Want to make Google work for you? The fist thing to do is understand what SEO is. By Daniel Warren
What, exactly, are you paying for when you pay for SEO services? I know your eventual goal is to get on the front page of a Google search. But once you’re there on the front page, what then? Do you want to be in the number one spot for organic results? Does being there guarantee that more people will click on your link? SEO for veterinary practices isn’t quite as simple and logical as it may first appear.
But let’s for a minute pretend that it is. Let’s imagine that your SEO agency does a terrific job and gets you onto the front page of a Google search. Your practice website is there beside three or four ads (from competitors).
Another nine organic listings for other competitors are all around your listing. And there’s probably half a dozen suggestions down the bottom of the page for pet food and surgeries owned by big brands.
“Google wants to give searchers a choice,” explains Mark Brown, director at Engage Content, who provide digital marketing strategy to veterinary practices. “No matter how much you optimise your website, that doesn’t change.”
How often does SEO change?
There’s another factor that complicates the digital marketing for your veterinary practice. Google is updating its algorithm all the time, sometimes in big ways, sometimes small.
“So you would be safe to assume you’re paying your digital marketing agency to be abreast of this, and changing every page on your website every day to ensure you maintain your position in search results,” adds Brown.
“Except they don’t. They can’t. Don’t be mad at them. Because no-one knows exactly how search engines work out their results, your agency can only ever be reactive to changes they notice. And in their defence, the basic principles and goals of search engines don’t change.” The basic promise of any search engine is choice. Because no matter how clever Google is (and it’s pretty darn clever), they still can’t get all their computers to work out exactly what you want when you’re searching.
“If someone types ‘vet caulfield’ into the search bar, are they looking for a veterinary practice in Caulfield, in Melbourne? Or are they searching for a vet called Caulfield Jones? Or a veteran’s organisation in the south-east of town?,” Brown says.
“More importantly, the computer can’t know why this person is searching. Is it because their pet cat is sick? Or because they met a cute guy at a club and all they can remember is his name is Caulfield and he works as a vet?”
Why optimising isn’t set-and-forget
The clever engineers who make these search engines work know that there is a chance they won’t give you the response you want straight away, especially if you’re asking a vague question. So they program the computer to guess, based on words you use in your search. And each time you come back and refine the words you use in your search, their computers build up a better idea of what you’re really looking for.
You (or your digital marketing agency) can spend a lot of time making sure the technical aspects of your website are set up properly to make it easy for search engines to find you. But if all the effort you and they put in are focused on a few major terms on a couple of pages, you’ll always be just one result on a page (or on thousands of pages) of search results.
Ways to make Google work for you
“There are two ways you can stay relevant in search engine results. One is to bid on AdWords so your listing appears towards the top of a page. This can be very cost-effective if you have no competition,” says Brown.
AdWords works on a bidding system. So as more people compete for the same keywords as you—which will happen as other vets compete to find customers in your area—the price of staying up the top of the page will rise.
“The second way is to be ‘found’ for a large number of keywords that are relevant to your business,” he continues. “This will require regular content on your site which targets different keywords. Taking this approach has two benefits.
“People use lots of different words to search for your services online, and you have a better chance of being found if you have content relating to a wider range of keywords.
“Second, if you structure your site correctly, you send some of the right signals to search engines that you are an authority on all things veterinary. That will contribute to you appearing higher up in organic search results.”
Ways to fail at SEO
If you are paying someone to look after the SEO on your website, but they’re not adding new content every month, you are fighting a losing battle, Brown says. Even if every existing page of your site is optimised to the hilt, you are not sending enough of the right signals to search engines that you should rank highly in organic search results.
“Also, search engines are looking for clues from humans who use them. The most effective way you can make your website more interesting is by adding content to it regularly that is interesting to people who read it,” he explains.
“The way to do SEO properly for any veterinary practice, then, is by creating a large number of choices for people who read them. Also by having a lot of articles on different pages on the site, which is what search engines are looking for.”
You’ll always be one in many if your site only ranks for one keyword. But imagine if your site appeared half-a-dozen times on the front page of a search query. That’s when your SEO is really working.