SEO for Medical Practices: What Works—and What Doesn’t

Christopher Carlson

Christopher is an SEO associate at Sagapixel. He specializes in content marketing-focused SEO and works with a number of key healthcare clients.

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Are you satisfied with how many patients your medical practice is attracting online? Do you wish your web presence was more robust, more prominent to those searching for medical care in your area?

There’s a way to show up in the search engine results and get in front of your potential patients. SEO for medical practices can help you gain visibility, get people clicking through to your website, and get more people coming through your practice’s doors.

Before you perform search engine optimization on your medical practice’s website, it’s important to understand best practices and how you can effectively reach your local market. Below we discuss what works for medical practice SEO and what doesn’t.

SEO isn’t easy, and you don’t have to do it alone. If you’d like to discuss opportunities to grow your online presence and grow your medical practice, contact us today.

What Involved with SEO for a Medical Practice?

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a combination of tactics designed to help a medical practice’s website to position better in search engine results. SEO for medical practices consists of three major components:

  1. Technical optimization, which addresses any site issues that may be preventing the search engines from fully crawling through its pages
  2. On-page optimization, which is a collection of techniques that helps the search engines better understand what the website is about
  3. Offsite optimization, which consists of building links that point to the site.

Done well, SEO can help a medical practice’s website gain prominence in the SERPs, or search engine results pages, and get more visitors which can result in more patients.

Why Perform SEO for Medical Practices?

If your medical practice’s website’s not optimized, you’re not taking advantage of one of the most important sources of traffic to your site. According to a Doctors.com survey referenced in our article about healthcare marketing statistics, 80% of respondents used the internet to make a health-related search in the past year. These are potential patients your medical practice can’t afford to ignore.

SEO is the solution to getting your medical practice’s website in front of all the patients performing those searches. It all starts with an in-depth analysis of your site to discover what it needs.

Following are a number of SEO tactics that work and some that don’t work.

What Is Effective at Increasing Organic Traffic?

SEO- and Mobile-Friendly Website Design

The first step toward an optimized website is ensuring that your site architecture is amenable to crawlers. This involves making sure that your website isn’t presenting any hurdles to the search engine bots that crawl the web. Impediments could be a non-search-friendly url architecture or a poor internal link structure.

In addition to assessing your medical practice’s website’s ability to perform in desktop search, you want to make sure that your website resolves well on mobile devices, as 68% of health-related searches are performed using them.

Research Your Practice’s Competition

How well do your competitors show up in search? You should perform a number of searches using keywords that are important to your website and gauge the competitive landscape. Keep in mind that often your brick-and-mortar competitors are not your online competitors (although some of them will be). Click through to those sites to get an idea of what they do well, and use that information when planning the optimization of your website.

Research Search Results

Perform searches for important keywords and look at the search results. What’s showing up there? Are there a number of educational resources? If so, the search engines may have decided that the intent of the search is strictly informational, and not for someone who’s looking for a health care provider. Assess search intent and find out what keywords make sense for your medical practice.

search results for medical practice

Perform Intelligent Keyword Research to Find Out How Patients Are Searching for Medical Care

Once you have an initial list of keywords, it’s time to perform more in-depth research. There are a number of tools, such as ahrefs, that will provide you with the number of searches performed using that keyword per month (monthly search volume, or MSV), along with the amount of competition (and thus the difficulty in positioning) for that particular term. Your ideal terms will combine a high amount of traffic and a relatively low amount of competition.

There are times, however, in which those tools don’t list all the keywords that are being searched for. This is when Google autosuggest can help. Autosuggest comes into play when you type a query into the search bar:

autocomplete for health clinic

The terms in the drop-down menu have appeared in search before, so it’s a safe bet they’ll be used again. While there’s no way to get search numbers for these terms, they’re definitely a solid addition to your keyword list.

Fully Optimize Your Practice Pages

Once you’ve generated your keyword list, the next step is to optimize your site’s pages using that list. Start with the pages’ title tags and meta descriptions, that, when they show up on SERPs, are respectively the blue links and the descriptions accompanying those links:

serp example

The title tag and meta descriptions can be accessed in multiple ways depending on what content management system you’re using. In WordPress, for example, perhaps the easiest method is to use the Yoast SEO plugin. Title tags are one of the most powerful onsite components when it comes to ranking a website, and so should be paid careful attention to.

Your title tag should include the main keyword for that page. Title tags are limited to 60-65 characters, so it’s important to be brief. Anything longer than 65 characters will be truncated by the search engines.

