In our ongoing discussion on local SEO, we’ve covered the importance of optimizing your hospital’s website and maintaining accurate provider and location listings across the web to boost rankings in your target markets.

But to maximize local visibility, you also need credibility in the form of user-generated content. Consider that online reviews are now thought to make up 10% of how Google determines rankings.1 Do a search for any healthcare service or provider and you’ll likely be hit by a sea of stars, ratings and reviews:

google-ranking-results

More than ever, healthcare organizations who embrace this sort of transparency are earning the trust of both patients and search engines. Let’s look closer at why online reviews are now integral to local search success, and how you can leverage them to win more patients in “near me” search moments.

Appreciating the Power of Earned Media

To understand the impact of online reviews in search, first you must acknowledge that a new reality has emerged:

What you say about your brand doesn’t matter as much as what your patients say.

Earned media—essentially online word of mouth in the form of reviews, ratings, recommendations and shares—has become the most trusted and credible source of information:

  • 90% of online consumers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews2
  • Up to 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations, but only 24% trust online ads3
  • 41% of consumers say social media affects their choice of hospital or doctor4
  • 25 to 40% of all traffic and lead generation comes from earned media5
  • Highly effective earned media sees conversion rates of 5% or higher, as compared to traditional paid media, which yields conversion rates of 1% or less6

Top rankings in organic search (including local listings) and online reviews are among the biggest drivers of earned media, which makes a strong SEO strategy crucial: the higher your content appears in results pages, the better it’s positioned to be engaged with and shared.

Unfortunately, organic search and/or earned media are often overlooked or under-resourced by healthcare organizations. While physicians may complain about inaccurate listing data when they Google themselves, they are often reluctant to support online reviews and full transparency in patient satisfaction. In reality, both factors are vital to being found online.

Online Reviews Impact Your Website’s Performance in Search

Simply put: search engines love online reviews because their users do.

google-ranking-factors

Google and co. exist to serve up the most useful and relevant information. In local search, health consumers are often seeking providers and services nearby and are ready to take action; 44% of health consumers who research hospitals on a mobile device make an appointment.7Naturally, then, search engines reward websites that provide online reviews and other valuable information to empower those decisions.

There’s also this: search engines favor sites that regularly produce fresh, unique content. Providers that supplement their health blogs with a constant flow of user-generated reviews are getting a leg up in search results. Because the users who find this content are further along in the provider-selection cycle, you’re also likely to increase conversions (assuming the reviews are positive), not to mention provide an outstanding customer experience.

Figure source: Moz Local 2015 Ranking Factors

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1MOZ Local Search Ranking Factors Survey

2Zendesk/Dimensional Research, 2013

3Nielsen Study 2012

4Demi & Cooper Advertising and DC Interactive Group, 2012

5AdAge, 2011

6AdAge, 2011

7Google. The Digital Journey to Wellness: Hospital Selection, 2012