Healthcare Marketers’ Biggest Barriers to Digital Marketing Success

Over the last few years of administering the Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey, digging into what challenges healthcare marketers face has proven to be an important piece in understanding the state of digital marketing.

Traditionally, “lack of time” and “lack of budget” have always been at or near the top of the barriers list.

In last year’s survey, we encountered a surprise: “unable to measure effectiveness or ROI” emerged at the top of the list and remained near the top again this year, slipping to the number two spot. This had always been high on the list in the years when we posed this question to agency/vendor respondents, but it usually placed low for the health system’s concerns. The increased priority for calculating return on investment (ROI) was a recognition that while resources, in the form of time (staff) and budget, are barriers the failure to make the case for those resources is an important underlying cause of those previously mentioned challenges.

Online transaction and offline operations

The surprise factor this year was that “unable to support online transactions with offline operations” found its way to #4 on the list of top barriers, just behind resources and the aforementioned ability to measure ROI.

Last year we saw this begin to emerge as a concern, but only from respondents who self-identified as outperforming their competitors across numerous digital strategy areas.

Leading digital healthcare organizations are reaching the points where new online capabilities are a catalyst to create changes not only in marketing but also in the way in which healthcare services are accessed, delivered, and funded. The changes that are made possible through digital transformation require internal process changes or, at the very least, cooperation from other parts of the enterprise.

Now we’re seeing operational challenges emerge across many more organizations in our survey, even those who do not see themselves as digital leaders.

This is likely because average and laggard organizations have invested in the last few years in their martech stacks, which inevitably leads to operational questions.

Types of operational challenges

Digital transformation forces clarity around processes, which often leads to lots of internal conversations about how to handle incoming requests.

Some of the most common ways we see healthcare organizations run into process challenges is from web transactions. For example:

Appointment setting: This is often one of the first digital-to-operational challenges organizations face, and it’s often because internal processes haven’t been standardized. Scheduling is often decentralized with individual clinics or practices following different processes from one another let alone standardizing with hospitals! Many organizations still push online visitors to use the phone to schedule an appointment, which goes against the way many site visitors want to interact with the organization and could impact the user experience. As online appointment options expand, particularly with real-time appointment scheduling, this is an area that will continue to be a headache for many until they standardize their processes.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM): For the last few years, we’ve seen organizations indicate on the survey that they are investing in CRM technology and CRM team skillsets. CRM implementations make it possible to get a complete overall view of a consumer and how they engage your organization through in-patient, outpatient, and non-clinical touchpoints. Integrating CRM with your website creates the opportunity to build a better understanding of a customer’s interests in your organization and can open the door to deliver more personalization experiences both online and offline. Creating this consolidated view of your customers and using that data to create meaningful experiences opens up numerous operational challenges from I.T. to call center to the bedside.  Though not easy to accomplish, this type of transformation can pay big dividends in improved patient acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.

Delivering on marketing ROI: Being able to track the financial impact of attracting new patients is the holy grail of digital marketing. Many aspire to do it but have trouble delivering. Despite growing CRM adoption by healthcare systems, most organizations still struggle with tying financial results to marketing efforts. Equally problematic are marketing strategies that make new patient attribution difficult, a shortage of online patient conversion opportunities, an inability to track health consumers across marketing engagement channels to becoming a patient, and identify where the conversion funnel could be improved.

As organizations think strategically about moving the offline processes to the web, healthcare marketers will need to be proactive in building relationships with operations, finance, and I.T. to avoid pitfalls as your digital systems push those boundaries.

Download the survey and learn more insights

The 2019 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey is full of additional insights around how healthcare marketers are using digital tactics to engage and convert today’s health consumers. Download the free survey report today and learn where your organization and gain understanding into how your peers and competitors are planning, budgeting, and staffing for the coming year.

Staffing Outlook for Healthcare Digital Marketing Teams

Each time we produce our Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey results, one of the most popular topics is around staffing. As we’re putting the finishing touches on the eBook, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a sneak peek at some of the trends in teams and staffing we’re uncovering.

