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SEO

4 Local SEO Tips to Boost Your Visibility Locally

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.

Out of Map, Out of Mind

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.”

Local SEO three-pack example of plastic surgery in Toronto
“Plastic surgeons Toronto” result.

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:

1. Your Website

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.

2. Map Listings

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.

3. Data Aggregators

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:

WhiteSpark's listing of the top 50 local citations to claim for local SEO

4. Local Citations

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:

Are You Nearby, Relevant, and Valuable?

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.

  1. How close you are to the user when they search.
  2. How well your listing satisfies the user’s search.
  3. 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.

Keywords Matter Where They Matter

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.

Accuracy, Ubiquity, and Consistency

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.

Turn Your Website Into a Beacon

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.

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SEO

Silos and Bios: Two Key Expertise SEO Signals

Does your site communicate expertise? Expert content does, of course. But other times, certain key expertise SEO signals that have nothing to do with content are just as important, particularly in the eyes of the search engines.

I recently completed an SEO Audit for an SEO consulting client who suffered from a precipitous drop in traffic last year, particularly around May 2020. A look at this site's Google Search Console revealed that the drop occurred around May 5th, with average daily search impressions being cut in half.

This coincided with a major Google Core Update on May 4th, 2020.

Google updates its core algorithm a few times a year. This major update specifically targeted websites or content related to a person’s health, wealth, or welfare, often referred to as YMYL pages (i.e., “your money or your life”). Aside from travel, health websites were among the hardest hit.

According to Google and engineers in the SEO community, this update was largely in response to the COVID pandemic. Specifically, Google targeted websites offering medical and financial advice, products, and services in an effort to fight disinformation and exploitative/predatory practices.

Many sites were affected. However, Google’s May 2020 algorithm update had very little impact on medical websites with strong E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). Some even received significant boosts in rankings and saw their search traffic doubling almost overnight.

After completing a deeper investigation, I concluded that this client's significant drop most likely was caused by poor E-A-T signals.

In fact, as a cosmetic medicine and SEO consultant and advisor, I've found that strengthening E-A-T is the greatest priority with regards to SEO, and the one aspect that can create the greatest impact for doctors.

So I offered my client some recommendations to improve the quality of their content and E-A-T signals. There are quite a few. But let me list two of them in this article, which are signals I encourage you to add to your website, too.

(Please note that some of these are personal opinions and preferences, and not absolutes based on actual ranking factors. But they have been proven to help. One client with whom I've applied this strategy enjoyed a 400% traffic increase.)

1. Content Architecture

During my audit, I noticed that the site had a “flat” architecture. That is, all the pages seemed to be on a single tier (under the root domain). Depending on the situation, this allows for shorter URLs and can be an effective SEO practice.

However, while I did find a blog index page, there is no discernible blog section. Blog posts reside at the same level with the all the main pages. They all seem to blend together. While this is not bad, it makes it difficult to identify which URLs are blog posts and which ones are pages.

So I recommended creating a separate blog section and a second tier. Having a distinct blog provides a number of benefits, from isolating blog posts from the rest of the site (which is helpful in tracking and analytics) to improving the user experience. Some have reported that this change alone improved traffic.

There are two ways to accomplish this.

Create a Blog Subdirectory

My client's site uses WordPress as its CMS. Therefore, accomplishing this is relatively simple. Set your WordPress permalinks from /%postname%/ to custom with /blog/%postname%/. Here’s how the site structure would look like:

michelfortin.com/
michelfortin.com/page1/
michelfortin.com/page2/
michelfortin.com/page3/
michelfortin.com/blog/
michelfortin.com/blog/post1/
michelfortin.com/blog/post2/
michelfortin.com/blog/post3/

Although not essential, the blog directory can be renamed to something helpful to the user, such as “tips,” “resources,” “content,” “articles,” “education,” etc (except for “news,” which should be reserved for news, press releases, and media mentions). It can also contain keywords, like “plastic surgery tips.”

