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Let’s cut right to the chase.
You want your medical website to show up at the top of Google’s search results. Why? Because 73 percent of patients turn to search engines when finding a health practitioner, and 89 percent of consumers turn to a search engine when they’re looking to solve their healthcare queries. Since 55 percent of searchers click on one of the first three entries, if your hospital or treatment center isn’t in the top three, you’re losing patients to your competitors.
No ifs, ands, or buts.
The answer? A healthy dose of medical search engine optimization (SEO).
What Is Medical SEO?
To put it simply, medical SEO is the process of increasing your medical website’s search engine rankings so that your physicians and treatment centers can reach more patients looking for their services.
Why Invest in Medical SEO?
Let’s be honest—the old way of doing things hasn’t worked for quite some time. Thanks to the digital evolution of consumer services, patients look for new hospitals, physicians, and treatment centers online—frequently from a mobile device. Since 55 percent of searchers won’t go past the first three organic results, if you’re not investing in SEO you’re giving away clicks to the competition.
Some doctors think taking out pay per click (PPC) ads on Ads is enough. I get it—PPC ads are a great way to demand attention from searchers if you’re already strapped for time and don’t have what you need to crank out 1,000 pages of rich content.
That’s the wrong way of looking at it. Taking out PPC ads instead of SEO is like putting a band-aid over a deep gash. It may solve some problems in the short-term, but you’ve got to figure something else out for sustainable results. When it comes down to it, content marketing gets three times the leads per dollar spent than paid search ads.
How to Use Medical SEO to Get Your Healthcare Company to the Top of Google’s Search Results
There’s a reason certain things make it to the top of Google’s search results. Google outputs search results based on an algorithm designed to provide the most relevant links and answers to search queries. While there are more than 200 actual ranking factors that go into the algorithm, in general:
- Your medical website needs to be fast, secure, and mobile friendly
- You need plenty of pages of quality content optimized for medical SEO
- You need to pick the right medical keywords
- Your web pages need medical schema and optimized title tags and meta descriptions
- You need optimized images and videos
- You need plenty of off-site authority builders like social signals, quality backlinks, and directory citations
- Your Google My Business page needs to be 100% filled out
Below I’ll dive into each one of these in more detail.
1. Your Medical Website Needs to Be Fast, Secure, and Mobile Friendly
Website speed, security, and mobile-friendliness are all ranking factors. If your website takes longer than three seconds to load, the majority of web visitors will hit the “back” button. Google knows this, and since their goal is to provide the absolute best resources, they aren’t going to put a slow website in that top spot.
First, your website needs to be fast. How fast? Google says two seconds is the threshold, but they aim for under half a second. While webpage speed isn’t the most critical ranking factor, it’s up there with security.
Security is a no-brainer. If you’re a healthcare or medical company that doesn’t have a secure (HTTPS) website, you’ve got bigger problems than SEO and I recommend you read this other article right now.
Your website also needs to be mobile friendly. Take a look at the image below of recent web searches for the medical keywords “urgent care near me,” “maternity hospital,” “primary care physician,” and “allergist.”
Over 70 percent of each of those searches happen on a mobile device.
Not only that, but 62 percent of smartphone owners use their device to look up health information, and 82 percent of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local treatment center or health facility. According to Google, 77 percent of smartphone owners have used their smartphones to find local health services in the past six months, and 79 percent of them say they’re more likely to revisit and/or share a mobile site if it is easy to use.
2. You need Quality Healthcare content optimized for medical SEO
Not only does your website need to be fast, secure, and mobile friendly, but it also needs to have pages on pages of quality content optimized for SEO.
What qualifies as quality content? Most importantly, quality content is content that genuinely helps make your target audience’s lives easier or better. In layman’s terms, you need content driven by your patients’ wants and needs. You’ll need optimized content for each of consumers’ medical micro-moments (including blogs, landing pages, press releases, e-mail newsletters, E-books, and more), and you’ll need a content distribution plan.
Here’s how Google defines quality content, as outlined by their Search Quality Guidelines:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Avoid the following techniques:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
Follow good practices like these:
- Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
- Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site
You have an additional reason to focus on super-high-quality content: medical web pages are what Google calls Your Money Your Life (YMYL) pages. Google categorizes these pages as ones that could “potentially impact the future happiness, health, or financial stability of users.” The standards are higher for you because low-quality pages could actually be dangerous and have unintended medical consequences.
