SEO: Do You Even Need It?
Many dentists are told "you need SEO" to attract new patients. How much truth is there in this marketing maxim? More importantly, what are some of the risks involved in doing SEO?
In the years I've been doing SEO for dentists, one thing seems to be consistent. There is no shortage of dentists who have become convinced that they need SEO in order to stay competitive.
There's no doubt that the internet has changed the way people look for a dentist. Search engines have brought forth a digital version of the yellow pages, and instead of the strict pay-to-play and alphabetical versions of ranking businesses, Google has determined a more meritorious algorithm. One that rewards the most authoritative, relevant, useful result for the searcher. Let's talk about how to make sure you're the best result!
The Age of Optimization...of what, exactly?
If you've been lurking around the dental town forums looking for ideas to grow your dental practice, you've no doubt heard of SEO companies who will help dentists with their online presence. I'm sure you intuitively understand that being at the top of Google will cause your phone to ring, but I'm shocked at one major flaw in the SEO industry.
What's being done? Descriptions of what's being done for your Google rankings are often ambiguous. Although I'll be the first to admit that describing my day-to-day job as an SEO specialist is more complex and kaleidoscopic as SEO becomes more competitive, there are always deliverables worth mentioning. Tangible, identifiable, common-sense tasks that show Google why you deserve to be ranked highly over other dentists. Sure, things change from time to time (ie almost monthly), but there are certain mainstays to SEO which we'll get to in a minute.
Hansen Dentistry, appearing in publications like Dental Town, uses white hat SEO.
This non-disclosure culture in my industry might not seem like a serious problem on the surface, but it is. Many SEO companies targeting dentists are using industry jargon, such as "build backlinks," "create great content," and "make sure your citations are consistent." Even if you understand what these things mean (we'll get to them in a minute), the lack of clear, identifiable case studies and real-world examples have many dentists wondering if SEO experts aren't intentionally non-disclosing of their tactics, rivaling the sacred magician's code of silence.
But...why could ignoring this red flag cost you 30+ new patients per month?
Hey SEO's: Cat Got Your Tongue?
For a long time, black hat SEO was all the rage. Black hat SEO is the secretive use of unethical techniques designed to trick Google into ranking an unworthy website. Basically, black hat SEO is doing things which simulate real-world authority and relevance.
If you're dealing with an SEO company who refuses to tell you what they did to get you ranked, there is a chance that you've hired an SEO company to do something dirty on your behalf. At this point, the best you can hope for is this SEO company did little to nothing for your SEO, because taking your money would be better than what you're about to read.
These black hat tactics can result in you not getting ranked, and can even result in your being banned from Google altogether. In fact, Google has stated that when you hire an SEO company, you may be held responsible for how they represent you. Google has likened hiring an SEO company similar to hiring a web designer or photographer. While you have to trust in the expertise of these professionals, you shouldn't allow someone to post just anything on your website without your permission. Google's Webspam police spokesman, Matt Cutts once even likened hiring an SEO company to being like hiring a video crew to record a TV commercial. Would you approve of the commercial to go on the air without ever viewing it? Google has made it clear that you bear some responsibility.
Here is an example of in the NYT of how J C Penny was crushed from hiring a an SEO company which used black hat SEO techniques.
Just this week I had a dentist in Florida contact me who had been infected by a link scheme manual action (often called a Google "penalty," though Google dislikes the term). A website provider had hired someone who had used software to hack websites and place links to his dental website. The result? An unexplained, temporary lift in rankings. Woohoo! They're doing their job, evidently! It didn't take long for Google to catch on the the scheme. Google deemed that this dentist was at fault for manipulating their search results, and he'd be banned from appearing on Google (even for his brand name).
Fortunately, a submission for reconsideration is only the first remedy we have for this dentist. There are a long line of tactics we can use en route to recovering from upsetting the webspam police at Google. I'm fully confident we'll get him back on Google and he'll get to start seeing new patients, again.
