If you’ve worked with anyone to build a website in the past, you’ve probably heard the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I have to admit that it’s a phrase I really don’t like. It comes from bygone times on the internet (you know, five years ago) when search engines like Google could be gamed into showing your page as the number one result for just about anything.
Since those days, search engines have gotten really smart about how they catalog information but the phrase has stuck. Now SEO is more about the quality of content that you create than it is about specific techniques.
Therapists who are building websites invariably ask about SEO though. So, in this post, we talk through some concepts behind creating content that can be found by search engines and learning to be the answer to the questions that people are asking.
When therapists first launch a new website – especially for a new business or private practice – one of the questions that invariably gets asked is “When will my site show up in Google?” It’s a loaded question with answers that aren’t exactly straightforward. But I’ll do my best.
First, like any good therapist, you have to understand the question behind the question. What is really being asked is “When will I show up in people’s web searches for therapists?” It might not seem like that big of a difference, but it is. We’ll primarily talk about Google as we answer, but know that the process is essentially the same for all of the search engines that are out there (e.g. Bing, Yahoo, etc) If you think about Google as a database of websites, it’s important to also know that Google adds new sites to their database all the time in addition to editing the records for sites that already exists. It does this by a process called crawling. There are servers called bots that are constantly cataloging the websites on the internet. It’s an automated process that pulls all of the content for a site, looks at things like headings, content, links, and images, and begins to understand what your site is about. It also keeps track of how many other websites link to your site.
It’s not that different from having a therapeutic specialty. If you’re a sex therapist, you might get a lot of referrals from other therapists if they have couples that need some intensive work when it comes to their sexual relationship. If you’re the best sex therapist around, chances are it will show in the number of referrals you receive. The same philosophy holds true when search engines are ranking your sites. If a lot of people link to you, it might be that you’re an expert about whatever content it is that you’re sharing. All of that matters.
But, as you can imagine, all of this information takes time to build up. The Internet is massive. There are over 1 billion websites to keep track of. That’s a LOT of information.
The idea that Google is a massive database that keeps track of all of this information is important. But there’s another side to this too.
The user. The person that is searching for you.
Being listed in Google is one thing. But it’s important to understand that what people actually search for will impact where you show up in their results. If someone searches for puppies near me it is highly unlikely that a page that describes your private practice will show up in their results. It would be odd if it did. Your site, most likely, doesn’t talk about puppies at all. Google is smart enough to understand that your site is completely irrelevant.
Think about it this way. People who are using Google are essentially asking questions. In this case, people are asking “Where can I find puppies near me?” Google’s role is to be kind of concierge and answer that question the best it can. If it gave an answer that ABC Counseling was a good source for puppies, people would quickly stop trusting it. Google is on a constant journey to offer the best answers to the questions people ask. In this case, their best answer might be a local shelter or pet store. A therapist office would be a really bad answer to this question.
What you have to do is think about the questions that we want to be the best answer for. Maybe you want to be the answer for “Who are the best couples therapists in my city?” If that’s the case, then you better make sure that you are talking about couples therapy on your own website. When Google’s crawlers visit to see what’s new on your site, it will be important to find you talking about couples therapy. Make sure you blog about it. Make sure that you’re sharing links to articles about couples therapy on various social media outlets. If you’re not talking about couples therapy, Google won’t think to give your website out when people ask about it.
It’s a constant process to let Google know that you’re an expert in this field. It’s never set-it-and-forget-it when it comes to making sure that people can find you. The more that you can do to prove your website is a good answer to the questions that people are asking, the more traffic you’re going to get from search.
And, some of Google’s sources are outside of your control. Google doesn’t just listen to you, it listens to a lot of voices. So, when you create a blog post that gets shared a few dozen times (or a few thousand times) that helps Google understand that your site might be a better answer to someone’s question than a different site. When many people visit your article about 7 Tips for a Happier Relationship, Google files that information away with a note that many people seem to respond to this content.
SEO can feel daunting because it often feels like black magic. It’s shrouded in mystery because the actual techniques that search engines use are well-protected trade secrets. Be wary of anyone that says they can guarantee you great search engine results.
This is just an introduction though. We’ll follow up soon with another post that will give you some great tips about specific things that you can do to help convince Google that you’re site is the best answer to the questions that people are asking!
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