Sh*t You Wish You Learned in Grad School with Jennifer Agee, LCPC

Episode 17: Simplified SEO for Therapists featuring Jessica Tappana

August 10, 2022 Jennifer Agee, LCPC Season 1 Episode 17
Sh*t You Wish You Learned in Grad School with Jennifer Agee, LCPC
Episode 17: Simplified SEO for Therapists featuring Jessica Tappana
Show Notes Transcript

During this episode, I talk with Jessica Tappana, LCSW (she/her) about the basics you need to know for SEO marketing. SEO can be so intimidating and Jessica explains how to integrate SEO into your website in a very clear way. I learned a lot from this episode. 

Jessica is the founder of Simplified SEO Consulting where she has a team that helps mental health professionals around the country do really in depth work on their website to improve SEO. Jessica believes we do our best work when we aren't worried about where the next client will come from and is on a mission to help empower therapists to be able to bring the best version of themselves to the therapy room.


  • SEO is giving clients what they are asking for
  • Establishing yourself as an expert to boost SEO
  • Topical authority and empathy benefit SEO
  • Writing copy that benefits SEO
  • Google and SEO, what you need to know
  • Pages and Blogs that drive SEO
  • Adding links for SEO
  • What is Google looking for?
  • What is the biggest bang for your buck with SEO?


Jennifer: Hello Hello and welcome to Sh*t You Wish You Learned in Grad School. I’m your host Jennifer Agee, licensed clinical professional counselor, and with me today is Jessica Tappana. She is a licensed clinical social worker and she is also a private practice owner and the owner of simplified SEO consulting. So welcome, Jessica, thanks for coming on today.

Jessica: Thank you for having me, I'm so excited. I was listening to a couple episodes this morning, and just like honored to get to be here.

Jennifer: I'm honored to have you because I'm legit excited about learning everything you're gonna be telling us today. So let's kick this off: what is something that you wish you learned in grad school?

Jessica: Anything about search engine optimization, or even what that term meant. I had no idea

Jennifer: You're right about that. I didn't know what that meant when I was in grad school. Now, I might be a little bit older than you are, so I did not know what that was and having to learn all of this stuff as a part of running a business has honestly given me a brain cramp. So I'm glad people like you understand it and you can help lead us.

Jessica: I love it. You know, when I was in grad school, I always knew I wanted to be a therapist. I legit knew since I was 12. I was like, I want to help people who've been through really tough things, come through and feel better, and so when I decided to start my private practice, I literally told people, that's all I'm gonna do all day is like, just sit there and have client after client, after client. And this was the dream of what I was gonna do until retirement. I had no intention of starting a group practice or anything, but what I found and I think what a lot of us find is that it's heavy work, it's really heavy work that we do. And so for me, the search engine optimization is less a chore and more like a brain break. And so actually right before we met, I had a counseling session that ran a little bit over and I was like, oh, okay, you know, now I get to have this brain break because it was a wonderful session, and so many are, but those are intense. And so being able to switch from that now to having a chat with somebody about search engine optimization, I actually really love it. It works well for the way that my brain needs to function and get optimal kind of balance.

Jennifer: I love that. And one of the things that's amazing about this profession is you can go down so many different avenues and careers unfold and open so many different types of doors. That just because you're in one place for a while, doesn't mean that that's where you're gonna be forever. And that's where I think the SEO stuff really kicks in, is as you're starting to really expand into all these other areas, you really do need to know how to work smarter, not harder and understanding some basics of SEO or hiring someone who does is an incredibly smart way to not have to work quite so hard.
Jessica: Yeah. And what I find, a lot of the people that do our SEO training, I love our Done-For-You program, it's thriving and doing very well, but also, this year, we've been doing a lot of building up the training because I love teaching people to do this. I'm like, I can't get the smart TV to work half the time, but I've been able to learn this. If I can learn it, surely any of us that survive grad school can, but then yes, it opens doors and you can change your specialty and just reoptimize your page. Or like you said, hire someone to re optimize your page. You can say, I'm gonna add on coaching, I'm gonna add on this or that, and the same concepts apply and yeah, there's so much you can do. I'm a social worker and my husband is a nurse, and so I joke, I'm like we have the two most versatile careers. He's moved from ICU to hospice, to interventional radiology, I did a little stint in substance abuse, I worked at a school, and I worked at the state hospital. We get to like, see that both of us have skill sets that are so applicable, which, when you think about from a career standpoint, even if all we do is individual therapy, our entire career, we could change specialties three or four times and that's okay.

