SEO FACT & FICTION: Getting your private practice website to show up in Google
Let me tell you a little bit about James. We met through our mutual friend Joe Sanok who suggested I may be the most excited person alive when I heard about what James is creating. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I wasn’t there & that’s how it happened in my head. See, because of his interview with me, Joe knows I’m in love with networking. James is creating this app called Flow that helps you keep track of everyone you’re networking with, who they love to work with, if they take insurance and what kind if so. I’m an “early adopter” which means I get to beta test it & help shape it so that it’s truly useful and user-friendly. James has been one of our tech gurus over on the Abundance Practice-Builders Facebook Page (hop in if you want!), generously responding, giving free webinars on things folks have questions about, and generally being an awesome guy. So he wrote this for all of us so we climb the google rankings. Like I said, awesome guy!
Myth #1 WordPress is better at SEO than Squarespace
Truth: The platform your site is built with isn’t as important as what’s in it
Before we get too far along in our discussion of SEO let’s explain something. There are two key distinctions on ways to influence Google’s opinion of your site. There are “On Page” tactics and “Off Page” tactics.
On Page factors are all of the things you have direct control over, such as: the way your website is coded, the content you have in it, your page title tags, meta tags, the internal links you have, how fast it loads, whether it looks good on a mobile phone, etc.
Off Page factors are all of the things you don’t have direct immediate control over, mainly this has to do with the other web sites and social media sites which are linking to yours. Many people will talk till they’re blue in the face about which platform to use to get “good SEO”. When they talk about this they’re mainly talking On Page factors, particularly that the website is made of up good HTML code.
The quality of the HTML code can be important and was even more important in the past. This was because “bad” code used to prevent the search engine “spiders” (their automated software) from accurately reading the site.
But we have to remember that Google employs hundreds of brilliant people that are constantly working to improving their search engine. Their software gets better every day and the fact that a site has quality code is a lower ranking factor now than it once was. Now they focus more on the factors that ensure a better user experience. So things like the loading speed of a website, whether it’s accessible on mobile devices, whether it can be read by people with visual disabilities, etc are all valuable.
The most important On Page factors that you should be working to improve are your pages’ Title tags, their meta descriptions, and the use of any Header tags. Google uses these to more accurately choose what categories to place your site in but they’re also commonly displayed in the Google search results (the Title is what shows up in the clickable blue link on Google). The clearer these tags are the more likely people are to read your listing and click on it.
More custom approaches to building a website such as using WordPress are still a better option than going with the big “site builders” such as Wix or Squarespace, but mainly for other reasons like longevity, scalability and flexibility of your site. If building through WordPress yourself or hiring someone isn’t an option right now don’t stress too much about it. Getting something “out there” with a site builder in the meantime is still better than having nothing.
Input your website’s address into these two tools:
- This site checks your websites HTML code against the commonly accepted best practices on how websites should be built. Take a look at the overall number of Errors and Warnings.
- This tool from Google checks your website to see how quickly it loads and provides recommendations on how you can improve the speed.
If you’re not super tech savvy the recommendations that these two tools provide will probably look like scary gobbledygook. If you have someone who helped you with your site ask that they look into fixing the highest priority errors. If not, don’t stress too much about it.
Myth #2 I should use my keywords as much as I can
Truth: You should focus on quality, readable, and convincing website copy
In the 90’s, to be ranked 1st for a certain keyword phrase, all you had to do was use that phrase over and over again in your website’s text.
Again, Google’s gotten a bit more sophisticated, sorry :/
That’s not to say you shouldn’t put a little bit of thought into the types of keywords people will be using while they look for a provider like yourself.
It’s good to put together a list of 10-20 different phrases or ways that people will search where you hope they would find you. And ensure that you use words like that in your website’s copy.
Just also take the time to make sure the way your website is written is easily read by the real people who will get there.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who typed in a search such as “couples counseling in Denver”. Speak to that person as if you had just met them in “real life”. Capture their attention, peak their interest, instill a desire for them to take action and reach out to you.
The more that your copy reads well and is engaging the more that people are likely to actually read it.
That’s good for 2 reasons.
