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A Beginner Course in SEO "Search Engine Optimization"

Issue: Winter 2011

When the horse was domesticated thousands of years ago, most were used for labor purposes. It probably didn’t take long for enterprising individuals to hop on the back of a horse and start the first horse race. The same goes for the invention of the automobile. It probably didn’t take long for two car owners to compete in a match of speed and agility. That competitive nature pervades many areas of our personal lives as well as the business of our dental practices. In recent years the dental Web site has been one of the biggest public representations of our businesses. Like the horse and the car, it is only logical that the Web site will be pitted against other Web sites to gain the top spot. This is the race that we call Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO has multiple definitions and components depending on whom you ask, but it all boils down to getting your Web site (Web content) in front of the consumer. Most people consider SEO the act of getting your Web site to the top spot of Google, Bing, or Yahoo.

Why is this so important? You must first consider the consumer (patient) you are trying to reach and their habits on the Internet. Internet users searching for anything on the Web will always be enticed by the low-hanging fruit. The content that is right in front of their face: the top search result on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. When users do an Internet search for a dentist, a majority will never click on to the second or third page of results. Those results on the first page will have the biggest chance of success. Your Web site needs to be on the front page of a Google search to be truly successful. A beautiful Web site may cost thousands of dollars, but if it can’t be found, its message will never be expressed.

Several years ago when the Internet was only populated with Web sites designed by professionals, SEO was an esoteric method that civilians dare not attempt. The Internet has changed. It is the age of crowd-sourcing and social media.

Google and other online directories have placed an emphasis on local search. These changes make it easier than ever to take control of your own online destiny. SEO for Web sites is still best left to those who have expertise, but the new online atmosphere enables you to contribute to the effort.

This is most apparent in the move toward “Local” search within the major search engines like Google. A search for a local business like “Fresno Dentist” will give results of a local business profile and Web site results. A search for something generic like “cookies” has no local component, so the results will all be Web site listings. The Google local listing is one of the first representations of your business on the search engine. It is also an item that any practice owner can claim and optimize.

A recent study claims that most people use 3 keywords when they do a search. A one-keyword search, i.e., “dentist” is a very broad term and will yield thousands of results.

First of all, consider what the average person types in Google to find a dentist. Hint: They will not type in “John Smith D.D.S. F.A.G.D.”. They will most likely type in their location “Richmond” or “23219” and “dentist.” These search terms are the “keywords.” Keywords are the foundation of any search. A recent study claims that most people use 3 keywords when they do a search. A one-keyword search, i.e., “dentist” is a very broad term and will yield thousands of results. This broad search is very competitive because there are thousands of results vying for the top spot. A three-word search is very specific, i.e., “Dallas dental implants.” This search will have fewer results and therefore a better chance of being seen. What are the keywords someone would use to find your practice? There are several tools available online to find the activity of different keyword combinations. The Google ad words keyword tool is among the most popular. https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal
Find your keywords and remember them well!

Optimizing your local listing can be quite easy. The first step is claiming your listing. One of the biggest problems with listings is not claiming them. Unclaimed listings may have incorrect or missing information. Why be invisible to the search engine just because your listing has the wrong street name? Google listings can be claimed at http://www.google.com/places. Google has a couple verification features. Google will generate a “pin number” to verify your listing. They will either call your office with the pin number or send a postcard with the number.

Another major problem with local listing optimization is having multiple listings. Google does not like multiple listings. In their eyes, every business should only have one listing. Any more than that is a manipulation of the system. Be sure to “Google” yourself and your business. Dental practices that have moved locations, previously had associates, or signed up for marketing services, may have multiple listings. I recently worked with a dentist who had 7 Google listings. These duplicate listings can hurt your search position.

Adding content to your listing is a quick and easy way to optimize it. Google local listings can have 10 pictures and 5 videos. Pictures will always be the best way to gain a good first impression. Evaluate your address and business name. Google listings should only have the legal name of your business. The name of your business is probably not “Denver Dentist John Smith Cosmetic Dentist.” Changing the name of your business for the purpose of the listing is not advised. Follow Google’s suggestions for a complete profile. It will tell how complete your listing will be.

A local search result is often the one representation of your online reputation. These local profiles are often pushed to the top by activity. Many times this activity is that of online reviews. The problem is, Google will treat 20 negative reviews the same as 20 positive reviews. Multiple bad reviews will get you to the top just as fast as positive reviews, but do you want to be there? Being at the top with multiple bad reviews is worse than not being there at all. Using a service like Demandforce (http://www.demandforce.com) can help steer the online conversation. Demandforce submits reviews to your listing, which makes the listing appear active and popular. This will cement your online reputation and help increase your search rank.

Dr. Jason Lipscomb is a general dentist who operates two practices in Virginia. He specializes in helping dentists expand their practices through the use of social media. Jason and his partner Stephen Knight started Social Media for Dentists to help other dentists master social media and attract new patients. Jason and Stephen have also authored the book “Social Media for Dentists”. A 350 page guide to social media as seen from the dental perspective. Visit their website at http://www.socialmediadentist.com or http://facebook.com/socialmediadenist