Search engine optimization or SEO can be a great way to put your dental practice in front of potential new patients. In our short guide, written specifically for dentists or dental group leaders, we’ll talk you through how to implement a basic dental SEO marketing strategy — plus why you should think twice before putting all your eggs in that basket.
Let’s dive in!
What is dental SEO?
Dental SEO is the process of making sure that when somebody in your community searches for a dentist on Google, your practice shows up on the first page. This is a powerful dental marketing tool that should be a part of your overall practice marketing and new patient growth strategy.
Think about what happens when you Google a question or a topic. You’ll get a page full of search results — some paid, some free — offering answers to what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a dentist, that page — also known as the search engine results page or SERP — will list the sites that Google’s algorithm thinks offer the best content for a keyword or phrase like “dentist near me” or “dental implants.”
Now you can get on a SERP for any given keyword by paying for ads (and we’ll come back to that part later on). But the appeal of SEO is that if you do it right, you can rank as one of the top search results organically — not through paid placement but based on the strength of your website and content.
Big picture, this means making sure that you have a website that checks all the boxes Google looks for when deciding which websites to show at the top of search results. These include being optimized for fast loading times and mobile viewing, plus featuring a clear layout, descriptive service pages, useful blog posts, and a completed Google My Business profile.
And while you’ll certainly have to invest in your website and content in order to get there, once you start ranking, you may be able to enjoy the benefits for months or even years.
(Please note that we’re focusing on Google here because they get roughly 90 percent of all search traffic. But these same principles also apply to ranking on other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo.)
How to optimize your practice’s site for search engines
Here are the basic steps you need to take in order to put your practice in a position to rank highly on Google.
Produce helpful content
Creating clear, useful content for your site will help you establish credibility in the eyes of Google’s algorithm. Generally, this means building out a strong homepage and detailed service pages and can also include writing blog posts on topics that will appeal to potential new patients.
Ideally, you want your homepage to clearly communicate your core services at a glance. You should also aim to highlight your unique value proposition, like same-day treatment, open on weekends, laser dentistry, or whatever else your practice does that sets it apart. Make sure to feature photos of your doctors or team in order to put a friendly, human face on your practice, too.
But a homepage alone isn’t going to do much for your SEO ranking. You should also create service pages around your specific specialties or treatment areas — like general dentistry, restorative, cosmetic, pediatric, orthodontic, or dental implants.
These service pages should explain what you have to offer in greater detail. An ortho page, for example, might talk about options like Invisalign, traditional metal braces, and clear ceramic braces, while a general dentistry page would feature basic treatments like exams, cleanings, fillings, and root canals.
What about blog posts? If you’re not relying on SEO as your primary tool for driving traffic, we say don’t bother with them. But if you are, then you’d do well to have a thoughtful blog where you regularly post more in-depth commentary on subjects your potential patients might be searching for.
Depending on your typical patient base, you could cover topics like:
- Guide to at-home dental care
- Why and how often patients should schedule a cleaning
- Invisalign versus traditional braces
- All-on-4s versus dentures
- Enamel-staining foods to avoid
Overall, aim for 1000 words per blog post. And while you want to make sure your posts are credible and accurate, aim to offer your own original take on your topics rather than simply parroting what other dentists are posting elsewhere.
This will help you stand out to both Google and your audience.
Do a technical audit
This is where we get a little more into the weeds. In addition to offering great content, you can help boost your SEO ranking by making sure that your site performs well from a technical perspective.
Think about your website as an apartment featured on Airbnb. If it’s clean, well-lit, organized, and in a nice building, you’ll get lots of people looking to book a stay. But if you leave it messy, cluttered, and disorganized, then you’ll have trouble getting any guests at all.
From a web developer’s perspective, an attractive, organized site includes features like:
- Loads quickly with a fast response time
- Optimized for mobile viewing
- Efficient information architecture
- Clean, healthy code
- Uses breadcrumbs (top-of-page text that shows you where you are on the site)
- No orphan pages or duplicate content
Now, if all of this sounds awfully technical, it is! While you can use free or paid SEO tools to do a basic audit of your site’s technical SEO health, we strongly recommend working with an experienced developer or SEO professional when it comes to actually implementing any changes.
This stuff is too easy to screw up unless you know what you’re doing.
Pay special attention to local search
Here’s a plot twist you didn’t see coming. Google will look favorably upon your website if you… create a Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) and list your practice on Google Maps.
In all seriousness, though, this is really important for dental practices. As a local business, you don’t need to stand out to people on the other side of the country — just those in your own neighborhood searching for a “dentist near me.”
Getting set up with a Google Business Profile will make sure that Google understands that too. Be sure to fill out everything, including listing your phone number, website URL, specialties, and hours of operation.
And finally, don’t neglect your Google reviews here, either. Scoring a bunch of 5-star reviews for your practice will absolutely improve your SEO and help you climb the SERP rankings.
Here, the more reviews you have, the better — so be sure to implement a system within your practice to encourage all of your happy patients to leave reviews.
