It’s nearly impossible to start or grow a healthcare practice today if new patients can’t find it when the search online. That’s because 97 percent of people use the internet to search for local businesses like healthcare practices, according to BrightLocal.
Understanding how search engines determine which results are the most relevant for queries (questions or phrases people enter into search engines) is vital for successful practice marketing. So is understanding the ways in which search engines display local search results.
Google — which boasts about 76 percent of search engine market share as of October 2018, according to NetMarketShare — continually works to interpret local intent and deliver local search results to its users. When local intent is determined, those results may be delivered in one of several ways, outlined below.
Ways Google manages and displays local search results
1. Standard Google search engine results pages (SERPs)
The most obvious way Google displays local search results is within the naturally ranked organic results. Those practices whose websites are best optimized for a local search query (often what experts mean when referring to strong search engine optimization or, SEO) will rank above their competition on organic search engine results pages (SERPs). The higher your practice ranks, the far greater likelihood a patient will click on your links and see what your practice and providers have to offer.
2. Google Knowledge Panel
If Google is sure that one result is better and more relevant for the searcher than all others, it will display it in a “knowledge panel,” located at the top of a mobile display or to the right of the search results when viewing on desktop. The knowledge panel can often take information from a Google My Business profile, if the business has claimed and created one.
3. Google Local Pack
If Google is fairly sure the searcher is looking for a local business but isn’t positive which is most relevant, it will display a few local results at the top of the listings, with phone numbers and links to more information within Google Maps. This three pack (or stack) can appear at the top or middle of a search results page.
4. Google Local Finder
If a user clicks “More places” at the bottom of the Local Pack, Google will display a local finder, as the searcher has made it clear they’re looking for businesses in a specific location, and would like to see more options.
The Local Finder displays the same information as the three pack of local results, with each location pinpointed within Google Maps. People searching online with Google can also do so directly within Google Maps. In that case, Google Maps displays local business results and a map with a location for each business.
More ways patients search for healthcare practices online
Despite Google’s massive market share, and their variety of search result locations and styles, this isn’t the whole picture when it comes to patients searching for practices. That’s because not all searches take place within a search engine.
Some patients go directly to a local business directory or third-party healthcare website to search for a provider. Care-specific sites such as Vitals, Healthgrades, and RateMDs offer search for an entire database of providers, and list physician information such as a short bio, educational background, practice name and details, and a patient review summary. Most insurance companies offer a similar experience for their members via a portal website that includes much of the same search opportunity.
Patients might also opt for general websites that have established themselves as leading destinations for consumer reviews and feedback, including Yelp and Facebook.
Clearly, there is a multitude of options for today’s trend of “healthcare shopping,” and this amplifies the need for every provider and practice to make sure they appear on every relevant site, with clear, accurate information, and enough details for a prospective patient to understand why they should choose them.
Local search is many things without being exactly anything. Mastering this moving target is all about knowing how to respond to what people search for, how and where they search for it, and how the results are displayed.
For more on the topic of local search, download your copy of the Practice growth playbook: How to master local search marketing and get found online. The playbook offers step-by-step guidance so healthcare providers can optimize their entire online presence, boost visibility in local search, and gain attention from prospective patients.