SEO is search engine optimisation.
Use this guide to understand what is involved with SEO and how it differs for local health businesses in private practice like yours.
From there, you can decide if this is something you want to do in-house or get professional help. Either way, you’ll be better educated.
Understanding SEO for private practice
It is important to note that there are two types of search placements (in popular commercial search engines like Google). These are:
- Paid listings (also known as pay-per-click or PPC or AdWords)
- Organic listings (also known as natural listings)
Paid listings are often sought by practice owners who are not able to rank very well organically because of the amount of competition for particular search terms. They are also useful to get an injection of traffic quickly or drive visitors to a special promotion without much effort (just by paying money for it). Paid listings is a topic unto itself.
The focus of SEO is on organic listings. This is where private practice websites get listed in search results based on merit, not how much you pay (see Anatomy of SERP below). Sometimes these listings also feature information such as video thumbnails and public reviews / ratings.
There are also special types of listings, based on what a user is searching for. If the search engine determines that a user is looking for a local service (such as yours), it may also present local pack listings before organic listings. These are also organic, but geographically focussed (hence accompanied with maps).
Anatomy of SERP (Search Engine Results Page)
Take a look at the different parts of the search results page below. We will refer to this image frequently.
What are keywords?
Also known as “search term” or “key phrase”, a keyword is basically the search query entered by a user when they are looking for something. E.g.:
- “Back pain”
- “Sore neck”
Simply speaking, you want your website to rank for keywords that are relevant to your business, services and treatments.
Why and how search engines rank websites
Search engines are in the business of selling ads. To do this, they need users. To get users, they need to provide a valuable service — i.e. help them find what they are looking for. Google is a giant, because it does a better job with helping users find things than other search engines.
Search engines regularly crawl websites and scan their contents, study and index the information they find into a database. This is done automatically with no intervention from the website owners. When a Google user conducts a keyword search, this index is used instead of trying to search the entire Internet. This is what makes search results so fast. This also means that search engines need to continue crawling and indexing all the time because websites and contents are always changing.
While indexing your private practice website, a search engine also checks out hundreds of signals to decide how high your website should rank for a given keyword.
When your website has an abundance of useful material, that many people will consume it, use it or link to it. Search engines can determine this user behaviour when they index your website. It can also determine many things about your business and decide whether to present you as a search result (and on which page of results) for a given keyword.
Google has become the giant it is because its “secret sauce” can index all the pages on the Internet against relevant keywords better than other search engines. Its users can easily find what they are looking for.
When is SEO required?
Think of it like purchasing a membership to an excellent gym: It’s clean, well equipped, friendly staff and patrons, good hours, good parking and well-priced. However, if you have no idea what you’re doing or preparing to compete, nothing beats a good personal trainer with customised plans, diet, tracking and monitoring.
If your website is a gym, then SEO is your personal trainer. It helps you get the most out of your gym membership with your goals in mind.
Here are some reasons your practice website may need SEO:
High local competition
For any given keyword, there is only one top ranking position; and your competition wants it. Don’t assume they’re standing still; just like you’re reading this, they too are on the lookout to rank better than you.
Low search volumes
Even with little or no competition in your area, your website may not receive enough traffic if there are not enough people out there searching for your target keywords. This could be because you are already known in your area and people know how to find you already. In these cases, SEO can help you rank for and get traffic from alternate yet relevant keywords.
You want to promote specific services
If your practice has just introduced a new service to your local market, SEO could be a good way to promote it in the long-run.
You’ve been penalised by search engines
You may have inadvertently partaken in black-hat SEO and subsequently penalised (i.e. your website has been pushed down the ranks or even completely banned).
If this is the case, you will need some emergency life-saving SEO to get back into the search engine good-books. More about black-hat SEO and how to avoid it later.
Search engines are continually evolving and tweaking the way they crawl, index and rank websites. This is called a search engine’s algorithm. Google’s algorithm is what makes Google what it is.