Set a Category as The Base

If you choose this option, first make sure you don't have a category name that conflicts with plugins, scripts, or other directory names. For example, if you have a category named “liposuction” and you have a page named “liposuction,” you might want to change the category to “liposuction surgery.”

If there are no conflicts, then set your permalinks from /%postname%/ to /%category%/%postname%/. This will make blog posts appear under their primary (or single) category folder. For example, the structure would then look like this:

michelfortin.com/blog/
michelfortin.com/category/post/

Single blog posts would look something like this:

michelfortin.com/category1/post1/
michelfortin.com/category1/post2/
michelfortin.com/category2/post3/
michelfortin.com/category2/post4/
michelfortin.com/category3/post5/
michelfortin.com/category3/post6/

Since categories contain keywords, this will help add some additional keywords to the URLs. Granted, the jury is still out on whether this is a ranking signal, but it does provide search engines with better context, which does help.

If you have a post assigned to multiple categories, only one will be used. WordPress by default sets the primary category as the one with the lowest ID number. But you can also specify another category with the help of plugins. There are some category plugins and SEO plugins like Yoast and Rank Math.

Content Siloing For SEO

This is part of an SEO philosophy called a “silo site architecture.” Content silos provide a better user experience and give Google more context. Silos organise the content into groups; make navigation more logical and orderly; and reduce the time it takes for visitors to learn how to navigate the site.

Here’s an example of what a blog post would look like:

domain.com/blog/are-breast-implants-permanent/

If the above has “breast augmentation” as its primary category, it will become:

domain.com/breast-augmentation/are-breast-implants-permanent/

The blog is not the only section that can be organized into silos. The website may have multiple pages that fall under a certain category, too.

For example, many plastic surgeons have a series of pages organized around a certain criteria, such as the “conditions” they treat, the “treatments” they offer, and/or the “areas” of the body they focus on. So if “facelift” was a master topic as a procedure, child pages might look like this:

example.com/facelifts/facelift-surgery/
example.com/facelifts/facelift-recovery/
example.com/facelifts/facelift-cost/
example.com/facelifts/facelift-photos/

However, this should be done with care. I recommend first mapping all the URLs and then properly redirecting old URLs (i.e., via 301 redirects) to prevent losing any page authority. Then, search and replace internal links to their new destinations, and a final crawl to check for broken links.

2. Author Credentials

Google's raters are people who gauge the quality of a site's content to help confirm if Google's algorithms are doing a good job. They do so by looking at a website's level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Any information that can affect a person’s health or welfare has to be written or reviewed by someone with medical expertise. According to Google:

“Medical advice or information should be written or reviewed by people with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation.” “Specific medical information and advice (rather than descriptions of life experiences) should come from doctors or other health professionals.”

Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines

After Google's 2018 core algorithm update (i.e., the “medic update”), medical and health websites showing no proven expertise have lost considerable rankings because of their lack of E-A-T. With COVID and Google's attempt to fight disinformation, the core update of May 2020 went even further.

A key signal is the author information as it helps Google identify a) the author of the content and b) the author’s credentials. To do this, there are two important things you must have to a web page that Google specifically looks for.

  1. First, include something that describes the author and their credentials. Either have the name of the author at the top linked to a bio (e.g., an “about” page containing all the credentials, such as education, degrees, accreditations, certifications, years of experience, etc), or have an “about the author” section at the end of the article.
  2. Second, add schema markup code that identifies the page (i.e., article), the person who wrote it (or reviewed it), and their level of expertise. There are several schema markup properties to include, such as “physician” and “plastic surgery,” among others. I'll come back to this.

Be Conspicuously Credentialed

To help Google’s crawler find and identify the author information on the page, make the name and bio easily findable by conspicuously pointing it out.

Add the article’s byline and link near the top and close to the article’s title. Or add an “about the author” box at the bottom of the article that's clearly distinct, such as wrap it with a border, place it in a coloured background, or separate it by a divider to set it apart from the rest of the article.

