Categories
SEO

What is “Search Intent” and Why is it Important?

Weeks after my whole family got theirs, I finally got the vaccine. Speaking of which, if you search for “vaccine,” you're going to get different results. It's a pretty generic keyword. Google may only guess what you mean.

  • You may be searching for news about it.
  • You may be trying to learn about the risks.
  • Or you may want to book your appointment.

This is called “search intent.”

To understand why this is important to your SEO efforts, above and beyond “keywords,” let's take a closer look at what it is and how to optimize for it.

Actions Speak Louder Than (Key)words

More and more SEO experts are offering services beyond just Search Engine Optimization. Many offer User Experience Optimization (UXO) and Search Experience Optimization (SXO). The reason is simple: rankings don't matter if the results, such as your content, don't satisfy the searcher's query.

Search engines like Google use machine learning to pay attention to how people respond to search results. They try to gauge if the result meets their needs. For example, if someone types in “how to increase organic traffic to my website” into Google, this may happen:

  • They get a bunch of results.
  • They click on one of them.
  • They visit the page.
  • They scan the content.
  • They hit their back button.
  • They return to the results.
  • They choose the next link.
  • And so on.

This may signal to Google that the link they provided isn't what the user is looking for. So it could be either one of three things:

  1. The content is bad,
  2. The user experience is bad, or
  3. It doesn't meet the user's search intent.

Called “pogosticking,” this back-and-forth process tells the search engine that the site is not meeting the user's needs. It's not providing good content or a good user experience or matching the user's search intent.

You may have great quality content and a fantastic user experience. But what if the content was simply wrong for what the user is looking for? What if it's perfect but delivered in the wrong way (e.g., they wanted video and not text)?

If you rank well, the mismatched intent will deliver poor quality traffic and inflate your bounce rate unnecessarily. But chances are you will not rank well, anyway, since Google uses machine-learning to know what people are looking for and serve results that match their intent.

What are “Long Clicks” and “Short Clicks”?

A bounce rate is calculated based on single-page visits, where users bounce out after visiting one page and without navigating to any other page on your site. Pogosticking may add to the site's bounce rate. But it doesn't mean the content is bad. Users may have read the entire article and left.

That's when the concept of “dwell time” comes in.

High bounce rates are not enviable. But pogosticking is important to pay attention to, specifically because it's indicative that the site is not relevant to the user's search. It doesn't match what the user is searching for.

This metric called “dwell time” provides context and indicates if the content was appropriate. A visitor who clicks on a search result and bounces back after a few seconds is called a “short click.” If they stay a lot longer and dwell longer on the page, even if they do bounce back, this is called a “long click.”

Both bounce rates and dwell times (i.e., short clicks and long clicks) are just two of many SEO signals that tell Google the content is a fit and matches the user's search and intent. In short, content is good, the user experience is adequate, and the result is relevant to their search.

The Three Types of Search Intent

Relevance is based on intent. There are three kinds of search intent (and a fourth, which is a variation). Your content should aim to match either one:

  1. “I want to know” searches (informational)
  2. “I want to go” searches (navigational)
  3. “I want to do” searches (transactional)

The fourth is a variation of the third. When the transaction is a purchase, they are called “I want to buy” searches. Some SEO experts label them as “commercial intent” or “commercial investigation” searches.

However, the intent to buy may not be direct or immediate. The user may be unsure and doing some research. So the search is slightly more informational or navigational in intent (such as looking for sites offering reviews, for example).

Nevertheless, determining search intent is important because SEO relies heavily on how well your content matches the searcher’s query.

Let's take a look at each one with some examples.

Informational Searches

The user is looking for information for educational purposes. They're not looking to buy (at least, not yet). They may be looking for more information about their situation, problem, or challenge. They're only researching this point.

Some of the searches related to your procedures may be:

  • “How long does a facelift take to heal?”
  • “Is abdominal plastic surgery safe?”
  • “Why do my breasts sag after pregnancy?”
  • “What types of liposuction are available?”
  • “Are hair transplants permanent?”

Many informational searches are formulated in the form of questions. But they can also be straight keywords or phrases, such as “lose weight” or “facelift surgery.” But the search intent may not be that clear (I'll return to this).

Navigational Searches

The user is trying to locate something specific, which is mostly a website, a location, or a business/clinic. It might be a URL, an address, a social media profile, etc. It's often based on a name, brand, product, service, or domain entered into a search form instead of directly into their browsers.

Some of the searches related to your business or services may be:

  • “Jane Smith, MD plastic surgeon Toronto”
  • “Dr. John Doe cosmetic surgery clinic”
  • “facelift post-op instructions Smith Surgical”
  • “phone number Dr. Linda Kent new clinic”
  • “nearest hotel to Eastern Surgical Centre”

By the way, the vast majority of branded searches are navigational. This is another reason you want to name your business, your services, and your processes, including your intellectual property. People may have heard about you or seen your name, but they're unsure how to get to your website.

Transactional Searches

This is where the searcher wants to do something, mostly to make a purchase. They've already decided they're ready to make a purchase or do something. So the search is related to taking that action. It can be buying, downloading, calling, hiring, ordering, registering, emailing, etc.

Some transactional searches might include:

  • “book a consultation with Dr. Smith”
  • “buy post-op cream Doe Surgical Clinic”
  • “subscribe to Laura Jackson, MD newsletter”
  • “get a quote for breast augmentation”
  • “download facelift pre-op instructions”

Commercial/Investigational Searches

This is a variation of transactional searches where the user is looking to buy. But the user is unsure and either wants reassurances or wants to investigate further. It can be informational and navigational, too, to some degree.

Since it can blend all three, it's important to match this intent specifically. Sometimes, the answer can be from third-party site. For example:

  • “best bariatric weight loss surgery”
  • “Dr. Jane Doe plastic surgery reviews”
  • “top cosmetic surgeon Rochester”
  • “Botox for crow's feet near me”
  • “Dr. Smith before and after photos”

Therefore, the goal is to offer relevant content and optimize signals — including amplified third-party signals — that aim to help the user decide (e.g., comparisons, case studies, photos, testimonials, FAQs, etc.).

The Key is To Align Content With Intent

Ultimately, When it comes to creating content for any one of these types of queries, the goal may be to answer them directly. But you may have to do more than educate your audience with relevant content. You want content that targets, engages, and invites them, too.

For instance, if a user is conducting an informational search, they may or may not be in the market for your services. The user could be a student doing some research for school. It could be a tire-kicker. It could even be a competitor.

So the goal is to capture, educate, and retain your visitors, the right visitors, as much as possible, particularly if they're potentially ideal clients. For this, you need quality content, user experience, and SEO signals.

But it's also an opportunity to get them to enter your funnel, engage them further, prove your expertise, and invite them to invest in your services.

How Intent Alignment Improves SEO

So how you optimize for search intent? The process of discovering what Google thinks people want is a great tool for SEO research. It is often referred to as “SERP analysis,” where SERP, of course, stands for search engine results pages.

Now, I know you're a plastic surgeon, and you're not an SEO expert. But this is not about search engine optimization in a direct sense. It's about something a bit more fundamental: market research. It's about understanding what users are looking for, why they want it, and how to give it to them.

Understand that market research is the core of marketing. When I talk about “keyword research,” it's not about keywords in and of themselves. It's about understanding what your audience is looking for and why they're looking for it.

It's impossible to ask users what they want as they conduct their searches. So keywords are “observable traces” that users leave. They're artifacts, if you will.

Like uncovering dinosaur fossils during an archeological dig, archeologists can only make educated guesses about how dinosaurs lived, what they ate, what their migration patterns were, and what happened to them.

Similarly, keywords don't tell the full story. They certainly don't tell us what's on users' minds when they use them. But search engines are becoming more sophisticated in understanding what people want and why.

Using clickthrough rates and user behaviour (such as click length), combined with the power of natural language processing and machine learning, Google makes educated guesses on the intent behind the search.

So market research, in this sense, is keyword research.

Understand The Desire Behind Queries

Fundamentally, SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that search engines (and therefore users) can find your content. They must be able to read, crawl, and index your content, even before they decide how to rank it.

A tad oversimplified, of course. But that's what SEO essentially aims to do. SEO was (and still is to some degree) a technical process. In fact, if you look up the definition of SEO as far back as 10-20 years ago, you get something like:

“Search Engine Optimization is built on the foundation of information architecture and information retrieval.”

From “SEO: Search & Information Retrieval,” Jeffrey Smith (2009).

Market research, on the other hand, is what will help you rank higher. I often refer back to what my friend and top copywriter David Garfinkel, who said that the key to success in copywriting (and I could easily extrapolate that to SEO or any form of marketing in general) is to ask:

  • Who is your market?
  • What is their problem?
  • How are they talking about it?

If you know who your market is (which you likely do), you know their problem and why they want to solve it. But learning about how they talk about it can be uncovered by studying and reverse-engineering the SERPs.

For this reason, you need to go beyond keyword research.

Meet Users' Needs, Not Their Keywords

Google's goal is to satisfy the user's search and to become more effective at doing so. They're already showing you the results they think will serve the users best. In addition to machine learning, they've done countless experiments, hired many sophisticated engineers, and analyzed petabytes of data.

They've done the research for you. So use it to your advantage.

If you want to improve your rankings, your goal is to know what users are looking for and to give it to them. But it's not enough. You also need to understand the intent behind what they want, i.e., the reason for their search.

Why? Because, as Google tries to identify what people are looking for and why, it serves results that more closely match what it thinks will satisfy searchers. So if your content doesn't align with intent, Google will not give you the time of day — and your users won't, either.

And therein lies the crux of the need for SERP analysis.

Think of it this way: the goal is not only to create content that your audience wants but also for the reasons they want to consume it.

