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HomemibusinessOptimising Online Searches for Your Practice

Optimising Online Searches for Your Practice

In today’s digital world, the first place people look when they need a product, service or a solution is, you guessed it: Google. In fact, it’s such an integral part of our lives that the word ’Google’ itself has become a verb. So for optometrists, local search engine optimisation (SEO) is a vital business strategy, as Paul Sallaway explains.

There are plenty of digital marketing opportunities to promote yourself (mostly involving paid advertising) but it’s hard to go past SEO for an evergreen return on investment. Once you’ve optimised your online presence for Google search, you can generally reap the business benefits for a long time to come.

WHY LOCAL SEO MATTERS

People searching for local solutions make up a huge percentage of Google queries. According to HubSpot, 46% of all search requests are looking for local information.1 And a staggering 50% of local searches on smart phone devices lead to the user visiting a related store within the next day, according to SearchEngineWatch.2

The power of search doesn’t exclude health care providers. According to digital marketing firm WebFX, 58% of web users look online for information on specific medical treatments and procedures.3 So having your eye care practice show up in organic search results is a great way to edge out competitors and create that ‘expert authority’ trust factor with potential patients.

GOOGLE BUSINESS PROFILE AND LOCAL MAPS

If you have any kind of location specific business, claiming your Google Business Profile (GBP) listing, then completing it accurately, is one of the most important first things you should do. Your GBP gives your optometry practice a chance to appear in Google Maps and most importantly, the map snippet that appears at the top of local search results (also known as the Google Map Pack).

On your Google Business Profile, your business name should be exactly as it appears on your physical location signage. You can choose one main category, e.g., ‘optometrist’, and up to nine secondary categories. Choose what you think is relevant for your business, but the most common choices seem to be ‘contact lens supplier’, ‘eye care centre’, ‘optician’ (despite this not being Australian terminology) and ‘sunglasses store’.

Your Google Business Profile is a way to drive clicks to your website, phone calls to your practice, and requests for directions to your clinic. A great way to build your profile is by regularly making Google posts, which can be in the form of offers, like limited time promotions e.g., “Get 50% off your second pair of frames during the month of March”.

Behind the scenes snapshots of your staff, the equipment you use, and of course new additions to your frame board can all encourage potential patients to connect with you. So, try to add owner photos to your GBP on a consistent basis.

LOCAL BACKLINK BUILDING STRATEGIES

Encouraging links to your business website, known as backlinks, is an important element of SEO. Backlinks from other local businesses are especially useful for telling Google that you are a prominent part of the local community, and will give you more prominence in local search queries.

Think about other health practitioners who send you referrals or who you refer out to. Do they have a blog on their website? If they are like most business owners, I’m going to guess that they are probably struggling to come up with new content each month. That presents a win-win opportunity. Offer to write a short article describing how your service complements what they do and see if they are interested in posting it on their site (including a backlink, of course).

If you are involved in any local community groups, like a Chamber of Commerce, a Lions Club or local sports association, enquire if you can provide a one-off educational workshop in exchange for a backlink from their association website.

KEYWORD TARGETING

An important tactic for getting your business to rank well in local searches is to include your ‘location keyword’ liberally throughout your site. For example, if your optometry practice is located in Herston, Brisbane, then you should create web pages that illustrate the services you provide in that area, such as ‘Emergency eye care in Herston’, ‘Herston dry eye treatment’, ‘Scleral contact lens fitting in Herston’ and so on.

Be sure to use the location keyword you are targeting in the title tag, the page heading, subheadings, and the text body. Using location keywords in your image file names won’t hurt either.

Content that answers informational keyword search queries is another kind of SEO strategy for driving results. I’ve seen optometry websites with in-depth blog articles on a specific aspect of eye care, like ‘What are X-chrome contact lenses?’, get lots of backlinks from industry sources. As a consequence, their whole website benefits from a domain authority boost and their home page even ranks well for more generic search terms.
It’s the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ scenario.

