Healthcare search engine optimization (SEO) is a multi-faceted process of optimizing a healthcare website and its content to improve organic search engine rankings and overall online visibility.
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Healthcare SEO aims to drive organic traffic to your medical website and bolster your online presence by increasing your rankings on the search engine results page (SERP). When 75% of users don’t scroll past the first page, you know you can’t afford to make a first-page appearance. After all, if your practice is not on the first page, your competitors will.
Healthcare SEO involves a long list of creative, technical, and scalable strategies, such as keyword research, content marketing, on- and off-page optimization, etc. It’s a long and ongoing process, but the rewards of a fully-realized healthcare SEO campaign, like igniting growth and generating new patients, are worth the effort.
Below we have outlined the best practices to leverage healthcare SEO, grow your practice, and generate more patient leads.
1. Conduct Keyword Research
An effective SEO strategy starts with keyword research, allowing you to identify and target relevant keywords for your campaign. This process helps you determine the keywords and phrases that patients use when searching for medical services or specialties. Using the right keywords can help improve your search rankings for those terms.
To find the most relevant keywords for your practice, you can:
Research your target audience
At Cardinal, we use patient personas to guide our marketing efforts, including SEO. A patient persona or profile is a detailed, semi-fictional representation of your target audience. You can build these personas by analyzing critical demographics like age, gender, income, interests, hobbies, psychographics, etc.
Researching your target audience also lets you determine what their primary and secondary healthcare goals are, as well as their pain points and frustrations. Patient personas will help you identify the keywords patients use when looking up health information and use them for your SEO campaign.
Analyze the competition
Another crucial keyword strategy is competitor analysis. Research the keywords used by competitors in search engines like Google. Start by doing a simple Google Search of your target keywords and evaluate the highest-ranking websites based on the results. Alternatively, you may use Semrush’s Organic Research tool to identify your top competitors.
Use keyword research tools
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of free and paid keyword research tools to help you identify top keywords within your practice or sector. These keyword research tools will help you get started:
- Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
- Google Keyword Planner
Once you have your list of target keywords, incorporate them into your site content and metadata (e.g., title tags, meta descriptions), but keep it organic and natural.
2. Create High-Quality Patient-Centric Content
Content marketing enables healthcare brands to connect and engage patients through high-quality, relevant, and valuable content. For better or worse, Google has become a de-facto doctor’s office with over a billion health-related searches every day. This puts medical organizations in a strategic position to provide helpful and actionable advice through content marketing. Healthcare content marketing offers the following key benefits:
- Build trust and credibility for your brand by showcasing your knowledge and expertise.
- Minimize patient anxiety with helpful content that answers their questions and concerns and shows them exactly what to expect.
- Differentiate your practice from the competition.
Most importantly, producing patient-centric content aligns with the recent Google Helpful Content Update, which favors websites that deliver actual, valuable content to readers instead of generic content optimized for the algorithm.
Your success in content marketing hinges on understanding your audience, along with their healthcare needs, motivations, and challenges (again, patient personas). Use the target keywords you researched, and focus on quality over quantity. Consistently producing high-quality content sends a strong signal to Google that your website is a reliable and trustworthy resource, increasing your search rankings.
Google has stricter content guidelines for healthcare, so make sure your content library is refreshed regularly and updated, accurate, and relevant.
3. Develop a User-Friendly Website
Visitors coming to your website want to be engaged, but you’ll have to make it easy for them by providing comfortable digital experiences. You could be ranking high for your top keywords, but if your website fails to be user-friendly, you’ll have a hard time generating leads or revenue from the traffic. In this case, ensure your organization invests in patient-centric web design that prioritizes the user experience.
Investing in patient-centric web design is worth it because every dollar nets an ROI of 9,900%. Otherwise, your website’s bounce rates will skyrocket since nine out of 10 patients will abandon a website following a terrible user experience. Meanwhile, a patient-centered healthcare website will engage visitors and provide them with a satisfying experience, thus, increasing their chances of conversion.
To provide the best user experiences, you need to get the following best practices right:
- Make your healthcare website easy to use: Provide comfortable user experiences with easy-to-navigate layouts and menus, legible and eye-pleasing fonts, professional quality images, and prominent call-to-actions (CTAs).
- Key content should be discoverable: People coming to your website will have questions and concerns about their health and need answers. Therefore, ensure your website contains valuable information about services, treatment programs, accepted insurance, etc. Moreover, key content should be easily discoverable and not hidden behind poorly-designed menus and confusing link trees. A good SEO technique that promotes good site architecture is called “siloing,” where you group, isolate, and interlink content based on the topic.
- Optimize your medical website for speed: Slow-loading web pages are a surefire recipe for higher bounce rates. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to audit the speed of your web pages. Then, use techniques like image compression, minimal plug-in use, enable browser caching, and use of a content delivery network (CDN).
- Prioritize mobile-friendliness: More than half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, so a mobile-friendly website is necessary. Implement responsive web design so your healthcare website is displayed correctly on desktop and mobile devices.
4. Optimize Technical SEO
Technical SEO refers to optimizing various technical aspects of a website to improve its organic search visibility. Google likes it when you make it easy to crawl and index your healthcare website and enhance its relevance and quality for specific search terms–which is what the following technical SEO best practices can do:
- Title tags: These are HTML elements within your website’s back indicating the titles of your web pages. Title tags appear on SERP as clickable headlines. Use title tags that accurately describe what the page is all about and use relevant keywords to enable search engines to understand its content.
- Description tags: These tags appear below the title tags and summarize the web page’s content. Use primary and secondary keywords in the meta description, keep it between 155-160 characters (including spaces), and include a CTA.
- Schema markup: A schema markup is a code you can include in your website’s HTML to help Google better understand your website’s content. Basically, it allows Google to crawl your website better and display your site’s content as rich results.