Sounds a tad pedantic, I know. But it's actually quite simple. You can focus on keywords, for example, and try to successfully align your content's title and description (i.e., what shows up in SERPs) that match the user's query. This will undoubtedly increase clickthrough rates.

But what happens once they land on your site?

Avoid “Clickbait-and-Switch”

If they pogostick back to Google because your user experience (UX) is less than desirable, that's one thing. But if it's because your content fails to satisfy their query, even if the content is high quality and presumably what they're looking for, you've failed to satisfy their intent. You failed to meet their needs.

Plus, failing to match search intent can hurt you.

Google has publicly said they don't directly use click signals as ranking factors. However, Google engineers have stated that they do use click behaviour to help refine their search results. (“Refine” is an important hint.)

My personal opinion is that they use it in connection with other factors, such as going to the next result as opposed to conducting a new search (again, “short clicks” versus “long clicks”). How people engage with search results says a lot.

While click lengths may not necessarily impact your rankings, this data helps Google learn more about its users' search intent. It then refines its search results when analyzing what people are looking for in combination with other factors.

The refinement may cost you in rankings — other results that more closely satisfy the user's search will rise to the top. Naturally.

Also, consider that people may seek more than just information but also the format. How they want to consume the information is just as important as the content itself. They may prefer a video, podcast, infographic, or PDF.

Plastic surgery is a visual field. Visuals are key. If your content is only one long article when users are looking for photos, you may not meet their needs.

One of the reasons Google offers many new features, in addition to those traditional 10 blue links, is to provide the user with an idea of what they're getting. It's only my guess, but if Google offers video thumbnails, people know they're getting videos — not a link to a page that “may” contain a video.

Search Intent and User Intent: Why Both?

Nevertheless, if you know who your market is and what their problems are, next is to know how they talk about it, revealing their stage of awareness.

By knowing at what stage of awareness they happen to be, you can then serve them with content that directly meets them where they are and takes them to the next stage — and hopefully closer to becoming your patient.

This goes to the concept of the content funnel I talked about before. It's not always linear or perfectly compartmentalized. For example, it's different for someone who has had other procedures done or who is unhappy with their results instead of someone who never had plastic surgery at all.

But for now, the thing to remember is that a content funnel is based on content that appeals to a certain level of awareness and then graduating the user to a new level of awareness. The way to do that is to understand intent.

This brings me to the differences between search intent and user intent.

  • Search topic is what they're searching for.
  • Search intent is how they're searching for it.
  • User intent is why they're searching for it.

Remember that the stages of awareness are problem-aware, solution-aware, and product-aware (i.e., your solution). When studying the SERPs, this is where you can extract a decent amount of ideas and insights from your target market.

For example, problem-aware searches:

  • What (e.g., the problem, like “how to get rid of excess belly fat”);
  • How (e.g., informational search, long-form article, some visuals);
  • Why (e.g., they're frustrated, doing research, want options).

Next stage of awareness is solution-aware:

  • What (e.g., a solution, like “recovery time for tummy tucks”);
  • How (e.g., investigational search, medical expertise, case studies);
  • Why (e.g., they're interested, considering a solution, want details).

Then, of course, the next stage, which is product-aware:

  • What (e.g., your solution, “Dr. [X] before and after photos”);
  • How (e.g., commercial/navigational search, proof, patient reviews);
  • Why (e.g., they're motivated, taking action, want assurances).

The Case For Long-Tail Keywords

The above are just examples. But you can instantly see how clearer both the search and user intent are when the query is either longer or more specific.

Many plastic surgeons would love to rank well for generic “short head” keywords (i.e., words at the top of the bell curve in terms of demand, volume, and traffic). But ranking for those is extremely competitive and difficult, and the resulting traffic, if any, has no clear intent and may contribute to shorter clicks.

“Abdominoplasty” is a very generic term. Are people interested in getting one? Are they researching it and checking out who, where, and how much? Or are they just looking up the definition?

As you can see, it's impossible to tell. Chances are, if you analyze the SERPs, you might see that Google doesn't know, either, and the results may include a mix of informational, transactional, and navigational intent results.

But with a search like “best tummy tucks near me,” you now know for sure what the intent is and what kind of content will best match it.

Nevertheless, the goal is to research your market.

With a SERP analysis, you can do this by identifying the search topics your market is interested in (based on their stage of awareness), their search intent (what Google thinks they want), and the user's intent (what results come up, what do they offer, and how it helps the user).

Or as SEO consultant Brittney Muller said:

Paying closer attention to search results will give SEO pros a leg up in creating competitive content in the way that searchers desire to consume it.”

— Brittney Muller, from Search Engine Journal.

Bingo.

Categories
Copywriting

Why I Switched From Copywriting to SEO Consulting?

Ever since I stopped accepting copywriting clients over a decade ago, it’s a question that seems to come up again and again. It's understandable as I was quite prominent in that world throughout the 90s and in the early 2000s.

I really didn’t stop writing copy, but I left the business of copywriting and now focus on SEO, particularly after years of being a “top copywriter” — a label my peers often give me, although I never really considered myself to be one.

But the question about my departure has once again resurfaced, particularly after I appeared on a YouTube show talking about the shady side of the world of copywriting. I realize I should probably write something to explain it. So I'm going to answer that question once and for all in here.

To do this, I need to give you some background to put things in context.

If you don’t know my story, here’s a quick summary.

My Copywriting Life in a Nutshell

I got married at 19. My wife had a two-year-old daughter whom I’ve virtually adopted. (She's now in her late thirties and still calls me Dad.)

Being a father was redemptive somewhat, as my alcoholic father abused me when I was young. After my mother left, the state institutionalized him; he had Korsakov’s Syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s Psychosis), a mentally degenerative disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.

But because of my childhood (or so I thought), I had a tremendous fear of rejection. When I learned that I have ADHD at 52, I discovered that a common symptom among people with ADHD is “rejection sensitive dysphoria” (RSD).

It explains the tremendous fear of rejection and my many childhood struggles. So my father wasn’t to blame. Not entirely, anyway. In fact, ADHD is genetic. My father likely had it, and he turned to alcohol to deal with it.

(People with ADHD are highly susceptible to addiction. Luckily, mine is coffee.)

Around the time I got married, I wanted to fight my fears of rejection and dove into sales to fight them. After all, as Emerson said, “Do what you fear and the death of that fear is certain,” right? You get rejected a ton in sales!

But of course, I failed. And failed miserably.

Working on straight commission, I accumulated a mountain of debt, bought groceries on eight different credit cards to survive, and declared bankruptcy at the tender age of 21. It was a big mistake; I know. But I was young, foolish, trying to be a good father (unlike mine), and desperate to “succeed.”

Back in the 80s, the common practice in the insurance business was selling door to door. I moved to the countryside in a tiny little town where my wife grew up in. So I inherited a sales territory in which I knew absolutely no one.

Naturally, referrals were non-existent. I had to find a better way to get leads.

How I Discovered Copywriting

I tried something different. Fueled by anxiety, desperation, or both, I wrote and mailed salesletters offering a free policy audit. Only a few people called to book an appointment with me. But I was ecstatic. I also had an open door to follow-up to see if they received my letter. So no more cold-calling!

The best part was, I also no longer had to face rejection.

That year, I became the top salesperson in my district and then in all of Canada. It was short-lived as many salespeople in my company crushed my results later on. But for a fleeting moment in my life, it felt as if a door opened up and success was possible. Plus, copywriting piqued my interest.

But insurance was tough. In the late 80s, there was an increasing outcry against whole life insurance policies as more people switched to term insurance.

So a year later, I took a job as a consultant for a hair replacement company that also offered surgeries through a partnership with a hair transplant surgeon. I also worked on commission there, too. But it was a growing industry, and I knew about it as my first wife was a hairdresser.

By applying the same tactics from my insurance job, I wrote direct mail letters, created full-page display ads in newspapers, and even produced 30-minute late-night infomercials on TV. Bookings and sales were skyrocketing. My employer was a happy camper, as was I.

At 22, I made more money than I ever made in my life!

How I Became a Copywriter

I eventually became a “marketing consultant” for other cosmetic surgeons, which became my preferred niche. (The reason I say “marketing consultant” is that copywriting wasn’t the only thing I did, and medical doctors would never hire a “copywriter” much less a “sales consultant” back then.)

In the early 90s, I convinced clients to create a “web page” on this newfangled thing called the “world wide web.” I told them it was like an electronic version of the yellow pages, and it was becoming increasingly popular. Since most of them had invested in yellow pages before, this was an easy sell.

So I wrote copy for the web. This was circa ‘92 to ’94.

A few years later, I designed my first website in ‘95 and incorporated myself as “The Success Doctor” in ‘97. The name came about because I helped doctors become successful. (I also had aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker. But marketing and copywriting was more fun, I later found.)

I eventually became quite busy as word got around. Other doctors hired me, too, including chiropractors, weightloss doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc. I expanded to include lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and other service providers. But cosmetic surgeons remained my largest clientele.

Over time, more and more clients hired me to write copy for the web, including landing pages, websites, and email marketing campaigns. I guess you can say that this was when I was becoming more well-known as an online copywriter and Internet marketer than a mere copywriter.

But there was a problem.

Clients Would Screw Up My Copy

I love copywriting. But I remember clients messing things up.

Once I gave them my copy, they would put it up on their websites. And it would look awful! The formatting was completely wrong, the layout was atrocious, and the selection of graphics and images didn't fit what I had in mind.

So naturally, conversions sucked. Particularly with projects that paid me with royalties. I was usually the one to blame, even though I believed my copy was good. But my ADHD and fear of failure compelled me to do something.

That's when I included formatting, web design, even landing page development along with copywriting so that my salesletters would look the way I wanted.

So I repositioned myself as a copy “designer.”

