Let’s talk about SEO for medical practitioners

There is no evidence that staring into a crystal ball will help.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is very simple really in terms of the concept, slightly less simple in the implementation. Literally, the term refers to anything you as a website owner do (or have done) on the internet – note we didn’t say ‘on your website’ – to make sure that your site, or more precisely pages on your website, appear on the front page of the Google search engine results, for words and phrases that directly relate to what you do.

So if you are going to focus on making sure you appear on the front page of Google, you need to already have a list of those words and phrases to hand, so you know what to optimise for.

A bit of background

As we’ve mentioned previously on this blog, in ideal world all people seeking medical advice or treatment should really only ask a/their doctor and not be influenced by any other information.

Since the arrival of the internet, or more precisely, sites like Google and Wikipedia, there has been an explosion of information available on the net for almost anything you can think of, including all known medical conditions (well probably 99.999997% of them).

Of course people have never listened to their medical practitioners exclusively, there have always been other influences – books or other people who have had similar experiences, ie ‘word-of-mouth’ and a little bit of research. The internet is really just like these two on steroids, complete with misleading information alongside helpful stuff.

However very few medical practitioners now completely shun Google and the internet, but it’s fair to say, that with a few exceptions the medical community is behind almost all other industry sectors in making the most of it.

Why bother with a website?

A website if you think about it is really the modern day equivalent of printed brochure. A useful brochure or website should clearly set out who the product/service is for, a description of how it will improve the customer’s/client’s life and why the provider is uniquely placed to do this. Unlike a brochure a website is relatively easy to set up and can be amended at will. Plus, unlike a brochure, it doesn’t cost any more to have 500 pages on your website. It’s just a lot of work.

Here are just a few reasons why you should have a website…

  • It’s pretty much expected that a professional person/business will have a website – today it’s a little odd if you don’t. You can get away without one, but you have to have a very good reason!
  • It gives you an opportunity to share important information with site visitors
  • It is a form of ongoing publication of your ‘body of work’
  • It’s almost the only way to get found on Google and thus be found by people who may need your help (the other way is to be featured on other people’s websites, however you don’t control this)

Why bother with SEO?

Having a website is just the beginning. A small new website may never get on to the first page of Google for anything, ever. Think of a new website as a start – a new house with no furniture in it, a museum with no artwork, you get the picture (pun intended).

The best way of thinking of a new website is as a news website, not just a brochure. You kick it off with a few stories and just keep adding to them. You probably don’t have to add ten stories every day, perhaps one or two a month will suffice. And/or you can launch your site with lots of information/pages/articles on it and not worry so much about keeping it up-to-date to start with.

What does Google want you to do to give you a spot on the first page?

Once you have worked out which words (‘keywords’) and phrases you need to be found for, the best piece of initial research is just to search for these yourself. If you’re based in Australia, then make sure you search on google.com.au, and if you’re based in a particular city and that’s where you do your work, search for your keyword/s and add eg ‘Sydney’ or ‘Hobart’ at the end of the search phrase.

Have a very close look at who comes up in the first three spots, because these are the sites you have to beat.

Google’s mantra is very simple – it just wants to be able to give people the absolute best pages to answer their question. If it fails to do this, people won’t use it any more and they’ll lose all their advertising revenue.

In a nutshell, Google has developed a sophisticated algorithm to determine how useful a specific page on the internet is for people asking a specific question. This algorithm takes into account over 200 factors in deciding which pages to rank where in its search results (this is a good summary of how this works).

As long as the web page contains keywords and phrases relevant to the search, the Google algorithm then checks lots of other things, such as…

  • ‘authority’ of the website (this is down to a number of factors, including how many other web pages – excluding your own – link back to the page and the site)
  • how ‘helpful’ the page is – this relates to how readable it is and how detailed it is (longer copy tends to trump shorter copy, but not in all cases)
  • how up-to-date the information is
  • some technical things such as whether the site is secure (https://) and whether it is easy to read on a device as well as on a computer screen

There are also ‘negative’ signals. The most important one here is that you cannot simply copy and paste content from somewhere else on to your site. If Google detects this (which it will), it will downgrade your page significantly and preference the site which originally published the content. This is why ‘unique content’ is very important.

There are many other factors, but these are the main ones.

Conclusion

By far the most important factor is relevant, useful, helpful, readable, up-to-date content. This mainly refers to written content, but also includes video and audio content.

If you want to be found high in the search engine rankings in Google, you simply need to give the algorithm what it wants. By and large websites that do this make their way to the top (although it doesn’t generally happen overnight).

Then you can easily be found by people wanting to know more about the specific conditions you treat and the procedures and treatments you offer. And this isn’t just the general public, this applies as much to other health practitioners who are researching and maybe looking to refer patients. It’s not going to be the only research they do (we hope), but it will be some of it.

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