It wasn’t all that long ago that choosing a new doctor or therapist relied heavily on positive reviews from friends and family. Alternatively, many potential customers simply selected a medical provider through their healthcare plan and hoped it was a good choice. A little further back in time, people walked their fingers through a thing called the Yellow Pages to play “doctor roulette.”
Times have changed and so have the ways that people use to find medical providers. these days, potential patients conduct research about medical professionals from their computers, phones, and tablets.
In a survey of over 1,700 adults in the US, 80% of respondents–that’s four out of five–used the internet for a healthcare-related query in the preceding 12 months. Whether through search engines, directory listings, or insurance provider websites, people know they can find a lot of details to help them decide who to call, and they are making full use of the resource.
Shining a virtual spotlight on your private practices through search engine optimization (SEO) will help potential clients find you and determine if you are a good fit for their needs.
Medical SEO is a critical part of acquiring new patients. The good news is that optimizing your medical practice in cyberspace can be a straightforward process. As simple as 1, 2, 3, in fact.
In terms of SEO for healthcare providers – whether SEO for doctors or SEO for therapists – there are three key decision criteria that searchers use to find and choose a medical practice. These are important things to keep in mind when optimizing your private practice website to reach the first page of Google.
The first thing involved in the search for a medical practice is often the healthcare plan that the searcher is covered under. Sites like WebMD advise potential patients that it’s important to check coverage to find out if there are preferred medical service providers or any requirements that will impact their choice of doctor. Many insurance companies have robust “find a doctor” search tools for their customers, so it’s important that your medical practice can be found on the sites for plans that you accept.
Whether a new client is looking for a doctor or therapist through an insurance site or through a search engine, a provider’s specialty will be a factor to narrow the field of choices. Whether you’re a plastic surgeon or offer another niche service, keep this in mind as you work through your healthcare SEO activities.
A 2017 survey of over 1,000 Americans across numerous demographics reported that 70% of participants thought that a medical practice located close to work or home was an important factor. Though potential clients may be willing to travel outside the immediate area to see a particular specialist – like a plastic surgeon – or a doctor with a great referral from a trusted source, the bottom line is that geographic location plays an important part in deciding who to make that first appointment with.
There are many facets to medical SEO for online searches. Some are easy to grasp, others not so much. It’s best to start with the basics because without those in place, more complex SEO efforts will fall flat.
Completing these three simple steps will effectively position that online spotlight to help your healthcare practice stand out in search results.
When you are thinking medical SEO – including SEO for therapists – include all the key search variables that are important to prospective patients. Brainstorm a list of keywords and terms that could put your private practice at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). Using a search term tool to get quantitative information about the best keywords can be very helpful.
Keep the three user decision criteria in mind when conducting keyword research and come up with variations of words and terms that focus on those. For example, rather than limiting location-related terms to your town, include other relevant location terms like street name, zip code, neighborhood name, shopping center or medical park name, and county. Do the same with healthcare plan provider names (like acronyms as well as the full name) and specialty names.
Test things out. Do your own searches using the keywords and phrases you’ve generated and check out the first page of results. Use your findings to come up with a list of words and terms that you can incorporate into your own website content and use in directory listings and other online sites your practice will show up on.
With your new keyword list in hand, review the content on your website and incorporate relevant keywords and phrases naturally into the copy. With page optimization, think creatively and include your words in key spots like page titles and subtitles, image filenames, and alt-tag descriptions of images.
If you can, it’s a good idea to include keywords in your site URL–this might require buying an additional domain and auto-redirecting it to your site. And be sure to review the meta description for every site page to incorporate keywords into the roughly 155 characters that Google will display among organic search results.
Start thinking “mobile first” because that’s what Google is thinking. Users are spending more and more time on mobile devices and as a result are doing more online searches from handheld devices. Mobile first means that page load speed and responsive website design, which resizes itself for any device screen size without losing navigational effectiveness, are two requirements that are now part of the ranking algorithm.
You have your list of keywords. Your medical website is updated and pages load fast. Now what? It’s time to focus on that third important factor that goes into a new customer’s decision: the one that 70% of users use to find a doctor or therapist close to home or work. Optimizing your medical website for local search is like turning that virtual spotlight into a laser beam pointing people straight at you.