I always hated the word “writing,” anyway, because most people think of writing as putting words down on paper. But they have a tendency to neglect the sales and creative aspects of writing. They ignore that it’s about strategy. I spent just as much time on the look-and-feel of the copy as I did on writing it.

I became obsessed with the copy’s performance. For me, getting the right audience to read the copy — one with the right level of awareness and intent — was important. Also, the cosmetics that drive the eyes into the copy, or the copy cosmetics, were just as important as the words themselves.

That's where my work evolved to include other aspects of online marketing.

Enter The World of SEO

I consulted clients on their traffic and demand generation tactics because I wanted some level of control over the quality of the traffic that hit the copy. The market is just as important as the message. So I did a lot of traffic generation, affiliate marketing, email campaign management, and so forth.

Clients increasingly hired me to do SEO (search engine optimization), including SEO copywriting, to help increase their conversions. I also did CRO (conversion rate optimization), which people often refer to as “conversion copywriting.”

So, what does SEO have to do with conversions?

Attracting audiences with the right search intent at the right awareness stage can skyrocket conversion rates. It's about matching the right message with the right market, or “message-to-market match,” as Dan Kennedy would say.

This thinking, along with the way the Internet was evolving, became the impetus behind my writing “The Death of The Salesletter.” Back in 2005, I knew that this is where Internet marketing and copywriting were heading. It was also the beginning of my disillusionment with the industry. (I'll come back to this.)

In my manifesto, I talked about personalization, dynamic content, behavioral targeting, sales funnels (before funnels were a thing), micro-conversions, etc — things that are commonplace today in the world of digital marketing — replacing the long-form, direct sales-driven copy.

I wrote code since I was 11 and designed websites since I was 22, so technology and how marketing was evolving online always fascinated me. Besides writing copy, I also loved developing websites, designing them, doing SEO, and making sure the user experience (UX) was as optimal as it could be.

Then, My World Turned Upside Down

Let me backup a little.

In 2003, as my copywriting career was exploding, I met my second wife who was in the customer support industry. I initially hired her to provide support for my copywriting business. When we realized we shared many of the same clients, we slowly merged our businesses. And eventually, our lives.

But from the news of her cancer diagnosis right before our wedding in 2006 until her passing in early 2015, my wife’s disease grew to become, over the course of our marriage, the center of attention instead of our client work.

I was kind of lucky in that, in 2008, my mother had the same disease as my wife (i.e., breast cancer). It gave me a glimpse into what was to come. In other words, the experience showed me what I was getting into with my wife and helped me to prepare and to grieve before I knew I had to.

In 2011, my mother's cancer became terminal, and we set up a hospice in our home. She passed away later that year on the morning after my birthday.

And sure enough, my wife's health took a turn for the worse a year later. Her cancer came back with a vengeance, spreading to every major organ.

However, shortly before she passed in early 2015 (in fact, it was just a month prior), my father, while still in the institution, passed away, too. His heart stopped during his sleep. The weakening of the heart muscles is one of the many comorbid issues caused by Korsakov’s disease.

So you can say that 2015 was probably the worst year of my life.

But it didn't stop there.

My sister who was my only sibling struggled all her life with multiple ailments, including diabetes. My parents' passing, let alone years of my father’s abuse, affected her deeply and I cannot imagine what she went through. In 2017, she, too, passed away in her sleep. Just like my dad.

Distaste For The Copywriting Industry

I didn't have the headspace or motivation to return to freelancing. So I took a job in a digital marketing agency as an SEO manager and director of marketing communications. We were a Google Premier Partner agency, and I supervised an amazing team of content writers and web developers.

While grief played a role, another reason I didn't want to go back was that I became increasingly disenchanted with the copywriting business. Specifically, I'm referring to the business of writing copy for the Internet marketing and business opportunity (or “bizopp”) industries.

It started many years before then. But it culminated around the time my wife was undergoing her final chemotherapy treatments for her cancer.

I wrote about the scummy side of the business and the reason I left. But long story short, my late wife and I had to deal with a growing number of clients whose business practices were becoming questionable, unethical, and borderline illegal. Even the FTC sued some of them for deceptive practices.

The reason is, they were selling “business-in-a-box” programs.

It's no different from a chain-letter, envelope-stuffing scheme.

They would sell a course teaching people how to make money by creating a business. Sounds legit at first. But they would use the very course people bought to create a business and make money with. When I learned they included my salesletters with their “businesses,” that's when I decided I had enough.

SEO Consulting for Plastic Surgeons

After a few years and being in a much better place, I got remarried, left the agency world, and started freelancing again. But this time, I was doing more SEO work. Sure, copywriting is still a part of what I do to an extent. But now it's about how it can help attract and convert targeted traffic.

I also returned to my roots by working with plastic and cosmetic surgeons. I did it for several reasons. It's an industry I love and have a lot of experience with.

Creating phenomenal user experiences that lead to sales starts with how qualified the user is. SEO is key for that reason. A user's search intent hugely determines their level of awareness and attention prior to hitting your website.

The quality of your conversions is directly proportional to the quality of your traffic, the quality of your content, and the quality of the user experience.

That's where SEO comes in.

Also, being a geek who loves coding and web design, SEO satisfies my dual nature, i.e., both “sides' of my brain — the creative and analytical aspects of marketing. Today, I do 360-degree SEO audits, with technical SEO (coding and hosting), on-page SEO (HTML and content), and off-page SEO (external signals).

All these components work hand-in-hand.

Yes, my work still includes writing copy. But it mostly includes helping my clients generate the right kinds of traffic. In other words, it's about having the right message for the right market — or in this case, the market with the right intent.

Categories
SEO

What Does a Plastic Surgery SEO Consultant Do?

Many plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons have asked me, “What does an SEO consultant do, exactly?” I realize that maybe some clarification might be helpful. Plus, if you were considering hiring an SEO consultant to help strengthen your online presence and boost your traffic, this might give you some direction.

First, as I'm sure you're aware, a consultant is someone who consults, an expert on a particular topic who gives advice related to that topic.

An SEO consultant is no different.

A marketing consultant is often regarded as a generalist. They often use the label of full-stack marketer. These types of experts advise on everything related to marketing, from copywriting to coding. There's nothing wrong with that. Earlier in my career, I offered other marketing and digital marketing services.

However, today, I consult only on search engine optimization for plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic practitioners who hire me to get higher rankings, more targeted traffic, and greater revenues. But unlike an agency or typical SEO generalist, the way I approach SEO is a bit different.

As a plastic surgeon, you want a steady flow of leads. Since the plastic and cosmetic surgery are hypercompetitive fields, the demand is certainly there. The issue is who you're competing with for those top spots on Google, and how to outrank them. For that, you need a specialized, well-rounded SEO expert.

The SEO Tripod

If you want to rank, focus on your users. But if you want to rank higher, focus on your competitors. Because the goal is not to beat Google or its algorithms, but to outrank your competitors. The issue is, Google ranks and rewards those top performers based on not one but several rankings factors.

They generally fall into three categories.

I've often said that SEO boils down to two things, i.e., the quality of your content and the quality of the user experience. But I believe there's a third element, which I've talked about before. It's the quality of the signals to both of these. Having great content with great UX won't do you good if no one believes you.

With plastic surgeons and medical aesthetics websites, their content are mostly medical information. Medical falls in a category search engines call “your money or your life” (YMYL). For this reason, they need to factor in and amplify their E-A-T signals (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).

So provide good content and a good experience in consuming that content (i.e., available on a safe, secure, easy-to-use, easy-to-navigate, and fast-loading website), you've got a solid SEO foundation.

Next is to develop, optimize, and improve the signals that show you have quality content and a quality user experience. Like a three-legged stool or tripod, if you will, SEO needs all three. If you miss one of them, the stool will have a hard time standing up on just two legs.

Technical SEO refers to optimizations behind the website (e.g., server, coding, scripts, etc). On-page SEO refers to optimizations on the page (e.g., content, HTML tags, internal links, etc). Off-page SEO is optimizations off the site (e.g., backlinks, brand mentions, external signals, etc).

Leg #1: Technical SEO

Technical stuff affect mostly to the UX. While the goal is to ensure that your site is accessible, crawlable, and indexable by the search engines, it's more than just having good code or a good host. There's also site security, loading times, mobile-friendliness, site architecture, and so much more.

Of course, technical SEO aims to give search engine spiders the best possible “crawl” experience. But if you focus on your users and give users what they want, you will give Google what they want, too. Pretty simple.

Moreover, plastic surgeon and medical aesthetic websites are typically a little more challenging. They focus heavily on visuals, photos, and imagery, and they also focus on good design — after all, a website is often representative of the doctor or the practice behind it.

Remember the “Halo” and the “Horn” effect? Poor website designs often lead to the unconscious assumption there's a parallel. Users will likely tell themselves, “If they can't take care of their websites, how can they take care of me?”

From an SEO perspective, these heavy, visual-rich websites can be tricky in providing a good user experience. So a technical SEO expert will need to very cognizant of how this applies to plastic surgeons specifically when optimizing.

Leg #2: On-Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to the content. And good content means it gives the user the information they want. When they're researching cosmetic procedures, not every piece of information they come across is the same. They want amazing information — information that's both relevant and valuable.

The foundation of SEO is good content. It may not be what gets users to take action (although it certainly could). But good content is definitely what will get users to stick around, consume more, come back, build trust, and eventually book a consultation and buy from you.

For example, users want content that:

  • Describes the procedures specifically;
  • Tells them about the safety of the procedures;
  • Answers any questions or concerns they may have;
  • Explains who is a good candidate for the procedures;
  • And of course, an idea of the investment needed.

Creating good content is relatively simple. If it's fresh, useful, and relevant, chances are it will rank well. To do that, it obviously needs to be what users are searching for. But it's less about matching keywords (and stuffing content with them) and more about topical relevance.

