Posted: May 30, 2017

In a previous post, I talked about dominating the Google search engine results page (SERP). Now let’s expand on one of those key tactics — ranking well in organic search results. Whenever I speak with healthcare clients about search engine optimization (SEO), the prevailing question is, “What’s the most important factor to rank number one in Google?” This is difficult to answer because it depends on so many variables. There are no silver bullets in SEO. Entire businesses have been built around understanding the many ranking factors and best practices to make Google like your web pages and rank them accordingly. This post is a mere drop in the bucket, but SEO is a tactic healthcare marketers can’t afford to ignore and, at the very least, should understand at a high level.

Ranking 1, 2, or 3 on Google is not an easy task, but it is a must if you expect to get a health consumer to click through to your website. Studies show that the top listing in Google’s organic search results receives 33 percent of the traffic, compared to 18 percent for the second position — and the traffic only worsens from there.

I’ve worked in digital marketing and SEO for more than 15 years, and while much of it has changed, much remains the same. Here are the most tried and true elements that can lead to a higher ranking on Google:


• Content Management System (CMS): Picking a CMS platform that is healthcare focused to build your hospital’s website is a smart idea. Choosing one that is search engine-friendly is even smarter! Without a strong foundation, nothing else you do in SEO will matter.

Action: Choose a platform that allows you flexibility in on-page optimization (meta tags, friendly URLs, image ALT tags, etc.), has social integration capabilities (Facebook Open Graph tags, Twitter Cards, etc.), and incorporates best technical website optimization practices (duplicate content controls, page speed, Schema markup, XML sitemaps, etc.) to allow for easy site crawl and an optimal user experience.

• HTTPS: Secure browsing has become a web standard. For healthcare organizations, it is imperative to enable and only publish the HTTPS version of their site because it has been confirmed as a ranking factor on Google (i.e., it is a trusted and verified site). About 33% of pages that rank number 1, 2, or 3 on any given search are HTTPS enabled.

Action: If you haven’t done so already, review the security capabilities of your CMS and enable HTTPS. If you are currently working with a CMS that does not support secure web browsing, consider switching to a different platform. Also be sure to set up 301 redirects from any existing HTTP pages to a new HTTPs version, to avoid content duplication and pass the ranking power.

• Backlinks: Inbound links are still incredibly important in Google’s ranking algorithm. On average, the top two organic results on the first page have 38% more backlinks than other organic results. If you do not have any backlinks, the chance of ranking becomes close to none.

Action: Healthcare organizations naturally garner backlinks from other sites, but it is important to ask other sites such as healthcare provider directories to link to deeper content like service line landing pages, provider profiles, and locations pages. While backlinks to the homepage are valuable, it is just as important to get your more in-depth content pages ranking well. Also, pages that rank higher often have backlinks from multiple authoritative domains, i.e., several trusted and reputable websites.

• On-page factors: The highest ranking web pages generally have more compact page titles (eight word average). These pages also feature their main target keyword in their title, further boosting their ranking by an average of 15%. Another important factor is URL length. Top ranking pages often display shorter URLs that contain relevant words, usually totaling around 59 characters or less. Descriptive-but-short page title and URL combinations are generally considered more user-friendly because they are easier to read, which increases their click-through rate significantly. Higher click-through rates translate to higher rankings on Google.

Action: Identify pages that would benefit from an SEO review and on-page optimization by using tools such as Screaming Frog to calculate the length and contents of your page titles and URLs.

We’ve gathered a lot of interesting insights after analyzing many hospital web pages in an effort to get them to rank well in competitive markets. My hope is that you’ll be able to use some of the distilled findings and recommendations shared here, but if you want more tips on getting the marketing partnership you need to make your team more efficient, download our free Digital Marketing Toolkit.