For example, I Googled “best plastic surgeon Toronto” and this page came up. Scroll to the bottom of the post, and you will see this:

Silos and Bios: Two Key Expertise SEO Signals 2 | expertise seo
Dr. Mulholland's bio at SpaMedica.com.

The above example clearly identifies the author and their credentials, and a bio separated by a divider. It includes links to this doctor’s Google Scholar and Wikipedia pages, which offer a an extra level of authority and expertise SEO.

If the article is written by a staff member with expertise, such as a certified cosmetic nurse injector, the same applies: add a bio with (or linked to) their credentials, including the nurse's education, experience, accreditation, etc.

Articles can be written by someone else with no medical or related expertise, such as a reporter or freelance writer, as long as they have been reviewed by a credentialed professional and indicated as such.

For example, if you have an article that was written by a staff member and they claim authorship, Google prefers that the content be reviewed by a person with medical expertise. For example, add something like “this article was reviewed by Dr. Smith” near the article, with a link to their bio just like the author.

E-A-T Supported By Schema Markup

Finally, schema markup code is a piece of JSON-LD code you can add to the page HTML. It’s a language meant to identify and describe the content and its author. Schema is not a ranking factor but by providing additional context it helps Google more accurately assess the content's level of expertise.

A WordPress plugin such as Schema Pro, Yoast SEO, or Rank Math can do this automatically for you. Or you can (and should) add some manually.

Plugins are helpful but limiting. So adding extra schema markup manually can help. Use Google’s markup helper tool. Then, test the markup (either the code or the page it’s on once published) with Google's rich results tester.

Reason is this: plugins will add “local business,” “organization,” or “person” schema. But there are different types of local businesses, such as “medical business” and “plastic surgery” as well as “physician.” I also recommend adding the following snippets as part of “person” schema:

  • “reviewedBy” (if written by someone else),
  • “sameAs” (other bios on social or authoritative sites),
  • “affiliation” (such as memberships in associations),
  • “award” (such as any industry-related awards),
  • And “alumniOf” (their education).

Adding these extra pieces of data may seem simple or unnecessary. But they provide extra signals that Google needs to identify the site's level of expertise.

If you're a plastic surgeon, cosmetic surgeon, or medical aesthetic practitioner, these signals are not just important but also vital. Competitors who may have less content than you but more clout and authority will likely outrank you.

Categories
SEO

Content Creation or Content Expansion? SEO Experts Confirm

Last week I was very busy completing a few 360° SEO Audits for two plastic surgeons, and one of them asked a very good question. After I recommended content creation on a weekly basis (about three times a week), he asked: “That's a lot of content, can I add it all to the same web page?”

In essence, what the client was asking is if it's possible to add to existing content instead of creating three new pieces each week.

Here's what I said.


Creating Doesn't Mean “From Scratch”

To clarify, when I suggested creating three new content assets each week as a best practice, it was a recommendation and not an obligation. Moreover, an asset doesn't always have to be a blog post or textual content. It can be a long-form video, an infographic, a podcast episode, etc.

With every long-form video or audio you produce, including those of which you were a part (such as an interview or a podcast on which you were a guest), you can add it to your blog as an embed.

(If they turned off the ability to embed the recording, or if the recording is hidden or walled in some way, you might want to ask permission first.)

But don’t just add the recordings. Transcribe them, polish up the transcripts, add them to the page, and insert internal links to other content in your blog as you would normally do with other content.

A transcript creates additional content you can use as captions for your videos or for creating additional standalone content pieces. I personally use a tool called Otter (relatively cheap). You can also use Descript or Screechpad.

Secondly, “new” content creation doesn’t have to be new content.

It can be a refresh of an existing piece of content. You take an older piece and rewrite it, expand it, update it (e.g., add or update any references, statistics, citations, and supporting images), and add new internal links to existing content (particularly if you have new posts since its original publication).

