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Joel Headley

4 signals Google uses to build your healthcare practice in the online world

As we try to understand how Google lists and ranks locations, it’s important to remember how Google approaches geographic information and local search generally.

When you listen carefully to those that design and launch new features in Google Maps & local search, they’ll talk about the ‘offline world’. That’s just a tech tycoon’s way of saying ‘the real world’ with all its information, contrasting it to the ‘online world’ which is a mere subset of information.

Google’s stated goal is to make a version of the world online as accurately as possible. That means they want to know where your business is located and what it is like when you walk in the door.

There are a number of ways Google understands your business as it exists in the real world today. Here are a handful of signals Google uses to better model the real world:


Google allows all users to leave reviews on their listings. Additionally, Google is happy to show reviews from across the web. Review summaries appear in the knowledge panel. Also, for most branded queries, more than half the links listed have star icons appearing right next to the snippet, giving users a clear signal of what others think about your practice. Given that, it’s more important than ever to ensure your office provides excellent customer service. Even if a potential patient hears about your practice from a friend or their insurance agency, they’ll look to see how the rest of the world views your business by searching.

Google reviews


With the launch of Google Earth and satellite imagery in Maps, search engines became obsessed with showing images of businesses on the map. That includes images taken from their own cars driving by, professional photographers creating virtual tours, and customers uploading their own photos. Not only do photos describe the look and feel of a location, but the frequency of new photos added, particularly by users, give a valuable signal about the popularity of the location and what happens when people are there.


Google is using the data collected from phones to understand how a customer gets to your door, how long it takes them to park, the busiest times of the day, and how much time people spend once walking into your business.

Google Business popular times


Business hours, accepting new patients, medical imaging services, and LGBTQ friendliness are among the attributes Google collects to classify and sort your practice so users can make decisions about whether or not to book an appointment before they ever visit a website.

Not only will Google use these attributes to determine relevancy, but will also allow users to refine their searches based on these attributes. For example, filtering practices by those that are Open Now can be a powerful way to attract new patients in times they need help. If there’s a way to be receptive to the demand of patients needing your attention, it may be a valuable source of new opportunities. I recently came across a dental practice, open on Sundays, where a few of the recent reviews raved about how this practice came to the rescue during a dental emergency on the weekend.

Remember, putting your best foot forward online means having a great strategy to making patients feel welcome and comfortable from when they search for you online to the moment they walk into the door and are able to experience your care. To take advantage of these real-world signals, try the following:

  • Reviews: ask for feedback constantly, making it a regular part of how patients perceive your business
  • Photos: encourage patients to share great moments, such as their newly whitened teeth or that sonogram of their new baby
  • Visits: ensure patients know how to get to your practice, find parking, and experience a stress-free environment with minimal wait times
  • Attributes: closing the office on a holiday? Offering a new service? Keep in mind Google adds new attributes regularly (a handful in the last month for health care) and update your listing accordingly

Search engines will increasingly have proxies to measure interactions in the ‘real world’. As you grow your practice, put patient care first, and contribute to your community, search engines will help to transform those signals into an enviable presence online.

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Joel Headley
Joel Headley is Director of Local Search and Marketing at PatientPop, the market leader in healthcare practice growth. With a decade of experience at Google, Joel is an expert in optimizing websites for search and has a deep understanding of how doctors are found and assessed online.

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