Hospital SEO: The Ultimate Guide to Local Search Marketing

Monday, January 25, 2021 | By Tim Stoddart

hospital seo

Google alone receives over one billion medical searches daily, so you’re missing out on a lot of free brand exposure if you don’t rank in the search results.

Therefore, SEO is still one of the most important aspects of a marketing strategy. 

However, there are many components to SEO, so what does an effective SEO strategy look like? And how can you measure those results? You’ve probably heard that it takes around 6 to 18 months to see an ROI from SEO, so how can you ensure that you’re on the right track?

Here is an ultimate guide to hospital SEO that will show you the key elements of what your SEO strategy should entail and how to evaluate early success rather than just blindly trusting your SEO company.

What is Hospital SEO?

Hospital SEO (Search Engine Optimization) enables your website to appear for key terms patients typically search for before scheduling a consultation.

For example, when patients become concerned about a symptom they are experiencing, they naturally turn to Google.

They’ll likely search for the symptom, learn more about the cause of the symptom, and then decide whether or not they might need medical attention. 

For those that decide to seek medical attention, the natural next step is to book an appointment. Therefore, if the potential patient already learned about the symptoms and diseases from your hospital, there is a very good chance they will choose to call your hospital as they are already familiar with your brand.

However, if your brand never shows up in the search results, patients never have the opportunity to build that trust or even know that you exist to call you.

Similarly, even if your brand exists in the search results, you likely won’t see a strong ROI from your SEO efforts if you aren’t ranking in the top few spots. This is because the top-ranking position receives significantly more clicks than even the second-ranking position, and those in positions five or below receive less than 3% of all clicks.

Source

SEO is also one of very few marketing channels where results compound over time. For example, paid ads and social media stop working as soon as you stop investing in these channels. However, once you’ve built a strong SEO presence, it requires minimal work to maintain rankings, and it will even become easier to rank for new terms. 

Finally, you’ll notice that all of your other marketing efforts are more effective when you have solid SEO. For example, if you’re running Facebook ads, the person may click the ad but not schedule a consultation as they are likely considering several other options as well.

However, if they want to return to your brand but can’t find it in the search, you’ve lost a valuable appointment and wasted your Facebook ad spend. Therefore, it may seem that none of your ads are converting, but it’s actually an SEO problem.

SEO Strategy Expectations

Now that you can see the value of appearing in search engines, what should you expect?

If your SEO company told you that you shouldn’t expect results before the first 6-18 months, they’re telling the truth (and if they say you’ll see overnight results, it’s actually a red flag). 

Unfortunately, ranking on Google isn’t as simple as adding a magical combination of the right keywords or submitting a certain URL to Google. 

Instead, it’s helpful to zoom out and look at it from Google’s perspective.

Their goal is to serve the searcher the very best information possible. So how do they decide who has the best information?

They allow the user to be the judge of that. 

For example, they measure user signals such as dwell time, click-through rate, bounce rate, and more. Therefore, if Google sees a reader stays on your page for a long time and then explores other links on your website, it’s a good indication that they should show that page to other people searching for similar information.

Source

Another key indication that many people like your blog post is backlinks. Specifically, Google will be more willing to rank a post if it has backlinks from other trusted websites within your industry. 

Source

However, if you have a brand new blog post with no user signals, how does Google decide whether or not people will like it? Should they give your new blog post a chance in the search results? 

Sure, they’ll look at keywords, the depth of your post (relative to others in the SERPs), the search intent you serve, and the technical foundation of your website, but the answer lies mainly in your brand authority. 

If they see that you have other pages (mainly blog posts) that people love, they will likely give your new post the benefit of the doubt and start ranking it for some terms.

But what if you don’t have a strong brand authority?

Well, this is why it usually takes 6-18 months for companies to see an ROI on SEO. If you don’t have a strong brand authority, but you’re producing quality content, Google will probably rank some of your posts for low difficulty keywords. 

Once Google sees that people searching for low difficulty keywords click into your post and dwell for a few minutes, they’ll likely (very slowly) give you the benefit of the doubt when you publish a new piece and start ranking some of your other posts as well.

However, this process takes a long time, and the hospital niche is quite competitive, meaning that it will likely take even more time.

Key Signs Your SEO Will Be Successful

So what are some signs that your SEO strategy is headed in the right direction?

One thing you can do is run ads to some of your blog posts. Once you get some traffic to your blog posts, you can evaluate:

  • How long people stay on your page
  • How many of them convert
  • Your average click-through rate

If you have a low dwell time, your content is likely either not high enough quality and displeased the user, or the user only needed a simple answer (such as, “What is the weather for Thursday?”). 

