Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a key lever that dentists can pull to improve their practice’s financial performance. Find out how it works and the results it can deliver.
Let’s face it, the way that dentists attract new patients is rapidly changing. To compete with other local dental practices, dental SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is now one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal. It’s essential for making your practice and treatments more visible to patients when they’re searching online.
But the truth is, when you’re running a busy practice, keeping up with the ins and outs of dental SEO can be challenging, if not impossible. So, when dentists come to us, they often have 4 burning questions they need answered:
- How does dental SEO work in practice?
- What will the quality and intent of patient leads be like?
- How long will it be before the dental SEO changes start working?
- Will your dental marketing agency be 100% accountable for every penny we spend?
Let’s dig into these questions:
1. 'How does dental SEO work in practice?'
Dental SEO works through a combination of on-page and off-page tactics. Dentists use these tactics to help search engines like Google know that their website or webpage has highly relevant, useful information for patients searching about a particular treatment or topic.
Dental SEO is organic and unpaid, so instead of paying to place an ad at the top of a search engine results page – as you could with paid search – you use these natural SEO tactics to improve your website’s online visibility:
On-page SEO: these are changes made directly to your website. It includes tactics such as keyword optimisation for voice search, responsive design to ensure your website appears on mobile and other devices, and educational content posted on your site to help inform patients. On-page SEO also includes technical improvements that help search engines access and crawl your website, analyse the information and index it. These changes are designed to improve your page loading speed for example, and to help search engines better understand the content you have on your site.
Off-page SEO: these are tactics that are used beyond your website and affect how patients find it online. It includes Google Maps and making sure your practice appears in the top three results; social media marketing and creating high quality content that links to your website from your social channels and other sites.
2. 'What will the quality and intent of the leads be like?'
You should receive enquiries from patients who are highly motivated to book appointments.
If your campaigns are set up correctly; your targeting is on track and you’re using dental SEO keywords with the highest level of intent, then the quality of calls you receive from patients should reflect that.
Take Local SEO for example – patients within a one to three-mile radius of your practice who see your practice online when they’re searching for a ‘dentist near me’, will have a much higher level of intent to book an appointment than if your targeting is poor and you receive calls from patients who are 10 miles away.
First things first though, before you can effectively target dental SEO keywords and themes to use in Local SEO or any other on-page or off-page tactic, you need to consider the emotional factors that motivate a patient to search in the first place.
How a patient feels in the moment when they’re searching determines their search behaviour. This goes to the heart of dental SEO, because emotional ‘need states’ and ‘search intent’ are key to the success of all your campaigns.
How emotional needs affect the way patients search
Think With Google recently teamed up with the global research agency Kantar to see if search behaviour could be grouped into six types of emotional needs. It surveyed 4,000 people and discovered that search behaviour definitely was driven by need states. These emotions are the underlying factors that motivate not only new patient searches, but all of our online searches. These are:
- ‘Help Me’
- ‘Reassure Me’
- ‘Educate Me’
- ‘Impress Me’
- ‘Thrill Me’
- ‘Surprise Me’
At any given time of the day or night, patients are looking for information on subjects ranging from the cost of dental implants to how to treat sleep apnea. By considering the need states that drive these searches, dentists can develop content and use SEO tactics that anticipates these needs. As Think With Google recommends, your marketing team needs to “tailor messaging to the need being expressed in that moment”.
Let’s consider 12 common drivers for the many different types of patient search and how these could be motivated by the emotional needs that are most relevant to dentists and their practices: namely the ‘help me’, ‘reassure me’, ‘educate me’ and ‘impress me’ need states. Then we’ll look at how these needs play out across current trends in search.
12 common drivers of dental patient searches
- Locate a dentist near me.
- Locate an emergency dentist.
- Find a practice’s phone number.
- Book an appointment online.
- Find prices.
- Read patient reviews.
- Search for a practice by name.
- Learn about the customer experience offered by a practice.
- Find out about a dentist and/or practice team.
- Learn about treatments offered by a practice.
- Learn what to expect during treatment.
- Learn about causes and symptoms.
Help Me: make your practice visible during location-based searches
Searches that are driven by a need for help are more likely to be based on location. ‘Near me’ searches have increased by 900 percent from 2013 to 2017, as this research indicates.
As voice search increases in popularity and the way patients search becomes more conversational as a result, ‘near me’ searches to say, locate the nearest dentist and find their phone number to book an appointment, are also likely to increase. Research into voice search conducted by PwC says that already 65 percent of 25 to 49-year-olds use voice search at least once every day.
To be at the leading edge of this trend, dentists really need to continually use dental SEO tactics to optimise their website for voice and location-based searches. TwentyOneDental in Hove has done this with their SEO and found success.
Patient searches for ‘dentist near me’ are also most likely to fall into the ‘reassure me’ need state as new patients searching for say, an emergency dentist, need to feel comforted by the fact that there’s one close by.
For ‘near me’ and ‘reassure me’ searches, you should use dental SEO keywords that acknowledge their search needs. Develop and test versions of ad copy, landing pages and content to discover which is most successful at helping and reassuring your prospective patients in the moment when they’re searching.
