The Complete Guide to Understanding and Improving Your Dental SEO

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What is SEO and what does it mean to you as a dentist?

Not sure if online searches are something you should be focusing on as part of your dental marketing strategy?

Consider this… 71 percent of dental patients search online before scheduling an appointment with a new dentist.

Yes, 71 percent!

Luckily, you do have some control over how visible your dental practice is in search results, and that’s where dental search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.

But dental SEO is a big undertaking, so where do you start and what should you focus on?

In a 2019 survey of 1,500 people who searched for dentists online, the three most important factors in their selection were (in descending order of importance):

  1. Online reputation (i.e., which dentist received the best reviews)
  2. Proximity (i.e., which dentist was closest)
  3. Search rank (i.e., which dentist was at the top of the search results)

All of those can be directly impacted by a solid, comprehensive SEO strategy for your dental practice. In this guide, we’ll show you what it takes to:

  • Rank higher than your competition
  • Stand out in local search
  • Differentiate yourself with good reviews

Note: You’ll notice that we focus on optimizing for Google. That’s because Google has a genuine monopoly on searches with more than 90% of queries going through their platform. Generally speaking, the steps you take to optimize for Google will also put you in a good position for Bing, Yahoo, and the remainder of the search engines out there.

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SEO Strategy Have a plan

Before you get started with dental SEO, you need a solid plan. At a minimum, you should consider the following:

Audience

  • Who are the types of patients (or personas) you are trying to attract?
  • What are their needs?
  • What are they looking for?
  • Which stage of the new patient journey are they in?

Competition

  • How am I ranking compared to my competitors?
  • What keywords are they ranking for that my site isn’t?
  • What are they doing well? And not so well?

Goals

  • What do you want to accomplish through SEO?
  • Are you trying to attract new patients? Build your brand?

Whatever your goals are, they should follow the SMART guidelines, meaning they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound.

Budget

  • How much do you plan to spend to optimize and maintain your search optimization?
  • Will you have a flexible budget that you can adjust to do whatever it takes to reach your goals? Or will you have a fixed budget that determines how high you set the bar for your results?
  • Does your budget take into account the size of your market and the amount of competition you’ll face for rankings?
  • Will you supplement your organic SEO with paid search ads?
  • Will you do any portion of the SEO in-house, or will you hire an experienced dental SEO company?

That last question (who will do your SEO) is perhaps the most important one for you to consider. Few dentists do SEO themselves (and even fewer do it well enough to get the results they’re looking for.) Doing it yourself can potentially save you some money, but if you don’t have the time or knowledge to do it properly, your results will be limited. To help you decide if you’ll tackle it on your own, this guide will detail some of the technical, on-page, and off-page processes that SEO experts follow to get real results. If you’re up for the challenge, you can dig in and start optimizing. If not, we’ll give you some quick tips to find a good marketing agency to help you do it right.

SEO Essentials What it takes to rank higher than your competition

Technical SEO: Make it easy for Google to rank your pages

There are two distinct aspects of successful SEO: making Google happy and making users happy (which is twice as important, since Google also looks at how well you satisfied people who found you through search). First, let’s focus on the technical SEO aspects that make it easier for Google to rank your pages properly.

Website Platform

The foundation for effective SEO is a technically sound website. There are many “do-it-yourself” website builders out there that make it simple to create nice looking websites, but they are notorious for limiting your potential to rank highly in search engines, mostly due to bloated coding and slow page speeds. So, first of all, make sure your website is built on a reliable platform that allows flexibility to tweak SEO as needed. (WordPress, which is what we use at Golden Proportions Marketing, is the most widely used solution.)

Page Load Speed

It’s hard to say who hates slow-loading web pages more — search bots or human visitors. Either way, a slow website will not rank highly. Even if you have a well-designed website, using a “cheap” hosting company may hold you back with poor download speeds (not to mention that Google will associate your site with other low-quality websites that use that kind of hosting). Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool can tell you how fast (or how slow) your website really is.

