SEO for Healthcare: Reaching Healthcare Consumers Through Search

What you should be doing today to ensure your SEO success continues, and where to begin if you’re not feeling successful yet.

We’ve all heard the statistics — almost every healthcare consumer is looking for information online. But what is the path from a question in someone’s head to the information they need?

SEO is essential to ensuring it’s your information they find, whether that’s a clinic location, physician, or service offering.

You will learn:

  • The exploding variety of ways healthcare consumers are searching for information, and how to be the answer they find
  • What you should be doing today to ensure your SEO success continues, and where to begin if you’re not feeling successful yet
  • The concepts and buzzwords you must understand — schema.org, entity optimization, mobile-first indexing, AMP — to stay on top

Transcript

Host: Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to Geonetric’s March webinar. Thanks for your patience as we wait for a few people who are still logging in. While we wait, I do have a couple of items I want to share with you. First, our white paper, “Questions to ask your potential SEO agency,” is available now. You can download it by visiting geonetric.com/seoquestions or leave a note requesting a copy in the survey after the webinar.

Also, in the Ideas section of geonetric.com, you can find the rest of our white papers, on demand webinars, and blog posts. Coming up next month our colleague, David Sturtz, will present an informative session on web design and how it impacts your site’s health. You can register for this and find all of our upcoming and on demand webinars at geonetric.com/webinars.

Geonetric is a marketing agency and technology partner that helps healthcare organizations generate marketing results. We offer a suite of services, including website design and development, marketing campaigns, SEO, content development and more. We work with health systems, hospitals, and clinics around the country. Learn more at geonetric.com.

So today’s webinar will run approximately one hour. If you’re listening on a speakerphone, we do recommend you mute your line to prevent any audio quality issues. We’re going to answer as many questions as we can at the end of the presentation, so please enter those in the questions box. And if we don’t get to your question today, have no fear, we will follow up with you after the webinar. We do depend on your feedback to make these webinars the best that they can be. So please take a moment to complete the survey at the end of the webinar.

And finally, a recording of this presentation will be posted on geonetric.com in the Ideas section.

Today’s presenter is Joanna Basile, senior digital marketing strategist, here at Geonetric. Joanna uses her love of comic books to inspire her approach to web writing and digital marketing strategy. The best content is engaging, smart, easy to follow, and paired with compelling visuals. As part of the digital marketing team at Geonetric, she applies this philosophy to healthcare websites and digital presences every day, helping health systems around the country develop user focused experiences across their digital ecosystem. Without further ado, here is Joanna.

Joanna: Thanks for tuning in to today’s webinar on how to reach health consumers through search. As those of you who have heard me speak before may know I really geek out about this stuff, and that means we’re going to be covering a lot of information in the short time we have. Primarily, we’ll be focusing on 10 main things you can do with SEO to target healthcare consumers in the most effective way possible.

One, you’ve got to start with a strong foundation and choose the right CMS. Make your users feel at ease and make your site secure. Get to know your users. If you don’t know what resonates with them, your strategy won’t mean much. Target your content appropriately. More specifically, you’ll learn the importance of focusing it, featuring it, and localizing it. Provide a good UX or user experience. Optimize for voice search. It’s in its infancy now, but it’s fast growing.

Implement schema across your site. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s becoming more and more important, given the increasing complexity of the digital ecosystem. Curate your business listings. Make sure they’re claimed, correct, and consistent across the Web. And a shout out to Lindsey there for that fun alliteration. Pay for the right traffic at the right time. Don’t pay for what you can get for free, but make sure to pay for what you need and don’t yet get organically. And last but not least, market your organization holistically. Even offline tactics now inform SEO. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

So last month’s webinar was about selecting a web content management system or CMS. If you’re evaluating CMS options, it’s important to take SEO into consideration, particularly how the platforms you’re looking into might help or hurt your organic search efforts. After all, your individual optimization efforts can only have so much impact if your CMS isn’t doing its job. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into all the ways your content management system should be working for you and your SEO.

Auto-generated sitemap. A sitemap is basically a list of the pages on your site. It helps search engines, like Google, understand what content exists and which pages it should crawl. While it’s true that Googlebot and other web crawlers use links within your content to discover most of the pages on your site as well as other content on the Web, it’s possible for crawlers to overlook something. Among other things, this is particularly true if your site is really large, as most healthcare websites are. If you don’t employ a strong cross linking strategy in your content and across your site, or if your site is new and doesn’t have a lot of links from other sites that lead to it.

