Your Guide to SEO for Dental Practices (AKA How to Show Up on the First Page of Google)
Almost nobody clicks past the first page of search results on Google, Yahoo, and Bing, so here’s the question:
If someone in your community googles “dentist in my area,” are you going to show up on that critical first page?
Probably not – at least, not without good SEO.
Proper Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can drive traffic to your site and get more patients in the door.
However, many people have the conception that dental SEO is some mysterious ritual known only to the savviest of marketing wizards.
In reality, basic SEO for dentists is easy to set up, even if you’re not an SEO expert. Better yet, it’s incredibly cost effective.
To help, we’ll walk you through how you can implement SEO to maximize your practice’s digital visibility and secure more appointments.
How SEO actually works
Securing a spot in the index
Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) don’t sort through every page on the internet every time someone performs a search.
Instead, they periodically send out automated bots to visit, categorize, and add appropriately optimized webpages to an immense index of websites.
When a search engine receives a query from a user, it then combs through that index to find and display the most relevant content possible.
If your website or webpage has terrible SEO, it won’t even make it onto the index.
That means you’ll never show up in the search results. Ever. Nobody will see your webpage, even if they go out of their way to specifically try and search for it.
- Manipulative / “black hat” SEO practices
- Severe technical issues
- Nonexistent mobile formatting
- Containing little to no valuable content
- Prolonged loading times
- Configuration errors when setting the site up
- Absence of a sitemap / cohesive structure for page hierarchy
- Overlooked “don’t index me!” settings, such as noindex/nofollow
Identifying and categorizing your content
Search engines aren’t actual people.
They need help to categorize your website and understand its content.
For example, search engine bots can’t really tell what images show (or what words they might contain).
Instead, they have to use context clues and secondary information to try and figure out what they’re looking at. Is the picture decorative? Is it a banner? An icon? A logo?
SEO lets you tell search engines what’s what with zero uncertainty.
Once you implement basic SEO, search engines can get a better picture of your website. That means they can trust your content and show it to more people.
Boosting your site’s reputation and relevance
Search engines use what’s known as an “algorithm” to rank the quality and relevance of websites in their index.
While search algorithms evaluate hundreds of factors, they’re really trying to figure out how your site ranks in two key categories:
- Relevance to the user’s search query/input (“is this what they’re looking for?”)
- Website quality/reputation (“is this site trustworthy and valuable?”)
SEO is the art of convincing search algorithms that your site is the best possible choice in both of these categories.
SEO starts with quality content
We can’t overstate this enough:
The most crucial part of SEO is creating content that your audience wants to view.
Low-quality, uninteresting content ranks lower, no matter how many fancy SEO tricks you use – end of the story.
If you’re not sure where to start, this guide to creating incredible dental website content has you covered.
Now we can look at how to optimize your grade-A content to make sure people see it.
6 best practices for dental SEO
1. Use the right keywords
Keywords are the words and phrases that users type in every time they perform a search online.
By integrating keywords into your website, you’re telling algorithms, “Hey, this matches what your user is looking for!”
The keywords you use should be specific to your overall marketing strategy. Focus on keywords directly related to your most relevant services and products.
Good keywords may include mixtures of words such as:
- Practice type (“dentist,” “orthodontist,” etc.)
- Topic-specific terms
Try to think about the types of phrases and words that your audience will search for.
Remember, you aren’t trying to show up on the results for Joe Schmo halfway across the world. You want to connect to a real person in your area who needs your services (whether they know it or not).
For example, we’re writing this article for you, so we’ve included keywords such as “dental SEO,” “SEO for dental practices,” “how to implement SEO,” and similar phrases. Can you see how we’ve used them in this blog post?
Keyword research/generation is a complex subject. If you’d like to learn more, we recommend resources like Backlinko’s keyword research strategy guide… Opens in a new window to backlinko.com website… .
Once you have your keyword(s) ready, you can implement them in your website and marketing copy.
Here’s where you should put keywords:
- Metadata: Title tags and descriptions should always include keywords since these are significant parts of how algorithms categorize pages.
- Headers: Headers are a perfect place to use “secondary” keywords and phrases related to your overall keyword for the page – on an Invisalign page, this might include “cost of Invisalign” or “clear aligners.”
- On-page content: Text/copy on your site should include keywords semi-frequently, but only once every 200 words (at the very most).
