What does it mean for your SEO and how should you act?
Around the middle of November, Google started to introduce a new character limit for a key display item which appear in search results – the data “snippet”. Today we’ll take a quick look at what this is and how it leverages on the meta description you write for your page, the character limit guideline for which has also changed.
What is a “snippet”
In its simplest terms a snippet is a short piece of information which Google displays at the top of the search results for any given search term. It is very prominent and often used by searchers to get a quick answer to the question they asked and hopefully encourage them to click through to the website in question to gather more detail. Up until recently, the snippet information was taken from the meta description of the page and was typically up to around 165 characters max. But it appears that the maximum character limit is now changing.
What changed and how can SEOs utilise it?
Google has officially announced that both the character limit for snippets and meta descriptions has increased, although there is no definitive number. Data researchers have already started to pull together recommendations which currently sit at the 300 character mark. If you recall, one of the key on-page recommendations for data configuration is a website page’s meta description which has stood at around 160 characters for many years. So quite a change. But how do we as SEO and dental website owners leverage on this latest change?
Given that the snippet is currently being pulled from the meta description of a web page in most cases, it makes sense to revisit our key pages and update the meta descriptions there to reflect the new character limit i.e. 300. So this is primarily about the real estate on page one of Google’s search results and a further technique you can employ to try to maximise your presence there.
What to do next….
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Did your dental supplier give you a bad recommendation you now regret?
Over the last couple of months we’ve taken on three new clients who needed to move supplier for their website management and SEO. All of them had launched new websites built by designers recommended by other dental suppliers; two by a dental coach and one by a monthly payment plan provider.
All three cases were quite similar in that the dentist had their website designed, signed up to an expensive monthly maintenance and SEO contract and then sat and waited for the anticipated new patient enquiries. However, after 6 months nothing positive had resulted, then after a further three or four months of paying out fees, still no progress.
At this point, all three businesses pulled the plug on their suppliers and went in search of an alternative provider. Understandably so. So what actually happened to cause this and what can you do to avoid a similar situation? Let’s start by looking at the why you need to be skeptical about some business recommendations as they might not be quite as transparent as they seem.
It’s often said that the dental business is a “small world” and so you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that lots of suppliers have actually set up formal and in some cases informal, associations with other suppliers. So for example, patient payment plan providers will work with a specific web designer and try to push their business exclusively. This is advantageous to the designer as they rely on the regional representatives of the other company to help sell their services. In return, the design company will offer incentives to the dentist e.g. 10% off website design or other similar perks.
In a similar way, trainers and coaches in the profession tend to push the services of companies where they have set-up mutually beneficial relationships, often under-pinned by some form of commercial arrangement.
These types of arrangements are common in all forms of business and should be expected. However, as we see from the examples above, all isn’t necessarily rosy when it comes to some of these recommendations which are arguably driven by incentives, rather than an appropriate fit with the business of the dentist concerned.
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Google AdWords in your dental marketing campaign
The use of Google AdWords is growing in popularity as part of holistic dental marketing campaigns and to complement organic (free) search ranking. But do you just “do it” or is there a more considered approach to take to ensure best results within your budget?
As a baseline, today’s blog considers where a dentist might roll-out a pay-per-click (PPC) programme to support other forms of on-line marketing. There are typically four scenarios as follows:
The launch of a new website on a new domain name
Where you have just established a complete new website for your practice, gaining good rankings in the organic (free) Google placements can take some time, even when supported by an SEO campaign. Whilst pursuing the free search positions is always our recommendation for mid to long term sustainability (and value), it is well worthwhile considering a PPC campaign to get traffic to your website in the short term. A well-structured Google AdWords campaign will drive traffic to selected pages of your website, or better still, to bespoke landing pages.
To secure a proportion of paid traffic even when organic placements are good
Many of our clients already have excellent organic search ranking but still choose to place paid adverts to ensure that they grab some of this traffic too. This is becoming increasingly important when you consider how Google are pushing their ad programme. For example, on mobile ‘phones, when you make a search in Google, most of the screen is dedicated to paid ads – consequently paid traffic, particularly from this source, is increasing. So to be part of this, you have to “pay to play” unfortunately.
When you have good organic search positions but your practice is not in a large population centre
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Don’t start SEO until you’ve addressed the basics
Today’s blog is prompted by a recent conversation with a dentist who was looking for an SEO provider to boost his search rankings. On the face of it, this was an excellent opportunity to sell our services and use our skills to help get his website prominent in Google, but actually it didn’t play out like that at all. Indeed we advised against commencing an SEO campaign.
The reason we couldn’t actually make an offer to help with his optimisation and digital marketing was that his website was very poor, albeit less than a year old. Without having a good platform in place, it simply isn’t worth starting SEO, which is exactly what we advised the rather shocked business owner.
When we researched his website in detail, here is what we found:
- the website was built on a free WordPress template which looked very poor and with limited “conversion” potential – any visitors would be unlikely to be engaged and make contact
- the website had not been maintained for 8 months and the WordPress version was insecure
- the website could not be easily maintained as the theme and plugins which had been used were no longer compatible with the latest WordPress core files (big problem!)
