Local SEO 101 : How To Establish A Strong Local Online Presence For Your Dental Practice, Pt.1

Local SEO is a major consideration when it comes to dentistry, largely because of the nature of the practice itself. When people see the need to search for dentists on their mobile devices, Google tends to assume that they’re looking for local hits, which they usually are. You want to be on top of those results to siphon those leads to your funnel, but how do you do that with all the noise that’s going on? Kicking of this new podcast with this must-listen episode, host Ross Dunn is joined by a fellow executive of his at firstdentist.com, Andy Bernhart, who is the agency’s VP of Marketing. Together, they discuss four of the eight steps in creating a successful local presence online. Join in for some juicy information that you might want to start applying in your own practice.


Welcome to the Dental Web Marketing 101 Episode 1. My name is Ross Dunn. I’m the Director of SEO and Cofounder of firstdentist.com. I’m joined by our Vice President of Marketing, Andy Bernhart. This marks the first episode of our show. We’re excited to begin sharing our hard-earned knowledge on dental marketing in an easily digestible format. That’s key here, 101. Hopefully, that’s going to work perfectly for you. Let’s get drilling. We’re going to talk about local SEO but before we get to that, I want to give you a bit of an introduction to firstdentist.com. It is a digital marketing agency with the sole aim of building your practice. Andy and myself have a lot of experience in digital marketing. Andy, why don’t you first give a little brief introduction of who you are and what you’ve done?

I’m the Vice President of Marketing for firstdentist.com. I’ve been in the industry for several years. I did my thesis on strategic digital marketing quite a while ago and have had my feet in that world ever since. At firstdentist.com, I do a lot of work on the user experience on websites and integrating the different search technologies and marketing techniques into the services we offer.

I have been in the SEO realm since 1997. Over that time, I’ve created another company called StepForth Web Marketing and also another podcast that’s been going on for several years called SEO 101 on WebmasterRadio.fm. A few years back, I started firstdentist.com with my colleague, Michael Lambe. Here we are now. We’ve got a bit of a team going and lots of happy clients. It seems time for us to start a show. We had a go at it before but as most of them do, they fizzle a little. We’re going to make sure this one is exceptional. There are lots of great content for you.

The topic of this episode is SEO 101 for local. I want to ensure you realize this information can change a small amount. Sometimes even dramatically over time. Please review our blog. Any other blogs as well such as Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable, all of these are different websites that have a lot of local information that is beneficial in case some of the tips we give you are a little outdated. They’re medially-accurate now but I’d be remiss to say that they’re going to be accurate forever.

You should also pull out SEO 101. It’s a great up-to-date source of everything SEO.

The show is weekly with my cohost, John Carcutt. We have lots of fun with that. You can also tune into that where we have lots of great content. What is local search? Why is it important? When you go to a search engine result page, you’re going to see a number of different things. First of all, let’s say you do a search for dentists nearby. This is on your desktop. Let’s talk about desktop first, not your mobile phone. When you do that, you’re going to get an assortment of results. You’re going to see a map-based result. You’ll see the map. You’ll see a box with a number of listed dentists in your local area according to what Google believes is your location.

After that, you’ll see some organic results. These are classic organic. These are the ones we’ve seen since 1997 or ‘95 when search began. These will be the normal title, description and link, clean, simple but you’ll also see video sometimes embedded in there. You’ll see images. It’s called universal search. That’s a good name for it because it is dynamic. It’s always changing. What we’re talking is about that map area and also when organic results are skewed by your locality. Even organic results, the ones below the map-based stuff, are also going to be impacted by any local factors in your search. For example, dentists in Sacramento, as soon as you’ve mentioned anything regional, those local results below will change. Everything will change. It will be more local. From a mobile perspective, why don’t you take that, Andy? How would you say local works? How would it be different?

On mobile, you’re seeing an impact on the location where you’re searching from. I noticed that on desktop but I noticed it on mobile too. If Google does understand where you are searching at home on your desktop or if you’re searching on your mobile somewhere else, you are going to see different types of results. We test those regularly and I test them regularly. The other thing that we should talk about there is voice search and how that’s impacting it as well.

You can turn negative reviews into a marketing opportunity. It’s all about how you respond.

Before we jump into that, I want to mention that when you’re looking at a mobile result on your phone, it’s always local. There’s no question whatsoever. Any search you do, they’re going to assume you’re looking for something local. That is unless you’re looking for something that’s very dynamic like how to speak a certain language. It’s not likely going to be a local result unless there’s a translator or a teacher nearby. If you’re doing a search, you’re going to see first paid ads. In most cases, if anyone’s bidding for those ads in mobile. When you do that search, you’ll see those. Usually after one full scroll of your screen, you’re going to see your map-based listings. Only then after that is completed will you see organic results. It’s important to note that because a lot of our clients, clients from either business, they get a little bit uncertain about paid ads. I totally understand it’s expensive. Google makes some money off that. When it comes to your mobile results, it’s very important to consider that full page you see first is paid. It’s going to be valuable to be there and show up.

