SEO working knowledge for dentists

It is widely acknowledged that the ‘holy grail’ of dental marketing is to gain and then maintain very prominent website search results in Google. After word-of-mouth, this is the most sustainable and lowest cost method for gaining new patient enquiries and is a top priority for any dentist who is “web savvy” and aware of the business benefits available from online website prominence.

However, Google is a volatile place and it needs a carefully managed SEO campaign to achieve and then maintain good search results. There are a number of factors which contribute to this, the majority within the website owner’s control but a few extremely important ones which aren’t. One of those uncontrollable elements is Google itself and comes in the form of the regular updates they roll out to the ranking algorithms which dictate where websites sit within the search results.

There are two main categories of Google search engine updates – the first is when ad-hoc changes are made to tackle specific issues they feel need to be addressed to improve the quality of search results. Previous examples included the “Penguin” and “Panda” updates which were introduced to tackle particular types of web spam e.g. bad links and keyword stuffing etc. These were significant updates which have subsequently been refined and re-used by Google.

The other main category of update is the ‘core’ update and if anything these are even more mysterious in that Google says very little about them other than when we should expect to see the effects.

Core updates occur several times a year and typically only a couple of them get formally announced. This tends to be when Google expects the updates to cause significant changes within the search index i.e. some websites gaining ground whilst others are demoted. Those of us in the SEO community tend to sit nervously whilst these updates roll out as they can be quite unpredictable and sometimes yield questionable results. For example, you can see an excellent website fall several places in the search results where only ethical SEO methodologies have been applied. Whilst this is rare, it can happen and it’s often very difficult to understand why – and of course Google won’t tell you!

Conversely you can also see old websites with no SEO and questionable content rise to unexpected heights in the ranking results and this is equally difficult to explain. It’s just these types of anomalies which often cause frustration amongst website owners and their digital marketing partners, but fortunately the occurrences are reasonably rare.

As I mentioned earlier, Google is understandably highly secretive about their methodologies and so there is no simple way of contacting them to find out what went wrong if you feel that a website has been unfairly disadvantaged by a core update or otherwise.

What can a website owner do to minimise any adverse impact from a Google update?

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Your Dental Google Business Page will become “Business Profile” – What Dentists Need To Know

When we start new marketing projects for dentists, one of the key things we advise the business owner or manager to prioritise, is setting up and optimising the Google Business page for the practice. This has had a few different names over the years but seemed to have stabilised as “Google My Business” and it is this name that most people are now familiar with.

But as ever, Google is re-jigging some of their web tools and moving forwards, Google “My Business” will be known as Google Business Profile. They are doing this to help streamline their various app interfaces and will bring management of the “business” page into the overall structure of Google Maps, Search and their respective apps.

When will this happen?

We expect to see this roll out progressively during 2022 and Google has advised that larger business will likely see the changes first. Initially you will see changes to the branding within the existing My Business management console but further changes are expected as the integration and rationalisation continues. So at this stage it’s a “heads up” to make dental businesses aware that changes to this essential Google tool are in progress and to expect them relatively soon.

If I’m about to set up a new Google My Business page, should I wait?

Definitely not! This is an essential tool and will start to work for your practice as soon as it’s up and running, so please don’t delay. You can be pretty certain that Google won’t lose what you’ve done as the changes take place.

New features also announced….

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Despite advice you may have heard otherwise….

I recently read a blog post from a well-respected dental coach which detailed how one of his clients was seemingly being provided an SEO (search engine optimisation) service which wasn’t delivering results. It also stressed how the dentist seemed to be in the dark about where new patients were coming from and whether the SEO was actually delivering any benefit at all.

The conclusion was that the service was “money down the drain” and that the dentist needed to focus instead on attracting new patients via “internal marketing” and seeking recommendations from his/her existing patient list.

Whilst I completely agree that SEO which isn’t working and worse, isn’t transparent, is indeed a complete waste of cash, it’s also important to stress that SEO, done well, is a huge contributor to the success of a dental practice. In today’s blog we’ll take a look at why that is and why a holistic, multi-channel approach to dental practice marketing is essential for ongoing success.

