Each day, consumers search Google more than 3.5 billion times. With Google maintaining an 88 percent search engine market share, ranking well within Google results is critical for healthcare practices to increase website traffic and new patient growth. Moreover, with research showing 90 percent of searchers more likely to click on the first set of results they see, your practice needs to rank near the top of search engine results pages (SERP).
The Google Local Pack (seen below) represents a top-notch placement located at or near the top of the unpaid search results. Healthcare practices displayed here will enjoy faster recognition by patients and greater web visibility. This makes them more likely to attract prospective new patients and reap long-term practice growth.
How does Google determine when your practice shows up in the Local Pack? As the name suggests, the most important factor in getting listed is being a local business. But it’s not the only factor.
If your practice isn’t showing up in the Google Local Pack, or is not comparing well against other local practices that are, it’s important to understand why. While you can’t address all factors, knowing how local search results work can help you adjust and refine your marketing and practice growth strategy.
Google Ads, Google Local Pack, and other organic search results: What are the differences?
Since Google displays search results in different ways, we’ll break down a few notable formats for you. Here are three ways Google serves up information in the general SERP display, sharing details about your healthcare practice — or a physician or provider — with prospective patients.
- Google Ads / pay-per-click (PPC) results: In response to virtually any search query’s results, you’re likely to find a few Google paid search ads, displayed at the top of the page. Google Ads are noted with a small “Ad” at the top left of the listing. These ad listings will show up based on the results of competitive pay-per-click ad campaigns. Pay-per-click means that each time a person clicks on the advertisement, the owner of the ad pays for that clickthrough.
- Google Local Pack: When looking for a business, you’ll often see the Google Local Pack, which usually includes three local businesses, as seen above. A Google Local Pack listing features a link to the business website, Google directions, Google review metrics (number of reviews and average star rating), basic contact information, hours of operation, and other details. This information comes from your Google My Business profile, making it imperative that you claim your Google My Business listing, ensure its accuracy, and optimize it. (Watch our learning session on how to optimize your Google My Business listing.)
- Other organic result listings: Other search results are then displayed just beneath the Google Local Pack. The order of results is based on a complex algorithm that Google constantly changes as they strive to deliver the results that best satisfy consumers’ search queries. To improve organic search results, you need an effective SEO strategy.
Factors that affect Google Local Pack results
According to Google, the factors that affect local search results are relevance, distance (proximity), and prominence. When looking at these factors for healthcare practices, we can assume five potential reasons your practice may not be making its way to the top of the local search results food chain:
1. Location, location, location (practice location, that is)
Well, it is called local search. Google operates with the understanding that people do not want to travel far when looking for a business they’d like to visit or connect with. As a result, your practice address is the number one factor to whether you show up in the Local Pack and the larger Local Finder.
When it comes to businesses, all searches are local. With the proliferation of mobile devices, geolocal search volumes continue to increase. In fact, searches that include the phrase “near me” have risen 900 percent in recent years. Combine that with Google’s location intelligence, and your chances of appearing in top results decrease if your practice isn’t near the person who’s searching.
While you can’t do anything about that, it’s valuable to know how it works. When someone searches for a pediatrician on the north side of town, pediatric practices in that location — and the location of the person searching — play a role in what Google lists in the Local Pack.
You can’t control your location, but you can optimize your business profile for when you are in the local search area. Two quick tips:
- Determine the search keywords that best relate to your services. Think about how patients talk about those services and the conditions they ask questions about. Then, use those keywords and terms throughout your website copy, Google My Business listing, and other professional profiles across the web (think Facebook, Yelp, Vitals, and even insurance payer websites).
- As mentioned above, get the most value from your Google My Business profile. Get specific with your details, add plenty of photos and links back to your website, and make 100 percent sure that information is accurate.
Remember that Google works to surface healthcare practices (or any businesses) that best answer a person’s query or request. If your practice is local to the person searching, and conveys relevance and authority related to the query, you’re setting yourself up for search success.