3. You Need to Pick The Right Industry Keywords
In order to optimize your content for SEO, you need to create content around the right healthcare industry keywords.
Each specialization is different, but considering most patients are looking for local medical services, you can build a basic foundation with the following medical SEO keywords (I’ve used an allergist as an example):
- Allergist + your city
- Allergists + your county
- Allergy specialists + your city
- Seasonal allergies + your county
- Allergy and asthma center + your city
- Asthma treatment + your city
- Allergy + doctor + your city
- Allergy + treatment + city
And so on.
However, keywords differ based on your specific practice. A good keyword planning tool to use is Google’s Keyword Planner. Below are Keyword Planner’s suggestions for four types of medical professions/facilities: “hospital,” “primary care physician,” “cardiologist,” and “allergist,” alongside the average volume of monthly searches for that term:
One big no-no is keyword stuffing (making every other word a keyword). Google will catch on and you’ll be penalized.
4. Your website needs medical schema and optimized title tags and meta descriptions
A major ranking signal is a web page’s title tag. While the meta description used to have more weight, it now spits out automated meta descriptions based on the content. It’s still necessary to fill both sections out.
If you have a WordPress medical website, you can install a plugin to edit your titles and meta descriptions. We use SEO Ultimate, and it appears at the bottom of the page you are editing:
We recommend you include your keywords in both your title tag and meta description, as well as adding schema for doctors. Schema is a type of website code we add that gives Google more context and information about your page.
While simply having schema markup on your website doesn’t mean your site will automatically shoot to the top of Google, it makes it easier for search engines to interpret, making it more likely to be included in the search results.
Here are a few things you can highlight with schema:
- MedicalCondition (information about a specific medical condition)
- Drug (information about a medical drug)
- MedicalGuideline (a medical guideline)
- MedicalWebPage (a single-topic web page about a health or medical topic)
- MedicalScholarlyArticle (a page with a record, abstract, or full text of a medical scholarly publication).
5. You need optimized images and healthcare videos
Video marketing is becoming one of the most popular ways to consume content. As a result, web pages with videos in them generally experience a 157 percent increase in organic traffic from SERPs. Not only that, but a video by itself is 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of Google that traditional web pages. Take a look at the following search results for the query “what happens during a heart attack”:
The first search results under the knowledge graph are videos. However, in order for your images to increase your website’s SEO and for videos to rank that well they need to be optimized—39 percent of people will stop engaging with a website if images won’t load or take too long to load.
6. You need to build offsite authority
Did you know that one of the Google’s ranking factors are offsite indicators like links back to your website? Google views any type of offsite authority as badges of approval. These “badges” can be links back to your site, directory listings, and even social media profiles (yes, social media does affect SEO).
In fact, social media should be one of your SEO priorities: 41 percent of consumers say that content found on social media will likely impact their choice of hospital or treatment center, and 42 percent of individuals viewing health information on social media look at health-related consumer reviews.
7. You Need a Completed Google My Business (GMB) Page
While we’re on the subject of offsite authority, you need a competed Google My Business page. Modern patients want health services that are close to home, and searches containing the phrase “near me” have doubled since 2015. But, for local patients to find you, you need to show up in Google’s local pack. What is the local pack? It’s a group of 4 – 5 business listings that show up above the organic search results. On mobile, it’s the only thing searchers see without scrolling down:
The information in Google’s local pack is pulled from a few places, but primarily from your Google My Business page. One of the first things you do immediately after reading this is to check your own GMB listing to make sure the following is filled out:
- Your company’s categories (above, you can see it says either “doctor” or “allergist” right under the average review rating. That’s a feature inside GMB, and it helps searchers find specific needs)
- Your main phone number
- Your company’s description
- Your hours of operation
- Your address or service area
The Final Diagnosis: If You Want Better Google Rankings and More Patients, You Need A Healthy Medical SEO Strategy
It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that SEO is the key to getting your medical facility or healthcare business to the top of Google’s search results. However, SEO isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of solution. You need a complete diagnosis to get the full picture. That’s why I recommend you start your SEO journey with a digital competitive analysis. It will compare your web presence to the web presences of your top competitors and figure out opportunities you’re missing and where your digital marketing priorities should lie.
You can learn more about medical SEO here, and I can’t wait to help transform your hospital or treatment center into the new industry leader!
About The Author: Betsy is the social media lead and a digital marketing expert with Blue Corona. When she’s not managing Blue Corona's digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring, hiking with her dog, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
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