What if Google thinks you’re not the best choice for prospective patients? That’s the message they are sending if you’re not showing up high on the first page of results for a Google search. Why is that? What is Google’s problem with your practice?

The truth is complicated because Google’s decision-making algorithm is complex and constantly changing. But what if there’s a fundamental divide between the fee for service, “high-end” dental practice model and what Google believes a dentist should look like online? We’ll explore that possibility and identify things that a practice can do if they want to test this theory.

In this article:

User Intent Should Matter to Dentists

Google wants to read its users’ minds. When a user searches for anything, Google wants to know the reason they performed that search. If someone types “dental implants”, Google would like to know if that person is looking for a dentist to provide the implants, already has implants and has a question of some sort, or perhaps is a dentist searching for dental implant part suppliers.

Google used to make a lot of mistakes when it came to understanding user intent. Now, with the addition of BERT and other natural language processing capabilities that Google has added to its algorithm, they are better able to assess user intent.

For years, they’ve also been providing feedback to their development team through humans who rate the quality of the results generated by Google’s algorithm. This has led to algorithm updates like the Medic Update that rewarded some types of websites and caused others to struggle.

All of this is aimed at making Google better at understanding what patients want when they search “dentist near me” or “cosmetic dentistry”, etc.

a hand holding up a multi colored brain

What Does A User Want In A Dental Website?

Using data from website usage and Google’s human quality raters, Google has an idea of what the ideal dental practice looks like. It probably has nothing to do with the dentist personally, but rather the way the patient is likely to respond to their practice’s online presence. Their goal is for a prospective patient to do a search, click on a result, and immediately take action, indicating that they found exactly what they needed.

This moment of serving up a dentist for the user is one of many moments that Google wants to participate in with the user. Google has been thinking this way since 2016 at least. This dental search is a minor part of the lifetime value of the user for Google. They want to nail it and move on.

Does your website help Google do that? What do we know about the average consumer?

  • They have a short attention span.
  • They are in a hurry.
  • They are frequently cost-motivated, at least at first.
  • They want a solution to their problem.
  • They want an easy way to assess trustworthiness.

Many dental websites, especially those of niche or “high-end” dental practices don’t focus on addressing these desires. Sometimes, in the name of finding “the right patient”, they intentionally focus instead on:

  • Looking different.
  • Creating ambiance or experience for the user.
  • Introducing doctors, decor, or technology.
  • Communicating a “high-end” or luxury brand.

Unfortunately, because of a hypothetical bias from Google, in trying to achieve an exclusive feel, they may unintentionally make it difficult for even their ideal patient to find them online.

oranges and apples

Theory: What Google Thinks a Dentist Should Look Like

Google seems to have made assumptions about users along the lines of the average consumer characteristics listed above (and probably many others). For example, because they believe that users are in a hurry, they have started rolling out its page experience update in June, which evaluates page load speed as well as other ease of use elements and factors them into how it ranks search engine results.

In recent podcast episodes, Marie Haynes, a thought leader in the SEO community regarding user intent and publisher authority, shared her belief that sometimes user intent means the simplest experience gets the user to take action, and sometimes this behavior conflicts with a business owner’s desire to create a more elaborate experience for the user. She used examples of long-form content with more information being beaten by pages of content that were more to-the-point and actionable.

Where a dentist’s website is concerned, Google’s perception of a prospective patient’s priorities for a website are likely:

    • Is the website fast and easy to use?
    • Where is this dentist located?
    • Does this dentist see patients like me?
    • Can they help me solve my problem?
  • Can I go to this dentist with my current insurance (or afford it without insurance)?
    • Do I like this dentist?
    • Can I trust this dentist? What do other people think?
    • How can I contact the office?
  • Can I take my kids here too?

You can see I bolded two troublemakers here. If Google believes that all its users either have insurance and want to use it (meaning an in-network benefit), then fee-for-service offices may struggle to rank for general dentistry terms. It may be the real reason why Google seems to love DSOs.

So if these patient priorities are believed by Google, then Google’s algorithms may naturally reward dental offices that:

  • Are geographically closest to the user.
  • Seem to be relevant to users who click on their websites.
  • Seem to offer the services users are most interested in.
  • Accept insurance and are in-network with various plans.
  • Will be able to serve the entire family.
  • Are easy to contact.

Because so many people have general dentistry needs, it makes sense that Google would assume they need to find a general dentist who “specializes in” being a general dentist. More patients are searching for “teeth cleaning” than “cosmetic dentistry” (SOURCE: Google Trends).

comparasion between cosmetic dentistry and teeth cleaning in Google trends

For specific niche phrases like “TMJ treatment” or “dental implants”, it will likely still be easier for fee-for-service offices to compete. Whereas Google could be unintentionally filtering out high-end dental offices from “dentist” or “dentist near me” searches by preferring offices that fit the traditional insurance-driven practice.

Many dentists may be okay with the arrangement. It may mean that they deal with fewer calls from prospective patients who would never become patients at their office anyway—if being in-network or a Medicaid provider was a deal-breaker. There are a lot of people searching for these specific dental services.

comparasion between dental implants and teeth cleaning in Google trends

What Can Dentists Do To Appeal to Google’s Biases?

In light of Google’s priority being the user’s experience, Pro Impressions has:

How can you address the question of insurance and help to re-educate patients about the value you bring to their dental care without it sabotaging your ability to talk to the patient in the first place? I’m an advocate of quality dental care. I’m not suggesting that dentists sign up with more insurance programs.

Still, I think we have to do something.

To align your practice with this potential bias toward insurance-driven, family dentist-oriented practices, you might:

  • Highlight any insurances that you are in-network with and emphasize that you will assist patients in filing claims with any dental insurance company.
  • Add a payment options page if you don’t have one.
  • Add CTAs like “No Insurance? No Problem.” to capture people who mistakenly believe that if they have no insurance, that you may not want them as a patient. You might even see an SEO benefit from having “no insurance” on your website.
  • Increase awareness on social media about why dental insurance can lead a patient down a bad path for their oral health.
  • Promote seeing kids (if applicable, even if it’s just teens) on your homepage to make your practice look a little more accessible.
  • Promote preventative care and general dentistry more prominently if you will see a patient “just for a cleaning” with the understanding that a new patient exam is part of your treatment process.

Google Is Not Out To Get You

Sure, Google wants you to spend money on pay-per-click ads, but what they really want is for its users looking for dentistry to like what they find. We must hang with Google until they learn that a quality experience is more important than cheap and fast.

Again, many of the thoughts in this blog post are speculation. No one really knows how Google’s many algorithms work. We are in the realm of artificial intelligence here. What Google “knows” or “believes” about dentists is in flux just like every other aspect of the search engine. We must adapt to stay relevant as we navigate the constantly changing marketing landscape.

If you need to update your website or adapt your marketing strategy, our dental marketing specialists are ready to help! Call us now at (970) 672-1212 or schedule an appointment with one of our dental marketing consultants.