Enter Google My Business (GMB). Think of GMB as a search engine within a search engine. This powerful tool focuses specifically on returning relevant results that are local to the user. The goal is to provide rich and robust details like a location map, patient testimonials, and details about the practice in the content delivered to a local search. Medical practices that effectively leverage local citations like GMB have a better chance of growing, attracting qualified leads, and reaching the top of local search results.
An effective SEO strategy requires taking full advantage of Google My Business. Fill your private practice listing out completely with quality content and not just your website URL, address, phone, and office hours.
Include great content that will build credibility, establish your online reputation, and give potential patients as much information about you as possible. Ensure that your business page is accurate. Check and double-check that everything is correct and matches what you present on your website. If something changes—like your phone number or office hours—make sure that your GMB listing gets updated.
Google has provided video tutorials to help businesses make the most of GMB. Here is a good place to start.
To make your GMB listing stand out as much as possible and maximize the effectiveness of a local SEO strategy to drive website traffic, pay attention to these sections:
A short summary (no more than two paragraphs) of your practice that incorporates your keywords in a natural way without affecting the user experience.
This feature allows a current or potential patient to click through to the appointments page or form on your website straight from GMB.
Peer reviews can be a strong influencer for potential patients and Google’s algorithm includes reviews as a ranking factor, so it’s a good strategy to proactively ask patients to post reviews to your GMB listing.
This section is for general service areas that will help ideal clients decide if you are relevant to their need. The Services section below is for additional detail. Enter descriptions for your service areas that will be recognized by potential patients. Examples include “family practice,” “sports medicine,” and “family counseling.”
This section can be very useful in establishing your credentials and philosophy of care. It allows any user to ask as well as answer questions about your practice. Note “as well as answer,” so monitor this section regularly and respond quickly to any posted questions (using keywords if possible).
Images and videos are a great way to enhance your GMB listing and can make a difference to users who find it. Use high-quality content depicting your practice’s office and your staff. A nicely produced video can also be a great benefit and drive quality traffic to your site.
This section allows you to expand on the services you listed in the Categories section and is an opportunity to set your practice apart in your areas of specialty. For a practice offering family medicine, for example, the Services section might offer details about annual checkups, high school sports exams, women’s health services, and geriatric care. A local therapist specializing in family counseling might offer Services details for relationship counseling, life transitions counseling, and premarital counseling.
Posts are unique content that helps you stand out and give users a sense of you and your practice at a glance.
Each piece of content is live online for only seven days, so you can use this section to promote specials, offer reminders, post seasonal messages, or provide excerpts from your site blog to catch users’ attention and interest. Examples include an announcement that it’s National Blood Donor month in January, a reminder to “take along the sunscreen” just before Memorial Day weekend, and a “we are ready for your school sports physical exam” in the late summer.
This is the place to see how your GMB listing is performing. This includes data like the number of visits the listing receives, what keywords are attracting people to your listing, and what images are viewed most often.
Does this look like a lot to do? It can be, but it is well worth the effort to fully complete your GMB listing. Approach it as a project that spans a period of time–a month, a quarter–and make regular progress.
Once your listing is complete, maintain it. Respond quickly to submitted questions, ask patients to post reviews about your practice, add posts on a regular basis (remember they only “live” online for seven days), and add photos and videos. And, of course, integrate your keywords in all the content you have on your listing.
These local SEO activities will give you a good ROI on the time you and your staff invest in your GMB listing.
Once the simple 1-2-3 SEO process is done, there’s more to think about. Here are some of the factors to consider that will help you continue to improve your search rank and use your medical SEO strategies for maximum advantage–all in the service of bringing new patients to your practice.
SEO for doctors and therapists is not a one-and-done thing. The internet is dynamic, and consumer behavior and search engine algorithms continuously change. An SEO strategy must be ongoing, with due diligence around the market in which you practice and with continual monitoring of how effective your online presence supports your internet marketing success in the long run.
Commit time in your schedule to:
Start with the simple steps outlined here to get your SEO foundation well established. Follow through with continuous monitoring and adjustment to improve your visibility and reach the top of Google search pages. Keep your eye on trends that could affect your SEO strategy and incorporate them as needed. This is the road map to the best ways online marketing can grow your practice.