After helping Armadale Dental in Markham, Crossways Dental in Barrie, Archer Dental in Toronto, and Dr Ralhan’s two locations in Oakville and Burlington, I know a thing or two about SEO for dentists, and how to increase search-presence for dental clinic websites. In truth, I’m pretty good at it. Keep reading, and I will outline some of the things I’ve learned.
I tell my Humber students that good SEO practitioners trick Google into indexing their client’s web pages higher in SERPs by doing exactly what the search giant wants.
Most of the digital marketing agencies helping medical practitioners in Toronto today do not know how to do SEO for dentists. It shocks me when I see high-quality original content wasted in dentist’s social channels, and when I read well-written and informative articles in online lifestyle magazines with links to terrible dental clinic websites which are thin style-over-substance vessels of no repute. They have shallow pages, and what little copy they do present is rife with tiny errors. Very often, if you spot a curious line of text, you can easily cut & paste that byte into Google and find the originating website from which it was taken. I shake my head; they have it all backwards. Indeed, most dental clinic websites are template driven and exist entirely without original content (that’s because it’s hard to write original content for dentists, and it can be expensive, because there are legal implications). The best practice is to build incredibly useful pages that are beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, and yet filled with good information that keeps people reading and clicking and doing things, and taking actions. If I had to give an example, I would cite the teeth whitening page I made on Archer Dental ca which was the root of a well integrated content marketing campaign that brought bloggers into the Archer Dental Rosedale clinic for a whitening service.
Here’s the connecting teeth whitening post by Laura Bilotta, AM640 Radio Host and the boss of Single in the City. We also did Wedding Girl, and Cynthia Menard the 2017 Miss World Canada, and I wrote an article for View the Vibe detailing five different professional teeth whitening systems currently available in Toronto. Afterwards we created micro blogs and got social around incoming links direct to the page. We optimized the on-page experience and the anchor text of the links for ‘teeth whitening + Toronto’ and, after three guests, we succeeded, one whole year later. The freshly renovated page climbed up the index from position 28 to its current resting place on pg1 where we connect with the latent demand of approximately 700 search queries for ‘teeth whitening Toronto’ per month. For the first year as we were doing the campaign, we stayed atop pg2 in the search results and only briefly appeared on pg1 now and then (we had The SEO Ride – read my previous post). But today, one year later, the Archer Dental teeth whitening page is now consistently found in the middle of pg1. Yes, it took a whole year to happen. But that is the best practice for making better search results; we made a page that truly deserves to be found on pg1 of Google ca for its focus search term.
SEO for Dentists has two operating theaters. Organic search traffic to dentists can be divided into two categories, local and specialty services. Some visitors will try the dentist’s site seeking a local solution, while another group come looking for specific services. What about the people who visit the site by searching the dental clinic’s name? That is not a true organic search, but more like a lazy direct-visit. All the same, in my experience that does account for at least 30% of the organic search volume, as people are lazy (and or they may not know if its dot ca, or com, or net?). People Googling the name is a mark of brand strength in the marketplace and while it’s not an SEO factor, it could indirectly measure the strength of your social media or your print media campaigns.
Local Search – According to SEMRush com, the keyword query ‘Toronto + dentist’ is searched 4400 times per month, and I can say with some pride that Archer Dental ca is currently found in position #4 for that search (organic results). Now you might wonder if that is the largest locally modified dentist-related search term in Canada? It is not. Both ‘dentist + Edmonton’ and ‘dentist + Calgary’ are twenty percent larger at 5400 and 5600 searches per month, respectively. How is that possible, as both these cities are only half the size? The answer is because Toronto has more and better-known neighbourhoods which are place names which become more specific geography search terms when seeking dentists. For example, the Junction + dentist, Church St dentist, Little Italy dentist and even downtown Toronto + dentist are big search terms here. The secret to ranking higher for ‘place name + dentist’ is to make trust within that local community. Get people reading and using the content on your pages with the place name in the Page Title and the h1 header and or sub headers. Make highly usable local flavoured stories for your blog too. How? Write up something real and important that really happened and be the authority on the local subject. What exactly? One idea may be to set up a booth at a local community events fair just so you can blog about it afterwards and be the conduit for the local news that other folks will share and curate. If you sponsor a local hockey team, as many dental clinics do, then make the blog the news conduit and encourage regular readership by writing authentic reports of the games. BUT be sure to show your logo on the jerseys and get some dental keywords in the content too. (Target of opportunity = emergency dentist, LOL) The dental administrators themselves could share photos and blurbs from the dental blog media on the office Facebook and Pinterest pages. The more local and niche specific the info is, the more valuable and sharable it will be within the community you’re targeting.