SEO – what does the data say?

We are fortunate to manage SEO campaigns for lots of dentists across the UK which gives us huge insights into how many new patient enquiries those programmes actually yield. Alongside this we also manage a lot of paid ads and social media marketing campaigns which allows us to compare, in detail, the relative cost of acquiring new patients from different channels. The clear conclusion is that SEO has always provided the best quality new patient leads and at the lowest cost when compared to other forms of digital marketing.

This is not to say that those other channels should be avoided; on the contrary, they can and do yield excellent results. However the “cost per acquisition” from SEO is typically a fair bit lower than paid marketing channels and we see this time and time again.

This is not just our data however. Whilst we have lots of information from the dental sector, other sources will also illustrate the benefits of SEO in a similar way, albeit for different business sectors.

Why do you need SEO for a dental practice?

We’ve already touched on how good SEO is very cost-effective, but you also need to appreciate how useful SEO is when it comes to the actual number of new patients it brings to the practice. This is quite substantial and after “word-of-mouth” referral, new patients enquires from Google comes a clear second. Of course this is only the case where a website is prominent in the Google rankings where it can be found quickly and easily by those searching for dental services. It is the primary role of SEO to establish and maintain that prominence and hence why it is so important.

What does SEO cost and what is the return-on-investment (ROI)?

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Love them or loathe them, chatbots are here to stay

You may have noticed a proliferation of “chatbots” appearing on dentist’s websites over the last 12 – 18 months? For those of you who are wondering what one is, it’s the little dialogue box which pops up from the bottom right-hand side of the screen when you visit any page of the site.

A “virtual assistant” greets you and then leads you through a series of questions to determine what type of treatment you are seeking. Depending on the sophistication of the chatbot, different answers can be delivered depending on the specific needs of the website visitor.

How effective are dental website chatbots?

We’ve been installing chatbots on dentist’s websites and blogs for over a year and the feedback has been excellent. Whilst there are website users who don’t like this type of “intrusion” when they are using a site, the data suggests that the large majority do and find the interactivity and speed of response from the dentist to be very useful.

What are the pros and cons of chatbots?

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Set-up costs and ongoing maintenance – “total cost of website ownership”

A few years ago I published a blog post covering what dentists should expect when budgeting for a new dental website, including the initial set up and running costs. Back then the industry was still broadly applying what is widely known as the “dental tax” with many suppliers charging way above the odds simply because they were supplying into the dental business. On average we were seeing anything between a 60 to 100% price hike for dental websites compared to similar sites being built by web companies for general businesses outside of dentistry. We also illustrated that if you shop around, you will be able to find companies, my own included, who will build an excellent practice website much more in line with what any business should expect.

So what’s changed over the last couple of years, particularly with the advent of Covid and other cost pressures affecting businesses? Has the price of web design for dentists also gone up and if so, what should you expect now? Let’s take a look.

Current prices for dental websites

If you look around on the web, it appears that the majority of dental web design companies are still pushing the limits when it comes to charging dentists for new websites. Prices appear to start at the 7-8k mark and then push on over £10k if you’re inclined to pay it. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that better websites are available for £4 – £5k. If you look deeper still, you’ll also find that some of those more cost-effective websites don’t just look better, they have much better underlying technical performance too. So it really does pay to look around and research thoroughly.

Pushing the pricing envelope

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Dentists can now interact with dental patients directly from Google search results!

There is a little known but very effective feature available in your Google My Business Profile which allows you to interact directly with patients who are searching online for your dental business or services. This is known as ‘Google Business Messaging’ and is very well-worth a try, particularly as it’s not being used by many dentists in the UK. So it’s a great opportunity to differentiate.

Why use Google My Business Messaging?

Here’s what the search giant themselves says about the feature:

Google My Business messaging allows customers viewing your listing to message you directly. Respond to questions, share information, and quickly connect, for free

The feature is known to work best for small to medium size businesses such as dentists, opticians and hairdressers who are probably best placed to give near instant answers to their clients. This type of contact is also much more preferable to delayed emails and potentially missed ‘phone calls.

