ACA Blog


Sep 26, 2013

Why Counselors Need Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Building a counseling practice (or any private practice) from scratch means that you have to appeal to strangers—your first clients have no idea who you are. They don't know the value of your expertise, your logo or brand. 

They may not even know that your practice is right around the block from them! 

Initially, your practice will run on uncertainty. You're an unknown, but your goal is to take your unfamiliar brand and develop it into an operation that is recognized and trusted within your community.

But how do you get to this point? How do you get strangers to become neighbors?

The reality is that your expertise as a clinician doesn't mean much if people don't know who you are. If no one knows your name, or your practices name, no one is going to be searching for it. Because of this, you have to find a way to capture potential customers’ attention.

You need a website that attracts strangers and turns them into clients.

I've known many counselors who will spend huge sums of money on advertising and promotion that doesn't connect with people. It doesn't work for them because people just don't know who they are and why their practice is special. All attempts to say so are quickly forgotten.

That is why SEO is essential for new counselors and even veterans looking to sustain growth. The process is simple:

1. You've built a website. 

The website needs to attract strangers and turn them into visitors. To turn these visitors into clients, you must ensure that the content of your website captures their attention. The content needs to be optimized.

2. You've attracted visitors to your site, so you now have page views. 

Keep in mind that even though page views don't pay the bills (directly), they are valuable leads. You now have unique people reading your content that is optimized for them. This type of direct promotion is extremely valuable.

3. Your transform leads into customers. 

To do this, you need to provide a way for these people to contact you. They know who you are now and you provide what they are looking for, so a call to action is all that is necessary to get that call that will turn them into a client.

Let's step back for a moment and look at what the direct purpose of your website or blog is. It should intentionally be a platform that invites people to your brick and mortar office. Anything less is probably nothing more than a distraction or even a deterrent.

4. At this point, you have a customer. 

Your next goal is to turn them into influencers. This part is pretty easy if you a great clinician. Provide a great service that will earn their trust so that they will promote your brand to people they know. They are now influencing new clients by referring people to you. Now, you have customers instead of strangers.

Think of it like a funnel. The smaller the funnel, the smaller the amount of visitors there will be that will become customers. This all probably sounds great, but how do you get this process started? The answer is SEO. Optimizing your website.

What is Optimization?

Put simply, optimization is making something as effective and functional as possible. You're essentially setting up your website for success. You do this by optimizing your website for both visitors and search engines.

If you only focus on optimization for visitors by adding tons of images and not much text, for example, then Google won't give it attention. If you only focus on optimizing for Google, however, and neglect creating compelling content, then you won't have visitors coming back for more, and they won't become customers.

How do I optimize for visitors?

Your first step should be to optimize your website in a way that will attract visitors and widen the funnel. Do this by writing articles intended for customers. Make it content that people are honestly looking to read, and if you are a counselor, talk about your solutions to problems that potential customers will find valuable.

Many people are searching for answers to questions they have on Google, such as "how do I deal with depression" and "what are some tips for anger management." If you create content that answers these questions, you've now optimized your website in a way that appeals to visitors, interests them, establishes you as an expert and transforms readers into leads for counseling.

Okay, maybe you have been writing articles and blogging for some time, but you are not seeing results. If this is the case, take a step back and determine who your audience is. Who are they and do they really want to read what you're writing? In marketing, this is referred to as appealing to a target audience or buyer persona. In all honesty, however, you're better off not thinking of them in this way.

Instead, view your audience as a person sitting next to you on the couch.

These are living, breathing, people and it makes no sense to dehumanize them. Honestly evaluate what they are interested in and what problems they really have. What do they want and need?

In fact, it is safe to say you know your audience far better than a marketing professional. You've had real conversations with them, or people like them, and you have a deeper insight into who they are.

Define your audience and speak to them through your writing. You must cater your entire website presence towards who these people are, which includes articles, mission statements, CTA's, calls to action and everything else. Use language that your clients would be comfortable with and optimize your website keeping this in mind.

How do help people find my website online?

