How to Win Local Search and Get New Dental Patients

by Toby

October 8, 2016

how to win new dental patients

If your phone is ringing off the hook with new dental patients, you probably don’t need to read this post. You probably have a robust local SEO strategy in place and are hitting that Google 3-pack sweet spot (more about that later).

On the other hand, if you’re looking at a tiny trickle when you need a steady stream, you need to win the local search war. Here’s why:

  • Over 80% of consumers use search to find a local business.
  • The top three search results get over 80% of all organic traffic. If you aren’t on page one, your chance of getting a click drops to below 1%.
  • The Google 3-pack returns in 93% of all searches with local intent.
  • Over 75% of all local searches result in a phone call to a local business.

And here’s a bonus statistic: A business’s “star” rating is the single most important factor consumers use to judge a local business.

If you need to close the new patient gap, it’s pretty clear that local SEO is one of the most important tactics. 

What is the Google 3-pack, and why does it matter for dentists?

Last year, Google changed its local search results page from a list of five or seven top results to just the top three, hence the term “3-pack.” If you’ve done a local search, you know what this looks like:

The Google 3-pack - Dental Listings
The Google 3-pack (or snack pack if you prefer)

If your practice isn’t on the list, a new patient has to click “more places” to get to the top 20 results. And we already know your chances of getting clicks and calls if you don’t make the cut for first-page results.

It’s important to note that results in the 3-pack take the searcher’s location into account; Google surfaces businesses that are close to your potential new patient. But that’s still important because a lot—if not most—of your patients will either live or work near your practice, so you definitely want to rank near the top for searchers in your area.

What factors affect local search results?

According to studies by Moz, some of the most critical factors for local businesses include:

  • Customer ratings and reviews (more is better definitely applies here).
  • Content/keyword usage.
  • User engagement/usefulness of content.
  • Mobile friendliness.
  • Strong Google My Business profile.

local-seo-strategies-for-dentistsOf course, there are lots of other issues affecting local SEO, but these five are good ones for your dental practice to focus on. We’ll unpack them one by one.

How do you get good reviews and why do they matter?

New patients weigh a lot of factors when it comes to choosing a dentist, but there’s no doubt that online ratings and reviews matter. In fact, 90% of consumers read your reviews to make a determination about your business, according to a study by Bright Local. 

Search-wise, a good online review showing improves your organic clicks by as much as 20%. 

Here’s the same search from above after clicking “more places” on the 3-pack:

Google Dental Map Listings
This simple search for “dentist” surfaces results based on location.

In study after study, people will click the listing with the best star ratings—even if it means skipping the top location-based result.  You need at least five reviews before Google will publish the coveted gold stars in your listing.

If you want to build up your practice’s good reviews, there are a couple of steps you can take:

  • Make it easy for your patients to leave a review. Your website and social media accounts should not only ask happy customers to leave a review, they should provide handy links to make it simple for a patient to do so.
  • Integrate reviews into your email and content marketing campaigns. Include review links with your email appointment reminders and newsletters. If you have a practice blog, highlight your review link in your signature box or blog sidebar.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. You can simply ask patients directly for a review or include a note asking for one with instructions on how to do so in their materials at checkout.

Remember to monitor your reviews regularly—and address any negative feedback right away.

Content and on-page SEO definitely counts.

When it comes to local search, you might think getting on the map is enough—organic traffic doesn’t matter. But that’s really not the case. You want to make sure your web pages and content are optimized, as well.

The search above was simply for the word “dentist,” no other descriptors, and the results were based primarily on proximity. Look what happens when we change the search terms to “best dentist in Charlotte:”

Google Map Listings of Dentists Change With Modifiers
Results change when you add the modifier “best”

You’ll notice that every result has changed once we searched for the “best dentist.” Now look at the results for “cosmetic dentist in Charlotte:”

Google Map Listing of Cosmetic Dentist
Different results when you change “best” to “cosmetic”

If you’re not ranking for your dental specialty in your location, your web pages and content may need an overhaul to focus on local SEO keywords and modifiers (best, cosmetic, Charlotte in the examples above).

