Seven SEO Strategies to Accelerate New Patient Acquisition by Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA


The Internet has fundamentally changed the way dental practices acquire new patients. Today, more than ever, where your site shows up on search engines will determine how much traffic (and new-patient calls) is generated from your website. Google, Bing, Yahoo! and other search engines are focusing more on targeted local search activities. This makes sense given that recent research shows 97 percent of consumers (prospective patients) search for local businesses online.1 This bodes well for dentists, if they navigate their SEO strategy well.

Consumers don't dig too deeply into search results - 87 percent of all clicks from organic search engine traffic goes to the first five results.2 To capture the attention - and clicks - of prospective patients, your practice's website must secure these top spots in relevant searches for specific keywords.

Making SEO Work for Your Practice

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the "process of improving the visibility of a website or a webpage in a search engine's natural or unpaid (organic) search results."3 Think of your website as a billboard on the highway: No matter how well it's designed, you need traffic if you want people to see it and take action. SEO helps you increase the prospective patient traffic to your practice's digital billboard.

The right SEO strategies, supported with the right website, will help your practice attract and convert more prospective patients. Here are seven ways you can optimize your search engine efforts.

1. Ensure Your Website is Easy to Use and Navigate

Google and other search engines use an ever-changing array of algorithms to generate highly targeted search results. How long visitors stay on your website is a key factor in search engine relevance rankings. Websites that are confusing to navigate, slow to load or otherwise user-unfriendly, will reduce the time spent on your practice website and can adversely impact where you show up on searches.

To avoid this problem, design your website to provide visitors with the best possible experience. From the home page on, focus your website squarely on patients and their needs. Design your site's navigation to be simple and user-friendly, and make sure every page, link and image works properly.

2. Keep Your Website Updated with Fresh Content

Search engines generally deem webpages with updated content more relevant. Make sure to update your site weekly if possible, monthly at minimum. Keep in mind not all fresh content is created equal. Updating a link or two in your navigation bar won't win you many SEO points; adding a new post to your blog or adding new site content on relevant topics will boost your website's relevance.

3. Use the Right Keywords

When searching online for the services you provide, your prospective patients are likely to use certain words and phrases. Including the right keywords in your website copy where appropriate will help your site show up higher in these searches.

To determine what these keywords are, survey a few patients. Ask which search terms they used - or would use - when searching for a dentist. Then, weave these words and phrases into your website copy. Be sure that your website makes numerous mentions of the services you offer and your location, including nearby cities and any metro areas.

Ultimately, if your content is helpful to prospective patients and relevant to the services you provide, it will be reasonably keyword-friendly by default.

4. Make Sure Your Website Experience is Optimized for Any Device

By 2014 mobile Internet use will surpass desktops.4 Today's mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes. It is imperative that your practice website optimize the viewing experience no matter which type of device prospective patients choose to use. In fact, 61 percent of prospective patients will leave your site for a competitor's if your website is not mobile-friendly.5 There are two strategies to do this and each have an impact on SEO efforts.

A couple of years ago, building two websites (one for desktops and one for mobile devices) was the only feasible solution to this changing web traffic pattern. The challenge was to ensure that search engines attributed the traffic from these separate websites to one practice entity and brand. Although this was possible, it was tricky and you needed to make sure your website designer knew what to do.

The other more optimized method (and the one recommended by Google) is to adopt certain design principles, known as responsive design, that enable your practice's main website to look and function effectively across all devices and screen sizes, from desktops and laptops to popular tablets and phones. By providing one website with the same content for all devices, responsive design makes it is easier for search engines to index a website and improve its ability to be found in native search results. As importantly, the optimal viewing experience of visitors improves new patient conversion.

5. Feature Video Content

Prominently displayed videos on your site will engage visitors and increase the chance that they'll stay engaged. In fact, 46 percent of people who visit websites see video as a key reason for them to seek out more information on a product or service.6 Video content is also great for SEO. Video helps increase the amount of time a visitor spends on your practice website, which prompts search engines to increase your relevance ranking.

Compelling video that highlights the unique characteristics of your practice will boost SEO rankings while providing prospective patients with a more up close and personal experience. Today, high quality video content is a cost effective and powerful way to attract patients and accelerate a call to action to contact your practice.

6. "Claim" Your Online Business Listings

Online business sites such as Yelp and Google+ are highly popular starting points for consumers searching for products and services. Claiming, filling out and verifying your profiles on these sites will help more prospective patients find your practice. It'll also net you a few SEO benefits. Verified listings on Google properties (e.g., Google+ Local) get better exposure in Google's search engines. Additionally, once you have standardized listings for all of your local site profiles, search engines will recognize that these profiles refer to the same business and group them together in search results, increasing your search-engine visibility.

7. Measure Results and Continue to Optimize

How will you know if your SEO efforts are working without a way to connect these activities with increases in site traffic and new patients? Website analytics programs like Google Analytics let you track site visitors by source, meaning you can identify exactly how many visitors arrive at your site via search engines over a given time period. This allows you to link upticks in search-engine traffic to specific SEO activities.

Additionally, tracking referral sources for every new patient will help you connect the dots between SEO and new patient acquisition. Make sure every new patient answers the question "How did you hear about us?" and capture this information. Identifying all patients acquired through search engines will allow you to calculate the ROI of your SEO activities.

Lastly, using an automated call tracking system, such as Sesame First Call to identify calls from your different online channels, can provide a conclusive ROI on each respective activity.

Many, if not all, of your prospective patients use online search as a starting point when seeking out the services you offer. Without an ongoing SEO effort, your practice will miss out on opportunities to get new patients. SEO helps prospective patients to find your website, ultimately allowing you to optimize your site as a tool for acquiring new patients.

References
  1. Place for Business. Google.
  2. "Share of Listing Types and Share of Clicks." Search Engine Watch.
  3. "Search Engine Optimization." Wikipedia.
  4. 4. "ComScore: Mobile Will Force Desktop into its Twilight in 2014." Business Insider.
  5. "What Users Want Most from Mobile Sites Today." September 2012. Google.
  6. "5 Stats You Need to Know About Online Video Marketing." Eloqua.

  Author's Bio
Diana P. Friedman is the CEO of Sesame Communications. Sesame Communications helps dental practices harness the power of the Internet to accelerate new patient acquisition, build patient loyalty and transform the patient experience. The Sesame 24-7 Patient Engagement Management System provides an innovative and comprehensive set of solutions that help boost practice growth and profitability. For more information, visit www.sesamecommunications.com.
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