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Real World of Dentistry Meets the Virtual World, Part 4: Advanced Techniques

Hopefully, you now have a Web site that is up and running and you are getting a few extra patients every month. By this point you should have also created an AdWords campaign. You should also start to include your Web site address on everything with your office name on it: business cards, letterhead, print ads, yellow pages, signage, etc. By now, your Web site may even be showing up somewhere on the organic search engine results. If not, this portion of this 4-part article series is for you. In this article I will be covering some of the final intricacies of having a successful Web site.

Sample Web pages illustrating an ideal balance of text, images, and high quality graphics.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process by which your Web site content is specifically designed to cater to what the search engines are looking for. Those of you who have been on the Internet for 5 or more years may remember Web sites that had all kinds of tiny little keywords at the bottom of every page. This was an old fashioned version of SEO which no longer works. Nearly all current search engines have been designed to filter out such low-brow attempts at garnering visits. SEO is a big business with lots of sharks, so be careful. I would generally advise against paying someone to “SEO” your site. Paying someone to SEO your Web site can be quite expensive and is probably only necessary in the most competitive of markets. The money would usually be better spent on Ad­Words, books on SEO, or on your loved ones.
Most SEO is designed around the suspected algorithm of Google. (Google holds the highest market share of total searches, currently about 70%.) The search engines never disclose what specifically their algorithm is looking for, so it is all based upon reasonable speculation. A Web site that has good SEO will show up at the top of relevant search terms without having to resort to AdWords or paid inclusion referral Web sites.

For the most part, the following items are agreed upon to be good SEO principles:

  • a domain name relevant to the search terms (ie, yourcitydentist.com).
  • page titles relevant to the search terms.
  • lots of grammatically correct words and sentences relevant to the search terms.
  • lots of linked words relevant to the search terms.
  • picture titles (aka alt-text) relevant to the search terms.
  • regular updates and changes to the Web site.
  • lots of links from Web sites relevant to the search terms.

Items that are generally agreed upon to penalize you in terms of SEO:

  • a grammatically incorrect jumble of keywords on the Web site.
  • nonrelevant Web sites linking to your site (these are known as link-farms).
  • too few words in the Web site (this can happen if you rely heavily on Flash or frames)
  • Web sites that are never updated.

When designing or modifying your Web site, carefully consider how you name each link, picture, and page title. Think about what terms your potential patients (not current patients) will be searching for when looking for a new dentist. If your Web site is yourcitydentist.com, then some of the other page titles within your Web site might be /veneers, /smiles, /contact-the-dentist, etc. The pictures should also have alt-text names that include key words with all of the variations for your geographic area.
When assigning alt-text to your pictures, keep the descriptions brief but keyword-packed. The links should be limited to 2 or 3 words each, again based on keywords. If you use graphic style buttons for links to the other pages of your Web site, be sure to include text links at the bottom of the page to ensure that the search engines can navigate your entire Web site. The search engines have a hard time following button style links. The search engines also reward Web sites that have link names that are in line with the terms being searched.
Relevant external links continue to be one of the more important parts of SEO because they are difficult to fake. External links are other Web pages that have a link to your Web site. It is important that they be from reputable and relevant sites though. There are sites known as link-farms where you merely type in your Web site address and a link appears. It has become quite a problem and it is speculated that having a link to your Webpage on these link-farm sites may actually hurt your ranking. If instead, links to your Web page are found on several Web pages related to dentistry, health, aesthetics, or your geographic area—your Web site ranking will greatly benefit. To obtain such links, start with any and all organizations to which you belong and see if they allow you to add your Web site address to a profile or link page.
High-ranking Web sites generally have a few very important things in common. They change and are updated on a regular basis, they have a lot of keyword heavy text, and they contain relevant external links pointing to the Web site. The search engines tend to prefer Web sites that appear to be current. There are a lot of dormant Web sites on the Internet that may have ranked well at one time, but because of little or no updating they have slipped in the rankings. Adding a blog to your Web site is just one way to keep your Web site current and boost its ranking. You might also consider adding and changing pictures over time.
As mentioned, the search engines can only read, they cannot see. As such, you will need to add a significant amount of text to your Web site. The text should contain keywords relating to dentistry and to your geographic area. Be sure to balance the keywords with readability though. It’s no use getting to the top of the search engine results if your text turns potential patients off. Consider writing mini articles on the procedures you perform. Include friendly bios of you and your staff; this can be a good place to put some of the key geographic terms. Avoid the common mistake of merely listing keywords. It will penalize you with the search engines and turn off prospective patients.
To get a good idea of what a well SEO’d page looks like, search for SEO. Review the Web sites that come up as the top organic results. You will likely notice similarities between them, and most of those similarities will correspond with the above items. The real trick here is to create a page that the search engine likes and that will motivate prospective patients to call your office. It is a fine line to walk, but it can be done. Also remember that results with SEO are never instantaneous. Search engines factor into their rankings how long a Web site has been in existence. Keep at it and be patient.

