While SEO is a hot topic in most industries, it’s still something that remains outside of the mainstream for medical websites. Mechanics, online retailers, bloggers and professional service firms all rely heavily on SEO and know about its importance, and yet the same general sense of urgency is yet to permeate the medical sector. But why does SEO for medical websites get placed on the back burner?
Part of the explanation comes down to the fact that the digital ambitions of medical practitioners tend to be less than those of other businesses. Doctors are used to operating in a consistent operating environment and have a belief that their industry is immune from disruptive technological change. While that may have been true in the past, it’s certainly not the case anymore. Any medical practice that does not reach out online and make effective use of SEO could suffer enormously over the coming years.
What is SEO?
SEO or search engine optimization is a catchall term that describes a set of actions web hosts can take to boost the ranking of their websites online. A higher ranking is important because it means that it’s more likely than another practice that your website will pop up when people search for, say, “doctors in Buffalo.”
SEO for medical websites involves the same interventions as for sites of organization in other industries. SEO can be broken down into two general groups: on-page and off-page.
On-page search engine optimization includes everything that you can do to your pages to make them more SEO-friendly. Google, for instance, uses “dwell time” – or the length of time a user spends on your page – to determine how high it ranks. The longer the dwell time, the better, from Google’s perspective, because it indicates that a person is enjoying and making use of the content on your web pages.
On-page SEO for medical websites can be a little tricky to master. How do you get people to hang around? It’s more of an art than a science. There are all kinds of ways of doing this, of course, but it requires that you have an understanding of “user intent” – or what a particular person is searching for.
Good on-page optimization for doctors, for instance, would be creating content that directly addresses patient concerns. Patients in your area might be searching for things like, “what to do if my toenails are yellow.” You could then create content explicitly addressing that question, including what could be causing the yellowing of toenails and whether a person should book an appointment. If you provide great information, you create value for Google’s users too, and the search engine will reward you.
The other type of SEO is off-page. As you might have guessed, this involves doing things on other websites that boost the ranking of yours. An excellent example of off-site SEO is link building – or getting the hosts of other sites to provide backlinks to your practice.
Why do links from other sites boost yours? Primarily, it’s because links act as a signal that your website contains helpful content. Google and other search engines pay attention to this and then feed this into their ranking algorithms. The more links you have (and the higher the quality of the source of those links), the better you’ll rank.
Doctors can quickly start building links from other websites. All you usually need to do is create some useful content for visitors to a third-party website and then ask the host if they wouldn’t mind providing a link back to yours. It’s a surprisingly simple process.
You can also get backlinks passively by creating high-quality content that people can’t get elsewhere on the internet. If you write something “authoritative” that people trust or find especially useful, then other websites will link to yours, forwarding their users to the source material. As a medical practitioner, you probably already have a lot of useful knowledge you can share with people, so putting it into an easy-to-read format and posting it on the internet can provide a resource that generates backlinks without you having to do any additional work.
Why SEO is Effective
Research shows that between 71 and 92 percent of users won’t click past the first page of website search results. In other words, if you’re not on page one of Google results for your chosen keyword terms, you’ll get practically no traffic through organic means. This is bad news. However, with good use of SEO, you can improve your chances of rising through the ranks and, with enough consistent effort, get right to the top of organic results.
SEO for medical websites is highly-effective. The main reason for this is that it helps you to cut down on your pay-per-click advertising costs. PPC advertising is expensive. Every time a patient clicks a link to your site from search results, you pay a fee to the search engine, whether that user becomes a paying customer or not. But SEO allows you to get around this constant drain on your finances by automatically boosting you to the top of results.
SEO also helps you capture the people you actually want to attract to your site. Your website, for instance, could have lots of content. But if the people consuming it aren’t those who are going to become your customers, then you’re wasting your time and money. You might have the best article in the world on what causes diabetes and how people can manage it, but if your audience is international researchers and not local patients, the content doesn’t help you one bit.
The trick to great SEO for local medical practices is creating content which satisfies the needs of local people. You want to be able to speak to patients who live in your local area and provide them with bespoke content that gives them the information they need. If you can do that, then you’re likely to grab more patients from the local area.
Why SEO is Important for Medical Websites
Medical websites rely on attracting people from the local area. Because of this, so-called “local SEO” is much more critical than it is for an e-commerce company. People will quite happily buy from an e-commerce company based on the other side of the country, but nobody would do the same for medical practitioners – they want services that are near to where they live and that they can access easily.
Medical websites that fail to optimize for local search criteria run the risk of losing market share to local competitors. Ideally, you want to target local keywords, such as the town in which you’re located, so that whenever anybody types in a search term with the intent of finding a local doctor’s office, they find yours.
There’s another reason SEO is so vital for medical websites: It builds trust. Patients entrust doctors with their bodies and lives. Trust, therefore, is a medical practitioner’s most important marketing tool. If a doctor can gain patients’ trust, then he or she will attract their business long-term.
But what does any of this have to do with SEO? It turns out that how high your practice ranks in search results has a direct effect on how much an internet searcher trusts you from the outset. Users are accustomed to finding highly reliable resources and trustworthy companies at the top of search results, and so if yours appears there, you’ll gain all of the cachet that the top rankings bring. Likewise, you might have the best website and practice in the country, but if you’re stuck down on page four of Google results, then users may wonder why you’re there. Did you do something wrong? Are you a legitimate practice? Who knows?
A couple of years ago, Google updated its ranking algorithm for business websites to include reviews. The more reviews a company had on a third-party review site like TrustPilot, or Google’s own review platform, the better it would do in search results. Google’s approach was similar to Amazon’s and eBay’s, where sellers with excellent review track records appear higher up the search results. Arguably, reviews of medical practices are even more persuasive for patients because patients have more to lose if things go wrong. Again, this is an example of where smart SEO can build patient trust. Soliciting reviews boosts your ranking while at the same time providing publicly available reviews that prospective patients can access at any time.
We’ve only scratched the surface of SEO and how you achieve it. There’s much more that goes into creating a website that ranks highly, including things like website speed, mobile optimization, keyword selection, the inclusion of rich media, metatags and “Google My Business.” But the purpose of this article was to point out that it is essential for all customer-facing organizations, including medical practices, to rank highly for relevant keyword terms. Patients are becoming far more dependent on the internet for information, and the time has now come for medical practices to catch up with organizations in other industries. Medical websites that meet the needs of patients will reward their owners in the form of higher revenue and a larger patient base.
For more information about SEO and digital marketing for your medical practice, reach out to the professionals at Crystal Clear Digital Marketing. Contact us today to get started. We look forward to hearing from you!