November, 2015 |
If you ever wondered why you’re not getting the number of patients you want, try typing “naturopathic doctor” into a Google search and see what happens. Does your business appear on the first page? If your clinic doesn’t rank high on Google, Yahoo or any other search engine, this is probably due to your search engine optimization (SEO) being poorly strategized.
SEO can be an important tool to attract clients to your website, says Jeff Quipp, CEO of Search Engine People, SEO, PPC and inbound marketing company based in Pickering, Ont.
“Without SEO making your website search-engine friendly and helping you rank better within the search results, your website is really a customer service tool,” says Quipp. “It helps your existing clients to know more about your clinic, but it doesn’t help you attract more clients.”
PAID vs. ORGANIC
Paid advertising on Google appears at the top of a search page and has nothing to do with SEO, organic, or natural search results.
“With paid advertising, you are paying every time somebody clicks on your advertisement,” says Richard Nosek, director of digital marketing at Graphically Speaking, a web design and development company in Vancouver, B.C.
This cost can be extremely high in some cases, an example being personal injury law, where you have to pay $20 or more per click. To give you an idea of how much money can be spent on paid advertising, Nosek sets Graphically Speaking as an example.
Relying exclusively on organic ranking, Graphically Speaking uses nearly 200 words that help the company rank on the first page.
“If we took nearly 200 words and we were about to pay for advertising, we would be spending over $40,000 a month to get the equivalent traffic.”
With organic ranking, you can make your website rank high without paying a dime for the clicks. This is the real benefit and the real value, Nosek says.
“The statistics from Google show that people who are clicking on the organic results are more qualified visitors to your website. They are more likely to fill out your contact form and are more likely to purchase. It’s a better source of leads.”
To make sure your website is functioning to its full potential, it has to be mobile-friendly. Quipp says the number of searches being done from mobile devices have already surpassed desktop searches.
“A vast majority of websites at this time are not mobile-friendly. This means if you do a search from your smartphone for a website and you land on it, it might not be easy to read or might not render properly at all.”
Nosek also recommends setting up a Google My Business listing, keeping it up-to-date and making sure it has the correct address and phone number. Google My Business listings are different than regular organic search results. They are located closer to the top of a search page and are displayed with a Google map. Nosek adds that it’s vital to add your clinic to other local directories, such as 411 and Yelp. Make sure that your contact information is consistent through all directories.
“The best way to do this is to go to Google maps. Type in your business name, your address and your phone number and see what the formatting is in Google. You want to follow that format everywhere you use your contact information—in all directories or anywhere on your website,” says Nosek.He also suggests clearly indicating the areas where you serve.
“Doctors want to be hyperlocal and geographically focused. They are not going to get concerned about ranking or getting traffic in Montreal if they are in Toronto. They will be concerned about that radius around their business and people that are in that radius.”
Quipp says that in order for Google to organize its search, it uses an algorithm—a really complicated mathematical formula. About 300 different factors are taken into account to determine how some websites rank higher than others.
According to Quipp, key words are the foundation of healthy SEO. Wrong key words will drive a wrong kind of traffic to your website. Even though you’ll receive numerous inquiries, few of them will be worthwhile.
“It’s like a florist trying to rank for the term “plumber,” or an Ottawa-based cosmetic surgeon is ranking for “Vancouver cosmetic surgery” or even more generic—“cosmetic surgery.”
One of Search Engine People clients was a cosmetic surgery clinic that didn’t have high ranking on the web. Once Search Engine People decided what key words worked best for the clinic, they mapped them to specific pages of the client’s website, with one to three key words per page. Applying best SEO practices, Quipp and his team optimized the clinic’s website, moving it from the third to the first search page. This increased the clinic’s traffic by 44 per cent and the number of visitors that became leads—to over four per cent.
It took a year to achieve these results. Quipp says it’s possible to have a profound impact even within a few months, depending on how long the clinic has been around for and their competitors.
Links leading to your website from other websites will help you rank better, says Quipp. It’s also important that your business is mentioned on various news, government and university websites, and in online publications.
“Google reasons if another site links to you—the more links your website has, the more popular it must be,” says Quipp. “The more sites link to your website, the better your site will rank.”
According to Quipp, this idea originated from scientific papers, where certain material gained credit to others. Obviously, the papers quoted in other scientific works were the most important. Google applied that logic to organizing its web search.
