Table of Contents
- Why Healthcare Marketers Need SEO
- 1. Helpful Content is a Must
- 2. Continual Shift from Keywords to Entities
- 3. Constantly Evolving SERP Features
- 4. User Experience Remains Paramount
- 5. Website Security Threats Can’t Be Ignored
- 6. AI-Powered Tools Changing How SEOs Work
- Conclusion: A Better Web for Healthcare Consumers
In many ways, Google has become a destination rather than a map to access information. The rise of “zero-click” searches means that users can now get answers straight from Google.
New search engine results page (SERP) features give healthcare consumers all of the information they need, and users no longer need to dive down through convoluted websites to find answers. Healthcare needs are often urgent, and consumers will choose the path of least resistance to getting information and care.
Google also continues to refine its algorithm to improve search result quality and combat spam and misinformation. In the healthcare industry, quality content is vital, and if you’re not adhering to Google’s standards, your healthcare brand won’t be visible on search.
With so many search changes, how can multi-location healthcare groups stay ahead of their competitors? As we continue to make our way through 2023, let’s look into the latest SEO trends for the healthcare industry and understand more about what exactly Google wants healthcare marketers to do.
Why Healthcare Marketers Need SEO
When people need medical information, they turn to Google. You’ve likely heard that more than 1 billion health-related searches occur each day. With more patients beginning their journey with Google research, healthcare groups cannot afford to lose out on their SEO game.
Your healthcare group needs to be present at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) at each stage of the patient journey.
The first-position result gets 34% of organic traffic on Google—more than the second to fifth positions combined! A local SEO strategy that focuses on high-intent keywords will help you reach bottom-of-the-funnel (BOF) purchase-ready patients. In comparison, educational content that targets the top and middle of the funnel will help you educate healthcare consumers and earn their trust.
A robust full-funnel SEO strategy increases organic traffic and can drive qualified conversions to your medical organization. It is the foundation for any healthcare group’s digital patient acquisition strategy.
1. Helpful Content is a Must
Over the last few decades, perhaps too many people took to heart the now cliché maxim, “content is king.” As consumers dove deeper into the digital world to conduct research, businesses poured massive amounts of content into the web, hoping to gain visibility. As a result, the digital world became overwhelmed by fluffy, low-quality content.
The thing is, Google has always been adamant that it prioritizes consumers over businesses trying to manipulate the algorithm. In response to this explosive content creation, the search engine has continually brought stricter-than-ever algorithm modifications to prioritize high-quality content above low-quality fluff, including their latest helpful content update.
In Google Developer’s own words, this latest update is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
How Helpful Content Update Impacts Healthcare
Simply put, the helpful content update penalizes websites with clickbait and unsatisfactory user experiences. This new update is especially impactful on the healthcare industry because of the importance for providers to provide accurate information to consumers.
The latest helpful content update primarily targets these three content types.
- Clickbait content (misleading content)
- Unsatisfactory content (short, off-point, duplicated, and hard-to-read content)
- Low-authority, out-of-niche content
Health groups with outdated website structures and content will significantly drop rankings even if they have a solid online reputation. Similarly, healthcare groups who never prioritized producing quality content will also sow a bitter fruit. They’ll have to
Healthcare groups must provide patient-first content to stay ahead of the SEO game. In other words, your website content must thoroughly answer your patient’s questions to the point that they don’t need to conduct further research after going through your website.
Specifically, you should:
- Create in-depth content with thorough, comprehensive information.
- Format your content with relevant sections and headings so patients can easily find the specific information they want.
- Use easy-to-read colors and fonts and include ample white spaces to improve readability and the user experience.
- Create a robust internal linking structure to connect relevant content.
What you may or may not know is that page speed is dead(ish) as a ranking factor— yet another sign that holistic and helpful content is more impactful than metrics that exist in a vacuum. And exist in a vacuum is, at this point, an understatement— as John Mueller of Google recently put it, “We’ve seen people hyper-focus on these numbers, that’s not a good use of time & energy.”
