If you're keeping abreast of online marketing trends—and what dental or medical practice isn't—you've probably heard of them: the algorithm changes like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird that Google started rolling out in 2011. But they're worth hearing about again, because these changes mark a momentous shift in search, and hence in your success at attracting new patients through your web and social media marketing efforts.
There's a silver lining for most healthcare professionals in the new way that SEO is being considered, too. That's because the changes that Google, and others, are adopting reward content that's in-depth, relevant and done well. Blogs, posts and white papers that address real concerns, from gum disease to cardiac stents, dental veneers to liposuction—and that encourage online viewers to open, engage in, and share, across devices and social platforms—are finally getting the attention from search engines they deserve.
We focus on Google's updates here because Google is the most popular search engine worldwide, and because Google powers more than 67 percent of all U.S. searches, comScore reported in December 2013. In comparison, Microsoft's Bing claims about 18 percent of the market and Yahoo, 11 percent.
Google's Panda algorithm was introduced in February 2011 and Penguin in April 2012, both with the intent of correcting a weakness in search engines since their start in the 1990s. Namely, early engines used algorithms that largely relied on select key words to decide how best an article or website fit a search. The algorithms couldn't judge actual content, so they didn't.
This led to a slew of tricks and scams—who hasn’t heard of keyword-rich SEO—that went viral. Google, anxious to keep its clients happy, wanted to punish those who publish the online equivalent of junk.
That's why, for serious professionals, Panda and Penguin are allies in the quest for higher ranking. Keywords and, especially, inbound links are still important, of course. But apply keywords sensibly or risk being demoted, and be aware that the definition what constitutes a good inbound link is changing.
Google didn't stop with introductions: Updates to Panda and Penguin continue to come every few months; in fact, Penguin 2.0 rolled out in May. What each has in common is the goal of rewarding quality content, as judged by originality and relevancy, and sites that display consistency and depth. Nearly empty sites or those overloaded with ads are now as much a turn off to Google as they've always been to you.
What's more, according to Hubspot, Penguin 2.0 specifically gives an "authority boost" to sites that produce plentiful, solid content for specific areas—like dentistry and medicine—and it is able to analyze the quality of links (i.e., the relevance of the inbound link's site) rather than just the quantity. (Hubspot has a slideshow guiding you through these SEO changes that's worth viewing.)
What good sites also have in common is good branding: They know their niche market and their customers, and engage them. And they do so across platforms, with sites that are optimized for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Google knows that mobile is the future of the search-engine universe. So if your site lacks a responsive mobile design, it is losing ground to competitors.
Which brings us to Google's next major update, Hummingbird.
Hummingbird, an Algorithm for These Mobile and Social Times
Hummingbird was unveiled in August 2013, just ahead of Google's 15th anniversary, although the company had started rolling it out a few months earlier. Hummingbird isn't just a new algorithm, but a reworking of the function that executes searches. Like Panda and Penguin, it advances Google's goal of making SERP more relevant and richer in quality, and less dependent on gimmicks like keyword stuffing.
But Hummingbird was clearly designed with mobile devices in mind, and specifically those devices' voice-activated searches. A person who needs to find a nearby dentist office isn't spouting keywords into his phone, but framing a question, like: "Which dentists have offices in downtown Houston?"
Hummingbird responds to these natural or conversational—what insiders call long-tail—queries, like the above question, in determining search results. And it emphasizes social popularity, or the number of people actively following, liking and giving a +1 to your site. It's not yet clear that social popularity is affecting your search engine ranking, but it's a factor in determining quality.
For dental and medical practices that are serious about their reputation and their brand, and keep their online efforts both active and relevant, this is a revolution with promise.
Interested in learning more about best practices in SEO, or how best to plan, integrate and regularly update your website and social media posts? Contact us.
Posted by Grace M. Frank
Grace M Frank is a freelance writer and editor, and the owner of Frank Communications, www.frank-comm.com.