When we read orthopaedic publications, we often recognize many surgeon names as subject matter experts. In the field of search engines and optimization of websites, the biggest name that you’ve likely never heard is Matt Cutts, head of web spam at Google. He is behind the team that creates the technology that looks at your website and decides its value. That’s a pretty powerful position to be in. Matt was recently asked what the top five mistakes were for optimizing websites to be found by Google search. These five mistakes are listed below, along with my commentary. Follow these guidelines to build the most “findable” website possible:

Not having a website or having a website that is now crawlable is the biggest mistake he sees. You think it would be obvious by now that having a website is a requirement these days, but I regularly encounter doctors who don’t have a web presence. It’s usually because they’re too busy or delegate it to someone else who is too busy. Not having a website means you have no online presence and the only things found about you are healthcare website ratings and the empty Google+ page. It essentially shows prospective patients that you do not care enough to provide information. Patients are consumers, and they use the Internet to do research and make decisions. Having a profile page on a hospital website is not a presence, its just a listing. Building your online presence is critical to success and begins with a core website.
Once the site is built, it has to be found. Google is unaware of your presence on the web unless you tell them. Using the Google tools like Webmaster and Analytics guarantees Google will crawl your site. And you should have a robots.txt file. Here’s how you check. Pull up your website and type “/robots.txt” after your domain name in the address bar (Example: http://www.yoursite.com/robots.txt). If a text file doesn’t appear, it means you have not instructions for search engine crawlers. Have your web people fix this immediately. The robots.txt file is like a bouncer at a nightclub and helps Google and other search engines find the right doors to enter.

Not including the right words on the page. The example Matt give is: don’t just write, “Mt. Everest Height”, but write “How high is Mt. Everest?” because that is how people search. In my opinion you should do both. Most doctors have a listing of services and conditions treated on their website. These keywords should be linked to actual content that has the title “What is Condition Name”. This gives you both the subject search and the more inquisitive search terms. Google Trends is yet another free product from Google that actually tells us what people are searching for (http://google.com/trends). When we look at how many people search for “spine surgery” vs. “what is spine surgery” and throw in “minimally invasive spine surgery” as well, we see a huge number of people searching for the subject-specific keywords and far fewer searching in the inquisitive fashion. However, when we actually type the words “what is” followed by whatever you’re searching for, you see a new type of search results. Google is encouraging natural language inquisitive searching and actually produces web definitions culled from many sources. Consider using all forms of keywords and inquisitive search terms in your website content.

Don’t think about link building, think about compelling content and marketing. It seems odd that what was once most important is now least important. Google used to calculate your site’s value, and therefore its place in search rankings, based on how many people linked to it and where those links were from. This led to shady people creating link “farms” and selling you links from these farms to get your site to the top of rankings. Google has since created algorithms (Panda and Penguin) that look at your site links as well as content to ensure you aren’t participating in these schemes. You may be a victim and not know it. Far too many web developers bought into this link “baiting” scheme and used it as a tool to get their client sites ranking quickly. Unfortunately, the clients are later penalized because of this. If you’ve used an agency to market your site online, be sure to ask them if they’ve participated in link building services and, if so, to remove your site from them. Instead of trying to game the system, create compelling content. Having content about treatments offered and conditions treated is an answer to patients questions, helps you with informed consent, and gives you a boost in search engines. Creating this content may seem like a daunting challenge, but you can “curate” content and link to trusted sources, use content provided by many device companies, or work with healthcare marketing companies who provide libraries of content for your use. At VoxMD, we make a point of ensuring all of our clients have a content library that helps them with their patients as well as their marketing.

Don’t forget to think about the title and description of your most important pages. When we speak of title and description, we aren’t talking about what you and your patients see, we’re talking about the search engine title and description. Look at the very top of your browser window right now. You’ll notice the large blue title of this article is also embedded in the topmost part of your browser, in the blue or gray bar. This is created inside your webpage code. There is also a description section called a meta tag. You don’t see this, but search engines read this and use it to index your page. This is my biggest peeve with people who “design” websites: they’re usually ignorant of the impact of failing to provide the search engines with the search terms in these two places. Look at your website pages. If you see your practice name repeated on every page, you now know your web person doesn’t know how to market your practice.

Not using webmaster resources and learning about how Google works and what SEO is all about. This is one of the most common mistakes made, in my opinion. Our clients rank high because of one simple thing we do: follow Google’s rules. That’s all there is to it. However, the rules constantly change and far too many marketing companies fail to keep up, or focus more on design, or simply don’t care and consider building your website as a success. Google is focused on providing the world with quality information, and Matt’s team is constantly striving to validate billions of websites and not serve you up a load of garbage in your search results. If you fail to know how Google works, or fail to partner with someone who knows how Google works, then your online presence may suffer. You don’t have to become an SEO expert, but hopefully articles like this will help deepen your understanding of Google and Search Engine Optimization.

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