This article originally appeared in the April/2020 issue of the Academy of General Dentistry’s AGD Impact magazine.
Search engine optimization (SEO) — making your website appear as a top search result — is a must for practices that want to be found online when patients are searching for your services. However, many factors affect how your site ranks within these results, including the rest of your marketing strategy. While SEO is an important part of your marketing, it shouldn’t be your only focus. SEO, like most digital marketing tactics, is always changing. One day your site can be ranked highly on Google, and the next it can drop in rank because of a change to Google’s algorithm. Therefore, it’s important to look at SEO as a long-term strategy rather than a quick fix.
Google is King
A December 2019 study by Statcounter.com showed that Google garners a whopping 92.71% of the search engine market share worldwide. It’s obvious why SEO for Google should be your primary focus, but many practices don’t know where to start when it comes to optimizing their website. While the algorithm used to rank websites is heavily guarded by Google, the company does openly share best practices for how to improve your rankings. Here are just a few of those suggestions to help your Google SEO, and they couldn’t hurt your search results with other engines, too:
- Google looks for high-quality, relevant information. What does this mean? Your website pages should have relevant keywords that someone searching for your services would use to find you. If you don’t have them, Google won’t know to refer — or rank — your site to users.
- Title tags, headings and URL structure are all places where you should add keywords so that search engines can find your site. Use keywords judiciously; cramming in too many can backfire and get your page dropped in rankings. The optimal format is:
“Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Practice Name.” An example of overusing keywords would be: “Dental Implants, Best Dental Implants Dentist, Affordable Dental Implants – Dental Implants in Tampa, FL.”
- Meta descriptions exist in your site’s code. They are not seen on your website, but they do show up in search engine results in your description, making them an important SEO factor that shouldn’t be overlooked. Be sure your website team is adding them to every page.
- Time spent on your site. Logically speaking, if a visitor comes to your site and finds information they are looking for, they will spend more time on your site engaging with that information. The opposite is also true — if a visitor comes to your site through a search engine but doesn’t find what he or she is looking for and returns to the search engine page results, Google will think your site is not relevant. How much time visitors spend on your site is dependent on how much relevant content you have to offer.
- Loading speed. How fast your pages load is determined by factors such as the site’s server, page file size and image size. Why does Google care about this? It has determined that people want to find answers to questions fast, and the faster they find them, the more relevant Google’s algorithm will perceive your site to be. One way to make your site’s images load faster is to optimize your images by compressing them — reduce the size of the images to minimal dimensions without decreasing quality. Hosting your images on a content delivery network (CDN) should make a difference in your load speed as well.
- Mobile friendliness is a growing factor when it comes to how search engines rank your website on mobile devices. Google has an algorithm update focused specifically on this because more and more people are searching for sites on their mobile devices rather than desktops. To check if your site is mobile friendly visit search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly.
Duplicate content is content that can be found on more than one website. When search query results include duplicate content, the Google algorithm has trouble knowing where to direct the user. Make sure all of the content on your site is original and not pulled from other dental websites.
- Social metrics such as the quality and quantity of Facebook shares or tweeted links also affect search engine ranking. If many people are sharing your content, then more people will link to it, and links are an important factor when it comes to SEO ranking.
These are just a few of the factors that search engines look for. We encourage you to use this as a basic checklist to be sure you are meeting these criteria, or ask your marketing company if these items have been completed for your practice.
Another factor that affects your Google search engine ranking doesn’t necessarily have to do with your website, but rather your Google My Business listing. Google My Business listings for brick-and-mortar businesses allow people to stay on the search page because they can find the information they need — contact information, location, business hours and reviews — in the listing rather than clicking through to an outside website. Engagement with these listings keeps traffic on Google web properties instead of individual business websites, so they are preferred by Google’s algorithm. This is a free listing and should be claimed, have accurate name, address, phone number, description and completely populated so that users will engage with it, and Google’s algorithm will find it relevant.
I’ve mostly discussed SEO factors that you are in control of — referred to as on-page SEO — but there are also off-page SEO factors that can impact your rankings, such as backlinks from another site or the exposure your brand gets on social media. The main point is that there are many best practices to get your site ranking at the top of search engines, and these are just a few of the basic steps you can deploy in your marketing strategy. For more information, visit support.google.com and search for “SEO.”