Close to two-thirds of the Internet’s traffic is mobile, and that number continues to climb at a staggering rate. Google has adopted a mobile-only approach by indexing just the mobile version of your website and not the desktop one.
Since smartphones come with GPS, this mobile proliferation has proportionately increased the number of location-based searches. Statistics show that 46% of all mobile searches are location-related, with a 900% increase in “near me” searches, reported by Google, in just two years alone.
What does this mean?
It means that people looking for your plastic surgery practice or medical aesthetic clinic will most likely do so from their mobile devices. They are more qualified, too, as 78% of location-based mobile searches statistically end in a conversion (such as booking a consultation or a procedure).
Having a properly optimized site with great content may give you some visibility in the search engines. But if your location is not visible in maps or on mobile devices, you’re losing out on a significant portion of your potential patients.
Geo-based search engine optimization, also called local SEO, is the practice of increasing your visibility in location-based searches. When people search for “plastic surgeon near me,” “plastic surgery [location],” or “who can I see for [procedure or problem]?” you want your listing to be among the first.
However, smartphones are not the only ones offering geo-based searches. Remember that 90% of desktop browsers are location-aware, and 93% of non-mobile search results with location intent will offer map listings showing up at the top of the page — also called “Local Map Pack” or “Three Pack.”
If you don’t appear in the top-three positions of location-based search results, you might as well not exist. That’s where local SEO comes in. It’s one of the most effective ways for your prospective patients to find you — and most often, one of the most ignored or underutilized.
This type of SEO comprises four areas. In order of importance, they are:
Your website must list an exact address and perhaps have a page dedicated to helping people find you. But there are other signals that help search engines rank you according to your location. I’ll come back to this as it’s essential.
With major online maps, there are three of them: Google My Business (which includes Google Search and Google Maps), Bing Places (which covers Bing Maps), and Apple Maps (which appear in Siri and Spotlight searches). For the sake of brevity, check out this local SEO article on how to claim all three listings.
Data aggregators are local data collectors and providers. They scour the Internet for business information, clean it, and compile it. Some provide this data to others, such as websites, marketers, and providers (including GPS navigation devices like Garmin and TomTom). Here’s a look at the top 50:
Citations are any mentions of your listing on other websites. Technically, all the above are citations. But in this section, I’m referring to industry-specific (vertical) or service-specific (horizontal) citations. For example:
- Industry citations (e.g., RateMDS, RealSelf, MD.com, and HealthGrades);
- Niche directories (e.g., associations like ASPS and The Aesthetic Society);
- And review sites (e.g., TrustPilot, TripAdvisor, Yelp, BBB, and WhatClinic).
It’s important to claim your listing in as many locations as possible, particularly in authoritative ones. Not only does it increase your visibility, but doing so also increases your ability to outrank your competitors.
Google My Business owns the lion’s share of map-based search queries, which is around 87%. With local searches, Google will rank your listing according to three factors: 1) relevance, 2) proximity, and 3) prominence.
- How close you are to the user when they search.
- How well your listing satisfies the user’s search.
- And how well you stand out from the others.
Obviously, the closer you are to the searcher’s location (proximity) and the closer it matches the searcher’s query (relevancy), the better the chances that your listing will appear. After all, you don’t want a tummy tuck when you’re trying to order pizza — although that might well be the case for some folks.
However, your ability to outrank your competitors in local listings depends mostly on how prominent you are. And prominence comes from external signals, like mentions and links from other sites.
According to Google’s guidelines:
“Prominence is based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles, and directories. Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.”
Google scans the web to find citations of your business to determine its validity and trustworthiness. It looks for mentions of your practice and links back to your website. Each citation you claim (in a plastic surgery directory, for example) and each favorable review you earn becomes an implied endorsement.
Therefore, citations are important SEO signals.
You can optimize your listing with keywords in myriad ways. From the business categories you choose to list under, to the relevant topics you add in your description, these signals help search engines determine if you’re a match.
The worse thing you can do is add keywords to your business name, like “Dr. Jane Smith – Liposuction and Tummy Tucks.” Google prohibits the inclusion of keywords in business names, and it penalizes and suspends these listings when it catches them. Multiple suspensions can also lead to a permanent ban.
As a plastic surgeon, you can have your own listing (i.e., one as a practitioner on top of the one for your practice), provided that you’re not the sole practitioner at the same location, or that you practice in separate locations.
But if you’re a solo practitioner, you can only claim one listing. It makes sense because you don’t want to compete with yourself and dilute your rankings.
However, if you’re more prominent as a physician, and your name has more citations and mentions than the name of your practice, you can add it to the business name after a colon, like: “Plastic Surgery Clinic: Dr. John Smith.”
Nevertheless, your description gives you 750 characters to work with. So include relevant keywords there. You can also incorporate them in many other locations — including the services you offer, Q&As (you can add your own, too), posts to your listing, optimized images, and above all, reviews from clients.
Studies show that when customers include keywords in their reviews, Google associates them with your business. Just as adding more fresh content to your website increases the number of keywords you can rank for, the more reviews you get will increase the frequency of keywords, too.
In short, get more reviews.
As I’ve said before, the key to dominating local SEO is to claim citations on as many platforms as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re active on them. Not only do they amplify your visibility and increase your prominence, but they also prevent competitors from hijacking your listing.
Above all, they offer social proof. For example, your business might appear in the SERPs more than once. Beyond your website listed in the standard results and your business in the local map pack, you might also appear through multiple third-party listings such as the BBB, Yellow Pages, RateMDs, etc.
That’s the power of being ubiquitous.
However, if Google can’t find you because you misspelled your name, address, or phone number (or your “NAP”), or if it’s inconsistent across platforms, then you will lose rankings because Google cannot confirm your prominence.
Your NAP is a signal. The more listings you have, the stronger the signal will be. But one discrepancy can dilute your signal, even if it’s a single misspelling.
Accuracy and consistency are key. Inaccurate listings can often be worse than having no listings at all. If Google can’t find you, what does that say about your clients? Use a tool like BrightLocal’s Free Listings Scanner to see if your listings hurt your rankings by confusing your clients. For example:
- Is it “Dr. John David Smith” or “John D. Smith, M.D.”?
- Is it “Smith Surgery Center” or “Smith Surgical Clinic”?
- Is it “45 Somewhere Street” or “45 Somewhere St.”?
- Is it “New York City,” “Manhattan,” or “NYC”?
- Is your website with or without “www”?
It doesn’t matter what you choose, just make sure it’s the same everywhere.
Earlier I said that your website is the number one priority with geo-based optimizations. Having a consistent NAP must start with your website, for it is the one Google will use to find other mentions and rate your prominence.
But location alone isn’t enough.
You can enhance your location signals by adding additional snippets of code to your HTML. These snippets are invisible to us, but search engines can read them. Called “schema markup,” this form of structured data helps identify you and your location — including your NAP and your geo-coordinates.
The one to use is the “local business” schema. It identifies you as a legitimate business operating in an actual location. As with the earlier section, make sure the contents are accurate and consistent with your NAP.
Many website content management systems offer tools and plugins that do this for you automatically. But you can (and should) add some manually, too. Use technical SEO’s local search schema markup generator. Once you add it to your site, test it with Google’s rich results tester.
It’s important to claim as many listings as possible, but choose one NAP you will use across all platforms. Having a consistent NAP profile is the key to geo-based SEO success. And it all starts with your website.
Ultimately, local SEO is no longer just an arrow in your marketing quiver. In 2021, it has become as essential as the bow itself. Because if your patients can’t find you in a location-qualified search, you might as well not exist at all.