One “metric” that really matters these days? Your organization’s offsite popularity— in other words, how much “talk” there is about your site around the internet. By putting in the effort to increase your site’s visibility online, you can increase the chances that Google will prioritize it during indexing. Where should you focus? On your brand reputation, of course, as well as link building, organic social, PR, etc. All of these impact SEO indirectly and, potentially, directly.
2. Continual Shift from Keywords to Entities
Our SEO Director and Search Engine Journal author John McAlpin expresses this point: “Topic optimization should take precedence over keyword optimization. Websites that built their framework around creating a page for every keyword are starting to decline in performance, while websites with a well-organized content framework are showing continuous improvements.”
So we have this concept of “content framework,” what does that mean? It means organizing your content with a strategy and blueprint in mind, so that your content stays sensible to navigate for both users and Google’s automated page-crawling system.
Jacquelyn Green, Director of SEO Operations, adds: “For example, a doctor’s office offering orthopedics services should have blog content to serve users concerned about knee pain, mid-funnel content that explains how to find an orthopedic doc, locations pages that feature their services for “near me” terms, and a service page that explains what they do, WITH an internal linking strategy that connects the dots. A clear keyword mapping strategy is only getting more important; we can’t just put a keyword on every page and expect Google to figure it out.”
This is important because of semantic search, which Google uses to understand user intent and deliver results matching that intent. The way that Google does that is by reading not just the post body, but its categories, tags, headings, meta-data, and other clues that point out the context of that content.
Keywords are still important, but entities are becoming more critical. Therefore, your website must adopt more sophisticated SEO strategies instead of focusing solely on raw keywords to capture the search algorithm’s attention.
A great example of semantic search is local queries to find a provider. For example, when someone searches “dentists near me,” they’re looking for the provider closest to their physical location. In this case, Google would automatically replace the “near me” with their town, city, or area. Therefore, the same query in Chicago and Seattle will return different results.
How Healthcare Brands Can Build a Better Information Architecture:
Asian philosophy has a concept called “feng shui,” which is the art of interior decorating. Beneath the mystical trappings of this traditional practice lies some common sense ideas about creating harmonic spaces that work well with a user’s intent to use that space. For example, you don’t put a couch in front of a door because, according to feng shui, you’ll disrupt the flow of “chi” (mystical energy). You also don’t want a couch in front of the door, so you don’t bang into the couch with the door, nor trip over the couch when you enter a room.
We should start thinking about websites as having a “feng shui” as well. Start by asking:
- How did the user get here?
- What is the user seeking?
- How do we best satisfy the user’s desire?
- How do we do that in the most unobtrusive, user-friendly way?
Efficient organization of information begins with website architecture, which is how pages within your site are mapped out for navigation.
Good website architecture ensures that both users and the Google page-crawler bot will find their way around. As we cover in that article, your content should have any number of organizational tools included that help map out the general topics in a helpful way:
- Site search
- Internal links
This isn’t the kind of system you can implement ad-hoc as you go along, but the kind of planning you should do before typing your first word of content to ensure that it follows a master plan. This also helps you adapt to change. You may start out in an industry confident that your categories will cover everything, but then something changes, and you have to insert a new topic – but where does it fit in your present scheme? The more structure you have, the more easily you can adapt it to the changing business landscape.
The rest is just grocery store logistics. Help Google bot figure out the context of your content any way you can, and you will be able to answer user intent in SERPs which utilize special features.
3. Constantly Evolving SERP Features
Per usual, Google has rolled out its army of updates, including updates to SERP. Mirroring an earlier update to mobile search in October of 2022, Google has now implemented changes to desktop search, impacting how listings present on a desktop search results page. In the old interface, results included the URL alone; now, they include both the site name and favicon.
What does it mean for SEO? This update allows more room in title tags for the inclusion of target keywords— a big plus for healthcare, where keywords can get, well, unwieldy. Instead of trying to stuff company names and keywords into 50 to 60 characters, you now have some room to move.
There have been some healthcare-specific changes, as well. Google is also making moves to improve accessibility to healthcare information for users by making it easier to find Medicaid re-enrollment info. The search engine is (surprise!) using AI to do this, leveraging the technology to verify provider details, while also making efforts to connect individuals with crisis support hotlines via search.
