by Lesley Ranft

How to bring Web surfers into your practice

If your practice’s Web site reaches top-level positions on search engines such as Google, visitors will find it on the first page of search results and you will have a better chance of getting new patients. Visitors to search engines conduct their searches by typing procedure names into their Internet browsers. They also may type the location where they would like to receive the procedure. Finally, they may type the orthodontist’s or practice’s name with or without the location name. As Jill Sabatino, marketing director for the office of Steven Sabatino, DDS, MS, PLLC, Phoenix, summarizes, “It is critical for practices to be located at the top of the page for their orthodontist’s name and location.”

The first-page results are the most highly visible. Here are several strategies to help get your Web site to the first page of search engine listings:

Directory Listings: Directory listings are meant to send qualified visitors to your Web site through a physician locator tool. Free directory listings may be available through manufacturing companies, dental organizations, and other groups that you have an association with. The goal of paid directories is to allow your practice to have visibility on the first page so that you and a select number of orthodontists in your local area can benefit without a major expense or in-house management. As David Evans, CEO of Ceatus Media Group, explains, “Buying listings in directories that have substantial organic (first page, white section of results) traffic from the primary search terms, like ‘cosmetic dentistry,’ is advantageous. It is truly very difficult for an individual practice to be listed for these primary search terms, yet such terms account for a large percentage of the consumer searches relating to dental concerns.” To take it a step further, consumers may not be aware of the actual procedures that apply to their situation. They may search for aesthetic dentistry with the desire for a stunning transformation, but do not have the knowledge of the treatment options available or of who would be qualified to perform such procedures. In the end, the consumer may learn that several treatment options and a variety of dentists or specialists are available, each with his own perspective on the appropriate treatment plan.

As Gary Hirsh, DDS, MS, San Diego, explains, “I have witnessed stunning transformation in patients through interdisciplinary dental care. Often these are life-changing experiences for patients, and in certain cases the results lend a 10- to 15-year younger appearance.” So it is wise to cross-reference possible terms that may be used to describe the procedures that you perform in your practice.

Pay-Per-Click Campaigns: Pay-per-click campaigns offer a means to have search engine visitors reach you through top-ranking first-page positions on search engines held by independent firms that focus on purchasing paid advertising spots relating to relevant key terms (such as orthodontics). The benefits associated with these campaigns include: 1) e-mail leads from targeted visitors interested in orthodontics; 2) control in timing of campaigns; 3) dollar allocation; and 4) a geographic locator.

It is important, though, to understand search engine criteria. To help you with this, there are Internet development firms that devote their time to meeting search engine criteria. These firms know the keywords that are highly searched and how to manage and monitor campaigns so you can make the right investment. As Zac Hoffman, CEO of SEO Partners, explains, “Pay-per-click is one the simplest ways to obtain leads from targeted visitors searching the Internet. In fact, these types of leads are highly targeted because visitors who respond to sponsored ads on search engines have usually already conducted their research about procedures. The search engines have the technology to bring serious patients to your practice. We set the criteria; the search engines do the rest.”

Search Engine Optimization: Search engines typically display paid advertisements at the top and side of the page, as well as many “organic” listings (free listings based on search-engine ranking) at the center of the page. Although thousands of Web sites provide information on dentistry, fewer than 10% of Internet searchers look beyond the first page of search results.

Search-engine optimization is the process by which a Web site is redeveloped to properly communicate its keywords to search engines in order to achieve first-page listings. Search engines rank Web sites based on a variety of variables, including unique content with pertinent keywords in the body, link popularity that reflects the number of high-quality incoming links to the Web site, the architecture of the site, the visibility of the content, and the underlying code. According to Mario Urrutia, president of Evolve Dental Group, “If the goal of your Web site is to obtain new patients, your site has to be on the first page of the search-engine results for searches relating to orthodontics in your market. To accomplish this, you must optimize each page of your Web site.”

In the end, there is no doubt that the Internet is a must for practices today. With so many options to choose from, it is imperative to research and analyze your options before you invest.

Lesley Ranft is a freelance writer and independent Internet consultant. She can be reached at (619) 247-3778.