Category: Author: David Hall
I recently had an email exchange with a client who was concerned about his rankings. Since my response could be very helpful for any dentist wanting an up-to-date understanding of current search strategy, I thought I’d share the points I made to him. For privacy reasons, I will call his city Metropolis and will change any other location information.
He was concerned that he was ranking on the fourth page of Google for “Metropolis dentist,” which made him think that his website was practically invisible. However, looking at performance metrics including tracked phone calls and appointment request forms, his website was actually doing pretty well. The answer he needed was information on the current status of search.
Internet marketing has changed dramatically in the past ten years, requiring multiple paradigm shifts as we seek to help our clients get new patients. He was going to a desktop computer and typing in “Metropolis dentist” to see how he was ranking. But our clients’ new patients—at least 75% of them—are not sitting down at a desktop computer to look for a dentist any more. They are doing it on their phone. And even if they do sit down at a desktop computer, the search terms have changed. As people have learned that Google knows where they are and where businesses are, “dentist near me” has become a popular search term. Also, as they have learned that Google has gotten more sophisticated, they are now searching for specific procedures more often than they used to.
Changes in Google’s Algorithm
Along with these changes, Google has become much more unpredictable. Along with their welcome efforts to deliver quality search results by getting past SEO tricks used by webmasters, they have been doing some unwelcome tinkering with their algorithm. Beyond being focused on delivering the best websites in response to a given search, they have decided to try to use their dominating position to achieve a certain social agenda, which has introduced variables into their algorithm that no one seems to be able to figure out. For information on this, you may want to read a blog post I wrote a little over a year ago, Does Google Still Deliver the Best Search Results? In that post I delve deeply into Google’s departure from their original mission. I also had an article about this in last December’s issue of Dental Economics, “Was Your Website Hit by Google’s Medic Update?“. And then I also wrote recently of a clear example of Google artificially manipulating search results to protect a certain media outlet that it likes. The effect of these changes at Google is that you can have a quality website that follows all of the rules and yet for some inscrutable reason Google downgrades it.
The Growing Importance of “Near Me” Searches
In March, 2004, Google launched Google Local, destined to replace the Yellow Pages as a universal repository for information about local businesses. As this service evolved into Google My Business, Google developed the ability to pinpoint the location of every dental practice. Ten years ago, if a dentist wanted to market to a different town, all we had to do was create a page that was optimized for that place name. But now, Google gets its place information from your Google My Business listing, rather than from anything the page says. The advantage to the consumer is that Google also knows where that consumer is and can deliver results geographically customized for them. As a result, searchers have been using “near me” searches more and more. Here is a graph from Google Trends showing the exponential growth of the use of the search term, “dentist near me.”
The first time that search term had any measurable data was in April 2012. After 8 1/2 years, use of that search term has increased one-hundred-fold.
Searching on Google for “[my city] dentist” or just “dentist” will give you pretty similar results. But if you search for “dentist near me,” you will see that you get a completely different result. For that search, Google blends the strength of your website with location information and your ranking in their maps algorithm.
Using a Broad Search Strategy
With Google being resistant to any efforts search marketers are making to optimize dental websites for their primary search term, we are finding it an effective strategy to broaden and use other search terms. We do that by creating quality content that addresses a variety of procedures. With this particular client who wasn’t ranking well for Metropolis dentist, we used this strategy, adding pages for other search terms. Doing that, we were able to get him number one rankings in Google for:
• Metropolis CEREC crowns
• Metropolis implant overdentures
• Metropolis cater to cowards dentist
We were also able to get him high rankings for other search terms such as Invisalign, gentle dentist, and Lumineers. This was very effective for him.
To find out how well this was working, we did a survey of twelve of his new patients to find out how they found his website. Here are the twelve responses to that question, with the location information changed for privacy reasons:
• searched for “Dentist near Metropolis”
• searched for “cosmetic dentistry Metropolis”
• searched for “dentist”
• searched for “dentist near me”
• searched for “conservative dentistry”
• recommendation from a friend
• searched for “lumineer”
• searched for “invisalign”
• searched on Apple maps
• searched for “Dentist on Main Street Metropolis”
• searched for “dentist”
The takeaway here is that, while he thought his website was nearly invisible on Google, nine out of twelve new patients found him searching on Google, one found him on Facebook, one on Apple maps, and one was a referral. And those who found him through search used a wide variety of search terms.
Other Creative Ways of Being Found
One significant trend that I expect will continue is the growing use of voice search. With Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant responding to voice questions, people are coming to expect technology to understand what they want if they ask a question. A continuation of this trend would be people searching for a dentist with voice commands. For the time being, we are seeing people using unique queries to find a dentist that will meet a particular need. The above search by a patient looking for “conservative dentistry” is an example. Other examples of searches used by new patients of our clients in the past month are:
• inflamed gums
• best dentist Humana providers
• TMJ specialists
• Lupus dentist near me
• resin bonding
• anxiety dentist
• Bioclear near me
• how to fix big front teeth
• gum recession
• is bleaching your teeth at home safe
• top rated dental offices
• fixed bridge near me
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that you want to stay up-to-date with search trends and other internet marketing trends. It isn’t uncommon to see dentists who are obsessed with their ranking for “Metropolis dentist” or “Metropolis cosmetic dentist.” While you could invest a lot of money into trying to increase that ranking, it would probably be more cost effective to put that money into local maps search so that you show up for “near me” searches, and into broadening your strategy. There are many ways to be found online these days.