John McAlpin: “In school, you learn about the marketing funnel and the decision-making of buying something, but that funnel still applies to industries like healthcare. People identify their health needs at different stages too, from awareness, to identification, to seeking help. That funnel still exists. We oftentimes segment our keyword research into different funnel stages so that we know where to place certain bits of content on the website, and how to phrase things so we’re speaking their language, and to know what’s most important to users.”
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Lauren Leone: Welcome back, everybody. I’ve got John McAlpin our director of Technical SEO and Strategy joining us again on Ignite, the healthcare marketing podcast. John’s joining us from Colorado Springs where he recently moved. It’s amazing the world that we live in today that we get to have team members that can move across the country and not skip a beat. John, thanks for being here. Really appreciate you joining us.
The topic for today’s podcast is going to be something that is both very tactical but extremely important to the foundation of your SEO strategy. That is keyword research. This is a concept that I think, John, when SEO gets coined black magic, there is this idea that we do all these things behind the scene and no one really understands why or how. With keyword research being the foundation and where we start honestly, with every new client relationship, I want you to share some tips today with our listeners on how we do it and why we do it. My first question to you is why is keyword research so important for SEO strategy?
John McAlpin: It’s everything. It’s our key into the mind of the end user. We know what they’re looking for. It helps us identify the different stages of their decision-making cycle, and it can help us identify trends, things that are not clear to the surface of an industry.
Lauren: When you said the different stages, I think that that’s really important, and this then impacts our content strategy and our user experience. Talk to me about what you mean by stages.
John: In school, you learn about the marketing funnel and the decision-making of buying something, but that funnel still applies to industries like healthcare. People identify their health needs at different stages too, from awareness, to identification, to seeking help. That funnel still exists. We oftentimes segment our keyword research into different funnel stages so that we know where to place certain bits of content on the website, and how to phrase things so we’re speaking their language, and to know what’s most important to users.
Lauren: What would be the major user-intent groups that you bucket keywords into? Then, give our listeners some examples in a healthcare vertical that we work in, a keyword in each category and how the intent is different.
John: Especially in healthcare, so we look at symptoms as a top funnel awareness. They’ve got a symptom, they’re trying to figure out what these symptoms mean, and so that next funnel, the figuring out how do I treat this, learning about treatment options, that would be your mid funnel. Then your bottom funnel would be finding a provider. This gets into even deeper categories. We’ve seen things like, in the mental health space, in the mid funnel, we see lots of keywords around tests and quizzes, and they’re trying to figure out, “All right, I got all the symptoms, and I think I have, let’s say, ADHD or something like that. Do I really have ADHD or am I making a big deal about this?” They’ll look up online quizzes to diagnose themselves before they get treatment. That’s where you can really break it out into some of these more unique things that we can do for users and content.
Lauren: Awesome. Obviously, top funnel, do you think about it essentially top funnel as the most competitive and then mid funnel and bottom funnel less competitive, or is competition equal across the different funnel stages? When I say competition, the types of sites that we’re up against when trying to rank for these different types of terms?
John: This is actually really fascinating. When we’re looking up conditions and looking up services, they’re completely different. Looking at your conditions is very much more top- heavy, while your services and then the treatment options and providers is much more bottom-heavy. We’re seeing lower competition in the lower stages of the funnel, and then the conditions, there’s so many questions and varieties of content that it’s a much wider net. It’s a lot easier to rank for that top funnel content. It really shifts the journey from looking up symptoms to finding help.
Lauren: Got you. Symptoms being something maybe like, “Why do I feel sad?” Or, “Why am I not able to get out of bed?” A bottom funnel keyword being therapist near me, right? “I’ve identified that I think I need to speak to someone. I think the treatment for what I feel in the diagnosis might be depression, and I’m now educated enough at the bottom funnel to say, I need a therapist, I need one near me, I need one now now, or maybe I need a therapist online,” whatever that action-based, high-intent keyword is.
John: Yes, and then it gets even more complex like, “I need a therapist near me that accepts Blue Cross Blue Shield.” It gets a lot of different combinations there of keywords, and they all have their own different competitive level.
Lauren: Keyword research that you guys conducted the onset of any new relationship, it’s pretty deep, right? You’re looking for not only, like you said, therapists near me, but all of the insurance variants, all of the geo variants, all of the different ways and especially long tail because we know now with Google’s ability to understand search semantics, that a string of 10 words that Google can understand what that person is really looking for.
John: Yes, we really learn a lot about what content needs to be on the page. We’re looking at bottom funnel keywords. When we segment our keywords by funnel stage, we’re able to know what needs to be on the page. Here’s a very clear example, location pages are critical for ranking for any kind of near-me keyword. We’re looking at, let’s say, we’re talking about therapy, let’s continue to talk about therapy keywords. We see, “I want a therapist near me.” Okay, that’s easy. We’ll add our location information. “They also need to accept my insurance,” so we’ll add all the insurance accepted to the location page. “Oh, but I also want one that understands the issues of veterans,” so that if we have new veterans that happen to be therapists, we can make them- maybe add a badge or some kind of text there that says that or that understands veteran issues.
