The job of a healthcare marketer involves a lot of moving parts, from how you first engage a total stranger coming across your brand for the first time, to how you follow up with a patient to ensure they’ve had a great experience. Being both easy to find and a trusted resource for medical information is at the very center of a healthcare marketer’s work, but, fortunately, most times you can’t do one well without simultaneously accomplishing the other.
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The Race to the Top
The most important piece of this marketing puzzle is getting to page one, position one of a search engine results page (SERP). When your page lands in the first position of a Google search, it has a 31% click-through rate (CTR), the second position receives less than half that number, and the third receives only 10%, according to Smart Insights. After that, the potential of a user clicking through to learn more about your services drops off significantly. Optimizing your digital presence so that you rank first is exactly what search engine optimization (SEO) is all about, and building your backlinks should be an integral approach to your broader SEO strategy.
Backlinks: What Counts and What Doesn’t
In the 1990s, Google set itself apart from other search engines with the release of PageRank, an algorithm that ranks pages based on backlinks. PageRank has since evolved to become highly sophisticated, adapting as quickly as SEO experts can keep up and frequently changing its algorithms to outsmart bots and scammers. In the early days, it was simply about having as many backlinks as possible from wherever you could place them, but now PageRank is more particular about what it counts towards your ranking.
That process, which takes mere seconds, is often imagined as millions of tiny tech spiders crawling between pages via links and backlinks. To build or earn links requires both strategic planning and constant maintenance, and will often take up a generous portion of your time. But when 40% of a ranking is determined by the quality and quantity of backlinks, it’s worth it.
Google and other search engines consider backlinks vouches of confidence for your website. Naturally, higher authority companies, publications, or organizations that vouch for you (by linking to your content) are seen as more meaningful references. Backlinks are important because when all else is equal between you and your competitors, having a higher number of high-quality backlinks will be the difference in whether a page is ranked above theirs or below them.
Several additional benefits beyond page ranking occur when you start earning backlinks including establishing valuable relationships in your industry and beyond, exposing you to wider audiences and potential patients you may have otherwise not reached, and building brand recognition and reputation by producing valuable content.
Domain Authority: It’s All Relative to Your Competitors
Do you know how your providers are ranking in search results? How about your competitors? The easiest way to determine how you’re performing on search engines is by checking your Domain Authority (DA), a search engine ranking score that was developed by Moz that predicts how your website ranks. DA is measured on a scale of one to 100 and is calculated by evaluating dozens of factors including ranking keywords, linking root domains, and your spam score.
According to Moz, rankings are scored on a logarithmic scale, and it’s significantly easier to grow your score from 20 to 30 than it is to grow from 70 to 80. DA is a comparative metric and can be used as a way to evaluate your website against your competitors. Your DA score isn’t the be-all and end-all that determines how your website ranks; it’s just a helpful way to measure a website’s ranking ability.
In terms of backlinking, your goal should be to earn backlinks from sites with high DA.
Local vs. National Backlinks
With healthcare, the ultimate goal is to get more patients booking appointments to see your providers whether that is in your physical location or in a telehealth appointment. Generally, patients choose healthcare providers who are nearby, but when you manage marketing for a large healthcare system, your goal is to establish your overall brand as an authority in the healthcare industry, as well as to establish your individual providers as local experts.
Backlink sources that produce national recognition will include more widely known and respected publications, events, and awards, all of which will signal the value of your content to Google. You can earn local backlinks through events, awards, organizations, and publications that are in the communities of your individual healthcare locations. High-quality local backlinks are valuable because Google prioritizes healthcare providers that are closest to its searchers.
While your national keywords will be broader and industry-specific, your local key search terms and hyperlinks should include your geolocation in addition to the services you provide.
A Word on Directories and Citations
First, let’s compare a citation to a backlink. A citation refers to a business listing in an online directory that includes its name, address, and phone number (NAP). You’re probably familiar with directories like Yelp, SuperPages, YellowPages.com, and CitySearch. Listings on Google My Business (GMB), Facebook, and Bing Maps are also considered citations. Backlinks, as you now know, are earned links from other business websites.
