surfing the webThe medical-services industry has long relied on promotion by word of mouth, which is still a powerful force. But many potential customers are now turning to the web. By Chris Sheedy

Consider for a moment how Google works: advertisers pay the search engine per click, so to get more clicks, Google has to direct people to sites where they interact more. Such sites must contain a lot more than the right combination of keywords; they must be relevant and regularly updated.

“Google invests heavily in improving its algorithm every year to deliver on its core purpose—to offer the most relevant information to people when they look for it,” says James Lawrence, co-founder and head of marketing at The Web Showroom, an agency that helps businesses such as dentists generate better quality enquiries from their websites. “The algorithm has been advancing in great leaps in recent years. If you look back three or four years, it was reasonably easy to build an SEO campaign to essentially trick the algorithm. There would be certain things you could do to your website in terms of the way you create pages and the way you put keywords into pages. Or you might develop a strategy to have other sites link back to you.”

In the past it was possible to “game” the algorithm, Lawrence says. But today’s Google is a different beast and must be treated as such. The good news is that if your site does what its audience wants it to do, it has a better chance of ranking highly in search results. The algorithm pays attention to how users are interacting with specific websites, Lawrence says. If users who visit your site regularly bounce away or experience slow page load times, then competitors who provide better content and user experience will float to the top of the search listings as your site sinks.

“Basically you must make sure you build your site and write your content in a way that speaks to your ideal customer types,” says Lawrence. “Mobile is also a very big issue. If you want to appear high in the search ranking on mobile phones, you have to make sure your site is optimised for mobile devices.”

What Google wants

Mark Brown, co-founder and director of, agrees that the absolute basics of a website include being responsive to various screen sizes, from mobile to tablet to desktop, and having a snappy page load time.

“Grab Google’s Webmaster tools and, after setting up a free account, you can receive a report on load times and broken links and various other potential issues,” Brown says. If a visitor spends a considerable amount of time on your website, it is a sign that you are delivering the type of content users want and expect. This will indicate to Google’s algorithm that your site deserves to rank more highly than others. Longer posts, Brown says, can hold people on the site for longer, as can videos, as long as they are absolutely relevant to the readership.

Of course, the search engine also checks that high-ranking sites are regularly updated. If not, they will be dropped down the list. “The easiest way to update regularly is to post a blog often,” Brown says. “You should then promote your blog posts on your social media channels. Also make it easy for people to share your posts—make sure you have social media buttons allowing people to share, with one click, on the platform of their choice. More links between your site and related sites will help your ranking.”

The relevance of shared links, Lawrence says, is of great importance. Gone are the days when websites could buy links from offshore entities to push themselves up search engine rankings. Today, sites that link to yours should be topically related.

“If you are a member of a certain industry association and they have a directory, there is no harm in getting
your website listed there,” Lawrence
says. “But you don’t want to pay to get links built offshore that are totally unrelated to dentistry.”

Keep it real

What can you do to improve your online performance? Lawrence has a list of simple suggestions. “Do not use stock imagery,” he says. “So many dentists use perfect models with perfect teeth. This means there is no authenticity and no personality behind the practice. Instead, show off your rooms, your staff and your practice. Take photos of your staff and tell people about them, or use video to allow people to see into the practice.”

A website can be used effectively to build trust with potential patients. So show off industry accreditations, degrees, areas of expertise and specialist training you and other staff have attended.

“A big mistake we often see is that a practice will talk ad nauseam about the individual services they offer, but people aren’t necessarily looking for a service,” Lawrence says. “They are looking for the right person to deliver that service. So focus more on building up your practice and its people, so that patients actually want to make contact. Don’t bang on about a particular service—all people need to know is that you offer it.”

Finally, make it simple for people to make contact through options such as a ‘click to call’ button on the mobile site, email forms and embedded Google maps. When people do get in touch, build a database of contacts and use it to stay front-of-mind with your patients. “There is no harm in sending milestone emails for annual check-ups or seasons greetings,” says Lawrence. “Use these emails to keep patients informed of notable developments in your practice. It is a good way to keep your profile up in the eye of your customers.”

Frequently asked questions

When surveyed practice managers and owners about the challenges they faced in their digital marketing, one of the questions was: “What’s the question YOU would most like to have answered about using your website to market your practice?” Here are a few that popped up again and again, in slightly different forms.

Q: Which search engines can access my practice website?

A: All of them—but not all of them will pay attention to it, so it’s best practice to tell them you exist; to send them a ‘map’ of your site; and to invite them to index it. Search engines use software they call ‘crawlers’, which gather information about websites that they can ‘read’ from the HTML code on your site’s pages. If you never ‘invite’ the crawlers by submitting a site map, and no other site links to yours, the crawlers won’t find you. If they never find you, they’ll never index you—and you won’t appear in search engine results page.

Q: How do I get potential patients to spend more time on my site?

A: You have to give them a reason to spend time there. Educating them on a topic that interests them is a way to get them there. You can do that through a regular blog. End each blog post with a call-to-action, which is a sentence (or paragraph) telling readers what you would like them to do next. If your call-to-action is suggesting other articles on your site which are related to the topic, you give them a reason to hang around.

Q: What copyright issues may arise from ‘sharing’ or linking information from other social media sites and websites?

A: In Australia, every creative work is automatically protected by copyright. If it’s on social media, the terms and conditions of those sites over-ride those protections. When you sign up to a social site, you sign away your copyright to the site owner (Facebook or whoever else). Copying an article word for word from a regular website, however, is a breach of copyright, while summarising an article and linking to the original is not. If you are going to share or link to a story, try and add some value to it. It’s not only good for your search engine rankings, it’s good for readers.

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