THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1. How you can establish authority with patients
2. Why Google cares about your authority and trustworthiness
3. How ‘publish or perish’ applies to websites
Case acceptance remains one of the big ongoing problems for any dental professional. You diagnose a problem, come up with a treatment plan—then watch as the patients return, not having done anything you asked. Trying to change patient behaviour is a real challenge. A solution, however, may lie where you least expect it: in Google’s guidelines for website owners.
The problem is one of authority. The patient weighs up your authority against what they believe, and decide what to do from there. It’s called confirmation bias, and if your treatment plan doesn’t match it, its hard to convince them otherwise.
There has been a lot of work in the last 50 years on the whole idea of authority with medical practitioners. The old idea of of your authority being taken for granted has been replaced a long time ago by a ‘consumerist’ health model. That’s where patients educate themselves about their problems before you ever get to see them.
This whole process speeds up when you add the Internet, smart phones and social media. It only takes minutes now for a patient to check with their best friend’s cousin’s boyfriend if they really need to wear that appliance.
Those patients aren’t stupid. They just haven’t done a dental degree, so don’t understand the stuff about oral health that you do. And society has been telling them for years that, just because you have scrubs on, it doesn’t mean you know everything.
So how do you establish your authority to people who aren’t sitting directly in front of you, and don’t know or understand what type of study you’ve done? Search engines like Yahoo, Bing and Google are interested in exactly the same question.
To understand why, you have to stretch your mind back to the dim, distant past of the 1990s. Back then, Alta Vista was the leading search engine, Americans all used AOL, and the smart money was a couple of Aussies, Evan Thornley and Tracey Ellery, to come up with the world’s best search engine with LookSmart.
Back then, when you did a web search, it was a real hit-and-miss affair. That’s why the fellas behind Google proposed their search engine, which was designed to identify and reward high quality content.
Google’s computers look for signals that the content of your website is authoritative. There’s many different signals they look at, including the number of links pointing to your site and where those links are coming from; the number of visits it has had; the length of time it’s been around, and many more.
That approach gave people much better search results, and resulted in Google becoming the market-leading search engine.
So while you may see your website as a brochure on the Internet, search engines like Google see it as documented proof of your reputation. When they index your site, they are looking for E.A.T.: a combination of Expertise, Authority and Trust that indicate the information should rank more highly in search results.
In the process of ranking your website, software from the search engines determine how expert, authoritative and trustworthy your site is. If there is something about your site that raises an alarm—if it seems to have dodgy links or spammy software on it—the computers may refer it to human evaluators. In November last year, Google published the criteria those human quality raters use to determine if a site is any good.
When you read over them, you realise Google wants to see if your website reflects the fact that you are knowledgeable, trustworthy, and authoritative in your field. That’s not the same as being a leading academic. It’s just looking for signs that will indicate that you know what you’re talking about, and other people think that. So they are looking for trustworthy links back to your site, among other indicators that people think what you have to say is worthwhile.
How do you reflect those signs on your site? Firstly, you have to give people a reason to go there. And just having your address or a couple of bits of static oral health information won’t do it.
Search engine crawlers will visit your site regularly. The more frequently those crawlers detect new information on the site, the more they will assume that you are building authority. You remember the academic catch cry of “publish or perish”? The web works exactly the same way.
The more authoritative you are, the more regularly the crawlers will visit. So it becomes a virtuous cycle. That’s why digital marketing agencies are always encouraging you to have a blog on your website. Without a blog, all you’re doing is updating existing pages. There’s only so often you can do that. And from the point of view of the search engine, if they have already indexed a particular page, they don’t really have a reason to come back and re-index it unless you ask them to, and it has changed substantially.
Of course, just publishing regularly isn’t enough. People have to know you are publishing, and come to your site to read it. Ideally, they will be impressed by what you write, and link to it from their site.
Big social media sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t fully indexed by Google, and if someone links to your site from Facebook, the crawler software won’t be able to follow it. But having a social media presence may help you amplify the fact that you are publishing regularly on your website, and draw more people in to read it.
And the search engines do track how many people visit your site, and where they visit from, and how long they spend on it. So finding an audience on social media, and telling them about new content on your website, will have an impact on how highly search engines rank you.
Other ways to draw people to your site involves making intelligent comments on blogs that your patients are reading. Not just leaving a note saying “great article!”, but actually adding some information that the blog writer hasn’t added themselves.
It’s a good idea to make a list of the websites that your patients are reading, and subscribe to any newsletters they put out alerting you to new content. You don’t have to comment on something every day, but commenting regularly will draw you to the attention of the site owner, and increase the chances of them promoting your own content.
The most effective way to give people a reason and an easy way to come and visit your site is through an email newsletter. But of course, you need something to put in that newsletter. Again, this is where a blog on your website becomes valuable. A regularly updated blog means you have something to announce to people—a reason for them to come and visit your site.
Do you get those emails from companies promising to tweak your website to get you on the front page of a Google search? It may comfort you to know that Google gets those emails too. They are spam, and are promising something no-one can deliver.
But you can increase your presence and authority on the web by using technology to regularly communicate your knowledge with people who are interested in what you have to say. And the more knowledge you share, the greater authority you will have in the eyes of your patients, potential patients, and the search engines they will use to find you.
If any of that is unclear, please feel free to leave a comment. I do read them and comment back, and I’m more than happy to discuss it with you.
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