- there was no on-site SEO – so no keywords, page titles etc. All of the fundamentals were missing
- loads speeds were terrible, indeed some the pages timed out before they displayed. This was either down to poor web coding or perhaps cheap, overcrowded hosting
This is quite a difficult scenario as there are numerous fundamental issues with the website which render it almost beyond repair. You then try to have a discussion with a business owner who invested money in a new website several months ago which isn’t fit for purpose and actually needs re-building. But in a case like this, honesty is always the best policy, so here’s what we recommended:
3 step recovery to a viable website
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Maintenance-intensive WordPress and the need for ‘TLC’
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things we encounter on the web is where a WordPress dental website has been neglected and eventually breaks. Not only is this unprofessional for the business concerned, but also unprofessional on the part of many a web agency who were being paid to look after the site but actually hadn’t bothered.
Sometimes this is down to apathy; other times it’s because they built the website using a cheap template which couldn’t be updated due to incompatibility as the WordPress core files themselves updated. Either way, it’s not a good outcome.
As we’ve covered elsewhere in this blog, WordPress has pros and cons when it comes to using it as a platform for web publishing. As a blog platform it works well and isn’t reliant on numerous “plugins” to extend its functionality. Conversely, when it is used for dentists websites, the weaknesses become much more apparent. For example, the reliance on plugins increases and security issues seem to crop up far too regularly.
So whilst WordPress is undoubtedly popular, you have to be aware of the maintenance issues required to keep it working and secure – sometimes this isn’t trivial. Of course you don’t have to choose WordPress as your content management system and there are several robust alternatives which are arguably better for business critical applications. So consider this and don’t be swayed if your designer pushes you down the WordPress route – remember that it may be easier and cheaper for them, but could result in you being locked into an expensive service contract with a website which is not intuitive to use and still potentially insecure.
What to look out for if you do run a dental WordPress website?
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Take care of ‘under-the-bonnet’ technicalities to preserve Google ranking
Quite often we get inquiries asking for help after a dentist has updated their website only to be met with a significant and unexpected fall in their visitor numbers and Google ranking positions. This is clearly not a good scenario, particularly where the dentist expected their new site to bring lots of new patient enquiries. So what is going on there to cause the fall back in web traffic and drop away in those all important search engine positions?
You might expect that a new website with updated information is going to be well-received by Google and improved search rankings will result? However, often this isn’t the case and there are a number of technical considerations to manage as well as simply designing a new website.
Making the difference
Web designers who churn out cheap and cheerful designs using pre-built WordPress templates or similar, generally aren’t really concerned about your search engine positions or indeed how well the website will work for you’ve after they’ve handed it over. Many simply want to move on to the next job and relieve themselves of any additional responsibility, other than perhaps for some periodic content updates and an annual hosting fee.
On the other hand, good designers who are also well-versed in digital marketing including SEO, know that it’s critically important to ensure that a website not only looks good, but works well in search engines too. Building the correct website structure is essential to achieve this, for completely new websites but also for upgrades too.
For the upgrade scenario, here is an overview of the technical considerations your web designer should have in hand – please check that they do. Many web design companies, indeed not just those who are out to make a quick buck, ignore these important elements and in doing so, contribute to the ranking drops which all too often follow.
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Why you need to avoid bland, generic design
There is a good deal of nonsense spoken in the world of dental websites and marketing and trends come and go quite quickly when they are shown to add little value to a dentist’s business.
However, one very positive trend over the last couple of years has been the drive in the UK market towards “personalisation” of websites. So what does this mean and why is it important when it comes to designing high performance websites for dentists?
This is another term which is used very regularly in the web design field. In its broadest sense, it refers to how well a website holds a user’s attention and encourages them to make contact with you. So the critical first steps in recruiting a new patient from the web and a key deliverable for a new website. Our data (and numerous independent studies) show that engagement rates are significantly improved where websites are personalised versus where they are bland and generic. Better engagement means a better chance of generating new enquiries; it’s as simple as that.
Personalising your website
This is not rocket science and is fairly self-explanatory. It essentially covers various techniques for delivering the “personal touch” via your web pages which will give your users the confidence they need to join your practice. Here are some of the main methods:
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What is https and what does it mean for your practice website?
Over the last couple of years, data encryption has become a much bigger issue for websites, not just those which take card payments for ecommerce transactions but for general sites too. This is being driven in large part by Google who are keen to see all website interactions encrypted, not just those of a sensitive nature.
In line with this, Google is starting to push progress with encryption by offering incentives for those who comply and penalties for those who don’t. This basically means that websites published using encryption can rank slightly better than those which aren’t. Equally important is where users have to enter data to log in to a website or submit data – here Google is showing an “insecure” warning for users who use the Chrome browser. Whilst this can be very misleading as much of that data will not actually be sensitive, it is still very off-putting for users who don’t actually understand the full implications.
What is https?
This is a communication protocol which behaves very similarly to the traditional http protocol but where the data is encrypted. So before data leaves your browser and travels up to a web server, it is “scrambled” so it cannot be read. Decryption occurs at the server side when the data arrives. Similarly, for websites using encryption, your browser is actually decrypting the information that comes down to you from the server. The idea is that if anyone intercepts the data on route, it will be unreadable and useless to them.
Should you use https for your website?
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