By Ian McNickle, MBA
Have you ever wondered why some websites rank higher than others? It’s a really common question. The world of online marketing can be very confusing and hard to understand. The goal of this commentary is to explain how it works, and what you can do to improve your website ranking.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Google and other search engines rely on very complicated and frequently changing algorithms to sift through millions of websites to determine which websites should rank higher than others for given search terms. Amazingly this happens in a fraction of a second.
Since Google is by far the largest search engine with about 65% of all search volume we’ll focus on them for our understanding. Google’s search algorithm has over 200 variables that it looks at to determine where a website should rank. Fortunately many of these variables are somewhat understood, although the algorithm changes often.
Search engines read a website like we read a book. As it reads your website the algorithm is looking for dozens of specific items in the code and content to help it understand what the website is about, what each webpage is about, and how important the website is compared to other websites.
In addition, search engines look at incoming links to help determine how important your website is. An incoming link is a link from another website that links back to your website. For example, if the ADA had a link on their website that linked back to your website that would be considered an incoming link for your website.
What Can You Do?
With the experience of optimizing hundreds of dental websites we have learned what works, and what doesn’t. The following items should help your website improve its search engine ranking. It is worth noting that densely populated areas like Seattle and Portland are very competitive, but these strategies should improve any website’s ranking for search terms.
- Unique Content – If your website was purchased through a high-volume website company then most likely it is template based, and has duplicate content. The problem with duplicate content is that search engines penalize websites with content that is the same as other websites. If you rewrite all your content to make it unique your rankings will improve.
- Individual Pages – Most dental websites have an overview page with dental services such as a Cosmetic Dentistry page with a list of those services. This is ok for website readers, but bad for search engines. When Google looks at a webpage it attempts to determine what the topic of that page is about. If a page lists two or more topics then they basically cancel each other out, and the page ranks poorly for all terms. Make sure your website has individual pages with unique content for each dental service topic and your website rankings will improve.
- Site Map – A site map tells the search engines where all your webpages are located. About half of all dental websites do not have a site map which definitely degrades the website’s ability to rank well. If your website does not have a site map, then have your webmaster add one immediately.
- Incoming Links – One of the most difficult things to do is build incoming links to a website. When it comes to incoming links the more the better. Links from other dental websites are better than non-dental links. Links from high traffic websites are better than low traffic websites. Most dental websites have fewer than 10 incoming links, but ideally you should have at least 50 to 100 (or more depending on your competition). Take some time each month to ask other websites to link back to your website.
- Code Issues – Search engines look at website code to understand everything about your website. If your code is not properly optimized (title tag, meta keyword tags, meta description tag, alt tags, header tags, etc), then your website has little chance of ranking well. A web developer well versed in code optimization is critical when constructing a dental website.
Ian McNickle is a Partner at WEO Media where he leads their sales, marketing and business development activities. Ian has developed significant expertise in online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media, and online reputation management. Ian speaks nationally to dental societies, study clubs, and conducts numerous seminars and webinars on these topics. Ian brings over 17 years combined experience in technology, sales & marketing, business development and operations. Ian has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Washington State University and an MBA from the University of Washington.