One of the more fail-safe ways for a search engine to determine the relevance of your Web site is to rely on what value other Web sites place on it. That is, the search engines appear to reward your Web site ranking when relevant Web sites link to yours. This works well for the search engines because it is difficult to fake. The aforementioned link-farms are well known, and most of the search engines seem to penalize Web sites that appear on them. Avoid the temptation to provide reciprocal links between your Web site and one selling unrelated products or services (such as Viagra and the like) as it will only hurt your rankings.
So how do you get relevant sites to link to yours? First and foremost, make sure that your Web site appears as a link on any professional membership directories or forums to which you belong. Any Web site that is primarily about dentistry will benefit you if they have a link to your Web site. Next do a search for “your city dentist” and look for the regional directory type Web sites. Submit your Web site to these as well.
Another approach to getting all the right links is to find out what sites are linking to the top organic results and get them to link to your site as well. To do this, go to Google and search again for “your city dentist,” but this time you are looking for other dentists’ Web sites. Copy their Web site addresses. Now perform a new search for: “link: theirwebaddress.com.” The results will be all of the pages that have links pointing to that Web site. The most relevant links will appear first. Your Web site also needs to appear on those pages if you want similar results. Some will merely allow you to submit your ad­dress, others will require a link in return, and some others will want money. How much you are willing to pay for the link is up to you.

There is a growing trend in the development of regional review sites. Yelp.com is one of the more popular review sites. Members can review anything and everything from restaurants, to car dealerships, to dentists. You may want to consider asking your patients (the ones who like you) to write a review of your practice on such sites. These can prove to be powerful testimonials about the quality of services that you and your team provide.
If you have other Web sites, they should all have links to the others. Another way to do this is to create multiple Web sites for each side of your practice (ie, cosmetic, family, general, kids, ortho).

For those of you looking to expand your presence on the Internet, having multiple customized Web sites may be just the thing. This is an especially useful tactic if you feel that you are having difficulty trying to be everything to everyone with your singular Web site.
Just as you can create a separate Ad­Words and AdGroups for each type of patient, you can also create separate Web sites. This allows you total freedom to specifically market to each type of patient. One of the really significant benefits to this tactic is that each site can have a link to the others. For example, say you have 4 Web sites, each customized for a different type of patient. Each one is specifically related to an area of dentistry in your regional area. Now when the search engines find these sites and see the links, they will assume that your Web site is a very important resource for people searching for a dentist in your region.
Obviously, this comes at an increased cost since you would now have to pay yearly domain registration and hosting fees. You would also need to spend the time or money to design each Web site. But this may be just what you need to become the superstar Internet dentist for your area. It may even work out to be less expensive over the long run, especially if you start to get very good organic results and can stop paying for your AdWords results.

The Internet can be a big and scary place, but I hope that this 4-part series of articles has given you a good idea on how to get started. Hopefully it has shown you ways to avoid the very expensive pitfalls that are out there. For those of you looking for more indepth information, there are many Internet forums dedicated to Webmasters (that’s you now). Best of luck to you in your virtual endeavors—may you see a great return on investment in the real world!

Dr. Schoenbaum is assistant clinical professor in the UCLA Department of Restorative Dentistry and the Assistant Director of UCLA Continuing Education. He is on faculty in the UCLA Center For Esthetic Dentistry where he is responsible for all direct composite and CAD/CAM training. He can be reached at (310) 267-3380 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Disclosure: Dr. Schoenbaum reports no conflict of interest.


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