A steady stream of new patients is the lifeblood of any successful dental practice. However, like any business attempting to build its customer base, dental practices looking to acquire new patients in a crowded market can face a variety of challenges. With over 170,000 active private dental practitioners currently operating in the U.S., according to estimates from the American Dental Association, finding a way to separate your practice from the pack means utilizing the latest search marketing tools.
While marketing your dental practice once meant simply placing an ad in the Yellow Pages, more potential patients are turning to search engines to find local businesses than ever before. According to a study conducted by the Local Search Association, 54 percent of people under the age of 35 use search engines to find local businesses, compared to only 10 percent who use the print version of the Yellow Pages. Even seniors have started to embrace search as a means of finding local businesses, as 27 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 used a search engine when looking for a local business, which nearly equals the 28 percent who used the Yellow Pages.
A growing trend for businesses to become eco-friendly has also led some cities, such as San Francisco in 2011, to actually ban the delivery of the Yellow Pages to anyone who doesn’t specifically request a copy. After the city of Seattle enacted a law that required consumers be given an opt out option to no longer receive a printed phone book, 43,000 households elected to stop receiving the publication. Laws such as these could limit your advertising efforts and reduce your practice’s visibility to large segments of potential patients who either elect not to receive a copy of the Yellow Pages or whom simply fail to sign up for a copy if this is your only means of marketing.
To keep your dental practice consistently acquiring new patients, search engine optimization (SEO) has become a vital and necessary tool every practice needs to utilize to stay ahead in the current marketing climate.
SEO Marketing: Keyword Strategy
Successful SEO marketing allows you to reach new patients by improving your practice’s positioning in organic search engine results on sites such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. To improve where your website ranks when a potential patient searches for a dentist in your market, you need a website rich in keywords that match what people are searching for.
Search engines such as Google use keywords to determine the focus of your website so that when customers search for relevant terms, your website appears towards the top of the search results. Written to fit naturally into a website’s copy, the right mix of high volume keywords can drive traffic to your website and help your practice stand out among the competition.
Depending on the focus of your practice, examples of high volume keywords could include “dentist”, “cosmetic dentistry”, “braces, “emergency dentist”, and “children’s dentist” among many others.
Of course understanding what patient’s may search for doesn’t mean that you should load up your practice’s website with these phrases in an effort to score a high placement in search results. The algorithms used by search engine company’s like Google penalize websites for overusing keywords in order to prevent low quality or “spam” websites from flooding search engine results.
If placing the word “dentist” 1,000 times into a website’s copy would guarantee top placement in organic search results, search engines like Google would offer Internet users little value, as websites would focus less on worthwhile content and more on keyword saturation. Understanding which keywords to use and how to place those keywords correctly into the copy of a website is the essence of search engine optimization marketing.
SEO Marketing: Link Placement
As with real estate, location is everything when it comes to search engine results. If your practice struggles to find new patients in an overcrowded dental market, having your practice’s website appear near the top of the first page in organic search results versus the second or third page can have an enormous impact on the number of new patients that schedule appointments each month.
A study conducted by the online marking software firm HubSpot found that 75 percent of search engine users never scroll past the first page of results they receive after performing a search. If your practice fails to capture part of that valuable first page search real estate, you have only a one in four chance- at best- of attracting a potential patient to your website.
If keywords are the essence of SEO, than link placement is the execution when it comes to improving your practice’s organic search rankings. The same algorithms used by companies like Google not only examine the relevant keywords on a website to determine where that website should appear in search result rankings, they also examine the clout a site possesses.
To obtain a better understanding of how this works, think of Google as a patient looking for a referral. Google asks its friends- in this case the different algorithms the search engine uses- for recommendations of dental practices. The better a website’s reputation- or clout score- the more recommendations Google receives from its friends the algorithms to rank that practice higher in search results.
Websites acquire clout in two basic ways. The first comes from the amount of traffic the website receives each month from users viewing the site’s content. The second comes from the number of links a website has spread across the Internet. While the first way of accumulating clout is self-explanatory, the second can also be viewed in terms of a referral.
Say Website A attracts 100,000 unique visitors a month. Placing a link back to your website on Website A basically tells Google’s algorithms that this highly influential website vouches for the quality of your website, thereby providing your site more clout. The more links you have placed on sites Google’s algorithms considered respected, the higher your own websites clout score rises.
Clout score helps to differentiate websites with similar keywords, and provide Google with a means for determining which site to rank over another. If you and a competitor had identical websites featuring the same keywords, they only way you could ensure your site consistently ranked higher in search results would be to raise your clout score. Link placement on other website helps you achieve that goal.
SEO Marketing: Helping Your Dental Practice Grow
While terms such as keywords, clout, and organic rankings might seem like so much technical jargon at first, there’s no denying the impact a successful SEO marketing campaign can have helping your dental practice grow.
According to a study conducted by the online marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa, an organized content marketing strategy designed to increase a business’ brand can lead to a 2,000 percent increase in blog traffic and 40 percent increase in revenue. Inbound leads, such as patients visiting your website, cost 61 percent less to acquire than an outbound lead, a patient acquired through directing marketing for example. Leads acquired through SEO also have a much higher close rate (14.6 percent) versus outbound leads (1.7 percent).
Even more compelling, data from the research publication Marking Charts has found that over 39 percent of a business’ customers already come from search engine results, a number that is only expected to grow in the future.
To ensure your practice attracts new patients and continues to grow, SEO marketing needs to become part of your long-term strategy because without search, your practice will lose one of the most cost effective tools of developing business on the web.