So if any of these apply to your site or if you just want to ensure your site’s as discoverable as possible, a sitemap is a near must-have. And when your CMS generates one for you, well, that just makes your life that much easier, especially if you frequently add, delete, and update pages. Better still, some sitemaps provide search engines with even more information about the pages on your site, including video information such as run time, image information like subject matter, and metadata, such as the date your page was last updated. All of this helps give web crawlers more information about your content. This increases the likelihood you’ll be crawled and provides more data points to help during the indexing process.

Easy-to-add page headers. On page headers often referred to as H1s, H2s, H3s, H4s, etc. summarize the content on your page and in page sections. Because of that, they help search engines and users, particularly those with screen readers, understand the order and importance of content on your page. Each page should have only one H1, which denotes the main topic of your page. Each header underneath of it, the H2s and beyond, represent subpoints and should appropriately nested. It’s commonly thought that search engines give slightly more weight to the content inside H1 header tags, so it’s important to ensure you use them and optimize the words inside of it accordingly.

When looking at a CMS, ensure yours provides an easy-to-use system for implementing appropriate header tags on each of your web pages and that the text within them is customizable. Image alt tags. Adding alternative text to your images helps both users with screen readers and search engines understand the visual content on your page. It’s important that your CMS provides you with an easy way to add alt text to your images, to help with both indexability and accessibility.

Usage of lightweight code. Google and other search engines take site speed into consideration when ranking your site. So the faster your pages load in a browser the better. One way to reduce the amount of time it takes your web pages to load is to ensure your site is built using clean, lightweight code. Certain CMSs have heavier back ends than others. Choosing one that optimizes the use of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS could help improve your search engine rankings and user experience. After all, who wants to stare at their mobile phone while a website slowly loads on the page? Not me. In fact, according to Kissmetrics, 40% of people abandon a website that takes longer than three seconds to load. Don’t let yours be one of them.

Friendly and customizable URLs. Page URLs are another indicator to both users and search engines about the topic of your page. In fact, some search engines read the words used in your URLs to help rank your web pages against search engine queries and reading a URL with understandable words in them makes a much bigger ranking impact than one that uses a string of symbols, numbers, and question marks. Using a CMS that allows you to create customizable URLs in a friendly way makes search engines and your users happy.

The ability to set canonical URLs. Sometimes you can have the same content in multiple places on your site, and most of us know by now that Google can use the presence of duplicate content on your site to penalize you in search rankings. Selecting a single canonical URL for the pages on which duplicate content occurs can prevent this from happening. What this does on the back end of your site is basically tell Google that you acknowledge that this content as being one in the same and that the URL you list as the canonical should be considered the primary page or source of truth. This helps you avoid those ranking penalties and maintain good SEO health.

Customizable metadata. Metadata, such as HTML page titles and meta descriptions can help directly and indirectly improve your performance in organic search. In fact, HTML page titles are one of the first things Google looks at when ranking search results. And meta descriptions are your web pages’ call to action and help sell your content to users, enticing them to click through to your site. That’s why it’s important to write them with SEO and the user experience in mind. Choose a CMS that allows you to easily update and customize your page’s metadata, so you can target it in the best way possible for your users and search engines.

The allowance of schema placement. Schema, which we’ll talk about more later on, helps search engines better understand your content and its context. This can help your site rank better and in more meaningful ways on a search engine results page, such as in knowledge graphs and answer boxes. Because schema is back end code, make sure your CMS allows you to have access to the back end of your site. This ensures you’ll be able to add custom schema markup whenever you like, to the areas of your site that you’d like to enhance.

Choose the right CMS. So to sum it up, if you’re curious how much your CMS is helping or hurting your SEO success, look to these eight key areas: auto-generated sitemap, easy-to-add page headers, image alt tags, usage of lightweight code, friendly and customizable URLs, the ability to set canonical URLs, customizable metadata, and the allowance of schema placement. Make sure your CMS can do as many of these things as possible provides your website with a strong SEO foundation. And who wants to build something on top of a weak foundation?

Speaking of having a strong foundation though, the strength of your website security has become increasingly important. That’s especially true when you’re in the healthcare field and charged with the protection and confidentiality of PHI. For these reasons, it’s imperative you provide a safe online environment for your patients and Web users. Google agrees, and they’re out to make sure everyone who views a website knows when their information is safe and protected. Google’s push to ensure a safe and secure Web, which is informally called the HTTPS Everywhere initiative, strives to inform users when a web page their viewing isn’t secure. Currently unsecured web pages are served up with a gray exclamation mark that when clicked on explains to the user that their website connection is at private.

