5 search engine tips for doctors

In 2010, Bill Gates predicted that the effectiveness of business advertising in the print Yellow Pages would be obsolete within 5 years. I’m no Pythagoras, but my calculations are telling me we’ve hit that 5-year mark.

The “traditional” paths for a patient looking for a healthcare practice still exist, but according to the Google study titled The Digital Journey to Wellness, a whopping 77 percent of patients use online search prior to booking an appointment.

I’m fully aware that many healthcare professionals have had terrible experiences with self-proclaimed search engine optimization (SEO) experts. Many promise the world, and deliver peanuts. This post is for doctors who just want some clarity on what actually works. What follows is a list of 5 tips you can apply to your practice website today that will help establish a foundation for effective SEO, more website traffic and more patients.

1. Do your initial keyword research.
Searchers type keywords into search engines as a way to identify and verbalize their problem or topic they’re interested in. Your practice needs to create content around topics that are relevant to your specialty, which helps you rank and be found when searches are looking for what you offer.

Example: When someone in your region has a problem with their foot, they’ll most likely search the terms “plantar fasciitis” or “heel pain” before they search for “podiatrist in Charlotte.”

Creating content around the keywords that people are actually searching for will increase your chances of coming up in search results. So how do you know what people are searching for? Use the Google Keyword Planner here.

2. Set up a blog and write consistently.
The purpose of blogging is two-fold. The greater number of pages you have indexed with search engines, the more your website is viewed as being authoritative on whatever topic you write about. Each time you blog, a page is indexed. If your blogs carry the relevant keywords mentioned in Step #1, and your content is shared, linked to and consumed, your website authority increases.

Blogs are also a great way to establish intellectual capital and build trust as an authority on your specialty. Content marketing in healthcare carries so much value because of the years of knowledge and training being disseminated to the audience.

Keep in mind that 82 percent of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog, as opposed to 57 percent who blog monthly, according to HubSpot's State of Inbound report.

3. Build links from other important pages.
Google’s system for ranking the importance of websites is similar to the Stanford system of ranking the importance of academic papers. If your academic paper receives citations from other important academic papers (who are also cited by important papers), your paper will be ranked highly on the importance scale.

Get citations for your website in the form of links from other “high authority” domains. For example, an orthopedic group would really benefit from having “The American Journal of Orthopedics” link to them. After publishing worthy original content on your site, create awareness by reaching out to the link target — a well-known blogger in your field or an online directory, for example — explaining why providing a link to your site is in their best interest.

4. Be active and engaging on important social networks.
One factor among many in the Google search algorithm is social signals. How many followers/fans do you have? Are they commenting on or sharing your content? Are you being retweeted, +1’ed, or liked? Sharing fun and engaging content on social media channels is a good way to signal to Google that people like your stuff and are pleased with your business. It’s important for your practice to be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube.

5. Get reviews on the most important sites for healthcare professionals.
Positive patient reviews are also an important factor in ranking the quality and trustworthiness of your practice. Moz did a study on the most important review sites for medical professionals. They are: healthgrades.com, yellowpages.com, yelp.com, local.webmd.com, local.yahoo.com, Facebook, and Google+ Local. Don’t be afraid to ask patients for reviews. The ones who’ve had good experiences are more than happy to do so. Read more about getting patient reviews here.

These 5 tips are high-level, basic starting points for your practice. As you move ahead, you'll find that search engine optimization is a complex process, but it can also bring many rewards your way if done correctly.

Adam McConnell is the founder and CEO of Pulse Digital Marketing, a Richmond, Va.-based agency executing digital marketing for healthcare businesses — to help them get found online with website design, SEO, social media and content marketing. Clients include leading biotech and medical device companies, hospital, and healthcare professionals in private practice. You can contact Adam directly at adam@pulsedms.com.