- Image tags: Try to only use a given keyword for one image per page. By doing so, you’re telling the algorithm, “Hey, this image represents this topic! Show this one!” For example, your company’s name is a great keyword for your logo.
2. Configure metadata titles, descriptions, and headers
“Metadata” refers to information that describes the content of a page.
Metadata often doesn’t display on the page itself, yet it’s essential for SEO and can appear elsewhere.
Title tags explicitly name a given page. These show up on search engine results and when you hover over an open tab.
Meta descriptions are just like title tags and – you guessed it – make up the descriptions of search engine results.
Headers break up and organize content on a page into subsections, which is great for SEO and readability.
In general, you should use these three classifications of headers throughout your content:
- H1: For big, overarching headers – like the title of an article or page.
- H2: For subsections within your H1 header.
- H3: For smaller subsections within your H2 header (for example, this section header, “Use titles, headers, and metadata,” is an H3).
Remember to never skip a header class. H3s should belong to an H2, and H2s should belong to an H1.
3. Optimize your images
As we briefly alluded to earlier, search algorithms have absolutely no idea what your images contain.
They can use context clues to make educated guesses, but those guesses are often imprecise and vague. Sure, they know your photos are probably related to dentistry, but that’s not much to go on.
And here’s the worst part:
Oversized/uncompressed images are key contributors to slow load times. Remember, pages that load slowly cripple search engine rankings and user experience.
You should optimize every image on your website in the following ways:
- Downscale image files to be exactly as big as you need. If you know a picture will take up 700px at most, it should only be 700px wide.
- Compress pictures to further reduce file size. Optimizilla… Opens in a new window to imagecompressor website… is a great free resource for this.
- Add alt text* to pictures to describe what they are. Keep it simple and descriptive. For example: “dentist john doe smiles and shares a thumbs-up with a patient in a dental chair.” Also, include all text/information from a picture in your alt tag.
- Change filenames to be clear, simple, and descriptive. Filenames like “img-0425-min-rx-3” contribute nothing, whereas “dentist-john-doe-headshot” tells you a lot.
*Purely decorative pictures with no relevant information (like a blue square or a background photo of a grassy field) don’t need alt text.
4. Implement mobile-responsive design
Mobile devices account for over 60%… Opens in a new window to perficient website… of all web traffic. Let’s reiterate:
If your site doesn’t display correctly on a phone, you’re instantly losing more than half of your visitors.
On top of that, poor mobile responsiveness will tank your search rankings (assuming you’re not removed from the index altogether).
Don’t let that happen to you.
“Mobile-first” web design is the golden standard for a reason. Building your website with phones in mind from the get-go is far better than trying to adapt an existing site to mobile devices later down the line.
Not sure how to do this? Roadside’s custom dental websites have you covered.
5. Create clear URL structures & breadcrumbs
URL structures & breadcrumbs are somewhat similar to the h1/h2/h3 header system we talked about prior:
They establish a clear hierarchy of pages and subpages.
Simple URLs are for main pages that most people start on, like directories and landing pages. Longer, more complex URLs represent increasingly specific subpages within those main “parent” pages.
This creates a “pathway” that you can follow from the homepage to any specific subpage.
For example, let’s look at the following example:
- You start on a homepage at dentistwebsite.com
- You click “Services” on a navigation bar. Now you’re on dentistwebsite.com/services
- Within your Services page, you go to look at Veneers. Now you’re on dentistwebsite.com/services/veneers
- You go even deeper to a page about Veneer Pricing. Now you’re on dentistwebsite.com/services/veneers/veneer-pricing
See how that works?
Just by looking at that final URL, we know exactly where we are and how specific this page is.
Bad websites, on the other hand, don’t use this nesting system. You might see a URL like dentistwebsite.com/veneer-pricing and another for dentistwebsite.com/veneers.
Where do you start?
That question is hard enough for a human but nearly impossible for a search algorithm to understand.
Breadcrumbs visually represent your URL structure as a series of clickable links, usually near the top of the page. Our example breadcrumb might read:
Home > Services > Veneers > Veneer Pricing
Using breadcrumbs, your visitors can easily navigate back through “higher” pages. This decreases bounce rates and enhances your user experience considerably.
6. Generate good links & backlinks
Every page on your site should be accessible from a link elsewhere on your site (and preferably by multiple links on multiple pages).
