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Individual Doctor Websites and Your Health System Marketing Strategy

Healthcare marketers work hard to strategically promote the depth of an entire system. What happens when a doctor wants their own individual site?

There’s been an incredible effort for health systems to move from marketing a single hospital or service line (or medical practice!) to marketing the entire system. After all, you want patients to find the system first, then find the provider or location that matches their need. What happens when physicians go against this strategy and start demanding their own sites?

The strength of a system-level strategy

Before we examine how to respond to a request for individual doctor websites, it’s helpful to understand the current state of how healthcare organizations are marketing themselves. Over the last decade, there has been a shift to a more system-centric approach for health-system websites. This shift allows systems to leverage their size, reach, and depth and breadth of their services more effectively by making it easier for patients to find this information all in one place, supporting patient-first user experience (UX). It also allows systems to tell a more robust story about their service offerings.

Using multiple websites to communicate this singular story can create search engine optimization (SEO) challenges and lead to issues with the UX for site visitors, resulting in general confusion about what is offered and leading to patient attrition. It also quickly becomes a maintenance nightmare for digital teams.

Those issues, along with a focus on efficiency, are what led to the shift to a system-centric website approach, which has been the approach of choice for most multi-hospital systems for the last five years.

Although the system-centric approach has typically been well-received by site users evidenced by increased site sessions for those organizations who made the switch, internal stakeholders have been harder to convert.

Enter: doctors.

What leads doctors to want individual websites?

No matter how hard you work to ensure a cohesive brand online, you will inevitably have certain doctors or service lines asking to move their business from the main site to a separate microsite. Top reasons for this include:

  • Feeling under-represented or lagging the competition. There may be a legitimate mismatch between their direct competition’s online marketing and how their services are presented within the health system.
  • Idea of personal brand. Often providers are accustomed to having their name as the headline (or face on a billboard!) and they crave that specific attention. Especially if they were part of a group that was recently acquired or merged with another system. Beyond that, providers (along with everyone else these days) are inundated with encouragement to create a “personal brand.”
  • The promise of results. If a doctor’s schedule isn’t full, they may think marketing is to blame.

Once the issue is raised (or you discover a rogue microsite in the wild), the best approach is one focused on bridge-building: Take an honest look at how their individual, practice, and specialty information is presented compared to the alternatives options that health consumers would be considering and see if opportunities arise. It’s still good to be firm about your organization’s website governance policies (you have those, right?), but look at this as an opportunity to create an ally for the long term.

The risks of stand-alone sites

Often, doctors like the idea of having a stand-alone website for their practice. They often see the microsite as a way to build out more content, be more visually interesting than the health system website, or even distance themselves from the overall health system brand. In short, it gives them more control.

And they believe that, with more control, they can get more traffic, tell a more compelling story, and bring in more patients.

Unfortunately, reality rarely works out that way for a number of reasons. Here are the top three:

  1. Fragmentation: Separating different parts of your organization’s story from your offerings makes it harder for consumers to find what they need, and when they do find it, what’s there is often less compelling. Over time the stories across these sites often diverge, creating an even more confusing experience for healthcare consumers.
  2. Optimization: Microsites can have a variety of challenges when it comes to SEO, for one, it splits domain authority. Google uses a wide array of factors to determine domain authority — a metric used to predict the ability of a website to rank in search engines, including inbound links, content depth on a subject, click-through rates, etc. Microsites split off these features, undermining the authority of both the microsite and the health system’s main website. In addition, a new microsite will often force you to “start over” with domain/page authority, which is a very difficult score to build.
  3. Duplicate content: When content is copied verbatim Google can penalize you, assuming that one site or the other is stealing the content or otherwise attempting to game the system to improve rankings. There are ways to avoid these penalties but they harm the SEO of one of the web properties involved, create more work, and can be a real burden for the long-term management of the sites.

How to move forward

Assuming you win the battle to keep the doctor from spinning up a new site or microsite, there are ways to keep your stakeholders, users, and search engines happy, all while protecting the system brand and system-centric approach you’ve worked so hard to build.

  • Reinforce the system strategy of the organization – the reason the physician is there is to make the most of her unique expertise.
  • Give the provider’s profile a different look and incorporate branding by having a designer create templates with unique styling that still complements the main site so as not to confuse site visitors.
  • Encourage the doctor to work with you to develop robust, localized, focused content around a niche topic that may have a positive effect on SEO and drive interest in their specialty. Connect that content to their official profile as well.
  • Understand where your competition is focusing their optimization and paid advertising efforts. Competitive analysis coupled with keyword research and user testing can put a huge spotlight on a doctor/service line while still being part of the main site.

At the end of the day, these conversations are difficult. The request from a provider can come across as de-valuing your marketing expertise or your organization’s overarching strategy. Plus, you’ve likely worked hard to get and keep a centralized marketing budget and requests to siphon some off for side projects doesn’t help your cause.

Geonetric works with growing health systems day in and day out, helping them create system-centric digital strategies – and defend them when needed.  It’s all about putting the users first and being committed to that focus, even when doctors or department heads disagree. The good news is, there are many viable paths forward to keep both users – and doctors – happy. If you need a digital partner with a proven track record, contact us.


David Sturtz

VP, Experience Strategy

Individual Doctor Websites and Your Health System Marketing Strategy