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New Google+ Local Shakes-up Search: What Healthcare Marketing Needs to Know

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Google plus logoThis is an installment in the Healthcare Success series about how the significant changes in Google Search impact healthcare marketing and advertising, and what medical practices and hospitals need to know as the online search giant changes the rules.

Think of it as "Facebook Friends" for Google...only much bigger and more important.

Google, the undisputed giant of search engines, continues to make important changes that impact how medical providers, hospitals, dental practices and other healthcare entities will be found (or not found) online.

In it's ongoing effort to improve the quality and accuracy of search results, Google is changing the rules, changing the playing field and changing the search game. Here's what healthcare marketing needs to know.

Google+ Local will impact your online visibility

Medical practices and healthcare businesses listed on Google Places were notified of the migration to G+ Local, but it would be prudent to confirm that your listing has not changed or disappeared. (You'll find a new LOCAL tab on the right side of Google+.)

And if you need to make adjustments or get onboard the Google Plus (G+) system, here are some of the key considerations.

  • In this latest round of changes, Google Places (local), Google Maps (mobile) and Google Plus (social) merge into an integrated package labeled Google+ Local.
  • Google+ is the main focal point for interaction between user and search results. The G+ Local change also taps into the users "Circles" (connected friends and acquaintances), and draws down on data from Zagat, the user review and rating platform that Google owns.
  • The emphasis in this round of reinvention by Google is mainly three-fold:
    (a) The user can find business listings via various means and channels including Google Search, Google Maps, mobile search, Google Plus, and others;
    (b) Listings will be enhanced by the recommendations of family, friends, customers, and patients who have joined Google+; and
    (c) Search results are in close proximity (local) to the user.
  • Stay tuned for more. Google's modifications are a work in progress and still rolling out in some instances. Google will not say, but other yet-to-be-unveiled enhancements are anticipated.

Why this is increasingly important to healthcare providers and facilities

The primary reason that changes at Google are vitally important to healthcare providers is that having your listing appear prominently on Google's Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) can spell the difference between successfully attracting new patients and being nearly invisible online.

Google owns the search game. "It is the most popular search engine in the world, controlling nearly 82 percent of the global search market and 98 percent of the mobile search market," according to an op-ed piece last week in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The article declares that Microsoft's Bing-the closest competitor-is so far behind that Google has a monopoly on Search.Google is pushing users to join Google Plus. Their strategy is to invite more and more people to join Google+ in order to further integrate social media with search rankings. As Google Plus (now more than a year old) gains further traction and more users, the influence of social media and reviews increases.Directional advertising authority Michael Cody tells us, "This change is meant to increase usage and drive patients to Google+ when they search for local entities such as a doctor's practice listing. Google+ identifies relationships by mining Gmail contacts, Picasa photo sharing and Google+ Circles. Think of it as "Facebook Friends" for Google."Positive Google Plus patient reviews impacts results and selection. The feedback of people that a user already knows and trusts becomes a pivotal consideration in the selection of local businesses--including healthcare providers and facilities. By integrating social sharing and search results, Google+ leverages local recommendations.The recommendation of a well-connected patient will boost visibility and listing effectiveness. Thus, positive reviews on Google, published by satisfied patients, is fast becoming a cornerstone strategy for doctors and hospitals.Connecting social and local advertising revenue is a really, really big end game. "Google Inc. has repeatedly tried, and largely failed, to crack the market for local business advertising. As early as next month, the Internet company will try anew, as it trains its largest-ever assault on the roughly $20 billion market," according to the Wall Street Journal.

In preparing this article, we also talked with strategist and expert in local search Vitold Chrzanowski. "The big picture focus for Google is to attract more small businesses to online listings," Vitold said. "Because Google users frequently search for nearby medical practices and healthcare providers, the business listings and potential local advertising budgets are part of the Google strategy."

Michael Cody agrees. "Many medical practices realize new patients through word-of-mouth and patient referrals. Google recognizes this and is in the process of digitizing this process so that it can be monetized in the future," he told us.

Healthcare marketing professionals and medical practice owners should already be onboard (hopefully) with Search Engine Optimization, Google Search, Google Plus, Circles, and what had been Google Places and Google Maps. If you're new to this, or just trying to keep up with Google's changes, here are some expert recommendations for getting started.

  1. 1.    Yes, now is the ideal time begin. No matter where you are in the implementation or learning curve, you can be assured that Google influences the search process that brings new patients to your website and to your doorstep. Embracing these changes now may give you a first-mover advantage over the competition.
  2. 2.    Patient recommendations grow from exceptional patient experiences. Every medical practice is aware of the need to deliver a positive patient experience with each and every patient. The Google+ changes as well as other entities (see our post about Consumer Reports and Patient Experience) make patient communications and interaction more significant than ever.
  3. 3.    Encourage patient reviews via Google+. Michael Cody observes, "If patient writes a review about the practice, whenever someone they are connected with does a related search, the comments will automatically be 'pushed' to the people they will influence most."Tip: "There seems to be a threshold of the number of reviews that are needed before the ratings function is enabled. If your practice has nine or fewer reviews, Google simply provides the number of reviews," Michael Cody advises. With 10 or more reviews, Google calculates a ranking score (3 to 30) and offers the names of connected individuals and their rating.
  4. Monitor your patient reviews; they have considerable weight. Consider that the average socially connected patient has about 200 friends. By the new Google+ system, any G+ review from one will be seen and shared by all. Google assigns importance to such opinions and wants to see these numbers grow.

This is how Google summarizes things.

"With these updates," says Google VP of Engineering Jen Kirkpatrick, "we're connecting the millions of people on Google+ to local businesses around the world. With one listing, your business can now be found across Google search, maps, mobile and Google+, and your customers can easily recommend your business to their friends, or tell the world about it with a review."

At Healthcare Success, we think there's more to come from Google and Google Plus. Local advertising opportunities are one example. (Watch for more updates as part of this series.)

It's clear to us and to the specialists who we work with that the company is determined to use its considerable influence to drive search results ever closer to the user's local area...and their circle of close friends and connections.

You can refer to the Google+ explanations on these Learn More pages. And, if you need more information or assistance in keeping up as Google reinvents itself, please reach out to us.

Previous Healthcare Success article in this series, Google's Penguin Algorithm Change May Be Killing Your Search Engine Ranking, includes ten quick tips from an SEO expert.



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