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SEO – What is it, what can you do today for your website?

Written By: Elizabeth Doherty Thomas - Jan• 17•11

My little niche is SEO – search engine optimization, specifically for therapists, specifically within that for those who are not techie.  I love helping people learn and grow.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed some odd declarations coming from so-called SEO experts.  It’s bizarre, especially when I have facts to back up my reality and they’re able to spout out stuff that just plain isn’t true.

A big one is that BLOGS are vital and that a regular “static” website will only give you a handful of keywords.  This was from a guy who specializes in SEO and teaches it!  I replied that in fact one of my “static websites” gets over 3,000 unique phrases a month.  He replied, “Are those from your blog?”  No.  I have a sad, neglected blog on that website and even at that, I only get about 300 visitors a month.  You can do the math.  And in fact that blog has been separate from my website and my web visitor numbers didn’t change.  He never replied back.  I’m guessing because he doesn’t himself have a large website, with great links to it, and just has no way to know that he isn’t actually telling the full truth.

Here’s my super-duper-short run down, demystifying everything about search engine optimization (which is the fancy, intimidating phrase that simply means when people type stuff into their search bar, which websites show up…”ranking high” as it is often called.)


The Three Parts to SEO and what you can do today to help your website

It all boils down to: saying stuff, building a reputation, and looking good to humanless robots.  We’ll break these down.

Saying Stuff

As is true in real life, the more someone has to say on a topic they claim expertise on, the more likely we are to believe they are telling the truth.  Google isn’t a human.  Google doesn’t know that you have two Ph.D.’s, studied with the founder of your field, did internships that were more ground-breaking than anyone has ever done as a therapist, and that you’ve written 300 books, etc.  You get what I’m saying here.  YOU know in real life you’re awesome.  But Google doesn’t unless you start waxing poetic on your expertise!

This is where people get trapped into thinking blogs are God.  Blogs, as I’ve written about before, are simply another way to add a website page.  A blog entry represents a blog page.  Just as a new “article” represents a new web page.  Same thing.  My website that gets 3,000 phrases to it is actually a Really Big Website.  And I did a lot of research on what people are asking for on search engines and still do when I can find the time.  As I’ve mentioned before, one big downside to blogs is if your niche expects “current” info, even if it’s illogical because your expertise is timeless, you may lose readers.  I can not have my main website as a blog for engaged couples with basic information dated to 2006.  In a young persons eyes, that’s just irrelevant!

What you can do: Writing for writings sake, especially if it’s not your first love, sucks.  You won’t keep it up, won’t stay motivated, and frankly, writing just to write is not likely going to get you new followers.  You need to really hone in hard core on a niche group and write to them, covering all the nuance of whatever you are an expert with.  The tighter the focus, the better.  Not only will it keep you more motivated because you’ll have a core audience in mind (vs the generic human being), you’ll be actually helping, deeply, a specific type of client who will want to bookmark and keep coming back.

What you MUST DO, even if you do no other writing, is to LIST YOUR LOCATION and SURROUNDING AREAS on every single website page.  Remember, Google is a robot and it’s trying to play matchmaker between people seeking therapy in Schlagapoo, Georgia with therapists in Schlagapoo, Georgia.  If you don’t say you’re from there, Google won’t know to match you. Similarly, Google can’t know that super near to Schlagapoo is Fartfranken, Ooglaboogla, and Goikington.  List those for Google and for your readers to realize you aren’t in their desired suburb, but you are really close by.

 

Reputation Building

OK, in fancy lingo this is called link building.  It relates to page rank, though another big lie is that page rank is God.  You can have a very high page rank and almost no website traffic.  Trust me – I had that exact situation before I learned SEO.  La la la, ok.  In big companies they hire firms who exclusively look for websites that are well ranked and who will give them a link.  Put another way, two national corporations hired a link finding company, who found my website I keep talking about, said WOW, it’s well ranked, it relates to our business, so let’s PAY them for a link to our website.  Every month I get free money for putting a link on my website.  (And yes, we’ve said no to as many companies as we’ve said yes to in order to protect our brand.)

This is where the voodoo magic of blogs comes in.  If you’re the freak therapist who has a blog with tons of traffic and tons of comments (I say freak therapist because I’ve yet to see this on a private practice blog) then you are building a reputation by having all those people comment!  But for my website I have very well regarded websites linking to MY WEBSITE.  Hence, my big main website has the reputation in Google’s eyes, not my blog.  I know three therapists with wildly successful blogs, by the way, who have full practices because of their blogs.  Please note however, their blogs actually have their own website name, own branding separate from the counseling side of their practice, and these blogs are enormously time consuming, require cash outlays for IT and design and become a full force of energy and attention.  Only then, with the therapists driving them hard core, they can get a lot of media attention, social media attention, etc.  But they are NOT blogs inside boring, small private practice counseling websites.

