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Search Engine Optimisation – by Carl Burroughs

Gone are the days when it could be said that the internet was a future marketing medium or a tool for the young and technically savvy. Today the internet is used by the majority of Australians every day and has rapidly become the most relevant and productive marketing medium for those who embrace it.

As a dental professional the internet is the perfect medium to promote your practice and the benefits of your service. Why? Simple; the internet is the only medium open to you where you and your practice can be properly represented and does not rely on special offers and gimmicks to be successful. If you think about advertising mediums such as the local newspaper or Yellow Pages, how much can your really say about the service you provide? Very little really and very often what is stated in an advert is predicable and clichéd. But it’s not just advertising, you also have very little control over the quality of the message projected by referrals and the referring patient may tell their friends about aspects of your practice that are complimentary but not necessarily what you want to be known for. An example of this; “you should go to my dentist, the practice looks amazing”. Nice compliment on your recent renovations, but does not exactly tell the potential patient that you place implants, have completed recent courses or you have a special interest in TMJ problems.

Luckily today, even a referred patient is likely to “Google” you first. Google currently carries 66% of the world search engine traffic, however here in Australia we are Google mad and this percentage rises to 94%. From a marketing point of view we are talking about a one horse race. This is not necessarily a bad thing; however it does mean that if your website is not found quickly and easily on Google then you are missing out on significant and meaningful exposure to potential patients. Even worse is not to have a website at all and then they only thing a person finds is an out of date listing on some free directory site that you did not even know you where on (This happens all the time).

So how can you make sure you are found on Google? First of all you need an informative and engaging website. Once you have a professional site up and running the next step is to make sure your site is appearing in the first few results on agreed and researched search terms, such as “your suburb dentist”; “your suburb dental implants” etc.. This is can be achieved in two ways.

One way is to simply pay Google to appear first in their “sponsored links’ sections. This is often referred to as “Google Ad Words” and if you have a website you will be targeted at some point by companies such as Reach Local and Yodel to sell you this service. There is nothing wrong with Google Ad Word campaigns and in my experience it is better to spend $500 per week on guaranteed hits to your website than a quarter page ad in the local newspaper. However, there are plenty of credible reports that show the public do not use or trust results found in the sponsored links area of Google as much as they do the results found organically in the main area.

Far better, from both a results and cost point of view, is to be found in the top search results in the main body of Google for a relevant search. The process of getting you found in the first few results is called organic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and can be either the best investment in marketing you will ever make or a catastrophic waste of time and money, depending on who you use for the service.

It is important to note is that SEO is not always necessary in order to be listed first on a Google search. If your website has been constructed recently and with the latest understanding of Google trends, plus you are in an area of low on-line competition then it is highly likely your site will come up first on a search that includes the word dentist and your suburb. If you are currently the only dentist in your area with a website and your site is not appearing high on a Google search, then it is usually just a matter of making certain one-off changes to your site, such as getting you listed on Google maps, and this should do the trick, without having to spend money on a formal SEO program.

If you are however in a competitive area with most of the dental practices around you all having good websites, then you will probably need to engage the services of a dentally specialised SEO company to get your site ranking high. This is also true if you are in an area of low competition but want to promote your services into surrounding suburbs, not just your own. Because SEO is the ‘flavour of the month’ and because it can sometimes seem highly technical and even esoteric, SEO companies are popping up all over the place, promising the earth and not delivering. So be sure to see both the results they have achieved for other clients and talk to these clients before entering into a contract. Of course as with most things, you can actually do the SEO work yourself or in conjunction with a web savvy member of the family, so here are some tips:-

Keyword Selection – This may seem obvious, but many people forget that selecting the right keywords is the fundamental structure of your SEO campaign. Write down as many keywords as you can that are relevant to your practice. There are many excellent on-line keyword tools you can use, such as Google Adwords, KeyWord and Word Tracker, which will help you select the most searched on dental terms.

Site Building – Search engine spiders need to find and index the pages on your site otherwise the rest of your SEO efforts are wasted. You can help Google properly index your site by putting navigational text links on your pages. It is also very important that you have a sitemap which is linked to and from your home page.

On Page Optimisation – Here you need to do all you can to optimise each page. Use your keywords in your page title and headings. Use relevant keywords throughout the text, but do not overdo it, because you could be penalised.

Link Building – This is currently the Holy Grail of SEO but Google is getting smarter, so your linking strategy must be genuine. Get as many quality links back to your site as you can with article marketing, social bookmarking and from dental suppliers. Make sure that the wording of any link to your website includes your keyword.

Website Domain – If your domain name includes your key word it makes it easier for the search engines to find you. However, this is not a strategy by itself, but helps if the other aspects of SEO are also followed.

Page Titles – Google sorts by pages, not websites, so each page should have a keyword title. This is very important as it tell the search engines what each page is about.

Metatags – These are the same as keywords. These are not as important as they used to be, but they still help along with a brief description of each page.

Content – Articles, tips and testimonials (where allowed) plus a FAQ section of the site all can contain optimised keywords. But again, be careful to make sure these read in a genuine way.

So is all this SEO work really worth the effort? The short answer is; absolutely. I have a client who was receiving about five new patients enquires from his website each week and about three of these enquiries were becoming patients. This result in itself made his investment in his website worthwhile, however after just three months of SEO work and getting his site ranked number one in Google under the appropriate search terms, his enquiries went up to over thirty. The really good news was that over twenty of these enquiries became patients. That’s 20 new patients per week!! Also, as these patients are ‘searching’ for a dentist and are reading the website, the quality of these patients is as good if not better than referrals. Show me another marketing medium that can do this!!!