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Getting to the top of search engine rankings is all very well, but the important thing is to stay there and be visible, says Guy Meyers, head of customer success and product at Software of Excellence.
The key to website optimisation is a topic of much discussion and comment, but the fact of the matter is, websites and search engine rankings are too important to ignore when it comes to attracting and engaging with new patients.
It’s a fact. Simply having a website is no longer enough. Thanks to the constantly shifting sands of Google’s algorithm, the criteria that determines where your practice comes on the search engine results page is continuously changing. Some of these changes have been well publicised, but other modifications, such as the value of fresh content on your site, or the importance of patient testimonials have been introduced under the radar.
Just three years ago a website was considered by most dentists as little more than an online practice brochure. Yes, it was important to provide accurate information and be compliant, but the content could remain pretty static and if a patient searched for a practice in your area, the likelihood was that you would appear.
But the digital landscape has changed. Google has become increasingly sophisticated in terms of the results it produces. It knows that users want local information that is new and frequently updated. For dentists this means that if you want to stand out when prospective patients search online, you need to respond to these changes and constantly work on keeping your website fresh.
Getting onto the first page of Google can take many months of hard work and the role played by Google+ reviews is vital. Businesses that reach the top of Google without reviews are easily overshadowed by those that may be in fourth or fifth place but have a number of four or five-star reviews. The general consensus now is that reaching the top of Google without reviews means you are less visible and attractive to prospective patients who are more likely to choose a practice that has a more impressive profile, even if it is ranked lower.
Managing your online reputation
Whether or not you choose to engage with online content, there is no escaping the fact that every practice has an online presence. Of course, comments both positive and negative can come via your social media channels, but the advent of third-party review sites such as Google+ and NHS Choices, provide all stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on your treatment provision and care. Optimising the use of these sites and your own website, is also recognised by search engine algorithms as highly valuable content.
Word of mouth recommendation has long been acknowledged as one of the most powerful sources of new patient referrals and this fact still holds true. However, patient recommendation now happens via digital platforms too and it’s important to be aware and exploit this fact. Recent research from Nielsen revealed that ‘consumer opinions online’ is now the second most trusted format for recommendation – second only to personal endorsement from friends and family. This fact is supported by research from Brightlocal, which shows 88% of patients now trust online recommendations as much as they do personal endorsement
Introducing processes by which it is mandatory to ask for patients’ comments and feedback is already ingrained in NHS practices via the Friends and Family Test, and this instinct to request feedback should be carried through to all patients. Although this may seem like yet another job to ask the often busy reception team to undertake, its value should not be underestimated. If this can be automated through your practice management system, thereby removing the manual aspects of the task, all the better.
Using patient testimonials to refresh the content on your website organically helps with rankings and circulating patient reviews via social media and other third party sites. This is recognised by search engines and gives potential patients an immediate and positive image of your practice.
The importance of asking for reviews is as important now as it has always been and in fact is now viewed as a mandatory task by the most forward thinking practices. The ability to automate the collection and distribution of patient testimonials is a key benefit for busy reception teams.
Optimising your reach
The world of digital communication is changing the way in which we interact with one another. Short snippets of information are more easily digestible for an audience who demand immediate access to relevant material. Achieving page one ranking is the goal for all businesses and understanding the rules of the game and playing by them is the only way to ensure your practice’s website gets to the top, stays there and is visible.