Social media, which is another way of driving traffic to your website, ironically, is now Google’s direct competitor, says Quipp.
“People can now go on a social network and ask where the best chiropractor in Oakville is. Then, their friends will reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, my chiropractor is great!’ Where will you get the best advice from—from your friends on a social network or from Google?”
While social media is a great way of driving traffic to your website, Quipp says because of the rules Facebook now has for businesses, organic reach on this social media platform is currently almost zero. So if you are on a limited budget, he recommends giving priority to SEO.
“It really comes down to the marketing budget you’ve got and your priorities. If you have one dollar today and you will need two tomorrow, then do SEO first—it gives you the quickest payback.”
Nosek says having a blog on your website might be a very good idea, but it’s very important that you contribute to it on a regular basis.
“The content shouldn’t be light or superficial. It should be meaningful and useful, relevant to your target audience and provide substantial information.”
Through co-relational research, Search Engine People found that their clients who blog frequently generate a lot more business than those who don’t. Quipp says blogs will definitely help people find your website, but it’s not an instantaneous process.
Nosek says doctors should definitely have a LinkedIn profile and they should use it as much as possible to reach their target audiences.
“Quite often, other professionals will use LinkedIn to find professional services. Let’s say, an engineer needs to get acupuncture. Oftentimes, he will use LinkedIn to try and find that other professional.”
PLAYING GAMES WITH GOOGLE? PREPARE TO LOSE.
Google was founded in the late 90s by two PhD students from Stanford University. Without any marketing budget, they managed to win a battle against two major search engines at the time—Yahoo and MSN. How did they do it, you ask?
“MSN and Yahoo were both so focused on extracting as much money from businesses as they possibly could that they lost sight of the fact that they have to satisfy the user,” says Quipp.
The founders of Google took advantage of that and introduced the most user-friendly and user-oriented search engine ever. Google’s mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Any attempt to violate Google terms of service by manipulating the ranking may and will result in banning your website from the system.
“Even if you think you can beat them in the short term, there will be long-term consequences,” says Quipp.
Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, which are Google algorithms controlling the quality of content on all websites in its index, will bite you back if you try to manipulate them.
And there are many ways that people do this, says Nosek. It can be done through personal blog networks, where, for example, with 20 domains, you create 20 different websites and you link all of them back to your website—the one that you want to rank high.
“That kind of activity leaves a footprint because Google can certainly find out who owns the domain and where it is hosted. It can put together a picture: so this website xyz is associated with these 20 other websites, all linking back to it. Google will remove you from its index. People will try to find you but they won’t because you are not in the index.”
Nosek says link farming, a tactic of buying links that direct to your website, used to be very popular. In the long run, Google penalized one network with over 40,000 websites by removing it completely from its index. And this can happen to anyone.
“Manufacturing links is a definite no-no,” Quipp agrees. “Google will look at this and think: it doesn’t make sense. And if it doesn’t make sense, we are not going to let them rank.”
“Google wants to deliver you the best answer to your query,” Quipp continues. “If anybody is trying to manipulate that or try to play games with the algorithm, Google will punish them.”
The more pages and content you’ve got on your website, the better are your chances to rank, says Quipp.
“Make sure that you have images on your website. Google’s job is to deliver people to the information as fast as possible, but it’s not sure what type of the information they want. They may be looking for images or text. Google is not sure what that person is looking for. If there’s a page that has a lot of text and images to complement it, Google is going to rank that website better.”
What many doctors don’t realize is that the relationship with a patient starts with their first visit to your website. In fact, the impression they get when they first land on your site oftentimes determines if these visitors will, in the long run, become your patients.
According to a research done almost 10 years ago at Carleton University, first impression about a website is made in the first 50 milliseconds of viewing. If people find your website unappealing in the blink of an eye, they will doubtfully stay on it to look for more information and are unlikely to become your patients.
To help you benchmark your website performance, Quipp recommends installing Google Analytics. Free to the world, this application will show you how much traffic you are getting, how long people stay on your website and what pages they are going to the most. It can also show how many phone calls and form submissions you receive from your website.
“Make sure that there is a good user experience with your website,” says Quipp. “One element is to secure good rankings within Google, the other element, which is too often forgotten, is the human element. If your website doesn’t look professional, it will turn off a lot of users. Make sure it puts your best foot forward.”