Please welcome Rachel Zanders, a writer who will be posting to this blog from time to time. Rachel is also a contributor toGapers Block, where she covers Chicago's dance community.
This is the second installment in a series of articles on how dentists can protect and manage their reputation online.
As I pointed out in my previous "Open Wide" entry, two powerful ways clients find dentists are Internet search engines and user review sites. In today's market, it is in every business owner's interest to make these tools work for him rather than passively allowing the online stream of information to roll by. There is no reason to feel intimidated--once you understand how these tools work, you'll find ways to make them work to your advantage.
Potential clients using search engines are more likely to click on a link that appears higher up in the search results. So how does a search engine "decide" what is listed and where it is ranked?
Search engines usually send a "spider," or automated software program, out into the wilderness of the Web. The spider reviews page content and makes a list of words, indexing information based on the spider's pre-programmed system. The search engine uses that index to decide what pages are listed and in what order.
There is an entire industry out there called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) whose goal is to increase a website's visibility when a user searches on related terms. Laura Cameron, SEO Strategist for Rosetta Marketing, explains that once you have a "simple, clear, and professional-looking" website that is worthy of drawing traffic, there are three areas of focus for SEO.
First, your site must be set up technically so as to allow spiders to locate, understand, and index your site. Second is the content. Cameron suggests, "Make sure each page has good, descriptive content on it, not just images. Make sure 'dentist, dentistry, teeth, dental care,' and other related terms are mentioned." And finally, getting other respectable sites to link to your site increases authoritativeness and places you higher in search results.
Says Cameron, "You can go to DMOZ or other link directories and submit site pages to relevant categories. Although free directories often take months to establish a link, when they do, [the link should help the page] appear in search results. You should also have employees or customers … link to the site from their blogs, LinkedIn profiles, websites, or any other site on the Web."
If you're not going to hire an SEO expert (or even if you are), check out Google's Business Solutions page to learn more about acquiring in-depth information about people who visit your site and how they use your site, buying targeted advertising, and much more.
Consumer Review Sites
Contrary to popular business owners' belief, these sites aren't just repositories for consumer angst. Although many people assume that clients are more likely to review a business if they've had a bad experience, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the average customer rating is 4.3 out of 5 stars. In addition, many sites allow business owners to take an active role. For example, visit Yelp's page for business owners. This will take you through the steps of "unlocking" your page, which will allow you to reply to reviews privately or publicly, track the traffic on your Yelp page, and even announce special offers.
One of the most important steps you can take in managing your online reputation is to keep track of what's being said about you. An easy way to do this is through Google Alerts. (See also our previous explanation of how to set up a Google Alert for your practice.) Once you've filled out the very short form, you will receive an e-mail as frequently as you like that lists all of the places where your search terms (e.g., your name, your practice's name, your partners' names, etc.) appear. In the final entry in this series, I'll be providing information about how to reply to what your clients might be saying.