Search engine optimization (SEO) is the key strategy for independent healthcare practices to connect with prospective patients.With 3 out of 4 people having looked online for a provider or care, that’s where acquisition begins. But the complexities of SEO are confusing even to seasoned marketing professionals — it’s a topic best left to the experts.
Fortunately, PatientPop director of local SEO and marketing, Joel Headley, is recognized as one of the top SEO experts in the nation, with a decade of experience working at Google. Recently, Headley and other top SEO minds participated in the 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey. This annual survey assesses what’s truly driving local search rankings and how businesses must respond to continue optimizing their online presence.
SEO basics for healthcare practices
Before we look at the survey findings, let’s review what SEO is, how search algorithms work, and why healthcare practices should focus on Google as the best place to start competing for new patients in a digital world.
As a healthcare practice owner, you know being found via search engines is critical to your patient acquisition. If you don’t rise to the top of local search results, how will the right prospective patients ever find you? Chances are, they won’t.
That’s why understanding how search engines work, and doing everything you can to align with their rapidly evolving algorithms is critical to your continued growth and success.
While there are only four search engines with more than 1 percent of the search market, Google is far and away the leader, maintaining an 88 percent market share. For that reason, healthcare providers and practices focus their SEO efforts there.
The Google algorithm everyone talks about is the elusive process by which Google determines the best results to display for any given search. Google itself describes it as a “ranking system designed to sort through hundreds of billions of webpages to find the most relevant, useful results in a fraction of a second, and present them in a way that helps you find what you’re looking for.”
How does the algorithm work? It’s impacted by dozens of factors, some of which business owners can control, some of which you can’t — and it changes frequently. Google says their search algorithms look at many elements, “including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings.” The information is purposefully vague. The algorithm is always changing and not “game-able.”
“People are always trying to game the system,” says Joel Headley. “If you’re a business that has a location, you never want to violate their guidelines, you have a business to build. You want to build it in a sustainable, long-term way.”
Instead, Headley suggests sticking with the basics. “You really want to focus on the questions or queries that patients have. Use terms and phrases that you hear your patients use when asking questions. Patients want to see what they understand. Focus on how people are searching, and not how you or your literature might describe an issue.”
For more insights on how to rank well in local search traffic, SEO experts have provided their feedback to help demystify the latest trends impacting local search results.
Two key takeaways for SEO success
Here’s our look at SEO agency Whitespark’s 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey and how you can make this information work for your practice.
It’s all about your Google business profile.
As we’ve mentioned in past blog posts and live learning sessions, when it comes to driving local traffic to your practice website, optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) profile is critical. This year’s survey results further solidify this recommendation.
SEO experts believe GMB is the single most important element driving local search rankings for Google — above other factors such as online reviews (16%), on-page content (15%), and links to your site (15%).
Healthcare practices that optimize their Google business profiles with accurate, up-to-date information, professional photos and videos, and links to online scheduling can make significant gains in boosting their SEO. The Whitespark survey report also reiterates the importance of filling out every field in your Google My Business listing, including all applicable business categories (e.g. doctor, surgeon, and orthopaedic surgeon).
Online reviews drive action.
When asked “Which individual factors do you think have the biggest impact on conversions from Google My Business?,” experts highlighted the importance of online reviews, citing the average star ratings (ranked 1st), quantity of reviews (3rd) and the presence of positive sentiments (2nd) as key factors that drive conversion — for healthcare practices, that means new patients booking appointments.
We know that 71 percent of patients check online reviews when searching for a new doctor, according to research from Software Advice. The key to amassing a strong set of patient reviews is simply asking for feedback to your practice.
That’s why PatientPop recommends implementing automated patient satisfaction surveys at your practice to start that feedback loop. According to PatientPop survey data, patients are 50 percent more likely to proactively submit an online review when they’ve been asked for feedback.
Getting SEO right for your healthcare practice
In closing, while it’s a complex, everchanging strategy, SEO can have a major impact on your growth strategy. Sadly, any SEO expert will testify that you can’t outsmart Google (although many have tried). You can, however execute a sound SEO strategy by choosing those tactics proven to drive local search traffic. Doing so will bring prospective patients one step closer to choosing your practice and scheduling an appointment.
Practice growth playbook: How to master local search marketing and get found online
Improving your SEO series: how your website can help build your search ranking