How To Get New Patients From Google
When a potential patient is looking for a doctor, they search on Google. The physical phone book is rapidly dying, replaced by the likes of Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yelp. And with the growth of cell phone internet usage, hyper-local searches are exploding.
This means that if you're not easily found when local patients are looking for terms related to your services, you're missing out on a big source of new patients.
So how do you rank?
There are two ways to improve your visibility:
1) Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and
2) PayPerClick Advertising (PPC)
This post focuses on search engine optimization because there's a lot of buzz and confusion about it.
And the beauty of it is, it's free. It requires hard work, smart thinking and an upfront investment in time, but once you're ranked, you're not paying Google per click like you would for PPC. SEO has an excellent long-term Return on Investment.
How Search Engines Works
Search engines use complex and rapidly changing algorithms to determine which search results to show to patients. SEO is all about feeding Google the right information and signals to rank you above your competition. It's not about manipulating or cheating the system, it's getting Google to trust you.
Below is a very broad outline you can use to structure a plan to earn Google's trust and start ranking for new patients.
Search Engine Optimization is Broken Down into 2 parts:
On-site optimization and
We'll start with on-site SEO.
Onsite SEO refers to making your website optimized for the search engines. Anything that is done on the site itself is called onsite SEO. The current best practices include several elements:
You need content that is relevant for your patients. A dermatologist, for example, needs a site that reflects their specialties as well as the local areas they service. If they specialize in cosmetic dermatology, or acne, then they'll need content to promote it. In addition, they need to make sure the information that patients need are easy to find. Information like:
Hours and Location
Before/After Pictures (if relevant)
Quality Content The content itself needs to be high-quality. I recommend hiring a professional writer who can create copy that will sell and convince a potential patient to book an appointment. The investment will pay for itself many times over.
In order to be considered high quality by the search engines, the content must be:
100% Unique. There are many problems with having duplicate content on your site. Keep this in mind if your site is populated by syndicate content. Google's algorithms give strong preference to sites with original, unique content.
Well-written. I recommend hiring a professional writer who can create copy that will sell. A good writer can convince a first-time website visitor to pick up the phone to book an appointment.
Professional tone. This may seem obvious, but a doctor shouldn't start off their welcome page with a "Hey, man, welcome to my site!" Yes, I have actually seen medical sites that start off like that.
Grammatically Correct. Besides giving a bad impression to potential patients, Google can understand when there are spelling and grammar errors. Just like a human, they trust those sites less.
It's important that the site be structured logically. For instance, have an 'About Us' page from the menu that has subpages for the doctor bio, staff bios, insurance policies and financial information.
Use a services section with subpages for each of your specialties.
This creates a site hierarchy that is both intuitive for your potential patients to use and helps Google map out that your site is a local doctor's office.
Potential patients will judge you and your practice by your website. Nothing screams "unprofessional" louder than an old or poorly designed website. Make sure your website is visually appealing, easy to navigate and reflects your practice culture.
Google sees how people interact with your site. When patients come to your website from the search results and bounce away due to poor design and navigation, Google considers it a poor user metric and will de-rank your site if that happens frequently. As a result, it's doubly important to have a well-designed site.
Other common 'technical' factors that can affect rankings include:
Mobile friendliness. For patients who search for your services on their phone, Google gives preference to mobile responsive sites. Ensure your site uses a special interface for the small screens on phones to provide the best possible user experience.
Crawl errors. Make sure your site is being crawled and indexed properly by Googlebots. You can audit this information by setting your site up in Google Search Console. If you have many 404 (not found) errors, be sure to clean those up as well.
Metatags. Metatags are snippets of code on the backend of your site that help search engines understand what your site is about. Some metatags, like title and description tags, show up in the search results. It's important that you adhere to current SEO best practices in making sure your metatags are filled out with the proper length and that they aren't used to stuff keywords.
Schema Markup. Like metatags, schema are snippets of code that send extra information to the search engines about your business and can affect the way your site appears in the search results. For a doctor targeting local patients, it's particularly important to take advantage of Location Rich Snippets and Review Snippets.
SSL Encryption. These are certificates used to establish an encrypted, secure connection between a user's browser and your site. Google recently announced that sites with SSL certificates will be ranked above those without it.
And there's more. It's good to be aware of proper canonicalization, clean URLs, xml sitemaps and other technical issues that can help improve your rankings for services in the local maps.
Off-site optimization refers to any SEO efforts done off the website. The bulk of your ongoing work will be off-site, but this will also pack the best bang for your buck.
On-site SEO helps Google understand that you're a doctor's office. Off-site work sends them quality signals about how trustworthy you are, and where they should rank you in the results.
Below are the most important elements for ranking your website.
Just like in the real-world, where word-of-mouth reputation is golden, so it is online.