For example, when Archer Dental launched their Little Italy clinic, we seized the opportunity to have a party during the Little Italy St Festival so we could blog about it. I made the photos of a wandering mariachi band the blog post’s featured image. Connecting that image and the cultural relevance of that occasion to the business formalizes the relationship by the simple act of hundreds of people staying 2.3 mins to read the story and look at the pictures and visit the location page through the internal link. Usability is the biggest ranking factor and the strongest signal to Google that this business is a relevant search result for ‘little Italy dentist’. It worked and is still working today. Despite there being over two dozen dental offices on College st alone, and over a hundred dentists in that area, and despite Archer Dental being less than a year old in that location, the Archer Dental website ranks high on pg1 for ‘Little Italy dentist’ queries today.
Dental Service Search Terms
After locally modified searches, the second source category encompassing almost all other organic search traffic is dental service terms. Specialty services are popular, but also generic anatomy and symptom-driven queries. Teeth whitening, cavity filling, root canal surgery costs are among the biggest service terms, but all of these have long tail isotopes, and some are quite significant. For example, teeth whitening + pain (sensitivity, bleeding, sore) etc. Ranking higher for these long tail terms is a function of making long pages – make highly usable, ‘high functioning’ webpages that are all about the service itself and detail all nuances. Position these popular queries as sub headers especially when you have the perfect original picture or text blurb or quote or some hard-to-source data specific to the condition etc.
Make better dental website pages. Do not copy & paste from other websites and whenever possible do not use stock photos but rather try to snap high quality original pictures (especially for the blog stories) to demonstrate visually that your dentist is the expert service provider. The dentist should not be afraid to show their faces on their websites as trust is key and putting a face to the name is critical to forming a bond between the would-be patient and practitioner.
Take the information and make it actionable and worth bookmarking; for example, instead of listing symptoms include remedies and tips. Include all the Add This and Social Share buttons and share the pages yourself on your Facebook page. *not all at once, but over time so other people react positively and LIKE it.
What SEO tricks can dentists NOT do?
Dentists in Ontario cannot issue coupons, run contests or advertise discount services or write the words ‘best dentist’ on their websites as doing this would contravene advertising and marketing guidelines set forth by the RCDSO. Yet ‘best dentist Toronto’ is a coveted search term. So how does one target the ‘best dentist’ and ‘top dentist’ search terms without writing these words anywhere on your dental clinic website? There are still ways… that cannot be spoken of here.
Terms of Service: While dentists can ask their patients for authentic reviews on RateMDs, OpenCare, Yelp, and on Google itself, in each and every case there are specific Terms of Service legal forms which, if you read the fine print, expressly forbid any gaming of their user submitted location reviews. So, dentists cannot ask for good reviews or suggest kind words or offer any rewards for positive testimonials. This becomes important when you see some social marketing service providers offer to leave positive reviews for practitioners … Well danger, danger, if they have not been sniffed out yet by the rate & recommend website managers then they will be discovered tomorrow and when they go down in scandal their dust cloud will cover their previous clients in a very sticky shame that will be hard to erase and forever limit trust.
Local Search results, even more than organic search results, thrive on Trust.
How Dentists Make Trust? (for SEO)
Making trust is a three-step process. It’s all about making great pages offering usable solutions that are shared and cited. One, two, three.
1. Make highly usable pages. Add graphics and pictures-that-expand-when-clicked. Add prices and describe procedures, make actionable lists and answer FAQs.
2. Make it possible to share the content and share it yourself. I started a board on Pinterest for my own Dental Office Pictures. And I have groups on Reddit and Flickr and I even offer new stories on CanadianContent dot net and Rabble when they are political. There is a push by the NDP to make dental coverage part of our universal healthcare and that is a story worth posting on Reddit.
3. Get incoming links direct to the freshly fixed up pages from all types of media and especially from local reviews directories that are busy and important places online. Streamline the NAPs – make sure each and every name, address, phone number listing matches perfectly with what you have on site and in Google Places, or now it’s called Google my Business or now its just Google com / business (GMB).
Build Local Citations: The dentist who obsesses over their reviews will constantly search their business names and this has the bi-product of streamlining their citations. While they cannot change the user submitted testimonials, they can respond. But more importantly, they should have keen eyes and make sure that every single ‘citation site’ Yelp, Facebook, RateMDs etc has the same name, address and phone numbers listed – exact match. That conformity builds trust among the cache bots and will result in the location being pinned in more and wider local searches.