Last year we reported on healthcare digital marketing’s “Top Jobs” – the top areas where healthcare systems were looking to add staff to support their digital marketing operations. This year, we looked at staffing a little more broadly, since staffing is only one indicator of where an organization is investing.

This year, we looked at the areas of growing investment for both staff and other investment including tools and outsourced support.

Top Growth Areas

The first observation, and no real surprise here, healthcare digital marketing teams are increasing their net investment in every area. The single top growth area by a wide margin is digital advertising, followed by digital strategy, video production, content marketing, and content development. Areas with the least planned investment growth are mobile app development, project management, and web hosting.

Those of you who follow our digital survey each year know we break respondents into self-reported segments: leaders (those ahead of competitors in certain areas), average (those keeping up with competitors), and laggards (those falling behind.) When looking at those areas of investment across these segments, patterns of growth are similar with a few notable exceptions:

  • Leaders are more aggressively growing their capabilities for CRM and analytics
  • Laggards are investing in core areas such as digital strategy and project management
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The question that emerges is: do these investment priorities make sense given the other data we’ve collected? Or, from another perspective, how are healthcare organizations prioritizing their top areas for growth?

Investment vs. performance, plus outside perspective

To explore this further, we look at several other questions from the survey—providers’ self-reported performance in each of these areas along with the rankings of where healthcare is behind other industries from the perspective of providers themselves and of their vendor and agency partners.

Note: For this post, I’m using only the rank order of each of these items for comparison. For more detailed information, download the entire report when it’s available.

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There are a number of areas where the data across these questions line up very cleanly.

Take general website management, for example. It’s one of the areas where healthcare organizations feel that they’re performing well (#2 on their list), it falls fairly low on the list of areas where healthcare is falling behind other industries (#14 for providers and #9 for vendors) and is a lower priority for new hiring (#16 overall).

But not all of the investment priorities for the coming year line up in that way. Let’s take a closer look to see what’s going on for those areas.

Areas that are booming or lagging

To start, there are two functions that are booming: digital advertising and content development.

Digital advertising is a space where healthcare organizations rank their performance highly relative to competitors (#3), don’t see themselves falling behind other industries (#12), and even their vendor partners see them holding up fairly well (#8). Despite all of this, digital advertising is the top area of increased hiring and investment for the coming year!

Content development is a similar scenario. Despite already being competitive, it is high on the list of new investment priorities.

The bottom line is that health systems are doubling down in digital advertising and content development because these are areas that are giving them great lift right now – and probably for slightly different reasons.

Organic reach is shrinking across the board – from social media to search engines. It’s an increasingly a pay-to-play world and healthcare organizations are using paid advertising more than ever.

Great content is the tide that lift all ships. When you have great content and a process that allows you to develop more great content over time, all of the other tactics that you’re implementing with digital become that much easier and that much more effective.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have some lagging spaces: user experience (UX), development, analytics, business listing management, and mobile app development. Even with the perceived shortcomings in these areas, health systems are just less likely to be able to prioritize growing investment in these areas amongst all of the other areas requiring new resources.

Where should you invest

At the end of the day, your growth priorities are mostly about where your organization is today and where you’re in need of expanding capabilities. The insights here aren’t telling you where to invest but they do give us an indication of where your competitors will likely be getting better in the coming year and where they’re seeing outsized value in the investments that they’re making today.

Prepare to see healthcare organizations growing digital advertising, investing in strategy, upping their game in the content realm – particularly in terms of video – and pushing ahead in CRM although still not as fast as their agency partners think that they should be.

Within that, however, we see our booming spaces. Healthcare marketers are doing well in online advertising and content. There’s already significant investment here in both staff and dollar terms.  And, despite that, your competitors are doubling down in these areas. Not investing because they’re behind but because they’re seeing so much value for the investments that they’re making. It’s hard to go wrong growing your capabilities in these areas.

And that’s one strategy.

