Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimizing websites so that they appear higher in the “organic” (free) listings in Google search results.
SEO can be a very effective channel in driving patient visits to medical centers, as patients often search for medical centers in their area using Google and Bing.
This article goes over some useful tips and strategies for medical center practice managers and staff to start the process of optimizing their websites to achieve success in SEO.
1. The Business Case — How Important is Search Marketing for Medical Centres?
Let’s take a step back and review some numbers first off to evaluate what kind of potential search-based marketing has for your medical center.
1.1 How many people are searching for medical centres online?
Our research indicates that “medical center” (+ location), “GP” (+ location), “doctor” (+ location), and related search terms have volumes in the millions of searches per month in Australia in Google.
For local suburbs, a typical location can have anywhere from several hundred to several thousand searches per month from prospective patients.
That’s a lot of searches! Potentially hundreds or thousands of patients are searching for medical centers where you are.
1.2 How many of those searchers can you reach?
Typical click-through rates for search engine results range from ~30% (#1 position at the top) to ~5% (lower down on the first page).
If you do very successful SEO for your medical center (meaning you get to positions 1-3), and your location has an average search of say 3 000 / month (typical for a small to medium-sized locale), then that could get you 600+ qualified users (prospective patients) to your website each month.
Assuming a user-to-appointment conversion rate of say 15% (higher than industry standards, but reasonable considering the nature of medical centers), that could mean 90 fresh appointments per month from largely new patients effectively for free. More than that is possible if you include things like phone call bookings or walk-in bookings that were a result of the website listing (things that we can’t track easily).
2. What do you need to do SEO?
Doing SEO for your medical practice has relatively few requirements. To get going you basically need the following:
- A website (for this guide, we are assuming you already have a website)
- A business address & phone number (any medical centre that sees patients will have an address)
- Someone’s time; you will need either the practice manager, a marketing coordinator, or a digital agency to dedicate their time to the project. For some practices this is the toughest requirement!
3. Where to begin? — Google My Business
Medical Centre search is highly location sensitive. Many search results will feature maps results (like the Sydney CBD one above), and the listings on those maps are fed by the Google My Business (GMB) system. Even if your area doesn’t have maps listings the blue link results are still very location sensitive.
Follow the below steps to get going:
3.1 Register and Verify your Google My Business account
The first step is to register a Google My Business account and verify your business within that account. Usually, this is done by Google sending a postcard to your address with a PIN number which you use in their backend system to verify.
The GMB interface is quite easy to use. Once you’ve created an account with a Gmail address just follow the steps to claim control of your medical center.
3.2 Optimise your Google My Business listing
Once you’ve verified, the next step is to optimize your listing. There are several things that can be done here, we’ll list them below in rank of importance:
- Ensure the Name of the business listing is identical to your business name, and is kept consistent throughout your future optimisation (more on that later)
- Ensure the Address of the listing is clear, correct and unambiguous. If your single location has two possible addresses (sometimes the case), pick the most reasonable one and always stick with that one.
- Ensure the Phone number of the listing is correct. Ideally you should only have one phone number and only use that phone number.
- Pick the correct category for your business. In Australia there’s a simple category “Medical Centre” that will suffice. If your centre is a specialist practice there are many to choose from.
- Add a detailed business description that features relevant keywords (E.G Medical Centre, General Practice etc.) naturally.
- Link through to your website URL in the profile.
- Ensure the business hours are correctly set.
- Add photos of your practice, it’s a good idea to showcase several well-taken photographs of the interior of the practice and even the team if you can gather them!
- Optionally, you can get a Virtual Tour done of the practice, this as additional costs associated with hiring the accredited photographer.
Those are the basics.
4. How to dominate? — Further optimisation strategies
Having your Google My Business listing set up with the basics above will likely get your practice into the race. But there’s more that can be done (and often will have to be done) in order to dominate the rankings.
A citation is an external reference to your business in other places on the web. The most typical place to put citations is in directories such as Yellow Pages, True Local or Yelp. There are also medical practice-specific directories that are valuable such as Australian Doctors Directory or MSA online.
Google uses citations like these to verify that your business is legitimate and well-known. It’s beneficial to list your website in a good number of directories (15+) so that a clear entity can be understood by Google.
It’s also very important that the Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) data of the directory listings both match what’s found on your website and on Google My Business.
4.2 Doctors’ Profiles
As much as the brand of the medical center is important, the experience of individual patients is with the individual doctors.
That’s why many successful medical centers put a lot of effort into generating good doctors’ profiles on their websites.
We have another blog post coming soon (watch this space!) for best practices on how to optimize doctors’ profiles.
4.3 Reputation Management and Reviews
Like any local business, medical centers get reviewed by patients over time. Usually, only the very happy or very unhappy patients will leave a review.
Google My Business reviews are a very important factor for search marketing for two reasons:
- Users read them, and thus can be turned on or off the prospect of visiting your medical centre based on what other patients have said (rightly or wrongly!)
- Google uses them as a factor in ranking maps listings, (listings with higher quantity and quality of reviews tend to rank higher than others).
While you cannot ask for or solicit patients to review your practice, you can respond to reviews that patients have already left through your verified Google My Business listing. This allows you to do any necessary “damage control” to your reputation online.
There’s no better place to practice tact than in responding to reviews!
Remember that your response should be primarily focused on the “silent audience” who are reading and not necessarily on the reviewer themselves. Bear in mind that GMB only allows a single review per customer and a single response by the owner; the goal is not to have a conversation, but to respond with a reasonable statement (you can invite the patient to take the conversation offline if you wish). Also (and this goes without saying) it’s important to remain ethical and sensitive within the boundaries/constraints you have as a medical practice.
Here’s an example of a medical practice responding to a negative review and establishing some professional boundaries. You can assess in each case how you feel it would be best to respond to reviews.
4.4 Useful content for your audience
If you really want to be competitive and dominant in your local market then writing great content for your patient base is the way to go.
Naturally, in the medical space, your ability to write content is very limited by what you can legally and ethically say, but there are still many useful topics you can write about without giving medical advice or compromising the normal doctor-patient relationship through your blog. Here are some examples:
- Useful and basic information about flu seasons, timing of taking the flu shot, benefits, costs etc. (anything that you’d usually be comfortable putting onto advertising).
- General health information; diet, exercise, psychological well-being etc.
- Any medical studies that are basic, useful for people to understand etc.
- Finance and billing information; how, where and what patients have to pay for etc.
- General practice announcements; expansion of services, etc.
4.5 Outreach and link acquisition
Google uses the quantity and quality of externally linking sites to yours as a ranking factor. This means if someone else on the internet links to you that this link is interpreted as an “editorial vote” in favour of your website, and can help it to rank better.
Ultimately, the content you produce in 4.4 should be aimed to be “link-worthy”, meaning other websites, blogs, local news sites, etc. would consider linking to it in the context of external articles.
Creating the opportunity to collaborate with other websites to get links back to your content is the holy grail of SEO and the kind of activity that can get you to truly dominate in your niche if done successfully. It is also one of the hardest areas of SEO and requires certain creativity.
SEO is a very high potential marketing practice for medical centers. It takes time and effort but the rewards can be solid and very scalable over the long term.
We hope this guide has been helpful for you. If you need any further advice feel free to get in contact with us.
Appendix: data and notes
All traffic estimate data is derived from publicly accessible sources and estimates based on known general statistics