Keyword research is not about finding what search terms they use but about discovering what questions people are asking. Your goal is to answer them. If your content does a good job at doing so and a better one than your competitors, you will rank higher than them.

But if you're not, chances are you're missing the third element.

Leg #3: Off-Page SEO

If you've done a good job at the first two, this is where a lot of the differentiation between you and your competitors can happen.

Off-page SEO refers to those signals that help to amplify the quality of the content and the user experience. I'm referring to E-A-T signals and authority-focused ones specifically. They are external signals that point out the level of authority of the site, the content, and its author (hence, “off page”).

So once you have done everything possible to rank well, such as taking care of technical SEO, having great content, being mobile-friendly, having a secure site, providing helpful information for your users, and so on, the next step is to increase the quality of the signals to the site and its content.

The most effective way is by promoting and sharing the content so that the world knows about it, talks about it, passes it around, and links to it.

Naturally earned and occurring backlinks and brand mentions are the strongest signals. But there's also reputation management (like patient reviews) and local SEO (Google maps and directory listings).

Many doctors find online reviews frustrating because beauty is subjective, so negative reviews are common. They're often hard to manage and remove, too.

But capturing all the citations possible and creating local accounts in key locations (such as RateMDS, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google My Business, Facebook Business, Bing Places, and others) provide an opportunity to:

  1. Get verified (possibly earning a trust seal and signal);
  2. Manage and proactively respond to reviews; and,
  3. Flag inappropriate ones more quickly and effectively.

Many of these are all part of something called Local SEO, which includes optimizing maps, listings, reviews, and more. Local SEO is one element of off-page SEO as it helps to boost your visibility and prominence locally.

SEO: A Tiered Approach

Some SEO experts tend to focus on one of these areas. Some are technical SEO experts (like web developers and coders). Others are on-page SEO specialists (many are content strategists). And some are off-page SEO experts (they do link building and content promotion among others).

A well-rounded SEO expert, or as I call them a 360° SEO expert, will focus on all three areas. Not all plastic surgeons need all three. Some already have great content, for example. But that's where an in-depth SEO audit can help. In fact, I offer SEO consulting services using a tiered process based on project phases.

I refer to them as the “Three Ps” of consulting:

  1. Probe
  2. Plan
  3. Pilot

The SEO Analyst

Based on my experience as an SEO manager working with digital marketing agencies, SEO jobs generally fall within three categories: the SEO analyst, the SEO strategist, and the SEO manager. Large or busy agencies will tend to have two or three of these types of professionals working in them.

For the SEO consultant, the job of “SEO analyst” is part of the “probe” phase.

It's the assessment phase, which is often performed as a multifaceted SEO audit, where I do a complete analysis. Just as every doctor, including every plastic surgeon, does, I need to diagnose first before I prescribe. So I must do this first before I make any recommendations.

(If an SEO service provider approaches you trying to sell you SEO tactics before doing any kind of assessment, don't walk… Run. Either they don't know what they're doing or they're spammers who will cause more harm than good.)

During this phase, I scrutinize your website's analytics and all the data available through analytical tools. Then, I draw conclusions, point out any errors or snags, and brainstorm ideas for improvement.

The SEO Strategist

This is the “plan” phase in SEO consulting work.

Consultants often refer to this step as roadmapping. While the probe phase uncovers issues, pain points, and opportunities, the planning phase is where I develop a roadmap to address them.

It's also the phase where I do topical research, analyze the competition, develop a content strategy, and more. I then put together a strategic action plan based on my findings. I call it my 360° SEO Strategy as I offer recommendations and an action plan with checklists that will address all three SEO levels.

Depending on the complexity of the project and the goals you want to achieve, it can be as simple as modifying existing content to a complete site overhaul. Some of my clients had projects that took several weeks. Others had substantial websites (e.g., 80,000 pages) that took several months.

In any case, you can bring this roadmap to your team to implement it in-house or you can outsource it. It doesn't matter either way, and I'll soon explain why.

The SEO Manager

This is the “pilot” phase. It's the phase where the plan gets implemented. I don't execute anything personally but I can steer the project. In other words, once I finish the SEO strategy, you may want some guidance and direction during its implementation — whether you deploy it internally or hire contractors.

Perhaps it's training your team on best practices. Perhaps it's quality assurance (QA) checks on your team's deliverables. Perhaps it's participating in supplier calls and emails. Or perhaps it's regular reporting and analysis to ensure key performance indicators (KPIs) are met.

Either way, my 360° SEO Advisory is a program where I pilot the project and provide ongoing guidance during its execution.

SEO Advisory vs Execution

Why don't I do any implementation work?

As a consultant who works in the best interest of his clients, I prefer to avoid any perceived conflict of interest as much as I can. And I do so by not having any financial incentives tied to the execution of my plan.

My goal is to help my clients objectively, regardless of who they choose to execute my plan with. It's the same fiduciary standard that licensed advisors must comply with. I see it no different in the SEO consulting space.

The role of the SEO consultant is that of a conductor — to direct SEO efforts from start to finish, from analysis to management. Some clients choose audits only. Other clients hire me as their SEO expert for months or even years.

Once the plan is deployed and fully delivered, you may choose to keep an SEO consultant on as an ongoing advisor to make sure all the buttons are pushed and knobs are adjusted moving forward.

Sometimes, SEO consulting services can be a bit cyclical, too — from analysis, planning, and execution, to rebuilding the plan again.

One client hires me to do an audit and strategy, and implements the suggestions internally. But either six months or a year later, they will rehire to do a new audit or simply to revise the work they've done.

Ultimately, any SEO consultant worth their salt is a true expert who understands and keeps up with the tools, technologies, and trends in the world of search marketing, including having an ear-to-the-ground awareness of algorithm changes, so that their clients can always be prepared.

I often say this to my clients: algorithms can change. Overnight. Search rankings are as volatile as stock prices. They can go up and down, and they can shoot up or crash down in a blink of an eye.

Sure, clients can lose rankings. There's no guarantee in SEO just as there are no guarantees in aesthetic medicine. But if you're in good hands, the losses will likely be minimized or mitigated by an expert SEO consultant.

Stated differently, the clients of an SEO consultant — someone who understands what users want, abides by Google's quality guidelines, and stays on top of changes — will always be better off than going at it blindly.

Categories
Audits

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com

When I first started out in the 90s, I wanted to showcase my work. So I posted critiques in discussion forums with the hope that prospective clients would see my work and hire me. I also did it because I loved doing it.

Today, I've decided to do it again. I'm going to randomly select plastic surgery websites and do a quick, high-level SEO audit on them. Hopefully, you will learn something you can apply to your own website.

Selecting Sites For Quick SEO Audits

I select these “auditees” at random. That sounds too much like “oddities” (aren't we all?), but at least it's better than “victims.” Anyway, I just typed in “plastic surgery” into Google and selected whatever came up.

Since I'm in Ottawa, OttawaPlasticSurgery.com was the top one.

Granted, I'm picking a highly ranked website that may have hired an SEO consultant or agency already. It's going to be educational nonetheless. Plus, I didn't plan this and I'm writing it as I critique the site for the first time.

I want to be completely agnostic. No stats, no inside knowledge, no connections. Plus, everything is public knowledge. So by posting this publicly I'm not stepping on any toes or crossing any lines.

If it's already doing well, there might not be much here. (And if there is, I'll say so.) But I prefer to pick websites I've never worked with. Next time I'm going to select a deeper SERP (search engine results page) like page three or seven, and randomly throw a virtual dart at one.

Second, this is only a really brief audit.

My 360° SEO Audits go far beyond this, sometimes resulting in 20-50 pages (or 2-3 hour videos). But it might give you some insights into how I work, what I find, how I think, and how you can apply these to your website.

Here we go.

Overview of The Site

Crawl and Visual Walkthrough

Using Screaming Frog SEO spider crawler, I found a few things.

  • The site crawled 188 internal HTML pages in total. However, some of these pages are redirects and contain mixed versions:
    • https://www.ottawaplasticsurgery.com/
    • https://www.ottawaplasticsurgery.com/
    • https://www.ottawaplasticsurgery.com/
    • https://www.ottawaplasticsurgery.com
  • Redirects are pointing to their proper versions, which is good. However, they are sending mixed signals and create unnecessary redirect chains. I would do a full sweep, search-and-replace, and change everything to “https://www” (since that version is the canonical one).
  • I also see there are 24 redirects. Many of them are improper base folders, likely based on a switch in taxonomies. Same idea with the previous point, which is that it may be wise to fix those URLs internally. For example:
    • /case-study/ and its subpages redirected to /case-studies/
    • /treatment/ and its subpages redirected to /treatments/
  • Using BuiltWith.com, I see they're using WordPress, which might explain the issue. Typically, custom post types are not properly configured, where the plural is the taxonomy name and the singular is used for individual pages. Either way, this needs to be fixed.
  • The site contains 404 errors (dead pages or pages that were changed), which should be redirected, and the internal links should be updated.
  • There are also five internal redirects. Redirects are good as they help Google and backlinks point to the proper page. But if the links are internal, they should be corrected as internal links are strong signals.
  • The site seems to have a multitude of duplicate meta-descriptions tags. While they're not ranking factors, they do help clickthrough rates (CTRs), which do indirectly contribute to higher rankings.
  • Finally, 14 of the pages are wrongly canonicalized, meaning they are telling Google that other pages are the correct pages to index but they link to nonexistent pages, probably from a development site of the previous designer that were not properly updated:
Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 3 | quick seo audit
Source code showing broken canonical URL.

25 Treatment Pages

After deleting all the errors and redirects, we're left with 140 indexable pages. The most content-rich are treatment pages that describe the procedures, including expectations, case studies, and FAQs at the bottom. Each treatment comes with a clear call to action to “request a consultation.”

