SEO for therapists begins with the recognition that people connect to their needs through search engines like Google. We all know this. If it’s Friday and I want pizza, I go to Google and search “pizza near me”, and Google shows me every pizza parlor near my home address.
Potential clients and therapists are the same way.
Let’s take a look at how many people search “therapists near me” in the United States:
Every month there are approximately 379,000 searches of the term “therapists near me”, across the country. And that’s just one way they’re searching for mental health professionals: therapists, counselors, and private practices.
No wonder why Google, and other search engines, have become the go-to tool for connecting therapists and potential clients.
Where to Start With SEO For Therapists?
When we say SEO what we’re referring to is “Search Engine Optimization.” (The initialism “SEO” is used so often it’s easy to forget what it stands for. ) What that means in practice is… the steps taken to push a website to the top of the search results.
Whenever somebody searches something, what they type into the search box is called a keyword. The word “keyword” just means a word, or phrase, that returns a result on Google.
Technically, any word or phrase is a keyword. But people—being more alike than they like to think—tend to search similar keywords to find similar results. So in SEO, the word “keyword” tends to refer to words or phrases that many people search.
Let’s say potential clients are searching “anxiety therapist near me”, and they live in Denver, CO.
That means anxiety therapists in Denver should set up their website in such a way so that their website displays for the search, “anxiety therapist near me”.
Understanding what potential clients are searching is the first step to understanding SEO for therapists.
Different Types of Keywords for Different Types of Websites
The keywords that therapists and counselors want to find are local keywords, as opposed to national keywords.
Local keywords are keywords that return local results. This means that Google’s algorithm thinks that the searcher’s intent is to find something near them, within their zip code, whether it be a restaurant, grocery store, barber shop, therapist, etc.
Whereas national keywords return results from the entire country, or world (depending on the keyword).
A good way to test if a keyword is local is if that keyword returns a Google My Business (GMB) listing. If I search “therapist near me”, no matter where I am, I almost always get a local result:
Google My Business listings only return for local keywords.
Therapists want not only to show in the first ten results for a local keyword, they also want their website to display within the Google My Business listing, also known as the 3-Pack.
To do so, therapists and counselors need an optimized website that targets local keywords, along with a well set-up Google My Business account.
Connecting with the Right Potential Clients
Now we know proper SEO is a way for therapists, counselors, and private practices to connect with the clients they can help best. SEO is a way to match a searcher’s intention (also known as “user intent”) with a therapist’s website.
That means to match therapists need a degree of empathy (which they should have naturally). Therapists have to understand not only what their potential clients type into Google, but what they themselves want to show up on Google for, i.e. a therapist who only treats depression wouldn’t want to show up on google for the keyword “anxiety therapy near me”.
What are potential clients searching to find therapists in their area.
Luckily we have tools to find out:
In the image we can see some of the searches being made that are related to “therapist near me”. This isn’t a definitive list of terms but it does offer a birds eye view of what potential clients are searching.
To figure out the keywords a therapist should use for their site requires keyword research.
Keyword Research: The Bread and Butter of SEO For Therapists
Keywords are the terms or phrases you use to describe each specialty page. They help Google understand what your page is about so it can determine when and where to show your content.
A primary keyword is—to borrow from high-school English—the main idea of the page. For example, the primary keyword, or main idea, of this article is, “SEO for therapists”. All of the information on this page is about “SEO for therapists”.
Not only that, but the primary keyword was chosen because it has a high search volume on Google. Typically, the primary keyword will have the highest search volume.
Whereas, secondary keywords are offshoots of the main idea; they support the primary keyword by expanding upon it.
One way to think of keywords is to say that the primary keyword is the tree trunk and the secondary keywords are the branches. The trunk and branches are both necessary for the tree to live and thrive.
An example of Primary and Secondary Keywords
Let’s say one of a therapist’s specialties is depression treatment. That means they’ll want to find a primary keyword related to depression treatment, and the secondary keywords related to the primary keyword.
For the sake of example, a primary keyword might simply be “depression treatment,” and then a list of secondary keywords might look like…
- depression therapy,
- depression counseling,
- treatment for depression,
- how to deal with depression,
- treatments for depression,
- treating depression,
- treatment of depression,
- symptoms of depression,
- dealing with depression,
- coping with depression,
- help with depression,
- signs of depression,
- postpartum depression,
- clinical depression,
- help for depression,
- how to treat depression,
- how to overcome depression,
- do I have depression,
- depression help,
- depression and anxiety,
- overcoming depression
(A therapists or SEO professional would use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs to compile a list like the above.)
These keywords would then be used to write a great Specialty Page.
The Specialty Page is all about the particular therapist’s approach to “depression treatment”. It will likely include some secondary keywords, and other secondary keywords may be used to then write blogs that support the Specialty Page.
I’ve talked about Specialty Pages elsewhere. Here, I want to stick strictly with SEO and what it means for therapists.
So, now that I’ve talked keywords let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of technical SEO.
The On, Off, And Technical of SEO
What websites show up on Google when a particular keyword is searched, show up because they’re optimized with the best SEO practices.
And they’re optimized in three different ways:
- On-Page SEO
- Technical SEO
- Off-Page SEO
Each is about both SEO and web design, as SEO wont work without a well organized website.
That’s because, in practice, far from a checklist, SEO is really about every aspect of a website and how the parts of a website work together. It requires constant monitoring too, like the engine of a boat.
