Article originally featured in the March issue of Med Monthly Magazine.
By: Amanda Kanaan – Owner/Medical Marketing Specialist, WhiteCoat
Now more than ever patients are empowered to research their doctors online. Many choose a provider based solely on their first impressions from a practiceâs website â a process that is actually a lot like online dating. That means in order to attract a new patient, your website must be 1) available, and 2) appealing enough to spark interest into a first date (i.e., new patient appointment). In this first part of a two part series Iâll share tips and techniques for how to ensure your website is âavailableâ by increasing the number of visitors your site attracts through search engine optimization (SEO). Part two of the series reveals how to use effective medical website design to convert your website visitors into actual patients.
When you canât remember the name of a movie, what do you do? You Google it. When your teenager texts you with seemingly encrypted abbreviations, what do you do? You Google it. And when youâre looking for a new family medicine practice in your area, what do you do? You Google it.
Maybe not everyone uses Google. Perhaps you consider yourself a rebel for turning to Bing or Yahoo instead, but regardless, you probably use some type of online search engine on a near daily basis. This habitual behavior to rely on the internet for information consumption has propelled medicine into a new age â the age of the âe-patient.â
E-patients are internet savvy health consumers eager to research their medical conditions online and use electronic communication tools to manage such conditions. In other words, they want to be active participants in their health care. According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of all internet users â 61 percent of all adults â search online for their health information. Of those searching, 44 percent are specifically looking for a health care provider.
Location, Location, Location
With that many patients now searching online for your services, how do you ensure they find you? Just like in real estate it all comes down to location, and I donât mean the physical location of your practice. In this instance, location refers to your placement in the search engine results. Letâs say you are a family doctor in Raleigh, North Carolina. If I conducted an online search for the phrase âfamily doctor Raleigh,â what position in the search engine results would your practice appear? Would it appear at all? From an e-patientâs perspective, if your practice does not appear in the search engine results then you might as well not exist. In fact, to them you donât.
The best way to ensure your practice ranks high in the search engine results is through search engine optimization (SEO). SEO refers to the process of improving the volume of quality traffic to your website from search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, via organic (unpaid) search results. Since organic click-through rates are three times higher than paid search listings, practices will reap the greatest benefit by predominantly focusing on SEO versus paid online ads. That does not mean that utilizing pay-per-click advertising tools such as Google Adwords is not beneficial as it certainly can be. However, for those on a limited budget, your best long-term investment rests in SEO.
Creating a Strategy
While SEO offers the greatest benefit, it is also increasingly difficult to achieve desired rankings and is certainly not an overnight process. Google is constantly changing the algorithm (think of it like a secret recipe) used to determine the order in which results are displayed. Even if you do everything right, it will still take time for your efforts to be fully realized.
Below are three elements every SEO strategy should include in order to be effective. These are not the only tools but they are certainly among the most powerful.
Organic Search Engine Optimization
There are two types of organic SEO efforts that should be given equal attention. The first is âon-pageâ SEO; this refers to optimizing the content on your website itself so search engines can accurately recognize you as a match for the keyword. For example, if you are a dentist in Dallas, Texas, you will want to include keywords on your website that relate to both what you do and where you do it (e.g., âdentist Dallas,â âteeth cleaning Dallas,â etc.). The search engines will also take into account factors such as how long your site has been operating, how often you update it and the title tags used at the top of each page.
âOff-pageâ SEO is the process of securing links on other websites, blogs, and directories that point back to your website. Itâs a way for Google to validate your website, and each outside link is considered a vote of confidence. An important source of off-page SEO is Google Places. This section of the search results lists the businesses you searched for in your area and provides a corresponding map of their locations. Google merged this section with the organic listings so they blend together in the results. Therefore, itâs vital that you claim your Google Places listing in order to include your practice in these results. Go to www.google.com/places to establish a free account if you donât already have one.
Some of you might cringe when I mention the words âsocial mediaâ and âhealth careâ in the same sentence, but this is not a fleeting trend. Social media is here to stay and the physicians who learn to use it to their advantage stand to gain exponentially. A survey released in 2011 by the National Research Corporation polled nearly 23,000 patients and found that 41 percent of them use social media sites to look for health information. The three most popular sources of social media are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. As of 2011, there were more than 845 million Facebook users, 200 million registered Twitter accounts and YouTube is the second most powerful search engine in the world (just behind Google). While Facebook is the most popular social media source, more than 1,300 doctors have already registered with TwitterDoctors.net, a database of physicians who tweet. Online patient-to-patient referrals are a beneficial by-product of social networking, but from an SEO standpoint, the primary goal of your social media pages is to lure patients to your practice website. Whatever you do online to boost your off-page SEO â social media, writing articles or blogging â the whole point is to attract patients back to your practice website.
Health care social media comes with its own unique set of concerns, one the biggest being Health Insurance and Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. You must not discuss patientsâ private health information online even if they initiate the conversation. If a patient does this, politely ask them to schedule an appointment if it is an issue that needs to be addressed in the office. You can also write a social media policy for your practice to help guide these conversations.
Online Reputation Management
When you search online for a physicianâs name, youâll notice that many of the search engine results are not just for a practice website but also for review sites such as Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals and Avvo. Patients are even using what used to be retail driven review sites to rate health care providers. Examples include Google Places, Angieâs List, InsiderPages, Superpages and even Yelp.
Managing your review site listings will help boost your rankings in Google. Start by searching your doctorsâ names online to see which review sites appear in the search engine results. Youâll first need to claim your listing if you havenât already. For most sites, that just means signing up for a free account and verifying that you are the owner. By doing so, you have the opportunity to update your contact information, expand the listing with a description of your practice and, most importantly, add a link to your website (thatâs where the SEO comes in). Youâll need to do this for all the major review sites, especially the ones that your practice didnât show up for in the search engine results as you may not be listed.
The other reason to manage your review listings is to monitor the reviews themselves. With e-patients more active than ever in critiquing their health care providers on the Internet, itâs important to monitor your online reputation and manage the reviews. Even if you have a fantastic website that effectively sells your practice, one bad review can deter a patient from picking up the phone.
You can monitor review sites yourself using Google Alerts or many medical marketing agencies will now do this for you. While the review websites donât allow you to delete negative reviews, you can respond to them in a professional manner to show patients that you are listening. You should also encourage your loyal patients to write positive reviews to dilute the potency of a negative review. Monitoring your online reputation will alert you of a negative review so you can promptly tend to the situation.
Having a website is not enough
Just like online dating, having a website and not investing in search engine optimization is like trying to start a relationship without ever going on a single date. Inversely, a practice that ranks number one in the search engine results but has an outdated website can be just as detrimental. Itâs not enough to just have a website; your website must also be visually appealing, have strong messaging, be easily navigated, engage patients with meaningful content and ultimately call them to action.
To discover the elements of effective medical website design, read next monthâs issue of Med Monthly where weâll reveal part two of the series âHow to Turn Your Website into a Medical Marketing Machine.â In âPart II: Elements of Effective Medical Website Design,â youâll learn five website design tips that help convert website visitors into actual patients.
For a free website evaluation to find out how your practice website is performing, contact WhiteCoat today.