But there’s another way to go. Look at the lagging spaces. These areas seem ripe for investment, but respondents aren’t looking to fill those gaps for whatever reason. Maybe the payoff is less direct?  Maybe they think that mediocre is good enough? Maybe they’re still searching for worthwhile use cases for mobile apps?

Or maybe they’re missing the opportunity? Investing in areas like analytics or business listings could just be your opportunity to leapfrog the competition or maintain your lead.

It’s our hope that this information along with many other insights in our upcoming webinar and our survey report can help you invest strategically rather than in response to the latest trend or the squeaky wheel in your organization.

Industry Insights from Geonetric’s 2019 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey

Want ways to be more strategic when it comes to digital marketing? Wish you knew what your competitors are spending on digital? Looking for ammunition to help sell a website redesign or the need for more resources? Geonetric’s 2019 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey has all the answers you need – and more.

Watch this webinar and get an insider look at the state of digital marketing in healthcare. (And download the actual survey for even more data!) These results are like nothing else in industry – with more than 260 healthcare marketers and agency partners sharing their unique perspectives, it’s the largest, most popular survey available. It’s also the only survey that splits respondents into leader, average, and laggard organizations, so you can easily compare your team’s size, budget, redesign cycles, and digital efforts to your peers and competitors. Because at the end of the day, what you really want to know if you are ahead or behind – and how you can keep that leading position or start to catch up.

You’ll learn:

  • How healthcare organizations are structuring teams and divvying budget up between traditional and digital
  • What goals healthcare marketing teams are working towards and how effective they are at tracking success
  • If hot trends, like personalization, are really delivering value
  • What digital tactics are most likely to be outsourced and what’s staying in-house
  • How your website’s functionality compares to industry averages
  • What tactics you should be paying attention to for 2019 and beyond

Healthcare Marketers’ Best Frenemy: Google?

Times Have Changed

In the past, search engines worked almost exclusively like this: You’d type in a query and get a list of webpages or other online content that might have what you’re looking for. Then you’d choose which link to click on and be taken to the most relevant content.

Google was an intermediary serving two audiences. Content creators allowed the search giant to scrape their content in exchange for (mostly) free traffic to that content. Consumers came to Google for its ability to point them to the best possible sources of information to answer their questions in exchange for the occasional click on an advertisement — which was always clearly marked as paid placement and was relevant to their search.

Now, Google is moving from being the card catalog for the internet to trying to be the encyclopedia. No longer acting as an intermediary – a guide pointing the way to information – the search engine is increasingly serving up content directly on the results page. For example, rather than just linking to a page listing family practitioners, the search engine itself lists some available, nearby providers. Or instead of providing a link to a webpage with the address for a doctor’s office, Google takes the searcher to its own Google Maps application where it can continue to show paid advertising options.

As Google serves up more information directly on its SERPs, so-called “no-click searches,” — where searchers never leave Google network of websites — are steadily increasing. No-click searches have been relatively consistent on desktop computers where they’ve hovered at about 34 percent of desktop searches for the past few years, but they’ve grown dramatically on mobile devices with a whopping 61 percent of mobile searches in 2018, up from just less than 42 percent in 2016, according to data from software companies Jumpshot and SparkToro.

Many segments aren’t feeling this pain yet as the growth in no-click searches has been offset by growth in mobile searching volume, but certain markets where Google has been aggressive in implementing its new techniques, such as restaurants, video, weather, and airline flights, have seen significant drops in traffic from Google.

Why Does This Matter?

This change is great for Google, which keeps more traffic on its sites, controls the end-to-end experience for more and more of its users, and gets more advertising revenue. This change is also ok with most consumers who can be indifferent to where they get their questions answered, have great trust in Google, and often have a distinct preference for Google’s services. But what does it mean for you as a marketer and creator of healthcare content?

That depends on the searcher’s need and type of query. Many no-click healthcare-related searches are simple and transactional — searches for a provider’s address or phone number, for example. If that one bit of information is truly all the user needs, and the information they find on the SERP is accurate, they’ll still be able to engage with your organization.

