What is Healthcare SEO?

About 6.75 million healthcare-related searches are done daily, and most of them are from people looking for your services. So how can you ensure that your website will appear first in the search results? Healthcare SEO (search engine optimization) is a strategy to help your website rank higher for more keywords that prospective patients commonly search for in Google, Bing, and other search engines (though mostly Google).

For example, if you have a hospital in New York, you want your website to be first in the search results for terms like “Hospital in New York” or “Cancer Treatment in New York.” 

You want to be in the top position because it generates 31.7% of all clicks, and it sharply declines from there. 

As you can see, your chances of getting a new patient are much better if you rank in the top spot. Sure, patients may shop around a little before deciding on a hospital, but if your website continuously shows up at the top for all of their different searches (as most patients will do thorough research before making a decision), they will likely become a patient.

The best part?

Once you’ve built a quality SEO machine, it only requires a little maintenance to keep your lead generation machine running. Unlike ads, which stop generating leads the minute you turn them off, SEO will continue to send you leads on autopilot.

Therefore, here’s the ultimate guide to healthcare SEO and everything you need to build a machine that connects patients with your brand.

Build a Solid Technical Foundation

The first step in any SEO plan is to ensure that you have a strong technical foundation. You can either hire an SEO professional to do an audit for you or check these essential elements yourself in order to build your healthcare company’s internet presence.

Check For Crawl Errors

First, it’s essential to have your website connected with Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that will help you build a solid technical SEO foundation by alerting you of any issues your healthcare website may have, including craw errors.

A crawl error basically means that Google’s bot can’t crawl a page on your website, which ultimately means that that page won’t show up in any of Google’s search results (so your patients won’t see it in Google).

You can check for crawl errors by looking at the “Coverage” report. 

To fix the ones with errors, scroll down to “Details,” and it will show you an error message. If you click on the number under the “pages” column, it will give you a list of URLs. You can send those URLs and the error message to a developer to fix.

Secure Your Website

If a hacker wants to harm your website or steal information, it’s not very difficult if you have an HTTP instead of an HTTPS in front of your domain.

HTTPS simply means that your website is secure against various attacks like server, network, or website hacks along with DDoS attacks, brute force attacks, and more. 

Here’s a guide to move to HTTPS on WordPress. This process can get rather technical as you’ll have to ensure that all of your links and old pages are redirected, so you may consider hiring a developer with healthcare SEO knowledge to help you.

Check Mobile Usability

Google now uses mobile-first indexing. In other words, rather than ranking websites based on their desktop versions, they rank them based on their mobile versions. Therefore, if you have less content on your mobile version than your desktop version, know that Google will be judging your website based on the version with less content.

You can check that your website is technically mobile-friendly by looking at Google Search Console’s Mobile Usability report.

Finally, Google notes that many pages use lazy-loading content to improve page-speed. While this is a good user experience practice, it can hide content from Google if not done properly. Therefore, be sure that all of the pages on your mobile site lazy-load correctly.

Improve Site Speed

Site speed is another very important Google ranking factor, and it’s also essential to decrease your bounce rate. 

You can use a tool like Pagespeed Insights to check your current desktop and mobile load speed. Ideally, you want all pages to load as fast as possible, though a study by Backlinko showed that page speed doesn’t necessarily correlate with higher rankings. Instead, a good rule of thumb is to have your pages load in under three seconds to be competitive in the search results.

Local SEO Optimization

Now that you have a solid foundation to build on, the next step is to set up your local SEO. This is for any healthcare institution that has a physical address or clinic, so if you don’t have patients coming to your physical location, you can skip this SEO step.

Otherwise, sign up for Google My Business. By doing this, you’ll be able to fill out a Google local listing like this one:

In addition, you’ll also be able to rank in Google’s map pack if you claim your local listing.

Google will send a code to your physical location to verify your address, so look for it in the mail. 

Once you’ve claimed your local listing, the next step is to fill it out with the essential information:

  • Images of your business (not a logo, but rather the physical building inside and outside)
  • NAP (Name, Address, Phone)
  • Start generating reviews

While the first two are relatively easy, the third one is a little trickier. Over 70% of patients say online reviews are crucial to getting more business, but it can be challenging to generate more reviews.

Therefore, ask patients in-person to leave a review and give them a card with directions on how to do so. In fact, you can even have a computer monitor open to the review screen in your office. 

In addition, make it very clear where they have to go to leave a review.

For example, this dermatologist does a great job of making it easy to leave a review. All the patient has to do is click “Leave a Review,” and they are automatically redirected.

The final and perhaps most time-consuming aspect of local healthcare SEO is creating local citations. 

