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Google's Penguin Algorithm Change May Be Killing Your Search Engine Ranking

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated penguin sitting in the snowThere's a definite undercurrent of panic in the phone calls we've been getting recently about Google search results…or more often, the results that have disappeared. If you haven't checked your Google Search results ranking in the past few days, do it now.

Take a minute and do a few Google searches just as the regular public might search to find your website online. (Better than 90 percent of online traffic comes to your site via search engines, and Google is far-and-away the biggest of the bunch.) Search using your best keywords in common language vernacular of a prospective patient. (We'll wait.)

In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world, a first page ranking is premium—and often hard-earned—real estate. And if your site has recently taken a nosedive in ranking, the guilty party is Penguin. The search algorithm that is, not the cuddly wildlife.

Some hospital and healthcare marketing websites will be unchanged. But for many others, the near-panicky concern is understandable. Well-established sites that typically appear on the first page of Google results have seemingly disappeared, dropped significantly in ranking, or in some instances have been "banned" by Google. Perhaps a competitor—or a completely oddball site—now appears at the top of the results list.

One of our Healthcare Success SEO experts, Jayme Westervelt, explains, "Last month, Google instituted over 50 changes to their search algorithm, named Penguin. The purpose of these changes is to produce more accurate search results to discourage sites that are unfairly "over optimized."

If you consider the math that's involved for Google to adjudicate 34,000 searches per second, the concept of producing more meaningful and correct search results is mind-boggling. In time, Google searches will produce "more high quality sites."

In the near term, however, many small business sites have lost their established footing. Medical practices, healthcare organizations, individual and group practitioners and hospitals need to determine if—or to what extent—Penguin updates have impacted them.

10 Quick Tips from an SEO Expert

Google provides a ton of information about how making your website "search engine friendly." It's good stuff, but most of it is highly technical, complicated and overwhelming. That said, Westervelt advises "Staying within the Google 'rules' is often a matter of common sense. Most website owners want to achieve a high listing without resorting to so-called 'black hat' techniques that Google considers unfair or inappropriate.

"With insightful planning and experienced technical support, a quality website will be recognized through Google's algorithm." Here are some general tips for healthcare marketing websites:

  • Use the free Google Analytics. Google provides a useful toolbox of measurements for a site owner to see and understand important metrics via an easy-to-read dashboard. This—or similar professional tools—remove guesswork about daily visitors, types of traffic, originating sources, time on site, page view counts and more.
  • Identify and use the keywords of your audience. Prospective patients don't always know or search using medical terms. ("Otolaryngologist" vs. "ear ache," for example.) Think about the words that a layman would use to do a Google search. In fact, one of the most accurate means to develop a list of search terms, over time, is to ask patients.
  • Design for search engines as well as for humans. An effective website will be built for two distinctly different types of visitors…humans and non-human search engines. A classic SEO mistake is to design what looks good; for people visitors who can see images, graphics, colors, etc. Search engines are blind, deaf and dumb in this respect; they only recognize words on a page. It's a delicate balance to create for these two equally important audiences.
  • Communicate the essential three W's. The primary information of WHO you are, WHAT you do, and WHERE you're located needs to be obvious to the visitor and to the search engines.
  • Think local. It's vital to claim your local listing with Google. A national reputation is compelling and important, but knowing that you are located nearby or have a local service area is significant in search engine terms.
  • Regularly add fresh and high quality content. Google assigns greater SEO weight to new and relevant material on a website. Google provides guidelines regarding what it considers to be quality content practices. (Including a number of things not to do.)
  • Links are not of equal value. The various kinds of links (and the number of links) to and from a website and internally have greater or lesser value in SEO terms. For example, an incoming link to your site from what Google considers a "quality" site (let's say WebMD) carries more weight than from a "poor quality" site (an generic site).
  • "Stickiness" signals quality. If visitors leave your site almost immediately, Google may regard quick departures as a sign of poor quality content. Information that is "sticky" keeps visitors interested and engaged with your online material.
  • Using too many keywords can be an SEO handicap. Over using keywords—either intentionally or unintentionally—can be seen as "stuffing" and a sign of poor quality content that Google wants to avoid. Unfortunately, it's difficult to know exactly what the algorithm considers a proper keyword density. Begin with what's natural and appropriate to the topic.
  • Proofing (or the lack of it) counts. A certain sign of quality can be spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Nobody's perfect, but too many errors in the use of the language may carry an SEO penalty.

And finally, SEO is not DIY. Search Engine Optimization is a professional specialty. You can talk with us or any number of well-qualified SEO resources, but don't fail to get outside help. Changes that you make today can take time—from weeks to months—to influence your rank with Google. But, since Google searches dominate as a primary source of site visitors, optimization—done properly—will make a significant difference in business and your bottom line.

Read more: There's additional SEO information in our previous article in this series.

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