A LOT goes into transitioning a potential patient from their search for a doctor to their first step into the office.
Medical marketing has accounted for billions of dollars worth of commercial spending, it has spawned entire subsections of the economy devoted entirely to sharpening and honing doctors’ appeal. In the last decade, these marketing tactics have taken a sharp and distinct turn towards digital ad space. Banners on sites like Facebook and YouTube, pay-per-click campaigns on Google and the use of premium services that boost search results on healthcare directories like Vitals and Wellness, are more easily utilized (and viewed) than print ads ever were. Guiding this trend are three all-important letters: SEO or Search Engine Optimization.
If you have even a small budget for marketing your practice, you’ve heard this term before. SEO refers to the methods by which a business can boost its listings to the top of relevant searches. Yet despite how often SEO is used and how many doctors pay serious money for it each month, the process of promoting your office via search results can be confusing. This is no accident- a lot of businesses make their money from doctors who throw their hands in the air when faced with the complexity of the virtual search war. If everyone, doctors included, knew how to do their own SEO, the folks who profit by its mysteriousness would instantly be at a loss.
Whether or not you’re interested in rocketing your practice to #1 for relevant searches, it’s important to understand how SEO works- not just for self-promotion, but to keep false or negative information from surfacing when a patient searches for you online. Doing your own SEO is tough, but it’s not impossible. Despite what Google (or the marketing world at large) may want you to think, you don’t have to appear at the top of every search to use SEO as a powerful tool for getting new patients through your door.
Understand How/Why patients Search online
According to Healthgrades.com, a site that collects doctor reviews, 96% of patients looking for a new doctor begin their search online. To properly harness this swath of patients, however, it’s important to understand a few things about the reality of their searches. Firstly, these aren’t patients who have been referred to you by name. They’re people who know their insurance, the type of doctor they’re looking for, their zip code… And that’s about it. Secondly, search engine algorithms change constantly to try and improve their users’ experience. This means even the most expensive SEO campaign can leave you high and dry after a few months of tweaking by a search engine’s moderators- all the more reason to understand the processes of SEO yourself.
The first step is providing a convenient, simple experience for your prospective patients, much as the search engines strive to do. Although you needn’t be at #1 for every search of your specialty or locality, you should try to at least be on the first page. Google estimates that more than 90% of its traffic comes from first-page links. A lot of these searches are done on mobile devices, which means keeping the patient experience clean and enjoyable necessitates a mobile-optimized website. If your website hasn’t been formatted to display properly on a mobile device, not only will most patients likely click away, Google will punish your ranking, rendering your hard-won placement on the search results irrelevant.
How long your website takes to load is also a factor- so if you’ve recently made any changes to your site, make sure loading times for all edited pages are still up to snuff. Having appointment scheduling on your website- and any other medical directory listings as well, is another great way to streamline a patient’s search experience. If they like what they see on your website and all it takes is a click to book an appointment, they’re a lot more likely to do so. Another simple best practice for keeping abreast of your SEO is simply to ask “where did you find out about us?” on your new patients’ intake forms. Doing so will give you a realistic sense of just how many patients are finding you online.
Optimize the elements that affect your SEO
No matter what search engine a prospective patient is using, your ranking in their search comes down to a few factors. Some important ones will be: are you relevant to what they’re searching for? How relevant are you? Do you have criteria that match all of the words they used in their search? And how close are you to their point of search?
While you can’t teleport your office closer to folks searching for you (yet- looking at you, Apple), here are some easy methods to make yourself more relevant to search terms.
- Keep your name, address and phone number consistent across every listing you have. If you think that’s already done, double check. Over half of doctors with online listings have at least two incorrect pieces of data online. While it may not seem significant for one or two sites (who even uses Yellowpages.com? you’d be reasonable to ask yourself) to have outdated or incorrect information about your practice, it affects your search ranking. This is because sites like Google parse through every known iteration of a search term they can find before yielding results. So if they see your name affiliated in 35 places with the same address, they’ll be a lot more confident in recommending you as a top search result. If they see 4 different addresses amongst those 35 results, they will not. Google your practice’s name, specialty and zipcode to get a sense of how your listings look.
- Utilize Google My Business. This is an easy one- Google is the most popular search engine out there and they, obviously, will promote their affiliated listings highly. If you haven’t already claimed your Google My Business listing, take ten minutes to claim it and fill it out with a few pictures and facts about your practice. Google uses this as a litmus test for the correctness of all other listings you have online, so filling it out in detail will be a huge boon to your search visibility.
- Build out your listings. Already have your Google My Business set up? How about Healthgrades? Yelp? Wherever there’s data about you and your practice, there should be rich content too. Search engines (and the patients using them, too!) look for profiles that have pictures and links. This is a sign to them that the listings have been curated and, subsequently, will be more likely to have data relevant to what the searcher wants. Each of these profiles (most of which are free to create) are another turn at bat for your practice. If a patient’s search bypasses one or two sites where you have a profile, having a third and fourth (et cetera) will exponentially increase your odds of getting a scheduled appointment.
Go The Extra Mile
The more content you can get out there related to your practice, the better your SEO will be. Keep your social media account humming with news about the office. Write a blog and share any medical papers you’ve published. Make no secret of any awards or accolades you hold. The same idea goes for negative press: if a patient posts a bad review of your practice that may appear in patient searches, respond to it in a helpful, non-combative way. Often, the patient in question will take the review down once their concern is addressed, and if they don’t, your acknowledgment of the issue lends their complaint less credibility.
The internet is a bullhorn for your practice, and it will resonate as loudly as you want it to if you utilize it diligently. All of this may sound like a lot because… Well, it is. Doctor.com is one way to instantly keep your online reputation sharp, relevant and up to date. If you’d rather go it alone. stay informed about search engine algorithms and medical topics that are currently trending. SEO is a changeable landscape but in the end, patient engagement and smart listings win the day.
If you’d like a free assessment of your practice’s search rankings across the web, call a doctor.com practice consultant at 646-760-3390.