We’re starting a four-part series on dominating the digital sphere this week, defining each realm – earned, owned and paid – and arguing that each is the best for different reasons. Or is that the whole story? Be sure to check back each Thursday over the next month to see if you agree.

When it comes to local search ranking, figuring out how to land at the top of the Google Local Pack can be a bit tricky. But let’s make a bold statement that helps simplify your way to better rankings: Earned Media is the Best Media.

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The world of searching for the nearest retail store or restaurant on a mobile device and reading online reviews to decide between establishments has changed what consumers expect when they’re making healthcare choices. Consumers these days live and search in a social, local and mobile environment. When they need to find a new primary care physician or are searching for the closest ER, they’ll be pulling up Google on their smartphones to find that information. And when consumers have the choice between one doctor or facility and another across the street, they read reviews to help them make their decisions.

The best way to reach healthcare consumers in this social/local/mobile environment is with earned media. Earned media includes any user-generated content about your brand online – mentions, shares, reposts and reviews. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that 63% of people trust search engines over traditional media. And, according to Zendesk, 90% of online consumers say their decisions are influenced by online reviews.

“Earned media is a marketing and advertising multiplier. Keeping track of hundreds of reviews, on many websites, for hundreds of providers and locations is an overwhelming and daunting task, but it is absolutely crucial to your marketing success—remember it doesn’t matter how much you spend in advertising, if your reputation is not great, your advertising dollars are being wasted or are not as effective as they could be.” – Giselle Bardwell, Director, Strategic Web Services, Influence Health

The key to owning the earned media playing field is to understand how Google Search Engine Results Domination works. At the top of the search page you’ll generally find a few paid ads, which is great, but doesn’t represent an earned status and costs money. Below those ads you get websites that have outstanding third-party reviews, but within those reviewed sites, those with good localized content, like maps and addresses, show up first. Next come websites that have their reviews shared on their own sites, with locally optimized sites ranking higher. Finally, you get websites with no reviews but that include location information – you’re lucky if you get one or two of these on the first page of search. And when that page shows up on a mobile screen? Out of sight, out of mind.

“Consistently leveraging earned media will translate into great coverage [domination] of the search results page. With this strategy, no matter where the health consumer clicks, chances are that they will get to you before any of your competitors.” – Bardwell

How Do I Get There?

There are three simple steps you can take to better leverage earned media.

1) Get your location and provider listings optimized. Make sure your name, addresses and phone numbers are correct and up-to-date. List hours of operation and include additional images whenever possible. Do this for all popular directories. No one wants to map an address only to arrive at an old location.

2) Solicit and manage reviews. Use your social sites and database tools to help push positive reviews to independent sites, and then share them on your own web pages. When you find negative feedback, respond quickly to address the issue, and you’ll earn more respect. Enlist help if you need it, because this is a big task, but it’s vastly important.

3) Create mobile optimized web pages. 44% of patients who research hospitals on a mobile device make an appointment, so you need to make sure they’re not arriving at a site that looks clunky or doesn’t perform on their smartphone or tablet.

If you don’t have the staff or expertise or time to handle all this yourself, look for a vendor who can correct and clean directory listings, help with reviews and reputation management and knows a thing or two about optimizing your online investment for search engines. To find the right vendor, make sure they: 1) are established in healthcare, 2) have automated listing distribution, 3) have an extensive distribution network, 4) create innovative technology, 5) provide hands-on expertise and 6) demonstrate robust reporting, with competitive intelligence and actionable insights.

Once you’ve implemented these three steps, congratulations! You’re soliciting great earned media. But in a complex world of digital engagement, is that all there is? Next, we’ll argue that owned media is actually more important for your brand. Stay tuned.

If you’d like more information about managing your digital presence, view our webinar, Winning the Popularity Contest: Exclusive Insights on Maximizing Reviews .