By Steven Jacobs
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not quite the mysterious term that is once was. The doctors, hospitals and health systems that operate most of the nation’s health care websites recognize the vital role of SEO in connecting the patient with the provider.
But unlike the words and graphics of a website—the stuff anyone can easily see online—the critical elements of optimization are not obvious and often remain hidden…digital alchemy that requires continuing expert attention.
To help decode the not-so-observable considerations, here are some of the basics about effective optimization.
The three basic pathways…
Simply having a website is no assurance that anyone will ever see it. There are only three ways that visitors will arrive at your site:
DIRECT CONNECT: This is when someone knows your online address (URL) and enters it directly. For example, typing www.HealthcareSuccess.Com resolves to the Healthcare Success home page.
REFERRAL LINK: When another website provides a direct link to a page on your site.
ORGANIC SEARCH: When a prospective visitor finds your site because Google (or other search engine) determines there is a match between search words and your website.
Search engines issue “spiders” to constantly explore web pages to help determine, among other things, the relevance between keywords searched and keywords used. To make this process more challenging—and in an effort to maintain a fair and level playing field—Google doesn’t say exactly how it indexes and evaluates websites or precisely how it determines the order in search results.
But top-secret algorithms aside, some of the most common SEO mistakes are important to recognize and avoid:
# 5. Allowing broken and/or poor quality links. Search engines recognize (outbound) links on your site that don’t work. Although it happens all the time, having too many broken links is extra annoying to Google. On the other hand (inbound) links from low-quality or non-authoritative sites is also an issue for Google. Either way, to Google, bad links reflect poorly on your site.
# 4. Poor or missing Title Tags and descriptions. Surprisingly often, high potential pages remain untitled or neglected. (Brief descriptions appear on the search results page just below the link.) Space is limited, but no information can hurt.
# 3. Repetitious keyword stuffing. Google is on to the old trick of over-using keywords in site page text. The reasonable and sensible incorporation of important words is appropriate, but search engines recognize needless repetition and throw in the penalty flag for violations.
# 2. Not using the words that people are using to search. Consider the common and conversational language (words and phrases) that a prospective patient would use in a Google search. You’d be surprised how commonly elementary search words are neglected…sometimes in favor of clinical terms. Ask yourself what do they need your help with? More individuals are likely to search for “skin rash” than for “dermatologist.” Test drive Google’s Keyword Planner.
# 1. When your site can’t be crawled. SEO experts listen closely to Matt Cutts, one of Google’s top people in the world of search. He warns that if a search engine can’t explore your website (via spiders or web crawlers) it simply doesn’t know what to make of it, and Google won’t rank it. It’s one of the biggest SEO mistakes, according to Cutts.
There are many reasons for what Google calls “crawling errors,” and this is where professional SEO help is important. Fortunately, Google wants to help and provides Webmaster Tools as a starting point.
For related reading, see our list of Top Website Checkpoints in a Peak Performance Assessment. And in addition, you can give us a call about a free SEO and website review at 800-656-0907. More than ever, if they can’t find you online, you just don’t exist.