Moving forward, that gray exclamation point will get a not secure message attached to the end of it, and at some point in the near future that not secure message will appear even more glaringly as a warning to Web users not to trust your website encryption. In addition to providing your users with a more secure web experience, Google provides a small ranking boost to websites marked as HTTPS. Switching over is a win-win. Your users feel more secure and Google likes you more, and we all like that. Before you switch though, make sure to check with your Web vendor to ensure you have everything in place to make a smooth transition. This includes things such as auditing plug-ins in iFramed content, pointing sitemap entries to HTTPS versions of your content, adding an HTTPS version of your site to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, updating your Google Analytics accounts and more. More things are connected than you might think, so you’ll want to check to make sure you get everything right.

Once you have these foundational elements in place, it’s time to get to know your users so you can properly optimize your site for SEO. After all, the primary function of the search engine is to answer users’ questions, and if you don’t know who they are, it’s going to be pretty difficult to effectively give them the information they seek. One way to learn about your target audience is to analyze their search engine behavior. Using any number of keyword research tools, you can learn a lot about regional search terms and topics of interest to help you focus your content, but a little bit more on that later.

Another helpful tool is Google Analytics, as it can help you gauge the most important content on your site for visitors. It also gives you helpful information about device usage, geographic location, browser language and more. Market research, though not cheap, can provide invaluable data about trends, barriers to entry into your services, and audience statistics. Social network research can give you insight into what users really think about your industry and brand. And stakeholder surveys and interviews allow you to ask pointed questions of your consumers to make sure you get the information you need most. After collecting your data, coalesce the related bits of information into personas. These generalized representations of your target audiences can help you focus your marketing tactics and are particularly helpful at honing your SEO efforts.

When you’re in the process of implementing the SEO recommendations we’ll cover in this webinar, keep referring back to these personas. If the tactics you’re about to implement don’t serve to help you reach one of those audiences, reevaluate the tactic and approach it from a different angle. Personas are there to help remind you of who you’re really doing all of this for, your web users, and that’s extremely important to remember, especially when you start getting pressure internally. And to keep your content relevant and valuable for your Web users, you need to target it appropriately in three main ways: by focusing it, featuring it, and localizing it. First and foremost, at the highest level, your content should be focused on delivering the information your users need. One way to ensure you’re doing this is by performing keyword research. And while it’s been much maligned in recent years due to black hat SEO tactics, if it’s done right, it’s an essential part of your Web strategy.

For example, imagine you walk up to someone on the street and you ask, “When you search for information online, what words do you use? What questions do you ask? What are you hoping to find?” Keyword research is the same thing. It’s just on online with tools based on aggregated data from millions of online searches, instead of one or two people on the street. At its core, white hat SEO is all about optimizing for users while following the guidelines prescribed by search engines. The thing is, search engines nowadays are pretty darn smart. With the advent of Semantic Search and RankBrain and explosion of enhancements to the search engine results page, search engines have an impressive understanding of what kinds of information users seek. It is in their best interest to do so to keep users from going elsewhere. So while Google may not be providing users with everything they need out of the kindness of its little data-fueled heart, it does so nonetheless. And what that means is that if SEO is all about optimizing for search engines, and search engines focus on providing users with what they seek, then modern SEO is all about the users.

You could work to improve organic traffic to your site by performing keyword research and focusing your content on what you uncover. This is especially true and important for healthcare websites, given the organic search competition and extensive varied terminology used to describe provider specialties, medical conditions, and care services. It benefits you to pepper your content with terms your audience understands. A solid SEO strategy based on keyword research can help you make that happen and not waste your time on words that nobody gets. Once you’ve mastered focusing your content on the information users seek, it’s time to tweak what you’ve developed to answer specific questions. As traditional organic links get pushed farther down the page, it’s becoming more important than ever to try to get your site to appear in all the search enhancements that pull content from websites just like yours. Primarily, those areas are the features snippets cards and related questions panels. And what’s great about these features is that you don’t have to appear in the number one organic position to be eligible to populate those fields. You just need to focus on providing the right information in the right way.