It’s quite a bit different than desktop too. You get a full view of the maps, ads, even a bit of organic, depending on how big your screen is. On mobile, the first screen is all ads and a lot of those ads have a click to call as well. It makes it that easy. That’s something that’s important too for dental practices. If you are running those ads, make sure you’ve got a click to call on it.

We’ll get into what that means when we get into websites and also in some of the ads. Hopefully, we’ll be able to interview one of our pay-per-click specialists for that. You were mentioning voice, it might be a little bit advanced for the readers but what do you think are some high-level notes for that?

It’s one of those things that we always have to be aware of in terms of what’s happening in that space. It is one of those things that people are using mobile phones. People are using their Google Home. Oftentimes people have multiple ones in there. firstdentist.com is optimizing for those things. We are using schema. We are using good markup on websites in order to make sure that Google understands what those listings are and that they are dental practices. We see all those types of things become more important. It’s one of those things that a lot of dentists should try too, using the Google Assistant or using Siri and seeing what happens.

It’s fun too. Being in this industry for so long, it’s easy for us to get muddled in our own bafflegab. I know one thing that I want to be clear about is schema markup sounds like greek to you. It is additions to code in the background of your site that allows Google to understand a little bit better what pieces of content are. If you have a phone number, you can add schema saying this is a phone number. I’m being very simplistic here but that’s the idea. By adding schema, you add more machine signals for Google to identify content better and that can help with your ability to show up in voice search.

There’s a lot more to it. I’m sure in a later show, we’ll jump into that a little more. We’ll stick to it at that point of where we are. We discussed how Search Engine Result Pages or SERPs is what we call it, how they look and everything. I want to talk a little more about mobile, as a brief note here, that a lot of people realize that mobile is bigger. Not many people realize that over 60% of total searches on Google are done with a phone. I bet that’s up in the 70 percentile now.

That’s what we’re seeing in the analytics when we look at a lot of our dental websites. It’s a minimum of 60% and oftentimes higher. It continues to climb over time.

This is from some research done by a company called Nectafy. I can’t say I know the name but I have seen it a couple of times. Anyway, 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours. We’re talking dental practices here. It’s a little bit different. You’re not exactly a walk-in, I’m going to buy a shirt store but it does show an intent. When people use mobile and they’re doing a search, they’re going to make a decision afterwards. They’re going to do something with that information. Many times, it is a click to call. They’re calling you right away from their mobile phone. We see that a lot within Google My Business insights.

DWM 1 | Local SEO

Local SEO: By adding schema, you add more machine signals for Google to identify content better and that can help with your ability to show up in voice search.


Physical Location

What are the key steps to building a successful local online presence? There are a number. I’m not sure we’re going to get to all of them in this show but we’re going to start with a few and then work through in the next show as well if we have any left. The first one is a physical location. Luckily dentists have no problem with that. You’re not exactly working out of your home without anyone showing up unless you’re doing teledentistry, which I don’t imagine is working out too well these days, not much of a business.

You need a physical location. Having a physical location is very simple in terms of concept but you also have to consider where do you want to be found. Where is your market? We’ve had dentists in the past, orthodontists, you name it, who have started businesses or practices in areas where they thought would be getting a lot of business. It turned out that a lot of the people who were contacting them or looking for insurance-based services, they didn’t offer that. As a result, it was a bit of a fail and they had to move. Consider where you’re going to locate your business. If you’re already there, you’re already there. If you’re considering it, please do think about your market. Do a little bit of research, determine whether or not your target market is going to be there.

If you want to be found in a city, let’s say if you want to be found in Victoria but your business is located well outside of it. You’re outside the city limits, maybe even half an hour away. It’s going to be very difficult to find a Victoria-based dental service. Google is trying to offer the most relevant result to their searchers. That’s how they provide a great experience. If you happen to be located far away, you’re going to be low in the list no matter what. It would have to be a compelling, out of this world reason for them to show you before anyone else, even if they have lower rankings and reviews. Keep that in mind.

If your practice is located in a specific neighborhood and people are searching based on that neighborhood, you can get that business. If you know, you’re half an hour outside of downtown and people are searching for the search term dentist Victoria, orthodontist Victoria, something like that, they are going to get different results than you would get Westshore dentist or something like that. It can work both ways. That’s why the overall approach to search marketing including paid marketing. Considering where you’re going to be showing up and where you do want to pull people from, that’s where paid marketing can play an important part of the search results.

