Posted: January 16, 2018

Search engines are delivering near-instant gratification to healthcare consumers who simply aren't inclined to wait around for results. Think of an on-the-go mom with a sick child: Rather than driving home before starting her doctor search, she's quite likely to tap her phone to locate a nearby care center that accepts her insurance.

Online marketers recognize “need for speed" as an essential part of their search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, especially for mobile users looking for a provider. Consumers abandon more than half of mobile sites that take longer than 3 seconds to load, according to DoubleClick research.

That's extra important in a world gone mad for mobile search. And as mobile queries have surpassed desktop queries, expect further separation moving forward in favor of mobile. Evidence shows that 44% of patients who research hospitals on a mobile device make an appointment, compared to 34% for desktop searches. Mobile search's ability to deliver targeted traffic — consumers actively seeking medical services — is crucial.

Let's look at what else is happening in the ever-evolving world of SEO for doctors.

Competing provider websites vie for attention and placement in search engine results. Those that improve their site's ranking reap the benefits of increased traffic and visibility.

Traditionally, healthcare marketers started with content containing individual keywords relevant to their medical specialty and the disease states they treated (e.g., “pediatric" or “otitis"). However, queries based on popular terms are on the decline and currently make up less than 30% of the total searches conducted on the web. Search engines equipped with artificial intelligence can now interpret “long-tailed" inquiries that reflect the way users think (e.g., “best pediatrician near Twin Oaks").

In other words, SEO favors high-value — rather than high-volume — keywords. In response, digital marketers should emphasize quality of content on an individual page and the value it delivers to visitors. Consider creating an editorial calendar of topics that appeal to consumers' interests, while making sure the content is original and specific.

Directory listings
For purposes of local SEO, businesses with physical locations, such as doctors' offices, must be listed accurately with up-to-date information in as many directories as possible.

Directory information, which ranks highly in organic search, should include practice name and location, as well as hours of operation and specialty/category details.

Providers who are revamping or just starting out with directory listings need to identify priorities based on service line and key markets — and which directories will have the most impact to the practice. Remember that accuracy across the web leads to improved visibility on search engines and increased user actions. Go to an agreed-upon “source of truth" within your organization to ensure accuracy of listing data. Format the data to comply with templates accepted by healthcare and local directories, and follow required data submission methods. Review progress through regular assessments and address outstanding issues. Then continually optimize listings with additional data attributes such as images and reviews. All of this can be a lot to manage with a lean team, but finding help with this essential tactic will make your life easier.

On-site images are often overlooked as a potential source of search-generated clicks. The trouble is, many providers post images to their site but leave the default raw file names intact. Such images are essentially unlabeled in the “eyes" of search engines.

Professional groups like medical practices should expect searches of doctors by name – but failing to provide extra data that a search engine can use to determine the image's relevance to queries is a lost chance to promote a brand, provider or service.

The properly tagged photos will also have a higher chance of being related to your local listing, which can provider further authority in local search.

Measurement and Testing
How can you determine whether your SEO efforts are paying off?

You should tap into analytics to figure out which content draws the most views and how long it takes for consumers to access it. And are you seeing trends of positive movement that correlate with recent SEO improvements?

Beyond understanding traffic performance, consider implementing custom reports or event tracking to aid in better understanding consumer engagement. With Google Tag Manager, you can track how many people are interacting with marketing content (e.g., viewing a video or downloading a white paper) or clicking through on one of your targeted calls-to-action.

SEO experts agree that it takes a concerted effort to keep up with search engines' continually changing areas of emphasis. All the same, learning how to adapt and apply the appropriate approaches brings a competitive advantage to healthcare sites that get onboard with the latest SEO practices.

Want more insight into improving your organization's SEO? Request a free healthcare marketing assessment.