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It’s time to take your Google presence a lot more seriously …

by
01 May 2015, at 12:00am

PAUL GREEN reports on recent changes made by the internet giant which can affect how your website is rated on computers and phones and the action needed to ensure pride of place in searches

THE last few months have been tough for any independent practices trying to promote themselves through “search”.

And that’s because Google has been making another series of changes. This time, the changes have directly affected veterinary practices in the UK.

The first was at Christmas time, when it rolled out a change to its algorithm. That’s the computer logic that determines what results you see when you do a Google search.

Previous updates – named Hummingbird, Panda and Penguin – were aimed at rewarding websites that created better original content, and penalising those that were using link farms (websites that served no purpose other than linking to other websites).

This latest update – nicknamed the Pigeon update – was aimed at the search results page that’s most likely to affect you. It’s the local business results page with the map that comes up when someone types in “vets yourtown”.

At the time, Google said the update was “aimed at providing more useful relevant and accurate local search results”.

That meant providing searchers with more results relevant to them. So your location and the distance from the searcher would be taken into account, along with dozens of other factors.

Don’t forget that Google knows where most of its searches are happening. When you connect to wi-fi, the location is sent to Google. And any search on a mobile phone typically triggers the GPS service (unless you have disabled it, of course). This is why you can just type “vets” into Google and most of the time it will show the practice closest to you.

Some of our clients really suffered in this update – one dropping off the first page of search results altogether for a few weeks. Some saw their listing move up the search results, which was a nice bonus.

And then, on 21st April, Google made another major change, which affected practices.

This time, it was all about mobile. If your website is not mobile-friendly, then it no longer appears as high when people use their mobile phone to search for a vet in their area.

Put another way, Google wanted to make sure that when someone searched for something on their mobile, the websites they clicked on looked great.

It’s likely that around a third of your traffic comes from mobile devices. Your Google Analytics will give you an accurate figure.

If your website is already mobile optimised, then you can relax. Do check it in your mobile to be sure. If your website has to be pinched and zoomed to be viewed properly, then you have a problem. And you need to fix it quickly. You have three options open to you:

  1. Talk to your original web designer and see what they can do. Don’t be surprised if they um and err a lot ... depending on the technology used to build your site, it can be quite hard to retrospectively optimise it for modern mobile access.
  2. Use a third party service to create a mobile version of your site. I’ve heard that www.dudamobile.co.uk is easy to use, although I have no personal experience of it.
  3. Get a new website built, and make sure it is responsive. This means the web pages re-arrange themselves automatically to look great, no matter what size screen they are on.

Google is in a constant state of change, and it is unlikely to take its foot off the accelerator any time in the near future.

The company is walking a fine line between giving searchers the best possible experience – and increasing its own revenues. One change it made last year to the way pay-per-click adverts are presented has generated an estimated additional $20 billion a year. Google is playing a bigger game than any of us realise.

Yet we are so dependent on it. Sure, Facebook is a good way to get your message in front of the right people at the right time, especially since it launched Facebook Advertising.

But nothing beats the power of Google. It’s where people go when they are ready to choose a new vet. This is what has made Google such a rich company. It’s an efficient way of matching up people with a need or want, with companies willing to scratch the itch.

In the UK, Google has the majority of the search market (89% is the last figure I saw), and most of the competitors operate to very similar rules to Google.

So it’s time to take your Google presence more seriously. That means considering search engine optimisation (SEO) to ensure that your practice stays at the top of the results page. The practices at the top get the most traffic: it’s as simple as that.

And this is the year you should consider pay-per-click advertising. Quite a few practices are becoming switched on to this.

It’s the easiest and most robust way to get the traffic. And fewer people avoid the adverts than they used to (mostly as these days the adverts are a lot harder to spot).

The figures stack up well: it might cost you 10 clicks at £2 a click to get a new client. But that gives you an excellent return on investment. What’s the average lifetime value of a new client to your practice? It’s very likely to be dramatically more than £20.