Overcoming the 'Google effect'

By Dan Tynan

April 12, 2011 -- When San Diego dentist David Landau, DDS, dissolved a 10-year partnership and joined a new practice, he did everything he could he think of to make his patients aware of the changes. He wrote a formal letter to each one, telling them of his move to a more prestigious practice. His front office personnel called everyone on his calendar to reschedule appointments at the new location. If patients replied they had not seen his letter, his assistant sent them an email with the new information.

All told, Dr. Landau estimates he mailed 1,000 letters and made 600 phone calls. He even contacted patients who'd reviewed him on Yelp.com and asked them to edit their reviews to reflect his new position at the Art of Dentistry.

And yet that still wasn't enough. One day he got a phone call from a new patient who had been waiting outside his old office for 20 minutes, wondering where the heck everyone was.

"Apparently he'd lost the directions to my new office and just Googled me," Dr. Landau told DrBicuspid.com. "That led him to my old practice, which happened to be closed that morning. He was not happy. Fortunately I won him over, but to compensate him for his trouble I didn't charge him for the exam."

Search optimization gone awry

Dr. Landau had done everything right, but he hadn't factored in the "Google effect." For 10 years he'd paid a search engine optimization (SEO) firm thousands of dollars to ensure that his old site landed in the top three results for keyword phrases such as "San Diego Cosmetic Dentistry." Now all of that Google juice was working against him.

A short time later, his former partner hired a new Web design firm that deleted Dr. Landau's landing page on the old site. Google searches for his name began pointing to a nonexistent page -- making it appear as if he'd gone out of business, or worse.

“Thanks to Google, I'm now in competition with myself.”
— David Landau, DDS

In the brave new world of Web-driven marketing, having a great Google rank can be both a blessing and a curse. Google will remember obsolete information long after everyone else has forgotten it. And because it relies on software bots to crawl the Internet to drive its results, it can take weeks or months for changes to appear.

Still, there are steps you can take to help regain your Google mojo. Dr. Landau's case was complicated by the fact that old domain was still being used by his old partner. And though the pair remain on good terms, his former partner was reluctant to drive traffic to a competing site.

In a situation such as this, the first step is to go to your Web host and tell them you need to assign a "301 redirect" to all of your subpages, advised Jake St. Peter, president of Coalmarch Productions, an online marketing and custom website developer.

"That tells Google 'this page has moved, stop indexing it and start indexing my new one,' " he said. "If you've got a high-traffic site that's indexed frequently, you should start seeing changes to Google results in a matter of weeks. But if you've got a low-traffic site, it could take months."

Next, make sure to enter your new information into Google Places, the free online business directory, and delete any old irrelevant data, recommended Roger Levin, DDS, CEO of the Levin Group, a dental practice management firm. And don't forget about Twitter, Facebook, and other social media where your old data might still reside.

"If your new practice has a Facebook and/or Twitter page, update them to announce your arrival, and include all of your bio and contact information," Dr. Levin said. "If your new practice is not using social media, seriously consider having it establish a presence on Facebook and Twitter to be proactive. Even if most of your patients aren't on there now, it's only a matter of time before many of them decide to try it out."

And third, bite the bullet and pay for an SEO firm to raise the Google stature of your new practice. If done correctly, search results listing your new practice will eventually supplant those for your old one. Fortunately, doing SEO for a local business doesn't have to break the bank. Geisheker said his firm charges as little as a $1,000 a month for a six-month contract with built-in performance guarantees.

Comprehensive marketing key

For those not in Dr. Landau's situation, there are less complicated steps you can take to bypass the Google effect. First, ask your Web host to take any traffic to your old site and redirect it to your new one, said Peter Geisheker, CEO of the Geisheker Group Marketing Firm. That way you can still take advantage of your Google page rank.

Or, as an alternative, you could keep your old site and use it to advertise your new practice, he added.

"Keep the old site up for at least a year and have all its subpages redirect to the home page," said Geisheker said. "Put an announcement about the new business on the home page along with links to the new site. That way you don't lose all the time and money you spent on the first site, and you can keep all your current and new customers informed."

Regardless of the method, the key is to develop a comprehensive marketing campaign using every available channel, including word of mouth, according to Dr. Levin.

"Consider an email blast campaign, direct mail, texts, Groupon discount offer, sending a press release to local community and city newspapers and blogs, hosting an open house at the new practice, or placing ads in the local papers or magazines," he said. "And don't forget to have patients remind their friends and family about the move."

Eventually, Google will figure out how to find your new location, and your patients won't be drumming their fingers outside your old office, waiting for an appointment that's miles across town.

Dr. Landau is confident he'll retain most of his patients, though he won't know exactly how many made the move with him for at least a year. In the meantime, he has to wait for the search engine to catch up with the rest of the world.

"Thanks to Google," he said, "I'm now in competition with myself."

Follow writer Dan Tynan on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

Copyright © 2011 DrBicuspid.com

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