Sometimes, with different races and cultures, they have different needs and understand and different issues, so we can have something around there too on their race, or around their ethnicity, around their religion. Everyone has different needs, and we find those in the keyword research, and we’re able to list those on the page.
Lauren: Awesome. Really just helping the user land on the website at exactly the point that they need to, to get the information that’s most relevant.
John: Add all the filters they’re looking forward to the page, and Google will guide them there.
Lauren: Yes, absolutely. Thinking about how healthcare groups can go about identifying keywords and obviously, having an SEO company or someone like John is the first step, but there’s organizations that do some of this work on their own or that are very keen on producing content themselves as well. What are some of the ways that they can go about figuring out which keywords are best to drive new patient acquisition?
John: You can always look at your competition and see how they’re phrasing things. If you’re looking for a list, and there’s free keyword generators out there and things like that, but those will always put out a list of keywords that you’re not really quite sure what to do with. The best thing you can really do is take a look at the list of your services and consult with your intake team, and figure out what is the language that my patients are using. Are they calling things by the scientific name or do they have shortcut names for things, and really figure out their language.
Lauren: Got you. What about from an online research perspective, if you have searched console setup, for example, or if you have Google ads running and you can utilize the tools within Google ads to see what keywords are matching to, is that helpful information that you use?
John: It’s oftentimes helpful to see what you’re currently showing that for when people are searching, but if you’re looking to expand, I would suggest one of those free keyword tools and just put it on similar ones that you’re currently ranking for, to see what suggestions they come up with, even use volume of caution, but that can be a good guide to figure out what’s the most common keywords.
Lauren: I always like to provide tactical takeaways for anyone listening. Can you give examples of what some tools are that they can check out?
John: Yes, SEObook is a good one. It’s a lot of free general SEO tools, including keyword research that are very basic. They don’t have any really advanced filters, but if you’re really a DIY and want to get a lot of data quickly, it’s a great place to start.
Lauren: Okay. I know some have costs, but maybe are more sophisticated, any ones you’d recommend that the listeners check out?
John: The industry standards or best keyword research tools from SEMrush is called the Keyword Magic Tool. You can get an SEMrush account for under $100 a month. The Keyword Magic Tool has all the filters and bells and whistles that you’d ever need. It gets very complex very quickly, but it can also be as easy as you make it.
Lauren: Awesome, thank you. I know another common tactic that you all use is forums. Forums have play a role in many different ways in SEO. If, say, for example, your intake is spread across 15 offices, and it would be really challenging to pool that information, or maybe intake is done on a rotating basis by multiple people, and you want to get an additional look at what people are asking, what kind of online forums can people look at to understand those questions?
John: A lot of people start at Reddit in trying to find their sub niche upon Reddit, but there are industry-specific forums out there, depending on your vertical. Yes, what I do a search for it. Start with Google, type in whatever service category and in forum, or even Reddit or a specific one like that, and see what comes up. You’ll find certain conversations and you’ll find a lot of information that you might not have been hearing from your patients because sometimes patients don’t honestly, don’t tell everything to their doctor or they’re nervous to talk about some things that depends on the people.
We’ve seen a lot of questions that don’t even come up in keyword research. I’ll give you a very clear example. In the SPRAVATO field, we’ve found that a lot of people like a lot of great benefits right off the bat. Then, further down the line, they may not benefit as much. We’re consulting with providers and we find out that they do some studies, and it looks like because SPRAVATO is self-administered, people aren’t doing it effectively. They’re doing the administration incorrectly. There’s things like that that would say, “Hey, this is an issue that patients are having, this needs to be solved.” We can write about that on the website, and then, the providers can actually provide better value to their patients in the long run.
Lauren: Awesome. That’s a great example. I hadn’t heard that one before. All right, John. Thinking through keyword research, obviously, it’s done in order to inform the remainder of the strategy. I want to go one step deeper before we wrap up the conversation and that is, when you finish your keyword research and then you go to assess whether or not your organization and your website is then in a position to rank well for those terms, what are you looking at on the website from a content and landing page perspective, and how are you mapping the gaps?
John: A lot of times, it’s taking a step back. It’s making sure that you have clear navigation between these different stages. We make sure that all of our final stages are within silos on our website of content, and that you can navigate between them seamlessly. Oftentimes, it’s like, okay, we’re writing about a condition of depression and we might have some easy navigation in there saying, “Here are the different treatment options for depression,” whether it’s medication, whether it’s therapy, whether it’s telehealth, or even group therapy. We have all these different internal navigation, whether it be the main navigation menu or internal links throughout, and you want to make sure that it’s easy for users to hop across. They should never click more than three times to find where they need to go.
Lauren: I know that’s just the starting point and the keyword research is the foundation for everything else that both the SEO team does, what the UX team considers, what the paid search team does, and oftentimes, what a lot of offline strategies look like. I want to thank you for being here, John. This was an amazing start to a topic that I’m sure we will continue to dive deeper into. If anyone listening has questions about keyword research, if you need a recap of what some tool suggestions are, check out our website where we’ll have recommendations. Give us a call so you can talk to John. We hope to see you next time on Ignite healthcare marketing podcast. Please like, subscribe, and comment wherever you’re listening. We’ll talk to you soon.
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