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Physicians and Medical Practices: If You Are Not Online You're Nowhere

The number of physicians and medical practices in the U.S. is truly astonishing. According to the website Statista:

  • There were just over 1 million active physicians in the United States as of September 2021.
  • There were over 500,000 specialists actively practicing in the U.S. for the same period

Whether you are in private practice for yourself, employed by a hospital or large HMO, or even working locum tenens or are a part of a traditional group practice, you know that your business faces a lot of competition from your peers who are also operating their own offices.

Gone forever are the days of "ole' Doc Johnson," who spent a lifetime in a single community and who did not need to advertise as their practice spread due to word-of-mouth.

You need to be visible in an online environment, because that is how people "shop" for physicians today, regardless of situation or medical specialty needed. If you are not online - you are nowhere. Even those practicing out of hospitals need to maintain a presence online as people may investigate your record and feedback from current/past patients before committing to work with you.

Focus on the Google Search Results Page

Understand that everything that is involved in SEO for doctors has but one goal: getting information about you and your practice seen by the people who need your services. It's all about visibility when the need arises.

When does the need arise? When people go searching. If I have a clogged toilet, that's when I look (online) for information on plumbers. Otherwise, I couldn't care less.

The same is true in medicine: People go searching when they have the need, not when they don't.

And here's some really good news: the typical Google search results page - results displayed when a search is executed - gives you plenty of information of where you can be visible.

This is not hearsay or speculation - the results are there, in black-and-white, for you to see. So let's focus for a while on a typical search results page to see what it teaches us about "doctor SEO."

Analyzing the Google Search Results Page

Here is an example of what you might find when you run a Google search.

Keep in mind that what might be displayed, as well as where on the page it might be placed, will vary by type of search executed, based on what Google feels should be displayed to the searcher --

1: Paid (PPC) and "Organic" Listings.

This is the most familiar section of a search results page. Here you will find about 10 or so "blue links" with a page snippet displayed immediately underneath. If advertisers have an interest on the keyword phrase/search phrase that you use, a few of those may be displayed, usually with an "AD" or "SPONSORED" tag next to that ad.

Notice that the above search page does not contain any ads at all. For those who are running PPC campaigns, this might be a good keyword choice to target because (at least currently) there are no other ads present. Snag the ad spot and your PPC insertion will be top-of-fold. Keep in mind that PPC management can be a complex process and can get expensive quickly - if you want to explore the potential that PPC might have for you, please contact us ASAP.

Below any paid ads, will follow the "organic" listings. These are spots that have to be earned. While you can pay for an ad and get top-of-fold placement, the search engines make decisions in real-time about what sites to display in the organic section. They use a very complex algorithm (that incorporates data from several hundred search signals) to place a valuation on each site, vis-a-vis the search query being executed.

And that is an important point: a site that is highly ranked (towards the top) of one search phrase, may not rank as highly for another search query, even though it might be just a slight variation in wording.

Lesson: to rank highly in the SERP's you need to know how searchers are searching, and how often they are running searches for that terminology, and take steps to see that your site is highly ranked for that search phrase. You then need to repeat the process for other search phrases. Mess this up and you might end up ranking well for a search phrase - that is not done often. Or you might try targeting a search query that is impossibly difficult to rank for, wasting your time and money. Organic SEO is something best left to those with demonstrated expertise in this area.

2: Google "Local Pack" Listings

Perhaps you have heard of the local pack. Google has been using them for some time to display recommendations for traditional trades and contractors such as roofers, plumbers, HVAC and the like. But notice that in the above listing, that a few medical practices are displaying in the local pack area.

The area used to display a local pack will vary - sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right of the organic listings (like in our example).

As Google controls what sites are displayed there, you may be wondering how you can get yours there. First of all, there is no "guarantee" - the decision will be made by Google and no one else. But you can at least make it possible. How?

  • First of all, you must set up a GMB profile. Go over to the GMB start page and input your business name. If there is an existing account that will display and you will have an opportunity to claim as your own. Otherwise, you will start by creating a new account.
  • Verify Your Profile. Google will mail to your business physical address a postcard with a verification code that must be inputted into your account. This ensures that you really are located at that address. This is because GMB and the local pack is focused on local businesses and local searching. Medical practices with multiple physical locations will each need their own separate verification.
  • Make sure your NAP and other business information is accurate and optimized. "NAP" stands for NAME - ADDRESS - PHONE NUMBER and refers to the location and contact information that people will need to contact you. Google needs to be certain that this information is correct, so everywhere your contact and location information is displayed - your own website, online directories such as Yelp, review sites, etc. - it must match exactly.
  • Monitor Reviews - An important aspect of online searching is Reputation Management. Don't let negative reviews and comments about your practice go unanswered - reply to them as quickly as possible, and use every effort to resolve disputes. Resolved complaints can sometimes be taken down, or a note from the consumer that they were helped can be helpful also. A key tactic of SEO for doctors is to find ways to suppress sites with negative information about you by promoting other pages - including properties you can control such as your practice Facebook page - ahead of the negative listings, which over time may push the negative comments off of page 1.
  • Visual Elements - Google loves pictures and videos because humans are drawn to them. A picture of the outside of your practice can help people find you when driving. Photos of the interior can communicate that your practice is well-kept and comfortable. Pictures of your staff - the principal partners at a minimum will humanize what might otherwise be seen as cold facts.

