Dentists frequently find things like SEO and digital marketing a headache, and sometimes these headaches can keep them up at night. It doesn’t have to be this way at all.

Its common for a prospective patient to look for a new dentist online, and these potential patients will likely use a search engine to find dental practices that are a good fit for them.  So, there is actually a lot to be said for investing time and energy into your practice’s search engine optimization.

There are common misconceptions about dental SEO that steered many practices in the wrong direction. When these misconceptions are put into practice, they can result in a large amount of time and money lost, and minimal, if any results for your practice.

A Huge Problem With Dental SEO

For just a moment, try to visualize the journey your potential patients take when searching for and finding a dentist. From the initial realization that they need a dentist, to locating your offices online, to contacting you for an appointment. What does that actually look like?

Let’s use a dentist in the Sacramento area as an example. What general path will your potential patient take?

The following is how most dental practices view it:

  • The potential patient will become aware of their need for a better dentist, and will get ready to conduct an online search.
  • They visit Google.
  • Because they are located in Sacramento, they conduct a search for “dentist Sacramento” or “best dentist in Sacramento.”
  • They find your website because you’re the best dentist in Sacramento.
  • They contact the dentist office through the website.

Is your answer like the one above? If so, that’s ok!  Most dentists don’t truly understand how a prospective patient searches online.  The route a searcher actaully takes to find your dental office is not nearly that direct.

Let’s break down three common assumptions illustrated in the example above:

  • Potential patients usually know they need a dentist before they search for one.
  • These patients usually conduct simple keyword searches to find a dentist.
  • And they search for dentists directly.

(Another assumption is that these potential patients are using a laptop rather than a mobile device.  And if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you’ll be adding more obstacles to your SEO efforts.  But that’s a discussion for another blog post.)

If you’re developing a strategy for your SEO efforts based off these assumptions, you run the risk of wasting money and time and not getting any results.

When SEO Isn’t Working How Dentists Want it To

If your dental practice’s SEO strategy is based on the assumptions outlined above, you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated with the lack of results.  You’ll have a tough time attracting new visitors to your site and converting those website visitors into leads, and then patients.

Your practice could be struggling to retain its existing patient base.  To cope, you may resort to expensive “SEO specialists” to fix your dental practice’s SEO.

The problem with this approach is that many of these specialists will temporarily fix your SEO with less-than-ethical tactics.  But since your whole approach is based on the above misconceptions, these sketchy techniques won’t help in the long run, and could even damage your practice’s digital reputation. It’s time to go back to the basics of how search engine optimization actually works.

How SEO Actually Works For Dentists

Let’s take another look at the example stated above with the dentist in Sacramento and dive deeper into those assumptions.

Assumption 1: “Potential patients Usually Know They Need a Dentist Before They Get on Google and Search For One”

Potential patients don’t always know they need a dentist before they start searching for one. It sounds odd, right? Let me explain.

Let’s say someone has started experiencing pain in their mouth. They go on Google and create searches along the lines of, “What are the symptoms of a cavity” and related keyword phrases such as “toothaches” and “pain when biting down” to become aware of the problem they’re having.

Before searching for a dentist, they DO know that they have a problem that they need help solving.  And the key to generating leads is having informative content that addresses the types of issues that a potential patient may have. This heavily influences their decision to select your dental office to service them.

Assumption 2: “These Patients Usually Conduct Basic Keyword Searches to Find a Dentist”

Consider the search for “Tommy Hilfiger Jacket Macys.” This example assumes that someone will conduct a vague search.  It’s possible that this person just wanted to know if Macys carried Tommy Hilfiger Jackets.  But if they already know what they’re looking for, the search will be much more specific.

Imagine the different results you’d get by searching for “Tommy Hilfiger Jacket Macys” vs. “Tommy Hilfiger Men’s Lightweight Taslan Jacket Macys Sacramento.”  The first search is broad and will bring in lots of different results of different Tommy Hilfiger jackets.  The second one is highly specific.  Google will tell you if any Macy stores in Sacramento have that specific jacket.

