Search engines are constantly evolving and are tying two new things into searches: social media and localization. Social media brings in friend suggestions and visits, and localization tries to promote those businesses who work with the search engine to get better information. This article will focus on the local marketing aspect provided by search engines today.
Google has many known "rules of engagement," and if you're smart, you will follow these rules and expect to show up higher on their searches. But Google has an index of around 50 billion pages and many ways for practices to engage with Google. What Google tools and rules work best for a practice to get found?
1. Google Webmaster tools. This is an essential, and often overlooked, tool that helps sites get found. Dr. Lloyd's medical marketing professional signed up his site, jameslloydmd.com, at http://google.com/webmasters and clicked the "Add A Site" button. They uploaded a single file provided by Google to Dr. Lloyd's website and validated it by telling Google the file was in place. The site is now recognized by Google on purpose, rather than waiting on a crawler to find it. Google will now check the site on a regular basis. Google Webmasters tools are valued by Google because the site owner is actively involving themselves in helping Google index the web, and Google tends to rank these sites higher.
2. Build a sitemap. Far too many practices fail to provide this simple, free tool and are ignored by search engines. Basically, a sitemap is a simplified list of all of the pages in your website in a preferred format for search engines called XML. You drop it in your site and tell Google Webmasters the sitemap is there. Other search engines look for this sitemap too. It's not a page your visitors might see, although having an additional "pretty: sitemap page never hurts. If you have a site built on Wordpress (which we highly recommend) you can add the free Yoast plug-in, which will create a sitemap for you. If you are using a different method to build your site, you can generate a free sitemap using the tools provided at http://xml-sitemaps.com. When you generate the sitemap, look at what shows in the titles — are they descriptive and keyword rich, or have you made the classic mistake of repeating your practice name over and over without any valuable title information? Once the sitemap is generated you can upload this to Google Webmasters, and it will index all of the pages on your site that you provide. Google appreciates you going the extra mile and indexes your site more often and puts you higher in ranking for those terms found in your sitemap.
3. Google places for business. This is a collection of Google tools (Google Plus, Google Local, and Google Maps) that provide immense value to searches from a local perspective. You've probably seen Google Maps showing up in searches for businesses or services. You and your practice are no exception, and it's very likely you are listed — but is it helpful? Does it point to your website so patients can click through and learn about you? This can be a key factor in your marketing strategy, just as it was for Dr. Lloyd. Prior to signing up for Google Places for Business, Dr. Lloyd's site had everything right but wasn't getting the type of traction he needed, and he wasn't showing up everywhere. We signed up Dr. Lloyd by going to http://google.com/placesforbusiness and logging in with his Google Account. To activate Google Places, you will need to receive a PIN number. This is Google's way of verifying that you are a legitimate business and not a web poacher (yes, there is such a thing). Google calls your office number it has found (another reason for ensuring it's on your website), and you will receive a PIN code. If your office number found is not one you can answer, because of voicemail or phone system, you can request that Google mail you a postcard with your PIN. Once you receive your PIN, you can finalize your Places for Business entry.
If this sounds like a bit of a hassle, consider how it helped Dr. Lloyd. He now comes up on all variations of localized search, and when you search for "neurosurgeons, Brookfield, WI," you can see his website listing as well as his number one position on Google Maps. And you'll also notice he is the only listing on the map with a website. The rest point to Google Plus Local pages that are dead ends because their owners haven't claimed them. In fact, there is only one other practice with a practice website on the entire search page, near the bottom of results. All of these doctors could have website listings and higher placement just by doing this one simple thing. The process takes a little time but is well worth it, as we've seen more traffic and actual patients contacting us through the website.
Need another example? Search for "herniated disc your city and state" and see if your practice comes up. You do have patient education content, don't you? Now search for "herniated disc, Brookfield, WI" and you'll see Dr. Lloyd at the top of the page. It isn't magic, it's just following the Google rules and showing them the way to great content. The more content you have, the likelier you are to get found by users seeking information.
Google Plus, Google Local & Google PlacesGoogle has decided we all need to be a little more sociable. In older versions of Google Places, you would rank higher because you signed up and got your PIN. You'd appear on Google Maps with a link to your website and that was that. But Google has now taken it a bit further and instead of linking to a general info page, Google created millions of Google Plus pages for businesses. You have one, perhaps many, if you have any type of address information findable on the web. If you are indexed by Google Local, like a number of neurosurgeons in Brookfield, WI are, it's up to you to claim these pages or Google will send you to that dead end Google plus page.
This is part of Google's Local initiative. Google has been changing its search to try and reflect local options wherever possible. If you go to Google and search for "Spine Surgeon" you'll find far too many, but you may notice some localized results. If you localize your search and look for "Spine Surgeon, Brookfield, WI" you'll see much more localized results; this is exactly what your patients are doing.
The Google Places for Business now do the following:
• Help you rank better for localized results.
• Show your complete information on any Google Maps search along with website link and higher ranking.
• Allows you to edit your Google Plus Local page (that's the page Google links to in search results).
• Creates a Google Plus page for you. Use of this page also helps you get found more often.
• Helps you have more Google "credibility," and your sites get indexed and ranked higher.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it really isn't — it only takes an hour or so of time. If it sounds confusing, contact a medical marketing specialist to do this for you. It's a very inexpensive task and the benefits in search ranking and marketing your practice are outstanding.
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