As a privately practicing therapist, you’ve likely heard the letters “S,” “E,” and “O” floating around. You may have also heard that they’re pretty important… but you likely don’t know what they can do for your private practice (or maybe what they stand for).
Hi, I’m Kristie Plantinga, and I’m the founder of TherapieSEO. I teach SEO for therapists and coaches, and today, I’m going to teach you!
SEO 101: What Is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for “search engine optimization.” Search engine optimization is the process of getting your website to rank better on Google for keywords like “therapist” or “counseling near me.”
Ranking on Google is like ranking on Psychology Today.
When you rank on Google, you stay there. The Psychology Today algorithm is random, which means you have 0 control over the ranking process. That means if you’re on page one of Psychology Today right now, you could be arbitrarily shuffled off onto page 22 later today.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to put the well-being of my business into the hands of a random process.
Enter SEO—a non-random marketing process that doesn’t require any directory listings (or social media for that matter).
How Google works
When we enter a search term into Google (in the SEO biz, we call these keywords), we expect certain results. This is referred to as search intent. For example, when I enter the keyword “chocolate chip cookie” into Google, I’m looking for a recipe, not the culinary history of chocolate chip cookies. A recipe is my search intent.
Through machine learning, Google has gotten better and better at understanding what we want when we enter a keyword into Google. In fact, it’s Google’s #1 priority that they get this concept of “search intent” right. The more our search intent is satisfied (i.e., my search for a chocolate chip cookie recipe), the longer I stay on Google’s platform. The more I stay on Google’s platform, the more money that Google makes through advertisements.
Google has gotten so good at giving us the information that we want that Bing accounts for less than 7% of global searches compared to Google’s 86%.
Matching search intent is one thing, but Google’s ultimate goal is to deliver us the best possible web page for that keyword. In our example, that would be the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.
THAT is where SEO comes in. With SEO, we can show Google that we’re the best website to rank for a given keyword, like “depression therapist in Austin.”
Here’s how to do it.
How you can rank on Google
So how do we prove to Google that our website is the best choice to rank for a certain keyword?
The Google algorithm is made up of hundreds of ranking factors, or things that Google takes into account when deciding who should rank in spot #1, spot #2, spot #3, etc.
When doing SEO, we’re optimizing our website for these ranking factors. Although I don’t have time to get into all of these ranking factors (and SEO specialists like myself are only confident in less than 100 of them), they generally fall into the following categories:
- Technical performance
I’ll give you my tops tips for each of these categories so you can start rising the ranks!
In theory, your content should be the best content out there for the keyword you want to rank for.
The “best” content seems subjective, but to Google, it’s not. In Google’s eyes, great content has the following qualities:
- Comprehensive. When we talk about the show Friends, we have to mention Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, Ross, and Phoebe. Our content would be even more comprehensive if we mentioned supporting characters and specific moments in episodes.
- Well-written. This probably seems subjective too, but “well-written” to Google really means can people easily read this? On the internet, your content should be written at a 6th- to 8th-grade reading level. That means short sentences, short paragraphs, and simple words (nothing too advanced or jargony). People don’t read on the internet, they scan. So use lots of headings while you’re at it!
- Unique. Write as the unique subject matter expert you are! Google likes to rank content they can tell is from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
- Enriched. Link to sources. Insert quotes from other experts. Embed videos. All of these things increase the quality of your content.
- And don’t forget, match search intent. Write specifically for the query with the goal of completely satisfying the user’s search intent.
If you’re looking for copywriting tips, I highly recommend checking out this guide from Backlinko on copywriting.
On the internet, anyone can be what they want to be. I could make a website today and advertise that I’m a mathematical genius living in the Amazon. Anyone who knows me knows that a) I’m terrible at math and b) nature scares me. But I could say that about myself online!
Google knows that we all have the ability to mislead and lie online. That’s why when we do SEO, we need to build a relationship with Google and earn their trust.
Building trust with Google is even more important when it comes to life-changing hiring decisions. Google has a lot of responsibility to rank websites that are run by legitimate experts for people seeking to hire someone as important as a therapist. And that’s where backlinks can help.
Backlinks, or links from another website back to yours, aren’t the only way to build trust with Google. High-quality content can do that too. But backlinks are the most efficient way for Google to infer that information.
You can think of links like referrals or testimonials. Another website in good standing with Google mentions and links to you. To Google, that is a direct source of social proof.
To get backlinks, put yourself out there. Offer to write a blog on someone else’s website. Get on a podcast. Get featured in an article. Most of these opportunities can get you a link!
To compete on Google, your website has to be in good technical shape.
That means your website should be…
- Fast. If your site loads slowly, users will have a bad experience on your site and leave.
- Mobile-friendly. Your site should great on your phone. About 50% (or more) of your website traffic will come via mobile, and Google can tell if it doesn’t look good.
- No broken pages. We’ve all landed on the dreaded “404” page. Fix these ASAP.
- User-friendly. Ideally, your site looks great, but at minimum, it should be easy to navigate and read.
Typically, therapist websites are small, so there are fewer technical considerations. But you should be able to answer “yes!” to all of the items above.
Grow your practice with Google
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to doing SEO. But this theoretical foundation is all you need to get started!
If you’d like more SEO tips, feel free to follow me on Instagram and sign up for my email list (claim your free SEO Starter Pack!). Thanks for having me, Heard.
This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post.
Kristie Plantinga is the founder of TherapieSEO, where she has helped hundreds of therapists climb the ranks of Google. When she's not helping her clients, Kristie can be found cooking with her fiancé and snuggling her terrier Winston.