Obviously you want your target audience to read some of the stuff on your site, if they don’t they’re not very likely to give you a call or fill out your contact form.
But the side benefit is the signal it sends to Google. Google is tracking how long someone spends on each of the search results they click on. If they go to yours then quickly hop back to the search results and go to the next page it’s a sign that you didn’t find what you were looking for.
Google wants their customers to find what they’re looking for.
When in doubt read your website copy out loud. Doing this, you will find the little spots that sounded good when you first wrote them but actually ended up being confusing or hard to read. That way you can fix them.
Extra Credit: Learn about copywriting
If you’re feeling up to a challenge and want to improve when it comes to salesmanship. Learn a bit about copywriting. Many people avoid it because it is associated with sleazy selling from the days of printed sales letters and late night infomercials but there’s a lot that can be learned and adapted for ethical selling. Skim through this huge list of resources if you want to dip your toe into copywriting
Myth #3 I should get as many links as possible
Truth: Quality over quantity.
An important sign for Google to determine the quality of your website is whether there are other sites on the internet that are linking to yours. This simple concept is what actually created Google in the first place and what made them the billion dollar company that it is today giving sites a higher reputation based on links.
If you heard this you’d assume that it’s best if you got as many links as possible. And if it was still 2010 you’d be right. Back then you could get links however you liked, even paying people who used automated software to post links on thousands of artificial websites with no other purpose than to trick Google.
As we mentioned in the past 2 myths (seeing a theme?). Google gets smarter every day and now they can now detect these types of fake links. They also evaluate the quality of links to your site based on the reputations of those sites. Fooling the system is much harder now. If Google suspects that type of artificial behavior they won’t just ignore those links, they’ll directly penalize you.
Instead of trying to get links in any way possible, focus on quality. A single link from a reputable source such as a local newspaper, chamber of commerce or charitable organization which has been around for a long time is worth more than dozens of links from various internet directories and friends blogs.
To get links from credible sites you can try offering to write guest articles, join associations, hold events, sponsor local organizations, etc.
Another myth related to building links is that you have to follow a certain process to get your site “indexed”. This is mostly a relic left over from the past as well. In the early days you had to “submit” your site to all of the search engine to make sure they know about you. That’s no longer true.
As soon as you have any other website on the internet linking to yours it will be picked up by the search engine spiders within a day or two. Sure, you can speed up the process a bit by submitting your site to search engines or by claiming your Google Webmaster Tools listing. Mostly the people still discussing this topic are trying to sell you SEO services and trying to make it seem like they are doing more for you than they really are.
To get an idea of places you can try to get a link you can look at the links that your “competitors” have— the people who are ranking 1st or 2nd for the keyword phrases you want to rank for. Use the tool here: enter the website address of those sites that are doing well and you’ll find a list of sites linking back to them.
Build citations— Another key aspect of being ranked for a search phrase locally (within the geographical area you serve) is the concept of citations. Citations are an online reference to your business which includes your name, address and phone number. These are a lot like links but they don’t necessarily have to have a clickable link that goes to your website. In Google’s eyes it is simple more proof that you run a real business and have a local location. It’s usually pretty easy to find local business directories where it’s free to add your listing, but I’ve found it to be better to enlist some help on this. You can hire a service called Whitespark for less than 100 bucks they’ll do all the research and submit your citation to dozens of local sources.
Myth #4 Get as many “Hits” as possibl
Truth: Focus on getting quality traffic, from engaged readers
An often told myth is that the more traffic we get the higher our website will rank. If we can just do XYZ and get 5,000 visitors to come to our site or read our new blog article everything will be golden. Some will even go so far as to ask all of their friends and family to visit their site just to increase their number of hits.
Like so many other things in life we need to focus on quality, not quantity.
Are the “right” people getting to our site? What are they doing when they get there? These are questions that matter to you (because you don’t want to waste effort getting the wrong traffic). But… perhaps more importantly in terms of SEO they matter to Google.
Google wants to see that people are engaged with your website. That they take a few minutes to look around and they like what they see. If there’s evidence of that then it’s likely that you will be rewarded and they will make it easier for those people to find you.