Jennifer: Absolutely. And that helps being able to shake it up, like that helps with the burnout piece of it, for sure. And what I noticed during COVID, because I do strategic business coaching, is I noticed that a lot of therapists, because we're experiencing our own level of burnout at the same time all of our clients were experiencing the same thing, that so many people started doing things that were not butt-in-the-seat therapy. They're like, my brain needs a break, like you said earlier, I have to have these spaces where I'm not the one that is holding space for someone else cuz my capacity for that ebbs and flows, and during the last few years, it ebbed and flowed a lot for people. So yeah, I mean there's definitely been different emerging things. I'd like to know what are some things that you really wish therapists understood, like the easy ways to get started understanding SEO.

Jessica: I think that at its core, understanding that search engine optimization is about giving clients, or potential clients, or the general public, the information that they're looking for. I think we get really intimidated by SEO when we start thinking about all the technical aspects, and there are, like there's over 200 things Google considers once deciding how to rank the website. A lot of it is things like how fast your website is or how this is tagged or whatever, but really the big picture is like, Google wants to know that, you know what you're talking about, you're some sort of expert, and that your website has the information people are looking for. And if you can have that viewpoint of, how do I use my website to serve my clients, then that's where it starts, and to me that's where making it less intimidating starts. Actually this morning I was listening to another SEO training, they were talking about that in order to plan out what kind of content to put on your website, like blog posts, you should be thinking about topical authority. Like, what you need to understand the topic you're talking about, and then you need to be able to empathize with the people who might be looking for that information. I'm like, man therapists are so well positioned to do this! Take anxiety, like most of us can off the top of our head, think what are the questions people are asking? Because we've been asked them so many times and yes, we're experts on it, we've gone to grad school, and then most of us have gotten additional training, if that's the kind of work that we do, dude, you totally have topical authority. And if you just think about your clients, which I would argue most therapists are very good at putting themselves in their client's shoes and thinking about their perspective, then we have an edge when it comes to SEO, I believe over most other professions.

Jennifer: I love, and that's a very good point. One of the things that I will tell people all the time is write your copy with, what would my client Google to find me, in mind. Right? Because nobody Googles these super psychological terms, they Google how to stop fighting with my husband. They Google very simple phrases, and if those phrases aren't a part of what your copy is, it's not going to really benefit you a tremendous amount, drawing the right kind of clients to you that you really wanna work with.

Jessica: Yes, I kid you not, the first time somebody was talking about SEO with me and they're like, what do you think people are searching for, if they're looking for your services? I legit told them prolonged exposure and nobody, nobody in the public is searching for prolonged exposure, unless their doctor just read a research article saying that PE was the old gold standard and comparing it to some other type of treatment. And so I feel like we can get so academic, and like grad school trained us really well to like, try to prove all these big words that we understand, but when we can step away from that and think no, like somebody who would benefit from EMDR, what would they be searching? What are they thinking about? Just like you said, they're searching, how do I stop fighting with my husband? How do I stop nightmares? How do I deal with nightmares? Those sorts of things.

Jennifer: Then they’re googling symptoms.

Jessica: Yeah. People think it's so funny because so often on service pages, if you have a service page that's all about for instance, OCD, you should have a subheading that's: what are the symptoms of OCD? And then you should have just a list of it and they are like, really? I'm like, yes, absolutely, because that is what they're Googling for. So yes, it ends up making a longer page, but the thing is we've gotten really good at scanning pages and looking for, if I wanna know what the symptoms of OCD are, I'm gonna scan the page, and I kind of know what to expect, I'm probably looking for some bullet points, I'm looking at the subheadings, I'm going to find out what are the symptoms of OCD. Then Google has a new update that they've been working on where they're trying to make things really interactive, and so if somebody searches for instance, marriage counseling, Google is thinking about what are all of the different sub-questions or subcategories. Somebody might be thinking if they're searching for marriage counseling, they're not just searching for marriage counseling, they might be, how do I convince my husband to go to marriage counseling? Or can non-married couples benefit from couples counseling? Or is marriage counseling appropriate if you're polyamorous? I mean, like there's all these different subcategories within it that Google knows that the person searching for the big thing is also searching for the little thing, and so those are the kinds of things. I feel like a lot of what we do with SEO is like talking about why don't you write blog posts? And I always get the Uhhh and I'm like, no, no, don't think about blog posts as being just for SEO. It is, but it is because people are looking for that. So if you're a marriage counselor, if you do couples counseling and I know that I'm saying marriage counseling, that's actually searched for more often than couples counseling, but we target both. But you know what people are looking for, you have the topical authority, and so I don't just want you writing blog posts to help you rank well, I'll tell you what some of those are, but I also want you empathizing with your client and saying like, what are they looking for? And showing Google that you understand all those subcategories, that you not just understand marriage counseling, you know, what's bringing people to your sessions, you know how to prepare people for your sessions, and you have a wide range of resources available for somebody that's looking for marriage counseling on your site.

