Google is not the doctor, you are
One in 20 searches on Google are health related, and typing (soon enough, speaking) symptoms became the default behaviour for medical questions. Health-related searches can have multiple goals – to learn about symptoms, to decide what action to take, to understand if it is serious or not – but most queries share one same goal: people are looking for help and for someone who can answer the doubts they have to ease their minds.
Google look at more than 200 factors when deciding which page to rank but content is one of the top three. Original, well researched, engaging and up to date content will help your page rank. As a doctor or clinic, you’re in an excellent position to provide unique and relevant content to users. You know better than anyone what people’s fears are when it comes to your field of expertise, what questions they have, which symptoms are more likely to worry them, what triggers an action, etc. The answers that people find on search engines are not always accurate or clinically relevant, and sometimes they only leave people more worried than they initially were.
There is space to provide content that is unique, factual, easy to understand and (somewhat) reassuring. Taking advantage of this will benefit your organic traffic and onsite engagement, especially if you prepare yourself to be at hand when people search for a query that you want to rank for. One way of doing that, especially in the medical niche, is to provide high-quality information and to be valuable, relatable and accessible. Below, I’m going to explain what each of these means and how they can benefit you.
In this niche, it’s not always easy to offer a competitive advantage – cost, type of treatment, a partnership with insurance companies, etc. However, this isn’t to say there aren’t many ways you can differentiate yourself and create added value.
If you have a well-defined brand, you can position your business within the market and differentiate yourself from your competitors more easily. This impact will change how people perceive you, what meanings they attribute to your brand, and it will also help you define a strategy that goes beyond getting more patients. This strategy is always the ultimate goal, but there are several ways of getting there. You know your space offline, but knowing your space online will help you project your brand onto everything you do and, ultimately, rank better for the most relevant keywords for your business. Below, some questions that can help you define your brand and understand your online environment:
- As a doctor or clinic, what are your strengths? Think products, but go beyond that. Think about the values you stand for, what your patients most like about you, what do you stand for as a business?
- Which keywords bring people to your site and which keywords do you want to rank for? You can get this information through tools like SEMrush, AWR Cloud, Google Search Console.
- Which keywords do your competitors rank for and what are those outranking you doing differently? Where do you think you can do better?
As said above, content is a ranking signal, and one of the best ways for you to create value. Some practitioners’ websites have content that is either difficult to read due to the medical jargon, or not very different from their competitors or particularly engaging. Make sure your content is factual and up to date but that it also reflects you who are. One study found that many health websites contained large amounts of text, making it difficult for users to find information. Always structure your content, organise it with bullet points, and take advantage of all the formats that you can use.
Google now rolls out direct answers for medical queries. When someone searches for a specific symptom, Google will return a list of related conditions, symptoms and self-treatment options. In other words, people will access medical facts without even clicking on a page. While this is bad news for your site traffic, by providing factual information on your website, you can become a resource for Google. Think about the questions that your patients have and offer well-structured content.
This industry is a very particular niche, and one size doesn’t fit all. The motivations behind a single keyword can vary greatly from one person to another. A good SEO strategy should have in mind, that in this niche, trust and resonance are crucial. Looking at long tail keywords can help you understand at a deeper level what people want to know and what’s relevant for them. Of course, this data can also be gathered from other sources such as what your patients say, or how people express themselves in forums. Doing this research can help set up the tone and create content that resonates with different people.
There are tools like Answer The Public that can inspire your content strategy; they organise the information in a way that you can easily understand what people are searching for and the questions they’re asking. Not all queries are equally relevant for you, but that’s where knowing your brand and your business strengths come in.
One way of finding out which long keywords drive traffic to your site is to go to Google Search Console, under ‘Search Traffic’ click on ‘Search Analytics’ and filter queries by expressions like ‘how’ or ‘why’.
When people land on your website, it is important to make them feel comfortable and understood from the very first moment. There are several ways of building trust, one of them is making people feel they are being listened to and understood and that the doctor/clinic has experience in that niche. Some things to look at to make visitors feel understood:
All of the colours, images and organisation of your website should reflect your brand, but they should also communicate with visitors. Colours, pictures, tone, language; all of these elements will send a message to your website visitors.
