A Major Change for Healthcare SEO in 2020 | Healthcare Marketing
Mathematical equations abstractly representing Google search results algorithms for healthcare

Google BERT update

Over the years, we’ve alerted our Healthcare clients and industry colleagues to a few major updates that could affect their healthcare SEO (search engine optimization) rankings. Google makes updates to its search algorithms all the time—but only a few stand out as having the potential for a major impact on your presence in the search engines.

And if you’re a healthcare provider, the BERT update is the one to know. This algorithm update, rolled-out in October 2019, can affect any healthcare organization’s website. And, this search algorithm update is part of Google’s most recent and large January 2020 Core Update (extensive details). 

Here’s what search-savvy digital marketing in Healthcare should understand about this significant SEO update from Google.

What you should know about the BERT update for Healthcare Marketing

So what is the BERT update? And should healthcare organizations really care? Here’s an important fact to know:

According to Google, the BERT update will affect at least 1 in every 10 searches — or search queries, and this number will only increase over time.

That makes this one of the biggest search algorithm updates in the past 5 years. And with thousands of local prospective patients searching for healthcare in your region every day, that means the newest Google update will affect you your practice, your health network, or your hospital’s healthcare marketing planning, tactics, and strategies.

As always, Google’s intent with this latest update is to better connect searchers with the most relevant search results (content). The difference here is the technology used to do so—a neural network-based technique called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT).

But all you really need to know is how this affects Google Search:

  • The BERT update uses /natural language processing to better understand the intent behind users’ keyword phrasing.
  • Google is getting better and better at understanding longer, more conversational queries.
  • Google can now sense the importance of prepositional phrases that contain like “of” or “to” for meaning.

BERT’s impact on NLP/healthcare marketing for medical organizations’ marketing initiatives

This update affects healthcare providers in particular, as healthcare can be a complicated topic, and determining search intent often depends on nuance.

In fact, Google’s own blog post on the topic of BERT uses three examples of how it improves search results, one of which is directly related to healthcare.

In the example, the search query is “Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy.” Before the BERT NLP algorithm update, the top result for this search term was a general article: “Getting a Prescription Filled.”

Of course, we know this person was not asking how to fill a prescription in general. They were wondering whether they’d be able to pick up a prescription for a loved one. Thanks to the BERT update, Google is now able to understand this difference in meaning. After the update, a top article now more closely matches user intent, titled, “Can a patient have a friend or family member pick up a prescription?”

BERT makes Search easier for patients

Let’s face it: our healthcare systems are confusing to navigate, and patients don’t always know the right keywords to search for. The new search update is great for patients hoping to find a doctor who treats a specific condition or looking for more specific information about a medication.

However, that doesn’t mean BERT will work in favor of healthcare providers. If pages on your website don’t provide enough information on a topic, or don’t provide the type of information a prospective patient may be looking for, Google may no longer prioritize your page for long-tail versions of a keyword phrase.

If you want to focus on optimizing your website for BERT, the most important thing is to provide meaningful, relevant content your patients are actually searching for.

“Medic” and “Core” – Two more algorithm updates you should know about for healthcare marketing online online

Google’s “Medic” update from 2018 marked another important chapter in algorithm changes that affect healthcare rankings. While Google shared little about the specifics of this update, about 41.5% of affected sites belonged to the healthcare niche (hence the “Medic” nickname).

The Medic update is all about E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust). Simply put, Google cares a lot about the trustworthiness of healthcare content that affects people’s wellbeing. To establish trust with Google, your website should showcase your credentials and provide accurate information about treatments and services.

What’s more, last week (January 13) Google announced it is releasing another “Core” update. Released several times each year, Core updates are, “significant, broad changes to our search algorithms and systems.” This Organic rankings update was also reported as having been rolled-out, globally [source].

What does Google recommend you do in response to its updates? Nothing. Instead, Google implores you to focus on creating higher quality healthcare content.

What SEO digital marketing contractors won’t always tell you

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for SEO. Search engine optimization is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” strategy for healthcare organizations hoping to establish credibility. It requires time, patience, and frequent changes—especially as updates like these continue to affect your position in the search engines.

Learn more about healthcare SEO in our downloadable guide, Enterprise SEO Roadmap for Hospitals and Healthcare Enterprises

And work with our digital marketing team to get a customized SEO roadmap for your healthcare organization. Call 800-656-0907 to get started.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director at Healthcare Success
Over the years Stewart has personally marketed and consulted for over 1,457 healthcare clients, ranging from private practices to multi-billion dollar corporations. Additionally, he has marketed a variety of America’s leading companies, including Citicorp, J. Walter Thompson, Grubb & Ellis, Bally Total Fitness, Wells Fargo and Chase Manhattan. Stewart co-founded our company, and today acts as Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director. He is also a frequent author and speaker on the topic of healthcare marketing. His personal accomplishments are supported by a loving wife and two beautiful daughters.

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