Jennifer: That's a great point of making sure that all the subcategories, not the big topic, but the subcategories are encapsulated in what we put on our website. And this is where I'm gonna be really honest with you, this is where this shit starts to do my head in, because I think I know all of that, but I don't know jack squat about how to actually make that work on my website and all of these other things. Like I have vague term words ‘cause I've interviewed people or hired people, but honestly I hire people for this stuff because this is not in my wheelhouse and I'm just not very good at it. So if there's like the do it yourself, or I'd love for you to talk, kind of the tale of two therapists, like the do it yourself, or what are some simple things that they might be able to do with a basic knowledge set? And then what are the things that when you hire someone they're able to do for you to help level that up a little bit more?

Yeah, so the basic things that you can do, there's a whole lot. You can have a Google My Business profile that you connect, you can have regular updates, regular blogs on your website. You can have, if you are a couple's therapist, you can have a page on couple's therapy, a page on LGBTQ plus affirming couple's therapy, a page on marriage counseling, a page on Christian marriage counseling, you know, all the different kinds of subcategories. And then you can write a shit ton of blog posts about things that you think that people are searching for. And from there, you can go down the rabbit hole and learn to optimize as much as you want, but it all starts with having really great content. If you hire someone, there's a lot of different ways to do that, too. Like you said, you have all the information. If you have all the information and oftentimes we have very strong opinions about these things, then you can. My urging is like, don't outsource it to such an extent that you're like, just post two blogs a month, it's all good, whatever, I'm a couple's therapist, whatever's gonna get me people. No, like I would encourage you to think about your ideal clients. And like we have, when we do copywriting, we have clients, they'll send us voice memos where they just talk into their phone for a minute and then send it to us, and we turn that into a blog for them. There are lots of people I know at my private practice. I have an amazing VA who, like no experience writing or whatever, but she had her bachelor's degree in psychology, and so I'm like okay, write me a blog post here on this. Here's some bullet points, go write that for me, and then I'll look at it and tweak it, but it takes some of the overwhelm out that you can still infuse you into it. You still want it to be written just for you, you still want it to sound like you, because if somebody writes you amazing content but it doesn't sound anything like you, it might convert clients. You might have clients call, but they're not gonna stay because they're gonna sit in front of you and the voice that spoke to them isn't going to be your voice. I was actually training someone, a new copywriter yesterday, and we were talking about this. I'm like, you know you can have two therapists, like I have two therapists that both do DBT, but they have extremely different personalities. And so you wouldn't want one of them writing a blog post to market the other one’s service, unless they really were thinking from that other person's point of view. And so I think that that's an important thing to consider if you're gonna outsource is that you are still being involved enough that you're reaching the clients you want to reach. The kind of clients you want and that they are still, like, the you-ness is still coming through, that you're still being real and authentic and who you are and it's still your voice. But yeah, from there, the nice thing about hiring, whether it's hiring someone to train you or hiring someone to do it for you, is that once you have great content, there’s a million things that you can do to optimize your site. You can do keyword research to make sure that the phrases that you're using are the phrases that are legit searched for most often, little things like discovering hey, I need to use marriage counseling occasionally instead of just couples therapy can be really helpful. Having subheadings, like I said, people scan the page and I feel like people, like most of us, don't give enough thought to subheadings, and quite frankly, oftentimes have huge blocks of text without subheadings. That's a simple thing that we can do is put in subheadings so that somebody can scan the page and it kind of works like those outlines we used to write in like high school or middle school. People expect to see that outline and be able to read in deeper on that part that's catching their eye, the thing that they're actually looking for. Then making sure you have lots of links to other pages, and again, like Google wants to give people a good experience, so on your page, think like from here, what else would be helpful? So if they're reading my anxiety treatment page, they also might really like to read this blog post that I wrote on five quick ways to deal with anxiety, or on different types of anxiety disorders, and do I need a  DSM diagnosis to benefit from therapy? And so you might link to those other pages that you've written, or you might link an EMDR page, like every EMDR page is probably gonna link to EMDRIA. We just are because like that tells Google, I get that EMDRIA is the best source of information about EMDR. And like, I wanna be associated with EMDRIA If I'm an EMDR therapist, like please, please Google lump me in the same categories. So adding links too, I think is another one of those quick wins that I think that people way under utilize.

