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How Will Patients Search for Dentists in 2020?

by Trenton Reed   |   Nov 01, 2019

Throughout the years, we’ve worked with a number of dental clients. And we’ve noticed an emerging, shared predicament that we’ve deemed the new patient dilemma. What’s this problem, you ask? It goes something like this.

Let’s say you need a new dentist. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city or even a new part of town. Or, maybe you’ve switched jobs and your new insurance doesn’t include your old dentist. Regardless, you’re in need of a trustworthy practice, stat.

If possible, you’ll probably turn to friends or family for recommendations. Maybe you’ll receive a glowing review from your coworker named Denise. But even if you trust Denise, you’ll probably want to do your own homework…right? This often means checking a practice’s website before you decide to move forward.

Alternatively, let’s say you can’t get a good referral. Where do you turn? At this point, you rely on what’s at your disposal. Like 77 percent of the population, you probably use search engines to locate a new healthcare provider. You probably even qualify your query with some descriptors. Perhaps you value location. Maybe affordability is your priority. Or, maybe you want your in-office experience to feel like visiting an Apple store.

Regardless of how you first hear about a dental provider, you’re most likely going to end up on the practice’s website. This is the new patient dilemma.

The Dental Marketer’s New Reality

As these scenarios illustrate, the modern consumer has become increasingly dependent on the internet. According to Google Trends, there’s been a 1.5x growth in searches for dentistry keywords in Virginia—Workshop Digital’s home state—between 2011 and 2019. That same population has seen a 5x growth in searches for “dentist near me” since 2016.

With this reliance comes a heightened expectation for a seamless, useful online experience. Patients want to be able to find information at their convenience. Thus, the modern dental marketer faces a new reality. While a majority of prospects are using the internet to find new practices, not all searches are the same.

So, where and how are they looking? Let’s review.

Mobile Search

In 2019, for the first time ever, U.S. consumers will spend more time on their mobile devices than they will watching TV. Prospects demand simplicity, speed, and convenience the first time they interact with your dental practice. Many times, this experience occurs on a smartphone—nearly a quarter of total time spent with media is spent on smartphones. Consumers want control of their searches. And they demand access any time and from any device.

Not only are mobile devices becoming a dominant tool for media consumption, they’re increasingly becoming the vehicle that helps facilitate voice searches. In fact, 20 percent of all searches on mobile are voice-based. What’s more, mobile voice-related searches are three times more likely to have local intent than text-related searches. This is huge.

To reach local audiences, it’s imperative that your website is optimized around mobile.

Responsive design is the gold standard for website design. The system utilizes a single site with one URL that automatically reacts to the size of a user’s device. Responsive design features optimized content and design elements such as readable text and no horizontal scrolling. Basically, responsive sites offer engaging, beautiful experiences. They ensure that your audience is getting the right information about your practice—no matter their device.

Voice Search

We’ve written about voice search in healthcare before. It’d be an understatement to say that the technology is here to stay. Beyond the big-name voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana, voice search has embedded itself into our homes, offices, and cars in more subtle ways. You may use in-car voice search to help you navigate to a morning coffee meeting. Or, you may use Google Home to play a podcast or queue up a Netflix after work.

If the current trajectory of voice search is any indication, the technology will only continue to shift consumer behavior. And your dentist practice must take note.

According to PWC, consumers view voice assistants as a faster, easier alternative for daily tasks. In fact, 57 percent of consumers use these devices to search for something they’d normally type into a search engine each month, while 32 percent say they do the same daily. Similarly, 29 use voice search to ask a quick question every day. Finally, up to 71 percent would rather use a voice assistant to search online, rather than physically type a query into a search engine.

What does voice search mean for your dental practice?

Voice search has its immediate benefits in healthcare. In an industry dominated by convenience, the technology empowers people to find local dental practices using their preferred search method. In 2018, 58 percent of consumers used voice search to locate a local business. But the tools also set expectations for the patient experience, as Google found that 41 percent of people feel like they’re talking directly to a person when performing a voice search.

Ultimately, humanizing search can improve your patient experience. As searches on these devices become more prevalent, it’s important to optimize for voice search success. What does this look like for your dental practice? A recent SEMrush survey analyzed how Google Assistant selects answers and how different devices impact results. They found that nearly 80 percent of answers are from the top three search results and that nearly 70 percent were found within a SERP feature. Finally, pages with faster loading times and readable content performed the best.

Long-Tail, Conversational Searches

We’ve discussed which devices patients are using to find your dental practice. To tie everything together, let’s discuss how they’re searching on their smartphones and voice assistants.

As Search Engine Land claims, there’s an overlap between mobile and voice search. And understanding user intent and navigating its nuances is paramount to reaching the right audience on these devices. Search Engine Land also says that the rise in conversational search is one of the main reasons that voice search is so popular in the first place. In fact, Google reports that 70 percent of Google Assistant queries leverage natural language.

What does this mean? That people are talking to their devices like they would another person. For example, if you’re trying to find a new dentist via a text-based Google search, you may type in “dental practice Richmond.” However, if you’re talking to your smartphone or voice assistant, you may ask “What is the highest rated dentist in Richmond?” It’s these long-tail, conversational queries that are driving voice search. And it’s important to optimize content around questions involving “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.”

Voice search rewards in-depth content that answers specific questions.

As we’ve written before, much like your consumers, search engines are looking for organized, well-written content that serves a specific purpose. Your content must be structured in a way that not only adheres to traditional SEO best practices, but in a way that also caters to the artificial intelligence that’s powering voice search results. The best way to do this by writing content that answers questions in an organic, conversational tone.

As we’ve reviewed in this article, a growing amount of your prospects are using mobile and voice assistants to find dental practices. Incorporating SEO tactics into your healthcare content marketing strategy—including long-tail, mobile-optimized, hyper-local language—increases the chances that you’re discovered by consumers searching for your business. To win at voice searches, it’s important to deliver content that’s both discoverable and readable.

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Trenton Reed