Organic vs Local SEO—What’s the Difference?

“SEO? Isn’t that an 80s band or something?”

If you don’t know organic search from organic coffee, or local SEO from a hole in the ground, you’re not alone. Although the two concepts are related by a shared acronym—SEO—there are some key differences, too.

And as a medical practitioner, you need to be doing both if you want to fill your waiting room with patients.

So let’s shine some light on these concepts, shall we? We’ll start with that acronym: SEO, or search engine optimization.

Search Engine Optimization = A digital marketing discipline focused on boosting your rank in search results, in order to help bring more (and more relevant) search engine traffic to your website.

Basically, SEO is about convincing a search engine (okay, let’s be real here: Google) that you’re the expert and your business or practice should get the spotlight when people are searching online.

Sounds simple enough. But in practice, that involves a ton of different tactics, strategies, and approaches to actually pull off. Enough to separate the field into a couple of different categories—the most well know of which are organic SEO and local SEO.

So, What’s the Difference?

We’ll start with the short version of the basic concepts to give you the general idea, and then build out from there.

See, any time you search something on Google, you’ll be provided with organic search results—those are the 20-odd website links that appear all the way down the page, after any paid advertisements.

Depending on the search terms you use, however, Google may also provide local search results. In this case, at the top or side of the results page, you’ll see a box with a map and the top 3 relevant local results listed and highlighted.

In other words:

An organic search is mostly interested in finding and displaying content relevant to the search terms. A local search is mostly interested in finding and displaying physical locations relevant to the search terms.

If you want potential patients to find you online, you’re definitely going to want to focus on both.

Organic SEO: Content Is King (but Not the Only Thing That Matters)

For a medical practice, what organic SEO basically boils down to is “Does the content on my website effectively answer the questions my potential patients are asking?” The better it does this job, the higher up in the Google search rankings your website’s pages are likely to find themselves when users search associated keywords.

That’s the simple, uncomplicated version, of course. There’s a lot more to unpack. And while content is “king” when it comes to organic SEO, nobody ever got to be king without having a lot of solid allies.

But let’s start with the king. A huge part of building strong organic SEO is regularly updating your website with informative, relevant content that interests, answers, or otherwise benefits your web visitors in some way.

When VMD develops a content strategy for one of our clients, we study and research trending keywords, as well as consider the medical specialties, patient demographics, and even the local competition to help determine what topics will be the best to write about.

Then, we make sure every piece of content we produce is top notch—engaging, informative, logically arranged, and thoroughly answers the most important questions a prospective patient might have when reading the title.

When you pick the right topics and write about them really well, visitors spend more time on the page reading, and are more likely to progress to other pages on the website. Google picks up on these signals, and its algorithm essentially reasons that “people who clicked X link after Y search seemed to really like the content; therefore we should consider it a trustworthy and relevant source for search Y and should rank it higher for related searches.”

But as we said, content needs allies to succeed. Other components that contribute to your organic search rankings include (but are not limited to):

  • Meta data. In addition to the copy that visitors see, webpages also have fully or partially “hidden” data such as page (meta) descriptions, page titles (separate from the headline), URLs, and alt tags for images. Filling out this information helps search engines better identify and classify the content.
  • When other trusted websites link to yours, Google reads that as a “vote of confidence” in your content. (That doesn’t mean you should go out and build a bunch of fake website that link to yours though. That’s evil, plus it doesn’t work anymore. It actually hurts you.)
  • Site organization. If your site is well-organized with logical menus, helpful in-text links, and a clear path you want visitors to take, your visitors will be encouraged to spend more time on site. Plus, Google’s indexing robots will have an easier time “crawling” your site. Both can improve your organic SEO.
  • Site performance. Problems like slow load times, broken links, or other technical and performance issues can be frustrating for users and a drag on your SEO.

Local SEO: Location, Location, Location (but Also Quality)

To refresh your memory, when a local search is performed, Google will show a map of your area, with the top three locations it thinks are the best fit for what you’re looking for. Clicking on any of those locations will bring you to a “Google listing”—basically a “card” with the business name, address, phone number, hours, customer reviews, link to its website, etc.

How does Google determine if a given search is a “local” one? For one, placing the name of a city or neighborhood in the search term (or even just typing “near me”) is pretty much a dead giveaway that a local search is being performed.

But as it turns out, Google is pretty smart about figuring out what searches are “local,” even if no geographical terms are used. Just try searching for “restaurants,” or even “podiatrists.” Google is savvy enough to know that people making those searches are probably looking for physical locations, and responds accordingly.

So how does Google decide which three locations to put in the map, or the “three pack”? Proximity is part of it—the closer you are to a location, the stronger its signal. But Google isn’t just looking for the three closest relevant results, it’s looking for the three best results when both proximity and quality are considered.

Obviously, you have no control over where somebody searches for you, but you do have a lot of control over the quality of your listing.

Optimizing your local SEO entails matters such as:

  • Adding, claiming, and verifying your listings. Sites like Google and Yelp will often auto-generate a business listing for your practice, and maybe even your doctors. If you didn’t create it yourself, you’ll have to verify it if you want to control it. (This usually requires a confirmation phone call, post card, piece of mail, or other system to prove you’re the legal owner.) Listings that are verified are assigned more weight than unverified ones. And the more citations you have (essentially, the more places on the web where your name, address, and phone number are listed), the better.
  • Updating, correcting, and completing your listings. Once you have control, you’ll want to make sure your name, address, and phone number (also known as “NAP”) are 100% accurate and consistent across networks (Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, etc.). Next, you can fill out your hours of operation, add photos and descriptions, and generally improve the quality of your listing. Again, more thorough listings and NAP consistency across the web will generally be considered more credible.
  • Listings that attract a high volume of credible, positive reviews will generally outperform listings with few or poor reviews. This is one reason it’s important to develop a solid reputation management and review strategy using a combination of in-office and database (e-mail and/or text) tactics.
  • Organic SEO. That’s right—having a great website and doing all the things that benefit organic SEO can also help your local SEO. These two disciplines of organic and local aren’t islands unto themselves. Being strong in one area can benefit the other, and vice versa.

A Quick Wrap-Up

There’s lots more to say about each of these concepts if you really want to dig deep—we haven’t even mentioned platforms vs aggregators, or a lot of the more technical stuff. But for a surface-level understanding, the key concepts you have to know are:

  • Organic searches are about finding the most relevant content to address a searcher’s question, and are links to webpages listed on the search results page.
  • Local searches are about finding the most relevant physical locations in a searcher’s area, and appear as listings on a map.
  • Although the core tactics of each are quite different, you have to be good at both if you want to take your marketing to the next level.

At VMD Services, we apply a 360-degree approach to search engine optimization for the medical industry—one that involves staying on top of emerging trends, solid content strategy, competitive analysis, reputation management, and using our Integrated Local Solutions platform to keep your organic and local SEO rock solid.

Do you want to get found by patients who need your help? Of course you do. Give us a call today to find out how we can help.

Fill your waiting room with the kinds of patients you want to treat.

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