So when planning activities such as blog articles, partnerships, social media, etc. don’t just think in terms of getting more people to click a link. Think in terms of helping people, engaging with them on a deeper level.
Don’t act like BuzzFeed and create “click bait” that fools people into visiting your site but only ending up being disappointed by what they find there.
Install Google Analytics if you don’t have it installed already. Once you have it picking up some data for a few weeks take a look at the stats. Sure you can look at the number of visitors (or sessions) but take an even closer look at a stat called “Bounce Rate”. A bounce is when people get to your site and then turn back away almost immediately, they don’t click around to any other pages or posts, they don’t read the article that got them there, etc.
Work to drive this number down, aim for less than 40%. It isn’t easy but in trying to do this you’ll make your entire site better for the humans who get there. Factors that can affect bounce rate are the site being difficult to use, hard to read or difficult to understand the content.
Myth #5 Social Media Isn’t That Importan
Truth: Social signals continue to become more and more looked at.
Don’t you already have enough on your plate with a new or growing practice? Now you have to worry about keeping up Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s App, Uber, or whatever else some Silicon Valley startup creates with this week
Can’t we just focus on getting real stuff done? Is social media important to my websites ranking?
The answer is… yes… well more like maybe. There’s no one real answer here. Sorry.
Will Google rank you higher if you get a lot of likes on your Facebook page or followers on your Instagram. They’ve never really come out and said so. Some independent studies seem to lead us to think that way though. Is it the only factor? No, of course not.
My take is this.
If you enjoy engaging on one or more of those sites and it allows you to connect with your target audience in a deeper way… then go for it. Pick one or two social media sites and build it into your regular schedule. If it feels like a chore then ignore it. It will end up feeling fake and inauthentic anyway. And…after a few months you’ll probably give up on it. If that’s the case focus on the things you can follow through on.
Try social media scheduling tools like Buffer or Hootsuite . These let you do all of your social media “work” in one batch. You can schedule out your posts for the week, share interesting articles you found, or inspirational quotes, etc. Set it and forget it so these things don’t consume all of your free time.
Myth #6 SEO Takes a long time
Truth: SEO is a marathon, but you can make huge progress quickly
True, it can take a while to demonstrate to Google that you should be ranked first. They want to see that you’ll contribute value over the long haul.
But everything is relative.
If you’re competing for a search phrase that is in high demand and saturated in a market that uses sophisticated SEO then it will take a lot of work to get on top.
Hopefully for you though that isn’t the case. If you’ve done the work to choose a specific niche. If you’re up against others that aren’t doing much right in the way of SEO then it shouldn’t be too bad.
In that case simply getting quality content, some relevant links, local citations and doing a few small things correctly will put you well on your way. With some work you could be going from page 10 all the way to #2 on page 1 within a couple of months. (It’s usually going to be pretty tough to beat the big directories like PsychologyToday.com for common keyword).
In Short Make Google happy
I just gave you a ton of information and steps that you can take. If you got this far, your head might be spinning.
When in doubt all you have to do is put yourself in Google’s shoes and look at their perspective.
In 2014 Google generated 66 billion dollars of revenue. If they were a country they would rank 70th on the GDP list. Think about that. Google makes more money than 126 COUNTRIES in the world.
Over 70% of that revenue came from advertisements. Paid ads on search engine listings. Every time someone clicks on an ad Google earns anywhere from 50 cents to $200.
Getting people to click on those ads is their #1 goal.
Sure they have Gmail, cell phones, office software, self driving cars, magic glasses, etc. But all of those things are simply a vehicle to drive more people to use their search engine, to click on the ads.
As soon as people stop using their search engine all of that revenue disappears. And they are terrified of it.
Why would people stop using it? Because they are no longer finding what they are looking for.
Make sure people find what they are looking for if they get to your website and you’ll be fine.
You can do it,
James Hollister is a software engineer, web developer, internet marketing consultant and founder of Flow a new app for therapists designed to help them build and keep in touch with a strong network of trusted colleagues. He’s also put together a free guide called 7 Steps to Easy Networking for the Busy¨ Introverted Therapist check it out here: http://www.FlowTherapist.com/Allison
Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.