Jennifer: Okay. And I've heard that too before, because here's what I wanna know. What does Google actually look at on your page? Like when Google is doing what Google does. I mean, I'm not even gonna try and explain, what Google does is what Google does, right. And it goes out and says, what content is gonna be relevant to this post? Is it only the headings and subheadings? Is it actual texts that you've written? Like, what are they looking at?

Jessica: Oh, Google is so detail oriented. They send these little bots out and scan your page and look at all the secret, hidden things, and so everything Google's trying to get a big picture and that's what makes this complicated, and quite frankly, that's the part I love is it's like this puzzle. It's like, okay, how can I give Google all the right information in all the right places? Because Google will look at your text, it wants to see that the text is easy to read and clear and shows authority. It will look, I even tell people like the, about the author section is important because that shows your expertise to Google. It will look not only at your photos. Like it'll look at your alt text that describes what the photo's about. It will look at your type, like your file names for your photos, because it sees that. And so my team has done a lot of experimenting we're like hmm, does Google really read the photo file names? Let's try not optimizing them and doing everything else, and then like the next month, optimize real quick and see if Google does look at that. Like I try to play around with like, does it really? And I'll read everybody else’s opinions, and then we go experiment on, honestly my private practice site gets experimented on a lot. We're like, does it really matter? And Google takes into account the big picture, and that's why you can go down the rabbit hole as much as you want. If you live in New York city, if you live in LA, if you live in Miami, that's where you're going to have to either get really excited about SEO like I am, and learn all of these little things, or outsource to someone that's really knowledgeable because all those little things are gonna come into play in those more competitive areas. My favorite websites are like, we've had a couple in Manhattan and I'm like, yes, ‘cause those are such a challenge. And it's like, we really have to think through what are all the little, it's like doing a puzzle with a lot more little pieces, ‘cause Google's paying attention to every little piece because there's so many clinicians it has to differentiate and these little things make such make such a difference, but it it's totally doable to rank in those places. You just have to either be excited to learn all the little things, or outsource to someone that does.

Jennifer: You can have the challenge, that sounds like a nightmare to me. Okay, so here's another question. If on my website, you've mentioned blogs and I wanna talk about YouTube too, because I know that I put my podcast on YouTube as well, and is it important to have blogs, YouTube, multiple? Like, does one of them matter that more than the other or all of them may need to be represented. I don't know. What have you found to be the most effective? What's our biggest bang for our buck with the least amount of energy, ‘cause most of us are running on half right now. Anyhow, what can we do?

Jessica: Things are evolving, and so my best advice right now is take a video, put it on YouTube, then have someone write you a blog post based on that video. Not just a transcript, but like again with subheadings and all that good stuff, and then post the blog post with the video, describing it at top at the top, because Google is now showing videos and such in search results, and so you want the video on there. But right now, just having vlogs, they're embedded on there without any text, is not ranking nearly as well, and so I think videos are the future. I think we're moving more and more towards it. Like I said, there are sometimes even videos showing up in search results. So to me in the future, I'm more and more going to be sending people out like, you need a video to go with this. So if you're really, really looking for the biggest bang for your best buck, record a video, have somebody write a blog post off that, and post the blog post with the video embedded at the top or the bottom of the page.