You’ll hear people tell you to set up articles on ezine directories and other places.  This is a bit faulty for two reasons (though I’d never tell you not to if it’s working for you, or if it gives you confidence because someone said you MUST do it.)  The first problem is those directories are not IN YOUR FIELD.  Reputation is granted by people “in the know” who give recommendations.  If your doctor recommends a specialist, you’re going to trust that recommendation and the reputation of that specialist more than if your car mechanic recommended the specialist, as will Google.  The second problem is Google and other algorithms aren’t idiots, and they’re now, from what I’m reading, starting to actually penalize websites for using these types of websites to get links.  They’re slapping people’s hands saying, no!  If you’re really good you must have peers that are saying you’re good.  And it makes sense.  In real life you need testimonials from your core customers, not from your grandma and the local librarian saying “she sure is a swell woman!”  A third issue, in my mind, is you want people to land ON your website when they search for what you are talking about, not on what I consider a brandless, huge messy, ugly directory of a bunch of self-promoting writer types.  Not that I have a strong opinion or anything ;)

What You Can Do: The most organic way to get links is to get to know websites out there in your area of expertise and ask to be a guest writer.  Maybe even pay for an ad as long as you get a real text link (not a link they use that reroutes your link, because then Google doesn’t see the direct link.)  Maybe you could even be a blogger for a large website in your niche area.  The point here is to ask for links, but in a way that doesn’t turn off the website owner.  I hate being asked for links because, well, that’s just gross.  I am protective of my web readers and I’m not going to just sprinkle out links to other websites because you asked me too.  I also have money to make selling products, so why on earth would I link to your book, lose revenue on my site and give you free money?  However, if you give me high quality content that helps my website, well then, yes, you get a link.  (As is the case for numerous people I asked to write for my site!)

 

Looking the Part: OK, so this part is probably the most dull, but it relates to how you organize your website AND if you’re titling every page with great keywords, if you’re creating great page names, and the actual file name itself is descriptive (example: therapistjane.com/how-to-destress-in-a-hospital-stay, vs therapistjane.com/article2

Similarly, you don’t want the navigation of that article to be where Google starts at the homepage, then has to go to a medical section, then an articles section, then a stress section, THEN finds the link to your destress in a hospital stay article.  Google figures if you’re going to bury your article it must not be that important!  The closer to the homepage, the better.  BUT you MUST give great care to your READERS otherwise you have one of those pathetic “I’m writing for the search engines!” website.  If you turn off your reader, it doesn’t matter if you get a lot of free search engine traffic!

 

 

I hope this little educational rant helps!    As always, I have a lot more to say and have an entire 3 hour audio course on this entire subject, A to Z on how to select a website name (thinking through SEO, marketing, branding), on down to figuring out how and what to write, how to organize your website, and how to market the website.) Check out my store.  I also have limited consulting available to be your techie cheerleader, strategist, researcher, and motivator.

Happy Website Enhancing!

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17 Comments

  1. Hi Elizabeth! This post was the ultimate in timeliness as I sit in my home office talking to my husband (the techie one in our relationship) about my blog and increasing SEO. My inbox flashed with the title of this blog entry DURING our conversation! I clicked immediately, obviously!! Anyway, great information that I’ll be able to begin incorporating immediately!

  2. Linda says:

    Thanks for differentiating the balance b/w ranking in Google, incorporating SEO keywords in the blog, and writing and courting your readers.

    Love the point about Google not being human, and could therefore care less how qualified you are in the therapy field. Everyone has to work hard, no matter your background, expertise, or star status in the field.

    Kind of levels the playing field, right? :)

    Great stuff Elizabeth!

  3. Dawn Lennon says:

    Hi! Elizabeth

    Tnanks for all the powerful information. Demystifying SEO is a terrific service and like Linda I love the part about Google being a robot. It’s somehow comforting to have certain things debunked. It’s a crazy world out there, so figuring out how to make it all work for me is nothing short of mind-boggling! ~Dawn

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rich Nicastro, Elizabeth D. Thomas. Elizabeth D. Thomas said: Blog readers loving this one! SEO for therapists: What is it, what can you do today? New blog: http://wp.me/pwUQj-f7 [...]

  5. Miriam says:

    Hey Elizabeth,

    A couple of questions:
    1) Would you mind sharing the successful therapist blogs that you mentioned so I can study and improve?
    2) Are you saying that a blog is good for your website and SEO only if it is current and well written/engaging?
    Thanks!
    Miriam

    • Miriam,

      Great questions. I was realizing a follow up blog was required to call out the rock star blogs. I am Twittering with one of them who is laughing and virtually blushing at me saying she’s so awesome. I’m creating a really awesome “regular bloggers vs rock star bloggers” thing that I’ll post soon! It’s as much a mindset as it is a blogger goal. In fact I’m taking this same mindset and will be launching a therapyish blog with my therapist husband soon in part so I can get on with being a therapist before actually BEING a therapist. Patience….patience..what’s that?

      2) Blogs have “SEO Juice” in part for reasons I stated, but also because Google likes updated websites. That is not to say some highly ranked, fairly static websites (like therapy directories) don’t still kick butt. They do. But ultimately the Robot’s job is to provide good, timely information, and that is more likely to be on blogs that a human is still tweaking and monkeying with. That said, one of the single doofiest things I see people do in the name of “making it appear we update the site all the time” is to have a little javascript that displays today’s date. Really? Google, with it’s billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of Ph.D. level brain cells is well beyond being fooled by that.

