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Local Search Engine Optimization for Medical Websites - Medical Marketing Monday

This week we take a deep look at Google’s local search results and how medical clinics can improve their rankings for local queries. So sit back, relax and join Marc as we dive into local search.

“What It Takes To Rank In Social Search”, Presented by Marc Ohmann,

Hi Everybody,

It’s Marc Ohmann with MDWebPro and we’re back for another Medical Marketing Monday.  Today we’re going to talk about “Local Search Results on Google”.  Now many of you are familiar with the Google Results page and what we’re looking at today is a search on “Plastic Surgery in Austin”.  In October 2010, Google changed how they handle a location in a search.  What Google is trying to do is tailor the search results to a location.  When the search includes a city name, Google tries to return businesses that are near that cities centroid.  Even if you don’t include a city name, Google is going to guess what your city is by looking at your internet service provider.  Google is going to take its best guess at what city you’re in and then show you the results based on the city identified.  Google is using this more and more in all of the search results we track.  We monitor which search result has this local component and what we see is the number of search results with this component continue to increase, so Google is getting smarter and smarter about this local search and when to show local results.  Google is really beginning to do a very good job at it and it’s really making for a better search experience for the user.

Today we want to talk about what goes into a local search and how does Google determine which search results should show up at the top of the results page.  As I mentioned, up until October 2010, we just had standard search results where you see the first ranking, second, third, on down the page.  There’re some paid listings above and a second set of paid listings down the right side.  Today we’re focusing primarily on the organic listings in the center of the search results page.  Google still ranks you based on the content of your site, the authority of your domain and now as of a couple of years ago the location of your practice.  You’ll recognize these local results by these little thumbtacks which you’ve probably seen in Google.  What those thumbtacks correlate to is a map which Google displays showing your current location and the location of these search results based on their guess of your location.  These thumbtacks represent a local search and an actual physical location.  The first key to ranking in the local search results is to have a physical location near the locality being searched for.  You need to have a “Name/Address/Phone (NAP) and keep your NAP consistent across the web.  You start by placing your NAP on your own website.  Here we see that West Lake Plastic Surgery has an address and phone number.  West Lake’s NAP needs to be consistent across the web because this helps Google determine who is for real and who actually has a physical location.  Google wants to return here, they’re charged with the task to determine the best search result and the only way they can really determine that you’re really in Austin is through this NAP and also their own Google+ Places.  Google’s verification method includes the sending of a postcard or actually calling your business.  So Google has two primary techniques and the main one is when Google looks at your NAP to see how many times throughout the web your NAP appears because the actual number of times it appears reinforces that you actually exist and that you’re not a guy who actually lives in Minneapolis trying to pretend he’s in Austin so he can get these search results.  Now that’s Google’s task, so the next question is how do they do that?  Google indexes the whole web on a regular basis and what they’re looking for is this NAP and how many sites it appears on what we call a “Citation”.  Now I’ve added the number of citations here for the Top Seven search results for the search Plastic Surgery in Austin.  What you see is the top result has a total of 93 citations.  What that means is 93 times out on the web, Google has found this NAP and this business name.  The #2 listing has 75 citations, #3 has 83 and #4 has 121.  You can see that having the most citations doesn’t always mean you’re going to rank higher.  What we do see is that all things being equal, with two businesses with the same location, the same site authority, a rank with more citations will outrank a site with fewer citations.  And almost in all cases, a site with 93 citations is going to outrank a site with 10 or 20.  Google doesn’t see sites with only 10 or 20 citations as being very authoritative.  Why does your site only have 10 or 20 citations when we’re finding sites with 80, 90 and 100?  Google correctly ranks the sites with the higher citations near the top of the search results page because those sites appear more authentic to Google.

Now up until October 2010, the primary methods for getting a site to rank in the #1, #2 and #3 positions from the top of the search results page was:

  • Having quality content on your site, targeted towards phrases, telling Google what your site is all about
  • Building the authority of your site and this comes primarily through links of authoritative sites who are basically vouching for you to build your site authority
  • Also traffic based on click-thru through Google which listings are getting the better traffic.  Google’s never openly said they do that, but I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t monitor which results actually get clicked on and which don’t.