Reassure Me: provide content that answers pressing questions
Searches in the ‘reassure me’ state are driven by an element of anxiety. Consider patient searches for causes and symptoms, such as “what causes tooth decay?” and “what does tooth decay look like?” Although the likelihood of a new patient booking an appointment at this point of their search is low, it’s an opportunity for you to create content for your website that establishes trust and puts your practice brand in front of new patients at the start of their journey.
‘These searches are about simplicity, comfort and trust. It is uncomplicated and more likely to include questions.’
Justin De Graaf, Head of Ads Research and Insights at Google
By providing answers to search queries related to the treatments that you offer, you can build trust when a prospective patient needs this information the most.
When you consider that most of the results patients are shown during a Google search are for local businesses, directing them to your website by providing them with value naturally increases the chances of them choosing your practice over your competitor’s. It also increases the chance of Google showing your search query as a featured snippet.
Educate Me: show patient reviews and testimonials
Dental practices have traditionally survived and thrived on word-of-mouth. Nowadays, this has extended beyond conversations that happen between friends and family members, to discussions that also happen online.
Patient reviews and testimonials on your website and social channels – in the form of videos, ratings widgets and quotes – help to educate new patients who are forming opinions about your practice, standards of care and the customer experience you have on offer.
Educational content on your website and social channels is also an incredibly powerful way of establishing trust with patients.
Research carried out by Conductor shows that people who read a piece of educational content are 131 percent more likely to buy from that business straight after reading that content than those who read no educational content at all.
Impress Me: show a customer experience that reflects your patients' aspirations
The ‘impress me’ need state is focused on aspiration and status. Many dental practices are already clued into this and show images on their websites of patients in their target audience with aspirational smiles.
Other dentists seek to impress by highlighting their background and qualifications; their experience performing specific treatments or the type of technology they have on offer at their practice.
Showcasing the customer experience that you offer at your practice is something that not all practices do though, but it’s becoming increasingly essential for you to do this. Eighty nine percent of businesses compete on this basis, as this Forbes article about customer experience shows.
A prime example of a practice doing this well is Tend dental practice in New York, which markets how it is, “re-envisioning the dental experience as a whole” at its practices by offering a wellness model focused on building patient relationships. FastCompany describes Tend as, “the Milliennial-friendly dentist, [where] you can watch Netflix during teeth cleaning”. The practice is part of a trend among some dental startups in the United States to improve the customer experience.
To make sure your dental SEO is reflecting your customer experience, you can use influencer marketing to create word-of-mouth at scale, and promote it on social media by showing patients who have had successful treatments. This helps to personalise your practice, so patients see it as more than a dental practice.
How emotional needs impact the SEO tactics used to attract patients
The graph below shows how the ‘help me’, ‘reassure me’, ‘educate me’ and ‘impress me’ need states impact the 12 common drivers of dental patient searches.
In the left-hand column, the SEO services are divided into on-page SEO and off-page SEO tactics. Together, these are the tools that dental marketing agencies and SEO experts use to help websites rank higher in Google and other search engines.
3. 'How long before the dental SEO changes start working?'
Sometimes you can see a significant change happen quickly if crucial things haven’t been done to optimise your website. Split testing for example, is essential and depending on the level of traffic your site receives, it can give you an immediate indication of whether you could improve your conversion rates by say, using one landing page over another.
Other times though, it can take longer to see results from dental SEO because you might be in a competitive field of dentistry, your competitors might be active on SEO or your website might require work over a longer period to achieve more clicks from relevant searches.
Because there’s isn’t a standard approach that can be applied to all websites, it pays to have your website audited to see what needs to be improved. Bear in mind, that if you’re to achieve top results, you’ll need to optimise your site on an ongoing basis. SEO is constantly changing – as the introduction of Google’s BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) algorithm in October 2019 shows.
BERT will impact 10 percent of all searches, so it’s important to stay on top of changes like that. Thankfully, SEO results are cumulative, so the sooner you start, the sooner you should see an impact of any changes that you make.
4. 'Will your dental marketing agency be 100% accountable for every penny we spend?'
Dental SEO is complex and not a quick-fix, so dentists should hold their agencies accountable for every penny they spend. Using a specialist dental marketing agency should help you reach your practice goals faster. One of the main reasons for this is that you don’t have to explain the industry or your patient audiences to them. Instead they can leverage the specialist knowledge they’ve accrued to provide you with expert dental SEO insights and experience.
It pays to also choose a dental marketing company that can offer a complete range of SEO and digital marketing services, so you work with one company rather than multiple agencies. This should make your involvement with them a lot simpler.
Staying in regular communication with your agency is essential. Make sure you receive regular reports from them – at least once a month – on how your campaigns are tracking against your marketing goals. Your updates should come from a designated accounts person who can discuss the outcome of split tests with you; how new patient leads are converting for specific treatments; how your social media channels are performing; the changes that have been made to optimise your website; what content they have in development, and so on.
Your account manager should be highly responsive to any queries that you have and should offer recommendations about how to improve your results and where to direct your spend for a greater return on your investment. Your dental marketing agency as a whole should also be able to offer you a greater range of services as your practice grows. This includes sales training to help your reception team effectively manage the increase in new patient enquiries.
Over to you
Dental SEO offers considerable opportunities for you to increase new patient numbers and win more business from your local competitors. For more information about the best ways that dentists can ‘market smart’ check out this new ebook on the Ultimate Guide to Dental Marketing in 20201
Guide to Dental Marketing
A Guide for Dental Practices