To make pretty pages filled with original content that is highly usable is the hardest and most expensive thing on the list. If you do a Google search now for a specific dental service or niche search term you will see the pg1 results on Google are all well-written and attractive, well executed pages on the subject. If you stay longer than two minutes and click around examining other pages and click-to-call or interact with the chat bot than your visit too will be adding to the positive usability score, and will, very-minutely affect the rankings of the site. As would a ‘bounce’ by-the-way; if you searched a term, visited a site offering a solution but then left promptly, that would, on a granular level be a negative indicator that the site fails to satisfy searchers for that topic. With this being the ultimate metric now used by the Google Organic Search Algorithm, there is no workaround; websites listed on pg1 of Google for a search on any given topic by and large generally deserve to be found there.
History of Seo for Dentists – Bad Dental Website SEO
If you were to follow the art and science of Search Engine Optimization from beginning to end, showing the innovation-to-obsolescence cycle of the greatest Google Search Algorithm hacks, there would be no better industry to serve as backdrop than dentistry. This is the land of ‘SEO schemes’, and while that’s the crudest definition of the work, it does apply to many of my own initiatives. I have tried everything from expert level content marketing to making incoming links using beauty pageants, and other tactics that would not work well today on any level.
I have seen it all before and tried many of these things myself:
Top Ten Obsolete SEO Schemes for Dental Websites from the last Decade:
- Custom Dental Website Array – probably the oldest and most useless trick in the dentist SEO handbook (it never really worked well) was to buy up countless similar sounding domain names (in many cases from other squatters who tried and failed at this same tactic) with the same geographic landmark plus the word dentist in the URL, and to then make a dozen or more template driven websites that only exist to link to the real site (there will be links from every page of the trick site to the real functioning dental clinic site) and if anyone should try to sign up or contact the owner at the trick site they are immediately taken to the real enterprise. Such an array is useless now, and will only cost the operator money hosting and promoting it; there would be no measurable ROI from creating or maintaining such a system today. A subcategory of this would be footer links in friends’ sites. Another sub category is buying similar sounding domains with high DA (real dental clinic websites that have closed) from domain resellers.
- Local SEO niche dentist start-ups like ‘Dentist Find’ and ‘Dental finder.. .. –. These were good when mobile / dentist finder apps started taking off. Just having a mobile friendly website was a huge discriminator and many web companies profited by making responsive websites. The keywords “find me a dentist” were a magic intonation into the machine. Remember there was a time when everyone was keyed onto the local search market. Zuckerberg’s dad was a dentist, and he used his father’s practice as an example to illustrate how Facebook’s local search worked. All this excitement has died down somewhat now as Google has provided a terrific smart local search solution and these other sites have become citation providers to increase trust. As such they work symbiotically with Google’s local search algorithm by confirming names, addresses and phone numbers they have indexed – that’s why streamlining the citations is so important. The small -go-local’ referral sites are all dying now, and two big two platforms are emerging or have emerged in this niche, RateMDs and OpenCare. These service providers are strongmen in the growing online rate & referral business. Does being listed on them help SEO? Absolutely it does. Its a giant Trust checkmark.
- Robot Linkbuilding – comment spam – everyone did this (except me – truth) but dentists and cosmetic surgeons took it to the next level. They hired services that used robots (and as such they could accrue penalties from such links today). That’s because unlike basement waterproofers, commercial roofers and landscapers, the average dentist is busy all year round. They have precious little spare time to do any homemade comment spam. It’s a fact that making incoming links to dentists’ websites is hard to do well (because they always look so unnatural and sponsored – paid) and so getting good incoming links really used to help things along as they really did separate the experts from the more mercantile practitioners (ie experts could get links in ‘helpful’ editorial content). So, on all my dental content marketing pieces, especially where I was a guest author and donated text and images (and where today I cannot control the presentation), there is always a long list of comment spam that has collected below, made by desperate SEOs working for other dental clinics. The comments are lame and offer feedback like ‘great article, good insights!’ just to get the rel=nofollow link back to their dental clinic website = pathetic.
- Keyword Stuffing – hiding copy in background colours. To address the subject from the beginning, between 2003 – 2006 the Meta Keywords field of webpages was still part of the algorithm. This was inevitably stuffed with hundreds of dental and medical search terms. The field became less relevant when the algorithm shifted to give weight to the words on page. Dental SEOs would hide all manner the service words on the page in a such a way that the Google cache bot would index them, but they could not be seen by human eyes unless you highlighted the page. When that tactic failed, many resorted to more obvious keyword stuffing by writing sentences with the same words over and over again. All techniques were made obsolete by 2010.
