Digital specialist Alex Bugg shares best practice advice on understanding local SEO
Local search engine optimisation (SEO) is a digital marketing tactic that allows bricks and mortar businesses, such as aesthetic clinics, to take advantage of location-based search engine use. With 46% of all Google searches looking for local information,1 usually on a mobile device, local SEO is becoming more and more popular, as businesses look to get as much ‘free’ organic traffic as possible. The objective of search engines, such as Google, is to deliver results as accurately as possible, to learn consumer behaviour and build trust so that the public keeps coming back. Therefore, delivering service providers within a locality when someone searches for ‘dermal fillers’ or ‘microneedling’ on a mobile device that, more often than not, has location services enabled, allows for a positive outcome for the searcher.
Aspiring to nationally rank on page one of Google for a treatment is fine; but be aware, this takes an ongoing, long-term SEO strategy. What is more useful to most clinics, however, is ranking highly on mobile searches for treatments in your local area. This means that more people who are nearby visit your website and book your treatments.
Good SEO can drive more people to your website, have them spend longer browsing your site, and therefore generate more leads, via organic search results – appearing as high up as possible on the search engine results page (SERP). You will also want your business to appear in Google’s ‘three-pack’, which is the box with three businesses displayed on a map.
Two key terms to be aware of when managing your SEO are:
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that businesses can use to maximise their online reach.3 Whilst Google isn’t the only search engine, it accounts for 92% of all search engine use,4 so it is key to provide Google with as much information as it asks for to increase your presence across both the Search and Maps tools. I recommend utilising the following GMB features that all aid effective SEO.
Google considers reviews as a trust signal; someone took time out of their life to leave a review. Replying to reviews on whichever platforms you gather them on, but especially Google, can help build customer trust, so Google reviews which mention your location, your business by name, or the treatment the patient had, are especially useful in terms of SEO. Google values their reviews over other platforms, so prioritising Google reviews is key if you’re focussing on SEO. Platforms such as Facebook, TrustPilot and RealSelf will all provide traffic back to your website, and appear when people are searching for you, but will not boost your SEO as much as working on your GMB profile. Read more on reviews in the section below.
Google Posts are like social media posts, but displayed in your business profile, or when somebody searches your exact name. Posts are classed as ‘What’s New’, ‘Event’, ‘Offer’ and ‘Product’, so you can tell Google more about your post. You can also include a call to action (CTA) in your post, to direct viewers to what you want them to do next, such as ‘Book Now’, ‘Learn More’ and ‘Call Now’. A 2020 case study by SEO software company Moz showed that 40% of businesses have never created a post on GMB, yet when a plastic surgeon posted, they received more than 80% increase in clicks each time someone searched for them.5 This shows that Google posts get interaction, and it is worth scheduling a weekly post, along with your regular social media.
Using the Questions section of GMB allows users to ask questions about your clinic. A good way to use this is to leave these questions yourself, and respond to them through GMB. These are left anonymously by Google users, so you can leave your own or encourage others to do this. With three upvotes (thumbs up on GMB), these will appear natively in your GMB panel, so that you display more information about your clinic. You could perhaps ask your clinic if it provides a certain treatment, and answer that you do.
By adding as many images of your clinic, both internal and external, and the team, Google has shown that business profiles receive 42% more requests for directions on Maps, and 35% more clicks through to their website.6
Clinics should also link their social media to their GMB profile, so that it is displayed in the GMB panel, as most people researching a new business will visit your profiles for further validation.
Getting backlinks – where a website that isn’t yours shares a link to your page – is often seen as an integral part of SEO. Backlinks tell Google that your site has relevance and legitimacy, if another site chooses to reference yours.
The number, and quality, of these link signals is the single largest local SERP ranking factor. They are also the second most important factor in appearing in the local three-pack, after signals from a complete and popular GMB profile that has proximity to the search.1
Blogger outreach and PR are the most common ways of earning backlinks in aesthetics. Without working with a PR agency, this requires some work. However, reviewing your patients who already have a blog with an audience you’d like to reach out to, making press releases and holding press or blogger events are a way to generate interest and stories written about your clinic.
You should also consider creating your own quality content, with real industry insight, and you may find that other websites link to yours without you asking. For example, you could put an interesting case study using a particular product onto your blog, and find that the manufacturer shares this to their website and social media. This content will naturally mention the location of your clinic, which signals to search engines that your business is relevant in your area.
Consistent NAP, which stands for name address and phone number, needs to be character for character, the same across all directories and listings. This ensures that search engines know that all of your assets, profiles, websites and references refer to one business – yours.7 Errors in this information, such as representing your business name as both ‘Dr Smith Aesthetics’ and ‘Doctor Smith Aesthetics’ will impact your SEO. This is because your listing could become confusing for your customers, if you are placing ‘1a High Street’ as well as ‘1 High Street’, it therefore makes it harder for Google to trust your information.7 Putting your business into the large online directories, such as Yell, Yelp, Thomson Local, as well as Apple Maps Connect and Bing Places, with a consistent NAP will provide more links back to your website.
Gathering reviews and testimonials online is key to successful local SEO. The value of Google reviews for SEO have been discussed, and other platforms such as Facebook, Trustpilot, RealSelf and Doctify are great places to publish them. According to BrightLocal, consumers on average read 10 reviews before engaging with a business and, with the 18-34 market, this increases to 13.6 Some practitioners are afraid to ask for reviews, for fear of negative responses.
I would suggest asking for them in person, rather than doing so in a follow-up email; if the patient does have any negative feedback it will be easier to discuss on a one-to-one basis and people are generally more likely to leave a review when asked in person.
You can also source backlinks from local businesses, such as hair salons, other private medical clinics such as physiotherapists and dentists, and independent hotels, by offering to write guest posts and deliver value to their customer base. A local guide for visitors coming to your town or city could recommend multiple locations such as bars, restaurants, entertainment and attractions, and include your clinic as the place to visit for pampering and the best aesthetic treatment.
Think about each treatment you offer, and relate them to as many hobbies as possible, such as sports or the arts. Your local Chamber of Commerce will hold regular events and training; joining your chamber may be a worthwhile investment. The Federation of Small Businesses is another organisation to explore. Holding your own networking event, in-clinic, by inviting nearby businesses, gives you the platform to speak about what you do, hold guided tours and share information you think might be useful for their audience; you will either generate referrals backlinks for yourself, or perhaps even bring in the business owners themselves as patients.
Ultimately, Google sees how many people visit your website, how long they spend there and how many pages they click on as an indicator of a quality website. Making your website as inviting, educational and interesting as possible will provide search engines with signals that it is worth delivering in the SERP to more people.
Examples of content which is engaging:
Producing this content is down to great collaboration between your clinic team and a web developer or self-build platform.
All your actions here require an investment of time but do not have to cost a lot of money. By feeding Google as much information about your business, you will benefit from higher ranking in local searches, and conversely, receive more patient enquiries from organic search.