There are only 2 ways to be found on the Internet search engines (ie, Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL) and search engines. I know, I said it twice. Search engines are the primary way that potential patients on the Internet will find you, but there really are 2 ways it happens: search engine results and search engine ads.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEARCH ENGINES
Search engines really are trying to find the Web sites that best fit a person’s search terms; so that when a potential patient searches “Los Angeles Dentist,” Google is really trying to find them a dentist in Los Angeles. Each search engine has its own well-protected algorithm to determine when a site best matches a search term. Your job is to try and make your Web site fit the terms that prospective patients will be searching for when looking for a dentist in your area.
The Web sites that come up with search engines are known as “organic results.” The search engine algorithms decide if your site fits the search criteria. The better it “thinks” your site is as a match for the criteria searched for, the higher in the results it will be. No one, outside of the search engine programmers themselves, really knows the criteria of the search engines. However, it is believed that the algorithms give more weight to things that cannot be changed very easily. These would be your domain name and title in particular. However, it also wants to see a lot of key words relating to the search in your web page. This is why I mentioned in part 2 of this series how important it is to choose an appropriate domain name.
You should have a lot of text relating to dentistry on your Web site (it doesn’t all have to be, nor should it be, on the front page). Put up articles about everything. Mention things like “dentist,” “dentists,” and “dentistry” as much as possible. Also squeeze in several mentions of your city. Most search engines will penalize you if it is just a random jumble of words though, so you need to construct complete sentences. Another way to get more relevant words onto your site is to make sure every picture and icon has a dental name. This is called alt-text. The image for your logo should be named something like yourcity-dentist-logo.jpg (jpg is the suffix for most artwork). Make sure everything has a dental name, as this will make your Web site seem more relevant to the search engines.
Little software programs (called “spiders”) “crawl” all over the World Wide Web. They will crawl through your site and read all the information on it. They cannot see pictures, but they can read the names of pictures. You must make it easy for them to find all of the information on your Web site. The best way to accomplish this is to have text links on every page to all the pages in your Web site. The spiders are all working for the search engines and they report back the content of your Web site. You want the spider to tell the search engine that your Web site has tons of information on dentists in your city. The search engines are also programmed to prefer Web sites that are current. This means that you cannot just put up a Web site and leave it alone. You must constantly make changes. The search engines assume that a well-updated site is better maintained, and therefore more relevant to which to refer people. The search engine algorithms also want external verification that your Web site is in reality about what you say it is, and not just trying to sell Viagra. They also want other Web sites to say that your Web site is about dentistry and that it is good. The way it does this is by checking to see how many links there are that point to your Web site. The more relevant the linking page is the better. So, if the ADA Web site has a link to your web page, that works greatly in your favor. However, if get-viagra-free123.com (for example) links to your Web site, you will get little results from it and your site may even be penalized. The search engines also want to see that your Web site is not just a flash-in-the-pan. Too many Web sites come and go. The search engines will give greater weight to a Web site that has been around a long time compared to a newer one. Therefore, even after you make changes to your Web site, it will take a while before you would move up any further in the search engine results.
Search engine optimization is a term you will probably hear thrown around. Very few people know how to do it well, and most companies doing this are quite expensive. They basically rewrite your Web site using the rules I laid out above, for a huge fee. You can do it yourself, or you can pay someone else to do this for you. Search engines place a large weight on sites included on the dmoz.org database. Be sure to submit your site in the appropriate category. Follow the directions carefully as they are quite strict, hence the large importance of this site.
(Start here: dmoz.org/Regional/North_America/ United_States/Health/Dentistry/By_State).
SEARCH ENGINE ADS
Good news! You do not have to wait for results because you can get them now! However, you are going to pay for them. The wonderful thing about organic search results is that they are free, but until your Web site starts showing up at the top of the search engines (this takes time) you are going to be paying for results. No one will find your Web site if it doesn’t show up on the search engines, and it is generally true that only results on the first page ever get “clicked.”
Most of the search engines now offer advertising programs where you can buy your way to the top of the results for a given set of words. These are labeled as advertisements, but they are better than nothing and they really aren’t that expensive. They typically show up in the top and right border of a search result page. We will come back to one of these advertising programs called AdWords (a Google product). For those of you with newer sites, this will be your bread-and-butter of Internet advertising.
There are also sites out there now which allow users to rate businesses to which they have been. They tend to be more local in nature than the regular search engines, and allow people to find goods and services in their area that others have recommended. If you go to one of the search engines and look for “your city dentist” you may notice that some of the responses have a number of stars next to the name—like a rating system. Google and the others look at these sites and sometimes include the ratings as part of the search results. The bigger review sites at this time are: yelp.com, insiderpages.com, doctoroogle.com, and citysearch.com. Encourage your patients to visit these sites to put up a review of your wonderful practice. You may be surprised at the results. This is easy, effective, and free. Be sure to figure out which of the review sites is most utilized in your area.
Hopefully by now, you have a functioning Web site that contains all the necessary information in a clean and clear format—one that you are proud of. If you have only recently gotten your Web site up and running, you may be thinking that it isn’t working very well. Organic search results take a while to show up even when you have done everything correctly, but in the mean time we are going to start getting people to your Web site by paying for advertising.
WHAT IS ADWORDS?