70 Case Study Pages

About 70 pages are case studies. Lots of proof with before-and-after photos, but the content is thin and weak. There's a short paragraph describing the patient and their case, but I would have expanded on that a bit more.

I would perhaps add details about that case's recovery time, some anonymous info about the patient (i.e., lifestyle, career, pregnancies, etc), or details to make the reader understand and identify themselves more with the case. It would also create a lot of good content with keywords for better visibility.

User Interface

Visually, the user interface (UI) is good. The site is well-designed and easy to navigate on both my desktop and smartphone. The navigation is focused on body parts, with submenus leading to procedures.

(Remember the “5 Ps of Plastic Surgery“?)

Let's take a look at what some SEO tools say.

SEO Audit and Analysis Tools

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 4 | quick seo audit
Traffic estimates according to Ahrefs.com.

According to Ahrefs.com, the site is getting about 895 visitors a month, which is not bad but not great, either. At its highest point, it was getting around 1840 visitors. So traffic has literally dropped by 50%.

It might be the sign of a Google algorithm update, a website migration, a new competitor, or a change in content structure. (Without access to the analytics, it's hard to tell. I would investigate this further if this was a full SEO audit.)

There are over 1,180 keywords indexed for this website. That's not optimal. I usually shoot for 10 keywords per page (as an average ratio, not a goal). So about 1,400 keywords in total. (The exception being ecommerce sites.)

However, this website has 118 keywords on the first page. Just a cursory look at their keywords, they have a mix of branded traffic and non-branded traffic.

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 5 | quick seo audit
Topmost keywords ranked for.

Non-branded terms are highlighted in green, while branded terms occupy the topmost rankings. This means that the intent is navigational, either for research or for trying to reach the site or doctor in question.

Also, since they are called “Ottawa Plastic Surgery” and it's in the URL itself, people looking for the topic, not the location, may stumble onto the site. It's a good thing, but it's hard to tell if the intent is navigational or not.

Using filters, I excluded the doctors and proper names from the list. The site seems to have about 50 top-10 keywords, with varying degrees of traffic. After I remove location names, i.e., excluding keywords with “Ottawa” in them, I'm left with 17 keywords. None are in the top three positions.

This tells me that the traffic is either largely navigational or investigational. In other words, people are aware of the procedure and they want to get to (or to learn more about) the doctor, the clinic, or the specific procedure.

What does this mean?

Their traffic is already either middle or bottom of the funnel (i.e., users are already aware of the problem, the solution, and the procedure). And this site seems to be catering to that traffic well with the number of case studies, before-and-after photos, and FAQs. So their content is relevant.

Looking at their pages for which they are ranking, the bulk of the highest-ranked URLs are treatment pages. Since I already determined in my initial walkthrough that the treatment pages were the most content-rich, this would make sense.

According to their sitemap XML page, their blog has 30 URLs. I exported a list of all the URLs that were already ranking, and excluded any core pages, treatment pages, and case study pages. Of those 30 blog posts, only five blog posts are getting search traffic, and it's barely any traffic at all.

EAT Signals

EAT stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. It is the strongest ranking factor for medical websites. Typically (although, not always), these are usually defined by signals about the author, website, and content:

  • Expertise: the author (of the site's content) has a bio that lists credentials, is recognized in their field, has practiced for a number of years, etc.
  • Authoritativeness: the website has links from authoritative websites, valid brand mentions, good external reviews, a positive reputation, etc.
  • Trustworthiness: the content is fact-checked, peer-reviewed, well researched, well documented, accompanied by seals of approval, etc.

As far as OttawaPlasticSurgery.com goes, the site does have very strong EAT signals. Each doctor has a page with a bio that lists their credentials, board certifications, even medical research experience. However, Dr. Silverman's bio has a dead link to a reviews website that's a 404.

(I would add an author's bio at the bottom of each blog post and incorporate author schema markup on all articles, even treatment pages, as signals that the content was written or reviewed by a medical professional.)

The site also has 4.6k backlinks, which is pretty healthy. Some of them are strong websites with high authority ratings, such as BBB.org (Better Business Bureau), RateMDs.com, 411.ca, and Medicard.com.

By the way, I'm getting a sense that this site has hired a PR or agency since there are also many press releases, too.

Technical SEO

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 6 | quick seo audit
Ahrefs technical SEO audit.

Doing just a quick technical audit, the site is scoring 43%, which is low. There are 777 issues, 184 of which are critical errors. I've pointed out some of these errors earlier, including the 404s, the redirect chains, wrong canonical URLs, the mixed versions, and the duplicate meta-description errors.

There are 553 warnings, which are not critical but, if addressed, do help. For example, there's a lot of missing data, such as alternative texts for images, H1 headers, and open graph data (for sharing such as social media).

Finally, Google's schema markup checker has found some unnamed, basic structured data. The vast majority of websites don't take advantage of structured data. So there's plenty of opportunity there.

User Experience

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 7 | quick seo audit
Google's Web.Dev and PageSpeed Insights.

This is where the website needs work the most. Page experience (a subset of UX) is going to become a full-fledged ranking factor officially as of May, 2021. If it's not fixed by then, it might hurt rankings let alone the user experience.

Looking at this initial test shows that the site takes 13 seconds to load and a full 18 seconds before one is able to interact with it.

Having so many photos, which is a vital part of a plastic surgeon's website, can be incredibly memory intensive. Proper multipoint caching, script deferral, image optimizations, and a content distribution network (CDN), among others, would dramatically improve the performance.

Conclusion

Of course, this audit doesn't include the full picture. For example, I didn't cover the competition, keyword research, link profiles, local SEO, and so on. I typically include these in my 360° SEO Audit and 360° SEO Strategy programs for plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine.

But this quick, high-level audit offers a good deal of information.

For example, the biggest missed opportunity is the blog. Developing high-quality content that's relevant and valuable is often the best way to increase visibility, traffic, and interest. Some of the best-performing plastic surgery websites tend to have at least 100 articles or more.

Plastic and cosmetic surgery are rife with questions — questions about costs, photo appraisals, risks, recovery times, and more. For example:

  1. How many plastic surgeons are there in Ottawa?
  2. Should I go to a cosmetic surgeon or a dermatologist?
  3. Who are the best plastic surgeons in Ontario?
  4. Are breast implants safe?
  5. What questions should I ask before getting liposuction?
  6. Who are the best cosmetic surgeons for gynecomastia?
  7. Is plastic surgery painful?
  8. Is cosmetic surgery noticeable?
  9. How do plastic surgeons remove stretch marks?
  10. What are the side effects of plastic surgery?

These are only 10 of about 200 questions.

Good content with strong visuals that answer these questions can drive highly targeted users who are just beginning their research. Plus, plastic surgery articles can be easily shared on, and amplified through, social media, where most of the visual-seeking targeted audience hangs out.

Hopefully, this was helpful. Please let me know if you would like to see more.

Sidenote and an Important SEO Tip

I added a small part near the end of the plastic surgery SEO audit I did on OttawaPlasticSurgery.com when I posted it online. But since I did it after I first published it, you may have missed the additional content.

It's simply this.

In that critique, I said that the biggest missed opportunity is content marketing, and that this website needs a solid plastic surgery marketing strategy — particularly to appeal to a more top-of-funnel (i.e., lesser aware) audience.

I said that plastic and cosmetic surgery are rife with questions — e.g., about costs (most common), appraisals (i.e., before-and-after photos, the second most common), and risks (the third). Those are concerns from the mid to bottom-of-funnel users (or from thinking or hurting audiences).

But there are plenty of topics people ask questions about who are in the initial oblivious or apathetic stages — questions that can turn into some great content that users will love (and therefore, Google will love, too). For example:

  1. How many plastic surgeons are there in Ottawa?
  2. Should I go to a cosmetic surgeon or a dermatologist?
  3. Who are the best plastic surgeons in Ontario?
  4. Are breast implants safe?
  5. What questions should I ask before getting liposuction?
  6. Who are the best cosmetic surgeons for gynecomastia?
  7. Is plastic surgery painful?
  8. Is cosmetic surgery noticeable?
  9. How do plastic surgeons remove stretch marks?
  10. What are the side effects of plastic surgery?

These are only 10 of about 200 questions.

You can use either SEMRush (under “content marketing,” use “topic research” and a right column will list “interesting questions”) or Ahrefs (under “keywords explorer,” search for the topic and look at “questions” on the left). Or you could use AlsoAsked.com or AnswerThePublic.com. Or even Google itself.

In fact, most of these tools pull from Google's “related searches” and “people also asked” sections on SERPs. These are questions people are actually asking, so in reality, Google is doing the market research for you.

Now, there are a number of ways to create quality content. Creating an article that answers questions people ask is a low-hanging-fruit way that can easily capture decent traffic because people are specifically looking for answers.

Provide good content that does a good job of answering these questions (and provide a good user experience when people are consuming that content), and you will likely rank. If the content can answer questions better than your competitors (ranking competitors, not business ones), you will rank higher.

I don't want to mislead you by telling you you will rank only because you offer good content. “Good” is subjective. But let me show you what I would do.

I use an SEO outsourcing template for content writing. But if you're writing the content yourself, here's what you could do.

Let's take “What questions should I ask before getting liposuction?” Type that exact question into Google and see what comes up. For me, this is what I see:

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 8 | quick seo audit
Top result on Google.

As you can see, there's a position “zero” result (i.e., a featured snippet) from a Brampton, Ontario plastic surgeon. Then, there's a first-position result from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (or ASPS, an industry association). And then, there are a few “people also ask” questions.

Now, here's the interesting part. Here's the link from the featured snippet:

Quick SEO Audit of OttawaPlasticSurgery.com 9 | quick seo audit
Screenshot of an article on BramptonCosmetic.com.