Ideally, you don’t want to create content around simple single sentence answers, and you certainly don’t want the user to be displeased with your content. Therefore, if paid users are bouncing, it’s a good indicator that your SEO strategy isn’t heading in the right direction.

However, if users arrive on your content and hang around, it’s a good sign your SEO strategy is moving in the right direction.

You can also use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush to evaluate the quality of links your SEO company is building. However, we’ll get into this in more detail below. 

Building a Hospital SEO Strategy

Now that you know what to expect from SEO and how to evaluate a strategy, here are key elements to include in your strategy:

  • Technical Foundation
  • Local SEO
  • Content 
  • Backlinks
  • Paid Search (Optional but great for momentum)

If you invest in SEO but ignore any of the first four bullet points, your entire strategy won’t work. This is because SEO is more or less a winner takes all game. Unless you’re in the top five positions, it’s unlikely you’ll see any results. 

With that said, here’s a breakdown of each element.

Technical Foundation 

Like building a house, laying a strong foundation is essential to success. Without a strong foundation, it doesn’t matter how well-built the rest of the house is, as it will eventually collapse.

Ensure Google Can Crawl All Pages

If Google can’t crawl a page, they won’t be able to index it and show it to users. Therefore, set up Google Search Console, a free tool that Google provides, and check that there are no crawl errors on your website. You can do this by clicking on “coverage” under the index tab, and it will show you how many URLs have errors.

From there, you can scroll down, and it will explain each error. To see the individual URLs, click on the error, and it will give you a list.

You can then send that list to a developer to fix or hire a developer on a site like Upwork.

Ensure Your Website is Mobile Friendly

The next step is to make your website mobile-friendly. Many patients search health-related terms on their phones, and because Google now operates on mobile-first indexing, meaning that they look at your mobile version instead of your desktop version when ranking pages.

You can go to Google Search Console and look under “Mobile Usability” to view any pages that aren’t mobile-friendly.

However, just because a mobile page doesn’t have an error doesn’t mean that it’s well optimized. 

Therefore, be sure that your website checks all of these boxes:

  • Responsive design (as the screen shrinks, the content shrinks accordingly
  • Text is legible (both in font, layout, and size)
  • Images appear correctly
  • Menus and navigation are accessible
  • Eliminate pop-ups

Improve Your Website Speed

Website speed is a key element of your technical foundation for a few reasons. First, Google has stated directly that page speed is indeed a ranking factor. However, it’s a ranking factor because page speed is a critical user experience metric. 

In fact, websites that load in five seconds see 70% longer sessions than those that load in 19 seconds. In addition, faster loading times also correlate with higher rankings:

Source 

Therefore, check for any particularly slow loading pages in Google Search Console under “Core Web Vitals.” 

You can also use a tool like Pagespeed Insights to check a particular URL.

Update Key Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Click-through rate is also a major signal to Google and will help determine where they rank your website in the search results. 

The number one way you can improve your click-through rate is by updating your title tag and meta description.

When writing title tags and meta descriptions, be sure they are under 60 and 160 characters respectively to avoid truncation. In addition, include your main keyword in at least the title, and preferably at the beginning. 

For example, this post’s title tag is Hospital SEO: The Ultimate Guide to Local Search Marketing. Notice that the keyword “hospital SEO” is positioned at the beginning.

While Google may change the meta description, it’s still useful to write one yourself as it’s such a critical element to CTR.  

Local SEO

For many hospitals, the majority of your patients are local residents. Therefore, it’s essential to appear in Google’s local listings:

Additionally, if someone searches for your brand, you should have a box next to the results page like this:

This additional real estate in the search results is excellent for both branding and conversions, so to obtain it, sign up for Google My Business.

When you fill out the form, they will send a card to your physical address to verify the location. Once it’s verified, complete the local listing with your NAP (name, address, phone) as well as pictures of your physical location (note that this includes inside and outside, but it shouldn’t be a logo or anything that isn’t the building).

Once you have the bare minimum set up, your next step is to generate reviews and drive local links. 

Reviews

Reviews are essential to improving your local rankings as experts estimate they make up 15% of the local pack ranking factors.

Recent studies also show that review ratings are the most vital driver of clicks in local search results.

One of the best ways to increase reviews is by making the process easy.

For example, Crisp Regional Hospital makes it very easy for patients to leave a review with a link to Google and Facebook and a screenshot with instructions.

Once you have a page with simple instructions on leaving a review, be sure to have doctors and front desk staff request happy patients leave reviews. You can also send out marketing emails with requests to fill out a review. 

Citations 

Another key to ranking in Google’s local listings is generating citations. Here’s an example of a citation on Healthgrades

In fact, here’s a list of some of the top websites where you can fill out a profile: 

You can use a tool like Bright Local to automate this process and claim other quality citations at scale.