White hat SEO can be more cost effective
I often work with dentists who I'm quick to point out (after being ranked #1 for quite some time) that we don't have to pursue SEO as aggressively as we did, initially.
Simply put, you end up with momentum from past SEO efforts. You gain a competitive edge. If the field isn't nearly as SEO savvy, it might take them a few years to catch up. This means reduced SEO costs, simply by being in touch with the hows and whys behind SEO.
For instance, if you're a dentist in Wasilla, you may be able to secure a top ranking in under 6 months simply by being cited a few times per month in credible publications (such as the one you're reading right now). From there, it may take a relatively small effort in order to maintain your rankings.
To illustrate how this works, imagine how an airplane takes off. I'm not a pilot or engineer of any kind. In fact I know almost nothing about airplanes. But I do know that these things require a great amount of fuel just to get off the ground. I've heard figures of as much as 25% of the fuel is used during the takeoff phase.
It's almost impossible to calculate just how much the lifetime cost of black hat SEO is to a dental practice. The unrealized new patient gains, combined with the actual cost of too-good-to-be-true SEO pricing models (usually around $300/month), not to mention the frustration of never knowing when the next Google algorithm will wipe out your new patient phone calls. The cost of fake signals designed to temporarily dizzy Google's algorithm is a toll on the entire dental industry. And it really needs to stop.
"Up to 25% of an airplane's fuel is used during the takeoff, alone. SEO often works the same way."
Simply put, if you can't identify what's actually being done for your SEO, how are you supposed to know if it's even effective?
I'm not saying you need to take my entire dental SEO course. And I'm certainly not saying you should send 3am emails to your SEO provider asking them why they haven't outlined every little thing they did for you (for personal reasons). All I'm saying is that if you need SEO, you'll at least want to cover three bases:
Know what you're getting.
If you need SEO, then you should be seeing progress. Maybe not everything, but the big stuff, like who's linking to your website and whether there are usability issues on your website.
Know why it's working.
If your SEO company doesn't have the knack for teaching you in a simple easy to follow way, this doesn't mean that you should fire them. Some people are natural teachers, and some aren't. You can be great at SEO, either way. However, it should be clear to you why what your SEO provider is doing is actually helping Google provide YOU as the ideal result. This means authentically making you the best result. Ways of doing this might include hiring a dental industry videographer to help you create a meaningful impression that searchers prefer. It could be that you're being cited by places like Dental Town and various health blogs. It could be that you're offering the world useful information on your blog (writing people actually read, mind you). Maybe you get featured in an online article. Whatever you may be doing, it's critical that we know why search engines would appreciate these things. Otherwise, they could be considered manipulative black hat tactics.
Velscope your keywords.
Velscoping your keywords is a term I coined shortly before appearing in this blog post and YouTube video podcast with Sandy Pardue at the last Townie Meeting. It's essentially a way of researching how many prospective dental patients you can expect from pursuing SEO. It's also a great process to determining just how competitive SEO is in your geographic location. It's got to be the most fundamental tool in my belt, and I think dentist and SEO company should use it. To learn more about my step by step process of velscoping your keywords, check out my original velscoping your keywords blog post .
If you're a dentist in a busy practice , you might not be desperate for phone calls. But, what dentist wouldn't like at least 10 new patients per month? Better yet, work with someone who's ranked for competitive keywords (such as "dental SEO expert"), and you'll never have to worry that the competition will beat you out. There are constant improvements in the world of SEO, and it's important to be flexible with your SEO company as things change, but a little accountability can work wonders for your practice's profitability!
If you'd like to learn more about how white hat (ethical SEO) works, or if you'd like to chat with me about how to get new patients without all the SEO studying, feel free to message here on dental town!
A video I did about how many times dentists don't need SEO:
A video I did with SEO expert Nathan Gotch, where we discussed some black hat SEO tactics:
Chatting with Howard Farran about how to do white hat SEO: