Effective search engine optimization (SEO) can be transformative for a dental practice.
Increased search engine visibility can result in countless new patients coming into your dental practice, especially those needing immediate dental work (think about it, someone with an impacted wisdom tooth isn’t shopping around).
Of all the industries that can most benefit from search engine optimization, dentists are right at the top.
If that’s the case, why don’t all dentists work with an SEO company?
Because they don’t understand what SEO is.
This is a digestible, yet thorough guide to SEO for dentists. I share the best practices in SEO you should be looking for as you find a dental SEO company. By the end, you will have a good understanding of what goes into dental SEO marketing, what good SEO looks like, and what SEO practices should be avoided.
What is Involved with SEO for Dentists?
Essentially, the goal of SEO is to increase the visibility of a website on search engines. The myriad activities that go into this largely fall into three categories:
- Ensuring search engines are able to crawl and index your dental practice’s website most effectively.
- Maximizing a dental practice website’s content to the searches patients are performing. This consists of identifying what keywords you should be targeting on your dental practice’s website through keyword research and producing new web pages and articles to target them.
- Establishing authority and trustworthiness – fulfilling the search intent of internet users and earning links from other websites
Each one of these aspects of search engine optimization may require more or less intention depending on the nature of your dental practice.
In the case of dental practices with newer websites, technical SEO typically doesn’t require many resources. Most dentists have websites built with WordPress and have an SEO plugin such as Yoast or RankMath. This makes the handling technical SEO tasks such as noindexing low value pages, creating sitemaps, and setting up redirects quite easy.
SEO for dentists mostly involves establishing relevance to the searches internet users are performing (having a page targeting “dentist for wisdom tooth extraction + city” for example) and establishing authority for the website (earning links from local websites as well as other dental websites).
Let’s talk a little more about establishing relevance, expertise, and authority.
Establishing Relevance Through On-Page SEO
On-page SEO for dentists is largely about the comprehensiveness of the information included on your home page, service pages, and if you have multiple dental offices, having well-optimized pages for targeting queries including the names of the cities.
Keyword Research for Dentists
Keyword research is the practice of understanding how people search for dentists and identifying the most promising opportunities that exists for a dental practice.
Let’s look at an example just using Google.
Google’s autocomplete generates suggestions of what it thinks I’m going to type in as I enter a query. This is based on actual queries that have been entered into Google by other users previously; for example, despite the fact that I’m writing this in our office in Cherry Hill, NJ, it is telling me that more people search for “dentists in Philadelphia” than “dentists in Cherry Hill:”
If I select “dentists in cherry hill nj,” I can click in the search box once again and it will give me the next queries I’m most likely to type next:
At this point, I’m seeing two different keyword variations I can focus on: “Dentists in Cherry Hill, NJ” or “Cherry Hill Dentist.” The next step is to determine which is likely to be easier to rank for.
Google used to provide a tool that allowed us to approximate the PageRank of a website, but it is no longer publicly available. These days, we have to rely on SEO tools such as Ahrefs to get an idea of the competition for keywords.
I’m going to enter each of these queries into Google and check the search results:
My SEO tool estimates about 30 monthly searches for this query. Let’s see what it estimates for “cherry hill dentist:”
According to the tool, “cherry hill dentist” has more monthly search volume but it is more difficult to rank for. An experienced SEO will look at other factors, however.
Content Formats Matter
The first thing we look at when determining the difficulty of a search engine results page (SERP) is the format of the content on page one. When doing SEO for dentists, we always have to check to see if the top results are actual practices or directory sites.
In the case of the search for a dentist in Cherry Hill, Healthgrades had to top spot for one search, but the other spots belonged to local practices. In the other search engine results pages, Healthgrades was nowhere to be found and Yelp had the #4 spot.
Let’s compare this to Google’s search results for “dentist in Philadelphia”:
Not a single actual dental practice website is in the top 4 of the search results for this query.
This means that if a dentist wishes to rank highly in Cherry Hill, it’s definitely doable. The keyword “cherry hill dentist” is the more attractive of the two, but there’s no reason not to test them both and see the results.
At the same time, a dentist in Philadelphia is unlikely to show up at the top of the search engine results for “dentist in Philadelphia.” It is likely that Google has determined that people are more interested in comparison websites with reviews and directories of dentists than they are in actual dentist websites. In the case of Cherry Hill, these directory sites seem to have not really targeted the town.
It is critical to perform keyword research to uncover these details and plan for them.
Include Your Targeted Keywords in the Title Tag & Metadescription
Once you’ve completed your keyword research and you’ve identified the keywords you wish to target for your dental practice, you need to include them on the page you’d like to rank for that query.
To start, include the keyword in your page’s title tag. If you’re using a WordPress plugin, it’s quite easy to set. Whatever keywords you put in the title tag will show in the search engine results and will have an impact on your search rank for that keyword, so think it through.
Title tags do have a limit of roughly 60 characters on desktop (~70 on mobile), so try to keep it under that character count. If you go over, your result on Google will be truncated, like this:
It looks cheap and frankly, people want to see your name in the title.
Once you’ve included it in your title tag, write your meta description. Try to include your keyword here as well, since it will increase the likelihood of Google showing the meta description you write. Google will often pull text from your page and display that as your meta description if it thinks your meta description isn’t relevant enough to what the searcher is searching for.
Remember, you have a character limit here too. Keep your meta description to ~150 characters.
Include Your Keyword in Your Content—But Don’t Keyword Stuff
This is where mediocre or bad SEO companies most commonly fail when working on dental search engine optimization.
You want your keyword to be included in the headers of your content—typically your h1-h3 tags. Often, they neglect to take this simple step.
You also want to include the keyword in the content when possible, but don’t overdo it.
If you stuff in your keyword in every other sentence you’ll run the risk of having the content get flagged for keyword stuffing, but even worse, it reads terribly and will destroy any credibility you might have with potential patients.
Would you let someone drill holes in your teeth after seeing that their website reads like it was written by a robot? Me neither.
Establishing Authority & Trustworthiness
Dentistry is a “your money or your life” (YMYL) industry, which brings certain considerations when doing SEO for dentists. “Your money or your life” is a term used at Google to denote industries that require extra scrutiny in the search engine results because of the potential harm they can cause to an internet user.
For this reason, it is imperative that you build trust.
Since its founding, Google has used links from other websites as a proxy for the authoritativeness and trustworthiness of a website.
For example, if one of the dental practices in the aforementioned example of Cherry Hill had been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Press of Atlantic City, and the ADA website, yet no other practice in town had been as well, it would stand to reason that it would be because it is a prominent dental practice.
This is why SEO for dentists requires links from other websites.
Links have the most outsized impact on search rank of any SEO practice (except for those cases where technical issues are addressed in the opening phases of an SEO engagement).
Link acquistion is also the hardest part of SEO.
It is time-consuming, tedious, and difficult, but because it is all three of these things, it can also be tremendously impactful when done well.
At Sagapixel, we are a well-oiled link building machine, with team members specialized in each step of the link building process. Reach out if you’d like to get more information.
There are many link building methods out there, but the ones we’ve found are most effective for dentists are guest post link building and broken link building.
I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about either of these methods, but here’s an overview:
Writing Articles for Other Websites
Our outreach manager reaches out to a number of websites where a post discussing dental work would make sense. With the huge number of health bloggers, beauty bloggers, mommy bloggers, and other bloggers out there, we can find thousands of guest contributor opportunities.
We reach out to a large number of these websites, pitch a few article ideas, come to an agreement on a topic, then assign it to one of our writers. He or she produces the piece—which includes a link to your dental website—then we send it out.
Our outreach manager follows up with the website until it has been published or they stop responding to emails (in which case we bank the post for a future opportunity).
Broken Link Building
Broken link building involves finding content that used to be on the web that had a bunch of links going to it. We then recreate a similar piece of content and reach out to each website linking to the deleted post, asking them to replace the dead link with a link to our new and improved article.
Typically, we win 3%-15% of the links we ask for. This can vary wildly depending on where the original content was, but it almost always results in new links to the website.
Local Citations for Dentists
SEO for dentists is local SEO. A key part of local SEO is claiming local citations.
In SEO, a local citation is a mention of your website, name, address, and phone number. It is crucial to keep this information consistent—this is referred to as NAP consistency.
An example of this would be keeping one standardized format for your street address. You can’t have RT-103 on your Yelp page and Route 103 on your Google My Business page; this can make it difficult for Google’s local algorithm to understand that it is the same address.
In addition, many of the dental practice directories are considered to be trusted resources; if your dental practice isn’t listed there, that’s not exactly a good sign for your “authority” and “trustworthiness.” This is why local citations are so important for SEO for dentists.
A Word of Caution About Link Schemes
Link building is the easiest way to destroy your dental practice’s website’s search engine visibility. If you decide to take shortcuts, you could incur a penalty that results in a complete removal of your website from Google.
Many SEO agencies, especially the cheaper ones, engage in these risky practices, often without their client’s knowledge. If you hire an SEO agency, make sure you understand very clearly what they are doing. If they are building links, make sure the practices they engage in are in alignment with Google’s Webmaster guidelines and that none of their practices would qualify as link schemes.
How Long Does SEO for Dentists Take?
Most dentists in smaller markets can see an increase in search rank within three to six months. Often, none of your competitors have worked with a dental SEO company, so it can often be quite easy to start seeing results. In these markets, the goal is to rank in both the local map results the blue link organic results:
In a larger, more competitive market, the local Google Maps results are going to be the goal. The blue link organic results will often (but not always) be dominated by directory listings, which you may want to consider advertising in:
In larger markets, you can usually expect that all of the top local Google Maps results are working with SEO companies, and often, they have a head start.
That is when you’ll need to find an SEO experienced with SEO for dentists to take a look at the search engine results and give you an estimate of how long it will take for you to start getting new patients through SEO.
Without looking at the specific market where you compete and without knowing your budget, it’s virtually impossible to give you a timeline for increasing the search engine ranking for your dental website in a competitive market.
Also, you’ll almost certainly need a review acquisition strategy. Even if you do break into the map results—which you’ll probably need reviews in order to accomplish—you won’t get the clicks if the other two results have hundreds of reviews and you have 12.
SEO for Dentists Can Have a Massive ROI
The number of new patients you can see as a result of your SEO efforts can be enormous.
I, for one, have had two root canals over the last several years, costing thousands of dollars. I went to a dentist I found on Google.
Also, SEO is unlike PPC on Google Ads that once spent, is gone. SEO lasts.
If you are successful in establishing relevance for the searches patients are performing when looking for a dentist, building trustworthiness and authority, and delivering a superior user experience to your website visitors, you can reap the benefits of having a continuous new stream of patients.
When combined with a comprehensive dental marketing strategy including paid search on Google Ads and a reputation management strategy to acquire reviews, search engine optimization can result in a profitable, stable dental practice.