The Searching Patient: How patients use Google to find local dentists

With 90% of consumers today using search engines to find businesses in their local areas, it’s safe to say potential patients are using ...

By Glenn Lombardi

With 90% of consumers today using search engines to find businesses in their local areas, it’s safe to say potential patients are using this same method to search for local dentists. Google dominates the local search arena, maintaining a leading position with more than 63% of the search engine market. With the rapid proliferation of smartphones, a patient’s access to instant local information is only going to grow.

So how do new patients search for you online? What information (if any) is showing up when a person searches for your name or for a dentist in your area? Finally, how can you ensure your practice is portrayed positively in front of potential patients who are looking online for a dentist?

The typical searcher

Imagine this — A new family moves into your town (we’ll call it Springfield). The family needs a new dentist. Family members go online, type “Springfield dentist,” and click search. Google then returns the most relevant search results for those keywords.

The results at the top of the page will be the practices with websites optimized for those search terms. If you don’t have a website, then the probability of your practice showing up on the first, second, third, or any page at all, is extremely low. If you do have a website, then it needs to be optimized for top placement in the search result listings. Otherwise, getting found by new patients among your local competitors will be challenging.

The referral

Then there’s the person that heard about your practice through word-of-mouth. Your existing patient recommends the person to your practice. A person spots your practice information on the friend’s Facebook profile. Maybe a person receives a postcard in the mail about your practice. This person will search online for your name (e.g., Dr. Joe Brown) or your practice name (e.g., Joe Brown, DDS). In this case, information about you or your practice is going to appear in the search results whether you have a website or not.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a website, the results that display on the first page may not favorably reflect your practice. That’s because even if you don’t dabble in the online world, directories and review sites will compile the best information they can find about your practice to create your listing, whether it’s accurate or not.

As a result, negative patient reviews, false information, and other misrepresentations of your practice will appear at the top of the results page. This will give the referred patient a first (and potentially harmful) impression of your practice.

Tell your story and tell it well

If you do anything at all to establish your online presence, at the very least start with a professional practice website. This should be the hub of your Internet marketing strategy and is the best way to claim your space on the web.

Once you have developed and launched your website, you will want to optimize it for the search engines. Your search marketing plan should include best practice search engine optimization and a claimed Google Place Page to achieve optimal visibility.

You can expand your presence and reach by connecting with patients through a variety of online avenues. This should include setting up social media profiles such as Facebook, contributing to your blog, and asking your most loyal patients for online reviews. These social channels can be integrated with your website, keeping your practice connected with existing patients and driving referrals to your practice through word-of-mouth.

Making your web presence a reality may seem like a lot of work, but the return is well worth your efforts. In coming years, online search will only grow as more patients turn to their home and work computers, mobile phones, social media, and other online channels for local health care information.

Bottom line — it’s 2012 and you cannot afford to turn away from the power of local search. The ever-growing trend is that more patients are turning to the Internet to find health-care providers and answers to their health-care questions.

Start off the new year with a plan. Find a website provider who specializes in dental online marketing and start getting new patients from the most powerful marketing strategy available.

Glenn Lombardi is president of Officite, LLC, a provider of websites and Internet presence management strategies for the dental community. Officite has built more than 6,000 websites that have generated more than a quarter of a million appointment requests since 2002. For more, visit www.officite.com or call (800) 908-2483.

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