Forget everything you think you know about SEO.
It’s probably not helping.
SEO is complicated. The rules change daily. It’s highly technical. And there’s so much information out there it’s hard to tell what really works.
The biggest mistake I see therapists making is that they hear a few random tips about a specific part of local SEO and think they “get it”.
It’s good to know tactics, but only after you understand how they fit into the big picture because otherwise you’ll create an online footprint for your practice that misses key ingredients Google is looking for.
That’s why I put together this high-level overview of local search ranking factors, so you can understand how it all fits together and avoid focusing too much on the wrong elements of SEO.
NOTE: This article is about LOCAL SEO for therapists to rank better on Google Maps and searches that show local businesses. If you’re trying to rank nationally this content does not apply.
Overall Local Search Ranking Factors:
Where Does This Data Come From?
Each year, one of the most-trusted SEO companies (Moz) runs a survey where they ask 30+ of the most respected experts in Local SEO what gets a local business like your practice higher in the search results.
Google will never tell us exactly how they rank websites so this is pretty much the closest we can come to the real answer.
Your Practice Website - 19%
First and foremost, your website is a place for Google to confirm that the information they have about your business is accurate. Google wants your website to match what they know about your business name, location, phone number, products & services you specialize in.
Here’s a few examples of things to look for with your practice’s website:
Original Content - 17%
The most important thing any practice can do is to create unique content for your website and social media outlets. Publishing an original blog post on your website every month with keyword-rich text, internal website links, and custom branded graphics is a great way for google to find you.
Here are a few things to consider while writing content:
Inbound Links – 16%
Inbound links are text or image links on other websites (not your own) that link to your site. Google looks at each link from another website to yours as a “vote” of quality for your site. It’s not easy getting links to your site – that’s exactly the point.
Here’s three things to know about inbound links to your website:
Citations - 14%
“Citations” is SEO-speak for “mentions”, or “references to”. A citation is a mention of your practice’s name, phone number, and/or address on another website. Google assumes that the most popular local businesses will be mentioned the most across the web and each time they see your information the more comfortable they feel giving it to their users.
Here’s three things to pay attention to with your agency’s citations:
Google Profile – 13%
Over the years it’s been called many things, Google Places, Google+ Local, Google My Business. They’re all the same thing – a profile that Google sets up for every business on earth. Google allows you to “claim” this profile to confirm, correct, and provide additional information about your business and the information you provide them can impact search rankings.
Here’s a few things to pay attention to:
Online Reviews – 7%
Google looks at the online reviews people give you as an indication of both the popularity of your practice and the quality of service.
A few things to keep in mind:
Social - 6%
Seems to makes sense that a big and popular local business would have more Google+ followers and Facebook fans, right? Many SEO experts believe larger and more active social network accounts will help your local search rankings.
A few things to keep in mind:
User Behavior – 4%
There is good proof that Google watches how people interact with your website and your practice’s listing in their search results to understand your popularity and the quality of your website. Google wants their top search results to be popular businesses with accurate contact information and a user-friendly website.
Here are some of the things SEO experts believe Google looks at:
Search Results Personalization – 4%
This refers to the fact that every Google search delivers a slightly different result based on the search history of the person doing the search.
For example, since you probably visit your own website a lot more than other local therapists’ sites Google will show it higher in the search results on your computer than for anyone else doing the exact same search.
This one’s pretty hard to do much about, so I think I’ll leave it at the explanation.
I didn’t write this article to be everything you need to know for SEO for therapists – It’s just scratching the surface.
The key thing is to understand that it’s a COMBINATION of factors both on and off your website. In fact, if your online profile is too strong on any of these individual factors it’ll probably raise some flags to Google.
If you work in mental health and you want to use your professional website to make the best possible first impression and grow your practice, read on. I'm about to tell you eleven indispensable features every therapist's website should have
1. Mobile Friendly
Be honest: How many times a week do you use a desktop or laptop computer for non-work-related web browsing? If you're like most people, the answer is probably "not many." Nowadays the ubiquity of the smartphone allows us to conduct web searches from anywhere in the world without having to lug a computer with us wherever we go, so it's a safe bet that the average Internet user does most of their browsing via mobile device.
This means it's imperative to ensure that your professional website is optimized for mobile viewing. Why? Two important reasons.
One, if your website isn't mobile-friendly, it can make it almost impossible for a mobile user to navigate with ease. Between fighting with a website that doesn't display properly in a mobile browser or simply selecting another website to visit, most people will choose the latter because it requires less effort. By over-complicating the task of browsing, you could be driving potential clients away from your website.
Two, the condition of your website makes a statement about the quality of services you offer. Think about it this way: If you're shopping around for a new therapist, which of these two therapy websites is likely to make the better impression on you? The ancient-looking GeoCities site with a Comic Sans header and a clashing color scheme that makes it impossible to read? Or the sleek, modern, professionally designed website that's easy to navigate and looks great both on your laptop or your mobile device?