Mobile Responsive Layout

These days, the majority of users, and searches, are on mobile devices. Google has been using mobile-first indexing for its ranking algorithms for quite some time now, so if your site doesn’t have a mobile-responsive layout, you’ve already fallen behind your competition. You can check to see if your website is mobile-friendly by using Google’s Mobile Friendly Test.

Sitemap

Search bots need a clear path to find all of the content on your site. The best way to do that is to upload a complete sitemap (essentially, a list) of every page you want to have indexed to Google. A sitemap doesn’t necessarily guarantee that every page will be crawled, but in most cases it does help, and you’ll never be penalized for having one. The sitemap should be updated periodically or whenever new content is added.

HTTPS

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) enabled websites encrypt data and don’t allow it to be modified or corrupted during transfer. While data security in itself is a good idea, Google also announced in 2014 that HTTPS would become one of its ranking factors. If you’re not sure if your website is secure, simply check the web browser address bar and see if it is preceded by “http:” or “https:”.

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On-page SEO: Provide relevant content that new dental patients are looking for

Once your website is technically sound and ready for search engines to crawl it efficiently, it’s time to dig into the heart of SEO — creating optimized, relevant content.

Keyword Research

While this is often referred to as keyword research, in reality it is content research that you’re doing. You want to anticipate what information your audience will be searching for (and why), match that up to content you already have or can create, and then determine what keywords or phrases they will most likely use to search for that information.

Search intent

It is important to first understand the reasons why people will be searching for you, and develop a list of topics associated with each. There are four types of searches new dental patients will use to find you:

Informational intent – These users are looking for specific information. These types of searches will be more general, and harder to rank for. Examples would be queries for “tooth whitening” or “dental implants.”

Commercial intent – Your new patient prospects may be considering your office along with others, but are still doing their research. If they are looking for pricing, services offered, or reviews, then they have commercial intent. Local searches would also fall under this category.

Transactional intent – If someone is ready to schedule a dental appointment (whether or not it’s with your office), they have transactional intent. “Emergency dental services near me” would be an example of someone who is searching for a suitable office to contact right away.

Navigational intent – You will find that this is the most common type of search to lead people to your website. These are people simply trying to find their way to your website (and many of them may already be patients of yours). They may just be typing your web address into their search bar by mistake, or searching for your business name if they are unsure what your web address actually is. Don’t take for granted that you will rank highly for your own name or that search results will point to your home page. Make sure that people who search specifically for you can find you easily.

Doing a content inventory

With a list of topics compiled, you need to take inventory of content you already have on your website and what you can add. Keep in mind that you probably have content already that can be repurposed in the form of brochures, blog posts, videos, and other sources, so you won’t need to create it from scratch.

Determining keywords to optimize for

Determining the right keywords comes down to finding the right balance of high search volume and low competition. Some keywords will be too competitive to organically rank for, while others will have too low of a search volume to be worthwhile. A good, middle-of-the-road approach is to try to rank highly for several longer, less competitive search phrases. These specific, “long tail” keywords will not only help you rank higher, but you’ll also be targeting a much more exact audience, giving you a better understanding of what they are looking for.

long tail keyword

Google can actually help you come up with good long tail keywords with its “Related searches” section at the bottom of the results page. Type in a search phrase relevant to your website and see what other common queries Google suggests.

As part of keyword planning, it’s also important to consider semantic searches. Google doesn’t limit itself to exact keyword matching. As it has evolved and become “smarter,” it has learned to recognize synonyms and closely related keywords. That means that the content you create doesn’t need to include highly repetitive usage of specific keywords or phrases. You can use words like “dentist,” “dental,” and “dentistry” interchangeably. As long as Google knows what you are talking about, it will rank your page accordingly.

Keyword Usage

Once you have your list of keywords figured out, you need to put them to good use, based on how they will be incorporated into your web pages and content.

