Search engine optimizationfor your Web site

You have a Web site. You worked hard to design it. You are good about updating it.

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For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: search engine optimization, SEO, Web site, domain, meta tags, links, title tags.

You have a Web site. You worked hard to design it. You are good about updating it. You are always thinking about ways to use it in your marketing efforts. I hate to tell you this ... you are not done ... there is more work to do. The foundation for establishing and maintaining an online presence for your practice begins with search engine optimization (SEO). Even though your Web site has great content and looks great, it needs to rank well with important keyword phrases on the major search engines.

Simply stated, SEO means the ongoing process of setting up your Web site in order to increase the number of visitors. Unfortunately, this can be an ongoing, time-consuming process. You can try this yourself, with your Web site designer, or find an SEO consultant to perform this task for you.

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SEO begins and ends with the content of your Web site. You are best served if you create unique and well-written content. More importantly, you need to keep content fresh and updated. Blogs are a good way to do this. Generally, you make new entries to a blog on a frequent basis and search engines index these pages.

Search engines do not index Web sites. Rather they index pages in Web sites and even elements within the sites such as videos, articles, and images. Avoid cramming too many subjects on a page. Create dedicated pages for each subject you want to list. You need well-researched keyword phrases programmed into each page. The more pages you have and the fresher content you add, the greater the chance you will end up with a higher listing on the search engines.

Some people think that if you submit your Web site to search engines repeatedly, your site will be moved up on their "list." In reality, if this is done without making modifications or updates, some search engines will treat this like "spam" and may remove you from their listings.

Another fallacy is that if you add a lot of repetitive keywords to your meta tags, you will move up the "list." This process is known as keyword "stuffing" and can actually have the opposite result. Getting other sites to link to you increases your site's popularity, but you have to avoid something called "link farming." Getting links from irrelevant, nondental/medical/health-related Web sites can hurt you more than it can help you. Some search engines have paid or sponsored listings. This can get expensive. SEO is done in order to move you up the "list" in a more natural manner.

Ask for monthly reports to track your site's rankings. Be patient with this process. It can take three to six months to see results depending on the competitive level of your market. SEO is all about making adjustments on the fly if things are not working as planned.

So who are some of these SEO consultants? Here are a few who work with dental practices: Page 1 Solutions (page1solutions.com), Proceptive Dental (proceptivedental.com), TNT Dental (tntdental.com), Roadside Multimedia (roadsidemultimedia.com), Einstein Dental (einsteindental.com), and SEO.cc (seo.cc).

Besides these, there are many other companies that do this type of work. Be sure to ask the right questions when you talk with an SEO consultant. You need to be a good consumer and get what you rightly deserve.

In summary, SEO consists of: 1) easy to read, keyword-rich content; 2) proper coding of title tags on each page; 3) proper use of alt tags for images; 4) proper use of link building (link popularity is important); 5) proper use of page names and titles; 6) submission to Internet search engines; 7) inclusion into business-related directories for strong inbound links; 8) baseline rankings and ongoing search engine ranking reports.

This is an ongoing process. Search engine algorithms regularly change so even though your Web site is optimized perfectly today, a change in the algorithms can make your optimization ineffective tomorrow.

It is with great fear that I have made my practice's Web site available for viewing. I asked Bill Fukui from Page 1 Solutions to do a quick site evaluation since I have not worked much with SEO. I mentioned it to my site host, who also does the site's design work. I know I have much work to do. Here is a summary of the points Bill compiled for me:

  • Domain age and page history — The Web site has a long history on the Web compared to other dental sites and has hada number of pages indexed. Unfortunately, the site has lacked strategic SEO and has not leveraged the substantial equity.
  • Meta tags — The Web site's meta tags are not effectively optimized as all pages have identical meta tags, no optimized image tags, and even misspellings.
  • Title tags — Title tags are not customized to the topic of each page. Like meta tags, they should be unique to each page based on the target keyword phrases on each.
  • Internal linking — Good use of internal linking and text links.
  • Attracting links in — The site has a few incoming links, but has not aggressively attracted them. Google does not recognize any incoming links.
  • Content — Web site needs more focused content based on target keyword phrases. If you want to show up for "St. Louis porcelain veneers" on Google, you should include focused pages on porcelain veneers. Current page on new advances should divide services into separate pages (e.g., Invisalign should have its own page).

Finally, he ran a search engine scan and market analysis report for me.

Chris Lister of Proceptive Dental also created a Web site report card for me. He graded my Web site for navigation, list of services, unique content, contact information, and more. I earned B's and C's. He then graded on-site optimization. This consisted of unique meta tags, meta title tags, internal link structure, age of site, site map, keyword-themed content, and more. I was across the board here with grades ranging from A's to D's.

Bill and Chris ran quick analyses for me strictly for this column. Each of their companies normally provides a long and in-depth analysis when hired. We thought that if we took the initial didactic part of this column and put it to use with an actual site, it would then explain what SEO entails.

My Web site apparently is set up more as an online brochure instead of the proactive, online marketing resource that I want it to be. It's time to get to work!

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry magazine, and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. He is a cofounder of the Give Kids A Smile program. Contact him by e-mail at jeff@dfdasmiles.com, by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.

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