Most of the time when someone talks about optimizing a website, or page, or post, they’re talking about On-Page SEO. These are all the ways that a site can be tuned visibily: the stuff that both therapists and their potential clients see on their site, such as the text on the front page.
The Meta Title Tag
The title tag is one of the most important signals therapists can send Google to let them know what your article is about.
If you are using WordPress and have installed and configured Yoast’s SEO plugin most of the heavy lifting is done for you – WordPress will take the title of the article and move it to the title tag. You may still want to change the tag to optimize for a particular keyword, however, and you can do so easily below the post.
*If you are not using this plugin the title tag is located in the head section of your website, and is enclosed by the tags.
Best practice to use the keywords you are trying to rank for in the title tag, but make sure they fit in with the title of the site. It should feel like a natural title.
Here is an example for the keyword “Chicago Therapist”
Good Title: Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety – 5 tips from a Chicago Therapist.
Specific titles seem easy to read and naturally uses keyword.
A bad title is generally better than no title at all so be sure to utilize the title tag on every page and post. And use a different title for each page. Using the same title tag for all pages doesn’t tell Google a thing about what makes this content different from other content on your site.
The Description Tag
The description tag is another meta tag (tag in the head portion of a webpage) that’s important for on-page optimization. This is the text that shows up in search engine results under the title tag. You can leave it blank, and Google will decide what to put there, or you can fill it in with a few captivating sentences to show visitors that the link is the best one.
The process is similar to adding the title tag and if you use the aforementioned plugin you can add easily. If not, the tag is
Your page description should be one to two sentences that briefly describe the gist of your post, using different language than the page itself.
While not a huge ranking factor, the site description can help bring in visitors who want to read more based on that tantalizing sentence or two.
Technical SEO might as well mean staying on top of all of the technical requirements a website needs to meet in order to rank. It starts with Google’s ability to find a therapist’s website, and ends with continual tweaks to a site to ensure it’s up to snuff.
Good websites are easily navigable. Visitors should be able to find any post or page on a site in only a few clicks.
This is part of Web Design, but while Web Design tends to refer to an aesthetically pleasing layout, Architecture refers to the site’s structure; it’s the skeleton, while the site’s theme is its dress.
This aspect of technical SEO ideally begins before the therapist’s website is built. That way then the foundation is laid out clearly. Tuning an already live site’s architecture can be quite difficult.
For therapists’ websites to work at all Google has to be able to find them. Obvious, no?
An easy way to see if a therapist’s website is indexed is to simply enter the website’s URL in Google.
If the site shows up, the website is good to go.
If the site doesn’t show up, then there’s an issue, clearly. (Keep in mind that newly created websites take some time to be indexed on Google, typically no more than a few days.)
There are a few reasons a site may not be indexed:
- Duplicate content across the site.
- A site is blocked in robots.txt.
- The site doesn’t have a sitemap.xml.
- Crawl errors.
Therapists can ask Google to crawl and index their website through Google Search Console if it’s not displaying. I’ve also talked about how Google crawls and indexes therapy websites in another post, for curious readers.
Also, Search Console is a good place to check to see if there are any crawl errors which need to be addressed.
URLs should be simple.
If we look at the URL for this post, it’s https://www.counselingwise.com/seo-for-therapy-websites/.
It follows the basic structure of, [sitename].com/[name of the post or page].
Therapists should make sure that their own posts and pages follow the same structure for both ease of navigation and the slight boost good titles add to SEO.
Issues only arise when web owners don’t pay attention to their URL structure. Default URLs are often messy and include numbers and symbols rather than the strict title, unless otherwise set up.
But once a URL is set, and indexed, is best to leave it alone rather than changing the URL.
Page speed is extremely important for therapists to rank well.
Websites that don’t load, don’t rank.
And faster websites tend to rank higher than slower websites. Page speed is like a race. The faster the acceleration, the quicker therapists get to the finish line compared to the competition.
Therapists can check their site speed by going to Google’s Pagespeed Insights and plugging in their URL.
If a website is slow it may be due to a number of factors:
- Images that are too large.
- Excessive plugins.
- Theme bloat.
To actually improve site speed therapists may want to consult a developer, as tuning the nuts and bolts of a website for speed can be tricky.
Off-Page SEO is all the things therapists can do apart from their website to improve their rankings.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll hone in on the most important aspect: link building.
The main means of thinking about Off-Page SEO is link building.
Websites work on a system of trust, and trust is built with links. Typically, the more links pointing at a website, the more trustworthy Google views that site, and the more highly Google will rank said site on search.
How do therapists get links to their website?
Besides writing great content, and naturally accruing links, therapists can actively build links by…
- Listing their website on local directories.
- Listing their website on national directories (like Psychology Today).
- Writing Guest Posts for other websites.
Building links takes time. It’s best to do in small bursts so that therapists don’t become overwhelmed.
The nuts and bolts of SEO can seem overwhelming. But therapists shouldn’t stress too much. Like anything new, much of implementing SEO is learning from mistakes.
It takes time, but done properly the benefits prove themselves: Good SEO connects therapists and their potential clients.
To learn more about the essentials of building a quality therapy site, check out our blog The 7 Essentials Of Effective Therapy Sites or therapists can visit Our Offerings if they want to learn how we build SEO-optimized websites.