Jennifer: Okay, Hmm. That gives me homework, that gives me homework. Well, at least I've already done the work. So now it's just taking what was already done and writing something. I'll tell you when I go back and I listen to my podcasts and I'm, you know, writing copy for it, I always listen to it at double speed. So maybe I can get through a few if I just listen to it at double speed, I do sound funny, but it gets done a lot faster.

Jessica: It does. Once I discovered that on Netflix, I was like, yes, that's a thing. Yeah, I can do that.

Jennifer: And I listen to audiobooks a lot while I'm cleaning house, or doing different things and you can pump it up a little bit. I like 1.8, too fast, I'm losing context, but yeah, you can plow through some books at 1.8. So blogs. Start doing some videos maybe because we wanna prepare ourselves for what's coming next, you know, and kind of the next wave of evolution. What are the biggest mistakes that you see people make with their website?

Jessica: I'm seeing it a little bit less often now than I was a couple years ago, but a couple years ago, by far the biggest mistake was the services page. As in a single page that's a big list of, my degree says that I can help you with everything under the sun. You and I both know that we all have things that we're better at than others. And so I think nicheing, people are starting to understand more that like that is really helpful. So I'm seeing less of that, but I still would say now I'm seeing a lot of things like an anxiety page, a depression page, and a trauma page that each have a paragraph and that's not enough. Remember, we said like Google wants to know not just that you can spell depression and define depression, but that you understand that somebody searching for help for depression might also wanna know about symptoms of depression, like what you do in session, how to motivate yourself to get up off the couch and go to therapy, like those subcategories. And so everywhere you look, somebody's gonna give you an arbitrary number. Some people say you need at least 250 words of content, I used to always say 500, some people say 2000. What's more important than the number of words on the page is just that you are covering that topic enough to show that you have authority. And so I think that that still is the biggest we've evolved from where we were a couple years ago. Where most therapists are making these pages now to describe the types of things they work with, but they're still not putting enough content on there to really show that they're an expert on the topic and have the resources available for people, and so that's a big mistake. Another big mistake I see is people wanting to go so cheap with their websites, that they do something like get locked into a five year thing for GoDaddy, or something like that. And things are evolving, I know like Wix is pouring a lot into their SEO, and so some of these other ones are gonna get better. So if you're listening to this podcast two years from now, don't hold me to this, but as of today, as of right now, my recommendation is that everybody build their website on Squarespace or WordPress. Right now, those are the best. I think that there are others that show it is becoming more popular, which uses WordPress for its blog. But right now the big players are WordPress and Squarespace. If you really need to save money and do it yourself, go with Squarespace because it's a lot easier to learn. I have had some amazing clients who have figured out their own WordPress site and man, that impresses me. But for most of us, it's gonna be easier to learn Squarespace if you really do need to DIY it, and then if you ever move over, if you ever have a larger budget and have someone design you a really nice WordPress website, they can move that content over, but at least you have a shot of ranking. My private practice websites on a Squarespace. People will tell you WordPress is the best, it is. Simplified’s website is on WordPress for that reason, ‘cause we wanna rank nationally. But my private practice is on Squarespace and it ranks excellent, like we have a steady stream of referrals. So that's another definite mistake is, not building on one of those platforms. So those are kind of the common ones, reusing content also. Well meaning people will like, copy a whole page from EMDRIA or something like that, and just like put the whole page on their website. Please don't copy anyone else's content, it doesn't help you and it doesn't help somebody else. And if you're taking a whole page off EMDRIA, then EMDRIA is gonna outrank you, they're just more authoritative about EMDR. And I'm not saying this, like picking on EMDRIA. I love EMDR, and so that's why it's like top of my mind, but same could be said for other things. And so we've seen people do that. That's not helpful. Same with cheap places where you can get blogs, or service pages that have been used on other people's sites. And if a hundred sites all have the exact same page, Google's bored by it and that's not going to help you rank too. And so not having original content on your page would be another mistake, you wanna write it. And again, you want it to represent you. You want it to sound like you, even if you're a group practice, I have a group practice, but we still have our own kind of culture and theme, you know, tone. And so I still hand write everything myself, or I've had a couple pages where I've had somebody else write 'em, but with a lot of input. So it still sounds like our practice, even though it's a group.