2. The meaning of the word “best” in Google local search
One element of local search queries cuts right to the chase: the word “best.” When people want to know which businesses or professionals are considered tops in their field, they will sometimes include “best” in their search request. They want reviews, feedback, anything that can point them to the best in their area.
You’re probably familiar with search queries like “best podiatrist near me” or “best dentist 90401”. How does Google return results to satisfy those queries? They rely on Google reviews.
When a local search query includes the word “best,” Google has a default setting for what ends up in the Local Pack: They will list businesses with an average star rating of 4.0 or greater. That’s the threshold for “best.”
If your practice, or your provider profile, has an average star rating less than 4.0, you’re likely not to show up. Related note: our survey research shows that 59 percent of patients will not consider a healthcare provider with an average star rating less than 4.0.
3. What’s in a (practice) name?
The name of your practice can have a significant impact on local search result ranking. Here’s why: If someone searches for a primary care doctor downtown and your practice name is ‘Downtown [your city] Primary Care,’ your search engine ranking will improve. A word within your business name is naturally matching that search query.
While it’s not so easy to change your practice name — not without some serious effort which, in some cases, may be worth it in the long-term — you can make other changes. In your Google My Business profile description, other online listings, and your practice website, incorporate geographic descriptors like “downtown” into the copy. Doing so can improve the likelihood you’ll be included in top search results for queries that include those words.
For example, your online profile practice description and website tagline may read “OB/GYN practice serving patients in downtown [your city].” While this won’t be as effective as a geographically named practice, it’s likely to help.
4. Category and keyword matching
When selecting your Google My Business category — typically your specialty or area of expertise — get as specific as you can. This is critical to match your practice services with what prospective patients are searching for.
Because Google wants to give consumers precisely what they’re looking for, specificity works to your advantage. If a patient searches for a knee replacement surgeon in your part of town, and your primary Google My Business category is “knee surgeon,” you are the better choice for that query than a practice that selected “orthopaedic surgeon.”
Likewise, keyword matching occurs when a prospective patient uses search phrases and words that match those found on your website or online practice descriptions. Google will want to serve your listing closer to the top, to give the searcher what they’re hoping to find.
To improve your chances of scoring a keyword match, take on a little market research. Try comparing different keywords and phrases using the Google Trends board. The example below shows the trends comparing searches for “prenatal care” and “pregnancy care” over the past 12 months. As illustrated, there is greater search volume for the latter.
If you manage branding and marketing for an OB/GYN practice, you now have the basic knowledge to choose which keyword or phrase you want to emphasize and then incorporate it into your website copy. Keep in mind that more common phrases tend to also have more search competition. (If you’re creating a Google Ads campaign, the Google Keyword Planner gets into greater depth, including potential PPC costs.)
To really focus on care-related keywords and phrases, consider developing an individual web page for each topic, condition, or medical procedure. As an SEO best practice, for instance, your website should have a single web page for each service your practice offers.
5. Prominence within Google search
To best understand the concept of prominence in local search, let’s go straight to the source. Google defines prominence as “how well known a business is,” in both online and offline worlds. For independent practitioners, this might mean a practice affiliated with a major academic medical center could rank higher just because of its well-known parent organization.
Google also tells us that “prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, to include links, articles and directories.” Once again, this reinforces the importance of claiming, verifying, and maintaining your listings with online directories like Google My Business, Yelp, Vitals, Healthgrades, and the like.
Google further explains that “more reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking.” That’s why maintaining a positive online reputation is critical to any practice growth strategy. Finally, Google confirms that “your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.”
Fortunately, there are a lot of strategies healthcare practices can employ to help with SEO, starting with optimizing your website. For tips on website improvements and other tactics, the experts at PatientPop have created the following resources to guide any practice toward a more effective SEO:
- 3-part blog post series: Improving your SEO
- Webinar: The guide to increasing online visibility for long-term success
- Blog post: Search ranking factors and trends from SEO experts
To maximize the frequency of your healthcare practice landing in the Google Local Pack, know what you can control, make adjustments to your online content (especially within your Google My Business profile), build out your online reviews, and take steps to establish your local prominence. Each task helps position your practice for consideration with more patients looking for your specialty, in your area.