When I was approached recently by a member of our sales team to do a post on how doctors can choose an SEO company, my first thought was, “They shouldn’t choose an SEO company.” Instead, doctors should be looking to companies that offer comprehensive Internet marketing and not just SEO. Doctors need to be looking to companies that are looking at Internet marketing as a whole, because these days SEO is just one piece of a much larger puzzle and it alone won’t produce the results you need. So what should doctors be looking for, and what questions should they be asking?
Oftentimes Internet marketing companies claim to have a magic formula to earn rankings, traffic, and exposure for your website. The fact of the matter is, Internet marketing should include insight from you and your practice. At no point should an Internet marketing company keep you in the dark about what they are doing.
What To Consider:
Speak with an Internet marketing company in detail before you sign on the dotted line and get a solid understanding of what it is they are going to offer you. Some questions to start with:
What is your process for helping me achieve my goals? Do they run baselines? Do they perform an overall site audit? Do they analyze content?
How do you build links to my website? If they are unable to share this information, it’s possible they are involved in some sort of link scheme that may hurt your website. Link acquisition can come from outreach, PR, and content development if done naturally and ethically.
Will I have access to analytics and reporting? If they refuse to give you insight into the performance of your program, this too may be a sign that something fishy is going on.
We recently started working with a doctor who came to us on the tail end of an existing program with an SEO company that had been managing their efforts for a couple of years. As we transitioned the client and integrated them into our services the client was still in contact with the previous company during the transition due to some difficulties we were having with account access. After speaking to the owner of the company the client was informed that the company was dropping out of the business because their SEO techniques were no longer working thanks to Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. The problem with companies that only do “SEO” is that they are only focused on rankings and backlinks, often ignoring the bigger picture when it comes to the needs of search engines and consumers.
What To Consider:
SEO is a foundation to build upon for all of your online marketing efforts. If you are only looking at the search engines for traffic and are ignoring all other online channels you risk living and dying at the hand of the search engines. You want to be as visible as possible and not rely solely on just one online channel for your efforts. When choosing an Internet marketing company find out if they are familiar with, or offer, services that can help you with the following:
If you’re familiar with SEO, you know that backlinks are definitely part of the overall equation when it comes to showing up in the search results for certain queries. However with Google’s Penguin update the game changed a bit in that Google was cracking down even further on unnatural link schemes. If an Internet marketing company promises you X number of links per month, run…run like the wind! The only way a company can guarantee link acquisition numbers is if they control the sites they are posting them on or they are doing a mass distribution via directories, blog comments, forum spam, or the like.
Large automated link schemes can give you some short-term gains, and if you wind up on top you’ll be loving life. But here’s the catch: If Google’s algorithm catches you, the time spent trying to get back to the top can be devastating to your business.
What To Consider:
The search engines are looking at more and more signals to establish the value and quality of a website when it comes to rankings. While links are still very important there are means of obtaining them through content marketing and other outreach efforts that can help you grow your online presence. As with anything in Internet marketing, its key to focus on quality not quantity. Three high-quality, relevant links can hold the same weight, if not more, than 1,000 spammy links.
Guarantees and Rankings
First of all, rankings are no longer the core metric you should be looking at for your SEO efforts. Putting all your effort into that one term that you think is the most important to your practice won’t bring you half the benefits of having an extensive catalog of terms driving traffic to your website. Second, no one can guarantee rankings.
What To Consider:
As I pointed out when I wrote about choosing an SEO a few years ago, Google specifically points out that no one can guarantee search engine placement and if an Internet marketing company offers you a guarantee in ranking, this should be a red flag.
Rankings are influenced by so many factors these days thanks to personalization, that what I see, versus what you see, versus what your best friend down the street sees can be drastically different. Because of this they are a) an unreliable metric, and b) hard to effectively track.
While it’s definitely valuable to have some insight to how your site performs from a ranking standpoint, if top rankings is the only thing your SEO team is preaching, you may want to start asking questions about traffic, referrals, and conversions. If rankings are the focal point, oftentimes link schemes and webspam are the only means of adding value to your website and more often than not these will not drive additional quality traffic to your website.
