Your healthcare practice may have a website, but if SEO has not been applied to the site, writes Jason Barody, its marketing value may be worthless.
What is SEO?
Most healthcare practices have an online presence designed to provide valuable information to the community and attract patients and clients. However, a professional site is of no value if potential patients can’t find it. A website needs Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to be effective.
So, what is SEO? It’s the process of improving and promoting a website in order to increase the ranking of the site in search engines. And why is this important? The higher a website appears on the list of search results, the more people view the site itself. In short, SEO equals visibility.
SEO is affected by the keywords and phrases used on a website. It is also influenced by the way other sites link to the site and the structure of the website itself. User-generated content, fresh content and social-media links play a role as well. While it may seem otherwise, SEO is not all about the search engines – effective SEO always considers the user of the site. The content of the site itself should be friendly, useful and engaging, and the site itself should be easy to understand and navigate. It’s not enough to just attract attention through enhanced visibility. Good SEO practice makes visitors want to stay on the site once they arrive.
Why is SEO Important?
Every day, people search for medical information online. They go to major search engines such as Google and type in words and phrases related to their health. They research conditions and symptoms and look for information on procedures and treatments. Most importantly for your practice, they search for healthcare providers that meet their needs.
If your website isn’t listed on the first page of search engine results, you might as well be invisible. Healthcare is moving from a provider-driven system, where patients are referred to medical practice, to an increasingly patient-driven system. Patients are making decisions about which providers or facilities to visit and are more actively involved in the healthcare decisions that impact their lives, and they are studying websites to obtain the information they need to make those decisions.
If your practice is dependent on professional and word-of-mouth referrals, you may be missing a large pool of potential patients. When combined with a professional and engaging website, SEO increases your visibility to potential patients in your community. Traffic to your website equals patients to your door – it’s as simple as that.
Let’s look at some key components of SEO and discuss how you can use them effectively.
Keywords and Phrases
SEO begins with keywords. Search engines use a process called indexing to categorise the written and visual content on web pages and rank them according to relevance. When an individual enters a word or phrase into the search line of Google, for example, the search engine looks through the websites it has indexed and returns results based on the site’s relevance to the subject of the search. Those search subjects are known as keywords.
It is important that you understand the keywords and phrases that most closely fit your practice. This involves knowing the demographics of your target market and the language they use when referring to your specialty or services. In short, you must know the language people use most often when looking for your practice.
Consider your specialty. What language do people most often associate with your practice? Patients are more likely to search for ‘cancer treatment’, for example, than they are ‘oncology’. An oncologist will want to use both of these terms on a practice website to increase visibility to professional people and patients. As you develop your list of keywords, think about your average patient. What is important to this person, what common concerns are expressed in your office and which questions are asked most frequently? These are clues to the type of keywords your patients use.
A domain name is the online address of a website. If you are unfamiliar with SEO you may overlook the importance of a domain name when your website is being designed. Many doctors simply use their own name or the name of their practice as a domain. A domain name such as www.yourbusinessname.com is convenient and certainly identifies your practice, however, it’s not the most powerful choice.
Studies have determined that people are more likely to click your link out of a list of search engine results if they see a keyword in your domain name. Potential patients are encouraged to visit your site when they see the exact word or phrase they typed into Google or Bing. Your domain name should include a keyword if possible but still clearly point to your practice.
Consider your content
What kind of content does your website provide? Do you have a blog or FAQ section that provides general health information related to your practice and specialty? If so, how often is this content updated and refreshed?
Search engines look for more than just keywords when they index your website – they also look at how those words are used and the number of times they appear. Packing a lot of keywords into a few paragraphs is actually harmful to your visibility. Using keywords naturally within multiple paragraphs or blog posts is preferred.
Content should be updated regularly with new articles, blog posts or tips posted relatively frequently. Not only does this indicate to search engines that your site is
active and well maintained, but it also increases the appeal of your site to visitors. Well-written information presented in a professional way is attractive to potential patients. It establishes you as an expert in your field and builds trust between you and the community. Most importantly, it gives website visitors a reason to return to your site and consider visiting your practice. People talk about and share information they find valuable. They will share articles or blog posts from your site on social media sites such as Facebook. Your blog posts may even by referenced or listed as links on other sites. This type of link building and social media activity is amazingly valuable for SEO
purposes. The more your content is shared, the more search engines view it as valuable
to their users.
Local SEO is crucial to your success in attracting new patients. Your goal is to draw visitors from the local area rather than across the greater region or the world. For this reason, healthcare SEO focuses on targeting local communities and service regions.
Feature your physical contact information prominently on your website – ideally your practice location and address should be easily seen on your main webpage within five seconds. You may want to include information about your service area and even include towns or regions in your keywords so potential patients understand the communities you serve.
People will often search based on a city or location. Even if they don’t do this, the search engines are designed to use location as part of their response algorithm. It’s important that your location is included in the behind-the-scenes framework of your site, as well as the content. Make sure search engines can clearly determine your location and use it as a factor in your ranking.
Help visitors cross the bridge from visiting your website to visiting your practice. Consider listing your physical address and service areas in the header and footer of every page on your website. Include office hours and contact information so they know how and when to call for an appointment or consultation. Make it as easy as possible for website visitors to convert to patients and clients.
Also take the time to list your website in online professional directories. Online healthcare directories such as www.healthengine.com.au or www.healthshare.com.au provide detailed and industry specific listings indexed by area. Potential patients often look for providers in their area using these sites.
Local SEO is a bit complex, but it’s very important to your overall strategy. It can often give you a competitive advantage in the online marketplace over your nearest competitor. Making sure your website is submitted to local search engines and online
directories can make all the difference in your results.
SEO is a crucial tool in marketing your healthcare practice. Used properly, it is critical to increasing your website’s visibility in the community and attracting new patients and clients to your practice.
Outsourcing SEO can help to ensure that your website is reaching your target audience, upholding the reputation of your practice and helping to bring new patients through the door. The team at Vividus can work with you to develop an SEO strategy designed to reach the communities you serve. For more information, call Vividus on 07 3282 2233 or visit www.vividus.com.au.
The content in this article was published in The Private Practice Autumn 2013 edition. Download the print version by clicking below.