Finally, if you’re not engaging in some type of content marketing efforts, you’re hurting your SEO efforts. Here are some simple things you can do right now to start putting content to work on your website:

  • Add a blog to your website. Post once a week—or even every two weeks—on topics of interest to your customers, and promote your blog posts on your social media accounts. When customers spend time on your site reading content (dwell time), it can boost your SEO.
  • Put more images on your website—before and after, key staff photos, images of your office and any advanced equipment—all these will improve your site’s SEO performance.
  • Add patient testimonials to your website.

Provide useful information to your patients. 

“Bounce rate” is something you probably don’t think about, but Google’s ranking algorithm certainly does. Bounce rate refers to how many people click away from your site without really looking at it. If you’ve ever clicked a search result, went to the website and discovered it didn’t have the information you were looking for, then clicked back to Google, you bounced—and a bounce tells search engines that the information on your site isn’t very helpful or what people are searching for.

Engagement is another important metric for local SEO, and it’s measured by things like how long a visitor is on your site and how many pages he looks at in a particular session.

If you were a new or existing patient, would your website make it easy to find the information you might need? For example:

  • Location (and geo-mapping), where to park, etc.
  • List of services you provide and insurance plans you accept.
  • After hours or emergency numbers/procedures
  • Options for making an appointment or paying your bill.
  • “What to do if” answers to common situations or problems.

Yes, you do need a mobile website for your dental practice

The next factor—and one of the most important—is making sure your website is friendly to people who visit on mobile devices. Google announced in 2015 that mobile-friendly websites would get a boost on search, and Moz research showed mobile friendliness had an 88% impact on SEO.

And in fact, mobile search has already outpaced its desktop counterpart, with over 80% of local searches occurring on mobile. So, if your website isn’t rendering well on your potential new patient’s devices, you won’t get the call.


What is a strong Google My Business profile?

With the changes Google made to local and mobile search, a good Google Business Profile is extremely important for local SEO. Here’s a list of pointers to get you started on a strong, optimized GMB profile:

  • Make sure you claim your listing. You’d be surprised at how many dental practices skip this crucial step.
  • Verify your address, business hours, and phone number. It’s important to have a local number listed on your GMB, as well.
  • Check your business details for accuracy—the credit cards you accept, any providers in your practice, etc.
  • Include a good, eye-catching logo or photo, and make sure your business photos are fresh, appealing, and high resolution. You may also want to consider hiring a Google certified photographer to do an indoor street view tour, especially if your office is designed to specifically appeal to a particular demographic (children, upscale/cosmetic).
  • Reviews, reviews, reviews.
  • Finally, make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number) are consistent across all your listings. Variations or incorrect NAP can negatively affect your site’s ability to show in Google.
A good Google My Business dentist profile
A good Google My Business dentist profile

A note about citations and local SEO

There’s a little bit of controversy about the role of citations when it comes to local search. Citations are just mentions of your business with business details (and hopefully a link) on another site. Some marketers believe citations are supremely important, while others believe that Google has gotten so good at gathering its own data/data sources, citations may not have as much of an impact on local SEO.

However, I do believe good citations are important and help your practice when it comes to search. But go for quality over quantity. Moz put together this great list of the top ten citations by city, and you can submit your listing to the ones on the list that apply to your practice.

Again, though, be certain there’s consistency across all your citations, especially NAP.

Final Thoughts

Local SEO, especially in the era of mobile and the Google “snack pack,” is extremely important to drive new patients to your practice. If you can only make one change to your digital marketing strategy this year, improving local SEO should be it. A good mobile-friendly website followed by positive reviews and a solid GMB profile is a great start, but there’s no substitute for getting your site and page SEO right. (related posts: local SEO tips and How to rank on Google’s first page).

Have you tried different tactics to boost local SEO? What’s working for you—and more importantly, what isn’t? Share your thoughts in the comments below and let’s start a conversation.

About the author 

Toby is the co-founder of 39 Celsius. He has over 20 years of digital marketing experience and has started several companies throughout his career. He's an expert in SEO, Social Media Ads, Google Ads, Marketing Automation, and more. He has a BA in Chemistry/Biochemistry from UC San Diego and an MBA from SDSU.

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