Finally, redate the piece to the current date so that it brings it back to the top of your blog index and signals Google that your content is updated.

Add New? Or Expand The Old?

Now, as far as the question about whether it's best to add to existing content or create new ones, the answer is that it depend from an SEO perspective.

If it’s the same topic and it makes sense to the reader and improves the user experience, that’s acceptable and even recommended. You are, to a degree, doing the “refresh” that I indicated earlier.

But if they’re widely diverse subtopics, I don’t recommend it — unless you are creating a pillar page and making it as comprehensive as possible.

If the search intent for a subtopic is different from the intent for the main topic, then you risk cannibalizing your content. (Although, that might change with the upcoming passages ranking algorithm.)

With the hub-and-spoke content model, the spokes are pieces of content that help to support the main pillar content, creating a topical cluster. If subtopics are too different, you’re likely confusing the reader (and Google), and you might be diluting the other subtopics on the same page.

The question to ask is, is the topic for the additional content a subtopic of a main/parent topic? If so, you can add it to the main piece. If it can stand on its own (the subtopic can be its own topic), or if it can have more than one search intent, then it might be better off as a separate piece.

Search Intent is The Key

Remember, there are four types of search intents: 1) informational, 2) investigational, 3) transactional, and 4) navigational.

Navigational intent is when people are looking for you, your business, or your website. For the sake of this example, I'll refer to the first three as your aim is to build content that drives people to the site who may not know you.

For example, take “facelift surgery” as a topic. The search intent is likely informational. (I could have used the term “facelift” by itself, but it's a little misleading. “Facelift” is often used in a non-surgical context, such as “giving your website a facelift.” So let's say “facelift surgery.”)

People who search using this term likely want more information about facelift surgery. Any subtopic that falls under both the same topic and search intent can be added to the same page, like “how long does a facelift take to heal?”

However, if someone searches for “top facelift surgeon near me” or “best facelift surgery [city],” that’s investigational search intent. The person is now past the information stage and they’re thinking about having it done.

Since the intent is different, adding a piece around that subtopic to the main page would be confusing and possibly counterproductive. It may better to write a separate piece, either about an award or survey where you were voted as the best, or about tips on how to find the best surgeon for one's situation.


What Other Expert SEOs Say

I believe this is the best approach. To be sure, I conferred with other SEO experts for their input. I'm a member of an SEO mastermind community called Traffic Think Tank, which is frequented by some of the world's top SEOs, including SEO directors from companies like Shopify, HubSpot, LendingTree, Moz, and others.

Their thinking seems to be in alignment with mine.

Even some SEOs on Twitter responded, and this is what they said:

As they said, cannibalization is less of an issue if the two or more pieces, vying for the same keyword, target different search intents.

And then, Britney Muller, someone I've been following for a long time who is a senior SEO data scientist and worked at Moz, added this:

Finally, one thing to keep in mind.

Is Long Content a Ranking Factor?

There’s a lot of debate about content length with SEO. Some say longer pieces rank better. But Google has expressly stated that word count is not a ranking factor. Any benefits are typically correlational and not causal, because long-form content will likely increase the incidence of keywords, tags, links, etc.

Not only that, but also long-form content tends to offer “more substantial, comprehensive, and complete information on the topic,” which is what Google looks for according to its Quality Raters Guidelines.

So from a user experience perspective, the argument can be made that sticking with existing content can provide more comprehensiveness to the article.

I also surmise that the upcoming passages ranking, where parts of a page (such as subtopics) will rank differently than the page itself, is going to make it easier for a long-form piece of content to serve multiple intents.

We will have to wait and see.

For now, the point remains: when it comes to content creation, it is always better to provide comprehensive information on a topic — whether it's in one long piece or it's in multiple pieces that are properly interlinked to indicate a relationship (i.e., a topical cluster).

Either way, more content, and better content, will always serve you well.