URL

The website address (URL) for your webpage should include your primary keywords. The URL should also be as simple and short as possible so Google can clearly understand what your page is focused on. Many times, URLs get overly complicated by using too many subfolders or variable parameters, like the example below.

seo url

 

Title Tag and Meta Description

Although Google won’t necessarily look to see if your keywords are in your page’s title or meta description, it is a good idea to include them, since these are what people will see on the search results page. If people see the keywords included, they will be more likely to click on your result. The example below shows how the keywords searched for are actually highlighted by Google.

search snippet

Header Tags

Once upon a time, it was highly important to stuff your keywords into your content’s header tags (essentially, your headline or subhead). Google does still look at those tags, but now it does so to better understand the hierarchy of a page, not just to see what the keywords supposedly are. As a general rule, if it helps your reader to see the keyword in the header, then include it. If it feels like you are overusing the keyword, then it’s probably better to leave it out or at least use synonyms and related keywords that convey the same meaning. The general rule is to use the keyword once every 300 words or so.

Keywords in Content

One important thing to remember is that you are writing for users first, and search engines second. In other words, keep your keywords in mind, but use them naturally within your website content. Keyword density, the number of times a keyword appears relative to the total number of words on a page, is no longer a primary ranking signal for Google and, in fact, excessive keyword stuffing can result in your ranking being penalized.

Writing “naturally” for your readers will probably result in your exact keyword phrase appearing a few times, and likely within the first 100 words of your content, which will help Google recognize that your page is dedicated to that topic. You can always go back and tweak your keyword usage, but it’s best to make it part of your editing process, and not part of your writing process.

Internal Links

Internal links, or links in your content that point to other pages on your own website, are important for two reasons. First, they help Google navigate through your site and find your content. Second, the number of internal links you have pointing to a particular page indicates to Google the relative importance of that page. The anchor text for your links (the actual clickable text that your readers see) is important, since it tells Google what the link is related to. In other words, avoid using links like “Click Here.” Also avoid using the same anchor text to point to different pages, since that can send confusing information to Google.

Other Factors

Google also looks at other non-keyword signals to determine the quality of your content and how worthy it is of being ranked.

Dwell Time

The amount of time users spend on your page is a good indicator of how valuable they find the information. If users click through to your page but quickly move on, Google will assume that the content was not a good match for their search intent and bump your page down. You can keep readers around longer with a few good practices.

  • Provide enough content depth to provide the amount of information your audience is looking for.
  • Make sure your content is neatly organized and easily scannable.
  • Use video and images to capture their attention for a longer period of time.

Freshness

The more frequently you update your content and add new information, the more often Google will come back to crawl your site and rank your pages. (This is why having a blog on your website with regularly added content is a great idea.)

Duplicate Content

Content that is duplicated internally within your website is NOT something that you will be penalized for (despite some long-standing SEO myths that say otherwise). Duplicate content can, however, confuse Google as to which version of your content should be shown in search results. As a matter of good practice, use unique title tags and meta descriptions for every page on your website and try to differentiate your content as much as possible from page to page.

On the other hand, content on your website that is a duplicate of content on other websites is something you do want to avoid. This is especially common with website companies that offer the same “canned” content to multiple clients.

Accessibility

All websites should be (and, by law, are required to be) fully accessible to all individuals regardless of any disabilities they may have. That is not only important from a user perspective, but Google also will give more weight to sites that are fully compliant with the ADA (American Disabilities Act) and WCGA (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

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Off-page SEO: Prove your authority and trustworthiness

Off-page SEO refers to any search optimization that happens outside of your website and builds the authority, or trustworthiness, of your content.

Backlinks

One of the most important ranking factors for Google is backlinks, which are links to your website from outside sources. Getting those links can sometimes be the most challenging aspect of off-page SEO, but can have the greatest impact. There are three types of external linking opportunities you can look for.