Your meta description should:

  1. Explain some more about what’s on the page
  2. Include the search term (which will end up bolded in the SERPs)
  3. Include a call to action, which could either be your practice’s call to action (“Contact us to schedule an appointment.”) and/or can entice someone to click through to your medical practice’s website (“Click here to learn more about our medical practice.”).

The character limit for meta descriptions is roughly 160 characters.

The next step is optimizing your content and building content that features your key terms. In this video, we explain in more detail the in-depth process we use for optimizing content to ensure its comprehensiveness and search engines’ ability to “understand” what it is about:

Build Content that Establishes You as a Thought Leader

It’s critical that your website represents you professionally. Your content is the meat of your website and thus is extremely important in how the search engines understand what your site is about and whether it’s a good match for what’s being searched for. Use your expertise to establish yourself and your website as a go-to resource for those looking for information.

It’s important to update your website with current content as well. Establish a blog and regularly publish articles. Use your keyword research to inform your new blog topics. Write in-depth on your topics. Answer questions your potential patients may have. The more you grow your website, the more you provide the search engines an opportunity to better understand what you’re all about and put you in front of people who need your services.

Use All Forms of Content

Don’t limit yourself to merely written content. Video, for example, can be a great way to set your medical practice apart from others. Highlight what it’s like to visit your practice. If you’re the doctor, answer common medical questions on video. Upload your videos to YouTube and optimize them, linking back to your website.

youtube thumbnail about SEO for medical practices

Perform Local SEO

Establishing yourself in your locality is key to getting visibility for local searches. You want your medical practice to be front and center for searches such as “eye doctor in [your city].” Be sure to include local place names in your list of key terms and use them in your title tags, meta descriptions, and in the content of your website. (Don’t overdo it, though.)

Build Local Pages

In establishing yourself as a local entity, it’s important to let the search engines know that your practice lies within that area. In addition to adding local search terms to the main areas of your medical practice’s website, consider creating pages specifically focused on the areas your patients come from. Make sure those pages are unique both from the other pages on your website and from each other. The search engines don’t like duplicate content, and won’t reward your efforts with increased visibility.

This video goes into more detail about the tactics we use to rank for these local searches:

Establish and Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Formerly called Google My Business, your Google Business Profile (GBP) is the primary focus of local SEO.  Your GBP is a local listing of your website that can be featured above the organic search engine results on the first page of Google. It’s a free service, and critical to local SEO. Be sure all your critical data, such as phone numbers and practice hours, are up to date. Your listing will perform better if you post pictures of your medical office and create regular updates. Reviews are a big part of your listing’s success as well.

GMB for medical practice

Cultivate Reviews

Positive reviews are a great way to promote your practice as well. While you’ll generate some naturally, you can ask your patients to provide positive reviews as well. Be sure to keep track of and interact with your reviewers, especially with negative reviews (even though you treat every patient well and provide positive experiences with every visit, negative reviews are inevitable). That will show you care about your patients. It can be time-consuming to maintain an active Google Business Profile, but it’s worth it.

Create and Maintain Social Media Profiles

Your online presence isn’t complete without taking advantage of all potential avenues to get your practice in front of potential patients. Create and regularly publish on your Facebook profile. Make sure your “About” section is correct and contains a link back to your site. Establish a Twitter profile as well, and tweet regularly.

youtube channel about seo for medical practices

Earn Backlinks

Backlinks, links to your website from other sites, are incredibly important to your success online.

First, they’re seen by the search engines as a vote for your medical practice’s website. Trusted website have a higher domain rating and, via links, can pass some of that equity to your website.

There are several ways to earn links, and you can start with low-hanging fruit like local sponsorships that provide a link to your website, then branch out in more difficult link building such as guest posting on medical blogs.

Link building is an area where our agency shines when it comes to  SEO for medical practices. We have a number of proven practices and systems in place to secure links for our clients. In this video, our founder outlines a few of these techniques:

It can be time-consuming, but any link you can get will help your practice’s website gain prominence in the search engine results pages.

What Doesn’t Help SEO?

Having a Poor Website and Mobile Experience

Your website represents your medical practice, and, unfortunately, a poor experience can reflect badly on your practice. Work with your developers and web designers to ensure your navigation is seamless, your images load properly and quickly, and your site looks professional. Also, make sure your website loads quickly.

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals, measurements of how quickly your website loads and becomes interactive, are increasingly important signals that Google uses to help rank sites.