The article is from a private plastic surgery practice and written in February 2017 on a website that appears a tad outdated. But it's beating the plastic surgery association's article written in 2018. And they both beat the third one, an article that was written as recently as last month.

This Brampton, Ontario site gets about 2,900 visitors per month (Canada), whereas the association gets over three million (USA).

The next one down, in position two, is a dermatologist in Long Beach, CA. But this one was written in November, 2020. The traffic is 843 per month. But the article is subpar, the site is hard to read, and the content has no pictures whatsoever.

plastic-surgery-marketing
Screenshot from UlmerDerm.com.

So it would be a fair assumption that a better article from Ottawa Plastic Surgery can either beat these results and climb to the top position. Often referred to as the “Skyscraper Technique,” the goal is to see what content your audience wants, what answers they get, and provide them with better answers.

It really is that simple.

So what I would do is, first, make the question the title of the article. If you use WordPress, typically it's going to be the H1 (heading tag), which is a decent signal to Google of what the content is about.

The reason is, the search engine results page (SERP) has links that don't have that exact question in their titles. Variations are fine, but being closer to what people are actually searching for can up the chances.

Next, select the questions you want your article to answer.

Remember, this article is not just about the answer to a question but also about what questions to ask, too. So it's an FAQ of sorts. I would do some drill-down research to find what other questions people ask.

You can borrow ideas or get inspiration from competing articles (remember, you're trying to beat them). But I assume that Ottawa Plastic Surgery has a bank of questions that people always ask them. Use those, too.

Make these questions headers (i.e., H2 tags) in the article. Obviously, I would also add schema markup code to the HTML to indicate a) it's an article, b) it's written or reviewed by a doctor, and c) it's an FAQ.

For additional content, you can, within each question's answer, link to its own separate page that can really dive deeply on the topic.

What the Brampton website does well is it contains supporting images. But the other two articles have no visuals at all. So a way to one-up them is to choose photographs — which are better than images let alone no images at all.

A final thought.

Remember, the goal is to offer good Plastic Surgery Marketing content.

However, better content will get you ranked higher than your competitors. And better in the eyes of the audience isn't about being “better” but about being in closer alignment with your audience and their search intent.

Think about it: how often have you landed on an article that, not only gave relevant, helpful information but also gave valuable information that answered additional questions — questions you had or didn't think you had — that felt as if they were reading your mind?

That's the power of focusing on user intent as well as search intent.

What kinds of questions do people ask about liposuction? What questions do people really want to know the answers to? What questions would they ask but always seem to forget or fail to ask? What questions you'd wished they asked you (as the doctor) that they didn't think of themselves first?

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for your own plastic surgery marketing strategy.

Categories
SEO

5-Step SEO Content Strategy For Plastic Surgeons

If you're a plastic surgeon or cosmetic medical professional, and you want to build organic traffic to your website, you need content. But you also want content that attracts interested, qualified patient leads. Just adding content alone is not going to do this for you.

To attract quality traffic, you need to create quality content.

And for that, you need an SEO content strategy.

Defining a content strategy for your website is a foundational component of search engine optimization (SEO) — and once the foundation is built and it's solid, the rest can follow and work far more effectively.

So let's look at how to build a content strategy.

1. Understand Your Market

Sounds obvious, but this is more than simply learning who you're trying to target. You need to know what their problems are, how they're talking about them, and what they're looking for in order to solve those problems.

In copywriting, there's a technique that goes:

“Always enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind.”

Robert Collier in The Robert Collier Letter Book

By doing so, your copy will connect with your audience, it will resonate more effectively with them, and it will have greater chances of being successful.

In SEO, it's no different. You need to create a content strategy that aligns with your patient's query and continues the conversation that's already going on in their mind. In other words, it matches the search intent as well as the user intent.

By doing keyword research, the goal is not to find keywords to stuff your content with. It's to understand your patient's thinking that went on when conducting their search so you can create valuable content that's relevant to them.

2. Define Your Content Architecture

During the first phase, a large part of the process will be to uncover topics (not search terms) your market is interested in and wants to know more about. While doing so, you will notice recurring themes, also called parent topics or umbrella topics, that various subtopics fall neatly under.

These are topical clusters.

The old SEO methodology was breaking a website into well-defined, isolated categories, often referred to as a “silo content architecture.” It still works today. But now that Google is becoming better at understanding context and not just content, a more effective technique is the hub-and-spoke architecture.

It's where pieces of content are interconnected through similar themes, ideas, or goals. Think of it as giving them labels instead of filing them under folders, like some email services for example.

The hub-and-spoke model centers around a single piece of high-value content, or “pillar content,” that covers a topic comprehensively and from which expanded content, subtopics, supporting content pieces, etc are developed.

The Five “Ps” of Plastic Surgery SEO

In my 30 years of being a marketing consultant with a large focus on cosmetic professionals and plastic surgeons, I've found that there are usually five major areas of content: Parts, Problems, Procedures, People, and Products.

The first three are the most common while the other two are optional and depend on the situation. They are:

  1. Parts: the body parts you treat (e.g., skin, face, breasts, hair, chin, forehead, stomach, legs, buttocks, nose, etc).
  2. Problems: the conditions you treat (e.g., psoriasis, drooping skin, sagging breasts, hair loss, rosacea, wrinkles, vitiligo, etc).
  3. Procedures: the treatments you offer (e.g., hair transplants, tummy tucks, breast augmentation, injections, liposuction, laser resurfacing, etc).
  4. People: the doctors and team members, including nurses, aesthetic professionals, and support staff (usually for larger clinics).
  5. Products: the products you sell (e.g., makeup and lotions, postsurgical compression garments, supplements, etc).

An effective website will appeal to all of these, but the first three (or at least the first two) will become the centerpieces around which the rest of the content strategy will be built. And they will connect with one another strategically for context.

For example, you might have a page on wrinkles and the various treatments for this condition. Each treatment mentioned is linked to its respective procedure page. Similarly, each procedure page might have a list of the various conditions this procedure treats.

This interconnection is part of the hub-and-spoke model.

One of my dermatologist clients had a website with content discussing the various procedures she offered. When I restructured and refined her content, and added a new navigation menu for all the conditions she treated, too, her organic traffic and leads nearly tripled.

3. Develop Your Pillar Content

Once you've defined your content architecture, next is to develop your pillar pieces or hubs, if you will.

It's too easy to write unfocused, self-serving content when you don't have a strategy. But having one will keep you from straying. This is where your research will come in handy, too. Knowing your market and how they search will give you a clear idea of who the content is for and why they should care.

I've met plenty of doctors who wrote their own content and their websites were unorganized, unclear, or untargeted. Either they were writing all over the place or their content sounded like boring academic papers written for their peers — or to make themselves look clever.

Your clients are your patients, not your peers.

So create content around the conversation that's going on in your patient's mind. A patient who just started conducting some research may be interested in understanding their condition (i.e., “problems”). Those who are more aware may be looking into options for treating their condition (i.e., “procedures”).

That's the key to conducting research. You want to understand what they're looking for and why. So focus on providing valuable content that's relevant and continues their internal conversation — and the journey they're on.

Choose high-volume, relevant keywords from your original research as your pillar topics. You can use complimentary keywords for developing additional content, either on the same page or later on.

In fact, you don't want to force-feed keywords into your content. Include them if they naturally fit, but the goal is the make the content valuable to the reader. If you do and you stay on topic, you will likely include, without knowing, related or similar keywords, anyway.

Variations, synonyms, and closely related keywords (often called “latent semantic indexing” or LSI keywords) will provide search engines with a good understanding of the content and its context — without having to stuff keywords that will corrupt your content and ultimately diminish its value.

Keyword stuffing will work against you. Guaranteed.

4. Add Supporting Content

Supporting content pieces are the spokes — subtopics that add value and depth to the main topic. Once you've defined your pillar content, you might have a list of related topics that expand on or support parts of the main one.

For example, say you offer tummy tucks and one hub piece is the procedure itself. Another hub piece might be the condition (i.e., sagging belly skin) or the body part (i.e., stomach, lower abdomen).

But spoke content might be blog posts discussing how to get rid of loose skin following a pregnancy or significant weightloss; what are some of the most common concerns about the procedure; how to select a tummy tuck doctor; what kinds of questions to ask when considering a tummy tuck; etc.

Your subtopics will delve into a question, concern, or issue that your patient is looking into, and hopefully, it will provide value and something authoritative that will lead them to investigate further and take the next step.

But invariably, it will contain related topical keywords, perhaps long-tail keywords that are less popular but far more relevant to your target audience.

When I specifically create an SEO content strategy for my clients, I create a list of pillar content topics and what they should be about or contain, along with a list of initial spoke content (such as three to eight articles). I also prepare an editorial calendar for content pieces to be delivered over time.

5. Link Everything Together

Of course, it's important to link all the content together. Aside from the navigation menu, doing so within the content will provide three major benefits:

  1. To create content relationships and add context;
  2. To increase dwell times and lower bounce rates;
  3. To boost signals through anchor texts within links.

The hub-and-spoke SEO content strategy helps to organize the relationship between pieces of content. Think of Wikipedia with its plethora of links to interconnected content pieces linked in specific, strategic parts of the article.

Similarly, interlinking articles together adds weight to your content by teaching the reader either the entirety of a particular topic or the depth of one or more of its parts. So add links between content pieces where it makes sense.

Also, when you subsequently promote your content (e.g., sharing it, posting it on social media, advertising it) or amplify it (e.g., repurposing it, extracting pieces from it, publishing in other formats), these internal links will also do double-duty, creating additional SEO signals.

So there you have it.

This is only a high-level look.