Citations are essentially listings in local directories like Yelp, YellowPages, and more. 

However, as you build local citations, it’s important only to build them on quality directories. Adding your business to spammy directories will only harm your website, and it won’t bring you any new patients.

To find high-quality citations, you can use a tool like Whitespark or BrightLocal. In addition, once you’ve found a few high-quality directories, it’s important to ensure that your NAP information is consistent across all of the directories. Whitespark and BrightLocal can help you manage that as well.

On-Page SEO

The next step for your healthcare company is to optimize your on-page SEO. On-page SEO includes optimizing the pages on your website to rank higher.

Now, it’s important to remember with each of the checkpoints below that it is possible to over-optimize your website. Remember that Google ultimately wants to serve the best result to the end-user, so optimizing for the user instead of search engines should always be your first priority.

That said, here are a few guidelines to improve your on-page SEO.

Structure Your Website Logically

Have you ever gone to a website and you couldn’t find what you were looking for? It’s very annoying is often enough to make you leave and purchase from a different website.

Therefore, it’s essential to structure your website in a way that patients can find absolutely everything they need. 

This can be a challenge if you have a large website, so one of the best ways to do this is to use a tool like Screaming Frog to discover all of the pages that have a click depth of four or more. Click depth is essentially how many pages a user has to click through to get to the page.

Ideally, your pages should also be laid out in a structure that makes sense. For example, the dropdown menu here makes it very easy to find basically any information despite the high volume of pages this website contains.

Optimize Images

Images can help you earn traffic when optimized correctly, or they can slow your website down when done incorrectly. 

Start by optimizing the size of your images. If your images are too large, it will negatively affect your page load time, decreasing your rankings. 

Unfortunately, simply displaying a large image (3,000 X 1,500 pixels) as a smaller image (300 x 150 pixels) will not improve your load time. You have to reduce the file size (number of pixels) to improve your load time. Fortunately, there are several image compression plugins available to do this for you automatically.

After compressing your images, Google (and in some cases, the user) needs to understand what your image is about. Therefore, fill in the alt text explaining the image. If for some reason, the image can’t be displayed, the alt text will be displayed instead.

Internally Link

One of the best-kept SEO secrets is internal linking. Most people overlook this, but it’s actually quite powerful. 

Authority Hacker recently did a study on internal links and found that pages with a high volume of quality internal links do correlate with higher rankings. They also found that many other people in other communities experienced positive SEO results solely from updating their internal linking structure.

However, it’s important that you don’t randomly link to pages. Ideally, you want to internally link to relevant pages from pages with a lot of authority (high-quality links). 

For example, it might look like this:

Optimize For Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and H Tags

The title tag and meta descriptions are the snippets that show up in Google search, and this is usually the first thing people think of when they think about SEO:

Title tags and meta descriptions are important to update for two reasons:

  1. Google uses various signals from this to determine where you rank
  2. It can increase or decrease clicks depending on the copy 

Therefore it’s important to optimize them. Start by adding the keyword (preferably to towards the beginning) to both of them. While it’s important to avoid stuffing title tags and meta descriptions with keywords, there should be a keyword that shows the reader and Google that it’s relevant to the search.

In addition, you’ll notice that the above title tag is cut off. Therefore, try to make the title tags under 50 to 60 characters and the meta description under 160 characters.

Keyword Research and Content Marketing

Now that your website is set up, you need to figure out what your ideal customers search for before landing on your website.

Therefore, start with keyword research. One of the simplest ways to think of keyword research is in the following pyramid. You’ll want to rank your homepage for head terms (high volume though rather generic) like “vein treatment NYC.”

From there you’ll have service pages that target a specific ailment or treatment your patients are looking for. This might be something like “venous ulcers.”

Once you have all of that, you can create very specific content on the subject matter like “varicose veins leg pain at night.” 

Unfortunately, ranking for keywords is much easier said than done. If you have a brand new website, don’t expect to see results in the first year, as it will take time for Google to recognize your brand as an authoritative website. 

Though over time, you’ll notice that your long-tail keywords will begin to rank. From there, your service pages and eventually you’ll rank for head terms like “vein treatment NYC.” In other words, you’ll see results start at the bottom of the pyramid and work upwards.

However, while head terms are usually the most difficult to rank for, they aren’t always the most profitable as many people searching are in the early stages of browsing. 

That’s why it’s important to have a content marketing plan that targets higher purchase intent keywords that are very specific (such as “varicose vein surgery recovery time”). As you can see, someone searching for this is much more serious than someone just searching for vein clinics.

So how can you find and optimize each page for a keyword?