3: Related Search Queries

Remember what we said earlier, that different wording of search terms can produce different results? Well, if a "Related Search Queries" section is displayed, inspect it carefully for ideas on what other phrasing you could target.

In our example above, our starting search was "dermatologist anne arundel county md."

See the related searches that are being "suggested?" This means that Google already thinks there is a high probability that these searches will produce useful sites.

Remember what we said earlier, that different wording of search terms can produce different results? Well, if a "Related Search Queries" section is displayed, inspect it carefully for ideas on what other phrasing you could target.

In our example above, our starting search was "dermatologist anne arundel county md."

See the related searches that are being "suggested?" This means that Google already thinks there is a high probability that these searches will produce useful sites.

Here are the related searches being suggested for "dermatologist anne arundel county md:"

~anne arundel dermaterology hagerstown md
~arundel dermatology locations
~dermatologist anne arundel dertmatology
~anne arundel derm
~anne arundel dermatology md

Notice how the search queries will vary the position of terms, such as location first or practice type first. Variations in locations are noted here as well - Hagerstown in addition to Anne Arundel. Note also spelling variations: dermatology, dermatologist - even an abbreviation ("derm").

Want some more suggestions? Well, you can try:

  1. Running the original search again (when we did it we got additional related search queries)
  2. Take some of the related searches, run those searches and look for additional related phrases that surface.

The mathematics of local search is simple: The more significant volume search phrases your practice website ranks well for, the greater aggregate volume of visitor traffic you will receive. Ranking for 15 different search queries, each of which gets 500 searches/month, gives you 7,500 searches each month. That's a lot of traffic - if you can snag it.

How to Snag the Top Search Listings: the "Inside-Out" Process

The wrong way to try to get ranked better is to begin with stuff like getting backlinks. Lots of people have been suckered into this way of thinking about SEO. The focus is all wrong. It is a focus on what is "outside" the environment of your website.

If you want effective SEO that will actually achieve results, you have to use the "inside-out" process. You have to begin with the inside elements, the things you can control directly, before you strengthen the outside ecosystem:

Website Technical Aspects. For most medical practice websites we recommend a detailed site audit. This will perform a "stress test" on critical areas of your site functioning and appearance - mobile-friendly design - site loading speed - site security (HTTPS vs HTTP) - checking URL structure - broken link detection - search engine crawlability and more. Armed with audit results, you will know which aspects of your site are not up to current standards. Search engines will not send traffic to sites with serious technical issues.

Content Audit. Similar to a site audit, a content audit examines the content of all the pages on your site. Some site pages do not have enough content - we call that the "thin" content problem. Some pages may have content that is not being searched for. SEO for doctors as it relates to content means getting content on your site that people are actually searching for. Folks today often like to research symptoms, latest drugs, effectiveness of various treatment regimens and other subjects. Providing this information is not giving people an invitation to play doctor or self-medicate - it is a way of drawing them to your site so that they can follow-up with you and book an appointment.

E-A-T Issues. E-A-T stands for EXPERTISE-AUTHORITY-TRUSTWORTHINESS. These are the characteristics that Google associates the most important types of websites. Which are those? Google has another acronym: YMYL. YMYL stands for "Your money - your life." All of this means that Google considers that sites that represent businesses who could affect a person's health, safety, comfort or finances must be operated by those who know their field and provide information that is trustworthy. Medical practice websites are YMYL sites without a doubt.

This means, among other things, that blog posts and resource articles on your site should be properly researched, with appropriate citations to the medical literature, and written by properly credentialled authors. Your "about us" page should also present the educational backgrounds, board certifications, and licensing information for all patient-facing personnel. Having good patient care reviews feed in to the issue of trust as well, as a successful treatment outcome is explicit proof of your expertise.

Proper Analytics in Place. You can't manage what you don't track. Your website should have installed and properly functioning analytics tracking like GSC (Google Search Console). It provides a TON of analytics data, and as a physician you know the difference between making a data-driven decision and guesswork. This is so vital, that one of the first questions we ask of any new client of ours is whether analytics are in place, and if not we insist that this be done ASAP.

Running a Busy Medical Practice? Here's How to Get Help

SEO is, believe it or not, difficult to understand. But it is difficult to execute - especially SEO for doctor's offices and medical practices. That's because the competition is high and other practices may be well ahead of yours in terms of their SEO presence.

What to do? Well, what you do every day in your own medical practice - refer difficult cases to specialists. And even if you are a specialist yourself, you still may rely on testing and diagnostic facilities to give you the data you need to make the best decision about treatment for your patients.

When it comes to SEO, Posirank has been in existence for many years. Our founders have decades of experience and our current staff are not beginners either. And we have expertise specifically in the medical field. We were doing SEO before "SEO for doctors" was a thing. Don't give in to the temptation to just throw a bunch of money around hoping that "something" will work. Instead, pick up the phone, have one of your staff email us, or schedule a booking conversation call (and group meetings are just fine with us if you need to do that). None of this will cost you anything.

You are a busy person and we know that - so while you are thinking about this, why don't you take a moment or two and reach out to us. We are waiting for your reply!

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