If you’ve read our blog posts on SEO, you’ve seen this statement before: Search engine optimization is a tricky business. SEO is critical to the growth potential of any healthcare practice, but the search environment is constantly evolving. Google and other search engines regularly update their search algorithm to best serve up precisely what searchers are looking for.
Before we get into our six SEO facts, let’s review why search engine performance is so important to your practice. First, 2021 PatientPop survey research tells us three-quarters of people nationwide have used online resources to look for a healthcare provider, and 61 percent do so sometimes or often. With 90 percent of people indicating they are likely to click on the first set of local search results, rising to the top is essential for attracting new patients.
What happens if your practice doesn’t rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs)? Chances are new patients will find other options first.
To land near the top of search engine results, you need to “convince” Google that you’re worthy. Fortunately, a keen understanding of search results and the complexities of search engine optimization (SEO) can help you do just that. Here are a few lesser-known facts about search results to help you improve your practice’s search engine rankings.
Search results fact #1: All searches are local
When it comes to finding any business online — including a healthcare practice — all searches are local. Even if the person searching doesn’t provide their location in their search query, Google knows that people don’t want to travel very far to visit a store, restaurant, or medical practice. With that expectation, Google serves up results that fall within a specific geographic area in close proximity to the searcher.
Sometimes, people may tell Google their location by including geographic information within their search query, called an explicit local search. For example, a patient may search for “OB/GYN” along with a city name or ZIP code.
In either case, you can improve your odds of showing up in the Google Local Pack (top-notch local placement near the top of unpaid search results) by following search engine optimization (SEO) best practices: Claim online profiles and ensuring the information is consistent, keep your website up-to-date, and use relevant keywords across all online assets.
Search results fact #2: Smart website design can drive SEO
Optimizing your healthcare practice’s website is about more than attractive colors, engaging graphics, and informative content. Those are important elements, of course, but to set up your site for search results success, every website should satisfy four key attributes. Google will assess and find value in each of the following.
- Your website must be mobile-optimized, meaning it looks great and functions well on any mobile device. One common way to accomplish this is by developing your site with a responsive design, with the site “responding” properly to the device and browser size the viewer is using. This is especially
- Your website must load quickly. Google offers the following statistic: As a page load increases from one second to five seconds, the chance that visitors will abandon your site increases by 90 percent. It’s safe to say that better speed = potentially more new patients.
- Your website must be findable. Do all the backend work necessary to ensure your site can be found, crawled, and indexed by search engines. The easier you make it for Google to find your site and understand the content within, the better chance the search engine can confidently surface your information in response to a search query. to
- Your website must provide calls to action (CTAs). Last, but certainly not least is the marketer’s favorite element — the call to action. A CTA urges site visitors to take a specific action. In the case of a healthcare practice, that almost always relates to booking an appointment.
When a website visitor checks out your site and then books an appointment — taking the intended action — this is what marketers call conversion. The easier you can make it for a prospective patient to close this loop and take action, the more likely you’ll earn that conversion and new business. That’s just one reason implementing online scheduling is a top recommendation for healthcare practices.
Search results fact #3: Online profiles build trust with search engines
For business growth, gaining Google’s trust is almost as important as gaining the trust of your patients. The more Google believes that your practice is a reputable local business, the more likely they will serve up your website and information near the top of search results. Claiming your profiles across the web, and using them to bring your practice to life online, helps achieve that.
Online profiles such as those via Google My Business, Yelp, and Vitals can not only build your online presence, but they give you more opportunities to pop up in search results.
How do you optimize your online profiles? After you’ve claimed a listing — verifying with the website that you own or represent the practice — do the following: ensure practice information is correct, add photos, include links to your website, and take advantage of advanced features (such as Google Posts, and Questions & answers).
There are dozens of profiles out there, including some you may even be aware of. To get started in addressing this aspect of your web presence, simply search your practice name and see what comes up. Then, go to those sites and claim your profiles. You’ll be one step closer to a stronger online presence.
Search results fact #4: Inconsistency is your enemy
Google likes to be confident with a search result. After all, their lifeline is giving searchers what they’re looking for, delivering the most useful and relevant answer to their queries. Inconsistency raises the question as to which available information is accurate — and that’s why it’s your enemy.
If Google or other search engines are unsure about any details related to your practice (your name, address, services offered), they can’t be confident in delivering information to users. For example, if your website or Facebook page features one address for your office, but your Google business profile lists another address, confusion reigns. How can a search engine determine which is correct?
This reinforces the importance of claiming and maintaining all your online profiles across the web. At minimum, the most important elements are your practice name, address and phone number, known by the shorthand “NAP.” From there, ensure the services you list and highlight are consistent across all profiles, as well as operational details such as your office hours.
Search results fact #5: Your online reputation conveys search prominence
Having a positive online reputation not only helps your practice make a great first impression. It also supports your search engine optimization strategy. That’s because practices with a stronger online reputation — defined by total number of reviews, average star rating, and recent flow of incoming reviews — check the ‘prominence’ box Google uses to determine search engine result rankings.
While many healthcare practices think they may not have any control over their online reputation, that’s not true. Asking for patient feedback regularly, with automated patient satisfaction surveys after each appointment, begins the patient-provider feedback loop that can lead to more online reviews. PatientPop research in 2019 indicates that patients who are asked for feedback are 50 percent more likely to proactively leave a patient review.
Search results fact #6: Backlinks boost SEO
Getting a vote of confidence from reputable organizations and businesses in your industry and local area is like digital word of mouth — and it can help improve your online credibility.
Known as backlinks or citations (the former include actual links back to your website), these online references to your healthcare practice help build your strength with search engines and can be great for business.
Examples could include a mention of your practice or one of your providers on a local news website, a link to your practice from another local practice or healthcare organization, or a blog post that references your practice.
Whether the participating website just mentions your practice (a citation) or links back to your website (a backlink), both are great for building your local authority with search engines. If your practice struggles to improve search result rankings, consider establishing a comprehensive backlinking strategy to help establish your credibility with Google and other search engines.
Search engine optimization drives patient acquisition
If you want more new patients at your practice or medical group, ensuring you appear prominently in local search engine results is the first step. By improving your website, enhancing your online presence, and focusing on strengthening your online reputation, you can head toward the top of search engine results — and meet your practice growth goals.