How Will Google’s New BERT Update Affect Your Dental Practice’s Online Presence?

Google recently introduced a major update to their search algorithm that has small business owners and SEO experts in a tizzy. So what has the update changed exactly, and how will it affect your dental website SEO? Let’s take a look, but first, we’ll talk about your practice’s SEO overall and discover why it’s so important for you to have a cohesive strategy in place.

What is dental search engine optimization?

In the days before the internet dominated almost every aspect of our lives, people had a few options when looking for a local professional service such as a dentist. They could ask coworkers or friends, but that was difficult if they had just moved to a place. They could also wait until they saw an effective advertisement, but the timing wouldn’t always be right. But often, people would turn to an invaluable resource in the analog days: the phone book yellow pages.

Internet search engines are now essentially the digital version of the yellow pages. Users think of a search term, and the resource displays what it thinks are the relevant results for that term. Instead of previously where you would flip through the phone book to the desired section and find a predetermined layout of results, Google uses an incredibly advanced algorithm to interpret the meaning of every search term and deliver a list of results.

Just like placing your print ad in the right spot of the yellow pages, dental search engine optimization is simply a way to ensure that people can find your practice easily when they search for a local dentist. Before a patient actually visits your practice and sees the effectiveness of your treatment, your website is the best way to communicate the value of your practice to them.

Why dental SEO is crucial to the future of your practice

You can hire the best staff, train to perform the most innovative procedures, and provide the best care to every single one of your patients, but most people in your area will never even know it unless you can use effective SEO strategies to increase your online visibility. If you want people to consistently see how great your practice is, then you have to show up early in the results when prospective patients perform a local search for dentists.

It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of Google searches never progress past the first page of results, and your anecdotal experience with personal searches likely confirms this fact. The statistics support this conclusion as well, with studies finding that users complete their search on page one of the results in more than 91% of instances. Going even further, the top five results dominate the competition, receiving more than two-thirds of all clicks.

What is Google’s BERT update?

The Google interface has been processing web searches since 1997, but the algorithm used today is very different from the one employed in the beginning. Google is constantly trying to refine the way its algorithm interprets search terms, and they have released many updates, both major and minor to it, over the course of more than two decades.

The most recent major update released in the fall of 2019 is a new way for the system to process natural language called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT.

As it sounds, the purpose of BERT is to connect the search engine algorithm with the way that humans speak naturally. It is especially focused on longer tail search phrases featuring prepositions or modifiers that have a significant impact on the user’s intended meaning. According to Google, BERT will affect approximately 10% of all searches, and you can find more detail about the changes as well as specific examples of search queries that have changed in their official blog post about the update.

How you can optimize your marketing through Google’s newest search algorithm

Google still runs the game when it comes to online search, and there’s no indication that this fact is going to change anytime in the near future. Therefore, if you want to excel at marketing your dental practice you have to play by their rules. The silver lining of this is that their rules are fairly transparent and consistent, and as long as you understand them and are prepared you can use them to your advantage.

Google is all about creating processes that understand search terms in greater context so that their results will be more relevant to the end-user. That’s what BERT ultimately for—a complex networking process that tries to add more context to search terms by considering the words as a part of the whole rather than in a vacuum.

When you start to go beyond that things get a bit technical, so let’s just skip to discussing how BERT affects your SEO performance and what you need to do in order to stand out in the current search landscape. At the most basic level, many of the SEO best practices that have been touted for years are still a solid path to success, and it’s vital to stick with them even in the face of algorithmic updates.

The term “search engine optimization” has become common parlance even for people who don’t engage in online marketing, but Google continues to stress that they’re much more interested in relevance than optimization, and that’s why they continue to develop programs such as BERT. This means that search results will be less reliant on keywords (especially short tail keywords), and better equipped to provide users with relevant content based on their search phrases as a whole.

What you need to do as a result is follow suit: create relevant content that will be picked up by the algorithm and delivered conveniently to your core audience. Include relevant keywords accordingly, but don’t engage in keyword stuffing, which is sound advice now just as it was 10 years ago.

Another core strategy is to make your content reflect the locality of your business. As an operation that relies entirely on local traffic, your dental practice can’t afford to get lost in the shuffle of other practices that aren’t anywhere near where the user is searching. When it comes to professional services such as dentistry, locality equals relevance, so add local context to your marketing copy, blog posts, title tags, and anywhere else it makes sense.

Google’s BERT update may have changed the way that the search algorithm interprets certain words, but it hasn’t diminished the importance of the technical aspects of your site that factor into page rankings. Even small things such as making sure that your name and contact information is consistent across all accessible directories makes a difference.

Once again, best SEO best practices are still applicable! At the end of the day the search algorithm is just the vehicle that delivers your website to a person, so focus on designing the site so that it will be useful to real people.

Work on improving your site speed and the overall UI, and visitors will spend more time on your site and experience a more cohesive buying journey as they go through the various stages towards booking an appointment. When you combine prowess in these technical areas with consistent, relevant content and an effective keyword strategy, you can truly set your practice up for sustained success.

The most important things you need to excel at marketing your practice online

Online dentist marketing has changed quite a bit since the early days of web 2.0, but SEO is still one of the most important segments of a well-executed overall marketing strategy. At the top, you need a comprehensive SEO strategy with a dedicated budget, evolving benchmarks, performance testing measures, keyword research, competitor analysis and much more.

There is no single element that can make or break your SEO performance, no matter what Google does to their search algorithm now or in the future. As the web changes, new factors in SEO will emerge as well, and keeping up with them is part of the game. For instance, now that social pages have become nearly as important as local search, maintaining cohesion among your website and social pages and providing social proof to users has become paramount.

It’s not an easy thing to do alone, which is why having a partner who will work with you on every aspect of your SEO can be the difference between your site consistently showing up in the top five results and getting lost in the background.

How to get started turning your practice into an online marketing powerhouse

At Connect the Doc, we pride ourselves on our ability to enhance a practice’s patient pool by increasing the viability and effectiveness of their website, while connecting patients with high-quality dentistry practices that can provide the care they need. Our experts work with your business to ensure that your online presence features the kind of relevant content that searchers are looking for and that will get noticed by Google. We will help you develop and execute an online marketing strategy that goes well beyond SEO, improve your social media interactions, and solicit more quality patient reviews and referrals.

Your digital marketing and SEO is the gateway to building strong relationships with your patients, and it can’t be left to chance or haphazard planning. Contact Connect the Doc today and discover how we can work together to ensure that prospective patients can see all the hard work you’ve put into your practice exactly when they need it most.