What Is SEO? & How To Use SEO To Grow Your Private Practice


Over the past few weeks, I've received several questions about how therapists can use SEO to grow their private practices. I know that SEO can seem complicated and confusing, but it really doesn't have to be.

In this blog post, I'm going to answer some common SEO questions, and tell you what you need to know to apply SEO best practices to increase your website traffic and build your business.

First things first:

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and basically, it's the practice of optimizing your website to show up in search results (ideally at the top of the list).

Why does it matter if you show up in search results? Because the higher you appear in a search result list, the less work you have to do to get people onto your private practice's website. And remember, a website only works when people are visiting it.

How does SEO work?

The inner workings of SEO can get pretty complicated, so I'll stick to the quick-and-dirty version:

Search engines, like Google, want to make sure they're giving the best possible recommendations on any given search query. Their method for ensuring accurate search results is to scan every website, and categorize the websites according to keywords (among other factors). Then, when folks search Google for anything, Google displays the websites based on the words used in that particular search.

SEO, then, is about making sure your website is accessible and readable to search engines' scanning robots so that the search engines can index (or categorize) your site accurately, and therefore, show it to the right people.

Basically, if you build and maintain good SEO, search engines can be like your practice's personal concierge - working hard to direct the right people to your site without you doing much. Yay, ease!

How do I build good SEO?

First, you want to make sure your website is set up with SEO in mind. Make sure your Site Description, or Search Engine Description succinctly describes what you do, who you do it for, and where you do it (if you're a local business).

Make sure you know exactly who you're trying to reach (identify your ideal client), and do some research to find out what keywords they're using to search for similar services.

For example, someone searching for substance abuse treatment is not likely to Google "CAC II Therapist," so while it's great that you have that certification, recognize that people seeking treatment are more likely to search for "therapists for drug addiction." Including these exact words in your Site Description and/or pages will help you show up in relevant searches.

A word to the wise: don't overuse keywords. A few well-placed, relevant keywords go way farther than a ton of repeat keywords all over your site.

If the tech side of your website is overwhelming, hire a designer who can do On-Page and Technical SEO. I include both in my web design + branding packages.

If you're building and designing on your own, here are some additional things to consider:

  • Make sure your site is mobile friendly. The majority of websites are viewed on mobile devices, so search engines prioritize mobile-friendly sites.
  • Make sure SSL (security) is enabled. Search engines also prioritize secure sites. If you use Squarespace, turn on SSL by navigating to Settings > Security & SSL.
  • Ensure your site loads quickly. Compress your images, and invest in good hosting and solid templates.
  • Make sure each page has a simple URL. Complicated URLs with long strings of numbers and letters are not good.
  • Make sure your site is Bot-friendly. Remember Google's robots I mentioned earlier? They need to be able to easily index your site. Make sure you have access to your XML sitemap.

If you don't want to worry about any of the bullet points above, I highly recommend building your website on Squarespace. They take care of all of the above, so all you have to focus on is plugging in your Site Description and keywords.

I'm not an affiliate of Squarespace, just a loyal and happy customer / designer!


How do I maintain good SEO?

This is the key. SEO is not a set it & forget it type of thing. It's an ongoing, intentional process that, with time, can make your practice-building efforts so much easier.

Here are a few ways to build and maintain good SEO:

Blog consistently. 

Remember, SEO is about keywords. The more you can provide relevant and helpful information to your ideal clients through blogging, the more relevant keywords will get indexed with search engines.

Identify your ideal client. Do some keyword research. Then, get writing!

I'll use my website as an example for this one. Without a blog, my website would list my services and past work. It would likely appear in searches where people are specifically looking to hire a web designer.

However, my blog covers topics to help therapists take their websites further. Thanks to this blog post about SEO, my website will now likely appear in searches such as "SEO for Private Practice" or "SEO for Psychotherapists." Without this blog post, my website wouldn't appear in those searches.

Need help getting started with blogging? Check out my Quickstart Guide to Blogging for Therapists.

Publish articles on well-known websites, blogs, or local newsletters.

When your website traffic regularly comes from a more well-known source, search engines take this as a good sign, and increase your ranking in search results. This is called backlinking, and a few strategic backlinks can really boost your website traffic over time.

Not to mention, if you're writing about topics that your ideal client cares about, they're more likely to find the value that you provide much quicker if you can leverage another website's established SEO.

Maintain your website.

Make sure your links are working. Remove outdated content. Don't change your page URLs unless you're comfortable learning to code for URL Mapping.

Check out your website analytics on a regular basis, and pay attention to trends. Use Google Search Console to monitor the search terms under which your website is ranking.

And finally, set realistic expectations.

SEO is not a quick fix to boost your website traffic. It can take weeks or months to see results from a specific SEO effort. As long as you're consistent in your intention, your website will build solid SEO over time.

SEO is a big topic.

There's more to SEO than what I described here, but the above are the basics of what you need to know as a website and private practice owner.

Let me know in the comments:

Did you learn something new? What SEO practices will you implement from now on?