Crafting an SEO strategy that generates clients for your private practice requires careful thought, patience and effort, but is a realistic goal for any therapist.
In this article we'll lay out a step-by-step framework that anyone can use.
Before you proceed, we'd urge you to read our Beginner's Guide to SEO if you haven't already. It will arm you with an understanding of the basic principles of SEO and provide some context to the framework ahead.
First things first, you want to be clear on what your goals for Google are.
There are essentially 3 types of searches that therapists should consider targeting:
1) Local listings searches (i.e. counsellors in cardiff) - Here you are trying to rank high for keywords where clients are looking for therapists in a specific area. For reasons explained in our Beginner's Guide, this is where most therapists stand the best chance of getting results.
As you can see above, you will likely be competing for space with directories, clinics and other therapists's personal websites. Whilst the first page of such searches tend to be dominated by directories or large local clinics, we're increasingly seeing individual therapists's websites ranking, particularly once searches become niche (i.e. anxiety counselling in Cardiff) or target a less popular or more specific location (i.e. counselling Cardiff Whitchurch, or counselling Newport Wales).
We'll get into how to think about creating a strategy around this later on.
2) Searches for an online therapist - People don't search for therapists without qualifying their search somehow. Usually they do so by localising it. They rarely prefix it with just a condition, i.e. 'anxiety therapist'. So your next best bet is to target searches for an online therapist.
If you decide to do this, niche-ing is essential. The reason being that if you want to target 'online therapists' you're competing with every therapist, directory, clinic and e-counselling service out there. You'll notice below there are no individual therapists on the first page for Online Therapist (in fact you'll likely find there are barely any on the first 10 pages!).
However, if you specialise and focus on targeting a particular area of therapy, you stand a chance. Below you'll notice an individual therapist ranks second for Online Therapist Trauma and Relationships.
All the same, we'd bet this particular therapist has invested a lot in SEO, and ranking for these types of searches is tough. You'll probably want to go even more niche than 'Trauma and Relationships'.
3) Searches for answers around mental health issues - You can also try to rank for searches where people aren't specifically looking for a therapist, but for general answers. Here you enter the realm of 'Content Marketing'.
This comes with various challenges. The first is that the results won't include listings of therapists or therapists's websites but rather blogs, videos or articles. As such, in order to rank you'll need to create a blog or at least some extra informational pages (e.g. what is imposter syndrome?) on your website.
A second challenge is that these tend to be more competitive, as you don't just have therapy services competing but newspapers, lifestyle blogs and any other sites that has chosen to write about mental health, wellness or relationships.
You'll notice below that when you search how to deal with rejection from an ex boyfriend, it's mostly blogs rankings. Interestingly, in this case there is a relationship consultant specialising on people getting their ex back ranking at number 2, which again shows the value of niche-ing when trying to win the online game.
To get results here you'll have to niche, and focus on long-tail searches. You'll also have to be a willing and capable writer.
A last challenge is that the searcher's intent is less strong. Unlike therapists in Cardiff, where the client is looking to start therapy, with these types of searches you can't know whether they are considering therapy, and even if they are it would seem they aren't quite in the 'action' stage of the buyer journey. As a result, you'll need to get more website visitors for each extra client (in marketing lingo, you'll have a lower 'conversion rate').
There is a large variance in the amount of investment you can put into SEO. You might spend thousands on an SEO consultant and try and create a huge brand; you might spend hours writing content; or you might merely do the bare minimum to get on the first page for searches such as therapists in Newport Wales.
It's essential to be clear on this. At minimum, success in SEO requires the following:
Much of this depends on your willingness to invest time into marketing in general.
If the above sounds unrealistic, you might want to consider another channel. Just bear in mind that SEO is free and is not that complicated once you get the hang of it. One of the advantages therapists have is that the lifetime value of a customer is high (often in the thousands of pounds), so you don't need to acquire that many customers for it to be worthwhile.
If you're unclear on what keyword research is, we'd recommend reading the section on it in our Beginner's Guide to SEO.
In short, keyword research involves understanding which search terms you aim to target.
For the purposes of this post, we'll focus on how to conduct keyword research when looking to rank for local listings.
Step 1: Break your practice down across relevant dimensions
Think about your practice across different dimensions, considering that most clients structure their Google searches similar to this:
<CONDITION> + <PROFESSIONAL TITLE> + <LOCATION>
List a number of different variants of condition, professional title and location. If your location is specific enough, you won't need to specify condition.
Step 2: Create different combinations of these
There are a near infinite amount of potential combinations of these, isolate a number of them which are most relevant:
When doing this consider your expertise - particularly with regard to the <condition> element - as well as your interests.
Step 3: Rank the keywords in terms of priority
When deciding which keywords are worth targeting, there are 3 factors to consider:
You might want to create a score for target keywords across all 3, or just use your intuition. Generally you want to find the sweet spot where there is enough search volume but the competition isn't too strong.