The best place to start is by doing some keyword research focused on user queries. Get to know the types of questions users are asking, paying close attention to the nuanced words they use to search for information. Small variations in how they phrase queries can make a big difference in determining the type of content they want and understanding that variation can help you appropriately target your message in a way that’s more likely to be consumed by Googled and pulled into search enhancements. Even if users read the information on the search results page itself and don’t go through to your site, you’re getting valuable brand recognition and earning the trust of Web users who will now be more likely to click through to your content in the future when it appears in search.

Finally, we get to the third phase of targeting your content appropriately, and that’s by localizing it. Once you know you’ve considered user intent and done all you can to feature your content in search results enhancements, take your efforts one step further and localize it. Often described as hyperlocal targeting, localizing your content means adding local indicators within your copy to tie it to a particular city or region. For example, if you have a hospital in New York City, don’t only talk generally on your website about the cardiology services and treatments you offer. Instead, talk about your New York City cardiologists. Better yet, drill down to the borough or neighborhood level and talk about cardiology services in Manhattan, Harlem or Soho. And even better still, mention area landmarks and cross streets where applicable, and if it’s not awkward to insert it, because you don’t want to sacrifice readability here. The more colocalized you make your content though the better. This will help your web pages appear not only on desktop searches but also in the mobile index, which focuses even more on serving up content close-by to its users.

If your website isn’t showing in search results, it’s an indication that search engines may deem what’s on it to be irrelevant and unhelpful. It means you may not providing users with the answers they need when they seek information online. Hey, we’ve all been there. We think we’re creating this great website content, but it’s just not ranking well. If this were a static billboard on the side of the interstate that bears a message that isn’t resonating, that would be a big problem. But we’re not relegated to the side of the road. We are online people, and the beauty of the digital world is that it’s nearly always tweakable. If your website content isn’t ranking, do a little research and remember the three key points of appropriately targeted web content: focus, features, and localization.

One way or another, we are all trying to optimize for the user experience. Whether that’s via focused web content or an intuitive web design, Google is no different. In fact, they’re known to run hundreds of experiments at a time to test changes to the search results page, all in an effort to improve the UX and keep users coming back to their search engine. One such way Google has recently focused on providing users with the best possible experience is in their recent penalization of sites that present users with popups or interstitials immediately upon page load. While some popups are okay, primarily those that don’t cover the entire screen or are legally required, such as to confirm user age, interstitials that prohibit users from viewing a majority of the page could cause you SEO harm. If you’re currently using popups on your site, be sure to read Google’s new quality guidelines carefully and make the necessary changes to your web strategy to avoid penalties.

Another way Google has worked to improve the user experience is by appealing to our impatience. A pretty universal experience most people loathe is poor page load speed, and I for one am one of those people. As we talked about before, 40% of people abandon a website that takes longer than three seconds to load, and I think most of us have probably been there. And it’s one of Google’s primary drivers for the creation of AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages. Unlike regular web content, AMP content is written with special code, developed by Google and then cached with its images on the Google server. This causes the page to load 4 times faster than the average web page and use 10 times less data. While AMP content doesn’t get an SEO boost per se, it is eligible to appear in AMP carousels on mobile, which often appear near the top of Google search results. Even without the SEO boost, this puts a substantial focus on AMP content on mobile, which can lead to higher click through rates and more visibility for your website.

And last but not least, and probably Google’s biggest user experience change this year, was to create separate desktop and mobile indexes, and make the mobile index its primary one that will remain more up to date than the desktop version. What does this mean for you? Well, if you already have a responsive website, and hopefully most of you do, it probably won’t mean much. If you still have a separate mobile site though, make sure it contains the same content as your desktop site and that it’s verified in Google Search Console. There are two areas though that will affect both those with responsive sites and those with mobile sites. For one, it may become even more important to optimize your content for search results enhancements, since mobile organic results seem to dwindle more and more by the day, must to most of our chagrin. This means you may need to consider buying mobile focused PPC ads and tweaking your content to be better suited to appear in featured snippets and related questions panels.

Two: you may need to adjust your strategy for placing tabs and accordions on your web pages. Since content with in tabs and accordions is often conducive to a positive mobile experience in that it creates a less cumbersome scroll, nothing will happen to how that content is viewed on the mobile index. As of this point, the same can’t be said for the desktop index however. Since there’s more room for content to display on a desktop, Google considers that anything is hidden so to speak, within tabs or accordions, must be a sign of lesser importance. If you want to ensure the content you have within accordions and tabs, you weight it the same as your other content on desktop while still remaining visible on mobile, talk to your Web vendor. They can walk you through the different options you have to ensure you don’t take an SEO hit because of these changes.