Unique Phone Numbers

The other aspect to physical locations is if you’re going to have multiple locations, make sure they’re spaced out unless you are certain that you’re going to have enough of a target market in one area. All things that are built into your standard business plan concepts but these are also important from an online perspective as well. The next thing you need is a unique phone number and a unique phone number for each location. Google puts a lot of stock in a phone number. If it doesn’t have a unique component to it. Let’s say you try to register two businesses using the same phone number. You’re going to have difficulties. Nowadays, they’re getting a little more technical. There may be a right way around that but I’m putting big asterisks on that. I don’t know. I would say that it’s important to have a unique phone number for each location. Next of all, you need to ensure you’ve claimed your Google My Business listing. Many businesses don’t even realize this but they have a listing within Google. Google takes information from local internet Yellow Pages. It could be the Yellow Pages. It could be Akamai if they’re still around, I can’t remember. I’m so old.

There are quite a few data aggregators, some major ones. A big part of our work is making sure that everybody’s name, address, phone number is all correct in all these major data aggregators so that Google, Yelp and these other places that draw from these listings have the correct updated data.

What we mean by this, these are sites or businesses that make money by selling name, address and phone number information for each of these businesses or making them available to other companies such as Google and by having this information that they’ve become a data aggregator. These are some major ones. Akamai was one. I feel like they might’ve been bought. Anyways, it’s an example of one. You could find out who they are on the internet. The Yellow Pages is another one. They have other motives but they’re also quite large.

Infogroup, Factual, those are some of the bigger guys.

The more positive reviews you get, the more patients you’re going to have in your practice, and the more they’re going to be leaving reviews.

Those are important places to show up. When those systems are being used by Google, Google takes that information and creates a bit of a business listing for you. That business listing, you can’t alter it. You can’t edit it. You can’t do anything to it until you’ve claimed it and prove that you are that business owner. Once you’ve done that, a whole of information and capability is open to you. Not only do you have the ability to add photos to your own profile, changing hours, changing information about your services, your business name even. You can even suggest changes to your business name if they’re relevant. You get access to data that Google is accruing about the number of searches to your business, the number of calls, what time of day, all of this information that you never had access to before but frankly was being built on your behalf. It’s huge.

Google My Business Listing

The next part of course is your Google My Business listing is what shows up in those local search results, as we talked about with the maps. You can’t show up there unless you have a Google My Business listing. The ones that show at the top, I’d say 99.99% of them have been claimed. They have to be claimed to perform. Claim that Google My Business listing.


Number four would be reviews. Make sure you are building reviews on a regular basis. Andy has written a great document on this on firstdentist.com. That’s not like firstdentist.com.com. It’s firstdentist.com. It’s an extension like dot-com, dot-dentist. firstdentist.com, you go there and you’ll find it. What’s the title of it, Andy?

It’s How to Handle Negative Customer Reviews for Dental Practices.

What he’s done is he’s put together a great walkthrough about how to respond to negative reviews and do it in a way that will have as minimal negative effects as possible. If anything, you can turn it into a good thing, which I just love.

It’s one of our articles that ranks quite well online simply because it is a very important topic for dentists. We’ve done a good job of covering all of the different concerns that dentists have about doing reviews. A lot of dentists are starting to understand that there are a lot of regulations around privacy and how they respond to those reviews. There are quite a few legal issues. The perspective that we like to take is that a negative review can be turned into a marketing opportunity. It’s about how the practice responds to that negative review.

An example of that would be someone’s extremely upset with your service for whatever reason and you know what it’s like. If you run a practice for a while, you get some people you can’t make happy or frankly, you’ve had a bad day, something goes wrong. Those need to be managed. You do not want to leave a review online that’s negative without responding to it. Many businesses leave them alone and think, “I’ll ignore it. I’ll fill it up with positive reviews.” That aspect is good. You want to replace them with more positive. If you leave a negative review alone, it looks like you don’t care.

When people are considering a practice, whether or not they want to use them, they want to see that you care, that you’ve listened and responded. Do that but take it offline. Make sure that you speak to the issue saying, “I’m sorry you had an unfortunate experience. It is very important to us that we make you a happy, satisfied patient. Please contact us at this number. We’re going to take care of it.” It’s simple. It takes it offline. You do not want an argument happening online. You don’t want any issues. Sometimes they’re fake reviews. Those are the worst. How do you respond to that?

They are there for the wrong practice, which we see sometimes too.

DWM 1 | Local SEO

Local SEO: When somebody looks at Google Maps, they always take a look at the practices that have the most positive reviews. It’s a very important part of how people choose a dental practice.


Often, it’s scary. I don’t understand it. When it comes to a fake review, I’ve seen that handled in various ways. I can’t recollect, Andy, what you recommended to do with those but I’ve seen people respond saying, “I’m sorry that you’ve had this experience but we don’t have you as a patient on file.” The problem with that can be, “I don’t know if that’s a violation of HIPAA.”