Another growing category of no-click searches today is answers to generic healthcare questions. Google will display a featured snippet with the answer to the question right at the top of the SERP. This is also what is read aloud when answering voice-search requests powered by Google’s search engine (the ultimate no-click search platform!).

So even though your webpages may lose some traffic to the SERP, users will still convert — at least for today — and that conversion, though not a pageview, is what ultimately impacts your organization’s bottom line.

But in other cases, users may miss valuable information that appears only on your webpage, not in whatever snapshot of content Google chooses to display on the SERP. Ideally, you’ve strategically created webpages that not only answers users’ immediate questions but also leads them to other relevant content that guides them to take action. A featured snippet on a SERP just doesn’t provide the same level of value as your well-built webpages.

In addition, as Google continues down this path, we could see more and more transactions bypassing health-system websites, giving Google unprecedented power to influence where consumers receive care.

What Should You Do?

These changes certainly don’t signal an end to SEO. Far from it! But it’s time for us to rebalance the role of SEO within our traffic-generation efforts. It’s only one tool in a complex arena of strategies. More of those strategies need to be employed, and it’s more important than ever that the SEO work you do is focused on the right areas for maximum impact.

So how can you help make sure more users see the full range of your organization’s valuable information? Consider these approaches.

Drive Users Directly to Your Site

Harness the potential of your marketing efforts that bypass search engines. For audiences you already have a relationship with, use email marketing and social media to send users directly to your website. And promote online content through offline channels, including broadcast media, print publications, and community outreach.

Play Google’s Game

It’s more important than ever to create, claim, and manage content about your organization on Google’s platforms, especially Google My Business, Google Maps, and YouTube. Add photos and videos, and respond to reviews and questions that users submit. You can also use Google Posts — a form of microblogging — to promote news and events such as community screenings and health fairs.

Just remember that anyone can suggest edits to certain elements of knowledge panels, so you’ll want to monitor them and correct misinformation.

It’s OK to Pay

Facebook has been a few years ahead of Google in tightening organic reach. Like Google, Facebook has been under considerable pressure to increase revenues by moving more businesses to pay for access to its users. The result is that boosted Facebook posts have become the most commonly used paid online advertising technique used in healthcare.

Your organization isn’t expecting free TV ads or billboards. Going forward, it should expect to pay for online visibility but also benefit from the advantages of visibility, trackability, and greater dollar-for-dollar impact online compared to traditional marketing channels.

Optimize Your Website Content

Although no-click searches are increasing, the raw number of overall Google searches is steadily rising. And your website likely continues to get most of its traffic from organic search, meaning you still need to optimize your webpages for search engines using tried-and-true tactics. This includes writing informative, compelling content that rewards users for coming to your website and keeps them there.

In addition, healthcare organizations need to reevaluate what — and who — your’re optimizing for. Too many organizations look inside to decide what to prioritize. Going forward, more organizations need to look at consumers’ healthcare journeys to determine when they can be reached and examine search behaviors to find where it’s most important that they compete, such as for localized searches (e.g., “Family practice doctors near me.”)


You’ll put your organization in a strong position for success if you give Google what it wants, but also continue to invest in diverse digital marketing efforts. With a robust array of skills and marketing initiatives, your team will be ready to top the competition, no matter how technology and user behavior change. Want to talk more about ways to compete today? Let’s chat.

Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2019

Amazon. Apple. CVS Health. As leaders in using data, technology, and consumer marketing to disrupt their fields, it’s clear these organizations will have some impact on how community hospitals and health systems design online experiences.

Watch this webinar and learn the top digital marketing trends to watch for in 2019. We’ll break down some of the intriguing moves in the industry and how you can use data, technology, and user experience to:

  • Focus on consumers through A/B testing, personalization, and multi-channel digital campaigns
  • Stay-up-to-date with guidelines and exceed consumer expectations around pricing transparency and accessibility
  • Build designed experiences using the latest technology such as AI and chatbots, as well as deepening integrations across the technology stack
  • Understand changes in the search space and how to leverage voice and location-based search to stand out in a crowded market

What You Need to Know About the Impending Deadline for Hospital Pricing Transparency

CMS’s stated intent is to make information more widely available in an attempt to empower consumers to make better decisions when they seek healthcare. This includes providing information to compare competing care-delivery options as well as reducing unexpected high bills after receiving medical services.