This all underscores what we’ve been saying: Being “helpful” is more important than ever when it comes to your SEO strategy. In addition to the above, make sure to focus on being as comprehensive as possible in your content and answering patient queries wherever possible.
Finally, with regards to SERP, Apple Maps’ business listings are about the get more detailed. Taking a page from the Google playbook, Apple is developing its own listings platform visible on Apple Maps, Siri, and iPhone messages. With Google Business Profiles also introducing several new features, it is more crucial than ever for healthcare organizations to manage their profiles directly on Google, create compelling posts, and address FAQs from patients.
4. User Experience Remains Paramount
Remember: Google wants to offer exceptional digital experiences for its users‒and this focus on UX will not dissipate. Therefore, your website’s functionality and user experience are paramount. If people can’t find the information they need quickly and bounce, it signals to Google that your site shouldn’t be ranked highly.
Almost two years ago now, Google’s Page Experience Update rocked the Internet and website owners. Its focus is “a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.” The Page Experience Update (effectively a UX update) considers Core Web Vitals metrics, mobile-first design, site security (using HTTPS), and interstitial behavior (regarding pop-ups and ease of use).
If you haven’t updated your website to comply with these new ranking factors, you need to continue to prioritize that throughout 2023. Google’s relentless drive to create the optimum search experience will only continue. If your healthcare group doesn’t offer a good digital UX, you’ll struggle to have visibility on search.
Run your site through Google’s page speed tool or any technical auditing tool, and you may be surprised that even a brand-new WordPress site returns a dismal result.
To thoroughly improve your website’s user experience, you should:
- Conduct regular site audits
- Keep your website’s software updated
- Improve communication between your development and marketing teams
- Minimize plug-ins and ensure your WordPress theme meets UX metrics
- Replace pop-ups with clear on-page CTAs
UX Optimization Best Practices
The best time to optimize UX is the beginning of your website project. If you treat UX as an afterthought, you’ll pay a hefty price. That said, on-site SEO can be intimidating and full of nuances. Therefore, we put together seven simple principles to guide your optimization effort.
- Organization: Keep your site structure organized with clean and sensible navigation.
- Discoverability: Ensure visitors can find the most important pages (location, book an appointment, specific treatment they need) on your website easily.
- Uniqueness: Create unique content and image assets to distinguish yourself from competitors and avoid Google marking your content as duplication.
- Linkability: Create a meaningful internal linking structure while earning links with quality, professional content. Launch a backlinking campaign for better results.
- Consistency: Maintain visual consistency throughout your website.
- Value: Provide comprehensive, in-depth information to thoroughly answer consumers’ questions.
- Speed: Again, modern consumers want fast websites. Make sure your pages load quickly.
The E-A-T Model and YMYL Guidelines for Content
When creating website content, follow Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) model. EAT model affects each industry differently. For healthcare marketers, EAT impacts your rankability and determines how efficiently you can build trust with your audience — which is vital to effective online patient acquisition.
Use existing SERPs as your guideline on developing content that builds your EAT. For example, what are the similarities between the top 3 results from multiple queries under the same topic?
To develop EAT-centric content, follow these best practices
- Create original, relevant, and updated content. If necessary, revamp a previous article to provide more recent information.
- Be honest and transparent with your content.
- Understand the Topic Coverage Score (TCS) of your chosen topics to avoid writing about a question oversaturated with answers.
Meanwhile, healthcare marketers should also be aware of the YMYL (your money or your life) guidelines, especially for urgent care providers, emergency rooms, and other time-sensitive treatment providers.
Simply put, YMYL content is high-urgency content tailored to move problem-aware MOF leads into the decision-making stage. Therefore, healthcare marketers can turn their website content into a lead-generating machine by combining EAT and YMYL models.
5. Website Security Threats Can’t Be Ignored
Threats against healthcare websites are increasing. According to Fortified Health Security, the healthcare sector suffered over 337 breaches in the first half of 2022. For healthcare groups with a web-based user backend, this number should ring the alert bell. Even healthcare groups with simple websites cannot afford to underestimate security risks in today’s digital world.
