Anatomy of Dental Search Results

The first step in understanding what it takes to get your dental website to the top of the search engine results is to recognize the various elements presented by Google when someone searches for a dentist on their site. You might not have realized it, but a Google results page is broken down into several distinct sections. Here’s a shot of a typical search – this one for a Boston dentist – with the sections marked out:

Dental Search Engine Results

A typical dental search on Google

1. Search Box

Google Search Box
The first section is pretty straightforward – the search box, which displays the keywords you searched for. In the case of dental searches, it will likely be a combination of one or more dental keywords (dentist, cosmetic dentist, teeth whitening, etc.) combined with a location, like Boston or perhaps a zip code. Knowing what dental keywords people are searching for in your area is important, because they differ from region to region. Ultimately you want to target those keywords with your dental SEO efforts, and even slight changes in keywords yield different results.

For example, the phrase “Boston dentist” gets 480 exact searches per month, while the words reversed – “dentist Boston” – only gets 390. The very similar phrase “dentist in Boston” gets only 140 searches per month, while the plural “dentists in Boston” does slightly better at 170. “Boston dental” is the big winner, with 880 exact searches per month. Aren’t they all the same thing? Not to Google, which returns different search results for each phrase. That means that to be most effective, your SEO campaign has to be laser focused – down to the level of whether phrases on your website and in your off-site linking are singular or plural.

2. Search Term Popularity

Google Search Term Popularity
Here Google shows you how competitive your search term is. In this search for “Boston dentist” they have determined that 9,590,000 web pages had relevant content. That’s roughly 15 pages for every resident of the city. That may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to “Boston dental”, which returns over 40 million. Obviously that isn’t representing 40 million different dentists – there aren’t anywhere near that many in the whole country. That pool likely includes dental related pages from all over that are in some way related to the word “dental”. That also explains why a similar search in a small town of a few thousand people with only a handful of dentists can return over a million results.

That large number also helps illustrate the difficulty facing both Google and the dental practice owner. With a sea of related information, how can Google know which information the searcher will be most interested in? If someone keys in “dentist Springfield”, should they return a list of dentists in Springfield MA, or Springfield IL, or a paper by noted cosmetic dentist Dr. Springfield, or the article about the guy who gave Rick Springfield his latest veneers? And how can a dentist in the city of Springfield get his website to rise to the top of the flood of web pages, so that people searching for a dentist in his town find his practice? Google already does a pretty good job with their side of the equation, with teams of brilliant programmers continuously tweaking their algorithms. And the answer for the dentist, of course, is dental SEO.

3. Sponsored AdWords Links

Google Sponsored Links

The next section is the “Sponsored Links” area that appears at the top of page. Although the shading is subtle, you can see the that results in this area are a different color, to designate that they are paid advertisements. Advertisers setup a Google AdWords account and bid on the keywords they want to target. If they bid high enough, and their site & ad meet certain criteria, they end up here at the top of the results, where they pay every time their ad is clicked. An ad can send instant traffic to your website, which is good, but it comes at a price that gets steeper as the keyword competition increases. Advertisers targeting “Boston dentist”, for example, pay an average cost of $14.56 every time their ad is clicked (CPC). That isn’t any sort of guarantee that they’ll get a patient, of course. Their website still has to convert. That’s just paying $14.56 to get their website in front of potential searchers. All of the other variants we mentioned – “dentist Boston”, “dentists in Boston”, “Boston dental” and the rest – have CPC rates that range between $10-$15. That’s certainly not the highest Google ad rate professionals pay (I researched Denver plumbing keywords for a friend the other day, and they are paying upwards of $50 per click!), but it still can eat up a few thousand dollars per month in advertising costs pretty quickly. There is a reason why Google is worth $375 billion dollars.

4. More Sponsored Links

Google More Sponsored Links
More ads means more revenue for Google, so they have ad spaces at the top and along the side of the page. Studies show that approximately 85% of all the clicks on a Google results page are concentrated on the top half of the page.

Organic (non-paid) results still the the bulk of the clicks, with some studies showing that the paid ads lose out to the natural results as much as 93% of the time. But among the paid advertising spots, the last ad at the top of the page gets over twice as many clicks as the top ad in this sponsored links panel along the side. Certainly being in this section on the first page is better than being buried 7 or 8 pages deep in the organic results, but if you are going to pay for traffic, top center is always better.