These are called internal links and are valuable parts of establishing your site’s structure. They not only improve dental SEO but also provide more places for visitors to explore while scrolling down a page.
The best internal links lead to specific, relevant “topic” pages like blog posts, service pages, etcetera. Don’t over-link to common pages like your homepage or contact page.
External links, conversely, are links that lead to other websites. Including a few of these links is valuable, provided that you link to trustworthy, authoritative sites. Of course, don’t link to competitors!
When implementing links:
- Use good anchor text (the blue, underlined, visible text). Anchor text should describe the link’s destination and make sense on its own. If you created a link to your Veneer Pricing page, you might use the anchor text “price of veneers,” but not a vague phrase like “here.”
Backlinks are a bit tricker.
These are links that go on other people’s websites and lead back to yours, rather than the other way around – so you can’t just “make more backlinks.”
You do not want backlinks from just anyone. Instead, aim for trustworthy websites relevant to your industry, practice, and/or location.
For example, a backlink from a dental publication is far more valuable than a backlink from a local dog trainer.
You can generate a few strong backlinks by claiming business directory listings and getting on Google My Business. Beyond that, backlinking often requires reaching out to other websites.
- Posting on social media
- Writing guest blog posts for online publications
- Entering into partnerships with non-competitors in your industry
- Publishing case studies
- Distributing press releases
- Creating highly sharable, valuable content
- Getting involved with local events
- Reaching out to the local news to cover noteworthy things you’re doing
Be careful about buying backlinks. Most purchased backlinks are low-quality and may result in backlash from Google if they’re too suspicious.
SEO pitfalls to avoid
As you start working on SEO for your dental practice, you’ll want to avoid these common mistakes:
- Keyword/link stuffing: Keywords and links are great, so it can be tempting to stuff your web pages full of them to rank higher. This is a dishonest SEO tactic and will significantly harm your website’s trustworthiness/visibility. At the very most, only use keywords once every 200 words.
- Contradictory information: Make sure that all information about your business is consistent. If you have an outdated business listing somewhere with the wrong phone number or address, that’ll undermine your SEO.
- Excessively generic keywords: Simple, common keywords are good, but there’s a limit. If your target keyword is “dentist,” good luck competing with the hundreds of thousands of dentistry-related sites out there.
- Only using one keyword per page: Even while focusing on a single keyword, use a variety of closely related keywords and phrases. For example, “cost of Invisalign,” “Invisalign duration,” and “what is Invisalign” would all fit on an Invisalign-related page.
- Calling it quits: SEO is an ongoing affair since search engines constantly update their ranking systems. It’s important to revisit older content to keep it up-to-date with the latest trends.
Monitor your SEO performance
It’s vital to measure your SEO performance from an early stage since it can be hard to tell what you’re actually getting out of it otherwise.
Tools like Google Analytics… Opens in a new window to analytics.google website… , Google Search Console… Opens in a new window to search.google website… , and Semrush… Opens in a new window to semrush website… are excellent for monitoring SEO success.
Here are a few key metrics to examine when evaluating your SEO performance:
- Keyword Ranking: How does your site rank on search engines for certain keywords?
- Clickthrough Rate: When your practice does show up in a search, how many people click through to your website?
- Organic Traffic: How many visitors reach your website through a search rather than an ad or by typing the link in themselves?
- Bounce Rate: Do visitors visit your website and leave quickly / without interacting with something?
- Session Duration / Dwell Time: How long do visitors spend on your website? How long do they spend on specific pages?
- Conversions: How many of your visitors go on to book an appointment or engage with your practice?
- Domain Authority: How renowned and authoritative is your website? Does anyone link to it? Services like Website Authority Checker… Opens in a new window to SEOreviewtools.com website… and Ahrefs… Opens in a new window to ahrefs.com website… are great here.
Figuring out if you need professional SEO help
As you’ve no doubt noticed by the length of this article, SEO can be complicated and time consuming.
Not every practice needs an extensive SEO campaign, and that’s ok. You can implement smaller, easier changes to stay competitive in your niche.
However, thorough dental SEO work is essential for the success of growing/larger dental businesses.
Here at Roadside, we can monitor and manage every aspect of your digital presence.
You handle the dentistry. We’ll handle the SEO.