SEO 101: How does Google work? How do I rank on Google?

Have you ever wondered why your website doesn’t rank higher on Google? Frustrated that some dentists’ websites rank higher than yours?  Does it seem like Google is being manipulated? Or, is getting found on Google just a black box for you and you can’t understand how or why?

Since 1995, when I first registered photographer.com (long since sold), I figured out pretty early how to get found on the Internet. Back then, there was actually a book, a physical book, kind of like the old fashioned Yellow pages, that listed just about every website on the Internet. I still have a copy of that book, called the, “World Wide Web Directory.” We have seen search engines come and go but Google remains the dominant search engine on the planet. So, if you want to get found on Google, you need to understand how it works.

First of all, when people search for something on Google and Google delivers results almost instantly, you have to understand that a lot has happened well before that search phrase was entered. Google doesn’t scrape the entire Internet and deliver the most relevant results in a fraction of a second. It has already indexed the entire planet so when that search phrase is entered, Google simply delivers results based on a pre-indexed formula.

Second, Google matches the words in the search phrase based on hundreds of variables but only a handful of variables are the most important.  Also, Google produces results based on the search query of the person doing the search.  So, if you want to get found on Google, one of the first things you need to do is to get inside the head of the person whom you want to find you.

The number one rule for getting found on Google is to identify your target audience. Who do you want to find you?  Then, once you’ve figured that you, you have to find out how to they search? What words do they use?  When it comes to patients seeking dentists, they probably are looking for a dentist that is local and convenient to them. The dentist needs to be near their home, school, or work or somewhere along that route. The dentist needs to perform the services that the patient needs. The dentist needs to take the type of insurance that the patient has. Ideally, the dentist speaks the same language that the patient speaks. This would be the minimum.  So, from a basic search query, it would be something like this:

  • [what kind of] dentist in [city or region]
  • Example, “cosmetic dentist in Washington, DC”
  • dentist in [city or region] that takes [my insurance]
  • Example, “dentist in Foggy Bottom that takes Blue Cross”

Probably, there are a dozen or more variables or variations of this search phrase that matches your practice and reflects the needs of your prospective patients. In addition to that, there might also be gender preferences, cultural preferences, etc., For example, could be that somebody is looking for a female dentist of a certain culture or religion in addition to the other qualities. Anyway, you get the idea.

Once you have your list of search phrases, you need to create a web page or blog post for each and every search phrase. If you have 20 likely search phrases then you need 20 web pages or blog posts. In each web page or blog post, that search phrase needs to appear in the following places:

  • Page URL
  • Page heading
  • Page title

Then, you need a link to that page and the link text or anchor text that links to that page needs to reflect the search phrase.

Pro tip: WordPress is one of the most powerful tools for getting found on Google

Hopefully, your website is powered by WordPress. If so, all you have to do is create a blog post and put the search phrase in the subject line.  Then, write a short piece of content to backup, support, or describe that search phrase.  WordPress will do all the work for you. It will inject the keyword phrases in all the right places: page URL, page heading, page title, and link text.

That’s it. It’s not rocket science or brain surgery. The basics of SEO that existed 20 years ago when I was running photographer.com continue to exist today.  Of course, in highly competitive markets there are a lot more complex or nuanced things you can do to ensure that you have at least one spot on the first page of Google, but you need to do the basics first. Knock these out and then look out for my next post on SEO.

Summary: How to rank on Google:

  • Power your website with WordPress
  • Open your website up to search engines
  • Determine your target audience
  • Discover their likely search phrases
  • Create a page or post for each search phrase

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