Whether you are an individual medical practitioner with one office or a large healthcare organization with numerous locations and departments, local search optimization is one of the most critical steps you can take to ensure the health of your business. Last month, I wrote about the benefits of taking a practical “stepped” approach to online marketing in healthcare, and relying upon proven best practices to establish a solid online foundation, before seeking to adopt riskier, more advanced online marketing techniques. I noted how the first, most critical element for building a strong online presence was developing a website that was well optimized foundationally for search visibility, for both search engines and your prospective patients.
Now, let’s assume that you’ve invested in creating a technically sound website. Information on your new site is organized well, intuitive to navigate with clear calls-to-action and great content. Your content incorporates strategic keywords relevant to your local audience(s) in your meta-tags (title tags and descriptions); headlines; body copy; and alt tags (the “invisible” descriptions of pictures on your site).
Ok, check. So now what?
I would next recommend continuing to focus intensively upon local search optimization by making sure that your physical business and your exceptional new website are both listed properly in the local listings of online directories.
According to infoplease.com, behind “Sending or reading email”, which 92% of all Internet users report doing, “Using a search engine to find information” is the second most popular Internet activity (89%). “Searching for a map or driving directions” is #3 (86%). “Researching a product or service before buying” is fifth (81%). And oh my- “Looking for health/medical information” is seventh. In fact, 75% of all Internet users report engaging in this activity- more than getting news, making travel reservations or even surfing the web for fun. Now, consider how all of these activities tie together, and you begin to understand the importance of being “discoverable” in local online directories.
What are online directories, exactly? They are websites (or apps) that provide listings of local businesses that show up in both the paid and organic sections of search engine results pages (SERPs) based upon various keyword searches within specific geographic territories (“Orthopedic surgeons, Ponte Vedra Beach”). These types of sites typically comprise a significant share of search results displayed for common keywords, with the companies behind them often investing many thousands of dollars tying up popular keyword phrases. Depending upon whether a user decides to click on one of these directory sites and whether your information has been submitted to that directory, users who searched for these keywords may be able to find your business listing (or not), along with important items like contact information, maps, driving directions, hours of operation and often much more (service descriptions, pictures, reviews, etc.).
Ideally, you want your business to be listed in as many directories as possible while making sure that your information is correct, up-to-date and consistent from site to site. Google+ Local and Google Maps are the two of the most well known online local business directories, but there are numerous other major sites (Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, White Pages, SuperPages, Yellowpages, Local.com, Merchant Circle, social media websites, etc.). In addition, there are numerous other niche directories (Healthgrades, Vitals, Healthlinks, Dupuy, etc.) The more of these sites that your business is listed on, the more discoverable it will be, online. The inbound links to your website will also help to increase its authority, which has a positive effect on page rank, the method by which Google ranks your site against others when determining which search results to display to users, based upon various keyword searches.
Recently, local directory leader, Google, upped the ante even further for larger practices and hospitals. These types of entities used to only be able to optimize their Google+ Local listing for a single headquarters. Their new framework now allows parent organizations to create individual sub-listings for different doctors, specialty groups, locations/office buildings, etc., allowing for an even greater online presence and increased ability to be found by patients seeking more specific information. At the same time, there are specific criteria that must be met (unique phone numbers, customer entrances, if applicable, etc.), which requires attentive coordination during the claiming process. And herein lays the challenge for most healthcare professionals, both large and small: Managing the process of directory submissions requires a significant amount of time, energy and coordination.
The process typically begins with an audit to determine what sites you are currently listed on and those you are not, and to identify where listings may be incorrect or out-of-date. Remember that many of these sites are interrelated, meaning that errors in one place may cause errors in others. There is online software available to assist with auditing, or you can contract with third-party local search specialists (like our own Leads by Web.com group), to do the work for you. This work isn’t overly complicated, but is tedious, often performed over weeks and months and well worth it, once complete. Analytics can be provided before and after the process to help understand the effect on site traffic and ROI. But without question, this is one of safest and most helpful search engine marketing SEM tactics that you can employ and is the logical first step in beginning to promote your healthcare website.
If you’d like to learn more about practical, cost-effective options for healthcare website development, and online marketing for healthcare professionals, call Steven Emsley, Senior Leads Specialist at Web.com (Nasdaq: WWWW) Web.com is a Google Premiere Partner and one of the world’s online marketing leaders for small and medium businesses. Steven can be reached at 904.347.3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org