The long-time internet joke is truer today than ever: the best place to hide a dead body? Page two of Google Search Results.
If you don’t want your medical practice website to end up there, keep reading.
And if your thinking, well why should I listen?
ReferralMD ranks globally #1 (without paying for ads) for almost all major search terms including Healthcare technology, healthcare marketing, physician referral management, referral leakage, etc. Google these terms and see why we know what we are talking about.
Increasingly, doctors and medical practice managers who want to attract more patients and drive success in the digital marketplace (where most of their prospective patients spend their time) know that search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical component of their marketing strategy. Why? Let’s take a look at some hard data.
- Search engines drive 93% of all website traffic
- Almost 75% of marketers affirm that relevant content has the most significant influence on SEO
- Search is the greatest single driver of traffic to content sites, topping social media by a whopping 300%
- 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three organic search results
But what does SEO mean exactly? And how can you as an (extremely) busy healthcare provider (or your staff) master such a seemingly complex art?
In this article, we’ll break down what SEO is and why it’s so important to your practice. We’ll also share nine virtually no-cost tips and strategies that you can start implementing today to help more prospective patients find you online.
1. Know and Don’t Fear Thy SEO
Given the critical nature of SEO in attracting more patients online, you’d think that doctors and practice managers would be itching to incorporate SEO into their websites. However, the reality is that many of the doctors and practice managers we work with don’t understand and don’t want to understand SEO. It’s as if they’ve developed a chopped liver-like aversion to it where they turn the other cheek and say, “No, that’s some crazy computer stuff, and I don’t need to worry about it.”
But that would be a serious mistake.
Achieving organic visibility is a significant hurdle for any business, regardless of the industry they operate in. However, it is particularly challenging in the competitive healthcare realm. If prospective patients are unable to find you during their search for a healthcare practitioner, a major opportunity to convert a patient has been lost.
SEO has changed over the years as have the Google algorithms that process and evaluated keywords and website content. Keywords are no longer enough to rank you higher in search engines. In addition to needing to be relevant and beneficial, your content (and the enhanced user experience it provides) also needs to be tailored to avoid the dreaded Page 2 of Google and get you as close to the top of Page 1 as possible, where people are most likely to click.
What makes the process even murkier is that the search engine titan keeps many of its SEO rules close to its chest. Not only that, but every one of your key competitors is actively and zealously trying to beat you out.
How can you stay afloat in such hostile territory?
The first thing to realize is that online search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo have become trusted resources for people searching for doctors. Over the past decade (at least), online search has made some traditional advertising venues virtually obsolete (yes, we’re looking at you, dusty, old Yellow Pages). And your medical practice needs to adapt to the changes in patient behavior to leverage the situation.
Another essential element of SEO success is to have the capability to edit your practice’s website content easily. If you don’t, you’ll need a new website that puts you in control and empowers you to make any required changes. After that, you’ll be on the road to higher visibility by potential (and existing) patients.
2. Hone in on Local Search to Attract More Patients
These statistics validate what we have been preaching to our medical practice clients for years: local search optimization is a core component of any SEO campaign. If one out of five of all searches includes a local qualifier, you could potentially be losing out on twenty percent of prospective patient traffic by failing to enhance local search.
Optimizing your website and content for local search is one of your most critical SEO tasks.
72% of consumers who did a local search visited a store within five miles. Your medical practice depends, in large part, on those individuals who live in proximity to your office.
For example, when a prospective patient types in “orthopedic surgeon in Orlando” on Google, a number of names will appear at the top of page one on Google. If you happen to be an orthopedic surgeon in Orlando, the smart money says that you’ll want your practice included in those listings.
According to industry experts, half of all consumers who search using a mobile phone visit commerce within a day, and over a third who search on a home computer do likewise. The evidence can’t be denied; your search ranking is directly correlated with patient traffic.
Still, think SEO doesn’t matter to your medical practice? Here’s a free and easy way to give you a leg up in local searches.
