Naomi: There are four main rules to remember when it comes to search engine optimization vendors.
1) Leave it to professionals.
If you spent all day, every day, learning about search engine optimization, you still wouldn’t be able to stay on top of “what works”. Search engines make their decisions based on constantly changing, complex algorithms; they’re like secret recipes that change every day. What that means for you is that the day after a website posts an article about how to better “optimize” (aka game the system), the search engines change something else in their algorithm to make that insight less relevant. And by the time you read that insight in a book, it’s ancient history. So first off, it’s best to leave SEO to companies that employ experts to do this full-time rather than attempting it yourself. Secondly, in my experience, your local yellow pages rep and your second cousin don’t count as SEO experts. Instead, consider companies that have a track record in successfully assisting dental professionals and who can provide references to that effect.
2) Don’t sign long-term contracts or pay large sums up front.
Search engine optimization (SEO), like most marketing efforts, is best looked at as a process, not an event. That means that SEO is something that must be worked on consistently over time, so don’t trust anyone who tells you they can “fix” your page ranking permanently for a one-time, up-front fee. I know dentists who have made the mistake of paying as much as $20,000 in advance for a year’s worth of SEO. Think about that. When you’re buying an ongoing service, what incentive does a vendor have to continue to work hard when they’ve been paid in full in advance, or when you’re tied into an iron-clad two- or three-year agreement? Instead, hire a vendor who promises to continue to optimize your site on a regular basis and who is incented to do so by the prospect of continuing to earn your business. SEO does have a cumulative effect, as it takes time for search engines’ programs, known as “spiders”, to find your website and any newly optimized content. A six-month or one-year agreement should give your vendor enough time for their work to take effect while leaving you with the leverage to be able to move on – if they don’t deliver.
3) Prices vary widely based on geography and the competitive environment.
I’ve observed that as a general rule, the cost of SEO is directly correlated with the fair market rental rate (per square foot) for your office space. Is your practice in an upscale California suburb or a prime neighborhood in Manhattan? SEO is going to be expensive. For small town dentists, it’s much cheaper. If you have lots of competition, or group practices driving up the rents in your area, that will probably drive up the cost to compete for eyeballs online via SEO as well. For my clients in smaller communities, $100-$300 per month may be more than enough to stay at the top of the heap. For clients in more densely populated cities or high-rent districts, monthly SEO expenses can be in the thousands.
4) Have reasonable expectations.
SEO is a constantly evolving art, not an exact science. Because search engines’ algorithms are well-guarded and constantly changing secret recipes, even the very best SEO specialists are essentially making highly educated guesses about what will help your placement. Nobody can legitimately promise you the top spot in natural search results, and nobody can guarantee that you’ll keep that page ranking once you’ve gotten there. Better to hire a company that promises to improve your placement incrementally than someone selling a panacea.
Naomi Cooper is President of Minoa Marketing, a dental marketing and social media consultancy based in Los Angeles, CA and serves as Chief Marketing Consultant for Pride Institute. She has over fifteen years of marketing experience – and a ten-year track record of enabling dental practices and dental companies to achieve their marketing goals. Naomi is also a published author, a sought-after speaker and an industry opinion leader. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.