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Google’s Local Search Has Changed How Patients Find Doctors

By Kathy, Senior Marketing Strategist

Animated map locationThe playful adage is painfully true: The best place to hide a dead body is on page two of Google’s search results. Here’s why doctors need to be concerned about local search and their ability to attract new patients.

The front door of your medical practice moved online some time ago. The “traditional” paths for a patient look for a provider still exist, but by some estimates, a whopping 77 percent of patients use online search prior to booking an appointment. That includes all search engines, but let’s face it, Google dominates local search.

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t talk much about exactly how it recently updated its local search algorithm, but the intent is to improve local search results “with enhanced distance and location ranking parameters.”

So… What this means is, if your medical practice is not listed with the first page of search results—

  • most prospective patients will look no further;
  • patients who make an appointment are going to your competition;
  • marketing to prospective patients is tough when you’re invisible; and
  • recent updates may have changed your visibility, for better or worse.

Most doctor-businessmen who want to find patients online understand the importance of Search Engine Optimization. But with this recent update, the business of the “Local SEO” sub-set is increasingly vital to successful marketing and local exposure.

What you need to do today…

  1. CHECK YOUR LISTING: If your local search listings were good in the first place and they haven’t changed, keep up the good work. But there’s a strong prospect that Google’s recent update has changed your position. It’s possible that a search for “doctor in Mytown,” or “Middleville family physician,” or other appropriate search term will find you among a “three-pack” or “map-pack” of listings at the top of the page.
  1. CHECK YOUR WEBSITE TRAFFIC: Some site owners found a sharp drop in visitor counts following Google’s recent update. Did you take a hit?
  1. CHECK YOUR KEYWORDS: It appears that in some instances, Google has changed the vocabulary of words that it connects to some local searches.
  1. BOLSTER DIRECTORY AND REVIEW LISTINGS: Google doesn’t say so, but it appears that directory listings increasingly influence results. Confirm that online information and business profiles in directories, and sites like Yelp and others is current and correct.
  1. DO A NAP CHECK: Search your website and directory listings for NAME, ADDRESS, and PHONE NUMBER. Search engines can be baffled by inconsistent entries, typos or spelling errors.
  1. USE LOCAL AND SUPER-LOCAL: Provide online content that narrows your local area. Your address, for example, may be “Pittsburgh,” but both search engines and site visitors will know your location more precisely with hyperlocal references such as “Shadyside,” “Hill District,” or “North Shore."
  1. GOOD HOUSEKEEPING: Regular site maintenance (broken links, etc.), plus regular, authoritative content updates are signs of good health.
  1. THINK MOBILE: Google recognizes that local searches are often quick, on-the-fly and via a mobile device. Healthcare marketing professionals recognize that the immediacy of mobile + local often means immediate action, via a phone call, appointment or visit. The “small screen” also means that higher positioned results get more attention and more response.

Who’s got time to scroll these days, much less turn to page two? Top listing positions among local search results are premium real estate, and proactive optimization is more important than ever in reaching new healthcare patients.

If you need help with doctor SEO, please give us a call. And for more on this topic, read our previous post: SEO Strategies for Doctors Tired of Being the “Invisible Man” (or Woman) Online.

Kathy Gaughran

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