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How Search Engine Rules Affect Local SEO

Google and other search engines are constantly tweaking their algorithms in order to provide online searchers with the most accurate and helpful information. The competition is fierce in the search engine world, so the site that provides the best search results will ultimately rank supreme in the minds of web surfers. As of today, Google remains the leader in search engines, accounting for almost 75% of all global desktop search traffic and 94% of mobile search. To keep that ranking, they change their search engine optimization (SEO) rules often. These rules can negatively or positively affect how your website is ranked on your keyword searches.

For this blog, we are focusing on the importance of maintaining your local SEO ranking – especially for medical practices.

Why Does Local SEO Matter?

46% of all searches on Google are local.

Convenience is a top factor when choosing a doctor. When people are searching for a new optometrist, ophthalmologist, family physician, dentist or medical specialist, they often want a provider that is located close to their work or home. Medical appointments typically interrupt a person’s daily schedule, making it necessary to take off from work or pull children out of school. The closer the office, the less time and hassle the appointments will be.

Local SEO rankings are extremely important to community medical practices. You are probably aware by now that people want information fast and easy. The more energy they have to expend to find your practice, the less likely they will be to find you. If someone is doing a local search, they may be in action mode and ready to take the first step with your practice (hot leads).

If your medical practice is not staying on top of every new change being made, your local SEO ranking will slip, you won’t be as prominent in the search result listings and your business could greatly suffer.

Example: Google’s Possum & Hawk Updates

In 2016, Google made updates to their local search rules – ultimately nicknamed the Possum update. If your practice was geographically located near or in the same building with other practices that offered similar services, you may have felt the impact. The Possum update looked at the physical address and/or ownership of businesses and filtered out businesses that had the same address (or those nearby). It also filtered satellite practices that were owned by the same company. So, if a person searched for “ophthalmologist in Denver,” the Map Pack that popped up would only list practices that were geographically spread apart in order to provide a more diverse offering to the online searcher. This filtering did not actually remove the business from the online Map Pack listing, but the business would have moved further down in listing.

What is a Google Map Pack?

The Map Pack is a listing of the closest 3 businesses that relate to the local search keywords. When the Map Pack was introduced, it originally listed 5 or 7 businesses and their contact information, but today it only shows the top 3 in the initial view. To get a more complete listing, the searcher must click to expand the view – and we all know the impact of landing on page 2, 3, 4, etc. in search engines.

Going back to our Possum update example, it is very common for medical practices to share office space, so the Possum update impacted many small medical offices. As a result, Google implemented the Hawk update in 2017 to reduce some of the restrictions of the proximity filter. However, offices that share an address can still be negatively affected.

How Can Your Medical Practice Master Local SEO?

In some cases, you may not be able to control how new algorithms affect your rankings (as in the case of the Possum update). Local SEO results can be affected by the searcher’s IP address and can change like the tide.

However, there are certain actions you can do right now – and continue to monitor – to reduce the negative effects of search engine changes:

  1. Spend time claiming, completely filling out and updating your Google My Business listing.
  2. Ensure your practice is accurately listed in as many local online directories as possible.
  3. Solicit more good online reviews of your practice.
  4. Include your practice’s name, address and phone number on every page of your website.
  5. Keep the content on your website fresh, relevant and comprehensive.
  6. Add geographic keywords to your website pages.
  7. Make sure your website is easily viewed on smaller screens (mobile optimization).
  8. Make social media marketing a priority and make interesting posts regularly.

SEO is a Full-Time Job

SEO is a never-ending, often thankless job. Rather than reacting to SEO snags and drops in your lead counts, it is a best practice action step to employ an SEO expert to keep your practice on top of all changes. You can hire an internal marketing expert to handle this role or outsource the ongoing task to a marketing firm that specializes in the niche market of medical marketing.

LOLA System

Fast Track Marketing has created the LOLA (Local Online Listing Amplification) System to help practices outperform their competitors in online local pack search results. There are a lot of steps involved in securing, managing and optimizing Local Business Listings, and the LOLA System is designed to make it easy. With the LOLA System in place, your practice’s contact information will be accurately listed on a multitude of sites and duplicate listings will be identified and eliminated. Your listings will be optimized to provide the highest search results. Online reviews of your practice will be monitored on the most popular review sites to keep you informed about the overall patient experience you are providing.

The LOLA System also includes a wide variety of reporting capabilities, providing clients with analytics on local traffic, customer actions, local rankings, weekly tracking and more.

SEO Power Pack

Building a successful SEO program takes time. Fast Track Marketing has also created an SEO Power Pack program to help jumpstart your SEO program and control your online presence. The program starts by reviewing the effectiveness of your current SEO strategy (if you have one). Then a plan is put into action to fill in any gaps that exist. For example, we might recommend that your website be overhauled to be more SEO-friendly; updating or adding new content to your site on a regular basis is often a tactic to achieve this goal. In addition to your website updates, the SEO Power Pack will include local business listing optimization and online review monitoring and response.

As mentioned before, this is an ongoing process and it requires yearly audits of progress so changes can be made, if necessary, to keep your practice at the top of the changing SEO game.

If you are unsure where to start or just want to learn more about how to improve your local SEO, contact the experts at Fast Track Marketing. We have over 14 years of experience in the medical marketing field, especially in ophthalmology, and can lead your practice up the SEO ladder of success. Contact Brandi Musgrave at 303-731-2634 or to start the conversation.