Jennifer: Yeah. Your personality needs to kind of show up on your page so people know what they're getting, and you're attracting the right clients for you, clients that you really genuinely enjoy working with. Okay. So now let's say I'm going: okay, I'm listening to all of this, this sounds like a lot of frigging work, and I still know I probably need to do something. Do companies like yours or other companies, like can people pay to kind of have evaluation of, take a look at my stuff, what do I need to tweak? And then you come up with plans or let them know? Or how does that work to actually engage an SEO expert like yourself? What does that process look like?

Most of us start with a consultation of some kind. And so with ours, we do it over Zoom so we can look at your website and share screen, and like make really personalized recommendations of, this is what I think, I would recommend that you do. And then from there, like we offer an introduction strategy session, the package that's exactly that. Sometimes we can take a look at your website and we right away are like, here's what we recommend. Sometimes you have a bit more complicated situation where you really wanna work with us on a strategy package first, so we have a very individualized plan for you. Then the way that our packages work is, we had to change this, we had to evolve. So now we have like a number of points each month, and based on how long you've had your website, how well it ranks, where you're located, we'll recommend that level, that many points per month. And then each month we're like, okay, I would recommend you use these to do this, like to optimize your anxiety page in these two blogs, or we can do some copywriting for you. Some of that, you know, you're gonna pay more, the less involved you wanna be in. So if you wanna hire someone else to do all your copywriting and all the optimizing, you're gonna pay more than if you're like, I'm gonna do all my copywriting and you guys just work the magic, the behind scenes magic to optimize, change the subheadings, break up long paragraphs,  optimize the photos, those sorts of things. Everybody's a little bit different in what they need too, and I think that being able to individualize that strategy and have somebody that will listen to you and listen to your needs is really important.

Yeah. One more question just popped in my mind, which is, I know SEO used to benefit from having your links on other people's websites. Is that still a thing? Or did that go away?

Jessica: Yeah, no, backlinks, and backlinks are really important, but don't buy backlinks. Like a lot of people think there's value in buying them, that's not helpful. Technically it's against Google's terms of service, a lot of people do get away with it. I was listening to your enneagram one, this podcast this morning. I'm a ‘1’, so I care a lot about doing things the right ethical way. So I'm like Google says not to buy 'em I'm not gonna buy 'em, and a lot of people are like, but I get away with it, but like enneagram type 1 in me is like, no I can't do it that way. Even if I get away with it, I'll know it's wrong. So sometimes I can get a little bit like here's the right way to do SEO.

Jennifer: The rule follower.

Jessica: Yes I am, but organically getting your backlinks out there, getting other sites to link to yours, getting on directories. And there are a lot of free directories that are helpful. Writing a guest blog post for other therapists, having resource lists in town that list your websites, those sorts of things. I literally have spent hours talking about backlinks before, so it's a really incredible strategy that can be really powerful. I think that what happens is, sometimes people focus so much so early on getting lots of links to their websites, but their website still isn't telling Google what to rank them for. So Google's like, obviously I trust you, tons of people send people to your site, they all trust you, you must be trustworthy, but I don't know what your site's about. And so I usually work with people on getting the content up there first and getting that optimized, and then working really heavily, like, okay now Google knows what your site's about. Now let's get some other people to link to your site and get Google to really understand not only to rank you well, because you're trustworthy, but also what to rank you for. And it doesn't matter too much which order you go in for those, but ultimately you need both your website itself optimized and lots of links to your site.

Jennifer: Okay, all right. I know what to kind of look at and you know, I do have someone I've hired behind the scenes, but it's always good to kind of be more aware. And one thing I'm not doing that I'm gonna take away from this conversation is I need to up my blog. So I'm already doing a lot of work, a lot of talks and trainings and different things, and I need to up my blog game, so I'm definitely taking a take away from this. Jessica, how can people connect with you?

Jessica: Yes, our website is And there are several options, you can book a consultation with us, you can just join. We have like a seven-day email series, they'll give you some of the basics, or if you wanna try your hand at doing this yourself and see if it's as fun as I say it is, our DIY courses, if they use the code: Jennifer, that will get your listeners a 20% discount on any of our courses, including our biggest, most comprehensive online course.

Awesome, thank you so much, and thank you for being on today. If you would like to connect more with me, or connect more with this podcast, or future retreats or trainings,, you can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, all the links that we've discussed today are gonna be below. Get out there and live your best dang life. Have a great day.