You can add self-created links to online directories, forums, social media profiles, and other online locations that you have personal access to. These are the easiest backlinks to create, but also carry the least amount of authority.

Manually created links come from deliberate link-building activities, like asking other businesses to link to your website or convincing people to share your content.

Natural links aren’t the result of any direct action you take, but rather the voluntary linking to your website by others who feel your content is worth directing other people to. These are the most valuable backlinks you can get.

When seeking backlink opportunities, you want to find sites that will add authority to your website, and not decrease it. The actual amount of authority that backlinks add to your site will depend on a number of factors.

  • How popular the other site is
  • The authority and trustworthiness of the domain and page
  • How closely related the content of the other site is to yours
  • How recently the link was created
  • The anchor text used in the link
  • The number of other links on the page that is linking to your site

Brand Building

Direct backlinks to your website aren’t the only way to improve your off-page SEO. Really, any activity that encourages people to search for you online will help you in terms of number of searches and number of click-throughs. This means getting your name and brand out there, and staying top-of-mind with your local community. Obviously, that’s where a lot of your other marketing efforts come into play, but it also extends into public relations, community involvement, speaking engagements, guest blogging, and any other activity that will get you noticed.

Local SEO Stand out in local search

With your SEO optimized to allow you to rank as highly as possible, it’s time to turn your attention to local SEO.

Why is local SEO important for dentists?

Dentistry is a “brick and mortar” business, which means you rely on attracting people who live nearby. As we mentioned earlier, many people will, by default, choose a dentist based on proximity, which makes it even more important for you to be highly visible in local search results, or the “local pack.”

Google Local Pack

Local SEO follows the same principles as general SEO that we have already discussed. There are, however, important differences with local search results.

  • They only appear only for searches with a local intent (e.g., “dentists near me” or when a person specifies a city or location).
  • They deliver specific details about the location and contact information for businesses so users can easily get the information they are looking for.

Optimizing your Google My Business Page

As you might guess, your Google My Business listing is going to be a primary source of information for Google to decide if you should be one of the top local search results. That’s why optimizing your listing is extremely important.

Beyond the basics (name, address, phone, website, and hours) you also need to put some thought into the following sections and opportunities to tell more about your business.

“From the Business” Description

This self-written description appears near the bottom of your page, beneath your Reviews section. This is where you can add some personality and introduce yourself to searchers. To make the most of it, do the following:

  • Share your most important information up front, within the first 250 characters (which are visible without clicking the “More” link.
  • Use the same keywords people use to find you online.
  • Content from your website can be used here to help people understand who you are and what makes you different from your competitors.

Business Category

Obviously, “Dentist” can be your primary business category but, depending on your specialty, you can add additional categories such as Cosmetic Dentist or Pediatric Dentist to zero in more precisely on what you do.

Services

Once you have your categories selected, you can specify services you offer, like tooth whitening or dental implants.

Attributes

Under the Info section, you can add Attributes to provide additional information about your practice and how you serve patients. Worth noting is the Health and Safety section, where you can share any infection control upgrades you’ve implemented.

Photos

Online searchers are 35% more likely to click through to your website if you include photos on your profile page. Update and add photos frequently to show Google that you’re engaged.

Questions and Answers

This isn’t done through the Google My Business dashboard, but you can go to your profile page and add your own commonly asked questions and answers (or answer real questions posted by visitors).

Google Reviews

Getting a good number of Google reviews is also important to boost your local search engine rankings. Not only do they affect whether or not you’ll make it into the local pack, but your star rating also appears within your listing, which will greatly influence whether or not people click on your link. (If you didn’t notice in our example above, the dentist ranked number one has more than 100 reviews and the dentist who got pushed out of the top spot has none. Not a coincidence!) And if you also recall from the beginning of this guide, reviews are the most important factor when people select which dentist to call from their search results.

Consistent NAPs are important

Your dental office’s NAP (name, address, and phone number) should also be consistent everywhere you post it online. Otherwise, Google will question the accuracy of the information, and your ranking could be impacted.