How do you set up and use Google My Business Messaging?

Initially this service was only available to users of Android devices but is now available on IOS (Apple) and desk-top too.

To get started you first need to download the app, login to your Google My Business page and turn on the messaging options in the customer’s menu. You can also manage your messages in this section of the app. If you prefer to manage your messages in a desk-top environment (this may be better for the reception team) then Google also made this possible earlier this year.

What will patients see on Google?

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Budget and resource considerations for dentists

Over the last couple of years there has been a flurry of activity with dentists joining Instagram. You may remember similar a number of years ago when there was a similar flocking to Facebook?

So what has happened with all of those accounts and how many dentists are actually getting lots of new patients from Instagram? Well the reality is, very few indeed. So what’s gone on and why hasn’t Instagram become the panacea for new patient acquisition promised by some dental marketing agencies and written about in more than one book?

Let’s take a look…..

Understanding organic reach

This is absolutely critical and explains why simply creating an account and posting content to Instagram won’t instantly lead to new patients getting in touch. The harsh reality is that simply because you’ve posted content on the platform, doesn’t mean that anyone will necessarily see it. Just like Facebook, you need to gain a following of people to stand a chance of reaching anyone with your content. Even then, there is no guarantee at all that your content will be seen, even by those who followed you.

It’s also important to remember that Instagram is owned by Facebook. With Facebook, organic reach (the average number of people who liked your content who actually see your posts) has been reduced to less than 4% – so that’s less than 4 in every 100 people! Facebook did this to support their “pay to play” plans; forcing the use of their paid advertising for those who are serious about getting their content in front of potential purchasers.

Whilst organic reach on Instgram hasn’t been curtailed as much as Facebook yet, it’s going that way quickly as Facebook again pushes businesses to pay for the privilege of using their platforms. So even if you’ve managed to get quite a few followers, the large majority of them aren’t seeing what you post.

What do we see in conversion data (new patient enquiries)?

The analytics data we run for many dentists shows us how many new patients enquiries (conversions) come from the various channels used to promote their services i.e. how many visits come from Google searches, paid ads on Google and also from social media, including Instagram.

It’s very clear from the data across numerous accounts that even those dentists who have quite active social media presence, tend to see very limited new patient enquiries coming organically from those channels (i.e. not via paid ads).

What does this mean for your marketing budget?

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Analytics for your business website – what you need to know to maintain and improve results

Do you rely on your website marketing agency to advise how your website is performing; do you check it yourself or perhaps you don’t check it at all?

What we tend to see when new dental clients come to us is that most of them don’t really know too much about how their website is working and they either don’t check it all or rely on minimal information from their design and marketing agency. The latter tends to be an automatically generated report which shows a few trends but little else.

So what should you be doing? Given that your website is perhaps the most important asset in your digital marketing tool-bag, it makes very good sense to ensure that it is performing optimally. This doesn’t mean just relying on your web team, there are some important elements you can cross-check yourself. In today’s blog we will look at six key performance metrics which you can check monthly within Google Analytics and Search Console – two free and powerful pieces of software which you can easily install on your website.

Traffic

This is clearly an important “high level” metric to help you understand how your website is growing, however it’s not quite as simple as looking at the overall traffic to your site. You need to look into Google Analytics to segment the traffic by channel so you can see how many visitors are coming from paid ads, from organic Google searches and so on.

It is also important to understand if the traffic is “good” i.e. is it leading to new enquires and treatments. This leads on to perhaps the most important measurement known as conversions (or goals).

Conversions

If your web agency is diligent and genuinely wants you to know how well your website is delivering, they will have set up conversions (or goals) in Analytics for you. These are recordings of specific events, for example where a contact form has been completed to contact the practice. Understanding your traffic stats is all well and good but you also need to know how conversions are running in conjunction with this. For example, it could be the case that your marketing agency launched a poorly targeted social media campaign which has resulted in website traffic, but that traffic isn’t converting into meaningful enquiries – careful analysis of your data will reveal this.

