How does it work? What does it mean for cosmetic surgeons, dentists, and other aesthetic medical professionals? This is a quick guide of the process of optimizing medical sites for search — what that entails, how it is done, and what it can mean.
What is SEO?
As the name implies, it is the process of optimizing a website with respect to search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It is the exhaustive and endless ordeal of following best practices laid out by (and then rapidly altered by) Google and others, in order to place highly in search engine results pages (SERPs). But most importantly, search engine optimization is the most cost-effective method to drive quality traffic to your website, thus ensuring a greater volume of visitors interested in the most key components of your website’s content.
A Brief History of Search
Search engines have been around as long as the modern internet as a way of indexing content and allowing users to easily find it. Out of the early search engines, Google rose to prominence because of the quality of the results. Invented by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google’s algorithm was the first to factor in the relationship of a website to other websites via hyperlinks, placing a great deal of importance on the authority of a site, with hyperlinks as a kind of vote or form of currency. This was calculated as PageRank (PR); and when PR cross-referenced with the search term and a site’s content, the results would list the webpages in order of both relevance and importance.
Google has dramatically changed its algorithm over the coming decades, but the importance of both quality backlinks and relevant content remain. In essence, Google has become the single most important quality control mechanism of internet, placing on websites additional standards of coding architecture, site speed, navigational ease, mobile-friendliness, and overall usefulness.
And so SEO has become much more than just a series of techniques to game the system; it is a practice of creating and maintaining the best possible experience for the end user in order to maintain the highest visibility possible for your products and services.
Medical SEO: The 4 Main Components
SEO for aesthetic physicians is much like SEO for any business; however, there are aspects specific to the industry that a general digital marketing firm would not comprehend at first glance. Over the last 10 years, Surgeon’s Advisor has become an expert in the plastic surgery and cosmetic dental field, tracking industry trends, popular keyword searches, HIPAA compliance, and much more. The search engine results that we acquire for our clients arise from 4 main areas of focus:
Often times we hear and understand the frustration of doctors who feel as if they recently built their site, and see no reason to redesign or even update it. But a website is like any other piece of technology, and just as your phone or your PC went from top of the line to obsolete in a short period of time, so too can your site. Fair or not, search engines factor in the quality of the site itself into its evaluation of the site’s overall authority.
Your website is the foundation upon which all other work is built. A site primed for optimization should conform to the highest standards of excellence before the nuts and bolts of optimization is to begin, else the site could be downgraded or, worse, penalized. If you aren’t building a new site from scratch, you will want to begin with a technical audit.
Some basic issues that could arise in a technical audit:
- Is there “cloaking” — i.e. is the site showing pages differently to search engines than it does to visitors?
- Does the code have any W3C errors?
- Are there broken links or images on the site?
- Are there server issues?
- Are there 404 issues (page not found)?
- Is there duplicate content on the site, either from other sites or the site itself?
- Is the site speed acceptable?
- Is the site mobile-friendly?
- Does the site have proper internal organization via structured data?
If it is determined that the site is below standards, the first step is to fix all the existing problems. This can be as easy as a few updates or as involved as a total redesign. This is irrespective of whether the site is optimized for user experience and conversion rate, other important SEO factors.
One of the developments in search most vital to a business’s online success is the implementation of local search. Local search refers to the geographically specialized results that appear for local businesses, often on a map. The importance of this cannot be stressed, for obvious reasons: users want to find the best solution to their problem at the least amount of distance. Location, location, location!
Local search has recently gotten even more competitive — Google has limited the local search results from 7 to 3, in order to keep the mobile and desktop searches consistent. Getting into the top 3 results can mean the difference in thousands of monthly or even weekly visits.
What determines position is akin to that of general search, with added factors. Google and other search engines want to ensure that they are sending their users to legitimate addresses; therefore, they want to see the business name, address, and phone number, along with other indicators, consistent across a myriad of different platforms, from the Yellow Pages to Facebook business pages and everything in between.This factor increases the degree of difficulty for doctors, who often operate under both a business name and their professional title.
Some questions to ask:
- Do you have more than one address? Do you use multiple phone numbers? Is this made clear on your website?
- Do you operate under your professional title, a business name, or both? Is this clarified online?
- Do you operate multiple websites with different titles? Do these point to the same address, or different locations?
- Are you trying to place for a city or town in which your practice does not actually reside?
All of the above and much more can affect your position.
There is no doubt about it: content is the most important aspect of SEO. No matter how beautifully constructed or otherwise optimized a site is, without any content, it cannot get indexed by Google. It is as simple as that. Your site needs content relevant to your practice, and a lot of it.
But how to write content properly is still a mystery to many outside of the industry. In the old days of SEO, it was common practice to “keyword stuff” — that is, to write the same keyword over and over and over, regardless of context, usage, or much of anything else. Today search engines have outsmarted the hackers, and this kind of technique has thankfully gone to the wayside. However, there are still many best practices with respect to optimizing content on-page. It should be clear what the main idea of the page is through proper titling, tagging, and labeling, and the writing should reflect a broad knowledge of the subject.
By writing in such a thorough manner, the site will have both the marquis keywords (keywords that have a high volume of search) and what are known as “long-tail” keywords — that is, infrequently searched-for terms, usually comprised of long phrases — that can add up to a significant amount of potential traffic.
This begs the question — which is more important: marquis keywords or long-tail? The answer is neither, or both. The goal is to get a high volume of relevant traffic, and a well-optimized site should place well for a wide array of all types of relevant content.
If content is king, then links are the kingmaker. Links refer to the hyperlinks from other websites, which are indexed by search engines to determine the level of authority of that site. As described elsewhere on the site, links are the critical factor in a site’s authority; they are seen as votes of confidence from other authoritative sources. They are the circuitry of the internet, powering sites with what is known as ‘link juice’ to prominence and visibility; and just as with any other electronic device, the more connections, the higher the amplification of power. To use a final metaphor, they are the bridges between the mainland of the visible web and the islands of smaller entities, driving traffic to these sites that would otherwise be lost and unknown in a sea of information.
The acquisition of quality links is a crucial part of search engine optimization, and it is fraught with dangers, thanks to the algorithmic updates by Google, limiting the parameters on what are considered acceptable backlinks. Links from sites should come from pertinent sources — directories, local groups, medical associations, universities, news organizations, and other recognized establishments. “Link farms” and other black-hat techniques are vehemently discouraged by Google, if not outright penalized.
- Hyperlinks: these links will show the entire URL of a page (e.g. https://www.surgeonsadvisor.com)
- Anchor Text: a clickable link that includes words or phrases (e.g. Plastic Surgery Marketing)
Anchor text allows you to associate certain keywords with its respective page, and can help increase the ranking for a particular keyword phrase and the corresponding page it links to.
A last point on link optimization: interlinking. A website needs to properly interlink its pages; that is to say, the pages should internally link to each other, in order to “spread out” the link juice, increasing the visibility of pages off the main page. This can increase the individual page authority, as opposed to the site’s overall authority, increasing the likelihood of that page’s viability of receiving search traffic.