One of the early methods of link building was to list your business’ website in any directory you could find on the Internet. While that doesn’t work anymore to boost your organic page rank in the search engines, citations are an important part of local SEO. Google Maps uses a different algorithm than what it uses for organic searches and that algorithm values citations. Citations help keep your NAP information accurate and consistent across medical directories like Healthgrades, ZocDoc, and Vitals, which positions you at the top of Google Maps.
If you’d like to learn more about citations, read the article “Citations & Local SEO: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide” that our SEO Director, John McAlpin, wrote for Search Engine Journal.
Now, back to link building.
Ways to Acquire High-Quality Backlinks
This is probably starting to sound daunting, but the truth is that as you read through the ways to acquire backlinks below, you’ll discover that you’re already doing a lot of this work. Building your backlinks is a proactive ongoing process and earned links, like the ones below, will increase your rankings and drive more traffic to your website.
Google recognizes backlinks from well-respected and established professional organizations as highly valuable in determining a website’s page rank. To obtain these links, you should stay active in the medical community and organizations that are relevant to your practice. Chief marketing officers and executives might consider participating on boards or committees and presenting at medical conferences. Medical providers might consider publishing research, offering their expertise in relevant conversations, and presenting at medical conferences highlighting their specialty.
Depending on your SEO goals, you also may want to join local professional organizations instead of national organizations. Both types of organizations can benefit you, but links from local organizations would help you claim one of the top three positions in the Google Map Pack.
Contributions and Publications
Getting featured in leading medical publications, regional magazines, newspapers, and professional society journals is fantastic for link building. It’s also difficult to do at first if you don’t have a connection to these publications. Even if you do have a great connection or two, Google recognizes multiple backlinks from the same source as less valuable than brand new backlinks from new high-quality sources. That means you should diligently pursue features in different publications.
How do you find opportunities to contribute as an expert source in leading publications? Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is an online platform that helps journalists source contributions, interviews, and quotes for stories. Once you sign up for HARO, you’ll receive daily emails with requests from journalists for expert knowledge in your chosen fields. In order to get featured, write a compelling subject line summarizing your experience and share two to three major points that demonstrate the significance of your experience in elevating the journalist’s story.
Once you establish relationships with journalists and editors, submit original editorials, columns, and research for publication in major magazines and journals. You can produce byline articles in everything from medical journals to business magazines like Forbes.
Chances are that your doctors and medical providers may not have the skillset to develop a robust content development strategy, the time to write numerous articles for publication, or the budget to expand their teams in order to create time for writing. If your marketing team has excellent writing skills, write pieces, and send them over to your doctors to review and embellish. Otherwise, we recommend hiring freelancers to develop pieces via platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, Freeup, or Toptal.
Partner with local and national nonprofit organizations to move the needle on causes and initiatives that are important to you and your medical practice. You can offer university scholarships to graduating high school students who plan on studying medicine or sponsor students to participate in healthcare programs and trainings.
If a nonprofit has a specific program or project that aligns with your practice’s mission, for example, community health or pediatric health, make a donation in the name of your healthcare provider. In addition to potentially receiving a valuable backlink when these activities are announced online, you’ll have something to share across your social media channels.
Community, regional, and national events provide many opportunities to get backlinks. Your healthcare provider can sponsor an event, purchase a vendor table to meet people, or secure a speaking opportunity for someone on your team.
For local events, think about Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce speaker series, school conventions, or popular community events that occur throughout a season like a summer concert series. Professional conferences, conventions, and trade shows happen all over the country and allow you to build national and local recognition as well as an opportunity to network with other industry leaders. Award shows and fundraisers are excellent opportunities to host a table for several board members, staff members, and providers, and potentially secure a presenter opportunity, or better yet, win an award!
Rather than just attending awards ceremonies where someone else is receiving the trophy, get into the running! Apply for “Best of” awards in all of your provider locations and nominate your medical staff in local and national competitions. Promote every award nomination through your social media channels, email campaigns, your website, and local publications. While it may feel weird to toot your own horn, this is a great way to build backlinks and grow your brand’s reputation.
Many people don’t consider press releases as a valuable marketing tool worth their time, but we beg to differ. Press releases are inexpensive and, while not high-quality links themselves, they can be used to generate more backlinks if other media organizations pick them up and write articles about your provider. Submit press releases when you win an award, publish research, partner with a nonprofit on a new initiative, or open a new location.