Google has created a product called AdWords that allows you to pay for search results. These results typically show up when you search Google or AOL (this accounts for about 60% of all searches performed). They are marked as advertisements and are usually placed on top of and to the right of the organic results. With AdWords, you have complete control over when, where, and how often your results will appear. You design the ads and determine what keywords will trigger them. You control how much you are willing to spend per day and per click. You can even determine which counties the searcher must be in to see your ad, and what language they use. You can also determine the time of day and the days that your ads will appear.
Getting Started with AdWords
Go to Google.com, and click “sign in” in the upper right. Click on “create an account now” if you do not already have an account with Google, simply enter the required information. Respond to the e-mail that will be sent immediately back to you. Go back to Google.com, click “sign in,” and enter your login and password. Then, click on “AdWords.” After that, click “create a campaign,” and click “create an ad group.”
Now you can create the actual ad that will show up when people search for your keywords (more on this later). As you may notice, you get a very limited space in which to create your ad copy. A basic ad might look something like:
- (Your city) Dentist
- Dentistry for the Family
- Dr. (your name here)
You can create as many text ads as you like. Go ahead and try lots of variation. Over time, you will be able to see which ads work best and eliminate ads that do not perform well.
Next, you will need to enter a list of keywords. Each set of keywords needs to be entered on a different line in the keyword box. In my opinion, you should always include a “regional term” with each keyword. This will help prevent from paying for clicks from people that are not in your area. Be sure to include lots of variations on terms like “dentist” and the regional terms for your specific area. A short keyword list might look like:
- your city dentist
- your city dentists
- your city dental
- your city dentistry
- your county dentist
- your region dentist, etc.
You will now need to set your daily budget, including your cost-per-click budget. Google can help recommend a budget for you. In most areas, something in the range of $1 to $2 per click, and $5 to $10 per day, works well as a starting point. If you are planning to go after the cosmetic dentistry market, expect to pay 4 times (or more) those amounts, depending on how saturated your area is with cosmetic offices doing the same.
You should also configure a few other parameters. Set the language to only those languages that you and your staff speak; the geographic boundaries to only the relevant cities or counties; and your ads should rotate evenly at first so that you can determine which ads are the best performers. I would also recommend disabling the content search option as well. Content search results show up on Web sites besides Google and AOL, and are unable to be defined by a geographic area. You will therefore be paying for clicks from people who may be too far away to visit you. In my experience, enabling the content network option will result in a lot of clicks with no calls to the office.
ADVANCED ADWORDS TECHNIQUES
One of the best techniques in AdWords is to create a separate ad group for each part of the population to whom you are marketing. For example, I use the following groups: my city general, my city cosmetic, my city family, my county general, etc. Each ad group has ads and keywords specifically tailored to each group of prospective patients. This way, when I create an ad geared toward a mother looking for a “family dentist” for example, she sees an ad about me being a “family dentist” in her area. I do not want the mom to see my ad for cosmetic dentistry when she is looking for someone to see her children. You can create ads for each nearby city and each service you provide. Interestingly enough, in the area in which I practice (suburbs of Los Angeles county), most Internet users appear to just be looking for a dentist (10 times as many are looking for a cosmetic dentist or service).
After you have had your ads running for about a month, go back and assess which ads are performing the best. You can determine this by looking at the click-through-rating (CTR). The CTR is the percentage of people who see your ads and actually click on it. Obviously, a higher number is better. Delete the poorly performing ads and try a few new ones. Do this about once every month.
You can also use the keyword stats to see what people are generally looking for in your area. You can set up each ad group to land on a different page within your Web site. For example, your ads geared towards a mom looking for a family dentist might land on a page with a picture of you with your family and talk about your involvement in the community. Whereas your ads geared towards someone looking for a cosmetic dentist would land on a page showing all your before-and-after case photos. One of the more advanced techniques I will be covering next time will be creating totally separate web pages for each of these groups. You may have noticed that Google has one of the best map programs on the Internet. It also allows you to put your AdWords ads in the results to the left of the ad. You can even create a small 16 x 16 pixel icon (maybe of a photo of your smiling mug) that will show up on the map at your location when people are looking at a map of your area.
Another very useful feature of Google is its analytics software. This software allows you to track all kinds of information about visitors to your Web site (but not their e-mail). You can see what page they entered on, how long they stayed, what page they leave from, their browser, screen size, and even the time of day that visitors come to your site, etc. To use this software, you (or your Web designer) must upload the code provided by Google into each of your pages. To check the stats, simply log into your Google account and click on the analytics button. This is a very useful tool for the advanced, hands-on type of user.
Overall AdWords is a great tool for bringing in a few more calls to the office while you are waiting for your free (organic) results to start showing up. A word of caution though, many new users to AdWords focus too much on getting as many clicks as possible. This will cost you a lot of money and result in a very poor click-to-conversion rate. Remember, the only thing that really matters is getting people to call (or e-mail) your office. You should focus on getting lots of clicks from nearby people who are looking for a dentist. Don’t forget that the Internet is a global tool, but you are an inherently regional provider. All clicks are not equal.
If you are using AdWords and looking for more information, there is a great book entitled, Winning Results with Google AdWords by Andrew Goodman. In it, he provides a more thorough look at how AdWords works and how to make the most of your campaign. However, keep in mind that he focuses on companies that are global or national in nature, not strictly regional like dentistry.
In the last part of this series of articles on launching your practice into cyberspace, I will be covering a few additional advanced Internet advertising and Web site techniques.
Disclosure: Dr. Schoenbaum reports no conflict of interest.