Ultimately, creating an SEO content strategy is not about developing content that will be picked up by Google. It's about providing value to your users at whatever point in their journey they happen to be, and subsequently helping them continue that journey on your site.

Categories
SEO

What is SXO (Search Experience Optimization)?

Search engine optimization (SEO), in the sense most people think about SEO, is becoming less about optimizing for the search engines and more about optimizing the user's search experience (SXO).

It's called “search experience optimization” or SXO.

SXO is not a new concept.

I've said that SEO boils down to creating quality content on a website that delivers a quality user experience. But this is nothing new. It has been a topic of discussion among SEO consultants since the early 2010s.

The issue is, how do you measure quality? Quality is subjective. What you think is “good” may not be good according to your users. Good content goes beyond just matching the user's query. It needs to meet the user's expectations, too.

And that goes beyond SEO.

SEO, in its purest sense, is optimizing your website for the search engines. Meaning, you make sure your website can be found, crawled, indexed, and used. In short, it meets Google's guidelines to be included in its index.

SEO, in the marketing sense (the way most people think of it), is optimizing your content to increase your chances of having your website come up in search results. You do this by creating content around search terms and topics that matches the user's query.

But how well does it match the user's expectations?

That's where SXO comes in.

Your website may be ranking well because you have good content. But it also has to be relevant and valuable to the user. And the more relevant and helpful it is, compared to all other alternatives, the higher you will rank. But high rankings don't always translate into quality traffic.

The way to look at it is, give quality content and a quality user experience (in consuming that content), and you will attract quality traffic. But to get more quality traffic, you need to meet their expectations. And you need to do it better than all other alternatives.

This is where you need to think about how your users search. You need to understand your users, what they're searching for, and how they search.

So good old market research, in other words.

From Google's perspective, these things are determined by a number of different metrics, such as analyzing click behaviors. For example, clickthrough rates, dwell times, pogosticking, “next clicks” (when people bounce back to Google and choose a next listing), and a host of other metrics.

Matching search intent is the key.

Doing so will provide the best search experience to your user. The greater the match, the greater the signals. But it doesn't end there.

A greater user experience affects search experience, too. If your content is top quality and, in essence, presumably satisfies the needs of the searcher, but the user bounces back because the site is unusable, unreadable, or unsafe, it will affect the search experience.

Therefore, the quantity (and quality) of your traffic will increase in proportion to the quality of your content and your user's experience. Again, “quality” here is defined by how well it matches the user's query and their expectations.

So how do you optimize the search experience (SXO)?

First, look to match the search intent and the user's level of awareness. Both are important. In other words, ensure your content responds to the kind of search they're making and meets them at their current stage of awareness. (For more on this, visit my OATH formula on stages of awareness.)

In other words, your content may be educational and the user does an informational search on the topic you're covering. But if your content is intended for a product-aware (hurting) audience when the user is unaware of the problem or the solution (oblivious or apathetic), they'll leave.

Second, make sure the process of finding and consuming that content is smooth, unhindered, and easy. Usability is more than just having a “good” website. User experience (UX) is a major ranking factor and Google is paying more attention to signals than ever before.

In fact, UX signals (like page speed, mobile-centric design, HTTPS security, obtrusive interstitials, safe browsing, etc) are not only going to help SEO, but they will also affect SXO, too.

Google has introduced a new set of UX metrics called Core Web Vitals that you will need to be aware of. Google will soon be implementing a new algorithm called “Page Experience Update,” rolling out in May 2021, that will affect rankings and CTRs across the board.

Google will add warning labels to its search results telling users if the sites have a good or bad SXO page experience.

As you can imagine, people seeing a not-so-good warning beside your link will avoid it or hesitate, even if it's ranking well. So this will eventually affect CTRs, which in turn will affect traffic quality and rankings.

But it can also affect their perception of you.

Think of it another way.

If your website has a bad experience (or a bad experience warning), the traffic you will get may well be perfectly qualified for the content and even for your business. But the bad experience will make them think twice or create a “horn effect” (I call it the ketchup stain) that will impact their perception of you.

In other words, a poor search experience will create cognitive dissonance that will affect their perception that will pervade other areas, including the decision to buy or recommend you. Conversely, a site with a good warning will likely create a more favorable perception.

Here's the best advice I've heard when it comes to SXO:

Aim to end the search.

Doing so takes into account that you have good content on a good website that matches the user's intent and expectations.

But don't just give the user no reason to go back to Google. Give the users a reason to stay, too, which will increase dwell times.

Optimize for the search experience, not just the search engines.

Categories
SEO

SEO and The Law of The Vital Few

If you've been a follower or subscriber for some time, you likely know that I often talk about SEO and the fact that it really boils down to two things:

  1. The quality of your content, and
  2. The quality of your user experience.

In other words, provide good content on a good website. What's “good” is relative. It's content that's relevant and valuable to your users (i.e., it matches their search intent and it's helpful to them), and delivered on a website that's fast, secure, and easy to use (i.e., the content is easy to find and consume).

Focus on those two things and you're golden. The more I think about it, the more I realize why I say this so often. It's actually for three important reasons.

First, it's to simplify.

SEO is something that can be complex and, too often, made complex by some SEO experts (and unnecessarily so). After all, there are several hundreds of ranking factors. So SEO can be a lot of work. But in most cases, it's doesn't have to be that complex. It's not some esoteric doctrine.

Second, it's to enable.

SEO often stops people from putting out good content for fear they won't get noticed. Many of my clients fail to publish their insights because they're misled by the expectation that they need to know, master, and apply SEO. But knowing SEO doesn't require coding backflips.

Third, it's to empower.

SEO, like any other marketing effort, abides by the “law of the vital few.” That law, also called the 80/20 rule, says that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. Similarly, 80% of your best rankings will come from applying 20% of SEO practices. So there's no need to focus on everything.

In all my 30 years as a copywriter, marketer, and SEO consultant, I've never applied what most people think of SEO to my own site. I primarily focused on putting out good content my audience wants on a website that's easy to use.

Of course, I've done and continue to do keyword research. But it's mostly about researching my market and learning what my market is searching for — not words to stuff my content with.

Speaking of which, this brings up an important point.

In order to help simplify SEO, I have recommended the use of plugins like Rank Math and Yoast. While they're helpful, they are only guides – not goals. They should help you and not imprison you.

Otherwise, if you do everything they suggest, it will make your content robotic, contrived, or unreadable. You don't need to do backflips like trying to jam keywords into headers, titles, paragraphs, image descriptions, etc.

That's so 2005. Even 2015.

But SEO is not like that, at least not anymore. In fact, I've often said that SEO is not about keywords but about topics — topics your audience is interested in and are asking questions about.

You should never use these plugins with the expectation that you need to have a 100% score. The score is arbitrary and based on guesses using outdated SEO techniques like keyword stuffing.

It's like trying to increase your batting average by looking at the top hitters in baseball and emulating them. You use the same colored bat, wear the same branded gear, and chew the same flavored gum. But all of these things will do nothing to contribute to improving your batting average.

As the Bible says, no one can serve two masters.

If you write for the search engines, your content will be useless to your audience. But in today's SEO, you don't need to choose. You can write for both the search engines and your users by focusing on your users. Both you and Google serve the same master, anyway. You both share the same client.

So focus on your audience. Give good content they want and serve it to them on a good website that they will trust, appreciate, and come back to.

In fact, when I was doing research, I stumbled onto this quote:

“I’d be remiss not to mention that those plugins (despite big promises) do nothing significant for SEO other than helping you define a meta description.”

Brendan Hufford

I agree 100%. In fact, Brendan Hufford and I think a lot alike.

I've known about him for a while but never dove into his stuff — until last week when I was creating my list of SEO experts to follow. It's actually quite amazing. His style, like mine, is focused on simple strategies that move needles instead of all the idiosyncratic complexities and nonsense some SEOs tout.

Brendan is an SEO Director of a digital agency in Chicago, the creator of several SEO courses, and an avid podcaster. His course, SEO For The Rest of Us, teaches the same things I do. His approach resonates with me and I enjoy his style.

He, too, says that SEO boils down to offering quality content and a quality user experience. One key difference (although, I agree with it) is that, unlike my two, he talks about a third element. He says that SEO boils down to:

  1. Your website,
  2. Your content, and
  3. Your authority.

“Website” refers to the quality of the user experience (e.g., speed, accessibility, usability, security, etc). “Content” refers to the quality of your content (e.g., relevance and value to the user and their search).

But Brendan's third one, “authority,” refers to backlinks.

I'm not a fan of building backlinks, which is why I avoid talking about them. To be clear, I'm for backlinks as they are important. But I prefer to attract them rather than ask for them. After all, if the content and the website are good, chances are they will attract backlinks naturally.

Which is what Google wants, anyway.

But authority is definitely important, and I agree.

However, I would call it “the quality of your signals” rather than “backlinks,” because authority can refer to any signal, both internal and external (including implied backlinks such as brand mentions, reviews, reputation, citations, credentials, etc) that signal authoritativeness.

But that's where I think we diverge slightly. I often said that building credibility is more important than building backlinks. Although, to be honest, I took his SEO For The Rest of Us course, and his backlink outreach process is far superior and a lot less spammy than any other technique I've seen.

Nevertheless, this is only one of several things we share in common — including funnels and levels of awareness. I might go over them in a future installment.

In the end, the key point is that SEO is not that complex.

It's easy to some degree, and in some cases it's a lot of work. But it's certainly simpler — a lot simpler than what many make it out to be.

Categories
SEO

10 Facts About Marketing Consultant: Michel Fortin

After my article on “Lesson Learned, Lesson Earned,” in which I discussed my history with the Internet marketing industry, some people asked me several questions about my background outside of my career as a marketing consultant. Not the background stuff you'll find on my “About” or “Now” pages. But the stuff people may not know.

