Search engines, like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, are designed to accomplish one thing: given a search query, they want to connect the user with the website of highest value. One question that naturally follows is: how do search engines judge the quality of a website? One method is by author reputation. When a website has an excellent online reputation, search engines will assume that it is an authority in its subject and they will send users in that direction. One major route Google and other search engines take to gauge a website’s reputation is to use social media to assess how useful your content has been to your network of followers. Today, we’d like to delve a little deeper into how reputation works and what you can do to become an authority figure in your local search results.
Search engines want to know what the best websites are in each subject area, but judging the quality of a site isn’t easy. There is neither the time nor the money for internet companies to employ an army of experts to scour the internet looking for websites, reading and grading them. Instead, they use proxy variables that help them compute a web page’s value.
It used to be that being ranked on the first page of Google was as easy as stuffing your content with select keywords. The search engine algorithm would pick up on the keywords and use them to figure out whether the site was relevant to the user’s search query. As it turned out, keyword density was not a good signal for website quality on its own. Very poor content could rank higher than superior content, based on keyword density alone. As a result, search engines have evolved and their algorithms have become much more complicated. They’ve even begun to penalize the overuse of key terms, a technique known as “keyword stuffing.”
Using a much more complicated algorithm, search engines began to measure websites’ reputations by looking for signals of authority. One such signal is the backlink, which is an outside link to your website. They can, for example, originate from another website which linked to your own. The number of inbound links can be a good measure of how useful your content is to others, although not all backlinks are made equal. If you’re a dentist, clearly a link to your website from another dentist should be worth more than a link from a shoe company. Search engines can actually figure out what the quality of the backlink is and will weigh each one based on this perceived value. (And yes, backlinks can also be rated as having negative quality.)
As the algorithms evolve so do the sources of data they use to assess the reputation of a website. Namely, as social networks grow, their importance in determining your online reputation will increase as well. Google, for example, can analyze your Google+ account to figure out whether other experts form part of your network and whether the members of your network are reading and valuing your content. Your broad social presence is becoming progressively more important in determining your site’s search rank, so the time to start building that presence is now.
Interact With Your Patients and Fellow Experts
Suppose that you write a blog post on dental implants and you share this post on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. Every retweet, every +1, and every “like” and “share” is analogous to a vote placed in favor of the shared content. That someone took the time to recommend your link to other people in their own social networks is a strong indicator of your website’s value. If the content is good enough, people outside of your network — your followers’ followers, for instance — may also recommend it, boosting that post’s status even more. Search engines will pick up on these signals and use them to gauge your reputation. That’s why a strong online presence is becoming absolutely essential for optimizing your website.
In the case of your medical practice, the purpose of your website is to inform your patients on the various treatments offered at your office. So why not interact with the patients? Build your social network by inviting patients to “like” your page on Facebook or add your Google+ account into one of their circles. Not only can you use these platforms to link your patients directly to new content on your website, your patients can also use them to leave feedback and to rate your business. Since prospective patients are the most likely web users to search Google or Bing for terms related to your practice, it makes sense to allow your current patients to vet your authority by leaving reviews and by sharing content they found informative and enjoyable.
It’s also important to network with other experts in your field. Not all “likes,” shares, and +1s are of equal value. If you’re a dentist, having your content approved of and referred to by another top dentist carries much more weight than being referred to by a non-expert. A good search engine optimization campaign should therefore work towards expanding your circle of followers to include local patients and other authorities in your profession.
Become the Authority in Your Market
Now Media Group specializes in connecting your business with future patients, but accomplishing this requires a multi-dimensional approach to search engine optimization. We don’t only build websites; Now Media develops comprehensive marketing strategies that tackle all of the various factors that determine your reputation as an authority in your field. Contact us to learn more about how we can ensure that your relationships with your patients extend beyond the office and into the virtual world.
Director of Marketing at Now Media Group, with a background in quantitative economics and analytics. Formerly at [Tony] Robbins Research International.