So where does SEO begin, and what does it look like?

Before broaching the specifics, there's an important caveat to address: the algorithms and rules that search engines use to determine search results are the intellectual property of the search engine's owners, and aren't disclosed in their entirety (or at all). Additionally, search engines evolve, with major updates rolling out an average of every 6-8 months. This keeps algorithms and rules in fluctuation. That doesn't mean SEO is a guessing game. The best practices are mostly well understood. Let's start with what we know for sure.

The following practices are confirmed (by Google) to positively affect your site's search standings:
  • Sites that update frequently with fresh content are favored compared to old sites that update rarely.
  • The appropriate use of HTML tags for page titles and headings is beneficial.
  • The more backlinks to your site, the better your site will rank. Backlinks are any instance of another site linking to your own - for instance, an off-site blog may be beneficial because each article can link back to your practice's primary site.
  • Mobile-friendly sites, or sites with mobile versions, rank higher than mobile-unfriendly sites. This point deserves elaboration on two fronts: first, a mobile-unfriendly site will negatively affect the rankings of the desktop site, too. Second, mobile friendliness is determined by Google's Mobile-Friendly Test, and that test only. Google’s exclusive hold over what determines mobile-friendliness is contentious, and for more on that controversy, check out this blog article.
  • Sites certified with SSL protection (the URL starting with https) are favored over sites that aren't. In other words, Google has been moving to favour sites with better security, all other things being equal.
  • How fast pages load is a considering factor (the faster, the more favourable the ranking).

These practices are confirmed to benefit SEO, but the specific metrics and weightings of each practice are not known. It's therefore more effective to cover as many practices as possible instead of focusing on one or two, because there's no known hierarchy of importance.

Another beneficial - and less technical - practice is effective keyword usage throughout your site's copy (text content). The copy on your site exists to educate patients and promote your expertise, first and foremost, but it's also an opportunity for SEO. Key terms distributed throughout copy, particularly on the index (home) page, can improve your rankings for those terms. Check out the index page copy for Donway Dental below, noting the effective use of location and service terms:

The challenge with keyword usage is balance - you don't want to waste opportunities to plug your location/services, but don't want to flood your copy with them either.
As a business owner, acquainting yourself with the practices discussed above is in your best interests, but the execution is best left to a trusted service provider. Before you start your search, however, maximize the content you already have (and control) by running through three easy processes that benefit SEO:
  • If you have an in office video, upload it to a Youtube business account, using the title and description fields to identify your office and key service terms that you want to optimize.
  • If you have a newsletter, blog, or social media, anything you post on one platform should be posted on all platforms to increase the amount of backlinks to your main site.
  • Physical Advertising (like posters) is easy to convert to digital images that can be posted on a site, blog, newsletter, and social media. More posts, more opportunity for backlinking - and relevant content.

With those steps taken care of, the search begins for a service provider. Here's what you should avoid:
  • Any service provider who promises a first page result on Google (especially if they promise it quickly and consistently). Considering how often the field fluctuates and the volume of competition, no one can promise anything, even if they follow the best practices.
  • Listing services such as Yellow Pages and Rogers Outrank. These providers apply a "one size fits all" mentality, administering the same practices to every industry and failing to cater to the specific needs of healthcare.  Worse yet, they neglect the fundamental SEO process of making changes to their client’s sites.
  • Anyone employing practices that sound exploitative, like spamming a keyword hundreds of times on a page, or spamming links to your site across the web in hopes of leveraging backlink optimization (or even duplicating your entire site and distributing it across multiple URL's). Google is smart - best case scenario, they ignore those "black hat" techniques. Worst case scenario, they ignore your site completely and blacklist you. Blacklisted sites don't appear in Google's search results.
Google has been around a long time. They know that content like this is far from legitimate.

At UpOnline, we offer comprehensive SEO services tailored specifically to your practice and business goals, providing ongoing result reports and frequent site updates to ensure long term success. For a free SEO analysis of your practice's site, visit our SEO service page to get started.

To conclude, let's review the most important take-aways for you, a practitioner:
  • Maximize the content you already have (like your blog, and even existing banners and graphics).  It's a practical way you can improve SEO before hiring a service provider (although they may be able to do a better and quicker job).
  • Understand the beneficial practices your service provider should follow, but also understand that adherence to those practices does not necessarily guarantee a first page result on Google due to competition and fluctuation.
  • Avoid black hat techniques. Whatever short term gain (if any) is not worth a spot on Google's blacklist.

After improving your SEO, we recommend further expanding your online presence (and in the process, improving your search rankings) with regular new web content, social media postings, and even Google Adwords. For more on these additional services, visit their respective pages at UpOnline Social Media and AdWords.