Telemedicine is becoming a more and more common way for patients to see their physicians. Healthcare providers, recognizing the opportunity to care for patients in an ever-widening market, have recognized digital marketing as the preferred medium to promote telehealth services.
Over the last several years, we have worked with telemedicine services, both large and small, managing Google ads budgets as low as $1000/mo and as high as $100,000/mo.
We’ve driven hundreds of thousands of visitors to our clients’ websites through SEO.
We’ve had many successful campaigns and a few that were not so successful.
In this article, I will share some of our lessons learned while executing different telemedicine marketing strategies, including conversion rate optimization, PPC, and SEO.
While this is far from a comprehensive list of everything we’ve learned, it provides a few highlights of what can be gleaned from:
- Collecting and analyzing Google Ads audience and search queries data
- Understanding what Google wants to deliver in its search engine results
- The problems your potential patients are looking up online
1. A Telemedicine Marketing Strategy Must Start by Establishing Trust
The biggest hurdle telemedicine services face is a lack of trust.
First, telehealth involves a significant change in consumer behavior involving one of the most sensitive purchase decisions a customer makes — a choice of a healthcare provider. Not all patients are yet accustomed to looking for and seeing a doctor online.
Second, the Internet is rife with scams. Patients often come to a telemedicine service provider’s website with their guard up and assume something is amiss.
It is the telemedicine provider’s job to prove otherwise.
Earning this trust will involve aspects of your website’s design, reputation management strategy, and content marketing strategy.
2. Integrate a Review Acquisition Strategy into Your Patient Experience
The most successful telemedicine providers and platforms we have worked with all focused on soliciting reviews from their patients. In most cases, the strategy involved sending review requests after an initial session.
These reviews were all housed on third-party websites; our view is that patients tend to trust them more than cherry-picked testimonials on a health care provider’s website.
By including review requests as a regular part of the patient engagement, they were able to establish enough reviews to establish a level of legitimacy. In several cases, we found “brand-name reviews” among the top five highest-volume branded keywords; people were clearly looking up information on different telehealth services before scheduling an appointment.
It is critical that any healthcare provider, including telehealth services, actively manage their online reputation.
At the same time, one characteristic of the companies whose marketing campaigns underperformed was that they had no organized system to obtain reviews.
In addition to soliciting reviews, our best-performing telemedicine services also included a widget that shared the third-party reviews right on their landing pages. The existence of hundreds of third-party reviews communicated that they were a legitimate health care provider.
3. A Telehealth Service’s Website Cannot be Anything Short of World-Class.
While a local dentist, psychiatrist, or pediatrician can get away with a website that looks like it was built by the office staff, telehealth services cannot.
To start, patients are unlikely to trust a telemedicine provider with a “local business-looking” website.
Many, if not most, patients are still mistrustful of telehealth; if your website cannot stand up to Zocdoc, Cerebral, or a similar website, it will cost you patients. Prospective patients will not trust a telemedicine provider with anything short of a first-class website.
Another common thread among underperforming telehealth marketing campaigns was a lackluster website. In an area of medicine where patients already have their guard up, your website must inspire confidence.
4. Your Website Must Have Crystal Clear Calls-to-Action
We had little to no input in the functionality of the telemedicine websites for which we’ve done the marketing. A few of these websites were well-oiled machines that booked dozens of appointments a day, while others were bewildering conversion killers.
The key to driving conversions on a telemedicine website is the same as on other types of websites — tell people what you want them to do.
This usually involves adding call-to-action buttons above the fold (usually in the hero section and/or header) prompting visitors to take a self-assessment or schedule an appointment.
Telehealth websites that chose to deviate from these two calls-to-action in the hero section tended not to fare as well as those that stuck to them.
5. Google Ads Can Drive Conversions – if You Know How to Manage Them
Paid ads can effectively market telehealth services and should be part of any digital marketing strategy you consider. Ultimately, marketing telehealth services boils down to driving internet users to schedule a telehealth visit at the lowest cost per lead. The measurability of paid search and the speed with which it can drive virtual visits makes it particularly attractive for marketing telehealth services.
We’ve managed Google Ads for telemedicine providers with budgets ranging from tens of thousands to millions of dollars a year. We have also audited Google Ads accounts managed by other PPC agencies.
Here’s what we have learned.