Next, let’s touch on a topic that’s related in another way to featured snippets and enhancements to the search engine results pages, voice search. Over the last six months, nearly 42% of people started using voice search. Google says nearly 20% of all mobile queries are currently voice searches, and Microsoft predicts that by 2020 that number will actually be around 50%. So how do you optimize your content for not only mobile devices, but also assistance like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa? Well, for now, it’s actually pretty similar to what we just talked about for content. Ensure your content is eligible for SERP features and enhancements, SERP standing for Search Engine Results Page. Often when mobile devices and voice assistance read back answers they find for a query, they read the text called out in an instant answer box or featured snippet. Others pull content from FAQ type pages on your site that provide easily digestible, but valuable, chunks of information that quickly answer questions. At the moment, optimizing for voice search is not that dissimilar from optimizing for users in general. Try to write your web content in a way that effectively and efficiently answers questions users frequently ask. That makes your content more likely to show up in featured snippets and other enhancements, which also incidentally makes it more likely to be featured as a voice search answer.

Looking to the future though, you may need to adjust your tactics, and one of the changes you might have to make is in how you perform your organic keyword research. Traditional keyword research focuses on how people write out questions, often in short phrases and truncated sentences. Instead, voice search focused keyword research will need to emphasize how people talk about the questions they have. Compared to typing a search query, users often speak in longer phrases and complete sentences, which makes sense. This slightly shifts how content may need to be written in order to properly answer a question though, leading to a more complex content development strategy than we’ve ever had to consider before. And as voice search already starts to push its way into new markets, such as paid ads, something that has recently been explored by Amazon’s Alexa, it will be more important than ever to develop a solid organic presence on which to build your voice search strategy.

And one way to do that is with structured data markup. Structured data markup, or schema, helps search engines categorize the content on your website and better understand its meaning, like we talked a little bit about before. This helps pages of your site or information about your organization pull into search results in more appropriate and relevant ways, including in Google’s rich snippet features. And given the ever increasing presence of these features in search results, particularly now that they’re even replacing some regular organic links, not appearing in them could deal a pretty serious blow to your web traffic and site visibility and no one wants that. But schema’s also caused a fundamental shift in the way we think about web content. It’s no longer just about the words on the page. It’s now almost as equally about categorizing that content into entities, the people, places, and things that make up your online presence, and then linking that information to each other. Let’s take UNC Health Care as an example, since it’s a large organization made up of other organizations that each have their own web presences. What schema does is link all those entities together. Instead of thinking of UNC Medical Center as its own standalone organization, schema can link it to the larger UNC Health Care organization, labeling that entity as the parent to UNC Medical Center. But UNC Health Care is also the parent organization of UNC REX Health Care. Because of that, UNC Medical Center and UNC REX Health Care are now more obviously linked together as related entities online.

Taking it further, schema can also link online profiles to your web presence, signaling the search engines that certain Facebook profiles, Twitter feeds, YouTube pages and more are related to your website. So basically, schema helps search engines connect the dots about the scope of your web presence. It links together all the bits and pieces of related information across the Web, so Google and others can see it as being smaller parts of a larger whole. And since search engines no longer have to do it themselves, the linking happens more quickly and more accurately. One benefit of this is that it could help you rank better for certain queries, due largely to Google’s enhanced understanding of the content on your site and presence across the Web. But appearing in the previously mentioned rich snippet features aren’t to be underestimated, particularly since voice search results often read featured content back to users as answers to their questions, like we just talked about. And that’s really what search engines nowadays are about, answering users’ questions and meeting their needs, which brings us to our next topic incidentally, business listings, also known on Google as the local Knowledge Graph.

Previously, Google maintained that you couldn’t use the information that appeared on your website to directly impact what appeared in your business listings. They were completely separate entities and never the two shall meet or influence each other, at least in a way that we could control. That’s not the case anymore though. Because of the rise in the robustness and complexity of schema markup, as well as Google’s ability to pull information from across the Web and understand its relationship to each other, structured data on your website will now actually soon be used to directly influence what appears in your local listings. That means if you have schema markup on your site that lists your hours of operation, it could help update the information that appears here. And if you use markup that links your web presence to your social media accounts, it could help populate the links that appear here. And better yet, if you’re a provider, including ratings and reviews markup on your site could help build out a more robust provider local listing by including a link to your website here.