Google My Business is a (free) service enabling you to create a page showing important data about your practice including address, hours of operation, telephone number, and the treatments you offer. Moz Local is another web tool you can use to develop and manage your practice listing on different sites and online directories.
3. Online Reviews Matter!
We can’t talk about focusing on local search without including the critical role of online reviews.
It’s estimated that online reviews comprise 10% of how Google and other search engines choose to rank their search results.
How does it work?
When potential patients Google a practice or a physician’s name, what typically shows up is either a map location or a Google Business page as well as a handful of review site listings. Just below that come the organic search results. More often than not, those review sites display a star rating.
The more positive reviews you have, the better you look – especially since stars catch people’s eye. Therefore, putting your best foot forward where reviews are concerned is of prime importance. Google also likes when businesses are verified and have community members commenting and leaving reviews, so the more positive reviews you have, the bigger of an SEO boost you’ll receive.
4. Choose Relevant Keywords
Keywords and phrases are central to the success of and traffic to your medical practice website. In layperson’s terms, keywords are those phrases that patients type into a search engine. And the keywords you place throughout your website will impact your on-page SEO ranking (more on that below) and help dictate where your page ends in search engine result pages (SERP).
Here’s what you need to do to get started:
- Create a list of roughly ten keywords that a patient would use associated with your subspecialty. What questions would they normally ask? If you are a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, a search might include “best plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills.”
- Plug every keyword on your list into Google’s Keyword Tool to determine which combinations work best for you. Take special note of search volume and the level of competition (low, medium, and high) to choose where to focus your efforts.
- Choose five to ten keywords and track how effective they are in attracting prospective patients to your website.
Although SEO isn’t rocket science, there is an art form to working with keywords to boost your ranking. For example, you can’t just insert the words “oncology practice” one hundred times throughout your website and expect to rank on the first page of Google for oncologists in your town.
Choosing the right keywords will allow Google’s little “crawler” bots to scoot around your website and ensure you are hitting the proper terms. But of utmost importance to Google is enhancing the user experience by using those keywords naturally in the content you create. The more readable your content, the higher you will rank on Google and magnify your chances to attract more patients.
5. On-page SEO
Once your keywords are set, you’ll need to develop on-page SEO to maximize traffic to your practice website. On-page SEO involves creating content to mirror what your target patients are looking for and ensuring those terms are embedded within the page. Keep in mind that half of all search phrases are four words or longer.
Let’s say you’re an otolaryngologist in San Francisco, and you want to create an educational page centered around sinusitis. You would be well served to mention the word “sinusitis” on the webpage as well as terms like “sinusitis treatment in San Francisco.”
When that particular page gets indexed and “crawled” by Google, it will match any person’s query to the phrases on your website to provide the user with the best possible search result.
With all of your content, the trick is to choose the optimal keywords that you want any page to revolve around and then specify to search engines that the page does indeed focus on those terms.
Warning: take care not to “stuff” a page with too many of the same keywords or the search engines may flag you for bad behavior and ignore you altogether. According to SEO experts, the ideal keyword density for any piece of content is between 0.5 to 2.5%. And use synonyms whenever possible as Google now recognizes synonyms to keywords. Your work just got a lot easier!
6. Off-page SEO
Off-page SEO is as important as on-page and naturally follows the latter in boosting your practice website. Essentially, off-page SEO is everything you can do outside of your website to build credibility and trust. The key component of off-page SEO is what’s called a backlink (go to the head of the class if you guessed right).
Backlinks are links from outside your website that link back to any page on your site. Increasing the quality, quantity, and relevance of backlinks to your site from other sources will heighten your credibility and authority in the eyes of Google. It will give all search engines proof that your content is of value to other internet users, and thus spike your ranking.
And the best way to produce backlinks is to create excellent, forceful, and relevant content. By writing content that provides an answer to commonly posed questions from your patients will increase the number of shares, earn you backlinks, and solidify your reputation.