That’s where it gets a little bit tricky because you can’t acknowledge that somebody was a patient at your practice. We have seen a lot of dental practices, medical practices, that is how they respond if somebody is not a patient. There is a way that you can word it, “Sorry, we can’t find your name as a patient at the practice. Please contact or reach out to us if indeed you were a patient here. We’ll try to address this.” Every review is an opportunity to think about how you’re going to respond. The most important thing is responding by being human and caring.

What’s the first thing that most people do when they go to purchase a product or a service online? They go and check the negative reviews. They want to find out what’s the risk? What’s the worst thing that can happen here? If the company responds or the dental practice responds in a way that allays those fears, they’re going to become a customer because you’re not going to find any dental practices that have a large set of reviews that are all five stars. It’s the nature of the business. People are going to be unhappy or something’s not going to work how they want it to work. It’s medicine. That’s the way that it goes. It’s all about how you respond. If you can allay your new potential patient’s fears that that’s going to happen to them, those negative reviews can be very helpful.

Coming back to SEO and your Google My Business listing, I’d say one of the most important behavioral things that happen with the search listings is when somebody is looking at Google Maps. They’re always taking a look at those reviews and the practices that have the most reviews and have a reasonably good score are the practices that people are going to go and check out. In studies and even from my own personal behavior, when I searched for a local business, the first thing I do is I go and I take a look at the maps. There usually will be two businesses there that have lots of reviews, good reputation. I go and check them out. If one of those two looks good and that’s going to be the one that I go to. It’s a very important part of how people interact with the search results and how they choose a dental practice. It’s incredibly important.

Part of that too is responding, given to the positives. Don’t just respond to the negatives. Be thankful for people’s reviews. It is rare to do it. We’re seeing it in about 1 in 7 response rate. You send out enough of them but 1 in 7 don’t leave a review. That’s rough as of late but it does seem to be fairly accurate. In those cases too, don’t be boilerplate like, “Thank you so much,” or “Thank you so much. We look forward to seeing you again.” Show that you are a person that’s responding. If there’s anything non-personal you can include, great.

It’s good you can show off the personality of the practice a little bit too. All of those little things rub off when people are looking for a dentist. Let’s face it, when people are going to a dentist, oftentimes they’re a little bit worried. They’re a little bit concerned. The friendlier, the nicer you can come across, the better impression that you’re going to make. You can be sure that people are checking and reading those reviews. Some of the statistics, when I was writing one of the articles, showed that after restaurants and hotels as a category, dentists and medical practices are the second most-read reviews online. They have a fear of the dentist. They want those fears to be allayed.

One of the ways they do that is through social proof. With these search engines, there’s a lot that a search engine optimization agency can do to help your practice rank. One of the things that practices can be in charge of and it can be one of those positive feedback loops is the more positive reviews that you get. The more patients you’re going to have in your practice, the more they’re going to be leaving reviews. We know that Google likes practices that have more positive reviews. If people are also searching for best dentist, which is one of the things people search for, I have seen a bias in the search results to those practices that have great reputations. I don’t know what you think, Ross, about the effect of reviews on businesses. I’ve seen a positive bias towards those practices that have a lot of reviews.

If I were to answer it in a simple yes or no, I would say yes, reviews have a huge impact. If we got more technical about it, I’d say that it’s up in the air a little bit these days. Some of them have more reviews than others but they don’t rank as well. It’s not an end all be all factor but man alive, do a good job of building reviews. It’s important. There are some great platforms out there that will help you do that. We have our own proven Local.com. Other ones that are out there but you’ve got to keep in mind that there are some that will build reviews for you but they aren’t connected in any way to third parties.

You can leave a review within the system, a patient can but there’s no way to have them post that to Google, RateMDs, Foursquare, Facebook, whatever. It’s a little rare but I am seeing it now and again. Please keep in mind that it’s not a given that the review system you’re using will allow that. In fact, some of them don’t even bother because they know it’s a bit of a headache to do that porting, allowing that system to happen. Ours does. Many do but you’ve got to make sure it’s done properly. We’ve covered a lot already. We’ve covered 4 of the 8 steps here. We’re going to talk about creating a successful, local, online presence. We’re going to put a pin in it. Next time, we’re going to talk about websites, citations, links and regular activity on your Google My Business listing. On behalf of myself, Ross Dunn, Cofounder of firstdentist.com and Andy Bernhart, VP of Marketing, thank you for joining us. If you have any questions that you’d like to share with us, please feel free to email at [email protected]. Remember to tune into our next episode where we’ll be sharing more tips and news on dental web marketing.

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