The past month has had as much search engine volatility as I’ve seen in the past 20 years. Google and other search engines are updating their algorithms to improve the new Covid-19 affected user experience. Users are in a research gathering mindset, as opposed to the reality we knew a couple months ago, where consumerism was at a high and immediacy was highly valued.
Algorithm changes happen on a daily basis, but large “core algorithm” changes only happen a few times a year. Changes can impact certain industries or media channels differently, which is why this the April Update was particularly relevant to dentists.
There are over 200 ranking factors in the Google algorithm. Each ranking factor is considered in fractions of a second when we search on Google. The results decide whose website appears in which position on a search engine result page. My job as a client’s SEO partner is to improve their site’s position for as many keywords as possible, in order to bring in qualified leads.
Two recent algorithm updates have the SEO community on the edge of their seats. As I write this, Google is rolling out one of their large core algorithm updates, some sites have already seen massive changes. Our client sites have yet to see significant positive or negative changes, but it can take up to two weeks for some algorithm changes to run their course.
Since so little information has yet to be gathered on the core update, I’ll concentrate on the first big change that took place for dentists.
The first algorithm change took place on Thursday 4/9 just before Easter weekend and has had a few main impacts based on data from the MozCast charts below:
- Healthgrades, OpenCare, WebMD, MayoClinic.org, and other health aggregator sites have improved in position.
- The above sites appear more than once as results for many searches, meaning fewer impressions and fewer click-throughs for local dentists.
- Domain name and title are less impactful in search results.
- (So “Healthgrades.com” could jump ahead of local dentists on searches like “Dentist”, where before the change, dentists were more likely to appear first.)
The good news is that a good amount of algorithm updates are rolled back after short periods of testing. This change has every indication of being temporary for COVID-19 or simply a side effect of an algorithm change intended for the medical practices that are still operating during the quarantine. Another possibility is that this was a small change that was amplified by the new user search habits of the coronavirus quarantine.
What do we do about the dental algorithm update?
Double down on local
Ensure that your Google My Business page is fully optimized and you are adding posts. Ensure that citations across other listings are 100% accurate with the same information and link back to your website.
Double down on content and keywords with local search intent
Do the front end and back end of your site target keywords like “near me”, “open”, “in [city name]”? Concentrating on keywords that Google can decisively interpret as local, will ensure that you are competing for terms with greater potential ranking positions.
Update your Healthgrades and other medical/dental profiles
These are the sites that are ranking right now, and Google is the 800-pound Gorilla. These and other aggregated sites can have value not just for referral traffic, but also for links.
COVID-19 based content: “Sterilization, COVID-19 Page, “Open” keywords
While everyone hopes that the current situation is as short as possible, the reality is that there will be social changes that continue for months, years, or even indefinitely. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a long term process, quick fixes typically burn out faster than they work to improve your position. Lay the groundwork now, while you’re stuck at home and reap the benefits when the doors swing open again.
- Less Domain Diversity. More of the same sites in results.
- Domain Name/title matters less. “Healthgrades.com” could rank for keywords like “Dentist” above sites like “main-street-dental.com”.
- More Health related aggregators in the SERPS like Healthgrades, YELP, Opencare
*Graphs based on MOZCast Data