You'll probably be more inclined to place your trust (and your money) in the hands of the therapist with the more sophisticated website than the one that looks like it's straight out of 1997. Why? Because the more polished website tells visitors that the therapist it represents is concerned with being current—and that probably also means employing more modern therapeutic modalities. The same is true for mobile optimized websites. If your site isn't optimized, you could be inadvertently sending the message that you're out of touch, both with the times and with your clients' needs.
2. Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (or SEO) for therapy websites is an indispensable strategy for those looking to promote or expand their therapy practices. Why? A few reasons.
First of all, most Internet users are likely to select one of the first five search engine results returned for a specific query, so a user searching for websites for counselors in their zip code is unlikely to look further than the very first page of results. SEO optimization is a way of ensuring that your website will appear within that first page.
Second of all, it's a way of making your therapy practice more competitive. Between an SEO-optimized website and a similar non-optimized website, the optimized site is likelier to have a bigger client base and generate more revenue.
Also, SEO for therapy websites is a great way of cross-promoting your practice. Internet users who find a website via an Internet search (versus word-of-mouth or other forms of advertising) are likelier to promote it on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere.
If you're looking for easy, free ways of increasing your visibility and making yourself stand out from the competition, SEO for therapy websites is a must-have.
3. Social Media Friendly
Don't underestimate the efficacy of social media for promoting your therapy practice. Paying special attention to your website's social media integration is a great way of increasing your rank among search engines, making your business more visible and generating more traffic.
There are numerous strategies for making therapy websites more social media friendly, but here's one easy one: including shareable content that visitors can post to Facebook or Twitter with one click. For therapists and counselors, this might mean shareable blog posts relevant to the field of mental health, or tips for finding a therapist who suits your needs.
By allowing visitors to your site to easily share its contents with their friends and family, you have the opportunity to reach a wider audience by doing zero additional work.
4. Online Forms
This is another frequently overlooked but surprisingly advantageous feature that should appear on all websites for therapists. Embedded contact forms are not only the easiest, most hassle-free way for prospective clients to contact you, they're also a convenient way of organizing all the incoming contact information you receive.
Rather than having to enter contact details individually into a spreadsheet or an email address book, you can save all of the accumulated contact info you receive via your online forms in one easily manageable database, and even export it into excel to create a comprehensive spreadsheet of clients' information.
5. Therapy Specialties Page
As you're already aware, many therapy clients seek help from therapists with backgrounds in specific disciplines. One way you can make the search easier for your prospective clients, and to ensure a better fit between yourself and new patients, is to include a specialties page on your professional website.
This way, before your very first intake meeting, your new client can know what sort of services you offer. Clients in search of a therapist with a background in cognitive behavioral therapy, traumatology, somatic experiencing, or other modalities can more easily narrow down their search and know ahead of time whether or not you're the optimal choice for their needs, saving time for both of you.
6. In-Take Printable Forms
Initial intake sessions involve taking in a significant amount of information about a client's mental health, family of origin, and other relevant topics. It can be a complicated, time-consuming process. You can make it more efficient and comfortable for your clients by including a printable intake form right on your website.
Why is this helpful? Because clients can know in advance what sorts of subjects you'll be asking about. They'll have time to reflect on their answers, to consider what's essential information to share early on and what can be left for later, and they'll have time to prepare themselves to talk about difficult subjects. They can even begin filling out some of the answers independently, so all the information is consolidated in one place before you even begin.
7. Staff Photo & Bios
Seeking therapy can be daunting under the best of circumstances, especially for those who have never seen a therapist before. One essential way of establishing rapport and beginning to build trust between yourself and your prospective clients is to include a detailed staff bio page.
This will allow you to lay out your academic background and professional credentials, and to put your best foot forward with a flattering headshot. When potential clients can know ahead of time who they're communicating with, it will make it easier for them to begin to trust you.
8. Common Question Page
All websites for therapists should have a common questions/FAQ page.
Many potential clients, especially those who have never seen a therapist before, may not have a firm grasp of what exactly a therapist does. They may hold the stereotyped belief that a therapist will prescribe them medication and send them on their way, or that they'll put them in a psychiatric hospital if they confide too much. Likewise, they may think their problems aren't "bad enough" to warrant seeking therapy and require reassurance that their needs are valid.
A common questions page will help to allay many of these fears before your therapeutic relationship even begins.
What's the advantage of maintaining a blog on your professional website?
For starters, by offering free information to prospective clients, you can demonstrate expertise in your field and send the message that your knowledge is valuable. Think of it this way: If you have a choice between selecting a therapist sight unseen or choosing one who has written intelligently and at length about mental health, which would you choose?
Most people will probably be more interested in the therapist whose reputation is backed up by a body of published work.
10. What To Expect Page
As mentioned above, seeking therapy for the first time can feel very intimidating. Many prospective clients won't know what that first session will involve and feel reluctant to commit for fear for the unknown. Giving an overview in advance will allow clients to walk into that very first session feeling informed and empowered.
11. Helpful Links Page
You can reinforce that positive first impression by including external links to useful resources for your clients, including book recommendations, online support groups, searchable databases of other websites for counselors, and information about further treatment options. Your clients will thank you!