6. “Signs and Symptoms” Keywords Drive Conversions — Sometimes
Signs and symptoms keywords are searches where the patient performs a search such as “signs of depression.”
The intent behind this type of search seems to be all over the place.
We often found instances in the same account where keywords such as “OCD” would convert like crazy in one state and burn through budget in another. There never seems to be rhyme or reason, so we’ve made it a point to test this whenever we expand a Google Ads campaign into a new state.
You need to understand that such a keyword does not always have transactional intent. For example, a PPC campaign we ran for a plastic surgeon found the keyword “BBL surgery” to be a waste; unlike the keyword “facelift,” people were more interested in learning what a BBL is and not finding someone to perform one. “Facelift,” on the other hand, did result in conversions.
The only way to uncover insights such as these is to monitor the search queries report in Google Ads like a hawk.
7. Pay Close Attention to Audiences and Demographics in Google Ads
This seems like a no-brainer, but the different audiences and demographics behave quite differently in different states.
For example, in one campaign, New York State and California’s best and worst converting age groups were the exact opposites. It was so dramatic in both states that we stopped showing ads to those age groups entirely.
Not only must you monitor audience demographics, income, and gender – you must monitor them per market and make no assumptions.
I share this because we have audited PPC accounts where the previous manager is not employing any audience monitoring and has not applied any bit adjustments in response to higher or lower cost per acquisition among different demographics.
8. Test Smart Campaigns in Google Ads
We have found dramatic differences in cost per acquisition between traditional search campaigns and Google Ads smart campaigns. While Smart Campaigns are not a panacea, they outperformed traditional search campaigns more times than not (but not always).
If you are a telemedicine service running Google Ads, you should run traditional search campaigns and Google Ads Smart Campaigns side-by-side. One is bound to deliver a cheaper cost per acquisition than the other, but you won’t know which until you test it.
Most recently, we have begun running Performance Max campaigns in Google Ads. The initial results seem similar to Google Ads Smart Campaigns; sometimes it appears to outperform traditional search campaigns and Smart Campaigns, other times it doesn’t. It’s important to test all three.
9. Google Ads May Not be a Profitable Marketing Channel in Every State
In one national campaign, we never managed to get the states of Wyoming or Wisconsin to a profitable cost per conversion. It remains a mystery to us, but the lesson is that even though it was not successful in Wyoming, it was wildly successful in Texas and several other large states.
Again, test everything. Just because your campaign doesn’t work in one state doesn’t mean it won’t work in another.
Note: you may need a LegitScript verification
Google requires some areas of medicine to obtain a LegitScript verification before running ads. Addiction treatment ads require it, as does any website that may prescribe prescription medications.
It is also good advice for any advertiser requiring a LegitScript verification to tread lightly with your Google Ads account.
Google has introduced a strike system that will ban an advertiser whose ads have been repeatedly suspended. Since ad suspensions are determined by artificial intelligence, it leaves room for unwarranted suspensions and bans.
It is highly recommended that the person managing your Google Ads account have a deep understanding of Google’s rules for running health-related ads. If this PPC manager is a generalist and not someone with extensive experience running Google Ads for healthcare providers, it’s unlikely they have the real-world experience to know what Google is likely to flag.
10. Lessons Learned from Doing SEO for Telemedicine
It is no secret that patients Google their symptoms.
This is a prime opportunity for a telemedicine service to not only get in front of these patients but also to deliver a call to action, offering an appointment with a provider from the comfort of their own home.
There are four types of content we produce for telemedicine SEO clients:
- Signs and symptoms/diagnosis
- Treatment versus treatment
- Answers on how to get treatment
- Geo-specific provider (marriage therapist NYC, for example)
While there can be sizable numbers of people explicitly searching for “online treatment of…” many patients still do not think of telemedicine as an option. Blog content and landing pages targeting queries related to these four categories can often get in front of patients that didn’t even consider telehealth as an option.
11. Get Medical Review of all Content
The Internet is loaded with inaccurate information about medicine. It’s highly unlikely you’ll have a physician producing all of the content for your website. Your content writers will likely encounter and possibly reiterate some of this misinformation, which needs to be found and corrected during the review process.
Having a doctor review all content before it goes live will eliminate most, if not all, of this incorrect medical information.
We’ve hired several MDs to review our clients’ content before submitting it for client review. It is possible to find doctors willing to review your content without spending hundreds of dollars an hour, but you’ll have to spend some time searching.
