As noted in last week’s post, understanding what factors influence search rank is key to ensuring that potential patients find your practice website: Fail to incorporate the signals that get Google’s attention and there’s a good chance the search giant will return results highlighting your competitors instead.
The challenge, of course, is that ranking factors aren’t cast in stone. As the previously cited report from Searchmetrics notes, they’re in a constant state of flux, with even more changes to come in the months and years to come. For those who lack the time or inclination to dive into the report’s 60-plus pages, the following trends provide clues as to where things are heading and what aesthetic practices need to do to keep up:
Data Trend: The URLs with the highest content relevance are those on positions 3 to 6.
Doctor Takeaway: Don’t fixate on snagging the top spot(s). As the report notes, Google often gives the first one or two positions to brands because it values recognizability, user trust and brand image. Bonus takeaway: Just as you shouldn’t get seduced by a No. 1 rank, be skeptical of SEO consultants and agencies that guarantee to get it for you.
Data Trend: Word counts on high-ranking pages are rising.
Doctor Takeaway: Don’t let the “rule” that people don’t read on the internet fool you. Yes, scannability is important but for complex subjects — healthcare comes to mind — the correlation between more content and perceived relevance is clear. In fact, the word count for the top 10 pages for healthcare searches was 50% higher than the overall average. Per the report:
The content on URLs near the top of the search results is becoming more detailed, more holistic and therefore better able to answer more user questions.
Data Trend: The Time on Site for high-ranking pages is rising.
Doctor Takeaway: On average, users spent an average of 190 seconds on the first-page links they clicked on, up significantly from 101 seconds in 2014. Simply put, your practice website has to keep visitors engaged, so consider expanding your before & after gallery, producing more videos and incorporating other forms of content that engage visitors.
Data Trend: High-ranking mobile pages load around a second more quickly than desktop.
Doctor Takeaway: As more users conduct searches on their mobile devices, it’s only natural that Google factor the quality of those experiences into its search results. High-ranking websites have embraced the techniques that appeal to both mobile users and search engines, and aesthetic practices should, as well. Furthermore, as Google moves to a “mobile-first” approach, the consequences of making visitors wait may be far-reaching:
More than ever, webmasters need to be aware from 2017 of how to make their pages mobile-friendly… Any pages which perform poorly in mobile search, possibly because they lack a mobile-friendly design, could also see a negative impact on their desktop rankings.
Data Trend: Almost half of webpages in the top 10 now use HTTPS encryption.
Doctor Takeaway: Security — and people’s perception of their own as they navigate the web — will be among the biggest issues in the years ahead, and Google is doing its part to instill confidence by rewarding websites that utilize HTTPS encryption instead of the older HTTP standard. Eventually, failure to implement the new standard will result in a website being marked “unsafe,” which should be incentive enough for every practice to get with the program.
Data Trend: Backlinks are now just one of many contributing factors and their importance is set to continue its decline.
Doctor Takeaway: Once upon a time, having lots of backlinks, i.e., links from referring sites, were among the most important factors in search rank as they were seen as an indicator of your website’s authority. But their significance is fading, in part, because of the move to mobile. (In a nutshell, people are less likely to click on links on their phones than they are on their computers.) Producing the type of quality content that garners links is still a worthwhile goal, but dedicating resources specifically to link-building probably isn’t.
Data Trend: Universally applicable ranking factors are a thing of the past.
Doctor Takeaway: Having devoted 60-odd pages to the relative importance of various ranking factors, this last trend may come as a surprise. But it actually makes sense. Given how sophisticated both searchers and search engines have become, it’s increasingly clear that individual factors play different roles based on the type of inquiry, user intent and the industry involved. As the report explains:
Except for important technical standards, there are no longer any specific factors or benchmark values that are universally valid for all online marketers and SEOs. Instead, there are different ranking factors for every single industry, or even every single search query. And these now change continuously.
All the more reason, then, to make sure your web team is keeping up.