Social media is instrumental in helping you generate backlinks. It is one of the most effective ways you can share relevant content with your audience, generate additional links back to your site, build your authority, and ultimately attract more patients.
A few minutes of research can provide you with a plethora of popular blogs, pertinent media outlets, and medical associations that might be very happy to share your content with their followers.
7. Create Great Content
Like french fries and ketchup, and ham and cheese, great content and SEO go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. In fact, when you produce dynamic and relevant content that your users get a lot of value out of, a large chunk of your SEO work will be accomplished.
High-quality content will earn you backlinks from other sites, boosting your authority and online credibility. And Google will take notice. The most underrated aspect of SEO is the importance of exceptional content. After that, combining it with keywords will allow you to take control of search engines and generate the high-quality traffic you desire. Not only that, but a great piece of content will produce dividends for your practice for years on end, like the gift that keeps on giving, for a fraction of what traditional advertising would cost.
Let’s retake our orthopedic surgeon as an example. You create a page about the benefits of outpatient spine surgery. When a prospective patient searches for that term, your practice will pop up. Once the user clicks over to your website and learns about all the benefits of the procedure, they will automatically see you as a trusted expert in your field. By providing a call-to-action on the page that reads “To learn more about this, contact us today,” you will increase the likelihood of converting that person into a patient.
Here are some other tips for producing relevant and engaging content:
- Create a Blog – Find out (by asking) what your patients are most interested in and publish it in a space on your website. The content should be compelling, and most importantly, easy to read and understand.
- Focus on User-Generated Content (UGC) – Google’s greatest love may be user-generated content. Content written by your audience…aka your patients. And at the pinnacle of UGC are patient reviews and testimonials. Patient-generated content gives you a threefold bang for your buck: it will boost your rank on Google, solidify your reputation online, and create an instant connection with potential patients. And all three will keep feeding off of one another indefinitely.
- Edit Your Work – Every great writer has an even better editor working behind the scenes. Having a second (or even a third) set of eyes reviewing your work is essential to the process. Google will penalize your site for shoddy or poorly written content. Get two or three opinions and put the suggestions to good use.
- Don’t Repeat Yourself – Your community does not want to read about the same thing over and over again. Post fresh and creative topics to grab their attention. Your audience is ready and waiting to learn from you. Share your expertise!
- Share – Don’t be shy to spread the word about your new content. Share it with your patients, colleagues, and peers. Seek out affiliates, organizations or medical associations who might be interested in posting your article on their site, giving you precious backlinks to your site (something search engines adore because it shows them that others value what you have written). Steer clear of websites that look “spammy.”
8. Outflank Your Competition
SEO is, unfortunately, not a one and done affair. Like a budding houseplant, it needs consistent watering and sunlight. Just because you rank high on any given week doesn’t mean you’ll stay there. Why? Your competitors are working hard to figure SEO out as well and will do their utmost to try and leapfrog over you. Sometimes you might be number one, and at other times, you may find yourself down at number fifteen.
The bottom line is that SEO isn’t done in a vacuum. The good ‘ole days of website SEO being a set-it-and-forget-it strategy are gone. Your competitors are moving, adjusting, and positioning themselves as well. If you give SEO regular attention, the results will follow. It’s something that should be on your radar day in and day out. The best way for you to leapfrog above your nearest competitor is when they go to sleep on the job. When they take their eye off the SEO ball, you will seize the opportunity.
And once you’ve taken over those first pages of the search engine, it will be very difficult for your competitors to catch up with you.
9. Stay Driven and Keep Going
It might take a little time before your pages get indexed by the major search engines. Any work you put in today will pay off in the not-too-distant future. If you lack the time and resources to put your best foot forward (we know how big of a job it can be), then contact an expert who can do the heavy lifting for you.
Remember, the journey of one hundred miles begins with the first step. Building your online prowess is an ongoing process. Employ these SEO tips and strategies to your medical practice website, and you will start to see improvements and be well on your way to expanding your web presence and driving more traffic through the front door.