Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, tops the What My Website Needs list for most physicians. And their website does need it, especially local SEO.

Most people who search the web for a neurologist aren’t looking for neurologists from around the country to show up. They want a local neurologist. So Google and the other search engines use algorithms to try to show them the most relevant results—local neurologists. Local SEO includes the steps you can take to help the search engine algorithms recognize your website when it is relevant for internet searches.

Local SEO can be as complicated and involved as you want to make it, but for most practices a few simple steps will do the trick.

Set up your business page on Google My Business

Google My Business allows you to set up your business information so it is accurate in Google searches. When you do this, Google will want to verify your local address with a phone call or postcard. This tells them that you really are doing business locally at the indicated address. The search engine will remember this in its algorithm when people search for a neurologist in your area.

If you’ve previously used Google+ or Google Places for Business, Google went ahead and migrated your information over. But do check it out to be sure listing is exactly as you want it.

Do the same thing on Facebook.

Facebook also allows you to set up a local business page and verify your physical address. This is a clue to search engines to show your website to individuals searching for neurologists in your area. Facebook has the added benefit of hosting a significant portion of the population on a regular basis. People are there—you should be, too.

There are other social media outlets that allow you to set up a business listing like LinkedIn and Twitter. The more of your own listings you grab, the better, just be sure Google My Business and Facebook top your list.

Claim your listings

Beyond social media, there are business listings all over the Internet. These include physician directories like Vitals.com and Healthgrades.com, and also more generic sites like Yelp and Foursquare.

Logging into these sites and claiming these listings, or identifying them as yours, helps with your local SEO. It also allows you to monitor any feedback you may receive from the website’s users. You have to be careful about responding publicly to feedback because of HIPAA laws, but you can be aware of your reputation and even contact people with issues if you have an idea of who they are.

These types of Internet directories are ubiquitous. It is possible to simply start with the biggest and work your way through a large number of them yourself, claiming listings as you go. If you would rather not do it yourself, you can pay a service like Moz Local to handle this for you.

ProTip: Standardize your contact information. In every instance your business name, address and phone number are used online, make them exactly the same. Use the same abbreviations every time. Spell out “suite” every time. Use parentheses in your phone number every time. This will speed the search engines’ recognition of your business and help eliminate duplicate listings in many directories.

Use your location wisely on your website.

First include your contact information in a standard spot on every page of your website. You can do this by simply adding it to the footer of your site so users can easily find it. In addition mention your location in a natural way in your web content. Can you simple sprinkle in the name of your town once in awhile? Sure, and that’s better than nothing. But if you include content about local events and news and find an interesting way to tie it to your practice, that’s much better. Which leads us to the final step…

Local SEO is only as useful as your website is.

You can go to a lot of trouble and expense optimizing your website for search engines. But if people land on your site and find it outdated, cluttered, and difficult to navigate, it won’t really matter if you are number one on every Google search.

But if they find a gem of a website that’s easy to use, filled with helpful information, and relevant for the person searching, you are well on your way to turning an internet searcher into a new patient.