- – -
At Plastic Surgery Studios we focus on the long-term goals of your practice and work to help educate you on the trends that are going to help grow your practice both online and offline. We want your practice to stand the test of time online and in the search engines. Our methods are not tailored for short term gains at the cost of long term benefit.
Oftentimes our doctors will get pitches from outside SEO companies claiming to get them better results for one or two hot ticket keywords, or promise them rankings for every term under the sun. But what these companies fail to realize is that we are looking at the bigger picture for our doctors and recognize that SEO is just the foundation of a strong Internet marketing effort. We take into consideration traditional marketing and PR, recognizing that the industry as a whole is moving in this direction and that the sooner our clients adopt these practices the longer they’ll stay on top.
Our goal is to help you achieve your goals by becoming an extension of your medical practice. If you’d like to know how Plastic Surgery Studios can help your medical practice, please contact us for information on some of our various Internet marketing services.
When it comes to websites to list your practice on, the plastic surgery realm is definitely not lacking opportunities for doctors to sign on the dotted line. But aside from directories like our very own PlasticSurgery.com or CosmeticSurgery.com, where should doctors be investing a little more time and money? I recommend RealSelf.com. Here’s why:
RealSelf continues to see growth in both its online traffic and community. According to Compete.com data, RealSelf has seen exponential growth over the last year, even beating out websites like PlasticSurgery.org when it comes to online traffic. This growing visibility creates great opportunity for doctors to gain exposure among potential patients if they are active enough in the community.
Our InIternet marketing team is constantly analyzing analytics data for our plastic surgery SEO clients, and time and again we have found that RealSelf.com appears in the top five referrals for doctors. Having a listing on RealSelf.com can earn you some added website traffic, and if you’re active in answering questions you are sure to see even more traffic funnel your way.
Patient reviews are a hot topic amongst plastic surgeons, as we found out in our latest newsletter. But like them or not they are out there, and RealSelf.com regularly shows up in searches for doctor reviews. If you’re looking to diversify the locations of your online reviews (you are doing that…aren’t you?), then RealSelf is a strong choice as it regularly shows up in doctor review searches.
Bonus Benefit – Content Fodder
One recommendation I have made to clients in the past is that the questions on RealSelf.com are a great resources for doctors to get content ideas for their blog or website. While I suggest you still answer the questions on RealSelf.com, you could always take the topic back to your own blog and elaborate on the subject a bit further. If someone is asking the question on RealSelf, chances are there is someone else out there searching for the same answer on his or her favorite search engine.
Interested in becoming part of the RealSelf community? You can always join for free. Just make sure you become active in the community and answer questions to reap the full benefits of your RealSelf profile. But if you really want to up the ante a bit, you can always sign up for the Pro or Spotlight options, and thanks to a recent affiliate partnership between Plastic Surgery Studios and RealSelf.com, Plastic Surgery Studios clients can receive a preferred rate on RealSelf Pro and Spotlight accounts. To find out how, contact your Plastic Surgery Studios sales or customer support rep today!
It’s hard to believe that in 2012 I am still talking about “keyword stuffing,” but sadly it’s still a pretty common SEO practice, especially in the local search space. Google defines keyword stuffing as, “…the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.” But Google aims to put a stop to this practice with some recently refreshed guidelines.
We’ve all seen it before, the long list of cities a doctor “serves” in the footer of a page in hopes of gaining some additional local rankings without being too intrusive upon site visitors. This tactic has widely been used over the last few years, and Google has clearly taken notice. In an update to it’s guidelines Google calls out this practice, specifically listing “blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for” as an example of keyword stuffing. You can see an example of this practice on a website below.
We’ve discussed in the past the importance of engaging blog commenters and filtering out spam, and Google just upped the ante a bit with new guidelines specific to user-generated spam. This means that as a webmaster, your site can be held accountable for having too many spam comments on your blog. In most cases Google will recognize the problem as user-generated and will notify you about the problem via Google’s Webmaster Tools, however Google goes on to explain, “…If your site has too much user-generated spam on it, that can affect our assessment of the site, which may eventually result in us taking manual action on the whole site.”