Ensuring consumers can find accurate information in local listings, such as a name, address, and phone number, among other things, is essential. And because business listings pop up at the top of search results, particularly on mobile, it’s important to claim and maintain them over time. This helps provides users with trustworthy data about your services that matches what you have listed everywhere else online. It also directs them to the information they need at any given moment, whether that’s a link to your website to learn more about your services, or directions to your office while they’re on their way to an appointment. The last thing you want is for someone to use an inaccurate address in an unclaimed business listing to lead them on a wild goose chase to find your office. That does not add up to a great user experience.

Claiming these profiles also provides further benefits to you, as it allows you the opportunity to monitor and respond to reviews, and evaluate how users engage with your listings via analytics insights. And let me tell you, the data it provides is exceedingly helpful. For example, you can see if your listing popped up because someone searched for you directly, or because they searched for a related category or service. Even more helpful still, you could learn whether users saw your listing on a search results page or via Google Maps, and whether they used the listing to visit your website, request directions, or to call you. You can even break it down further to see how many phone calls you get each day of the week from users who click on the call button that appears on mobile. So to make sure you’re there when users search for you, remember the three Cs of business listings: claimed, consistent, and correct.

Another way to market yourself on the search engine results page is via pay-per-click ads, also known as PPC, which we’ll touch on briefly here. While it’s in your best interest to target your organic content to users actively looking to make healthcare decisions, it can sometimes be helpful to use PPC ads to attract healthcare users at the top of the funnel. Given the domain authority of sites like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and the Cleveland Clinic, it’s often difficult for local healthcare organizations to rank for medical terms that have more of a research focus. If you’d like your site to appear somewhere in search for those terms, purchasing ads for them may be the only affordable way for you to do so, as the time and money required to develop content that competes against those bigger sites is often unfeasible for most institutions and organizations. When buying keywords, be sure to avoid purchasing those for which you already rank well organically. This could cause you to pay for traffic you already were getting for free. Instead, check to see where there are gaps in your organic search rankings. If you’re losing out on traffic for terms important to you because you’re too far down the page or not even on the first page at all, consider purchasing them while you build up your site’s SEO. Then, once your organic rankings start to improve in those areas, you can refocus your PPC spend elsewhere.

And what’s great about this strategy is that once you find keywords in ad copy that resonate with your users, you can actually use it to improve your website copy and meta descriptions to better attract free traffic to your site. One final thing you’ll want to consider with page search is how it’s constantly changing and expanding. Last year around this time, we saw the removal of all ads from the right column of search results. This placed even more ads above and below organic content. Now, we’re seeing paid start to appear in the local three pack that used to just contain organic business listings. As ads continue to make their way into areas that used to be dominated by purely organic results, we’ll want to pay even more attention to integrated search marketing and how we balance our paid and free traffic.

Up until recently, digital marketers have been primarily concerned with a website’s domain authority and how implementing certain strategic tactics can make it stronger, because the stronger your domain, the more likely it is that your website will rank for valuable terms and phrases. But that’s not necessarily the case anymore, at least not solely. Now entity authority is just as important and growing even more important every day. For those of you still new to the term, entity authority refers to the strength of your brand and it’s knowability, both in the digital and offline ecosystems. And unfortunately, building up your entity authority is even more complicated and time consuming than what’s needed to build domain authority, which most of us know is not easy. And that’s because entity authority takes into account everything that goes into creating a solid domain authority plus all of your offline efforts and market reputation, including how widely known you are, what people are saying about you, and how engaged people are with your brand.

For example, a successful billboard could drive increased traffic to your site. If those users then have an engaging experience, it could lead them to recommend your services and link to your site from elsewhere on the Web. This will help drive even more traffic and strengthen your SEO. Conversely, a bad experience offline, even if it’s completely unrelated to the services you offer, could negatively impact your SEO. For example, let’s say you work for a hospital in a religiously conservative part of the country. One of your most well-known, qualified, and celebrated doctors is involved in a scandal that upsets local residents. This causes them to leave terrible reviews about the provider on Yelp, mentioning him as untrustworthy, even though the scandal had nothing to do with his ability to practice medicine. Since those star ratings and in some cases the excerpts from the reviews themselves show up on Google’s search results page, these unfavorable brand mentions cause fewer users to click through to your site. This leads to a decrease in traffic, referral links, and likely online conversions for this provider. Your SEO and downstream revenue have now been impacted by something completely unrelated to your organizations ability to provide high quality medical care.

