Posted: April 6, 2017

We recently wrote a blog series about paid, earned, and owned media and the need for a balanced approach. The Google search engine results page (SERP) is a great example of where all three media pillars must come together to capture health consumers at any stage of their journey.

Google is quite literally the digital front door to millions of health consumers. Most people in the U.S. and around the world use a search engine to start their daily web browsing. It’s not surprising that showing up first on Google is essential to hospitals and health systems. But what does “showing up first” mean?

To answer, we need to dissect the Google results page. While it changes depending on the search query, for most healthcare-related searches, “showing up first” means having: 1) A paid ad via Google AdWords, 2) Local listings in the Google Local Pack via the Google My Business portal, and 3) Organic listings via a search engine-friendly web content management system and well-optimized content.


While you could try to dominate the search results page for every possible health query, no hospital or health system has the budget, time, or resources to embark on such a quest — nor should they. The question is then, which types of queries should you focus on to maximize your presence?


You’ll first need to determine what types of search queries warrant the most coverage. Should you focus on branded search, so when anyone searches specifically for your locations or providers, it’s your listings they’ll find? Or should you go for unbranded search, so when someone needs a provider nearby, your organization will have the most coverage? Or both?

Doing the research to find the right queries for every strategic service or location is time consuming, but the overall strategy is simple: Consider the health consumer’s journey:

1. Put yourself in the mindset of your target prospects and patients.
2. What words and phrases would they use to find key services, procedures, locations, etc.?
3. Develop personas and map the potential search queries most valuable in the consumer journey.


For example, when consumers or patients are just starting their journey, the search will be broader in nature. The queries become more specific as they get closer to selecting a healthcare brand, provider, or facility. Depending on a specific marketing goal or objective, you may need to focus on unbranded search queries (e.g., “cardiologist near me”) for prospects in the beginning or middle of the selection phase. For prospects much deeper in the funnel, you would use a branded campaign for your specific physicians (e.g., “Dr. Kevin Smith Cardiologist”).

Dominating Google with Paid Search, Local Listings, & Organic Search Campaigns

Once you know what type of search queries to target, you’ll need to determine what type of campaigns to invest in. Below you’ll find some options to help you attain healthcare marketing objectives like awareness, engagement, acquisition, and/or loyalty.

Hyperlocal campaigns: These campaigns are by far the most ROI-driven. By focusing on search queries where the health consumer expresses local intent — that is, specific searches related to locations, providers, and services that include the phrase “near me” or your brand name — you can capture valuable prospects at the moment they’re ready to convert.

Service-, treatment-, or procedure-specific campaigns: These campaigns focus on queries that are well beyond the symptomatic or diagnostic research stage and signal deep-in-the-funnel intent — the health consumer is looking for a place to receive specific treatment or procedures.

Branded campaigns: When someone specifically searches for your locations, physicians, and services, you expect to dominate the search result, right? These should be the easiest queries for you to land the top spot on Google. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations fail to dominate in these types of searches because they’re not bidding on branded search keywords, haven’t claimed and optimized their local listings, or haven’t built their website on a search engine-friendly web content platform or spent the time on proven SEO tactics. Instead, they’ve let healthcare directory sites hijack their brand in organic listings.

Bonus tip: Paid search campaigns should include ad extensions. These are powerful tools that can increase click-thru-rates, boost conversion rates, and decrease cost-per-acquisition. What’s more, your cost-per-click doesn’t increase by using them. With ad extensions, you can display a map with your location(s), link to additional pages within your site, list a click-to-call phone number, connect +1s from your Google Plus page to your ad (and vice-versa), and include provider ratings (if applicable).

Paid search and local listings can be relatively straight forward. But ranking well on organic results is not as easy. Google’s algorithm examines over 200 ranking factors to determine the placement of every web page on the internet. While there are no silver bullets in SEO, there are some common best practices to follow that will help your website rank well:

1. Build your website on a search engine friendly CMS
2. Use secure web browsing in your CMS and turn on the HTTPS version of your website
3. Optimize your web content (i.e. header tags, page titles, copy, images, etc.)
4. Build backlinks from multiple authoritative domains
5. Make sure internal and external links use anchor text

The Bottom Line

Dominating the search engine results page — ensuring your brand takes up as much real estate as possible — means having a better chance to capture health consumers at the most important stages of their journey. With this strategy, no matter where consumers click, they are more likely to get to your locations, providers, or services rather than the competition.

Are you currently dominating in Google’s search results?
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