Rich Snippet Abuse
Rich snippets have become a hot topic as more doctors and their SEO teams try and find ways to manipulate the search results to show authorship markup as well as review markup. As more people become aware of these practices it has forced Google to generate guidelines specific to the use of semantic markup. In the new guidelines Google calls out two specific practices:
Marking up content that is in no way visible to users
Marking up irrelevant or misleading content, such as fake reviews or content unrelated to the focus of a page
Seeing both practices being utilized more frequently in the medical search space, I wrote about them in length in a recent post on the ugly state of Google SERPs. It’s important to realize that, although Google only gives two examples in the recent update, they note that other manipulative practices could be acted upon:
“While rich snippets are generated algorithmically, we do reserve the right to take manual action (e.g., disable rich snippets for a specific site) in cases where we see abuse, deception, or other actions that hurt the search experience for our users…These quality guidelines cover the most common forms of deceptive or manipulative rich snippet behavior, but Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here. It’s not safe to assume that Google approves of a specific deceptive technique just because it isn’t included on this page. We strongly advise that webmasters focus on providing a great user experience rather than on looking for loopholes.”
1. Familiarize yourself with Google’s quality guidelines.
Google’s quality guidelines are a roadmap for webmasters and business owners who don’t want to fall victim to the wrath of an algorithm update. By knowing a bit more about what the search engines allow and don’t allow; you can ensure that your search engine optimization efforts are future-proof. There have been a total of four algorithm updates at Google in the last month. If your site was impacted, chances are you’re violating some of these guidelines.
2. Get to know the man behind the curtain.
If your SEO specialist is still working his or her SEO wizardry behind a curtain and you’re not totally sure what they do, it’s time to find out. Get some insight into how they spend their time and what tactics they are implementing on their website. If you’ve familiarized yourself with SEO guidelines, and now notice that what the SEO specialist is saying raises red flags, it might be time to make a switch.
3. Aim for long-term marketing goals, not short-term gains.
It’s easy to want to hit the ground running with your Internet marketing initiatives. If you’re not already reaping the benefits of SEO, but your competitors are you probably think the quickest way to the top is the best way. However, these successes take time. Focus on the long-term goal of Internet marketing by ensuring your foundational SEO is in place and then focus your efforts on attracting and helping your targeted audience. In doing so, you’ll reap the fruit of your efforts for years to come without having to worry about the next algorithm update.
I have to thank Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing for inspiring this post. It’s a topic that affects my team daily, and yet for some reason I never thought to write about it until now. I’ve written in the past about how doctors can help build links, but I never discussed how their overall business efforts impact Internet marketing. As Stamoulis points out in his post, anything you do offline can impact your efforts online. If you are outsourcing your SEO efforts, it is imperative to keep your team in the loop about what you’re doing to promote and brand your practice elsewhere.
Other Internet Marketing Initiatives
If you are working with multiple companies to build your online presence it’s important to make sure you let all parties involved know. Whether it’s PPC, SEO, social media, reputation management or the like, each team should be made aware of the others efforts so that there is no risk of negatively impacting each other’s work. In most cases, these teams will be happy to coordinate with one another for the greater good of your practice and it’s online presence.
Any change made to your website can affect your Internet marketing. From conversion to rankings, it is important to keep your Internet marketing team abreast to website changes before they are executed. This will not only ensure that the team is aware of the impending change, but will also allow your team to voice any concerns that may come about from the changes. Could the change significantly hurt conversion? Will it impact a page’s ability to rank in the search engines? These are important things to consider. Get the appropriate teams involved. This can save you and your design team a ton of work in the long run.
Media Attention and PR
If you’re involved with any media activities or PR it’s always a good idea to notify your Internet marketing teams ahead of time. Oftentimes these kinds of events and activities can generate a lot of opportunities for valuable content that may drive links as well as social media attention. If you just recorded a new segment for a news show, let your team know when it’s scheduled to air. If you’re releasing a book, let your team know; they may want to get some fresh content about the book out of you. In the end, the more your online team knows about your offline efforts, the more opportunities they have to create additional touch points with your online audience.
New Online Properties
From websites and blogs to profiles and forums, let your Internet marketing teams know where you’re already playing online. All too often we’ll be doing research for a client and come across a slew of websites we were never told about, many of which conflict with our current efforts. If you sign up to do Internet marketing with a company, do yourself and your team a favor and disclose all online properties you have access to. They may not need to control these sites or change them, but it’s always helpful to know about them just in case they need to leverage them, or even get rid of them in the case they are hurting you.