From official PR tactics to unofficial interactions with the public, everything you and those associated with your brand do for good or bad plays a role in how people and subsequently Google and other search engines see your brand. By building your reputation in the marketplace, you gain public trust and awareness, and this is more important than ever now that those traditional, organic links to your website are dwindling from search results in favor of SERP enhancements that call out particular mentions of your brand and/or web presence. Soon SEO tactics alone will not be enough to make your mark. Google and other search engines are now smart enough to connect your online presence to that successful billboard or that offline scandal. And when your algorithms decide where you belong in the ever diminishing organic search results, it’s probably safe to bet that they’ll be considering all the information they have about you, good or bad.

To stay relevant and maintain a strong presence, build up your brand holistically, both offline and online. This includes strengthening your presence elsewhere, digitally on platforms such as Facebook, Alexa, and Siri, where you’re sure to drive higher marketing ROI than in other more congested markets. Better yet, coordinate all of your marketing efforts so they flow together. Your website traffic will thank you, and so will your budget, because the more you coordinate, the less you actually end up spending.

I thought I’d add a little extra bonus section here to dispel some common SEO misconceptions and cut through some of the BS and flashy buzzwords that you hear about SEO. This buzzword and a little bit of BS is hyperlocal marketing. So this phrase is often thrown around when talking about both SEO and PPC, and is really just a flashy way of talking about local marketing. In some cases, it can be used to refer to super, specific marketing tactics, like targeting neighborhoods, cross streets, and nearby landmarks, as we talked about in the example I used previously for New York City. Likewise, in PPC, it’s often used to talk about targeting people based on their zip code, and potentially further optimizing ad content by inserting the types of local indicators I just mentioned. In most cases, agencies that talk about focused PPC campaigns already target at the hyperlocal level when it’s appropriate, and if they know how to do their jobs well. And most digital marketers know that the more specific you get with SEO, the more qualified leads they’ll send to your site.

When shopping around for an agency though, it’s probably best to ask about this topic specifically, as it can often by the case that’s someone’s charging you more money for a sexier sounding word, but not necessarily a more robust amount of work. Common misconception: keyword optimization is bad SEO. We kind of hit on this before, but I think it bears repeating. Keyword research is not a dirty SEO tactic. Poor keyword research is and spammy keyword research definitely is, including such black hat SEO tactics as stuffing, hiding text, and content duplication. But true user focused keyword research is a smart tactic to ensure that your website content is focused on the right topics to build your web content around the ideal user experience. Another misconception: meta descriptions impact SEO. So this one is actually true but only kind of. While the text in an HTML page title can directly impact how Google ranks your site as it crawls the text looking for keywords that match the user query, meta descriptions only impact SEO indirectly. Even though it’s content isn’t indexed for the purpose of keywords, meta descriptions still play an important role in helping Google determine where to position your listing on the results page.

And why is that? Well, it’s because Google takes the click through rate on your listings into consideration when ordering its results. The more enticing you make your meta description, the more likely users are to click through to your page content. And the more you have users click through to your page content, the more likely your listing is to move up in the search engine results page, because Google now sees it as providing valuable content that users want. But there’s an important point of note here. Even when your meta descriptions have content in them, Google still reserves the right to remove the copy that’s there and replace it with copy it strips from your page, if it feels that the scraped copy better answers the user’s question. The better the meta description sounds and the better it answers the user’s question, the less chance you have of Google replacing what you put there with something else you might not want.

And a final misconception: 404s hurt your SEO. I’ve heard many people say that others have told them that 404 errors, or the error your website returns when a page you try to visit isn’t found, negatively impact your SEO. This is not the case. While an abundance of 404s can affect the user experience, it doesn’t directly harm your SEO. Google considers 404s just a natural part of the Web. It would be nearly impossible to prevent one from ever occurring. And since technically, anyone could accidentally create one for you by typing in a URL incorrectly on your site, it would be far too easy for a shady competitor of yours to just purposely spam you with a bunch of 404 errors to harm your rankings. That being said, if you know you have 404s that should legitimately have 301 redirects attached to them, please apply them and help transfer page authority to the new URL, but from a 404 perspective, having them on your site won’t hurt your search engine rankings. And so there you have it. Now that our brains are sufficiently fried and overloaded, you have the top 10 things that you should be doing right now to help your healthcare consumers through search.

