Search engine optimization. It’s not at the top of the list of favorite tasks for any healthcare marketing professional we know.
Yet SEO is an integral tool for any marketing plan. It’s often overlooked or ignored because the topic is complex and the tasks around SEO feel like busywork.
Or, marketers undertake an SEO program because they have to. Over time, you might discover that your nonprofit health agency is having trouble expanding your audience, or your hospital network’s service areas aren’t growing the way you’d expect. You might discover that your website traffic is static or decreasing, or that competitors are consistently ranking higher than your organization in search results.
In short, a shoddy SEO strategy can sneak up on you. Then you’ve got a lot of work to do.
SEO, in part, is about optimizing your website (both the content and the infrastructure) so that it ranks highly on a search results page — and, in turn, so that your site attracts a steady flow of visitors. A smart SEO strategy generates free, organic traffic (as opposed to a paid keyword campaign that costs you per click). According to the Digital Marketing Institute, 70% to 80% of traffic to a given website comes from organic search results rather than promoted results.
People research health concerns and look for providers online. For organizations and nonprofits focused on physical and mental health, a high search ranking makes it possible for people who need your services to find you.
Search engines like Google (and we’ll use Google as our universal example here because it’s the dominant platform) constantly scan websites to identify new content and to determine what each page is about. Its goal is to deliver the most relevant results when someone types a phrase like “heart doctors near me” into the search box.
There are basically two categories of SEO: onsite (what you can do on your own digital platforms, including page keywords, headers, subheaders, tags, etc.) and offsite (activities that take place outside your website to raise your site’s ranking, such as links from other sites to yours, which Google uses to determine that your site is a legitimate source of information).
Let’s focus on what your marketing and development teams can control: onsite SEO. Fortunately, the content management system behind your website makes optimization tasks fairly easy. If your team has lost focus on SEO, here are four steps to take:
Gather site traffic and search data from your web manager. Compare your search results to competitors. Look at this data over time to chart any upward or downward trends. Then examine key site pages in the CMS administrative view to see whether all the appropriate tagging, metadata, and headers are in place. (If you don’t have time to do an SEO audit, let us know; we help healthcare organizations and community nonprofits build better, more effective websites.)
Then, create a plan to implement recommendations. Prioritize the homepage and main navigational pages, then services pages (which are ripe for adding keywords and are the pages most often seen by patients), then blog posts (prioritize key topics, or the most recent posts).
Realistically, it will take time to do this work, but you need to set a deadline and milestones, or the project might fall by the wayside.
The SEO audit will also reveal the words and phrases people in your community enter into a search box when they’re looking for a doctor, mental health provider, or health service agency. Use that to build a keyword library. Online tools like Semrush and Moz can also identify relevant search terms.
One major point on keywords for healthcare marketers: Be sure you’re using language that laypeople use to search for your services instead of medical terminology. For example, your practice may use the spelling ‘orthopaedics’ but most people use the common spelling ‘orthopedics.’
You may need to update major content on key site pages, and you’ll certainly want to adopt key phrases for your blog and other ongoing content. In Web 1.0 days, marketers would write online content full of keywords hoping to attract Google’s attention, which made that content convoluted and hard to read. Today, that’s not the objective; in fact, Google penalizes pages it thinks are unusually loaded with keywords.
The challenge, then, is to write content that’s logical and helpful to your audience, with contextual keywords that help people searching for your services find you.
You may also need to increase your content publishing strategy. The more frequently you post new material, the more frequently Google will index your site. Regularly updating service pages or adding a blog post once a week will help catch Google’s attention.
Headings and subheadings, page slugs, meta tags, focus keywords, excerpts, meta descriptions, image alt text … your Content Management System (along with any add-on SEO tools) is full of opportunities to elevate each page in search results. These elements help search engines identify what’s on each page, but they only work if you put the relevant words in place. Ignore these content fields at your peril.
Anyone looking for a healthcare provider or information about mental health services or wellness programs will go to the internet. Yes, word of mouth is still relevant, but people will always do further research online. So make it easy for people to find you. Rarely do users get to the second page of search results; they won’t keep hunting.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to improving your site’s performance in search rankings. But we advise our clients that something is better than nothing, and now is better than later. SEO strategy may not be a lot of fun, but it’s an essential part of your marketing. We can take the work off your hands.
Tenth Crow Creative is a brand marketing agency that creates, aligns, and promotes the external and internal messaging for organizations that support living healthier lives. Through insightful branding and compelling marketing campaigns, we help these essential organizations find their identities and effectively communicate to their stakeholders so they can fulfill their missions.