What SEO means to your pet scanning business
Whether you are a lay scanner or a veterinarian, there are two main ways that a local scanning service grows its business:
- Word of mouth
- Active marketing
Personal referrals are as powerful as ever, but modern day marketing has become almost synonymous with search engine optimisation, or SEO. SEO is a very interesting field, and its expansion and maturity as an industry has almost paralleled the rise of the professional animal scanner. We’re going to look at what SEO is and give you 4 simple ways you can boost your chances of being found by your customers, starting right now. But first, let’s go back a few years.
In the beginning…
I’m going to share with you my own personal journey into the two worlds of animal ultrasound and online marketing. I first began writing about veterinary ultrasound technology and equipment online in 2010. I’d just come back from a couple of years spent working in the USA, which was how I became acquainted with ultrasound in the first place. I’d really enjoyed researching it, teaching myself all about this rapidly evolving technology, and getting to know the key players in the American market at that time. Many stayed in touch with me, and one in particular suggested – whilst the NHS was pretty much inaccessible – that there could be some opportunity in the veterinary market. Moving back home to London didn’t have to mean saying goodbye to this exciting technology.
Well, I was completely inspired by this idea. I loved animals! As an only child, they’d always been a large part of my childhood, starting with hamsters, progressing to rabbits, and eventually earning my mother’s permission to get my first cat. I began showing cats with what was then the Cat Association when I was 11 years old. By 12, I had my own cat grooming business (“Catherine’s Clean Cat Grooming Parlour” – a bit of a mouthful), with dreams of one day owning my own fleet of mobile grooming vans all emblazoned with a ‘CCCGP’ logo (now, mobile grooming is actually a thing, but in 1997 it was unheard of – at least where I lived), and by 13, I’d managed to save up £250 for the dog I’d always wanted. I spent countless hours training and playing with her.
Above: Me with my Labrador, Elmo, a few years ago. England didn’t end up doing as well in that tournament as they are in the 2018 World Cup!
So, the idea that I could continue to explore this fantastic technology and work with animals was music to my ears, and as my way of learning anything is to read about it, write about it, and explain it to others, creating content on the subject was natural and easy. What’s more, back then, getting ranked on search engines – and subsequently found by customers – was relatively simple, too. Articles on such a niche topic as animal scanning were new and different, and with so few other people writing about the same thing, competition was low. At the same time, though, interest in the technology itself (outside of the veterinary profession) was in its infancy.
The rise of SEO
Nobody really knows when the term ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ or SEO was first coined, but it’s certainly risen to prominence in the last decade. Put simply, it refers to ways in which you can maximise your business’ chances of being found by potential clients using a search engine. It is a legitimate field of marketing, but its validity did go through a temporary crisis.
As more and more companies began setting up websites, those late to the party wanted a shortcut to the first page of internet search results. ‘SEO experts’ began to spring up, and companies – often very large organisations with massive marketing budgets – would pay them to create content that would get them ranked. This content was designed to impress search engine robots, not people. Ranking highly on search engines became more about how to outsmart search engine algorithms than generating genuine, high quality content that people really wanted to engage with.
Similarly, in the field of ultrasound, we saw an explosion of people entering the market in a similar way: the cheapest, quickest way possible (with sellers in the Far East more than happy to oblige by repackaging outdated human ultrasound machines and selling them at ‘bargain’ pricing, with no training).
What did Google do to address their dilemma?
Google’s popularity as a search engine stems from its ability to serve users the content they want more efficiently than its competitors. With so many companies playing the system and artificially ranking their websites for topics they in fact had little authority on, search results were becoming less relevant: quality was beginning to fall.
Google’s hegemony would be threatened if any of its competitors figured out a way to more efficiently match users with the search results they wanted, so Google tackled the issue of falling search relevance with its Panda update in 2011. This update was designed to penalise sites with poor-quality content that was designed purely to get them ranked highly for a particular search term, rather than deliver anything of true value to users. This was followed by the Penguin update in 2012, which addressed artificial link-building, and later the Pigeon update in 2014, to help promote more local search results.
What all this means for your business
People will always try to play the system. From a search engine’s point of view, people will continue to attempt to manipulate their way to the top spot of search results. In the professional pet scanners’ market, there will always be that person picking up a cheap machine, investing in no or inadequate training, and putting ads out in your local area and offering canine pregnancy scanning for £20. And with a fraction of the time, money and energy you’ve invested, they can afford to.
Whilst this is a challenge to our industry, it is also an opportunity. It’s a chance to bring our profession to the next level, to make a distinction between professional, trained, experienced pet scanners, and the people with home use yes/no machines. We need to educate our clients, and we need to continue to educate ourselves.
The parallel with Google’s own mission to promote expert voices over the ever-increasing noise is also great news for the dedicated local pet scanner. This fortuitous timing provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to reach our local markets more cost-effectively than ever before.
Example: Canine Pregnancy Scanning Yorkshire (CPSY)
Karen is a highly trained canine pregnancy scanner, with over 6 years of scanning experience. She already had an established reputation within the dog breeding and showing community when she first started scanning, but this has continued to spread through word of mouth and her presence online.
Karen is a member of the Vet Image Solutions and Animal Ultrasound Association scanning groups on Facebook, and regularly provides her thoughts and feedback on other people’s scans. In addition:
- Karen picked an excellent, keyword-rich, “does what it says on the tin” name for her business. She was also ahead of the curve in realising that local was the future of internet marketing, putting “Yorkshire” in her business name in order to target the most relevant clients to her.
- She has her own website which ranks number one on Google, Yahoo and Bing for “canine pregnancy scanning Yorkshire.” She has included information about the scanning process on her site, the benefits of having your dog scanned, and directly addresses her clients’ concerns, such as the exclusion of a phantom pregnancy.
- Karen has a social media presence, with a popular business Facebook page
- Has her own Animal Ultrasound Association profile targeting Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, which she is populating with images and videos from recent scans. Video content and being part of a secure, authoritative site are important trends in online marketing, and as usual, Karen is looking to keep her business at the forefront of that.
In other words, Karen utilises SEO via a number of different channels which all lead back to her and her scanning business.
Modern, internet-focused marketing means that small businesses no longer need to spend £1000 on a full-page spread in a magazine for three consecutive years to generate new leads. You can optimise your business and get found by more people with these 4 tactics:
- Google rewards authority. Just as CPSY is Yorkshire and Lincolnshire’s expert pet scanning service, you need to make your business the leading authority on animal scanning in your area. By being an active part of the AUA community and building your Animal Ultrasound Association profile, you benefit from and contribute to the role of AUA members as industry leaders.
- Google prioritises those it trusts. Running a secure, trusted website has become an expensive business, requiring frequent updates. Google has begun to reward sites with an SSL certificate, and security is likely to become even more important to website ranking in the future. Make sure you upload content to your AUA profile as it is a secure, SSL-protected space which is likely to be given ever-increasing precedence in search results.
- Google likes regular updates. Google likes activity, so make updating your AUA profile and any other channels you maintain a habit. Uploading your scans is one easy way to get into this habit.
- Entertainment. We perform scans on unborn puppies, kittens, lambs and kids! What could be cuter and more entertaining than that? Get your work online, share the link with your clients, and they’ll start sharing your content on social media for you.
Think of every scan you do as an opportunity to create new content. Don’t just use your time to work – make your time work for you. You’re being paid by your customer to perform a service, but you can then use those videos, images and a few words about your findings as valuable content for your business.
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