But let’s not forget what’s coming, as it’s always helpful to be aware of how your tactics might need to change. Machine learning and artificial intelligence. We’ve seen this a little bit with Google’s RankBrain, which learns from search and uses it to improve its results, but machine learning is now starting to pop up more and more. Microsoft has already used it to improve its Bing voice search, and Google has also used it to advance its android software. Some have said that the AI improvements, based on deep learning that’s inspired by the structure of the human brain, have even caused the android voice search to surpass Apple’s Siri in intelligence. Who knows? Maybe next year when it comes time for Geonetric to give its yearly update on the state of SEO, some form of artificial intelligence will be speaking on my behalf. All right. Happy to answer any questions you guys may have.

Host: Awesome. Thank you, Joanna. So, like Joanna said, we are gonna be taking a few questions here. Looks like we have one on “Do you have any suggested keyword research tools?”

Joanna: Yeah, so actually quite a few of them, and it kind of depends on what you want to do with the keyword research. So Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a good way to get some suggestions for keywords but also search volume, so you know roughly how many people are searching for certain things in your area in any given period of time. You could also use Authority Labs to track what words you’re currently ranking for, but some other keyword research tools that are really helpful are Maza’s [SP] Keyword Tool, KW Finder. and SEMrush, all three of those do a pretty good job of giving you not only information about the words that you’re searching for, but additional information about competition level for those terms, other related terms that people also search when they search things like that. So it can help build out some more robust content on your site for related ideas.

Host: Awesome. Another one here we have says, “How does the use of third party health encyclopedia content affect our SEO?”

Joanna: So that really depends on how it’s implemented on your site, and if you want to send me a message after the webinar, I can probably answer it a little bit more specifically to your situation. It has a lot to do with whether you have canonical URLs inserted on the back end, if you have the pages crawlable or not. If the pages are marked as a no index or don’t crawl, it’s not going to impact your SEO at all. So while users on the front end can see that information, search engines effectively act like it doesn’t exist. If you have it crawlable by search engines, but you have canonicals on the back end, basically acknowledging that this is syndicated content and that you are pointing to the publisher or the original publisher of that information as the single source of truth, it’s not going to negatively impact your SEO because of the duplicate content, but you’re not gonna also get real credit for that content either, because it’s linking back to that original source. So in most cases, health library content is really about providing the users on your site with additional information about specific topics or conditions and treatments that you don’t necessarily have the time or resources or money to build out additional content on on your site, for like those really super, specific things that maybe not everybody really wants to learn a lot about. But for the most part, it’s not actively helping your SEO. So it’s good for the user experience, in terms of providing more information, but not a good or effective way of building out a more robust SEO strategy for your site.

Host: Okay. We have a question here from Warren. He’s wondering about tools for page ranking and wondering if that is still important. I’m not sure if we need more clarification with that or if that’s something that you think you can answer right now.

Joanna: A little bit… So if you’re talking about Google’s page rank, Google did announce not too long ago that they consider, like, what the used to use as page rank numbers is not really something that they consider anymore, and it’s not something that they’re, like, actively keeping on top of. You can use tools like Authority Labs to get an idea of what your individual pages are ranking for certain queries, but in terms of Google’s page rank that they used to make the rankings for a little bit more well-known, that’s not really something that is as important anymore or that they’re at least keeping on top of in terms of updating those ranking numbers.

Host: Okay. And Pamela is wondering what type of content is best for AMP. I know you covered that a little early in the presentation, but…

Joanna: I would say the thing that’s usually most popular right now for AMP content are news articles, as they usually appear up at the top of search engine results in those carousels on mobile. And so right now I would say if you’re gonna focus in one area, I would focus on news articles and blog articles that are going to pop up in those carousels.

Host: Okay. Darren is wondering if we offer Google business listing cleanup. If not, who do you recommend to do this? Darren, we will probably follow up with you after the webinar and talk a little bit more about that. Other than that, it looks like that’s pretty much all the questions that we have for right now. So thanks again, everybody, for joining us, and just have a couple things. If you stuck around until now, again, thank you so much. Your patience and your attentiveness will be duly rewarded. We do wanna let you know that we’re offering 15 of today’s attendees a free SEO assessment, so if that is something that you’re interested in, you can check yes to question four in the post webinar survey. There’s another little shameless plug there for the post webinar survey, but also, if you visit geonetric.com/webinars, you can register for next month’s webinar on web design, or you can watch any of our other on demand webinars if you have some extra downtime. And again, with that being said, thanks everybody so much for joining us, and have a good rest of your day.

SEO for Healthcare: Reaching Healthcare Consumers Through Search