So up until these local results were introduced, these were our primary methods of optimization.  Now with local results, these don’t go away we still need quality content on a site.  If your site isn’t about plastic surgery, Google will never show you in the search results for plastic surgery.  If your site doesn’t have any authority, Google’s still going to prefer the site with more authority.   The same with click-thru, Google’s always going to prefer the site that gets better traffic.  But in addition to these, Google’s also uses citations, the number of reviews and are they positive reviews on all of the review sites?  Google’s getting very smart in how they determine who’s getting more positive reviews versus negative reviews.  I don’t think they have it perfected yet, but they can definitely do some of that now and they’re making improvements in it.

Now location, how close are you to the city used in your search.  Are you actually in Austin?  Unfortunately, I don’t know how Google could do it any better, but right now when you search for Austin, Google uses the city centroid as the location you’re looking for.  So if you’re dealing with a city that’s large and you’re 10 miles away from the city centroid, Google is going to rank the competition closer to the city centroid a little higher.  Now that’s only one of many signals, so there’s definitely many ways to make up for that so long as you are in the actual city being searched for.  You can make up for that by having many more citations, being a little more authoritative, giving Google more signals that you’re more real than that competitor who’s closer to the city centroid.  Unfortunately, being near the city centroid is still a strong ranking factor and with good reason because Google wants to return the results to the location being searched for.

So, how do we get all of these citations?  How do you go from having only 10 or 20 citations to 93 or 75 citations, along with growing your list of these references online?  You can’t just jump out and get 93 citations and all of a sudden jump up to the top of the rankings.  What you really need to put into place is a process for acquiring citations overtime and getting more and more visible on the web because I guarantee these competitors aren’t going to stay at 93 and 75 citations.  Next year they’re probably going to have 50% more or even double their number of citations because obviously they’re acquiring citations and they’re not going to sit stagnant for a year and just let themselves drop out of the top of the listing.  So whatever they’re doing, they’re going to continue to do and you need to get on track and do the same thing for your site by building your citations and authority.  So where do we get these citations?  You can get more citations by having your site appear on sites such as Google+ Places, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Dunn & Bradstreet, and/or Info USA.  There’re literally hundreds and thousands of these sites where we can get citations for your practice, including your name/address/phone number (NAP) and each one of these reinforces where you’re actually located along with the authority of your business.   Now do a search on Google for your competitors NAP and see where they’re getting a lot of their citations.  Head on over to those same directories and submit your site.  You’re probably going to want to add at least 100 or even 200 of these citations-per-year to regain any lost ground your competition achieved.  You’ll also want to maintain that steady stream of new citations each year.  I think Google looks at the rate of acquisition of citations because that means you’re a viable/healthy running business that’s always getting new citations.  Your proving you’re actually in business and as a natural part of being in business more and more directories will list you.

This isn’t a difficult process, it’s just time consuming.  It’s knowing where to look, the correct directories to get listed on and doing the task.  You can hire firms to perform this task for you.  We too provide this service, but we go one step further by training our clients on how to do it efficiently because it’s a critical component to search optimization and ensuring your business will show up at the top of the search results when Google’s result page includes local results.

I hope that was informative and helped clear up any confusion and answered any questions about what goes into a “Google Local Search Result”.  I look forward to talking with you next week.  Bye!

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About Marc
Marc Ohmann is president of Digital Solutions, Inc in Minneapolis. Digital Solutions is the company behind the MDWebPro blog and tool set. Marc was a computer science and engineering student at the University of Minnesota in 1999 when he started Digital Solutions. Marc, now a husband and father of 3, greatly enjoys the clients and creativity he is involved in each day through Digital Solutions. Follow Marc on Twitter @marcohmann and @MDWebPro and also on Google Plus

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