There are all sorts of tools within analytics which allow you to dig deep and see how conversions resulted, for example you can track a user’s route through your site from their entry page to the point at which they contacted you. Similarly you can also analyse where users left you site without contacting you. This can be really useful to help optimise your website content to improve performance.

Here at Dental Media we always insist that website growth is all about traffic (the right sort) AND conversions.

Conversion rate

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Relationship marketing to promote patient engagement and trust from the get go….

Many dental websites follow the same pattern in that they follow a purely transactional approach to selling services. What I mean by this is that they have the usual introductory pages, contact form, a list of treatment pages, a few offers and not much else. This is fine for letting potential new patients know where you are and what you provide but that’s about it – those websites then tend to do little else to convince a new patient to actually pick up the ‘phone or complete the contact form to take the next step towards treatment.

We also see this in the huge proliferation of dental social media ads that litter Facebook and Instagram these days – most of them seem to offer all sorts of incentives to sell Invisalign, implants etc at ‘knock-down’ prices as more and more dentists join the race to sell treatments. But is this the best way to build a sustainable business?

Transactional processing of this nature is quite bland and is akin to the way that retailers sell mobile ‘phones and groceries – they focus solely on the benefits of the product rather than trying to build a relationship with the purchaser.

This is fine for certain types of businesses and relies on their products being safe, reproducible and fit for the intended purpose. This presents a low risk to buyers and once they are familiar with the product, they’ll happily buy it from anyone as long as the price is right. But is this suitable for dentistry and would you actually want your marketing and website to support that approach? I would suggest that it’s not really the best way to go and won’t build a sustainable patient list into the future.

For dentistry, we need to pursue an approach which is known as “relationship” marketing rather than simply trying to sell treatments using a purely transactional approach. The trust you build with the purchaser/patient is somewhat different in dentistry in that the “product” is different each time, is potentially being delivered by a different person on the team and can’t easily be returned if it’s sub-standard!

Hopefully we can see that dentistry isn’t really suited to simple transactional selling and will be much more sustainable when you sell your services rather than just treatments. Here we are trying to build a relationship between the buyer and seller, significantly more so than a simple transaction when goods/products change hands. The patient has to trust you and your team, particularly if they are to keep you as their dentist into the future.

Now that we have an appreciation of transactional selling versus relationship marketing, how should you position your website and other marketing assets to support that approach?

An engaging, personalised website

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Promoting a new dental business to hit the ground running

Perhaps the largest part of setting up a new dental business is to ensure that new patients will come through the doors as soon as they open. To achieve this, a well-considered marketing plan needs to be developed and implemented well in advance.

Over the years the team at Dental Media has helped hundreds of dentists across the UK build their businesses successfully; indeed we are currently developing new websites and marketing campaigns for several dentists who are currently setting up new squats as well as those who are already well-established.

I thought it would be useful to share the main components of a typical marketing programme for a squat practice, albeit each circumstance will have its own specific requirements depending on the business objectives, location, demographic target and so on.

Let’s take a look at the marketing channels you need to consider and how to make them work best for you. I’ll start with the digital techniques and then also touch on more traditional mechanisms which still have value.

Launch an excellent website

Done well, a new practice website will probably be the best marketing investment you make. Properly maintained and updated, it will continue to bring a steady flow of new patients to your practice and also provide a very useful source of information for existing patients.

When setting up a new business, you need to start work on your website at least three to four months in advance to ensure that it’s ready to launch on time. You may also wish to use a holding page on your website domain to notify new patients that the practice is opening and to encourage them to register their interest in advance.

One thing which is very important to understand is that a website alone will not simply work without ongoing optimisation in the search engines. In the UK this is primarily Google and ideally you need your site to be up there amongst the top three positions. So please seek advice on how best to achieve this and also how much you need to budget for your own location.

To give a rough idea for budgeting purposes, a new website will likely cost anything between £3 – £5k and search engine optimisation anything from £300/month upwards. Expert assistance in these areas is not cheap but is well worthwhile.

Claim and optimise your Google My Business Page

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