Squeeze Play: As Screen Space Shrinks, Will Searchers Still Find your Practice Website?

google, snippet, small screen

A funny thing happened on my way to the Internet the other day.

Using my phone, I was looking for data on breast augmentations and the results I got looked a little strange (see above). Instead of showing six or seven results — website name, URL and maybe a line or two of text — my screen showed just three, each of which featured three or four lines of extended explanatory content.

Obviously, I could scroll for additional results with a flick of my finger but, in the split-second, instant-results world that defines modern life, those latter websites were essentially out of sight, out of mind and, therefore, at a significant disadvantage to the ones that showed up front and center.

And, apologies to Woody Allen, “Showing up is 80% of…marketing success.”

The problem is that showing up in search results is getting harder all the time, especially in light of changes Google has made to both the way it determines search rank and how it displays the results. The following three changes, for example, can all impact whether or not people find your website at all:

Longer snippets mean fewer results per screen

Since mobile searches are now exceeding desktop in many locales, it’s not surprising that Google is devoting a lot of energy to ensuring it provides highly relevant results on smartphones and tablets. In April, for example, the company adapted its algorithm, giving a boost to sites it considered to be “mobile-friendly” and even identifying them as such.

The latest tweak involves the use of snippets, the small samples of content that appear below a website’s URL. Customizing that content is a job best left for your web team but suffice it to say that it’s some pretty prime real estate that shouldn’t go to waste — especially if it pushes a competitor off a mobile searcher’s screen.

google, knowledge box, search results

Beware the Knowledge Box

You’ve probably had it happen to you: You Google something and tucked amid the websites listed is a box with a short answer to your question. If it provides the information you needed, you’re done — no further clicking required — if it doesn’t, there’s a good chance you’ll click on the accompanying link rather than other results.

This is Google’s Knowledge Box (aka Knowledge Graph), which not only takes up space in search results but can also effectively cut down on clicks to other sites. And since the company added health information to the Knowledge Graph in February, it’s worth paying attention to. There are ways to get your content into the box — writing the Wikipedia entry on a new technique, for example — but for most doctors, it’s just another example of the ever-increasing challenge of getting seen in search results.

Big players get better treatment

While richer snippets and knowledge boxes are highly visible, many changes take place behind the scenes and only show up when someone digs deep into results and shares their findings. Earlier this month, the folks at BrightLocal did just that and found that, among other things, large websites (i.e., non-local, non-small-business) get the lion’s share of page 1 results, squeezing out local companies in the process.

Fortunately, there are ways to counteract the big sites’ seeming advantage. Optimizing for long-tail searches and geo-modified inquiries, for example, were both shown to give listings of local businesses a boost. Coupled with the preceding points, that’s just further proof that the evolution of search is ongoing and ignoring the changes isn’t an option.

Doctor Takeaway

If you want to get seen, you have to get on the screen

Contrary to what countless attention-getting headlines say, SEO, or search engine optimization, isn’t dead; it’s just evolving and each iteration impacts the results that searchers receive. Some changes are rolled out to combat tricks that seek to game the system; others take advantage of new technologies that make honest but outdated tactics ineffective. Good SEOs stay up to speed on the changes, adjust their tactics accordingly and take the time to share what they’re doing with their clients. If yours isn’t, another change may be in order.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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