Core Web Vitals consist of three major components:

  • First Contentful Paint (FCP) – The speed at which the first components of the site load on the screen.
  • First Input Delay (FID) – The time between when a user first interacts with the website and the site’s response.
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – How quickly the main content of the website loads and the website becomes useful.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Measures how often users experience unexpected layout shifts, such as text or an input button moving.

You can measure your website’s performance with Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool: https://pagespeed.web.dev/

core web vitals for medical practice website

Copying What Others Have Done

We get it – it’s difficult to consistently create content for your medical practice’s website. It can be tempting to “borrow” content you’ve found elsewhere on the web.

Don’t do it.

The search engines want to provide valuable, unique content to their users, so you need to make sure that’s what your website provides. While you’ll share a common language with other medical practices, work hard to make your voice your own. Analyze your competitors and find a way to say things better.

Not Taking Enough Time for Keyword Research

While you can feel it’s imperative to get your practice’s website optimized quickly, it’s important that you take the time to properly conduct the process that forms the foundation of your optimization efforts. Keyword research can determine whether your hard work will pay off with more traffic and, ultimately, more patients.

Be sure to choose keywords that provide a balance between the number of searches per month and the amount of competition. You also want to be sure to choose terms that make sense for your practice.

Taking the time to do keyword research right ensures that your website is best equipped to succeed in your search engine optimization efforts.

Over Optimizing

Once you have the foundational elements in place and you’ve compiled a solid keyword list, it can be tempting to use the terms multiple times throughout your content. This is all well and good, but there’s an art to judicious keyword use. If you overuse your key terms you run the risk of the search engines seeing your website as over-optimized and determining that you are not a good resource for the terms you’re trying to rank for.

By all means, use your main terms throughout your website, but not to the expense of the readability of your content. Be sure your headers include the key terms for each page, but use the terms in your content sparingly. The engines are sophisticated enough to understand what your content’s about without you hitting them over the head with your terms.

Writing Thin Content

Your content may be the most important part of your site. Good content establishes your expertise and builds trust with your readers and potential patients.

The search engines use natural language processing to analyze your content, and they’re likely to understand whether you’ve actually taken the time to fully and rigorously write about your concepts well or whether you’ve just created content for content’s sake. In addition, users will spend time on your website, and you’ll keep your bounce rate (the rate at which users leave your site) down, which is another indicator to the engines of a good web experience.

Make your site useful and informative to visitors. Taking the time to create solid content for your website will be appreciated both by users and search engines.

Ignoring Local Listings

Local listings are perhaps the best way to establish yourself in your area. People searching using terms like “physical therapist in [your area]” are important to the growth of your practice, so getting in front of them is imperative.

Take ownership of your Google Business Profile and fill it out completely. Make sure you regularly update it with new pictures and new blog posts.

Also take ownership and flesh out your Bing Places for Business listing. Bing doesn’t get as much traffic as Google but it’s still the default search engine in Windows and many older internet users use it, making it a listing that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ignoring Reviews

Your medical practice will get reviews, and how you respond to them will help establish your voice and will speak volumes about how you interact with patients. One would hope that you never get bad reviews, but they’re somewhat inevitable.

While it may be tempting to ignore them, don’t. Respond and let them know that you’re sorry they had a bad experience, that you care about your patients. Of course, some bad reviews are just people complaining to hear themselves complain. Don’t take bad reviews personally.

Also respond to your good reviews. Let people know that you appreciate their input and that you look forward to seeing them again. While it does take time, it’s important to interact with your patients.

Find an Effective Medical SEO Provider

SEO is a critically important part of your overall marketing plan. It’s also a lot of work. You need to continue to address several elements on a regular basis. You can’t sleep on search engine optimization. The search engines’ algorithms are updated on a near daily basis. Keeping your SEO efforts in-house means giving one of your staff a full-time job. Daunting, that.

Luckily, there are firms that specialize in SEO for medical practices. However, medical practices are unique entities, requiring specialized language that adheres to industry standards. Finding an SEO firm that understands that can be difficult.

Sagapixel has an extensive history of success working with medical practices. We’d be happy to help you achieve success online.

Contact Us for a Comprehensive SEO Plan

The best place to start is with an audit that addresses your website on a technical level while also determining your current visibility in the SERPs. We can provide you with a comprehensive look at where you are and what you can accomplish with a comprehensive SEO campaign. Contact us to get the process started. We’ll help you get visibility and put your medical practice in front of potential patients.

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