There are also some interesting studies that show companies with both organic and paid results on the same page get significantly higher click-through rates. One report claimed that paid ads that received a click-through rate of just under 15% by itself jumped up to a 64% rate when an organic ad for the same company appeared on the same page. What that shows is that it doesn’t have to be either SEO or paid ads, and that dental SEO can be an effective way to augment a paid campaign.[clear]

5. Organic Results

Google Organic Results
The Organic listings section is where Google lists the pages they think are most likely relevant to what you are searching for. They have built their company around returning the best results for any given search, and their success is evidenced by the fact that users performed an average 5.1 billion Google searches per day in 2012. They continue to get over 66% of all search engine traffic – more than 4 times that of Bing. If you want your site to be found, this is where you want it to be.

The big question is how do you get there? In many ways getting on page 1 of Google is like hitting a moving target, because they are constantly adjusting their algorithms to try to capture the most accurate results. Because of that, it is important for SEO specialists to keep up with the latest trends in the industry. In many ways it is the same as the dental industry. New tools and techniques are always being introduced, so dentists have to stay up with the trade journals to keep their skills current. Some information, like the basics of good oral hygiene, remain constant over time. But other procedures get updates as technology changes.

With SEO it is the Google algorithm changes that drive much of the industry. Some things don’t change much, like the need for quality content. But other aspects, like linking strategy, can change at seemingly a moment’s notice. If Google devalues a particular ranking strategy (like they did with the Panda and Penguin updates), companies can find their rankings tanking overnight. That is why it is important for dentists who decide to hire an SEO to pick one who has a good understanding of SEO strategy, and who utilize a well-balanced approach to ranking pages.

6. Local Business Results

Google Local Business Results
This section is the Local Business Results listing, which shows the top 7-10 most relevant web sites according to Google’s algorithm. Each business here has a corresponding marker on the map in the upper right corner of the listings page. In order to get a placement in this section, you must first add a free business listing for your practice with Google Places For Business. Part of the signup process includes verifying your physical location for inclusion on the map. Google will actually mail you a post card with a pin number to make sure you really exist at the location you specify in your account. It is all part of Google’s attempts to return accurate and relevant information to people using their search tools.

7. Related Searches and 8. Page Control

Google Related Searches and Page Control
There are two more sections of content to note on a Google search results page, and both appear on the bottom of the page. The first is the Related Searches segment, and the second is the page navigation controls. The related searches piece is where Google suggests keywords that are related to your search, and might bring you relevant information if you haven’t found what you were looking for after looking through the paid spots and the 10 or so organic listings they returned. This is valuable to you for two reasons. First, it gives you other keywords you might want to target as your are thinking about your advertising and SEO strategies. Notice that they are all versions of the original search term of “Boston dentist”, but with additional keywords to help sharpen the focus of the search. Instead of the 9+ million results your originally got, “Boston dentist office” cuts that number down to under six million, and “Boston dentist no insurance” gets it closer to one million. In general, the more specific the keyword the fewer the results, and also the more targeted the search audience. If you can use additional keywords to narrow down searchers to those who are most likely to become patients, you can run a campaign with fewer results but a higher conversion rate.

Second, these suggested keywords give us another clue about Google’s mindset on searches. By placing them at the bottom of the page before the navigation control, Google is in effect saying that if you haven’t found what you want on page one, you are better off searching again than moving on to page two of the organic results. Of course part of the reason for that is that a new search gives Google another opportunity to show you targeted ads and hopefully make money off your search. But it also reinforces how important Google believes it is for sites to rank on the first page of results.

You may have heard the joke “Q: Where’s the best place to hide a dead body? A: Page 2 of Google – nobody ever looks there.” While a bit extreme, it illustrates the point of how drastically traffic drops off for results after page 1. A recent independent study found that 92% of all the traffic went to page 1 results, with a drop of over 95% by the time you got to page 2. And that illustrates a point that we have been trying to emphasize – if you plan on using the Internet to attract new patients to your dental practice, you’d better have a plan to get on the first page of Google.

If you’d like more information about how DDSRank can help improve your practice’s search engine rankings, drop us a note via our Contact Page.

Steve Brown is the CEO of DDSRank, a company dedicated to helping dental professionals gain visibility in the search engines.