- Press Releases (with or without news) – There was time when having the dental clinic’s name in a headline on any news service (even FreePRweb, FreePressReleases dot com etc) and a link in the text below sent a signal to Google that the dentist was important. If you put the dentist’s picture in the mix, or the location entrance (some services allowed that, but most did not) then it was likely the image would be found in Google Image search by the end of the month. That was a sure sign it worked! And because it worked well for years – between 2008 and 2012, the PR services boomed, but the quality of the news suffered. ‘Watch Sticky Sweets Don’t get stuck on Teeth at Halloween – Don’t let your children eat candy in bed!’
- Infographics – making medical graphics was a proven recipe for high quality subject-matter expert link building for many years and it worked well when it was done right. The secret was to make a highly informative pieces of art and give the graphics away free, sometimes even emailing other dental clinics in other cities with blogs and asking if they liked the art and wanted to put it up on their own sites. In the promotion of the artwork the SEO practitioner would include both an embed code and a link to the original infographic presentation s(on the client’s dental clinic blog) so that viewers can get the context of the original post which became a usable incoming link to the client’s website. The reason this worked well here more than in other industries, is that dental sites, desperate for higher rankings, have blogs and the content managers are always hungry for fresh content. Would this work today? Not really, as making incoming links is not as valuable as before and the money to make the infographic would be better spent making original graphics for the website’s service pages… in my humble opinion.
- Link exchanges – best 3 dentists per city, top 5 dentists in Toronto, top 10, who’s who aggregators; so many times my dental office admin clients would send me an email in which another dentist (or more often a dental SEO agency) in another city would ask for an incoming link in exchange for them giving a link from their office website. Ignore these requests and all machinations of the link exchange gambit; it doesn’t help, and is more likely to make negative ranking factors. There are still Top 3 and Top 5 dentist list aggregators in every city today. All best-of-profession + city lists are worthless for the simple reason that they are inauthentic. It’s fraud. The people on the list are only the best because they paid. ‘Its only $50 per month if you add a link’ the salesman will say. But by adding a link to them from your website, you are legitimating their fraud – no auditing of quality exists as is alleged. The whole thing is a stinky scheme, and the best reply to their probing email is NO REPLY AT ALL.
- Awards Badges – Same idea as the infographic but more malign. The idea was simple: create an awards program and offer dentists sidebar badges for their blogs. Best Social Media for Dental Blog by the Ontario Dental Awards Society ? Why not? Make dozens of badges for all different categories and prize levels, 1st, 2nd, 3rd place badges and then go out into the world and give away the awards. When the dental blogger sees he’s won recognition he or she will certainly post the badge which, if clicked, brings the hapless visitor to your client’s dental website or its sister which explains the awards and the story behind the badges (not the SEO story of course, the other story). This doesn’t work anymore of course as blog sidebars have mostly disappeared and the RCDSO is quick to suffocate any nonsensical associations or ‘awards societies’.
- Photo Contests for link building. Do you remember Lenzr?
I’m sure there are more I just have to remember them, or be reminded of them again.
To consistently show positive results in Dental SEO is more difficult than other industries. Bad credit car loans, discount Viagra, and Toronto condos keywords are harder to be sure, but dental search terms are not far down the list on the ranking-difficulty scale. The marketplace is very competitive, and anyone doing SEO for dentists will probably find their work goes unrewarded in their first year, or even two years of their struggle depending on their starting point and energy. The key is keep playing, keep fixing pages by making them better (use Google analytics to measure time on page, and # pages per visit) and keep writing highly readable and informative blog posts on the website blog. In my opinion, it’s far better to have a terrific blog on-site that is well connected to the dental service pages through internal links than it is to spend the same time and money using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. WHY? Making stories on these platforms is like making sand castles at the beach. By contrast, writing the dentist’s blog and fixing web pages is like improving a house, with a proper street address. The dentist would never bake up a batch of cookies and go to the beach shouting his business name while he gave away all the baked goods? So why does he do that on Facebook? It’s far better to take a plate of delicious nibbles to the beach and tell the beach goers that they can get more back at the house. Better yet is to integrate the social media into a comprehensive 360 degree coverage of a clever idea that loosely relates to the blog post you penned that links to the service page you fixed, that month. Take that to the beach. Repeat.