Local SEO is yet one more buzz-phrase to throw around when it comes to online marketing, so let’s go ahead and clarify so that we can all be on the same page.
Local SEO is the type of search engine optimization that businesses with brick-and-mortar locations should be using. Local SEO is specifically targeted at getting your business to show up for geographically relevant keywords like “Detroit hip surgeon” or “Albany podiatrist.” There are a number of tactics involved, but the big picture involves using those geographic terms on your website in a way that makes sense.
Don’t go spamming people. If you’re throwing in phrases like “St. Louis dentist that serves St. Louis patients,” then site visitors and search engines will run away from you like the plague.
First, create relevant content on your site that corresponds to your location, and secondly, ensure that your location information is consistent in as many places as possible.
Setting Up Your Local Listings
Take a minute to go and do a quick search for your practice name right now. Just open a new tab and type in “[Practice Name] [Your city]”.
How many different types of listings do you see? You likely have a mix of results like Google business listings, Healthgrades, Rate MDs, and a score of other map and review listing sites. Is your business name consistent across all of those sites? How about your phone number? Your address?
Those three questions form the baseline that you need to establish in order to start seeing positive results in local search. Abbreviated as the “NAP” (name, address, phone number), consistent information provides two major wins for your practice:
- Patients can find you. This cannot be overstated. We rely on GPS systems and phone directories to help automate the more mundane tasks of our lives. When your listing info is incorrect, then patients have to decide whether it’s worth their time to continue to pursue the communication. If they are simply researching specialists, then they’re not going to bother. They can just go on to the next candidate.
- Search engines “understand” your location better. If you have an old listing in another city that is still online, then search engines cannot know for certain whether your practice is still there or not. There has to be a certain threshold of consistency for the algorithm to determine that your old info is an outlier that should be disregarded instead of a relevant point of data.
When search engines understand your location, they are able to see a higher relevance between your usage of the phrase “Albany podiatrist” and your map listing located in Albany. This means a higher likelihood of showing up in search results — not only for people searching for “Albany podiatrist,” but also for people who are located in the Albany area and simply type in the word “podiatrist.”
Higher ranking leads to higher traffic, which leads to a substantially higher chance of getting those patients into your practice.
What If You Have Multiple Locations?
The medical practice dynamic is always in flux, and small practices sometimes end up merging with larger groups. Instead of having one or two locations, these groups may end up with 5 or more locations in different cities or sometimes, even different states.
That type of expansion can certainly be great for business, but it can make local SEO difficult. Multi-location practices can rank in search results for every location, but it’s going to take more work than it would for a practice with just a couple of locations.
For starters, you can’t just call it quits with a single location page. You’ll need to work at making sure that you have sufficient information for each practice location. To accomplish this, each location should have its own unique URL on your website. Furthermore, each location page should have its own unique content that is specific to that location.
That means that you can’t just copy over the same content to each location page and just swap out the mentions of the location. There may be some overlap in content, like the hours and services, but overall the content should be different. Try adding written directions, explaining how to get to the location from the major highways nearby, as well as the services and providers available at each location.
From there, you’ll need to take a few steps to improve your ranking for each location:
1. Create Google listings for each location.
Make sure that each listing is set up consistently and keeps up with Google’s current listing guidelines. Make sure business categories stay consistent throughout all listings and that your business name matches your practice name. According to Google’s guidelines, the listings for all of your locations should have the same name. If listings already exist for some of the locations, try to claim what you can to prevent any messy duplications that could interfere with verification. Once you have the listings set up, you’ll need to link to your website.
When linking to your website, you should link each listing to the individual location page that corresponds to the location of the listing, rather than linking to your homepage in every listing. This will help Google understand that there are several locations for your practice, not just one. It is also helpful to fill out the listing information as completely as possible. Each field for your listing is another opportunity to provide more information to both search engines and prospective patients, so take advantage of that!
2. Make sure listings stay up to date.
Locations move, and information changes. Sometimes Google will change information on its own if it doesn’t think the information is correct. It’s important to keep your listing information consistent with what is on your website. You’ll want to make sure that someone is regularly checking in on your listings to make sure that everything is displaying like it is supposed to. Remember, a lot of patients are likely to use Google to find your location. You need to make sure you are providing them with the most up-to-date information.
3. Consistent citations on all local listing and review sites.
Google listings are only the first step. There are several other local listing and review sites that commonly show up in search results. To really boost your ranking for each location, you need to be listed on these sites, too. Across all of these sites, make sure you keep all of the information consistent with your Google listings. Services like Moz Local, Localeze, or Yext can help you get some of that information out quickly.
4. Encourage patient reviews.
The more online reviews your practice has, the more likely you are to have a higher ranking in search results. Let your patients know you are listed, and encourage them to leave reviews. Keep up with your reviews on all of the popular review sites, and make sure to respond to reviews, particularly negative ones. If other patients see that you do your best to resolve complaints, you can turn that negative into a positive by demonstrating that you care about your patients.
It’s not just about the total number of reviews and your overall star rating, either. The recency and frequency of new reviews is also a factor, as well as the quality. A review that includes text explaining the patient’s experience can have more of an impact than a star-only rating, especially if the review mentions the treatments/procedures done.
Additionally, if you plan on running local listing ads on Google, they are starting to place more importance on reviews. Starting at the end of June 2022, Google began requiring a minimum of 5 reviews for certain business categories in order to run an ad. Healthcare is not among the affected business categories as of now, but it is something to keep in mind in case they roll this out more widely.
5. Create locally-relevant content.
Beyond your location pages, the content throughout your website should weave in details about your location to really reinforce that information. Again, we don’t want to throw in spammy phrases about your location on every page, but make sure to talk about the locations you serve in your website content where it makes sense, and try to include your location in your title tags and meta descriptions wherever possible.
Does That Mean I Don’t Have to Deal with the Rest of SEO?
Once you have good content and good listings, will you automatically dominate search results?
When it comes to marketing, there are very few “automatic” results. That’s simply because you’re ultimately dealing with responses from real people, and people — though they often show behavioral patterns — are still impossible to predict at 100% certainty.
Our discussion is not about saying what will definitely happen but about increasing our chances so that we can see the results we want. It’s also important to keep in mind that search results can vary from person to person, depending on their location, preferences, previous search history, etc. A patient who is searching from a location that is closer in proximity to your practice is more likely to see your map listing higher in the results than someone who is searching from several miles away. Google’s ultimate goal is to provide the search results it thinks are most useful to the user as an individual, so while local SEO efforts can help, they aren’t the only factor at play here.
For local SEO, we take care of tasks specifically dedicated to this type of marketing while still employing best practices from the rest of SEO. We still want good relevant title tags, clean code, pages that load quickly, and the list goes on. Basically, local SEO is not a shortcut so that we can do less, but it’s a crucial bit of extra effort that helps the sum of our work become even more effective.
When we build a website for a practice, we include some local SEO to help practices get found. After all, why build a website if people can’t find it?