By being transparent about the happenings of your practice you create new opportunities for your Internet marketing team to build your brand awareness and more importantly, you create a seamless experience for everyone working to promote your practice. If you’re uncertain if something would be of value to your internet marketing team, just let them know. Worst case scenario: It’s of no value to them and both parties are only out a few minutes of time. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Let your Internet marketing teams know about all of your current online initiatives even if they are with different companies and fields.
Let your Internet marketing team know about website changes before they happen.
Keep your Internet marketing team abreast to any media appearances or PR efforts.
Disclose all online properties to your Internet marketing team so that they know what your current online footprint looks like.
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from my old dentist. I usually ignore the email because I know I’m being blasted by Smile Reminder, and I don’t go to that particular dentist anymore. However, as an Internet Marketer, the subject line of the email caught my eye, “Google Review FREE GIFT.” Curiously, I clicked through to the email and this is what I received:
Not only was the dentist’s office trying to buy my love, they even told me that the purpose was to help with their “website and the search engines.” I loathe these types of schemes for a few reasons:
1) It creates a slew of junk reviews with no thought or reason behind them.
2) It’s unethical; you are essentially paying someone to write something nice about you.
3) It’s against Google’s (and many other review website) guidelines.
It’s OK To Ask for Reviews
First, I want to stress that I am not against asking for reviews. In fact, I wish more medical practices would. Though they don’t hold the same weight they once did, reviews are still a valuable element of local search not only for ranking purposes, but also for adding value to potential patients.
Five Alternatives to Buying Patient Reviews
Just ask! Have a longtime patient or someone who always rants and raves about your practice. Ask them to share their thoughts about why they love your practice so much online.
Put a link to review your practice at the closing of all your email signatures with something simple that says, “Leave us a review on ‘insert review website here’ and let us know how we’re doing.”
Provide double-sided business cards with instructions and URLs for leaving reviews on your two most prominent review properties. (For doctors I recommend Google+ Local and Yelp)
Make review solicitation part of your email marketing strategy. (No, don’t do what my old dentist did, but instead leave a spot in your email template asking your subscribers to leave a review and link to the page.)
Funnel your feedback – I recently caught wind of Matthew Hunt’s positive review funnel system, and I think it’s brilliant. You can view the video on how he goes about it below, but in a nutshell he uses a feedback forum to collect customer feedback and sends customers leaving positive feedback to a page for reviews, and the customers leaving negative feedback to a basic thank you page. It takes a little more work to implement, but if used effectively could be well worth it.
The Anatomy of a Good Review
If your patients are open to leaving a review, but are uncertain how to proceed, Google recently posted their guidelines on how to write a good review. So if a patient asks what they should write you may want to give this a read. In essence, a reviewer should do the following:
Write with style
Be informative and insightful
Be relevant – Don’t include information that isn’t relevant to the review!
These guidelines are useful not only for Google reviews, but reviews left for your practice anywhere on the web. The key is to make sure that your reviewer isn’t just saying, “Dr. X is the best. I love him.” It’s saying, “Dr. X is the best and I love him because on this particular occasion he took the extra time to make sure that all my questions were answered, and he made me feel like I was important to his practice, and not ‘just another patient’”
Know Your Guidelines
While I personally don’t agree with buying/trading for positive reviews, there are definitely communities and review sites that don’t specifically have guidelines against this behavior. If you still want to engage in these practices I would strongly suggest targeting these initiatives to sites that do not have specific guidelines against these practices.
Google’s Stance: “Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. For instance, as a business, you should not offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or to write negative reviews about a competitor.”
Yelp’s Stance: “Please don’t write a five-star review of your local watering hole in exchange for a free drink.“ In other words, don’t buy your reviews.
FTC’s Stance: The Federal Trade Commission states that any positive review posted by anyone connected to the seller in exchange for money or wares must disclose the relationship in the review.
In the end most sites and even the FTC are cracking down on these sorts of practices, so your safest bet is to earn legitimate reviews from your patients by using some of the methods above to collect them. Failure to do so can have your reviews removed or filtered out, or worse your listing removed. Has your practice found an effective means of collecting patient reviews? Share your ideas in the comments below.