How Your Physical Location Affects SEO

Two key factors for dental website Google ranking

Google local businessWhen it comes to getting prominent search engine rankings for dentists, perhaps the most fundamental aspect to check before any SEO campaign kicks off, is where the practice is physically located.

This is so important and governs what can realistically be achieved for an organic search engine promotion. Unfortunately this is not really understood by many dentists and so can lead to some fairly unrealistic expectations regarding what can actually be achieved. Let’s take a closer look at the background to this and what you should and shouldn’t expect from your SEO partner.

Localisation in Google

This refers to the way in which Google delivers search results based on the location of the searcher and the physical location of the types of businesses they are searching for. This is broadly understood by most people when it comes to the local or “map” results which Google presents on page one of the search results, but perhaps less well understood for the rest of the organic (free) listings. In a nutshell, Google knows where you are when you search using a variety of mechanisms, including the network you are connected to, GPS tracking and more. They can also do this even if you have location checking switched off on your mobile ‘phone; so please don’t assume that you can operate truly incognito unless you have some fairly sophisticated VPN systems installed.

Google also knows where the businesses you are searching for are located, again using a variety of signals. These range from the obvious ones like the address the business uses on its website, through to the address reference other websites use when linking to the particular business in question. Google is extremely adept at aggregating all of this data and then using it to very accurately position businesses within their mapping systems and also within the search results.

Why does this matter for SEO?

If you search in Google you will notice quite a high degree of correlation between position in the search results and location of the business with respect to the centre of the area which you’ve searched. This is very obvious for the “map” results but also starting to affect the rest of the organic results listings too. It must be stressed at this stage that location is not the only ranking factor or even the main one; indeed there are many factors which come into play. However, the physical location of a business is increasingly important.

You will tend to see this for the more generic searches, for example “dentist Nottingham” or similar. Where keyword competition is less fierce, then businesses slightly further away from the centre can also compete. However, what it tends to mean is that if you are on the outskirts of a particular area, then you will likely need to work harder with your SEO than if you are on the periphery. What it also means is that you cannot expect to rank your main keywords for adjacent locations unless your SEO is extremely strong – so for example, a dentist based in Derby is never really going to rank well for Nottingham searches for the main, generic search terms.

You would be surprised how many people don’t understand this and how often we get asked to perform SEO campaigns for lists of keywords which are frankly impossible to achieve.

We also have some “edge” cases where businesses are right on the border between two locations and it’s the dentist’s wish to rank prominently for both of those. This is also difficult to achieve as Google will typically tend to favour one location as noted above. Perhaps the best way to tackle this is to use organic SEO to target the primary location and then pay-per-click (PPC) for other locations. PPC is not bound by the same location constraints as organic SEO and you can advertise anywhere you wish.

One website, several locations

The localisation aspect of Google is also very important when considering how to configure your website and particularly so if you have more than one dental practice. It may seem prudent to list several practices all under one website, each with their own location page and information. This can work, but it is a lot less powerful than having a separate website per location. With one website per location, all of the information and sub pages on a particular domain are dedicated to that location and not split across several. This tends to give more “weight” to the website overall, rather than diluting across internal pages representing two or more locations. There are techniques to get around this but the amount of optimisation work that is required is considerably greater.

Given the above, we always recommend a separate website per location, notwithstanding that this can be more expensive to establish and maintain. But given the value of new patient enquiries from the web, it’s worth it.

Summarising

The Google search results are heavily segmented based on the physical location of the businesses which appear there. This is particularly important when choosing where to locate/buy your practice and also how to optimise your website(s) for best effect. You also need to be aware of how localisation works and how it will affect your expectations for your SEO campaigns.

If you’d like to know more about this or indeed any other aspect of search engine optimisation for dentists, please call the team at Dental Media on 01332 672548 for a no-obligation chat. We’ll be pleased to analyse your website and make recommendations to help you improve your presence in Google. Please contact us today to get the process underway.