Patient Search Patterns & The COVID Pandemic
Nathan Giblett

Here at GDW, our SEO team is consistently monitoring Google search trends and patterns. Search behavior tells us exactly what your potential patients are looking for, and when they are looking for it. This allows us to avoid guesswork in your SEO campaign, and to use your practice’s website to answer relevant search queries in a helpful and factual manner.

2020 brought us an international pandemic and a slew of Google algorithm updates. As you would expect, these changes have had major impacts on search behavior. Proactively adjusting our SEO efforts to match these changes has been vital to the ongoing success of our client SEO campaigns. 

Answering the Right Questions

By now, most dental practices in the United States are thankfully reopened for business, but current search trends indicate that many patients are looking for further reassurance about practice safety and sanitation before they schedule an appointment. In the past few months, search queries like “Is it safe to go to the dentist?” and “Should I go to the dentist?” have reached all time highs: 

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Search interest for “is it safe to go to the dentist in 2019 and 2020. A score of 100 indicates peak popularity for the search term during that time period.  

The good news is that trending search terms like these present new opportunities for our client SEO campaigns. Optimizing SEO efforts to target phrase based questions like these is an excellent way to reassure your patients that you are aware of their concerns, and are being proactive about their safety. Many of our SEO clients have had dedicated pages created to answer their patient’s concerns in detail. Updating your content strategy like this may give your practice an edge over others who provide little to no information about their safety procedures. We also use Google posts, blogs, and FAQs to gain visibility for these keywords and to keep your patients updated. 

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Communicating Your Hours and Information

In light of the pandemic, many practices have permanently or temporarily changed their working hours. These changes can create confusion for patients about whether their local practice is fully operational at this time. In 2020, searches for “Are dentists open?” and “open dentist near me” are both up dramatically compared to prior years. In July specifically, searches for “open dentist” and “open dentist near me”  were up 12% and 51% respectively. In that same time frame, the number of results displayed on the SERP for “open dentist” have almost doubled. An increase in SERP results like this usually indicates an increase in keyword competition between your practice and others in your local area. 

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To rank for these emerging search terms, our team has been emphasizing several technical strategies. Over the last few months, we have begun utilizing a new listing management process that keeps your business information updated and consistent across all of your listings, and major citations like Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp. NAP consistency is a direct ranking factor for Google and it becomes increasingly important as many businesses continue to update their hours. Your updated hours and business info can also be added to title tags and alt-text to further increase your visibility for these types of searches. 

For patients searching for your business hours, it is essential to communicate effectively and conveniently. The schema update that we rolled out to all client SEO campaigns in May of 2020 has a slew of positive effects for your rankings, such as communicating your business hours directly to search engines, so that your updates show up right on the SERP. Several studies have also pointed out that websites with Schema markup will see significantly higher click through rates than those without it. Continuing to evolve and improve your Schema markup is an instrumental step in staying relevant to these new search patterns. 

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“Near me” Searches and Local SEO

Also during July, national search volume for “teeth whitening” was up 21% compared to the previous year. In that same period of time, searches for “teeth whitening near me” went up an astounding 83%! In fact, search volume for “near me” queries like “dental implants near me” (+50%), “dentist near me” (+46%), and “teeth cleaning near me” (+22%) have all had notable increases this year. This rise of “Near me” searches is nothing new, but the rate of increase is. Over the past few years Google has released several data points that highlight how consumers are increasingly searching in this way and the growth is showing no signs of stopping.

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As Google gets better at showing relevant results based on the searchers location, “near me” searches become increasingly convenient for the user. These keywords are particularly valuable because they show a patient’s intention to purchase a given service. Over the past several months, our SEO team has placed additional emphasis on researching and ranking for multiple variations of the “near me” keywords. Our Schema markup update has enormous effects on these local rankings. We also increased focus on Google My Business optimizations at the service and product level, and expanded our backlink outreach for individual campaigns. A strong and relevant backlink profile will show Google exactly how your business fits into your local community, and it will help to boost the “authority” of your website.

If you have any other questions, or would like to learn more about our changing optimization strategies, please schedule a chat with your Marketing Coach and we would be happy to go over this with you. 

Nathan Giblett
Nathan grew up in Boulder, Colorado and attended Fort Lewis College where he majored in marketing. When he is not working, Nathan can be found skateboarding, snowboarding, and playing Settlers of Catan with his friends.

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