Gearing up for your hospital’s website redesign? It’s exciting to pick out fresh colors, imagery and functionality to wow patients and prospects.

Truth is: if your new site isn’t search engine-friendly, there may be no one around to impress.

Consider that most major site redesigns usually bring a loss of organic search traffic, the result of content and domains being reordered, removed or consolidated (often when health systems merge or condense multiple facility websites into a centralized system site).

Optimizing your new design and structure up front can soften this immediate loss and payoff long-term with a site that delights users and search engines alike. Here are several SEO best practices to leverage from the get-go.

  1. Integrate Keyword Research Early

    Incorporating a comprehensive keyword strategy from the outset not only sets you up for SEO success but also ensures you’re providing the content that matters to your audience (while stripping out what doesn’t). Even simple research with a tool like Google Keyword Planner can guide how you structure and name your pages or uncover sub-specialties or specific procedures to highlight.

  2. Use Proper URL Structure

    SEO is all about relevancy, prominence and accessibility, so it’s important to make your URLs descriptive and on-topic. Frontload keywords as much as possible while avoiding unhelpful query strings, ID numbers or other irrelevant characters. Use a dash, not underscore, to separate words, as it’s the only character search engines recognize as a space.

    URL structure example

  3. Don’t Forget Redirects! Redirects

    For SEO, the best option is a 301 redirect. By putting this “permanent” move in place for URLs that have changed, you’re passing 90-99% of the ranking power of the old page to the new (compared to 302s, which pass 0%). 301 redirects indicate to search engines that not only has the page changed location but that the trusted content can be found there as well.

    When creating your 301 redirect plan, pay special attention to the strongest pages and plan for a 1:1 redirect (match strong old site pages to corresponding pages on the new site). This mapping can be a lot of work, but it’s all worth it. It will give future web visitors a more consistent browsing experience, but more importantly, it will pass search engine authority built up over time from strong pages to new ones. Not putting the effort into mapping 301 redirects properly will result in lost web traffic and frustrated users.

  4. Keep Navigation Simple and Efficient

    One of the golden rules of web usability is: Don’t make users think. That means creating a simple, intuitive navigational structure that offers fast access to the content your users are seeking. Same goes for search engines: keep your most important pages (e.g., key service lines) toward the top of your site hierarchy, a couple of clicks from the home page, making your content easy to find and index. Also link to internal pages within your body content, both for an easy user experience and to underpin your authority for search engines.

  5. Give Every Page a <title>

    Google serves up hundreds of results in milliseconds and uses the page title as a critical first clue as to the relevancy of your content to a particular search. Give each page on your site a unique title to avoid duplication, a no-no in SEO, and to keep content focused. Limit to 70 characters or less, including spaces, as Google truncates anything after (leading to lower click-through rates). Format with keywords first, followed by geographic modifiers, then your hospital/health system brand.

  6. Optimize Your Images

    Search engines rely on image metadata (e.g. ALT tags) to organize image search results, so make sure you use keywords and relevant phrases that can be crawled to boost your visibility, including in Google image search. Be descriptive in your file names, and, as with URLs, use a dash to separate words. Also include alternative text (ALT tags) for all important images, new buttons and other graphics integrated into your design. It should include your keywords in a complete phrase, not repetitive words separated by commas.

  7. Go Local

    For healthcare organizations looking to compete in highly saturated markets, having visibility in local search results is crucial. In addition to optimizing your page titles and content with geographic modifiers, make sure your facility landing, contact and team pages include physical addresses, phone numbers and embedded maps to emphasize locality. Also consider supplementing your organic search efforts with directory listings management to boost the visibility of your provider and location information in your target markets.

  8. Get Responsive

    With today’s always-on audience, it’s now vital to create a site that works seamlessly across devices. Google loves responsive design, primarily for its focus on user experience. Earning this favor is especially important in local search, helping convert mobile users in “near me” moments.

    While building a separate mobile site can work as well, using responsive design for a single domain also helps avoid duplicate content, keeps your ranking power in one place and makes it easier for search engines to crawl and index content. 

  9. Integrate Social Media

    While there’s direct evidence that Google doesn’t use social signals as part of its ranking algorithm, there’s no denying the indirect benefits social can have on your website’s visibility. There is a lot of correlation between social and search ─ social media sharing gets more content views, mentions and links, thereby boosting your popularity, authority and, ultimately, your ranking. So, include prominent share buttons on your health blogs and other important pages while promoting content via your social channels.

    Social Icons

  10. Decrease Page Load Times

    Site speed and page load times are increasingly important factors in search (again, user experience). According to Kissmetrics, the website abandonment threshold is now five seconds for mobile and three seconds for desktop. Optimizing page load times meant properly sizing your images (~no larger than 70KB), minifying your CSS and JavaScript, using browser caching and enabling compression.

  11. Use Sitemaps

    Sitemaps give search engines important directions on how to find and classify content (including video, images and more) on your site. Include both an HTML sitemap to help users easily navigate your site as well as an XML (Extensive Markup Language) sitemap to help search engines quickly parse through and index your content.

BONUS 12: Include Patient Reviews

Google loves star ratings and reviews because their users do: according to one study, 90% of online consumers say their decisions are influenced by online reviews.1 So if you can integrate ratings and reviews directly on your new provider profile pages, you’re boosting both your visibility in search and your credibility with users. Plus, search engines love sites that regularly serve fresh content ─ why not have your patients produce it?

Want More Tips from the Healthcare SEO Experts?

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1. Demi & Cooper Advertising and DC Interactive Group, 2012