People do not want to scroll through pages and pages of results. They want a quick answer. The same goes for your potential patients when they ask questions on Google. They are not likely to search for “Dentists in California” then scan through thousands of results. They have a specific question about their problem and they want a clear solution to that problem.

Potential patients could ask questions like “How to know if you have a cavity” or, “Causes of tooth decay and how to prevent it.”

Those are specific inquiries. When potential patients ask specific questions, Google will attempt to provide specific results.

Addressing these questions with high-quality content on your dental practice’s website and blog helps you attract more potential patients.  Your content points out a problem that your potential patient has and provides them with information they need.  This builds trust and encourages your readers to contact you (and improves customer retention as well).

Assumption 3: “They Search For Dentists Directly”

Potential patients tend to search for dentists differently than other consumer products.  They’re looking for needs that are more pertinent to their well-being than say… a clothing store.

Someone may search for “Tommy Hilfiger Jacket Macy’s Sacramento” to see if a local Macy’s has the jacket in stock.  But this jacket is a consumer product.  This person already has an idea of what they want and where they can get it.  It’s a simple purchase.

Choosing a dentist is a more complex process. Choosing the right one is more of an in-depth and important process due to the need for proper dental hygiene. Dentists are not consumer products, and potential patients won’t be searching for them in the same way they do for consumer products.

An Example of How Potential Patients Find Dental Practices Through Search

Here is an example of how you can effectively utilize SEO for your dental practice:

  1. A potential patient conducts a Google search for: “I have a toothache and I have pain whenever I bite down. Do I have a cavity?”
  2. Your dental practice wrote a blog article on this topic with plenty of useful information. (The typical symptoms of a cavity, the best practices of how to prevent them from occurring in the first place, and what to do once you know you have a cavity…) You write the post in the language that the potential patient uses, making it relatable and easy for them to understand.
  3. This potential patient reads your blog, and it has given them an answer to their question. Now that they are reading your dental practice’s blog, they check out more of your site and read other content that you’ve written.
  4. When what you’ve written is educational and helpful, the potential patient begins to trust you. Your content shows potential patients that you understand their dental issues and you can offer them substantial value.
  5. They will contact you when they want more information or they’re ready to use your services. You nurture your leads until they find a need to move to the next stage in their buying journey.

* The word “cavity” in the first point above is a keyword that is related to your practice.  But competing for rank with the word “cavity” alone is extremely difficult (especially for a small dental practice). So how can you rank for popular terms like “cavity”? Add it to a long-tail keyword (and use long-tail keywords in specific places on your dental practice website and blog posts).

(Note that the more specific your phrasing is, the less competition you will have for those terms, and the more likely you are to attract qualified potential patients.)

What Dentists Need To Know About SEO

Many dentists get irritated when discussing SEO because they think just having a website for their dental practice should be enough to attract qualified potential patients.

Believing this misconception may cost money, time, and possibly your practice’s online reputation.

Some dental practice SEO companies and marketers who sell dentist SEO will tell you how “complicated” SEO is.  When a dentist thinks SEO is confusing or lacks the time to acquire the skills to optimize their presence online, they are more likely to make unwise decisions out of desperation. They could spend funds on services they don’t need that won’t help them build a successful online presence. We don’t want you to waste your time on tactics that are too risky or just plain ineffective.

And naturally, taking this hasty leap may damage your online reputation. There are SEO and marketing companies that use tactics that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.  The tactics they use are an attempt to cheat Google’s algorithm (which doesn’t help you long-term). Be wary of these marketers.

While these tactics may be tempting, just be aware that they’re a temporary fix and quick boost. Your practice could pay the price when Google’s algorithms evolve and adapt, leading to worse rankings and a ruined online reputation. Some dental practices will then use another firm to fix the problems the last one created… and this continuous SEO loop repeats until proper changes are made.

By understanding how your potential patients search for a dentist, you can prevent your practice from wasting valuable resources like money and time, and maintain your dental practice’s good online reputation. Before deciding that your website has a problem that needs fixing, make sure that you understand how search engine optimization and your target audience operates.