By Steven Jacobs
You’ve got a decent website. Now, you just need people to find it.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about changing the content, performance, and user experience of your website in order for it to appear higher in the search engines (such as Google and Bing).
This is more important for hospitals and medical practices than ever before. While patients once chose doctors based on proximity or word-of-mouth reputation, today’s patients are doing their research online first and foremost. You need to get to the top of the search results. But medical search engine optimization, in particular, is more complicated than you may think. It’s easy to get these things wrong when you’re trying to rank for medical search engine terms.
1. Acting as your own target audience
One of the first steps in ranking higher on the search engines involves determining what patients are searching for. There are plenty of tools that can help you figure out which keywords rank highest in online search. There are paid services, or you can try the free keyword planner built in to your Google Adwords account (soon to be called Google Ads).
Unfortunately, when assessing top keywords, doctors and medical professionals too often forget—you are not your target audience.
This is true when writing copy and when trying to rank for SEO. You might have the latest treatments and tools available for a vertebral compression fracture, but ultimately, that’s not what patients are looking for, at least not initially. Some prospective patients may be looking up an “orthopedic surgeon” on Google, and most are simply typing in “back pain.” You are not your audience. Use the right tools and, preferably, an SEO expert’s assistance. Find out what people are typing into the search engines and use data to target keywords throughout your website or landing page.
2. Focusing on the desktop version of your website
Your website doesn’t look the same on a desktop computer as it does on a smartphone. Or at least, it shouldn’t. A tiny version of your desktop website would make for a terrible mobile experience. However, your mobile website should have all the same content as it appears on your desktop. Hence, the importance of a responsive web design, one meant to correct to the proper size when viewed on a mobile device.
A good mobile experience is vital to user experience. So why is this important for your search engine rankings? Because Google has recently started to prioritize the mobile version of a website when determining its ranking. If your website is not optimized for mobile devices, you get penalized by the search engines. Seek a responsive design for your next web design, and don’t put this off any longer.
3. Failing to test certain website elements
Google is getting smarter every year (and, really, every second). The search engine giant simply wants the best possible user experience for anyone visiting your site. That’s great for searchers, but tricky for business. Your website’s user experience should be optimized if you don’t want to be penalized in Google. That means improving things like page loading speed.
Part of providing the best possible experience for people clicking on your website means fast loading times. Online users get annoyed quickly if it takes more than just 3 to 5 seconds to load your website, and the search engines know this. Google begain dinging websites that take too long to load this July. To get ahead, you should be constantly testing image files, webpage loading times, and more.
4. Neglecting the quality of information you provide
The search engines scan for several things when deciding how your website should rank. Of course, the keyword you hope to rank for should appear somewhere on your website. But also, especially when competing for medical search engine rankings, the quality of information should be extremely high.
Google, Bing, and Yahoo can scan for things like readability, sentence structure, and sentence length. If your website was full of gibberish with the keywords “dentist in Memphis” thrown in there several times, you would be unable to rank well for that term. It’s also difficult to rank with subpar content that provides no useful information but has a high percentage of keywords. These are ranking strategies of the past. Today’s algorithms are too advanced, and would prefer quality information (with natural keyword insertion) above all else.
5. Emphasizing organic search over all else
Sometimes, healthcare organizations become too focused on ranking well organically for certain keyword. SEO is an amazing tool, and people trust websites that rank highly on search. However, it takes time to build up your website with SEO. Paid advertising is just as important with digital marketing as with traditional media.
A good SEO strategy can lead to increased trust and more clicks. But SEO takes time. You can instantly build up your presence in the search engines with paid search. This gets you into the first 3-4 slots in the search engine rankings. And these paid search ads convert, when they’re done right. The best online strategies combine ongoing search engine optimization with paid digital search and display advertising.
Getting help with hospital, practice, or medical search engine rankings
Google announces a major change to their algorithms at least every couple of months. Sometimes, these updates can hit harder for healthcare organizations. For example, Google has recently made it more difficult to rank for mental health terms, prioritizing SAMHSA as a resource on organic search to ensure those who need it can access help.
Quality search engine optimization means staying on top of these updates and continuously adding content to your website. And staying on top of paid search ads means frequently updating your strategy and bidding on new keywords. (More on digital advertising strategy can be found here.)
The best way to stay on top of Google (and Bing and Yahoo) is with the help of a marketing team with SEO and paid search specialists on staff. Partnering with a marketing agency gives you access to the resources you need to drive patients digitally.