What worked last year to get you to the top rankings may not work this year. So you need to update your SEO strategy. Just like anything else in business, if you’re not moving forward, you are falling behind.
On a geeky note: Google has introduced several significant algorithm changes over the years. If you have heard of code-names such as “penguin” and “panda”, this is what they refer to.
What’s involved with SEO?
Some businesses try to cheat search engines to get their websites to rank higher than the competition. These unethical tactics are called black-hat SEO, with no regard for providing value to the web users. To minimise this, search engines keep their algorithms highly secret and remain impartial. This is important to protect the search user’s experience.
Your website will rank well, if it signals that it meets the search engine’s indexing algorithm criteria and does a better job than your competitor’s website. This is called white-hat SEO.
Some of the criteria used are publicised by the search engine, such as good quality content. Other criteria have been deduced by independent engineers over years of testing and experimenting.
For example, if your private practice website has many backlinks from other websites, a search engine can deduce that it is popular or useful. Since search engines crawl the entire web and index it, they know full well which websites are linked to which other websites, as well as what is on every page. More on backlinks later.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of incrementally improving a website based on what is understood to be “good practice” so that it ranks higher for relevant search terms in search engines like Google.
This process involves hard work. Trying to cheat the system for quick gains (i.e., black-hat SEO) can be detected by major search engines and results in a penalty of some sort (e.g., reduced rankings or even getting banned from search results altogether).
How well you rank is often a function of how well your SEO consultant understands the technology and research, and how well she understands you and your website visitors’ needs.
“How do I live to be 100 years old?”
There is no one answer to this question. Also something that proved correct for one person may not hold true for another. There’s a secret in there somewhere, and based on years of observation, there are dozens of golden rules. Improving your chances of living to your 100th birthday is a function of how well you adhere to these golden rules.
Now imagine that you are in a room with 99 others, and only one person will live to 100 years. When you introduce competition into the mix, you really want to be optimising things all along to improve your chances.
Taking the analogy further, you don’t just want to survive to 100 years. You want a quality of life too.
Simply ranking high for some keyword means nothing if it doesn’t result in more bookings in your private practice.
This is where local SEO comes in.
Local SEO for private practice
You run a local business!
Mobile users account for more than 50% of traffic on the web. Furthermore, when a mobile user is searching for health services, it is more likely that she is ready to take action and make an appointment, compared to a desktop user who is more likely to be researching.
Note also that a mobile user is more likely to be out and about than a desktop user. In most cases, their geographic location is also known to the search engine (ever noticed your phone asking you to reveal your location?). This means mobile users are more likely and able to visit a local business. At least, they can see your location on her smartphone’s map app.
As a health business in private practice, you serve a localised demographic. You’re only concerned with targeting people who search locally — i.e. live or work near your practice.
A local keyword search is one that combines a service (or product) with a location. E.g.:
- “Sydney podiatry”
- “Back pain Yorkshire”
- “Sore neck relief in Essendon”
Compare these to the more generic keywords such as:
- “Back pain”
- “Sore neck”
Generic keywords are used by more people (and more websites feature these keywords). So it is harder for you to rank for them than localised keywords. However, you REALLY want to be found for local keyword searches. Fewer people will search for local keywords specifically, but they are your hot target; they are more likely to make a booking AND are located within your vicinity!
For local SEO, your marketing strategy needs a unique approach involving search engines, directories, social media and map services. It is very different to “regular” SEO.
Consider someone searching for “Sore neck relief in Essendon”, but you are located 500 km away. This person is not your likely client. But if your practice is in or near Essendon, then you’d want to be atop the search results page.
Local SEO is a strategy to optimise the visibility of a business in search engines specifically for localised keyword searches. I.e. being everywhere your clients are.
Local SEO has grown significantly in recent years with businesses aiming to take advantage of the improved connectivity of consumers whilst on the go. It offers excellent opportunities and special challenges for private practice.