      The real point I guess is that most therapy blogs suck. And not being an a-hole, I’d never tell a therapist their blog sucks. But if I think they suck and I’m more apt to ENJOY mental health blather then you know a lot of prospective clients are snoozing at the very sight of these blogs. It all boils down to what? What is your goal? If your goal is clients, then is your goal to be so unbelievably witty they want you as their celebrity rock star therapist? Or is it something else? To sell your info-crap? There are a LOT of possible goals, and a lot, I’m afraid, of misguided therapists being told a lot of misguided things by marketers.

      Watch for more answers soon! ;)

  6. Thanks Elizabeth, Right to the point.
    One question: When you say to put location on every page, do you also mean every post on a blog, or is it okay that location is mentioned on the sidebar?
    Another question: How do I get people to write comments? Let me explain; my friend, a psychologist visiting from Denmark, hesitated when I asked her to write a comment – just any thought. I think many readers hesitate because couples issues are seen as private. What are your thoughts?
    Sincerely Irene

    • Irene,

      1 – BLOGS you can do the sidebar, because ultimately a blog page is really whatever you wrote that day, plus all the “static” stuff that is on the top and side. It would be weird to the reader to put your location in every blog. (And the golden rule of SEO is if the reader thinks it’s weird, don’t do it. You’re ultimately trying to please the reader, not the Robots.)

      2 – Blog comments can be very hard so let me give it to you straight. VERY few therapists will ever get blog comments. End of story. Some huge bloggers with 30,000 readers a month actually have turned OFF their comments – for the opposite problem you have of no comments. These blogs can get 200 comments for every blog and it becomes a giant mess of ridiculous self-promotion and trolls trying to cause problems.

      Blog comments are one of the many reasons I am not a rah-rah cheerleader for blogs! Few people want to comment on a mental health blog so you’re basically left talking to yourself. If you’re talking to yourself, I’d rather that information go in really well organized spots on your actual website, where real clients who find you from therapy directories or Google ads will actually READ these bits of awesomeness you right. It would be fascinating for you to look at your website traffic and then see how many click over to your blog. I’m guessing not a ton.

      Therapy is a different animal and unfortunately blogs are wildly popular in worlds were you want ongoing customers, because ongoing customers means revenue! Therapy is at its heart a deeply personal internal journey in the privacy of a therapists office. Once “healed” or “fixed” or otherwise having met their needs, most people are not that inherent interested in mental health that they are likely to keep reading most therapy blogs. They are busy enough living their lives.

      Ironically the people who do the best at mental health topics are NOT therapists, are NOT experts, are NOT burdened by the care to which it appears they are “giving advice.” The most popular folks out there are zippy, playful, psychobabbly personalities who aren’t trained and bogged down by actually finding clients. They are also part of HUGE websites with millions of followers and tend to cover every topic from cosmetics, beauty, fashion, health, home, parenting, etc. Though these rock star therapy bloggers do a fantastic job, which is why I consider them rare rock stars. :)

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I have to think about what you said. I put A LOT of energy into my blog. I love it, so that’s easy, but I don’t want to waste my time. Perhaps testimonials instead of comments. And what do you think about giving readers the option of writing emails?

  7. Katie Goode says:

    Great post Elizabeth. I’ve been working a lot on my SEO, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by google’s mysterious algorithms. It really helps to have it spelled out.

    When I first started my site I listed it in every directory I could find… Such a waste of time. Most of those directories don’t even show up as backlinks even if google did count them:)

  8. Tammy says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Like everyone else, I’m working on SEO, too! I know just enough to keep up with a conversation, but when it comes to the actual words to select for tags and things…this appears to be a major deficeit area for me! Thanks for clearing up some of the “Greek” (and more importantly the fear) that had been surrounding SEO!

  9. Tamera says:

    Proud to announce I launched my very first website a few hours ago! Did it all myself and, phew, for someone my age, that IS an accomplishment if I say so myself. Because of your great blog I included a location line at the top of each page! Thanks for the suggestion and hope it helps with my SEO!

  10. Hi Elizabeth!
    Thanks for the SEO training! Interesting!
    I also appreciated your comments about therapy blogs…that they don’t get comments as they are snooze material. Very cool insight. I also have the same thoughts & feelings about therapists’ competition being self-help & coaches. It is sad that people are turning to people and methods that do not have the same depth of impact that a therapeutic relationship has. And that the popular media is coated with coaching work, which is not at the same depth as therapeutic work. Coaching is not therapy. I feel like our profession is being dissed from all sides. The media, the insurance companies!

    • Kathy, Yes I have the same concerns. That is why I plan to separate the two branches of my business. The practice doing therapy in my office, and the internet coaching business. My blog relationship counseling has to change name. So far I use it as a marketing tool and for clients to read.

  11. Elizabeth, thanks for sharing your expertise. These are concerns I’m now looking into with a new website and redesigned blog. I too have wondered about the comments on blogs and fan page. Appreciate your wisdom.