search bar overlayed on hands searching on phone

The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization

search bar overlayed on hands searching on phoneA successful hospital, practice, or healthcare organization website facilitates patient communication and helps you win more of the patients you want. But this means little if patients can’t find your website online. To get on page 1 of an online search, you’ll want a strong website, but an even stronger healthcare SEO strategy.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and refers to the art and science of rising to the top of organic search results on Google and other major search engines. A strong healthcare SEO strategy requires an investment of time, money, or both, in order to get your website found on page 1 of these search engines.

Changing Rules and Algorithms for Healthcare SEO

By employing the right techniques and by avoiding black hat SEO, you can achieve higher search engine rankings for your healthcare practice. Black hat SEO refers to using “secret tricks” to get pages to the top of Google and other major search engines. The problem with this is, Google’s algorithms are continuously changing, and they’ve taken measures to thwart these black hat SEO methods, penalizing healthcare practitioners who attempt them.

If you’re ever approached by an SEO “professional” making promises for “quick results” that sound too good to be true, they probably are too good to be true. Healthcare SEO is a long-term strategy involving 3 specific techniques.

Related: Search Engine Optimization for Healthcare Businesses

1. On-Site SEO Techniques

On-site, or on-page SEO refers to the code, images, and words that make up your website. From the type of content you have on your site to its loading speed and mobile responsiveness, there are a variety of factors that impact this.

Title Tags

These are an HTML (coding) element within the backend of your site that specifies the titles of your web pages. This is what’s displayed on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) as the clickable headline for a given search result.

Description Tags

These show up just beneath the title tags in SERPs, and are comprised of a 160 character or less description that summarizes the web page’s content.

Site Speed

Also called page speed, this is a measurement of how fast your web pages load, which is an important algorithm for Google to determine where your page will show up in SERPs.

Mobile Responsiveness

Your website content should display in a way that is mobile-device friendly. With more and more customers going mobile and searching for hospitals and practices “near me,”, this is a vital part of your SEO strategy.

responsive primary care website mobile

A responsive design adapts to different screen sizes.

Keyword Meta Tags

These aren’t visible to online visitors but are visible to search engines. Your keywords determine what you want to be found for in SERPs.

Alt Tags

An alt tag is an HTML attribute that’s applied to image tags, which provide a text alternative for search engines.

H1’s and H2’s

These are called header tags, and are an important on-page SEO factor. They’re used to communicate to search engines what your website is actually about.

Anchor Text Links

Anchor text is the clickable text within a hyperlink in your content. SEO best practices indicate that your anchor text should be relevant to the page you’re linking to.

Bold, Italics

Google bots tend to like bold and italic formatting for text, as it emphasizeswhat should stand out, helping Google crawlers determine what’s relevant.

Footer

How you optimize the footer menu of your website further identifies to Google your site’s relevance on SERPs.

Sitemaps

  • XML for search engines: XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, and is similar in context to HTML. An XML sitemap is an invitation for search engines to crawl the URLs that are listed within that sitemap.
  • Visible for user experience: A visible sitemap that your site visitors can see is vital for good SEO practices.

Changing Content

Updating old content will help increase the effectiveness of your SEO efforts and boost your overall search engine traffic.

2. Off-Site SEO Techniques

Websites that are linked to by other relevant healthcare-related websites are seen as “more important” to Google than sites without any of these backlinks. You want these backlinks to be relevant because it gives your web pages authority and credibility when it comes to search engine results. You should aim to get backlinks pointing to your website from the following “off-site” sources:

Press Releases

Press releases serve as a way for your practice to let journalists and major healthcare publications know about big events such as winning an award or launching a new product or service.

Directories

Directories are how existing and new patients find your practice, and play a role in SEO as well. Ranking factors include where and how often practices are listed in directories, as well as consistency across those directories–more on that below!

Blogs and Articles

Blog content and online articles are good for SEO because they help position your website as a relevant answer to your customers’ questions.

a forbes article with a quote from Stewart Gandolf, linking to our website

An example of a backlink we earned in Forbes.

Social Media

There is some debate as to what extent social media impacts SEO, but most SEO experts will agree that a higher number of likes and follows on social media pages, especially Facebook, increases the relevancy of your site and its opportunity to appear on page 1 of Google.

Reputation Management

The average consumer reads 7 reviews before deciding to trust a business. You should try to respond to both negative and positive reviews, but avoid HIPAA violations. Your responses should never disclose a patient’s identity.

3. Local SEO Off-Site Techniques

Local SEO, or local search, is the process of optimizing your site to generate traffic from location-based searching. When you work with an SEO expert, you’ll be introduced to the concept of the Google Map Pack, also called a carousel.

This is a grouping of similar businesses in the map that shows up near the top of the page in a Google search. For example, if a site visitor searched for “Women’s Health” in Los Angeles, CA, they’d be shown a group of businesses that match that description within a mapped area.

Citations

Citations are online references to your healthcare organization’s name, address, and phone number (NAP). Similar to links to your website, Google and other search engines use these when evaluating the online authority of your business.

Directories

We mentioned above consistency within directories. What we mean by this is that dissimilar listings can confuse search engines. For instance, if you’re listed as “Jonathan Smith, MD” on multiple directories, then you shouldn’t be listed as “Dr. John Smith” on others.

If you’re unsure of your directory listings or consistency, there are many affordable online resources available to help you update them.

Some popular healthcare-specific directories include:

  • YP.com
  • HealthGrades
  • RateMDs
  • Specialty sites like VeinDirectory.org
  • Manta
  • RealSelf
  • AMA Doctor Finder
  • CMS Physician Compare
  • Castle Connolly Top Doctors

Online Review Sites

Cash-Pay Healthcare bookWould you believe that the most trusted consumer rating websites are Facebook and Yelp? As part of your reputation management,  it’s imperative that you keep a pulse on what’s being said about your practice on these sites, and respond accordingly. Other consumer rating websites include:

Read more on this topic and more in the newest book from Healthcare Success CEO Stewart Gandolf and Mark Tager, MD: Cash-Pay Healthcare, available now!

Peter Do

Marketing Strategist at Healthcare Success

Having worked in related business fields for over a decade, Peter brings a strong online marketing background to Healthcare Success. A lifelong resident of Southern California, his responsibilities for the company include marketing strategy, business development and establishing new client relationships. Peter studied Environmental Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, before returning to Orange County.

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