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Reputation Management Differentiate yourself with good reviews

Your online reputation management and online search strategies go hand in hand. Searches will lead people to your reviews, and good reviews will help boost your search results.

Post reviews on your website

Showcasing your positive reviews on your website and optimizing that page for search results is a good strategy to help guide people to your most favorable testimonials. Include as many reviews as possible and be sure to use video testimonials if you have them to increase the average amount of time visitors will stay on the page.

Generate more positive reviews outside of your website

People will also find reviews outside of your website (after all, they’re not going to believe that everybody loves you).

Make it a priority to encourage your happiest patients to post their opinions on Facebook, Google, Yelp, and other online review sites.You can’t incentivize or reward them for posting positive reviews, but feel free to provide great customer service and then ask them to share their experience online.

Dominate the first page

In addition to your website, you want any searches for your business to bring up other online resources you control, like social media sites, on the first page of search results. If you don’t fill up those spots, it’s possible for negative mentions of you and your brand to creep up into plain sight.

Find your negative feedback before patients do

You never know where a negative opinion about your dental practice might pop up, so use Google Alerts to help monitor the web for you and let you know when you need to respond to negative comments before patients see them. Just enter your business name and you’ll receive alerts whenever you’re mentioned online. Remember, even negative reviews can be an opportunity to show great customer service when you respond to them in the proper manner.

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Tracking Is your SEO working?

When it comes to your SEO, you need to track it from two perspectives: metrics that impact your SEO and metrics that result from your SEO. All of this data can be collected from your Google Analytics account.

The metrics impacting your SEO that you want to keep an eye on are:

  • Bounce rate
  • Page load time
  • Crawl errors
  • Pages/session
  • Average session duration
  • Top exit pages
  • Number of indexed pages

Metrics that will give you an indication of how well your SEO is working include:

  • Number of website visits from search engines
  • Conversion rate
  • Keyword ranking positions
  • Search query impressions
  • Search query click throughs
  • Sessions

Expectations

We talked earlier about setting goals for your SEO, and to make sure they are realistic. Dentists who are disappointed with SEO often have distorted expectations about how soon or how high their website pages will rank. And, yes, there’s always the cost.

How soon will you see results?

Some SEO improvements, especially technical and on-page optimization, can produce immediate results. Other SEO issues, however, can take several months (even a year) to show real signs of improvement and reach the goals you had set. Also keep in mind that SEO is a moving target, and there are countless factors that can push you up or down in the rankings from day to day, week to week, or month to month.

Will all of your pages rank on the first page of Google?

Is it likely you will dominate search rankings? Probably not, but what is important is identifying the most important pages and keywords you want to rank for and focus on those. SEO is also an incremental process, so starting with small steps and ranking highly for the most important searches will give you the foundation to build a stronger and stronger search presence as you go.

How much will your SEO cost?

Exact SEO costs will vary greatly, depending on multiple factors such as:

  • Your current SEO practices
  • The quality of your website
  • Your goals
  • The market you are in and number of competitors
  • Who will be managing your SEO

If you have the time, resources, knowledge, and desire, then you may be able to manage your own SEO (or at least parts of it) and keep your expense at a minimum. Most dental practices, however, make the decision to outsource their SEO needs.

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Finding an SEO expert you can trust

If you decide to hire someone to manage your SEO, be sure you are carefully vetting your candidates and getting real value. Inexperienced freelancers and fly-by-night companies will promise you big results (and maybe even produce some short-term wins), but you can be left high and dry after the contract expires. Even worse, they may use “black hat” tactics that can result in penalties against you and your website.

Golden Proportions Marketing has decades of search optimization experience and has delivered proven SEO results for hundreds of dental practices. If you want to discuss your SEO needs, contact us today and we’ll help you evaluate your current SEO, perform an audit of your website, define your goals, and outline a complete plan to make sure your new patients can find you online.

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