Another benefit of having a doctor review your content is that Google’s AI is getting increasingly better at determining the level of expertise of an author.
For example, if a doctor, fitness influencer, and complete layperson were to write articles about weight loss, it can tell which was written by each writer.
Naturally, it favors the expert content written by the physician.
Your content should reflect that its author has the highest levels of expertise while maintaining readability. In other words, the average person with a middle school or high school education should be able to understand it, but it should use the kind of language a doctor would use to discuss a condition or treatment with a patient.
Be sure your content reflects scientific consensus
Google is putting forth a concerted effort to remove bunk medical information from the search engine results.
Be careful with any topics that could be considered controversial and that do not agree with scientific consensus. We have seen instances where we attribute a massive drop in organic traffic to one or two articles concerning “sensitive topics.”
While your telemedicine startup may have contrarian positions on certain topics, I’m sure you’re not willing to risk all of your organic traffic over a blog post.
This includes making medical claims about treatments that aren’t 100% established.
While you are probably OK to make a statement such as “patients of Dr. So-And-So have reported XYZ benefits to this treatment,” you should not make any claims such as “ABC treatment will improve your XYZ symptoms.”
Even if in the short term you do not see any negative impact on your search traffic, you are putting it at risk of a filter with a future or algorithm update by making claims that are not widely accepted.
12. The Four Types of SEO Content for Telemedicine
I’ll start by saying that even though I used the term “SEO content,” I hate this term and what it implies.
First, your content marketing should aim to provide accurate, valuable health information to its target audience. Its sole goal should not be to rank on search engines.
However, if no one ever finds it, it won’t provide value to anyone, and it will not grow your telemedicine practice.
As a result, we need to balance our content to reflect what search engines believe people are looking for when they perform a search and what we know they need to find.
We categorize this content as:
- Signs and symptoms
- Treatment versus treatment
- Questions about getting treatment
- Location plus treatment (ex. ADHD doctor Los Angeles)
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms content can be subdivided into:
- Articles detailing the symptoms of a condition, ex. “signs your spouse is a narcissist. “
- Online diagnosis searches “ADHD test online. “
- Condition versus condition searches “anxiety versus OCD. “
This content aims to provide accurate initial information to a patient you may be able to treat.
For example, it might make sense for a telemedicine psychiatrist to get in front of a patient that wants to know if they’re suffering from anxiety or OCD. The content can provide initial information and encourage the reader to seek counseling, whether through your website or someone local.
At the same time, a query such as “is my spouse a narcissist” is unlikely to get in front of a potential patient the way “am I a narcissist” might.
We refer to this in terms of whether a topic is on the “buyer’s journey” or not.
This type of content can effectively drive telemedicine patients to your website; the key is to deliver a compelling call to action without coming across as salesy. If you don’t remind the visitor that your practice may be able to help if they “click here,” many visitors simply won’t. Gentle nudges are acceptable; just make sure your copy doesn’t read like the sales pitches you find on supplement websites.
Treatment versus treatment
Treatment versus treatment searches typically follow signs and symptoms searches for a patient. Even though these patients may have already received a diagnosis, they may not have settled on a provider — which means they may not have considered telemedicine an option.
Again, just as signs and symptoms content can provide information and nudge the visitor towards booking an appointment, treatment versus treatment content can do the same.
Questions about getting treatment
This type of content can range from questions related to insurance, to the type of doctor one should see for a diagnosis, to the specifics about different treatments. Again, it is crucial to target queries that reflect a potential need for the services you provide.
Location plus treatment
Location plus treatment queries, such as “Dr. specializing in OCD in Tampa” may appear not to make sense for telemedicine SEO, but this simply isn’t true.
Many patients are still unaware that telemedicine is an option and only search for local physicians because they think it’s the only option.
A telemedicine provider ranking for a query like “marriage counselor nyc” very well may get in front of couples that would prefer the convenience of telemedicine vs. having to cross Manhattan for each session. This is an opportunity to present the online option to a patient who was unaware it existed.
13. Link Acquisition Strategies for Telemedicine that Work
Google still uses backlinks from other websites as part of its algorithm. It considers links from other websites to be reflective of the trustworthiness and authority of a website, the thinking being that if the New York Times is linking to a telemedicine provider, it’s unlikely to be a fly-by-night operation, for example.