However, it’s important to note that you should only fill out profiles on quality websites. If the website has a domain authority of under 30, it’s probably not worth the effort and may even be a spammy website (which could harm your SEO). 

Content

If you think of how search engines work, they exist to show people answers to their questions. Therefore, unless you answer the searcher’s question, you won’t show up in the search results. 

Pretty straightforward concept, right?

The tricky part is:

  1. Discovering what potential patients search, and
  2. Making your content better than the competition’s content

If you offer multiple services, choose the most profitable services that are relatively common and could easily generate more leads. 

For example, you may identify that cataract surgeries are one of the most profitable operations for your hospital. 

Therefore, do some patient research around cataract surgeries to uncover key questions interested patients ask before a consultation. To do this: 

  • Ask doctors what the most commonly asked questions around cataract surgeries are
  • Survey patients before the consultation, asking what key questions they have regarding the surgery

Once you have a solid understanding of the patients’ key pain points and language, do some keyword research to match a keyword to those pain points. 

For example, if you find most people complain about double vision in an eye, you might be able to find a keyword that matches that. 

As you can see, if we had immediately jumped to keyword research, you would have missed that most patients use the term “double vision in one eye” rather than “cataract symptoms.” Therefore, it’s important to do customer research before keyword research. 

Once you have a keyword and solid customer research, Google the topic you’re about to write about and get a feel for the SERP landscape. For example, if you see that the current articles are around 2,000 words and cover symptoms, causes, and treatments, you need to make sure that your post covers something similar, but also adds additional value. 

For example, if yours is the exact same, there is no reason for Google to rank it above the competition and it will result in “copycat content.” However, if your post is too different, Google likely won’t rank it because Google believes that the searcher’s intent for that keyword is to discover symptoms, causes, and treatments.

So it’s a fine line.

To accomplish both, consider making yours better by including quotes from medical staff, case studies of patients that experienced the cataract surgery, and other nuggets that make your post better than the current posts, yet don’t change the search intent that Google likes.

Backlinks

Finally, I’ve already mentioned a few times that Google wants to see that other reputable websites in your industry also recommend your content. 

Therefore, the next step is to generate backlinks to your website (though ideally to key blog posts).

However, the reality is that some blog posts never perform well. Therefore, concentrate your link building efforts on blog posts with some traction though fewer links than the top ranking posts. 

You can find these kinds of posts by going into Ahrefs and selecting “top-performing content.”

From there, look for pages that are ranking in positions 3-10 and have a decent amount of traffic. Then see if the blog posts ranking above you in the SERPs have more links than yours.

If that’s the case, building links will likely help boost your post to a higher position and generate an ROI.

Now that you’ve identified what pages are worth adding internal links towards, how do you actually generate more links?

This is a topic entirely in itself, though some of the most popular manual link building strategies include:

  • Broken link building 
  • Cold outreach
  • Guest posting

However, you can also set your post up to generate links organically by:

  • Including statistics and original research
  • Including custom graphics (and even infographics)
  • Including guest quotes

Another strategy that is often underutilized is internally linking to key pages. Internal links help spread link juice to other important posts and plenty of case studies show that it can positively impact search engine rankings.

For example, Social Pilot has a case study that showed a 25% increase in organic traffic (a total of 9,200 additional visitors) simply by internally linking to a critical page. 

However, when you internally link, it’s important that you avoid adding links like confetti. Instead, select a few of your most linked-to pages (you can find those by using the “best by links” report in Ahrefs – just control F on the dashboard page and you’ll find it) and add a relevant link within the text to your new post. 

Paid Search

If you recently posted a key piece of content and are trying to gain traction, paid search is one of the best ways to accomplish this. 

Facebook is a particularly effective content promotion platform, and you can try using any of the following campaigns:

  • Cold audiences
  • Lookalike Audiences
  • Retargeting

Once you find an audience that works well, A/B test headlines, images, and more to further improve performance. 

This is the exact strategy that one business used, and the results showed that the paid promotion brought a significant ROI (up to 11,000 pageviews) while the SEO was still in its infancy. 

Nonetheless, as Google began to see that users liked the page, it began to perform better organically in the search results.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to use paid promotion to get the wheels turning on your content machine.

Final Thoughts

SEO success won’t happen overnight. However, if you’re prepared to play the long game, SEO is one of the best investments you can make to increase patient appointments and improve your brand presence as you establish yourself as an industry leader. 

If you’re ready to set your brand apart, contact us today to learn more about how we’ve helped other hospitals achieve SEO success and how we can help you reach your goals. 

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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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