THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. Which search engines can access your website
2. How you get more customers to your site, and get them to spend more time there
3. What copyright issues arise from sharing on social media or elsewhere online
We recently surveyed a lot of practice managers and practice owners about the challenges they faced in their practice marketing. We received an enormous range of responses. One of the questions we asked was: What’s the question YOU would most like to have answered about using your website to market your practice?
Some questions kept popping up again and again (in slightly different forms). So we thought we’d start answering the more popular ones…
Q: Which search engines can access my practice website?
A: All search engines can see your website—but that doesn’t mean all of them will pay attention to it. If you want your site to feature in search engine results, it’s best practice to tell search engines you exist, and to send them a ‘map’ of your site, and invite them to index it.
Take a step backwards—if your website is up on the world wide web, anyone with access to the internet can see it. You can lock people out of your site by putting it behind a paywall, or by making it necessary to enter a password to get access to it. And as soon as you do that, you also lock out search engines.
The major English-language search engines are Google and Bing (Yahoo uses Bing as its search engine). But Google is by far the market leader. A lot of people assume that when you go to Google and type in a search query that you are searching the actual worldwide web. You’re not. The web is changing and growing too quickly for that. What’s really happening is you are just searching an index of the web that is held on their computers.
To make that index, search engines use software they call ‘crawlers’, which gather information about websites that they can ‘read’ from the HTML code. Because where you see a nicely designed, pretty-looking web page, a crawler sees a blank page of code with information on it. Some of that information is stuff you and I see—the words, for example—and some is just lines of data which are instructions on how the page is to display.
Search engines can’t access any non-public part of your website. Some people fear that if crawlers can access your site, they can access other sensitive information on your computers. But that isn’t the case.
For those crawlers to find your website, they need to either visit it through your invitation, or find you via a link from another site. If you never ‘invite’ the crawlers by submitting a site map, and no other site links to yours, the crawlers will find it very difficult to find you. If they never find you, they’ll never index you—and you won’t appear in search engine results page.
To find out how search engines see you, read this article on how and why to get indexed by Google. If you make it easy for them to index you, it’s the start of a process that can lead to successful digital marketing.
Q: How do I get more customers through my website and online marketing?
A: The short answer is: by using your website to get people to know, like and trust you. Once someone knows, likes and trusts you, they are more likely to do business with you than with one of your competitors they don’t know, like or trust.
Online marketing works differently to advertisements in the old days (10 years ago). Back then, you would buy an advertisement and use it to interrupt people when they were doing something else—like reading their local paper, or listening to the radio. You bought ads from companies that could give you access to an audience who may or may not be interested in what you had to say.
But you’re not interrupting anyone on the web. If someone is looking at your website, they either want to know information that they think you know, or they want to do business with you.
So rather than thinking of online as a place to advertise to customers, try thinking of it as a place to educate people who might want to do business with you in the future. Approaching your online activity as education has a couple of benefits for you and them—it makes you focus on building a relationship rather than just chasing a sale, and it lets them appreciate how much you know. Because you know a lot.
Every business is different, so I won’t tell you you’ll get a particular number of customers as a direct result of educating your clients. But I would encourage you to track where people are coming from and whether they become a customer (and when they become one). That gives you some data which will help you work out how likely someone is to become a customer if they’ve found you online.
Q: How do I get my future potential patients to spend more time on my site?
A: You have to give them a reason to spend time there. Just spelling out lists of treatments, or giving them your contact details, aren’t enough to keep people hanging around. Educating them on a topic that interests them is a way to get them there. You can read how to find out what people are interested in in this article. But once you’ve written your article, you’ll run across one of the problems writers have been facing for years—how to finish it.
Copywriters—those who write advertisements—have no such problem. They always finish on a call-to-action, which is a sentence (or paragraph) telling readers what you would like them to do next. If your call-to-action is asking people to buy something, you will lose a percentage of readers who just aren’t ready to buy yet.
But if your call-to-action is suggesting other articles on your site which are related to the topic, you give them a reason to hang around. The more of your articles someone likes, the more likely they are to become a future patient.
Q: What copyright issues may arise from “sharing” or linking information from other social media sites and websites?
A: In Australia, every creative work that you come across is automatically protected by copyright. That includes blog content, videos, and anything else you might create and upload to a website. The copyright protection doesn’t cover the ideas behind the content—just the way it’s expressed. As a rule, you’ll know if someone thinks you’ve breached their copyright, because they will email you and ask you to stop. If someone does that, it’s best to take the offending content off your site or feed immediately.
If that content is on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn or some form of social media, the terms and conditions of those sites over-ride those protections. Once you sign up to the sites, you sign away your copyright to whatever you write on those sites to the site owner (Facebook or whoever else).
Social media sites encourage you to share content within their sites, so they are never going to complain about sharing or linking within their boundaries. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind social media.
If you link from outside Facebook or Twitter and someone clicks on the link, they will be told they have to either sign-up or sign in to the social media site to see the content. Either way, copyright doesn’t become an issue because you’re ‘inside’ the social site’s world.
If you’re sharing the content on your own website, it depends on how much you’re sharing, and whether you’re copying the words used in the original article. As a guide—copying an article word-for-word and posting it as your own is a clear breach of copyright. Summarising an article, and including a link to the original you’re discussing, is not. Some people will tell you if you use less than 50 words, or some similar calculation, that it’s ‘fair use’ and not a copyright issue. That’s not the case in Australia. In any case, if you’re counting words to figure out how close you can come to breaking the law, you’re taking the wrong approach.
As a guide, if you are going to link to or share someone’s content it’s good manners to ask if you can. Most often, they will email back saying ‘go for it’, or maybe asking for a link back to the original (which you should provide, as it’s good manners). If they don’t respond to your request, fine, at least you can say you emailed and asked. But if you are going to reshare it, or link to it, try and add some value to it. Even if that’s linking to a few other articles with a similar theme. That’s not only good for your search engine rankings. Most importantly, it’s good for readers.
What to do next?
If any of this is unclear, please feel free to leave a comment. I do read them and comment back, and I’m more than happy to discuss it with you.
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