KEYWORD ANALYTICS TOOLS

Website analytics are a critical part of making data-driven decisions about your keyword targeting strategy. Google provides a free tool, the Google Search Console (GSC), to monitor search terms that people are actually using to find your site, which pages are getting the most visits, and more. If you don’t have GSC installed, then fire off an email to your web developer today and ask them to set it up for you. The sooner you start gathering this data, the better.

There are also several other keyword research tools on the market. A popular free option is UberSuggest by SEO expert, Neil Patel.4 It allows a limited number of keyword research queries and other features. If you would like to dive in deeper, Semrush, Ahrefs and AccuRanker are professional level, premium SEO tools.5-7

CITATION BUILDING IN DIRECTORIES

Listing your practice in online business directories should also be part of your SEO strategy.

First, if your business name, address, and phone number is consistently and correctly shown in multiple places across the internet, Google will be more confident that you have a legitimate business, which helps your ranking potential in Google Maps.

Second, these directories often do rank well for generic search terms like ‘optometrist in [location]’ so if you can get your practice into a directory, it at least gives you another seat at the table, so to speak. A potential patient might find your site through the directory, rather than directly through your Google listing.

Popular directories like Yelp and Yellow Pages are a good start. You should also take advantage of industry directories provided by organisations such as Optometry Australia. Dedicated mapping platforms, like Apple Maps and Australian specific directories like TrueLocal and StartLocal, are worth considering, too.

TECHNICAL SEO ESSENTIALS

There are long lists of technical things that an SEO professional can check on your website. But a few points deserve special attention to make sure you aren’t being penalised in the SEO game.

One of them is mobile optimisation. Google expects all websites to load promptly and display properly in mobile devices. If your site is taking more than three seconds to load on a smartphone, or if it looks broken, you should have a conversation with your developer about improving it.

Security is a critical factor for all businesses, but especially for sites that deal with patient medical information. You need to have a secure socket layer certificate for your site that encrypts data from the browser to your server. Most good web hosting companies can set this up for you for free.

Finally, help Google to help you by making it easy for its indexing robots to crawl your website and understand what it is about. You should have something called an XML sitemap on your domain that tells Google about the key web pages it needs to add to its records.

CONCLUSION

Success as an independent optometrist means mastering both eye care delivery and the commercial challenges of running a local practice. Failing to work on your business rather than just in your business is usually a slow road to failure.

But we all know the struggle: managing appointments, ensuring patient satisfaction, and finding the right strategies to grow local brand awareness can consume all your time. There are only so many hours in the day.

If this is you, maybe it’s time to bring in some help. There is an old saying, “Sell your strength, hire your weakness”, meaning you can’t be an expert at everything, and shouldn’t try to be.

Remember, local SEO isn’t just a techy buzzword – it’s a critical aspect of connecting with your patient community.

Paul Sallaway is the founder of Optics Digital Marketing, a business established to help independent optometrists in Australia and New Zealand with their SEO strategy implementation.
Visit: opticsdigital.net.

References
1. Kolowich Cox, L., 16 stats that prove the importance of local SEO, available at: blog.hubspot.com/marketing/local-seo-stats [accessed 20 December 2023].
2. Lee, J., Local Google: Local searches lead 50% of mobile users to visit stores [study], Search Engine Watch, available at: searchenginewatch.com/2014/05/07/google-local-searches-lead-50-of-mobile-users-to-visit-stores-study/ [accessed December 2023].
3. WebFX, SEO for hospitals and healthcare (webpage) available at: webfx.com/industries/health/hospitals-healthcare/seo [accessed 20 December 2023].
4. UberSuggest (website) available at: neilpatel.com/ubersuggest [accessed 20 December 2023].
5. Semrush (website) available at: semrush.com [accessed 20 December 2023].
6. ahrefs (website) available at: ahrefs.com [accessed 20 December 2023].