While providers have made great strides in increasing their transparency in the areas of quality and experience, pricing transparency has been a far more difficult problem to solve. As a result, CMS is requiring the following initial step (emphasis added):

“…effective January 1, 2019, we are updating our guidelines to require hospitals to make available a list of their current standard charges via the internet in a machine readable format and to update this information at least annually, or more often as appropriate. This could be in the form of the chargemaster itself or another form of the hospital’s choice, as long as the information is in machine readable format.”

The final rule includes significant insight from the comment period, particularly around a number of issues where CMS asked for feedback in the proposed rule. In addition, CMS has put together a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document to help us understand what’s required for hospitals.

  • You must publish the information from the hospital’s current standard charges from its chargemaster.
  • This information should be updated at least yearly or more often as appropriate.
  • They understand the limitations of the usefulness of chargemaster data. Hospitals are welcome to provide more actionable information for consumers such as out-of-pocket cost calculators in addition to the required chargemaster information.
  • The information is required to be in a machine readable format. CMS has not proposed a specific format or file structure to use but has made it clear that a PDF is not acceptable.
  • There does not appear to be any requirement that this is presented in a human readable format. CMS, in fact, suggests some formats such as XML which are often difficult for consumers to view.
  • Publishing this information through some other platform, as occurs in several states with their own transparency initiatives, does not satisfy the new CMS requirements nor does collaborative efforts with payers to improve pricing transparency.
  • No hospitals in the United States are exempted from these requirements.

CMS questions the viewpoint that, for many, chargemaster data is not only irrelevant, but publishing such data is likely to create greater confusion among health consumers. However, they do encourage health systems to take steps above and beyond the new requirements.

With this in mind, CMS suggests that future steps are likely: “We also are considering other potential actions that would be appropriate…to further our objective of having hospitals undertake efforts to engage in consumer-friendly communication of their charges to help patients understand what their potential financial liability might be for services they obtain at the hospital, and to enable patients to compare charges for similar services across hospitals.”

What Do We Need To Do To Comply?

By January 1, 2019, all U.S.-based hospitals must make a machine readable file of their standard charges available on the internet.

No format is specifically defined, but the regulations do mention XML and CSV file formats as acceptable and PDF files as unacceptable.

The file must include “…a list of the hospital’s standard charges for items and services provided by the hospital, including for diagnosis-related groups established under section 1886(d)(4) of the Social Security Act.”

There are no requirements about the naming of this file or where it should be located. There is also no guidance as to whether this file must be available from your primary web presence, a microsite, or some other online platform — only that it is available on the internet.

Remember, these new regulations go into effect on January 1, 2019! If you have questions, you should consult your organization’s legal counsel.

Content Marketing Hubs: How to Build Trust and Boost Traffic

Learn how to make your investments pay dividends. From content strategy and design to SEO and editorial calendars, this webinar will answer your top content marketing questions, share real-life examples of organizations that are doing content marketing well, and put you on a path to developing effective online hubs that build trust in your brand and attract new patients.

Watch this free webinar and learn how to:

  • Understand the options available for content marketing hubs and how which platform you build on can impact your success.
  • Integrate your content marketing investment across your site to increase engagement with providers and services.
  • Design and implement online content marketing hubs that share content in engaging ways, provide an exceptional user experience, and address many of the top SEO ranking factors.
  • Leverage and iterate on content marketing investments other healthcare marketing teams are doing.

Industry Trends from Geonetric’s 2018 Healthcare Digital Marketing Survey

Watch this webinar and learn the answers to your most pressing questions as we share the results of our much-anticipated 2018 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey. With a record 249 healthcare organizations responding, plus additional input from industry vendors, you’ll not only discover the data you need to benchmark your organization in terms of team and budget size, you’ll also uncover insights that will help you plan for the future of your digital operations.