Since the vast majority of clicks go to the top few results, try and prioritise searches where you can get to position 5 and above.
You'll then want to rank your keywords in terms of priority.
Pick one search term that you want to optimise for above all, and then various other keywords you'd also like to rank for.
Let's say you decide 'therapist in Dalston Junction' is your number one, but that you also would like to rank for:
Now you're set to start optimising your site.
In order to rank well, you need to tell Google what your website is about. It attaches the most relevance to your homepage so it is essential that you optimise this rather than your 'About Me' page, for example.
Google looks for keywords in 6 main places to understand what a page is about:
It sees those in roughly that order of importance.
Now do the following:
Consider putting your main keyword in your Domain Name
You'll notice lots of individual therapist's websites which rank well have the search term in their domain name. However, there is a trade-off to bear in mind if you do this. Calling your website 'dalston-therapist.com' might help you rank initially, but if no one clicks on it because it sounds dull, or if your conversion rate suffers because you struggle to communicate your personality, you won't get the results you deserve and your rankings may ultimately fall anyway (given that engagement may be low). You've also already likely bought your domain so won't want to shell out again. Use your judgement here.
Put your main keyword in your Page Title and Page Header
This is essential and should be seen as non-negotiable. A simple play around on Google will teach you that top ranking results for local listings invariably have the keyword in the page title and main header.
This might be: BACP Qualified Therapist in Dalston Junction
Put your secondary keywords in your Subheader and text body
Here is your chance to tell Google what else your page is about. By sprinkling other keywords here you can rank for them, as well as other long-tail searches you hadn't considered when doing your research.
Here's where you want to include trauma, anxiety, psychotherapist, Kingsland Road and any other secondary keywords you targeted. You don't have to include sentences such as 'therapist Kingsland Road Dalston', the individual words will do. However, you will get extra points if you can.
Subheaders have a better weight so ideally you can include some of these here, just bear in mind that your site should flow well and sound readable.
Write a succinct and engaging summary of your servics in your Meta-description
Your meta-description is not used by Google to determine relevance of the page, but it influences click-throughs as searchers often read these to get an idea of what a page is about and click if they are sufficiently engaged. Click-through will in turn influence your rankings.
In order to rank well you'll also want to increase your site's domain authority (calculated by quality and number of links pointing towards you) and your time-on-site (the average time visitors spend after they click onto it).
Increase Domain Authority by getting backlinks
Domain authority is a huge factor. It's why BACP rank so well for many searches - they are an institution and so have thousands of links pointing to their website.
This is the biggest challenge in SEO and is something that is also merely a function of time. It takes years to compete with high authority incumbents.
Nonetheless, you are also competing with other personal websites and clinics - none of which have many links - and so should strongly consider looking into this. Even a couple of links, particularly if from high domain authority sites, can give you a huge boost. If you can find a way to get lots of links this will be an utter game-changer.
Easier said than done, of course.
Here are some strategies to consider:
Increase time-on-site and engagement by bulking up your website
Time-on-site and engagement are becoming increasingly important in SEO. The more you can do to keep visitors on your website, the better you will rank.
As a result, having thin pages with barely any copy on them is not a good idea. You want to bulk up both your homepage, but also your website in general by adding extra content pages.
This is where writing a blog can be a good idea, even if you aren't necessarily looking to rank for those pages.
If you add a lot of copy on your homepage, be sure to structure it well so as not to overwhelm the reader.
An added benefit of this is it increases the number of long-tail searches you will rank for, and therefore increases traffic.
Other things to consider might be putting up videos on your site, or making quizzes for visitors. Use some creativity.
Set up Google My Business for Local SEO
This is not so much a ranking 'factor' per se, but is an easy-win and should be done by every therapist. We give some more information on this in the Beginner's Guide.
You've now got your initial strategy up and running. But don't let it end there.
Make sure you track the following:
In order to have a better understanding of what search terms people are using to come to your site, set up Google Search Console. This tells you which keywords you are ranking for and how many clicks you get for these.
All of this should give you the tools to iterate going forwards. If you find yourself ranking well for a search term that you hadn't considered and optimised your site for, consider pivoting and targeting this, particularly if it would appear to have some search traffic.
Also remember to keep thinking about how your practice is evolving. Are you noticing a pattern in the types of clients who work well with you? Do you see a clinical niche opening up that you think you can own? If so, these should all feed back into your SEO strategy.
Remember that SEO isn't some random game businesses play for the sake of it. It's about people needing help and looking for answers. You decided to practice as a therapist in order to offer value here - think about how you stand out and where you can have the biggest impact.
Have a suggestion or a topic you want answers to? Join our group, send us an email with a topic you'd like us to write about or [book a private practice audit](https://calendly.com/mark-tsirekas/1-on-1-practice-consultation to discuss your own challenges with a member of our team about your practice.
For full details on what we offer to support therapists to grow their private practices, head here.