We’ve used three link acquisition strategies to build links to our telemedicine clients over the last three years.
Traditional public relations and digital PR share a lot in common, but subtle differences exist. Ultimately, they both aim to obtain organic coverage in local or industry publications, but Digital PR has the added goal of getting backlinks.
The approaches they take to achieve this are entirely different, however.
While traditional PR focuses on telling the brand story or getting the word out about an event, Digital PR begins with creating a story that can be told in the first place. This often involves the creation of data-driven articles, collecting survey data, or the creation of digital assets such as slideshows or digital art.
Once this piece of content has been created and added to the website, the team performs outreach to journalists that may be interested in covering a topic related to the asset.
A surefire way to earn a link back to your website is by contributing to another website. At the very least, this will result in a backlink to a website in the author’s byline; at best, it will allow you to link back to your website in any way you see fit.
It is important to know two things about getting links through guest blogging.
First, it is against Google’s guidelines to do this at scale. Do not build hundreds of links to your website through guest posts. It is likely that Google will eventually ignore them, and your time will have been wasted.
Second, do not rely only on guest posts to acquire links. It is a very time-intensive, slow process that carries a high risk of not yielding results, but also has low potential returns (you are only going to earn one link per article).
A link magnet is a piece of content created with the express purpose of acquiring links from other websites. This usually takes the form of a tool or piece of content that shares data or provides a definition.
Take a look, for example, the number of backlinks this article has acquired over time:
It is highly unlikely this website ever did outreach to acquire these links. Other websites simply wanted to provide it as a resource for someone wanting a definition, so they linked to it.
A telemedicine provider that wants to play the long game with SEO would be well served by creating a glossary of terms related to their area of medicine. These would be individual articles about these different terms and concepts that, once they rank highly on Google, would be likely to attract links organically.
Another version of this would be to put together statistics roundups related to the area of medicine. In these articles, you would share commonly googled statistics that other websites may be likely to cite. Look, for example, at the top article ranking for “how many kids have ADHD in the US?”
The disadvantage of this link building tactic is that it takes a lot of time. A venture-backed telemedicine startup would have a rough time building its backlink profile in 3 to 6 months using this approach. However, a practice that’s in it for the long haul would be able to create a flywheel by ranking such an asset.
14. Basic On-Page SEO Can Go a Long Way
This was not a lesson learned over the last three years of working with telemedicine providers; getting on-page SEO right is a basic fundamental.
The lesson learned was its potential impact.
While we can’t share the clients’ names, in several instances, we got a client to the top three positions for “online treatment + area of medicine” simply through thorough on-page optimization. All of these examples had single-digit domain ratings (DR), but they outranked websites with numbers in the 70s.
How did we do it?
Google is no longer driven by keywords; it is driven by entities. It knows whether a piece of content covers a topic thoroughly or not by analyzing the entities present in the document, not the frequency of a single keyword.
In other words, an article about ADHD should have mentions of stimulants, attention, Adderall, focus, and so forth. An article that doesn’t mention entities such as “hyperactivity” would not be considered comprehensive; an article that does, but also mentions the “frontal cortex” would be.
When performing on-page optimization, our goal is to provide information-dense, comprehensive content around the entity/keyword we are targeting.
We use natural language processing (NLP) to extract the entities present in the pages already ranking for a query, then ensure our page includes their semantically-related topics.
Finally, we look for opportunities to include valuable information that would be unique to the page we are optimizing.
Google uses the internal links on a website to understand its structure and to gain clues about the importance of specific pages on a website.
By minimizing the number of links to unimportant pages and adding internal links to the pages we wish to rank on Google, we are able to better communicate our prioritization and our selection of anchor text when linking to these internal pages helps Google to understand the topic of these pages.
15. Telehealth Marketing — Like All Marketing — Is About Getting the Fundamentals Right
I believe that the key to successful marketing is getting the fundamentals right. Hacks that exploit the shortcomings of an algorithm eventually stop working. Everyone eventually discovers shortcuts that become table stakes for achieving one’s goals.
However, once you have gotten the fundamentals right, there is a lot that needs to be learned about marketing in your industry through testing and experience.
If your practice doesn’t have the means to hire someone that already has experience marketing a telemedicine practice, I hope the information in this article serves you well. If you are searching for a marketing agency to work with, it should give you the information you can use to gauge your potential vendors’ knowledge of your space and the depth of their expertise.