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|The Business of Therapy - Page 2|
Once you've got a strong website name and have established your geographic base, the third marketing challenge is to get the search engines to notice that you exist. There are all kinds of elaborate and costly methods for doing this, including paying companies to submit your site to search engines. But the low-cost "secret sauce" of Internet marketing for getting your site to rank high on the relevant search-engine results is to get links from websites whose subject matter and target audience are similar to yours.
In effect, Google and other search engines believe in the academic model of the peer-review journal as the arbiter of legitimacy. To be published in a refereed journal, you must receive the approval of colleagues knowledgeable in your area of expertise, who decide whether your contribution has value within the field. In the Wild West atmosphere of the Internet, anyone can say anything. The primary control that distinguishes someone who's merely pretending to be an expert from people with more established credibility is whether sites with a track record and a good reputation are willing to link to you. Though clearly not foolproof, links presuppose a certain level of endorsement and the existence of a personal and professional relationship that confers legitimacy.
For Mike's shoestring site, I had one legitimate place to start the ranking push, and that was on my own premarital-counseling blog. Since search engines love blogs, I used my blog to talk about how engaged couples may enter their relationship not realizing they have major challenges in store—as my husband and I were discovering. So I found a way to write about an important topic and insert a link to Mike's new website without sounding like it was a sales pitch for him.
At this point, the only traffic Mike was getting was from friends and family who'd been told about his website. But a few hours after I'd blogged about his website, guess what! Google discovered my blog entry, followed the website link, and put Mike's website in its directory, just as a librarian would add a brand-new book to the library catalog. That was an exciting day for both of us, but we then had to face the next question: now what?
The next step was to wait. The frustrating part is that it can take many months for search engines to rearrange their website rankings and list your website higher among the results of a search. There's no telling exactly when your website will start showing up for those keywords you want, but having strong links, as from my topically related blog, was better than if he had some link buried in a "resources" page on a low-traffic colleague's website. About two months after my blog entry, Mike had his first "found you on the Internet" client. That client had no idea he caused cheers in my family and a huge sigh of relief that our marketing plan could actually work.
The beauty of this type of low-budget web marketing for the new therapist—or any therapist—is that clients keep coming, steadily, without any investment of effort, money, or time. Since that first client, the vast majority of Mike's referrals have come from his website. He's getting the exact type of clients he wants (couples), and he's doing better than most of his colleagues who are paying for Google ads. Best of all, now even my old-school father has become a believer in the power of the Internet as a marketing tool. After seeing his success, he paid Mike the ultimate tribute: "You've overturned 30 years of wisdom on starting a private practice! I'm now officially outdated."
Elizabeth Doherty Thomas runs two national therapy directories. She also trains non-technical therapists in managing their websites and online presence through teleclasses, audio CDs, a blog, and personal consulting. Contact: www.ElizabethDohertyThomas.com. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org.