You can use free or low-cost services like PR.com, i-Newswire, or PRLog to get your press releases out on the wire.
How to Develop a Strategy to Build Your Backlink Profile
Developing a link building strategy isn’t very complicated when you break it down and take it one step at a time. Let’s take a look at how you can approach a backlink building project:
Audit and Optimize Your Website First
Before you jump into producing content for outside websites, make sure that you have put in the work on your own website first.
Optimize your website by doing an audit of the content you currently have and determine what is missing. Do you have more than 500 words on your service and product pages? Do your physicians have robust profile pages with bios and highlights of their credentials, awards, and areas of expertise? Before you start building links, you need to ensure that your website contains comprehensive content that is well-optimized and answers potential patient questions.
If you’re trying to build your medical practice’s local reputation, consider adding a website section that promotes your community involvement. Write blog posts about events that you attend or sponsor. If you’re partnering with local non-profits on a special initiative, write about it! That’s great material for your blog as it’ll contain lots of coveted local keywords. As a bonus, not only does it help your organization, but it increases awareness of that non-profit’s initiative and boosts your brand’s reputation. Remember to include outbound links to other industry experts, nonprofit partners, and local community events.
After you evaluate and update your website, you can start thinking about building backlinks.
Take Advantage of Existing Opportunities
Now, considering the ways to get backlinks that we listed above, send out an email to your providers and staff members to get clear on the opportunities you have to work with already. Keep an eye on what your medical providers are writing, researching, producing, and winning, and make sure that the online accolades link back to your healthcare provider website so that you’re benefiting from the page ranking. In the world of backlinks, high-quality content and a lot of it is essential.
Combine what your team members are already doing or are planning on doing with the content audit you performed while optimizing your site, and write down a list of assets that you can provide in order to earn backlinks. These assets may include expert content, data, white papers, specialty services, and speaking topics.
Set Up HARO and Monitor Queries
Next, sign up for HARO. You’ll start to receive daily emails with queries from reporters looking for sources. Make it a habit to look through the requests and to see if any of them align with your team’s expertise. To speed up the process, it’s helpful to open the email and conduct a search around simple keywords like “doctor” or “healthcare.”
If you find a query that seems like a good fit, you’ll want to respond ASAP. Many journalists operate around tight deadlines and you often have national competition to be considered as a source. Check the query for a deadline and make sure you respond quickly.
Build Your List of Sources and Pitch!
Now, you need to build a list of potential publication sources. Write down all of the local and national authoritative figures in your industry and begin building mutually-beneficial relationships with those people, companies, publications, and organizations.
Link building isn’t something that you do once and you’re done. Now that you have a list of reputable publication sources, you’ll want to nurture relationships with their editorial team. It’ll take time and dedication. If your first pitch is rejected, don’t despair. It often takes many tries before you have a pitch accepted.
To improve your chances of having a pitch accepted, make sure you research the publication first. What type of content do they publish? What topics do they prefer? Do they accept feature articles or industry perspectives? They likely have a public editorial calendar; if you can’t find it, ask your contact.
Offer to provide top-notch content that enriches their website and helps its readers. The DNA of successful and enduring digital content rests on four elements, that it is:
Many publications want to see what you can write before they accept your work. If you’re not published elsewhere, you can share articles from your blog with the editorial team. Make sure that you’re sharing your very best work and that it aligns with their publication.
You’ll want to continually pitch your sources with new ideas. As I said, this isn’t something you do once a year. Keep a list of your ideas and when you find a great fit for a publication, reach out to them again! To be successful with link building, you have to commit to it.
Backlink Building is Integral to SEO Strategy
Building a high-quality backlink portfolio is as time-consuming and labor-intensive as it sounds, and it requires the work of many hands to accomplish the goal of ranking page one, position one. But if you apply the backlink building methods that we’ve outlined here and develop a comprehensive strategy that encompasses other SEO approaches like “Near Me” Optimization and Voice Search Optimization, your healthcare provider and its individual locations should come out above the competition.
At the end of the day, as long as you are committed to developing good content and providing it to high-quality sources, you can rest easy that any algorithm updates will benefit your business.
If you want to learn more about the impact of link building for your organization, see how we helped this multi-location dermatology brand develop a backlinking strategy to increase organic traffic 171%.