Over the past year, marketing has taken a back seat for a lot of practices. COVID-19 put a lot of strain on practices, from process changes to personnel changes and in some cases, budget constraints. Practices were just doing what they had to do to keep things moving, so marketing naturally fell off the radar.
Things might not be totally back to “normal” just yet (and some things may never be the same again), but in most cases it’s settled down enough that practices can regroup and start paying attention to their marketing again. If your practice is at this stage, your first question will probably be “Where do I start after all this time?”
This is a topic we’ve recently discussed on our Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast (sponsored by our parent company, Health Connective). In Part 1 of our 3-part Marketing Refresher Series, we discussed five foundational elements of SEO that practices should check on a regular basis. Here, we’ll talk more about those 5 SEO elements your practice should review regularly, whether you are currently ranking well or have room for improvement.
1. Make sure your website is visible to search engines.
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times we’ve seen websites actively being blocked from search engines just because someone forgot to change a website setting or a tag.
How does this happen in the first place? Well, there are legitimate reasons why you might want to block a website from search results for a certain period of time. Web developers might do this while the website is undergoing a redesign, or if there are a lot of content changes taking place to ensure that search engines don’t index content that isn’t in its final state. So, they will add what’s called a “noindex” tag to either the whole site or pages under construction.
If the site is in WordPress, all it takes is a button click to set the site to “noindex,” which quite literally tells search engines not to index those pages. In the midst of the launch process, someone may have forgotten to remove those tags or change those settings. Luckily, it’s an easy fix, but it may take awhile to recover your search activity if your site has been out of the index for a while.
2. Review your keyword targeting.
Best practices for keyword targeting have changed a lot over the last decade, so it is important to keep up with the latest standards to retain the ranking you have built up and improve your ranking in other areas. It’s also important to review the keywords your practice is targeting currently in reference to your website content. Do those keywords still align with what your practice wants to target? Does your current content align with those keyword targeting goals?
Additionally, you have to make sure that your practice’s keyword targeting goals are realistic. Some practices have a tendency to want to rank for everything, but that doesn’t always make the most sense for your business goals. You want to target the keywords that best align with the pathologies and procedures your providers want the most so that they can get more of those types of patients.
In some cases, it might not even be possible. For example, if you simply type “hip replacement” into Google search, you aren’t likely to see local practices in the search results beyond the maps and ads. This is because Google now understands that a person is more likely to be looking for general information about what a hip replacement is. So the search results include informational pieces from sites like WebMD, AAOS, and large institutions like Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins.
On the other hand, if you did a search like “hip replacement near me” or “hip replacement in New Orleans,” then Google understands that you are looking for a local provider and will give you results from practices in the area. It’s no longer possible to compete on really general keywords–you have to go after those longer, more specific keywords to actually have a chance at ranking.
Also, this should really go without saying at this point, but please make sure your website isn’t using outdated tactics like keyword stuffing to try to rank. Those techniques haven’t worked for nearly a decade.
3. Check your quality score / page speed.
Quality score is mainly a Google Ads metric, but a lot of the same principles apply to organic search optimization as well. Keeping with the hip replacement example, let’s say you have a hip replacement page, and you want it to rank for the relevant keywords we discussed above. Does the content thoroughly explain the concept of a hip replacement at your practice? The content on the page not only has to be relevant to be high-quality, but also has to have enough depth that the reader isn’t left with a ton of additional questions. A couple of paragraphs is not going to suffice here.
Another very important aspect of page quality is the load time. Google is increasingly placing importance on page speed, so if your website takes forever to load, that could be a real problem. Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a great way to quickly check on your page speed (make sure to check both desktop and mobile) and get some insights on what might be slowing your site down. Sometimes, speed can be affected by things you can see, like pop-up messages or lots of on-page imagery and video. Other times, it can be affected by things you can’t see, like the site’s code. This report will give you a starting point to take back to your web developer if there are any speed issues that need to be addressed.
Finally, in addition to checking page speed for mobile, make sure your website is just as easy to navigate on mobile devices as it is on desktop. An increasing amount of people are using mobile devices to search for and view websites, so it’s important that people are able to access what they need from their smartphones.
4. Make sure your Google My Business listings and other location data is up to date.
Online listings, especially Google My Business, are among the fundamental building blocks for local SEO. You want to make sure that all of your listings are up to date, consistent with one another, and consistent with the location and contact information you have on your website.
Not only does this help ensure that you are getting patients to the right place if they use Google Maps or the like to navigate to your office, but it also signals to search engines that you are a legitimate brick and mortar business. Incorrect information could not only lead your patients in the wrong direction, but also creates “doubt” in the search engine algorithm about what information to show. As a result, you might not get shown at all or may have a lower ranking than you might have had otherwise.
Even if all of your listings were up to date last time you checked in, and your address, phone number, hours, etc. have not changed since then, there are still reasons to check in regularly. First, Google allows users to report “errors” with business listings and may automatically make changes to your listings based on those reports. You can change back anything that is inaccurate, but you need to be paying attention to catch those changes.
Also, Google My Business and other online directories will sometimes add new features that allow you to provide more information on your listings. For example, a big change over the last year was the addition of COVID-19 information links and telemedicine links on listings for medical practices, allowing prospective patients to click directly over to the practice’s COVID policies or information about scheduling a telemedicine appointment. Google usually adds new features like this because people are seeking out that information about a business, so it would be beneficial for you to supply information for those new features.
5. Look into featured snippet opportunities for no-click searches.
Another big change in search activity has been the rise of “no-click” searches. These are those knowledge boxes or featured snippets you see in Google search results for certain searches that provide information directly within the search results, so users don’t have to click through to a website.
Google created these featured snippets because it benefits them to keep users on their site. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t also use featured snippets to your practice’s advantage. You should review search results regularly to see what types of featured snippets are showing up in searches relevant to your practice, and then update your content to align with the type of information provided in those snippets. In the healthcare space, the Q&A featured snippets are pretty common. Even better, the snippets still feature a link over to the source material, so users can click to read more.
Once you’ve updated your practice’s content to optimize for featured snippets, there are also code additions called schema that help Google better recognize and understand the content. It’s definitely beneficial, but we recommend working with someone who understands schema to make sure it’s set up correctly.
The Importance of Regular SEO Checkups
Though the past year caused a lot of disruption, many practices weren’t regularly checking in on SEO before that. SEO is no longer “set it and forget it,” and it hasn’t been for many years. The longer you wait between check-ins, the greater chance you have at falling behind (and the more time, effort, and money it takes to recover if you do).
Whether your practice has an in-house marketing person who can handle these check-ins, or you have a marketing agency help out, you need to be thinking about these SEO check-ups at least once a year, and ideally more often. Just like your car needs regular maintenance to keep running, your web presence needs those regular tune-ups to ensure you maintain and grow the search presence you’ve built over the years.