You will learn:

  • How your organization’s online strategies and investments compare to others.
  • How leading organizations plan, budget, and execute differently from their counterparts.
  • Insights on marketing trends that will reinforce your position as the go-to resource at your organization on digital.
  • The biggest barriers to digital marketing success.
  • What your agency and vendor partners are saying is really holding your efforts back.

Online Ratings for Healthcare Providers: From Early Adopter to Mainstream Marketing Strategy

From Amazon to Netflix, consumers are increasingly familiar using ratings to evaluate products and services. Often these take the form of the iconic star rating system that has become the go-to method for indicating user satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

It’s clearly not just for movies and books anymore. You’ve seen the statistics: 84% of health consumers view digital solutions as the most effective way to search for a doctor. And when asked about the last time they looked up health or medical information, 77% of online health consumers say they began with search engines.

Healthcare marketers monitor these trends in consumer behavior and use them to shift the strategies they use to promote physicians, giving rise to the popularity and effectiveness of online ratings and reviews.

Rate of adoption of online ratings and reviews

The number of patients who used online reviews jumped 68% from 2013 to 2014. And our research indicates by the end of 2017, 60% of health systems and hospitals will have launched ratings and reviews.

Chart showing rate of adoption for physician ratings and reviews

Even if you do not have the advantage of having adopted this technique when it first started, there are still incredible benefits to be had by starting now. Obviously, it meets patients’ needs. According to industry research, 61% of patients use reviews before selecting a provider, 19% use them after selecting a provider, and 20% have used ratings and reviews to evaluate their current doctor.

In addition to patient experience benefits, implementing ratings and reviews has numerous search and optimization advantages.

Search engine optimization benefits

If built correctly, Google will display current rating information in rich snippets right in search results. And for some organizations, their own ratings and reviews will outrank reviews from other organizations, such as Healthgrades or WebMD. Many organizations also see increased appointment requests. Together with the rating information in your profile, these kinds of rich snippets drive traffic from organic search, increase engagement with existing profiles, and ultimately lead to more appointments with your physicians.

How big of an SEO boost can you expect from adding ratings? While there are no guarantees, the University of Utah Health Care reported a significant increase in traffic from organic search since implementing physician ratings on their website. After investing in ratings and reviews, one of our clients saw a 55% increase in URLs ranked 1–4 on search results pages.

And because research reveals that 77% of patients use search prior to booking an online appointment, it’s clear that physician ratings are a potent means of promoting physicians and converting site visitors into scheduled patients.

The time to start is now

With the innovators and early adopters having led the charge, the majority of healthcare organizations now have a clear path forward on how to implement ratings and reviews. And, if your competitors haven’t already gone to market with the feature, you can still be seen as an early mover in your region. Even if you’re competitors beat you to the punch, implementing ratings and reviews is still an effective way to ensure your providers remain at the top of search results pages.

If your organization is on the fence about adding ratings and reviews to your site, let us help. Organizations of all sizes have turned to us to help them navigate the technical and political challenges that may arise and reap the rewards of improved patient acquisition and increased URL rankings.

Top Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018

Learn top trends – both inside and outside of healthcare – you should focus on in 2018. You’ll learn which optimization techniques will set you apart from competitors and help you rank well for patients using voice search. Understand why you should invest in paid advertising if you want to stand out in the ever-shrinking search results page. We’ll also discuss the latest in hyper-localization techniques, content personalization tactics, enhanced mobile user experience (UX) strategies, MarTech ecosystems, and data analytics. We’ll also discuss bigger shifts we’re seeing in hospital website usage as well as trends in how health systems are branding online.

Attend this free webinar and learn how to:

  • Enhance the user experience across your digital platforms based on changes in consumer behavior
  • Invest in optimization and paid advertising techniques that will help you stand out in the market
  • Capitalize on emerging tactics, such as voice search and personalized content
  • Understand broader changes in the healthcare and digital landscapes that could impact your overarching strategy
  • And more