- Outbound and internal links: Outbound hyperlinks connect to an external website, generally for citing claims, statistics, facts, etc. Only link to credible, high-authority websites. Meanwhile, internal links connect to pages somewhere on your website, helping search engines (and patients) discover more helpful content and understand your site’s structure.
- Alt tags for images: Google can’t read images but can read text. Alt tags describe the images you use on your website and help Google achieve context and improve indexing. Use descriptive alt tags for all your images.
- Sitemaps: An XML site is a file that lists all your site’s web pages that encourage Google to crawl all the URLs. Sitemaps help search engines understand your website’s architecture and are highly recommended if you have a large website with frequently changing URLs. In addition, providing a dedicated Sitemap page is not only vital for SEO but also improves user experience.
Technical SEO provides your website with “good bones” and lays a solid foundation for a successful SEO campaign.
5. Optimize for Local SEO
Despite brand consolidation and private equity acquisition trends, healthcare, at its heart, is a local service. Physicians and providers rely on attracting new patients within their geographical area, while patients prefer to work with nearby practitioners. As such, any healthcare business must optimize for local SEO.
Local SEO refers to the process of optimizing your medical website for local search queries and location-based searches. Local SEO is especially vital for practices with physical locations and multi-location companies. “Near me” searches for health-related services have more than doubled over the years, so when a patient searches for “physical therapy near me,” you’ll want your outpatient website to appear in the search results.
Local SEO can get it done for you, but you’ll have to keep in mind the following best practices:
Claim citations and listings
Citations, listings, and directories are web-based references to your practice that, at a bare minimum, include your practice’s Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP). Similar to backlinks, Google uses citations and listings to evaluate the authority and authenticity of your website. Some of the most popular online listings for healthcare businesses are:
- Castle Connolly Top Doctors
- AMA Doctor Finder
- U.S. News Doctor Rankings
To optimize your citations and listings, ensure you provide accurate and timely information about your practice. Also, be consistent in all of your listings. For example, if your company is listed as “Healthcare Essential” on some directories, don’t list your business as “Healthcare Essential, LLC” on other platforms–you’re going to confuse both search engines and patients.
Optimize Google Business Profile
Google Business Profile or GBP (formerly Google My Business) is a free online tool that lets you reach patients through Google Search and Google Maps. With an optimized Business Profile, you can share accurate information with patients and gain credibility with reviews. 64% of consumers use GBP to find information about local businesses, including addresses and phone numbers. This stat emphasizes the importance of a robust GBP listing to connect with potential patients and remove barriers to conversion.
Below are the steps to optimize your Business Profile:
- Ensure NAP consistency: NAP helps potential patients identify and find your practice. Your NAP should be consistent anywhere your practice appears online to ensure clarity.
- Write a short blurb: GBP allows you to write a brief description of your practice. Provide a short but relevant description of your practice instead of cramming in as many keywords as possible. Keep it professional, so avoid grammatical/spelling errors and promotions.
- Add facility and staff photos: Consumers are frequently anxious about their healthcare journey and are uneasy when dealing with providers. Adding pictures can do wonders in demystifying your practice and making you appear more approachable. Upload photos of your exterior, interior (including reception, care delivery areas, equipment), and your staff at work.
Create dedicated landing pages
For multi-location healthcare organizations, creating a dedicated landing page for each location or service line is non-negotiable. You can’t just always link your home page or service pages in all of your marketing efforts–that would hurt your ability to provide personalized experiences. When 71% of consumers expect personalization when engaging with brands, you can’t afford to serve cookie-cutter digital experiences. Geo-optimized landing pages help you solve this problem.
Landing pages help improve patient satisfaction by giving them exactly what they want through relevant, personalized, and actionable content. Landing pages are unique destinations of your healthcare website–one page usually represents one of your locations. So when patients search for a medical service with a location identifier, they’ll find your geo-targeted landing page with custom characteristics.
Landing pages are also prime real estate for incorporating local and geographic keywords, further enhancing your local SEO presence. Plus, landing pages can have one or two CTAs where you can guide patients on the “next step” based on their needs, improving the conversion flow.
6. Track and Monitor the Campaign
At Cardinal, we believe that whatever gets measured can be improved. This is especially relevant in digital marketing, where if you’re not measuring, you are guessing. As mentioned, SEO is an ongoing process where a current strategy may work at one time and stop being effective the next. So you need to be able to act and adapt quickly, or you’ll end up wasting valuable resources.
There’s more to SEO than driving traffic to your website; you’ll also want to track other critical metrics such as:
- Click-through rate (CTR)
- Exit rate
- Pages per session
- Avg. page load times
- Backlinks and referring domains
- Top keywords performance
- Bounce rates
- Domain authority
- Leads and conversion rates
- Social shares
- Engagement rate
- Landing page
Thankfully, many tools let you track and monitor every piece of SEO data. This enables you to know which marketing pieces are delivering the results you want or not. However, having access to all this information, while empowering, can also feel overwhelming. An SEO agency can help you track the most critical metrics in your SEO campaign–ones that can actually move the needle with your marketing efforts.
Perhaps the most crucial tool for SEO tracking is Google Analytics. This tool allows healthcare marketers to track, analyze, and report data regarding their websites.
Elevate Your Healthcare SEO Marketing Today
SEO is a cornerstone of digital marketing efforts, especially for healthcare organizations. In reality, physicians and other practitioners can’t rely on referrals, word of mouth, and traditional advertising anymore. By incorporating the above mentioned tactics, your healthcare website will have a more robust search presence and attract higher-quality leads.
However, you must remember that SEO is a continuous process and an ongoing commitment, especially when it takes about 6-12 months to see meaningful results. But trust us; the rewards are more than worth the wait and effort.