Billions of search queries are being input every day in the modern world. Google is where people are going to get answers to all types of questions, and you need to get your practice in front of these relevant people.
Here's a startling statistic: According to Search Engine Watch, up to 80% of people don't even look past the first page of search results. This can be problematic if our website is not ranking.

You need to optimize your website for search engines, and you need to do it now more than ever. To do this, you have to make it easier for search engines to understand your content. Search engines use internet crawlers to read billions of sites, and if your website isn't readable to crawlers, then you're in trouble.

These internet crawlers are gathering data on your site by analyzing what your site is about, how they can index it and whether or not your site serves content to people who are searching for answers to what they are searching for. It's not a simple process.

But here are some goals that are simple. Like I said earlier, your first goal should be to write good content that is appealing to your audience. The next step is to make this content desirable to search engines. You can do this by selecting keywords that your audience is searching for.

As a counselor, your keywords probably include topics such as marriage counseling, career counseling, addiction counseling, etc. Writing articles that include these keywords means that you're a step closer to making the first page of Google.

You have to use the same language that your audience is using. Pick the terms that they are inputting into search engines and they will find you as a result. Think like your audience and go from there.
There are at least 6 different places that should contain your keywords:

1. Page Titles - This is one of the most important. It lets readers know what your page is about and if it contains your keyword, search engines will also find it valuable.

2. Domains – If possible, try to choose a URL (domain name) for your website that describes what you do. For example, if you run a counseling practice in Boston, then you might want to pick a domain name like "BostonCounseling.com." When someone searches in Google for "Boston Counseling," guess who’s likely to show up? 

That said, it might be impossible to get a domain that specific for your practice (it might be in use already, or someone might be selling it for thousands of dollars). When we started in Boston, MA – “BostonCounseling” wasn’t available, and we ended up with www.ThriveBoston.com. The later domain wasn’t as good, but it still included the city, and also included our brand name (which no one had ever heard of at that point). 

Picking a domain is an art and a science. Try and find a domain that is brief, and easy to remember. Tyr to get a “.com” domain as opposed to a “.net” or “.org”. Stay away from using a “.biz”, “.co”, or “.us” domain. (By the way, to see what domains are available, go to “Godaddy.com” and start searching!).

3. Page Headers - When using WordPress, you may notice in your text editor that there different types of headings, such as "Heading 1," "Heading 2," and so on. These are crucial for both readers and search engines.

For users, they show a natural progression of the content that makes your content easier to read. For search engines, they tell crawlers which content is important.

4. Content - Don't make your page titles do all of the keyword work. Put a good amount of keywords in the content of your page, but don't overdo it. Make it easy to read and relevant.

5. Meta Description - When seeing search results, you've no doubt noticed the short descriptions underneath the blue links. These are meta tags, and they are 70 characters that will help users decide whether or not they should click on your link or not. A good meta tag should summarize your article and give users a reason to click.

6. Images - Every image on your site should be labeled with keywords relevant to that image and the page. Keywords in the title and alt tags will help your images show up in Google Searches, which will turn into page views. Just make sure images are labeled accurately.

Make sure the images you use are legal! Some people find images on the web, save them, and then use them on your website. Do this, and you’re likely to get in hot water. Instead, buy quality photos from Photos.com, or find free photos at unsplash.com.

Sum it up:

We've covered a lot in this article, but here is a brief overview to sum up:

1. Define your audience. Before you do anything else, determine this fully and conclusively.
2. Build a website with content that is directed to that audience.
3. Structure the web page elements of your site with keywords to make it visible and appealing to search engines. If you've already written good content, then this should just be a matter of minor tweaking.

I hope you've found this page helpful. We’ve only skimmed the surface for sure. That said, I know some readers will feel overwhelmed by this content, and others will want more details and specifics. If you have questions, email me here and I’ll write another post to answer the questions. By the way, I wrote this article in cooperation with my Director of Marketing, Eli Overbey, and PR Specialist Jon Negroni. 
________________________________________________________________________
Anthony Centore is a Counselor, is Private Practice Consultant for the ACA, and helps counseling practices across the US thrive. For more information on private practice and insurance panels go to http://thriveworks.com

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