Search Engine Optimization Basics
Below is a summary of key search engine optimization terms for counselors and therapists.
- Basic Terminology: SEO Titles, Meta Descriptions, Header Tags, SERP, and Keyword Ranking.
- Keyword Types: Short-Tail, Long-Tail, Branded, and Non-Branded Keywords.
- SEO Tools: Google My Business, Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Squarespace SEO, and Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress.
- Other Terms: Traffic Sources, Page Indexing, and Online Directories.
Basic SEO Terminology
When a user enters search terms, Google returns a list of web pages that are the best fit for what they are searching for. SEO titles tell both the searcher and Google the main topic of a page. The SEO title and meta description only appear in search results.
Sample Google Search Result for Online Therapy Portland
The blue hyperlink represents the SEO title and the search terms are highlighted in bold. The meta description displays below the SEO title in search results.
Note: SEO titles should be kept under 55 characters.
The meta description should be written to encourage users to select your search result over the others listed. If a page has no meta description or if it’s not consistent with the content of the page, Google may rewrite the meta description.
Learn more about how to write a meta description for your counseling website.
Note: Keep meta descriptions under 145 characters.
Meta descriptions and SEO titles will not display in the copy on your website. Their purpose is to identify content about a web page in Google’s search engine results.
Header Tags (H1, H2, H3)
Header tags provide a content hierarchy for users. They give search engines a sense of what the content is about. Each page should have a single H1 tag that describes the main topic of the page. More topics can be highlighted with subheadings. To keep content easy to scan, limit the number of unique fonts in heading tags to 2 or 3.
Anxiety services page outline:
- Anxiety Therapy in Portland – Header 1*
- Treatment Options for Anxiety – Subheader 2
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety – Subheader 3
- EMDR Treatment for Anxiety – Subheader 3
- Types of Anxiety – Subheader 2
- Social Anxiety – Subheader 3
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Subheader 3
- Phobias – Subheader 3
- Treatment Options for Anxiety – Subheader 2
* Use a single H1 for each page to describe the main topic of the page.
Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
The SERP lists the results Google presents in response to a search query. These are the pages that Google thinks are the best match based on the user’s search query. The SERP displays a site’s page URL, SEO title and meta description.
Below is an example of a SERP listing.
Keyword ranking identifies the position a web page appears in search results. It is easier to improve a keyword’s rank position if it already ranks in one of the top 100 positions. Keywords that rank outside of the top 100 positions can still rank well it just takes longer.
Keyword Rank Positions and Search Result Pages
- Positions #1 – 10 = 1st Page in Search Results (shown above in green)
- Positions #11 – 20 = 2nd Page in Search Results (shown above in yellow)
- Positions #21 – 30 = 3rd Page or higher in Search Results (shown above in orange)
These are broad keyword phrases that include 1 to 2 terms. For example, anxiety counselor. They usually have higher monthly search volumes, but are more difficult to rank for.
Long-tail terms are more targeted and consist of 3 to 5 words. For example, chicago anxiety counselor for teens. These terms usually convert better than short-tail terms because they are less competitive. Their monthly volume is usually low, but they are much more targeted and likely to convert.
Branded terms include the name of a website or private practice. If someone knows the name of your practice they should be able to easily find you therapy website. These terms should rank in one of the top positions on page 1 of Google’s SERP.
Keywords that relate to the services you offer are non-branded terms. These keywords do not include the name of your practice. For example, anxiety therapy for ocd is a non-branded term.
SEO Tools for Counselors & Therapists
Technical SEO Audit
It is important to fix any critical issues on your website. Non-existent pages (404 errors), broken links and missing H1 tags are just a few issues that can negatively affect your SEO results. An SEO audit can provide a roadmap of critical issues to fix.
Google My Business (GMB)
Google My Business is a great way to capture visitors who are searching for services in your area. GMB is a free listing directory provided by Google. Businesses claim their listing and request Google to verify they are the owner.
A well-optimized GMB listing can appear in:
- Organic Search
- Local 3-Pack
- Google Maps
That’s right, ALL 3 search results.
NOTE: For information on online therapy services and GMB listings, visit Google’s support resource.
Google Search Console (GSC)
GSC is a free tool from Google. It tracks which keywords users enter when searching for your services. Data is captured to show the number of impressions each search term received and the number of users that clicked your link in the search results. The tool also tracks the specific pages Google indexes which is helpful to confirm that all of your content is being captured by Google.
The data below is for a site’s Home page. It shows the specific queries that users entered where the Home page appeared in the results.
GSC captures the queries that resulted in your site appearing in search results.
Google Analytics (GA) provides insights on your website visitors. Analyzing data from Google Analytics will help you understand how people access your site, what pages they view, and how engaged they are with the content.
Where is the majority of your traffic coming from? Is your Psychology Today listing driving traffic to your site? Which social media channel brings the most traffic?
Page Views and Sessions
What are your traffic numbers? Is there seasonality in your traffic? How many sessions are coming from new verses returning visitors?
When a visitor comes to your site, what do they do? Is there specific content that users spend more time on? Do they continue to click through multiple pages on your site?
Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress
The Yoast SEO plugin helps optimize various SEO elements for WordPress websites. Below is a screenshot of a page with the Yoast SEO plugin:
Squarespace websites have built-in search engine optimization functionality. In my experience WordPress and Squarespace platforms produce similar SEO results for clients.
Traffic can come from a number of different sources. Google Analytics (GA) tracks the following traffic:
- Direct – User went directly to your site’s web address.
- Referrals – Visitor clicked a link from another site to yours.
- Social – Traffic came from a social media channel.
- Organic Search – Search terms visitors used to find your site.
NOTE: GA usually displays np for search terms. Specific keyword data can be found in GSC.
- Paid Search – An ad campaign with purchased search terms.
It is important to monitor how Google indexes pages on your site. To show your content in search results, Google needs to know it exists. The search engine doesn’t recognize when content has been added or updated for a website.
In Google Search Console you can Request Indexing for specific pages. To access this functionality you will need to setup a free Google Search Console account.
Make sure Google is indexing all of the pages you want presented in search results.
404 Error Page
A 404 error page is returned to a user when they select a link that has been moved or deleted. When this occurs, users are either presented with an error message or a 404 error page. The error page is an opportunity to help users find the content they are looking. It can also improve the user’s experience on your website, which is good for SEO.
Learn how a site audit can identify 404 errors and other issues that may be affecting your site’s SEO performance.
Directories are another way that people can find your therapy practice. A few directories for therapists: