“Google” has become synonymous with “search.” The dictionary even classifies the word as a verb. Fair enough — it controls the lion’s share (76%) of the search-engine market, with Bing in third place (also trailing China’s Baidu). And since a whopping 93% of all online experiences are kicked off on a search engine, successful doctors and practice marketers know it’s imperative to keep an eye on search engine optimization (SEO) performance and note how SEO has changed to boost their Google rankings and get in front of more prospective patients.
SEO isn’t what it used to be — in a good way! Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm to deliver the most relevant content in their search results as well as reward those on the other side vying for consumer attention. This gets more people the information they’re looking for and helps Google maintain its #1 spot as the search engine of record.
Healthcare providers want to ensure their name and practice occupy the top spots when someone Googles them. For good reason, too — 75% of people won’t dig into the second page (and beyond) of search results. Think a paid ad will win them over? Think again: As much as 80% of Googlers skip past the ads entirely and dive right into organic results. To stay relevant and visible in the world of SEO, doctors have to continually adjust their strategies to stay in the line of sight of their prospective patients. Here are some important ways SEO has changed in recent history that doctors must consider when developing a digital strategy.
1. SEO goes mobile first
People use desktop and mobile search differently. Mobile search is more often linked to instant gratification — needing to find a restaurant nearby or looking for shoe shops in the area, for example — while desktop users are often thinking longer term. For patients looking for doctors, the need seems split. Some look to make checkups and annual appointments down the road; others have an immediate illness or injury they need to take care of. A recent Doctor.com report confirms this: 56% of patients prefer to search for doctors on a laptop or PC while nearly 40% would rather use a smartphone or tablet.
But the trend is leaning toward mobile in healthcare-related search and beyond. Google announced that mobile search surpassed desktop search nearly five years ago. To accommodate new consumer behavior and because nearly half of searches start with local intent, changes in the the algorithm have given mobile-optimized websites the edge in local search. That means that doctors who aren’t thinking mobile first are ranking lower and decreasing their chances with patients nearby.
2. An offsite presence is mandatory
While a modern, visually appealing, mobile-optimized, and keyword-rich website is a cornerstone of your digital presence, it is only one pillar. And any SEO strategy will fail if your practice’s website isn’t accompanied by a robust presence on third-party sites. This means maintaining profiles on Google My Business, Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, and the other top patient destinations.
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When searching for a healthcare provider, complete listings (like a detailed profile and contact info that’s readily available online) are a critical consideration for 62% of patients. Doctors must ensure their information is accurate across the myriad places the practice comes up. Listings accuracy is a chief component of local SEO, and doctors must ensure NAP (name, address, and phone number) consistency to keep their place on the first page of search results.
3. Reviews play a more major role
Patients are flocking to review sites before making decisions about their healthcare — notably, whether or not to book an appointment with a provider. According to The Brookings Institution, they even prefer online reviews to government ratings, and 88% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation from someone they know. Doctors can no longer rely on strong word-of-mouth referrals alone: Doctor.com proprietary research reveals that 81% of patients will even go online to read reviews of a referred provider.
To better reflect to this patient behavior, today reviews have a significant impact on local SEO. The number of total reviews, quality of reviews, and average rating all have an effect on your position on the page. For more information about how to capture more positive patient reviews, check out the Doctor.com ReviewHub™ solution.
4. Media matters: Variety is the spice of SEO
High-quality video (and, for that matter, photos) may seem like a big investment up front, but they will pay off in the long run. The Google algorithm rewards high-quality content that’s relevant to the search terms provided.
Of course, SEO is no longer a keyword battle, and content isn’t limited to the text on a page. Google checks for media diversity in determining where you’ll rank in the search results. Plus, truly great, creative video can generate some serious traffic!
Next up: Put voice search on your radar
Voice search is more important than ever — and getting bigger. It’s estimated that 30% of search will be conducted sans screens by 2020. Similar to mobile’s effect on SEO rankings, Google now puts more emphasis on sites that are optimized for voice search. Make sure yours is voice optimized by keeping load speeds fast, including long-tail keywords that sound more natural and conversational, and prioritizing local search.
Not long ago, your online marketing strategy was to have a decent-looking website with some keywords that described your practice and a few relevant images. While they are still important considerations, in 2019 and moving forward, your SEO strategy must encompass multiple forms of media, reflect how people search now, and be bolstered by a well-built-out presence on third-party sites to help improve your standing in the omnipotent eyes of Google.
To learn how to optimize your practice for the new rules of SEO, schedule some time with a Doctor.com practice consultant. They can help you claim prime real estate on the first page of Google’s search results stat!