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).
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.