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April 16, 2014
by Thomas Stern
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Build your local SEO strategy
Tom Stern

Two million local searches are performed every month in the United States alone. Behavioral healthcare professionals have a tremendous opportunity to leverage local SEO to increase digital visibility, put themselves in front of potential clients and increase revenues. Without proper placement inside search engine listings and in online directories, prospective customers are less likely to find and the resources they want.

According to Google, 53 percent of people visit at least two treatment center websites before making an appointment. These prospective clients are not just looking up general health information; 34 percent are seeking new places and 31 percent are comparing facilities. Google reports that search drives more than three times as many visitors to treatment center sites compared to non-search and those that search convert at more than double the rate than non-searchers.

There are several factors that influence local search result rankings, including directory citations, on-page signals and local reviews. To maximize the benefits of a local SEO strategy, professionals should optimize each factor. But, because almost half of people in the U.S. use online directories to find businesses before purchasing local goods or services, according to research by BIA/Kelsey, any local strategy should begin with directory syndication and search engine listing management.

Directory syndication: A starting point for businesses

Digital directories, the yellow pages of the modern era, are an easy place for consumers to look-up information about businesses with an easy to search and use interface. But the one big change from the yellow pages of yesterday is that there are dozens of digital directories that can apply to any industry. This means that being listed in one directory is not enough. Businesses need to have a strategy to succeed in local SEO because search engines use directory listings as only one of the many factors that go into local search rankings.

A directory syndication strategy leverages the way online directories work, with bigger directories providing information to smaller directories on a regular basis. For healthcare professionals, that means directories like Yellow Pages, Superpages and Yelp pull data from aggregators such as Westlake Village, Calif-based Acxion and Sterling, Va.-based Localeze.

There are also behavioral, health-specific directories. Three of the largest directories that cater to this demographic are Psychology Today (New York, NY), The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s (Alexandria, Va.) and (Anchorage, Alaska). These are niche directories, so they may not be reliant on larger directories for information and therefore require information to be input directly.

When focusing on directory syndication, these best practices are recommended to create the best local SEO result.

Best Practices

1. Keep details consistent

A lack of consistency between directory listings is one of the easiest local SEO pitfalls to avoid. Search engines notice small differences in phone numbers, addresses, hours of operation and other information, and downgrade businesses that have inconsistent data across the multiple platforms.

Healthcare providers should be careful to make sure each listing is exactly the same as the next, down to the use of address abbreviations. For example, to search engines “street” and “st.” are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.

2. Use unique phone numbers

Many professionals share a common phone number with other locations or offices in a medical office complex. Search engines penalize businesses when the same phone number is used for multiple businesses or locations. So, providers should attempt to have a unique contact number for each location and, if that isn’t possible, only list phone numbers that are not shared.

3. Expect update delays

A comprehensive digital directory syndication strategy must include a measure of patience because digital directories can take days or weeks before uploading or updating information. In essence, each of the smaller directories must wait for the larger ones to update before the information can be passed down. Businesses should update all information including phone numbers, hours of operation and location openings and closings as early as possible to ensure the directories have time to update their listings.

4. Claim search engine listings

Each of the major search engines, Google, Bing and Yahoo!, have their own unique business listings. As the most popular search engine, Google should be the place where healthcare professionals begin claiming their listings. Bing and Yahoo!, when combined, also have a large audience of potential patients and searches--and the power to drive patient conversions as well.

5. Complete profiles

For search engine listings, a complete profile that includes pictures, hours of operation, and links to social media profiles is essential. Professionals with complete profiles have an advantage in local search over those who don’t fill out all of the fields.

And just like directory listings, consistency is important. Search engines will compare the data input on listings to information from other sources to determine the authority of the information. If the information is not consistent, search engine rankings will suffer.

Thomas Stern is senior vice president of client services for ZOG Digital in Scottsdale, Ariz.