Keywords in the context of dental SEO

Keywords in the context of dental SEO

Are defined keywords still critical? Yes and no….

Three or four years ago I wrote a well-received article regarding the gradual demise of keyword importance for dental SEO and why some of the tactics being used to sell SEO services to dentists had largely become obsolete.

Let’s recap briefly on what keywords are and their history before moving on to how the use of keywords has changed in the last 3 or 4 years since I wrote that original article. We’ll also see how some search engine optimisation agencies still persist with old, defunct techniques and how that ultimately fails their clients.

Keywords – the history

In the infancy of Google and more generally SEO, keywords were perhaps the most important marker which told Google what a searcher was looking for. This was very much for discrete searches such as “dental implants” and consequently optimisers would cram websites full of the exact term in as many places as possible. This often made web text read very badly as websites were configured more for Google rather than users.

Google started to tackle keyword spamming and “thin” website content using punitive search algorithm penalties such as the infamous “Panda” update around 10 years ago and this did reduce the amount of optimisation spamming quite considerably. However, those “blunt” tools were complemented by arguably more subtle search engine updates several years later such as the “Rankbrain” and “Bert” updates in 2015 and 2019 respectively. It is these updates which have moved us to less of a reliance on simple discrete keywords and more focus on the context of what is actually written on a web page.

Rankbrain and Bert were key steps in the evolution of Google where the search engine became far more capable at recognising what a searcher was looking for, rather than just zeroing in on a specific keyword search. As an example, this means that Google understands that someone who is searching for “lost tooth replacement” is actually very likely to be interested in services providing dental implants. So we can see that we now need to be far more subtle when optimising a web page, rather than simply adding recurring instances of the same keywords and phrases.

Keyword optimisation – how it should be done

Knowing that Google isn’t simply looking at discrete keywords but now has a much deeper understanding of context, we need to build this into the way we optimise websites. It’s still important to add a few instances of the “bullseye” keywords as these will quickly help Google to understand the page.

However, we also know that Google is looking at the context of the page and to help this, we also need to include references to other similar keywords and phrases. In the implants case, we may choose to use words such as “lost teeth replacement”, “replace missing tooth” and similar to help with the contextual search engine relevance. In summary, it’s a lot more sophisticated than simply ramming in a bunch of very specific keywords.

Why SEO agencies who sell optimisation based on keyword lists are stuck in 2014

Hopefully this is self-evident now that we know how Google identifies what a website page is all about and how it serves results to searchers. It’s not just about someone who searches for the discrete “dental implants” phrase but also for those who search all of the similar terms. Of course this applies to all treatment types and searches, not just implants.

So those agencies who sell search engine optimsation services on the back of simple keyword lists are stuck using techniques that may have been appropriate 6 or 7 years ago, but not so much now. Buy why do they still do it?

There are a few reasons why some companies still persist with this sales method and it’s frankly not in the best interests of their clients as it is not giving a true picture of what is actually happening in Google for their client’s websites.

Reason 1 – it’s easy to use this to dupe clients into thinking search performance is actually better than it actually is. This is particularly the case when a company shows “great success” for getting a 3-word keyword such as “fixed braces Crawley” to position one. This is actually quite easy to do as relatively few people actually search for a phrase like that.

Reason 2 – it’s a great route to upsell, so encouraging the uninformed to add new keywords to the target list over time. Of course this comes with increased fees!

Reason 3 – laziness. Agencies will be reluctant to change their reporting mechanisms which are often automated based on keyword positions. They know they can get away with continuing to use those mechanisms where their client doesn’t really understand what they’re looking at.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere in our blog, the primary drivers for SEO performance these days are good quality traffic and the conversions (enquiries) that came from that traffic; not keywords.

Does the SEO team at Dental Media still monitor keywords?

The answer is “yes” but it’s now a secondary guidance metric rather than a primary performance measurement. We do report on actual keyword searches presented in Google Search Console but as mentioned above, our primary concerns are around increasing website traffic and conversions.


We’ve seen how Google’s use of keywords has changed significantly over the last decade or so and how this has impacted on dental website optimisation and broader SEO. We’ve also seen why SEO based on keyword lists alone is essentially defunct and why the priority should always be to improve traffic and the enquiries which come with that.

If your current optimisation provider is simply concentrating on keyword lists, it’s probably time to look elsewhere.

For more no-obligation advice and guidance, please contact the Dental Media team on 01332 672548.