Main Keywords

Start by optimizing your homepage for variations of your location keyword. For example, if you’re a vein clinic in New York City, you might want to rank for keywords like:

  • vein treatment nyc
  • vein clinic nyc
  • vein center nyc
  • vein doctor nyc

I found all of these keywords simply by Googling “vein clinic in New York City,” putting the first URL in Ahrefs, and clicking on “Organic Keywords.”

Now you can scroll through the keywords to see which keywords are relevant to your brand. From there, you can add some of these keywords to your homepage wherever there is a natural opportunity. 

Service Keywords

Once you’ve maxed out the keywords you can optimize your homepage for, consider writing a unique page for each service that you offer similar to the one below

However, the key to ranking first is to write an in-depth guide that provides more valuable information than any other guides on the topic. 

For example, let’s say the article currently ranking first for the keyword “venous ulcers” discusses symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Rather than creating the same post, you can make your post even better by discussing symptoms, causes, and treatments on a deeper level, and also including sections on preventative measures, the diagnostic process, and maybe even a few mini-stories about patients who successfully completed treatment.

Providing in-depth content is particularly important for medical information as patients want to know everything they can about their condition.

If you don’t provide more in-depth content, it’s unlikely that your content will rank in the top spot as Google wants to serve the reader the most comprehensive post on the subject.

Blog Keywords

Commonly known as long-tail keywords, it’s important to have a blog to target keywords that address very specific pain points your patients face.

The best place to start looking for blog content ideas is actually with your patient. Ask your doctors about the most commonly asked questions in consultations and write a blog post on them.

You can also use a keyword tool like Ahrefs, though it’s important to avoid getting too wrapped up in keywords and forgetting that your end goal is to serve the patient.

However, if you do use a keyword tool, search for terms that have very low difficulty. These terms are usually quite long and many of them have few monthly searches. Nonetheless, many of these keywords convert quite well.

Off-Page SEO

What is Link Building?

The final (though one of the most important) aspect of healthcare SEO is link building. 

In fact, Google stated that “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

A backlink is when one website includes a link to another website. In fact, the words “Google stated” above is an example of a backlink.

In this case, the website I’m pointing towards (https://support.google.com/) benefits from the link.

So why is link building important to Google?

Link building is important to Google because it proves that the website receiving the backlinks is popular as many other people on the web are talking about it and sending their readers to it.  Therefore, they give it the benefit of the doubt and may rank it higher.

What Makes a Good Link?

Unfortunately, not all backlinks are created equally. In fact, building backlinks from spammy websites (like porn sites) can actually harm your website.

So how can you tell which websites are authoritative?

You can use a tool like the free Moz bar to determine the Domain Authority (DA). Any DA above 40 is pretty good, and a DA above 60 is great. 

In addition, even if you earn high-quality links from websites that are authoritative, they will provide minimal value if they aren’t in your industry. For example, if you earn a backlink from www.apple.com, it likely won’t help you rank for more healthcare related terms. 

Sure, it’s a reputable website with high authority, though as it isn’t related to healthcare, Google won’t boost your authority much.

Think of it this way:

If a dietitian refers you to a personal trainer, you’re probably much more likely to trust the personal trainer than if a barber refers you to the personal trainer.

The barber could be equally good at their job (or even better) than the dietitian is at their job, but because there isn’t any overlap in the industries, you’re going to be more likely to trust the dietitian.

How to Acquire Quality Links

Unfortunately, acquiring quality links is much easier said than done. Some people choose to hire link builders or manually build links, and it can be effective if done correctly.  

Some of the most popular link building strategies include:

  • Guest Posting
  • Broken Link Building
  • Content Promotion (Emailing likely linkers to link to your post)
  • Content syndication

You can read a full guide to these tactics here.

However, perhaps the most effective strategy is to create content that attracts links naturally over time. In this case, you don’t have to do any outreach yourself.

Therefore, create content that is likely to attract links such as:

  • Original Research 
  • Statistics Pages
  • List Posts
  • Case Studies

These content types are much more likely to earn links than other content (such as 500 word “how to” posts). 

Your Turn

If you follow all of the steps in this post, you’ll be well on your way to success with your healthcare SEO strategy. 

However, the key is to be patient. Set expectations with your executives and make sure that they understand you may not see results for the first year.

Healthcare is a highly competitive space, though once you get the ball rolling, you’ll see massive ROI from SEO.

If you need help with your SEO strategy, we’d be happy to take a look at it for you. 

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    Tim Stoddart

    Tim Stoddart is the CEO of Stodzy Internet Marketing. He lives in Nashville with his wife and hit adorable pitbull, Alice. Tim loves to write about digital marketing and personal growth. You can learn more at TimStodz.com

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