Is SEO for dental websites dead?

Search engine optimisation – not dead at all, just harder

seo is not deadI recently read an article by a guy who is active in dental marketing which suggested that SEO is dead and that pay-per-click is the only viable way forward. Reading the article you might have thought that the guy actually worked for Google and was quietly promoting their AdWords system, but I prefer to think that he was just a long way off with his claims.

In reality, whilst organic (free) ranking positions exist in the search engines, SEO will also exist as website owners work out the best ways to get their sites into prominent positions. Unless Google randomises the process (they won’t) or fills page one of the search results completely with paid adverts, we can expect SEO to thrive and evolve.

Why SEO is a lot harder than it used to be

Anyone who has the remotest interest in their website and how it fares in the rankings will know that Google has become increasingly strict over the last couple of years and actively penalises websites which have been optimised over-zealously. To see just how harsh this can be, please take a look at a recent article here.

If you gain a lot of your business via the web and lots of dentists do, this is a business critical issue and not one to be trifled with. Suffice to say, “quality” is more important than ever before and there are no quick, cheap wins when it comes to SEO. It’s no longer just about back-links to your website; nowadays, you need to be active with other complementary channels such as blogging and social media to make sustainable progress in the rankings.

Google has also made it harder by introducing local search and increasing the real-estate available on page one for paid elements – this is particularly so when you consider search results viewed on mobile devices. So competition for places is harder than ever. However, those “free” places are still there on page one and hence so is SEO – just harder!

Another example – up until around 18 months ago, it was reasonably straightforward to gain prominence for a website in multiple adjacent locations e.g. Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. However, with Google now giving prominence to local companies, the chances are that you will not be able to secure the prime positions for search terms that are outside of your primary location – at least not without a huge effort and significant spend. So for the example above, for a dentist based in Derby, expect to be able to gain prominent results there but not for the adjacent locations such as Nottingham and Leicester.

Realistic Expectations

We regularly get requests from clients who advise that they would like to be number one for “cosmetic dentistry” or similar for global, generic search terms. This is fine in principle and would be very nice indeed but in practice, likely a bridge too far. So why is this?

Considering that Google is now giving preference to prominent, long-established information sites such as Wikipedia and, it seems, helping the re-emergence of large business directories, then the chances are you won’t displace those guys. Also keep in mind that the large sites who are at the top for your main local searches could have been undertaking SEO for years and catching them up won’t be easy, particularly now that “forced” SEO will simply serve to get your site banned.

So what is a good SEO strategy for a local dentist?

Building your ranking positions for your primary location carefully and sustainably is the recommended approach. Once you have gained prominence there and once your website “authority” and quality is established, then you can try to extend further afield.

The shift from keyword positions to traffic

It’s natural for business owners to be very keen, sometimes even obsessive about keyword positions but this is missing a trick. Whilst it’s great to be on pole position for the generic search terms such as “dentist in Trumpton”, lots of the traffic to your site will be generated from long-tail search terms which are far less competitive and easier to rank for. Going after the “long-tail” using techniques such as blogging is a well-worthwhile strategy. You also need to be aware of Google’s increasing shift to semantic search whereby context rather than keywords is becoming far more important.


Hopefully I’ve illustrated why SEO is not dead, in fact far from it. However, it is harder to achieve prominent positions and there are no quick wins. Consequently a realistic view of what is achievable is a must.

Given the right dental marketing company, diligent SEO techniques and time, prominent rankings can still be achieved along with the associated rewards. If you would like to discuss SEO for dentists or other aspects of marketing for your practice, please call our team on 01332 672548 for a friendly chat.