This study shows that 88% of local consumers look up reviews before using a local business. You are being looked up. Potential patients are reading reviews about you on Yelp and Google My Business from other patients.
Google can understand reviews from 3rd party websites. If they see a bunch of 3, 4 and 5 star reviews about your practice, they will understand that patients are pleased with you.
Reviews Impact Rankings
If Google's goal is to provide the highest quality results for their searchers, who do you think they'll rank higher?
All else being equal, they'll often rank the doctor with the most and highest reviews.
This means you want to make sure you have a strategy in place for constantly building positive word of mouth online through reviews.
Pro Tip: You can use software like Demandforce to help automate your process. In addition, I recommend handing out review cards to patients with instructions on how to review you on the most popular websites.
Backlinks are when other sites point to your site in the form of a link.
They're a major part of Google's ranking algorithm because when other sites send users to you, it's vouching that your site has something of value to offer.
When it comes to backlinks, you want them to be from 1) high quality and 2) relevant websites. There are metrics like Domain Authority, PageRank and Citation Flow that you can use to measure whether a site is high quality or not.
Relevance, in your case, refers to it being on a site that's either local or related to your field.
If you're an Orthodontist in San Francisco, a link from the California Association of Orthodontists is an ideal backlink because it's both high quality and relevant.
The more links like this you acquire, the more Google will trust your site and the higher you will rank.
Pro Tip: If you're not sure where to start your backlinking campaign, do some good ole' competitor analysis. Analyze the backlinks of the competitors who are currently outranking you and build a strategy around that.
Social media is becoming increasingly important for SEO. Authoritative ranking studies show that Google is attaching more weight to how your content is shared on social media. For Google, it's a clear signal that your content is worthy of trust if it's being liked and shared on social media.
A common misperception is that simply having a presence on Facebook will boost rankings. That's not true. Posting random facts about braces on your Facebook page will not help you get new patients and it won't help Google trust you more.
Instead, you need content directly from your website to be shared and liked by users on Facebook. This shows Google that your site is popular and directs those 'share points' to your domain. This, in turn, causes your site to rank higher.
Pro tip: One way to get content on your site shared is by having a 'patient applause' section on your site where you highlight patients who are doing interesting things. This works best under a blog section.
For instance, you may have a patient who won a gymnastics tournament. With their permission (and the permission of their parents), take their picture and write a short paragraph congratulating them and letting them know how proud your office is of them. Then, link to that post on Facebook and have the patient share on their own profile.
All the shares and likes will get credited to your website and help with your SEO.
A citation is anywhere online that your NAP (Name Address and Phone number) are mentioned.
Directory listings (like Yelp), data aggregators, and sites like Yellowpages.com are all citation sources.
They play a particularly important role in how you rank in the maps section of the search results.
To take advantage of citations, you want to audit every citation of your practice and ensure several things:
NAP is consistent. Different variations of your NAP can hurt your local rankings.
Let's say you're listed on some sites as "Dr Samantha Lees & Associates" and on other sites as "Dr Samantha Lees & Assoc, LLC."
Those are two different versions of your name, and this inconsistency causes confusion for Google's local ranking algorithm. Google may consider these as names as two different businesses.
This dilutes your NAP strength and Google will rank you lower in the maps.
That means you won't be visible when patients are actively looking for your services.
No duplicates. When you have multiple listings for the same office in one directory site, this is called a duplicate listing.
Unfortunately, nothing hurts local rankings worse than duplicate listings.
If you suddenly stop ranking locally, the first thing to do is audit for new duplicate listings.
When you've identified that, you need to contact the directories to get them removed.
Citation Building. Getting high quality, relevant citations will send signals to Google to rank your site higher in the local search results.
Keep a close eye on the competition outranking you in the maps. Research what citations they, which ones they're gaining, and go get those same ones.
Be pro-active in building citations relevant to your niche.
Citation Optimization: In addition to ensuring that your NAP is consistent and removing duplicates, you'll want to optimize your existing citations.
Claiming and verifying through phone and postcard
Selecting appropriate categories
Adding at least 10 photos of your office, staff and equipment.
Adding videos about your office
Make sure hours are correct
Make sure the map marker is correct
Using a unique and enticing description
Adding a link to your website and social media profiles where relevant
Some citation sources allow you to post statuses. Be sure to take advantage of those citations and do so.
Pro tip #1: Use a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the status of all your citation sources. Make rows for login and password, NAP status, dupe status, and for the various optimization opportunities for each citation.
Pro tip #2: Services like Moz Local and Yext can help with claiming fixing NAP inconsistencies. They will not solve all the problems, though. You'll still need to roll up your sleeves and manually clean up many citations.
Those are the basic building blocks of Local SEO.
For more tips and hacks on how to get new patients through online promotion, join our mailing list!
And if you want to discuss a specific plan for your practice, drop me a line and we'll set up a free consultation.