Use Google Search Console to assess your progress
While you’ll want to use one of the more in-depth SEO tools we linked to above when you do a technical audit of your site (again, your best bet here is to work with a pro), you can also use Google Search Console to keep an eye on your progress over time.
GSC will show you your overall web traffic. Get a baseline number before you begin implementing your SEO strategy, and then watch how that number changes month over month.
The search console will also flag any issues that could be keeping Google from properly indexing any pages on your site.
How much should you invest in dental SEO?
So, all of this being said — how much should you rely on SEO to drive new patients to your practice? In our opinion, SEO should be a supporting player in a great dental marketing campaign rather than the main event.
Pros and cons of dental SEO
Here’s our take on the pros and cons of using SEO to market your dental practice.
- Usually costs less than ads. While you’ll have to invest money in getting your site optimized for SEO and potentially, in producing blog content for months or years at a time, you’ll typically spend less than you would running ads month after month.
- Can offer long-term results. If you can manage to rank at or near the top of some key SERPs, this can drive a ton of traffic to your website over time.
- Helps you stand out relative to your competitors. If your practice is one of the first that pops up when people in your community search for a dentist, you’ll gain major credibility.
- Higher clickthrough rates than ads. Many people trust organic search results more than paid results. This means that if you rank highly, you might see higher conversion rates than you’d get using ads.
- Slow. Even if you’re investing heavily in SEO, ranking well will take time. Practices may need to spend a year or more working on their SERP rankings before starting to see significant new patient growth as a result.
- Unpredictable. It’s really hard to set a specific, monthly new patient goal and then achieve it using only SEO. If you want 50 new patients each month, investing heavily in SEO could get you 50… 75… or 5.
- Doesn’t scale well. If mid-campaign, you add another doctor and suddenly need to double your monthly new patient target, you can’t just wave an SEO wand and make that happen. Similarly, if you’re a dental group or emerging DSO that’s regularly buying new locations or opening de novos, ranking well for one location will often do nothing to help another stand out — meaning you may have to reinvest in SEO for each additional practice.
- Subject to the whims of Google. Finally, if Google tweaks its algorithm (which they do all the time), you may wake up one morning to find that you’ve suddenly dropped down on your key SERPs, with no explanation or recourse other than to try and figure out how to climb back up to the top.
Cost and ROI considerations
SEO pricing is all over the map. Based on a survey of over 400 SEO professionals conducted by Ahrefs, you’ll likely pay anywhere from $250 to $5,000+ a month for retainer services designed to help you achieve a strong SERP ranking.
As with most things in life, though, you usually get what you pay for. While you can certainly find brilliant SEO professionals working for cheap (hopefully because they live somewhere equally cheap), you may risk losing money by cutting corners here.
Measuring ROI with SEO can be tough. Unlike ads, where you know exactly what you’ve spent to generate X number of impressions and drive Y clicks to your website, SEO can be a little murkier.
Generally, though, you want to track how your new patient numbers rise over time. Then compare the long-term value of that growth to what you’re spending on SEO each month.
That should give you a rough idea of what kind of ROI you’re seeing.
Why we think dentists should focus on PPC ads instead of SEO
Now, if it seems like we’re suddenly down on SEO, we’re not. We fully optimize all of our clients’ sites for SEO and think it’s an important tool for stimulating new patient growth.
But we don’t think you should make SEO the primary focus of your marketing campaign. In our opinion, you’ll see more new patients — more quickly — if you invest in a growth strategy that prioritizes PPC ads.
For dentists, specifically, ads offer three major advantages over SEO as a primary marketing strategy. They are:
First off, running ads on Google (or on other key platforms like Facebook) can give you highly predictable results. As long as you’re working with dental marketers who know what they’re doing (like us), ads will usually deliver Y output for X input.
In other words, if you invest $5,000 each month in ads, you might typically expect to see that turn into 25 new patients each month. While the exact per-patient cost depends on your market and how well your team converts leads into scheduled appointments, with ads, you’ll generally know what’s going to happen.
Second, ad campaigns are highly scalable. Once you have a campaign in place, you can simply invest more money if you want to boost your monthly new patient numbers — or duplicate that for any additional locations that you add.
Unless you’ve saturated your market, your per-patient costs will stay roughly the same whether you’re targeting 10 new patients a month or 100.
Finally, ads work much faster than SEO. When we onboard a new client, we’re typically able to start generating a significant number of new patients within 60-90 days.
Meanwhile, an SEO-focused campaign would likely need 6 months to a year to get off the ground.
SMC = more new dental patients, without the hassle
If you’ve read 2,000 words on dental SEO, it’s because you want one thing: more new patients.
We don’t just help you do that, but take it off your plate entirely. Work with us to get a committed, long-term growth partner who won’t just deliver leads, but train your team to turn more of them into scheduled appointments and starts.
Book a demo to share your growth goals, see if we’re a match, and get a FREE growth marketing plan.👇