SEO: Scam or critical marketing service?
“What exactly is SEO?”
SEO can be defined as a set of ongoing monthly activities that must be performed in order for your website to rank highly on Google and the other search engines. SEO includes both on-page optimization and off-page optimization. On-page optimization includes items done on the website itself (code, content, images, videos, sitemap, blogs, etc). Off-page optimization includes items that are on the Internet, but not the website (online reviews, social media, directories, backlinks, etc). So in a nutshell, SEO is some combination of all these things performed each month. Determining which items should be done and how much of each item should be done depends on your goals and local competition.
“I’ve tried SEO and got ripped off!”
I frequently lecture all over North America about SEO and many other online marketing topics. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a doctor complain about getting ripped off, I could probably retire. I feel their pain and frustration. It’s real. Hiring an SEO company is kind of like taking your car to the mechanic. You hope they are honest and good at what they do so you’ll get value for your money, but it is difficult for you to assess that ahead of time (or even afterwards).
In my estimation, SEO is indeed one of the most misunderstood services, and therefore, a lot of doctors get taken advantage of when hiring an SEO company. My goal with this article series is to educate doctors and staff to prevent you from getting ripped off, or at least from making bad decisions.
“How does it work?”
In order to understand why SEO needs to be done a certain way, it is important to first understand a little bit about how search engines operate. For most average websites, the search engines review your website about every 30 days. When a search engine reviews your website, it actually indexes (reads and stores on its servers) every line of content and code on your website. Each time it does this, it compares all of your code and content to what it indexed 30 days prior and looks for improvements, new content, etc. Search engines also take into account your online reviews (Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, Facebook, etc), as well as social media activity and engagement (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, You Tube, etc).
A well-designed SEO program will involve some combination of many of these activities every month so that each time the search engines index your website and online activity, your practice will be rewarded with higher rankings (or at least by not dropping in the rankings).
SEO takeaway No. 1 SEO activities must be done every month in order to be rewarded by search engines. If not, your search rankings will plateau or decline.
“How can I tell if I am getting real SEO?”
Google has over 200 variables it evaluates when assigning search rankings to websites. I normally group the most important variables into five major categories: 1) website code, 2) website content, 3) incoming links to the website, 4) online reviews, and 5) social media.
Category No. 1 — website code
There are literally dozens of things Google (and other search engines) look for in your website code, but we will focus on our discussion on the primary items: title tag, description tag, image tags, and keyword tags. Each of these items should be properly implemented on your website in order to tell Google what it wants to know about your business. Remember Google reads your code; so if you don’t put the right information in your website code, Google likely will not rank your site well in search results. Ask your website or SEO company to install these elements in your website code and to contain the primary keywords you want to rank for (type of practice, primary services, etc.). If you are paying for SEO and these basic items are not done, then you are certainly not getting real SEO.
Category No. 2 — website content
The main factor you’ll want to make sure is that your website has unique content. Search engines give very little credit to websites with duplicate content (i.e., content that also resides on other websites in addition to your website). Your SEO company should write entirely unique content for all pages on your website in order to get the best search results. Most companies say they’re doing SEO, but don’t even do this fundamental step, so make sure your SEO company is doing this critical item in the SEO process.
Category No. 3 — incoming links to your website
When another website has a link on it that links back to your website that is considered an incoming link (or backlink) to your website. Search engines reward websites with lots of incoming links. Think of it like a popularity contest online; the more links pointing to your website, the better because Google will consider websites with numerous incoming links to have more valuable information and will rank them higher in search results. In general, more links are good, and links from websites with lots of traffic are even better.
Category No. 4 — online reviews
In the dental industry, the four most important online review sites are Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, and Facebook. Google is always the most important, but they are all very important. Search engines place a high level of importance on the number of reviews, and how recently the reviews are posted. It is wise to implement some sort of program to generate online reviews. Our company offers a service called WEO Reviews, but other services exist. The main point is to have a strategy to generate new patient reviews on these four major review sites on an ongoing basis. In addition to helping your SEO performance, the other major benefit is improved online reputation.
Category No. 5 — social media
Obviously, social media is a huge topic, but for the purposes of SEO, we’ll just focus on a couple of items. In general, it is helpful to have ongoing posts on your social media pages, but what really helps SEO performance is when people actually engage with your posts by commenting, sharing, retweeting, reposting, etc. Social media engagement can be a strong SEO factor. Facebook is the most important social media site in the dental industry, so focus most of your efforts there, although other sites can have significant importance as well.
Is your SEO working?
If you are working with an SEO company with the goal of driving new patients, then their recommended program should have all five of these categories covered as part of their strategy. In my experience, the majority of SEO companies do not properly implement a comprehensive SEO program covering these five categories and often don’t do nearly as much as they should be doing.