Signals that affect local search ranking in 2017
For most search results, paid listings (ads) will display first, if any business owner is willing to pay for traffic. We will not cover paid listings in this eBook.
Organic listings display search results based on merit, not payment (see Anatomy of SERP). The following are important factors for organic ranking in localised search results (including maps, such as Google Maps):
- Backlink signals 29%
- On-page signals 24%
- Behavioural signals 11%
- Personalisation 9%
- Citation signals 8%
- Google My Business signals 7%
- Review signals 7%
- Social signals 4%
Besides the usual organic listings, most localised search results include what’s known as the local pack (which is also the top few listings you will see in a Google Map search). The following affect how well your business will rank in the local pack:
- Google My Business signals 19%
- Backlink signals 17%
- On-page signals 14%
- Citation signals 13%
- Review signals 13%
- Behavioural signals 10%
- Personalisation 10%
- Social signals 4%
Source: MOZ, 2017 update.
Each of these factors can be positively influenced, to give your business an overall boost not only in regular organic search results but also in map search results. Doing these better than your competition leads to ranking better than them for the same keywords.
One more thing to note here is that both types of listings look at the same factors, albeit with differing weighs. If your SEO campaign is properly executed, you will see a positive movement in both organic listings and also the local pack. This is why it is important to have a holistic approach to SEO.
We will look at each of these factors in detail.
Getting professional SEO help
Businesses that see the most local SEO success treat it as an ongoing process of refinement, testing and updating their knowledge. It takes time and resources.
Online marketing and local SEO for your private practice can get overwhelming quickly. So it’s wise to get professional help, so you can go back to running your business.
Private practice local SEO services
There are thousands of SEO consultants and agencies around. Everyone with a rudimentary set of tools and knowledge claims to be an expert. As a business, it is very difficult to find and trust a provider because of two main reasons:
- Lag time between an SEO campaign start and results to materials can be months apart. This is because search engines do not always register changes nor update their index immediately. This gives an SEO consultant ample “weasel room” to take your money and deliver sub-standard results.
- SEO consultants often make promises they can’t keep. There are no guarantees with SEO, just like there are no guarantees to live to 100 years old even with the best diet and exercise regime. Guarantees are typically for ranking the easiest of keywords, with no regard to whether such ranking will actually get you more business. It is very easy to rank for irrelevant, low-competition keywords. Beware.
At PracticePulse, we help health businesses in private practice with their online presence, marketing and content. So we have focussed experience and insights working with businesses like yours.
We have two SEO packages you can choose from:
PracticePulse Local Activator SEO
PracticePulse Local Activator SEO has helped health businesses in private practice of all sizes to get a burst of SEO. Often this is the kick-start you need, before diving into complicated, lengthy and expensive SEO campaigns.
It aims to correct and populate your major citations in conjunction with your website to boost your online presence. It has been designed to be a fixed-price, slimmed-down, once-off alignment and tune-up SEO campaign, where we focus on the essentials and low hanging fruit to get the most benefit as quickly as possible.
From there, you will be in a much better position to evaluate your options and springboard to further professional local SEO. Most clients will find this package sufficient on its own to gain the traction they require, without further SEO.
Here’s what one client has said about PracticePulse Local Activator SEO:
Local Activator SEO has been a very welcome inclusion to our marketing, achieving great results already and providing professional expertise. Our overall online presence has been re-organised and updated. Through their proficiency, we’ve developed a much broader visibility. Thoroughly recommended! Save yourself the time and energy, and get back to what you do best — your business!
~ Rosemary Richardson,
Southside Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Centre
PracticePulse Local Pro SEO
Where PracticePulse Local Activator SEO applies the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) for quick gains, PracticePulse Local Pro SEO applies a much deeper and prolonged approach for sustained rankings in natural search results.
There is no cookie cutter approach for this; every client is unique. We will perform a detailed analysis of your current standing and prepare a customised campaign depending on your needs.