Language is paramount. Medical information can be difficult for the lay user to understand and it can leave people more confused than they initially were. It is important to be accurate and professional, yet it’s also important to demystify medical terms and use a language that people can understand effortlessly. Ask non-doctors to read your content and make sure it is understandable and easy to read.
Testimonials and blog posts
Testimonials can be a great way to build resonance with your visitors. By reading other people’s experiences, visitors are more likely to trust you. One important thing to keep in mind is to never fake testimonials or reviews as these can easily sound fake and reduce trust. If you don’t want to stuff your website with articles about different topics, you can use the blog section to address more specific issues (e.g. questions you found on your long tail keyword research), and you can link to the blog post from the category page.
One of the reasons why forums and communities are so important in this niche is because people get answers from peers that are more likely to be honest (even if not as accurate or scientific as a doctor). According to this study, the biggest difference between answers that people find on search engines and forums is that the community responds to the specific question (not always the case with search engines) while providing personal experience and a way to resolve it. Your website and content strategy won’t replace these communities, but it can learn from them and provide something that these communities do not always offer: neutral and factual information.
- Go to forums, create a profile and answer people’s questions. This is a good way of positioning yourself as an industry leader and at the same time learn more about what questions people have, what worries them and what they want to know.
- Go beyond stereotypes or bland descriptions on your content. This a highly personal subject that each person experiences differently. You can’t have content for all possible scenarios, but with proper keyword research it is possible to go beyond the ‘what is it’, ‘what are the symptoms’ and ‘what are the treatments’.
Search is evolving, and so are the ways in which you can be presented to your target. By keeping track of the latest trends, you optimise your presence and are more easily accessible.
As a clinic, you’ll want to list all of your locations on Google Business. This ensures that your clinics show up on Google Maps and then when someone is nearby, or searching for a clinic in a particular location, your location can show up. If you’re a multi-location practice, you can list all locations. You can add info about your clinic, such as opening times, phone numbers, and images. You can even add a 360-degree video of the interior of your clinic.
What’s also interesting is that once you’ve listed your clinic and verified the location, you can access data such as how many people saw your local listing, how many asked for directions, and how many visited your website through the social listing.
With nearly 60% searches now happening on a mobile device, and Google implementing the mobile first index anytime soon, your mobile presence is as important as your desktop presence. What this index means is that Google will crawl websites from a mobile point of view instead of a desktop, which is how is has happened until now. If you don’t know if your website is mobile friendly, you can go and check it here. Make sure your content reads well on mobile, especially if it’s a format other than text, and that users can navigate around it easily.
Mobile users searching for professional services like practitioners are more likely to act, hence why you will benefit from a good mobile website and Google local listings. According to a study by Nielsen/Telmetrics/xAd, 70% of conversions happen within 5 hours of mobile search.
Beyond the mobile first index, you can also think of how technology can enhance your practice. Many people use health-related apps, and there is a growing interest in health related topics and lifestyle. Technology is impacting how people ‘consume’ health, one example is the Uber logic applied to health – some startups enable individuals to call doctors through an app.
Google says 20% of mobile searches are voice searches, and this means a higher usage of natural language instead of using queries as we first knew them. Optimise your pages for more natural, conversational language, instead of focusing on ‘headache on one side’, consider ‘why do I have a headache on one side only?’. One way of taking advantage of voice search is by getting listed on Google Quick Answers, and you have a chance of being featured there if you provide answers to the questions people ask the most. Also, one of the biggest uses of voice search is for local searches, so don’t forget to optimise your local presence listings.
The better the user experience, the more likely you are to rank for your target keywords and improve engagement and conversions. However, this should always be combined with solid SEO housekeeping. Technical SEO and On-page SEO are a vital part of any SEO strategy. There are many factors that impact your On-page SEO (Backlinko put together a very useful checklist of things to look at to make sure your page is optimised). Regular SEO audits will help you understand if your website is in need of technical improvements, like site speed, or if Google is crawling your website the way you want it to do so.