If you haven’t jumped on the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) bandwagon, you’re missing an opportunity to leverage the web for your business. You also might be wondering why you only get a trickle of customers through your doors week on week. SEO may sound technical, but essentially, it is a simple tool for marketing that can help the people who need you locate your practice more easily using online search.
If your private practice is lagging behind and you’re in need of an SEO lesson, here’s SEO in a nutshell, specifically for you.
Why Do You Need SEO?
The way people find healthcare has changed. Back in the day days, people who needed medical attention saw their family doctor who would usually have treated their parents before them. When in doubt, they would get out the phone book and check out the yellow pages in search of a local doctor’s surgery. But now your potential patients are likely to search the web for everything they need in life—medical care included. After a quick search, they’ll then select the local healthcare provider that their search engine of choice (let’s be honest: it’s usually Google) suggests is most the most likely solution to their problem. As people become more mobile, they become less likely to remain in one place for long enough to develop networks required for word-of-mouth recommendations, so they need medical help, they go straight to online search. Search engine optimization makes sure that search engines such as Google are aware of the existence of your practice, and that you deserve a place among the top results when potential patients in your local area search for a healthcare provider.
Your Business Cannot Live on Marketing Alone
If you believe you can write off SEO because your marketing strategy is really great, and you’ve been using social media like a boss, think again. Even if you get many of your patients via advertising, social media, or referrals, you may find it alarming to discover that a staggering 80% of patients find their doctor’s surgery by searching the web for local listings. Another significant proportion of people select their healthcare provider by typing in general search terms—for example: cure my back ache—and landing on the most relevant website a couple of clicks later.
What’s the moral of this story? SEO, if used correctly, could be hands-down the best driver of new patients to your medical practice.
Back to Basics: What Exactly Is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is the umbrella term which includes all the various tactics and practices that combine to bump your website higher up the search rankings of free listings in search engine results. SEO combines several different things, and definitely shouldn’t be treated as an exact science (though this does get tempting!) Many business owners try to master SEO alone and find that it saves them time and money to bring in experts to handle SEO for them. Hiring a team of professionals is a great way to be sure that you will beat out the competition. That said, you can certainly try to go it alone. Just make sure you do your homework and keep checking up on the latest whims of that sneaky Google algorithm (more on this later).
Not All Search Engines Were Created Equal
While Google is the undisputed giant of the Internet search world, it’s important to note that there are other search engines (Yahoo and Bing, for example) that are widely used, especially when it comes to local citations. It’s important to bear this in mind because each search engine has created its own intricate algorithm, which it uses rank websites when a user types in a search. While there is always some overlap, many different factors will influence certain search engines and not others, or have more influence on one search engine that it will on the others. To complicate matters further, the likes of Google prefer to keep us guessing by constantly changing their algorithms. (And no amount of fist-shaking will change their minds about this practice, as it’s how they retain control of the search environment.)
This frequent chopping-and-changing prevents businesses from being able to game their system or become complacent once they have archived the results they want. For example, if you had got your SEO down to a fine art in 2017, you probably won’t be pleased to learn that our friends at Google have subtly altered that all-important its algorithm a whopping 25 times since then! So if you haven’t kept up with the times, you will be losing patients because your practice won’t be coming up in the relevant searches. Unfortunately, no magic formula exists to help you succeed in SEO. Do nail your search ranking, you have to keep your website up to date, relevant and useful to the people who use it.
Nail Local Search Rankings
Local SEO is an aspect of SEO that focuses specifically on ensuring that your medical practice appears when people in your local area search for a healthcare provider, or relevant diagnostic information. Recognizing that patients generally want to see a doctor near to home or the office, Google and other search engines have effectively limited their localized search function to privilege the most relevant information to the person searching for a local provider. For example, a local search for healthcare providers will bring up a map of the user’s area with several local options marked with clickable pins, which correspond to business listings positioned alongside the map. Crucially, not all the available doctor’s surgeries in the area will appear on the map. Google chooses the options that it thinks are the top-ranking surgeries in the area. They do this to avoid bombarding the user with options that don’t suit their needs.
Get Your “Google My Business” Profile Sorted
So how do you make sure that your practice beats out your competitors in localized search rankings? Your first step is to set up a Google My Business profile, which is a free business listing that combines information such as your location, contact information, ratings and reviews. To come up in local search, it’s vital that you keep your information accurate and up to date. It also helps your SEO prospects when your patients review your practice. While requesting reviews may seem awkward at first, actively seeking reviews for your Google listing is one of the most effective ways to boost your local search ranking. A quick post-appointment email with a link to your Google My Business profile is a convenient, unassuming way to offer patients the option to have their say.
The Power of Keywords
While local search is the best way to bring local folks to your practice, it’s worth noting that your website is essentially the engine of your powerful SEO machine. A key skill to master if you want to work SEO magic is choosing the right keywords for your business. To do this, try removing your white coat for a moment pretend you’re one of your future patients. Imagine that you’re an ill person who needs medical treatment for some or other ailment. You probably don’t plan to book an appointment to see a doctor right away. What’s more likely is that you will Google your symptoms first. You could describe how your condition feels, what symptoms you’ve noticed, and how painful they are, and how long you’ve been experiencing these issues.
Now turn your attention to your medical services, especially if you offer some form of specialized treatment. What do you think your potential patients will be searching for? Be specific: what words will they use to describe their issues? You can test the keywords you think up with useful online tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner and SEMRush. Both of these tools can inform you of how high each keyword ranks in search, how many people are searching for it, and how competitive that word or phrase is on the SEO real estate market.
Get a User-friendly, Modern Business Website
The architecture of your business website has a profound effect on the effectiveness of your SEO. Things like how quickly your pages load, how slick your design is, and how easily people can navigate your site, and how seamlessly your site transfers to mobile version, inform Google how worthy your website is for SEO purposes. When Google crawls your website—yeah, it’s a little creepy—these combined structural factors will affect the score that your site is assigned. Hint: you want a high score here, as a low score secures your business a spot way down that search engine results page (SERP for short). To maintain a consistently high position, ensure you get a skilled web designer on board, or use a proven template service to host your website.
Whether you’re a beginner with SEO and you want more of the action, or your medical practice has plateaued in Google’s search rankings and you’re in need of an SEO boost, these tips for medical professionals will help you up your SEO game.