Tips for showing high in Google search engine results pages without paying
Patients can find a health professional’s website on Google but it’s far more likely when the website appears high up in search results. In this edition of “The Wired Practice,” Ron Harman King explains how to boost your “Google juice.”
If you want to see the first impression you make on most new patients, make sure you Google yourself early and often. Current evidence suggests that most Americans now research doctors online before their first visits by perusing their practices’ websites, as well as rate-your-doctor websites. In my experience, these e-powered patients typically are far less interested in where a potential caregiver went to medical school and did a residency and fellowship, than in answering the question, “Can I trust and will I like this doctor?”
Search engines try hard to answer that question. Healthcare providers who cooperate with search engines thusly are rewarded with high internet search rankings. That’s because their websites possess a trait that historically has been referred to as Google juice. Do doctors need or should they care about Google juice? Probably not all, but I find that a great majority indicate strong interest in seeing their names and practice information on page one of Google search results. That’s where Google juice comes in.
What is Google juice?
To understand Google juice, let’s peer into the black box of internet search engines. The big question about search engines is always, how do I get on page 1 of Google? Excellent question. The hard truth is that Google doesn’t want you to have the answer. Depending on various sources, Google changes its search engine formula from hundreds to thousands of times annually. The Google algorithm is as much a secret as the recipe for Coca-Cola. That’s because they don’t want people gaming the system, since search rankings drive trillions of dollars of business transactions.
Fortunately, a massive industry out there is devoted to reading the tea leaves of internet searches. Thanks to an army of professional search marketers, we know quite a bit about ever-changing methodologies of search-engine rankings.
How do you get to page 1 of Google?
The first point is that there are multiple ways to appear in internet search results. One is to pay for it through online advertising. Most search engine ads these days are so-called pay-per-click messages: You submit a private bid to Google, Bing or Yahoo for your ad to appear in certain geographic locations to internet users using specific search terms. Then you pay only if a user clicks on your ad’s link and goes directly to your website.
A second way to rank on Google is through online maps. You’ve no doubt seen the results of a generic internet search for terms such as nearby gas stations or pizza restaurants. A clickable map appears near or at the top of the results page guiding you to such businesses right around you. To get on these maps, you need only register your clinic locations directly with Google.
The third way to rank on search engines is the most important of all. It’s called organic or natural rankings. Organic rankings are not advertisements and they’re not maps; they’re rankings you earn. How? By answering the questions of internet searchers more accurately and comprehensively than just about anyone else.
Be credible to be found on Google
Here is where the internet intersects with medical research. Back in 1998 Larry Page and Sergei Brin, who were then graduate students at Stanford, bet the future of their new company named Google on a very tried-and-true practice already in existence in science and academia. That is, research papers receiving lots of citations by other research literature eventually earn the status of seminal research. Page and Brin decided this approach was the magic tonic for the internet, too. And they designed a search engine that gave higher rankings to web pages receiving lots of citations from other websites. On the internet, of course, a citation is nothing more than a hyperlink from one web page to another.
Unfortunately, with the meteoric rise of Google as the most popular search engine in the early 21st century, search engine optimization specialists began cheating by launching other websites that all linked back to their principle sites. Google engineers subsequently changed their algorithm so that now the linking websites are also evaluated. No longer could you just put up a bunch of junk websites and have them link back to your main site. The linking sites need to prove their own legitimacy by attracting real visitors using search terms on relevant topics. And what draws organic visitors to websites in general? Three words I want you to remember today: quality of content.
Three words, quality of content
That my friends, is what Google juice is all about: quality of content. Many people think, erroneously, that search engine optimization (SEO) requires some sort of magic – computer fairy dust sprinkled on a website. To be sure, a few coding techniques and special signals to search engines can certainly help SEO. One example is including a popular search term in your website URL or address, such as DallasBoneDoctor.com or PittsburghUrologists.com. Yet 80-90 percent of getting to page 1 of Google rests on answering people’s questions on the internet. The best answers always win.
This is precisely why lengthy website pages tend to rank higher than shorter ones. Studies have repeatedly shown that the optimal length of a web page for search rankings is 2,000 words or more – about the length of a feature-length newspaper or magazine article.
So, if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get to the top of Google searches, think of yourself not as just a healthcare provider, but as a healthcare teacher, too. If you can transfer some of your professional knowledge to web pages, you will achieve Google juice that will enhance your online reputation for years to come.