WordPress plugin breaches are also rising, so keep your site software up-to-date to minimize that risk. Meanwhile, you should only use trusted plugins, such as Yoast, with people hacking the entire plugin nowadays to gain access to all its users.
Negative SEO Impact
Threat actors often create fake pages and fake links. These spam backlinks ruin your existing backlinking effort and can drag your ranking down drastically, with Google heavily attacking spam results. Meanwhile, website security is also part of Google’s scoring system. Therefore, an insecure website, such as a site using outdated software or expired SSL certificates, is an SEO hazard.
HIPAA Violation Risks
For healthcare groups, website security raises another major concern—HIPAA violations. Again, if you have a patient portal, ensure you don’t store patient information on your digital platforms. Instead, have a separate secure server for sensitive personal information.
However, your website itself may expose patient information. Check your case studies, success stories, and testimonials, and make sure there is no information leak. If you feature patient testimonials, ensure you have their written consent documented.
Website HIPAA violation is a bad brand move and would only harm your reputation and credibility.
6. AI-Powered Tools Changing How SEOs Work
Google held its annual conference I/O in May, and it was no surprise to anyone that AI was front and center. The search giant introduced new features across their products that leverage generative AI. Two significant updates at the conference included Gmail’s “help me write” feature, which uses advanced language processing models to suggest email responses, and Google Photos’ “magic editor,” which combines semantic understanding and AI to enhance photo editing.
As more and more users adopt these updates and integrate them into their daily workflows, they may well influence content generation and presentation and, as an extension of that, SEO. The AI march will continue on other fronts, as well. Google aims to integrate generative AI into search to provide users with comprehensive and reliable results. They introduced an AI-powered snapshot at the top of search results, offering synthesized answers with cited sources.
This shift in search presentation and user experience may have implications for SEO strategies. With that in mind, look to maintain a focus on providing well-cited, authoritative content that aligns with this evolving search landscape strategy.
The Chatbots Are Coming
These days, it can feel like it’s hard to have a conversation that is not about the chatbots. These language models, including Chat GPT and Bard, are shaking up the SEO and content world, changing the way we think about organic search results and how things will rank on Google. To prepare for this shift, healthcare organizations need to think more than ever about what exactly “value” and “helpful content” mean to their patients.
ChatGPT will be gradually rolling out plugins that will give their system deeper and more recent knowledge. Long term, this has a ton of use cases that could impact the way and ease with which healthcare consumers get information online.
Then, of course, there’s Bard, Google’s response to ChatGPT. Although Bard is still working out its kinks, it will act as a companion to search, not a replacement. Understanding how it will integrate with search is essential to any organization doing SEO or publishing content online.
Bard has undergone some significant updates recently, as well. At Google I/O (2023), the company showcased updates to Bard’s integration with Google Search and Knowledge Graph, which may result in more visual search results and prompts. While a direct impact on SEO was not explicitly stated, this could change the way search results are presented, potentially impacting our SEO efforts.
Marketers in 2023 will continue to examine how these technologies can be used to improve efficiency across their efforts. By employing these tools judiciously and in tandem with a human “touch,” marketers can use them to pick up the busy work and, in turn, stay more focused on the work that humans are best suited to, generating new ideas and jumpstarting products.
Conclusion: A Better Web for Healthcare Consumers
As we said about Google’s 2022 updates, these algorithm modifications will eventually protect consumers and make the web more useful and safer for all users. This is especially true in healthcare, where people’s well-being is at stake. Imagine someone looking for cancer treatment options but becoming misguided by inaccurate content. Misinformation on a movie release date might cause some frustration, but misinformation on healthcare could be fatal in the worst cases.
Of course, Google has selfish and justified reasons to tighten up its algorithm. As the dominating search engine, it must maintain its position while expanding its reach in overseas markets such as Japan and China. The only way for a search engine to stand out is by offering relevant and valuable content.
While all these algorithm updates, new SERP features, and security risks may seem intimidating initially, Google is striving for a better user experience, which is the same thing healthcare marketers should strive for.
As long as you keep your patients in mind and prioritize providing true value to them, all that’s left is staying informed of Google’s updates and implementing best practices as you adapt your SEO strategies to the new rules.