I believe I'm an open book. Or I think I am. But I also realized that, even though I've been doing this for 30 years, I get new followers and subscribers all the time who don't know a thing about me.

Coincidentally, too, this morning I received the latest newsletter issue from marketer Louis Grenier that inspired me. It listed 10 facts about him.

Louis is the host of Everyone Hates Marketers podcast, a show which I've listened to for a while. His style is refreshing and authentic, which some might find a tad abrasive. His show teaches real-world, no-nonsense marketing that's not sleazy, loud, or aggressive, or that resorts to using hacks or “secrets.”

That's my kind of marketing.

So I followed his example. Here are 10 facts about the person behind The More Traffic Memo, listed in no particular order.

1. I'm a husband to Barbara, a Canadian-Portuguese immigrant who works as a nurse in the labor and delivery unit at The Ottawa Hospital. Right now, COVID is making her job exceptionally tough and stressful. She inspires me so much.

Michel Fortin and Barbara De Moura wedding, May 20, 2017.
Barbara and Michel, May 20, 2017.

2. I was born and raised in the small Canadian town of Aylmer, Québec. It's now a suburb of Gatineau, which is a city adjacent to our nation's capital of Ottawa. Until the 90s, Aylmer was mostly bilingual (French and English), which is why I speak both fluently.

Recently, I learned Portuguese after meeting my wife so I could recite my vows in her language. (Yes, sounds almost like a scene from Love, Actually.)

3. As a young child in the late 70s, I surfed bulletin boards using an agonizingly slow 300-baud dialup modem. I learned to code and played Scepter of Goth, the first-ever multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG). This is where I fell in love with technology and what would later become the Internet.

4. My first job was working at McDonald's as a teen in the early 80s. My wage was a paltry $2.54/hour (less than two US dollars). But my first “adult” job was selling insurance — the job in which I failed miserably, declared bankruptcy, and then succeeded after I discovered the power of copywriting.

5. I left the insurance business, moved to Ottawa, and became a marketing consultant at a nearby hair restoration clinic. I worked on commission selling hair replacement systems. Not satisfied with the number of leads coming in, I took over the clinic's marketing — including writing their ads, direct mail pieces, and TV commercials, and eventually, their first-ever website, too.

The clinic grew and expanded to include hair transplant surgery. They later opened multiple clinics across Canada and the USA, where I handled the clinic's marketing, copywriting, advertising, and training of their new staff.

6. This is where my marketing career took off. By taking care of my employer's other clinics and their marketing, my sales suffered and, as a result, my income plummeted. So I left and hung my shingle as an independent marketing consultant who specialized in cosmetic surgery.

I launched my first website in 1995. Since I worked mostly with doctors, clinics, and surgeons, I later incorporated as The Success Doctor, Inc., since my goal was to help doctors become successful.

7. How I entered the Internet marketing industry was a bit of a fluke. I wrote a booklet in the early 90s called The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning. By the mid-90s, I split the book into standalone articles, which I offered to a variety of online magazines that wanted to publish them.

The goal was to capture the attention of other doctors, particularly those who were looking to get on this thing called the Internet. But it also captured the attention of a software company that was also publishing its own magazine called The Internet Marketing Chronicles. They hired me as their editor.

8. After writing near-daily editorials for a few years, The Internet Marketing Center owned by the late Corey Rudl acquired the magazine. Luckily, Corey kept me on board as their editor. We had over 120,000 subscribers.

Eventually, Corey flew me to Vancouver to his office where I wrote copy for him, including his sales presentations and “pitch slides” he used when he spoke at Internet marketing seminars. I also ghostwrote his autobiography, “How to Create a Fortune on The Internet in Just Four Simple Steps.”

How to Create a Fortune On The Internet in Four Simple Steps - The Autobiography of Corey Rudl
“How to Create a Fortune on The Internet in Just Four Simple Steps” by Corey Rudl

9. This led to a stream of work with other Internet marketers, and speaking gigs at marketing and business seminars around the globe. I spoke on stages in front of a few hundred people in New Zealand to about 10,000 at Wembley's Convention Centre in the UK — and everything in between.

During this time, I shared the stage with other well-known marketers and copywriters, including Dan Kennedy, Jay Abraham, Yanik Silver, Gary Halbert, Mark Joyner, Russell Brunson, Ryan Deiss, Mark Victor Hansen, Jay Conrad Levinson, Brendon Burchard, and countless others.

10. Recently, David Garfinkel interviewed me on his Copywriters Podcast, and he asked me this question: “What topic makes your heart beat a tad faster these days?” My answer was SEO. The reason is, as I told him, SEO has grown to a point where it's no different from knowing how to write excellent copy.

Simply know your market and what they want, and just give it to them. That includes content and copy. What kinds of questions are they asking that you can answer? What types of problems do they have that you can solve? Knowing this will improve both your SEO and your conversation rates.

Now it's your turn. What do you do? Comment below.

Categories
SEO

Dealing With Negative Reviews: SEO Tips and Action Steps

Reputation management is becoming such an important service that many digital marketers and agencies are offering this singular service. For example, there's Reputation.ca, a Canadian digital marketing agency that specializes in reputation management and SEO services based on it.

They offer negative content suppression services, review management, corporate communications, and internal reputation management (such as managing employee reviews). They even offer services related Wikipedia profiles, libel issues, and crisis management.

But of all the reputation management steps you can take, responding to reviews is the most important. Both good and bad ones.

Negative reviews can influence your customers' decisions and hurt your business. Like it or not, ignoring reviews is the worse thing you can do.

Studies show that customers often view companies more favorably when they respond to reviews. Your responses can even become more influential and impactful than the reviews themselves.

Sadly, however, it's often an ignored or missed opportunity.

Imagine being on page two or three in Google results. As the joke goes, “Google's second page is the best place to hide a dead body.” But imagine being on page one for no reason other than the preponderance of negative reviews. This can be worse.

I've heard one professional say, “Talk good about me or talk bad, but either way, talk about me.” Or, “Love me or hate me, there's no money in the middle.”

That's all well and good, and the purpose of that quote is to understand that you can't please everyone. It's important to stand for something than trying to be milquetoast by trying to appeal to everyone. And you shouldn't.

But the issue is that negative reviews show up as a score (such as a star rating). When your two or three-star review shows up on the first page of Google alongside competitors with four or more star reviews, you are not only losing traction but you're also helping your competitors through the power of contrast.

So the goal is to respond to reviews, and there a few steps you can take to optimize the process.

1. It's all about customer service.

Reviews are often an indication of customer service and support. If your reviews are predominantly bad, you have a support issue. Granted, you need to be offering quality products and services above all. Bad reviews are great feedback and can often tell you what needs fixing.

But how you engage with your clients online says just as much about you and your services than they do about what you offer.

2. Setup Google alerts and other “listening” tools.

Claim your listing on review sites and business directories. This way, you will be notified of any reviews that come in. But reviews can also appear on other, less well-known sites, private blogs, or socia media.

So set up alerts to be notified each and every time someone talks about you. You can get notified when any keyword you specify shows up — including names (yours, your brand, your business, a product or service, staff names etc), your address, your suppliers, and even your competitors.

3. Take note of what clients are saying and want.

Clients are giving you precious feedback. Responding to their reviews is important, but noting what they're saying, educating them if they missed anything (by being genuinely helpful and not snarky, sarcastic, or passive-aggressive), or letting them know how you will act on their feedback.

4. Respond to reviews. All of them.

Thank the reviewer for their review. Even the good ones. Your responsiveness is what makes you look good, and not just what kind of response you give. But with the bad reviews, unless they are defamatory or fake (and even then), be sure to keep a polite and professional stance.

5. Apologize sincerely and sympathize.

Negative reviews will happen from time to time. Because, as I said earlier, you can't please everyone. But be professional, courteous, and helpful in your response. Acknowledge their issue/pain, and let them know you are listening and how you will make it right.

6. Move the conversation offline.

Offer your contact information and the name of the person they can speak with directly (you or a member of your team, preferably someone in management) so they can vent in person, discuss their problem in depth, and refrain from adding more hostility to their already negative review.

7. Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

Don't go into detail and drag the conversation further. If you post too much, your reply will be a) overlooked because it's too wordy, b) seen as defensive (or desperate), and c) give the negative reviewer more ammunition they can use against you. Just stick with one short paragraph, no more than five sentences.

8. Use your name in responses to positive reviews.

Using the business name, product name, or service name will give your response to a positive review an extra SEO boost, which will hopefully bring positive reviews up to the top.

For example, you can say, “Thank you for reviewing [business name]. The team here is thrilled to read your feedback, and we're proud to be one of the most helpful [business category] in [city].”

But with negative ones, refrain from using names or keywords. You want to avoid giving the negative review any kind of SEO juice.

9. Add some marketing and ask for action.

You can thank them for their review and offer them a gift for their feedback, such as a free newsletter or a free report. And suggest the next step, such as call, fill out a form, subscribe to a newsletter, or refer friends to your business.

10. Ask for a retraction or update.

If the complaint has been dealt with, and your response was appreciated and positively received, have the reviewer remove, or better yet, revise their reviews. This is not only a desirable outcome, but the response to a negative situation can actually make you look better than a positive review will.

Some final thoughts.

These steps all assume that the reviewer had a legitimate gripe, and their review was not fraudulent, fake, or malicious in any way. Malicious reviews need to be dealt with differently, and each platform has a proper procedure for dealing with these situations.

At the bottom of this article, you can find a step-by-step process and template in dealing with and removing misleading reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook — the three biggest review sites.

In the end, remember that reviews are increasingly being used as decision-making tools when clients and customers are choosing your services.

Taking the time to focus on how you appear, what others say, and how you respond will always work in your favour — or at the very least, it will make you look responsive and much better than if you were to ignore them.