Want to Rank Well in Search? Send the Right Signals

Funny thing about Google: The search giant can find just about any website on the internet but if it “thinks” that you won’t like what it finds, it won’t show you. Page 1 or 100, search rank is all about sending the signals that get Google’s approval.

Ever wonder what those signals are? The folks at Searchmetrics have and they’ve just released an exhaustive report that analyzes the most important ones. It’s written for a very specific audience — those who create and manage SEO strategies — but even a cursory overview reveals the trends that will increasingly dictate whether potential patients find your practice website or someone else’s.

Among its findings:

Content gets complicated

It used to be that ensuring your webpages included appropriate keywords was, well, key to ranking well. Now, Google is taking a more advanced, more holistic approach, incorporating both the relevance of the content and the user’s intention. As the report notes,

Generally speaking, content is relevant when it provides answers to as many questions as possible, and when it deals with the most important aspects of a topic. This is how we define holistic and comprehensive content.

In other words, sprinkling terms like breast augmentation or Boston dermatologist throughout your website won’t get you noticed if the content around it doesn’t help users answer their questions and/or resolve their concerns.

User signals provide powerful insights

Simply put, the online actions people take give Google direct feedback on how satisfied they are with the content they find on specific websites — another way of saying how relevant it is — and the company has several massive data sources to pull from, including search results, (Chrome) browser activity and its ubiquitous analytics products.

The most important signals are click-through rates (CTR), time spent on site and bounce rate. According to the report, pages occupying the top search position have an average CTR of 44%, compared to an average of 23% for all of Page 1, while time on site for the top 10 spots is 3:10 (mm:ss). Add in the fact that bounce rates are rising, which means people are either finding exactly what they want or not at all, and you can’t help but realize the importance of quickly attracting — and keeping — searchers’ attention.

Some social signals speak loudly (but fade quickly)

Gauging the correlation between social media presence and ranking position, the report found that Facebook generated the highest level of user interactions across search results, with the other major networks falling off rapidly.

For aesthetic practices, the takeaway is that even though most potential patients don’t conduct their aesthetic journeys on Facebook and Twitter, they do expect doctors to be active on social media, and by ensuring that your practice website and social profiles are in sync, it becomes that much easier for Google and those who use it to find you.

Technical factors still matter

Even the best, most relevant content won’t land your website atop users’ search results if it’s not easily accessible, easy to consume and optimized from a technical point of view. In that light, fast load times, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS encryption, etc., play a key role in whether or not you get found and what happens next:

Perfect technical implementation lays the foundation for breaking into the top 20, but long-term success in the upper echelons of the first results page is achieved by offering content that matches the relevant user intention.

Put all of the above together and it’s obvious that the science of search rank is complex — and it’s only going to become more so in the years ahead. Thanks to machine learning and other advanced technologies, Google will only get better at determining which websites warrant a high search rank and which ones deserve to disappear. Or, as Searchmetrics puts it,

What was once a slow, clunky algorithm that needed updating one step at a time has now become a fluid, highly complex organism that changes continuously. Nothing is set in stone. Everything is in constant flux.

Doctor Takeaway

The smarter search engines get, the more sophisticated the SEO required

The point of this post isn’t to make marketing neophytes into SEO experts, but rather, to provide a heads up on the current state of search and how complex it’s become in recent years. Simply put, the days of DIY digital marketing are over. Successful SEO requires both a specialized set of skills and the ability to stay abreast of the never-ending changes. If your web team lacks one or the other, it may be time to initiate your own new search.

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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