Podcast #103

Strategic Healthcare SEO in 2024: Improving the Digital Patient Experience

Explore the evolving landscape of SEO for healthcare organizations in the digital age on this episode of Ignite! Our hosts, CEO, Alex Membrillo, and VP of Earned and Owned Media, Rob Sauter share actionable strategies for enhancing the digital patient experience and ensuring privacy. Uncover the collaborative power of paid and earned media to boost reach, visibility, and reduce acquisition costs. Stay ahead in 2024 by integrating SEO into your marketing mix for sustainable growth.

Episode Highlights:

Alex Membrillo: “How does patient experience and access play into how people should be thinking about SEO, content and website structure going into this year?”

Rob Sauter: “Patient experience should be central to how you’re constructing your site. I think that’s where you need to understand the journey that your site can give a potential patient? Sometimes it’s so simple, looking at things like your content, doing a content audit and understanding the types of journeys that patients are going across our website. Where do we have content? Where do we have too much content? Where do we have no content? How are we servicing them through this? Are there gaps? Are there opportunities? Where are we really good?

Maybe some companies who are really, really strong at informational. They own certain topical keywords. They can tell you the pollen count in the area, but they don’t have anything that connects you to an allergy approach or care… Other companies are going to be the opposite. They’ll have all this stuff focused on like, ‘Find a location, find a location, find a location,’ but they never actually sold themselves. All they’re doing is capturing people who are already in agreement.”

Episode Overview

Join Alex Membrillo and Rob Sauter in this engaging episode of Ignite as they explore the dynamic evolution of SEO in 2024. In a candid conversation, they go beyond traditional SEO approaches, shedding light on the multifaceted strategies that are reshaping the digital landscape.

In this episode, the our hosts discuss the broader scope of SEO, emphasizing its transformation from a mere ranking tool into a comprehensive methodology that prioritizes the overall patient experience. From content strategy to user experience optimization, learn how SEO is adapting to meet the demands of a changing digital era.

Discover the concept of the “digital front door” and its pivotal role in shaping a positive first impression for potential patients. Gain insights into the importance of blending SEO with paid media campaigns, creating a sustainable and cost-effective approach that ensures long-term growth.

Join the conversation as Alex and Rob unveil the future trends in SEO, exploring the impact of AI-driven search results, the continued relevance of link building, and the enduring significance of organic clicks. Don’t miss this opportunity to navigate the complexities of the digital realm and unlock the full potential of your SEO strategy in 2024.

Related Resources

Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast, the only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Alex Membrillo: What’s up, everybody, this is going to be good. It’s 2024 and you’re all wondering how SEO is evolving. Oh, so that’s what we’re going to be talking about. Thanks for asking. SEO has evolved over the last few years. It’s not just about rankings and traffic and getting leads from those rankings and traffic, SEO is so much more now. We should probably change the acronym, Rob. Rob, welcome to Ignite.

Rob Sauter: Hello.

Alex: He’s excited to be here, clearly.

Rob: [crosstalk] I’m excited. [laughs] I need more coffee.


Alex: We shouldn’t do these at 2.30 anymore because that’s the time you go to the dentist. All right. We’re talking about SEO here and there’s some major changes happening or major different ways to look at it as not just a ranking vehicle anymore as it relates to a multi-site provider group type marketing in healthcare, how is SEO evolving in your mind? Whether you run the home and an arm shop here at Cardinal, how are you pivoting the team to start thinking?

Rob: Yes, I think the key is we try to look at it far more holistically now than we did years ago.

Alex: What’s included now that wasn’t before?

Rob: We look at it through a much more patient customer experience lens, so it goes far beyond just the visibility of your keyword popping up and having your name appear. It goes all the way through that. I like to call it the handshake. It’s the handshake of that ad, that listing, that ranking to the actual experience on page. It’s the same way Google’s looking at it and the other search engines. They want the customer experience to be the best it can be. It should be relevant. It should be topical. It should have authority. It should help you take that patient to where they want to go.

They came with an intent. They searched something very specific in that box so it’s not just about showing up at the top of the box with keyword stuffing, just content out the wazoo, it’s getting them to that answer. The algorithms become a long way to reward that. It actually is not just about doing what’s right by the customer, but it actually now what does right by the customer is more likely to also do right by Google.

Alex: Yes, it’s easier. It’s harder to beat the robots now. ChatGPT created a whole bunch of sameness in the content. Ranking really got difficult as it should because everybody’s saying the same thing. How are we producing better, more unique content? Do we get MDs or NPs involved so that the content has a better chance of ranking and helping the patient convert?

Rob: A big difference. What we’ve seen a lot of when we meet a client to where we take a client hinges on a strategy. I think there are so many organizations out there who are like, “We need great content. We need to create something compelling, something unique,” but they don’t associate it with an actual SEO strategy. What is the topical area that we are trying to dominate where we’re trying to appear? What’s the intersection of demand and opportunity, so what they’re good at, what they can rank for, what their company does well and what people are actually searching.

You see misfires on that all the time. When people say, “We dominate this keyword,” and it’s like, “Yes, it only gets served twice a month.” It’s like, “Who cares?” I think once you’re able to do that, then you’re really able to create content that goes beyond just cranking it out in AI.

Alex: How do you get in people involved that are within the organization to create better content than the competitor down the street and still rank for podiatrist near me?

Rob: It comes down to a little bit of motivation. I think there’s a human element of it. We’ve worked with, for example, doctors all the time. They’ll say, “I want to write it this way. This is the way it is. This is how it should sound.” Usually what we’ll push back on them is, “That’s great. We could do it your way and five people will read it. If you’d let us help you, we can give you some guidelines, we can give you some keywords, give you a little bit of strategic focus, maybe even some structure and some H1, H2, some technical stuff to lean in on, and I can get you generally 90% of the same message to 500 people instead of the two people who might’ve read it in an unoptimized state.”

That usually helps them say, “Okay, you know what, I will listen. Let me actually hear what you have to say.” It’s not all mumbo-jumbo because at the end of the day, what is it generally a doctor-provider, anyone who works with patients want to do, hopefully, it’s help more patients.

Alex: We hear this term digital front door quite a bit now. A lot of our larger provider groups are coming and say, “We want to revisit our digital front door and redo some things.” What does that mean and how? What components do organic and content play in their?

Rob: Digital front door, it’s a good name. It’s a good metaphor for it, that first opportunity for a potential patient, or friend of, or parent of, or daughter of patient to get and meet your brand, who you are, what you stand for. I think still a lot of brands are out there using their digital front door to stand as a resume. “Have you seen our new facility? Have you seen our cool new doctor?” They’re missing the fact that, no, that’s not what patients care about. You need to make that front door patient obsessed, like patient centric. You need to build it in a way to enable them to have success. What does success look like? It depends. It might be finding a provider. It might be deciding you do need, some behavioral therapy.

I think creating a site that is structured in a way that has a strategy to help those patients get there, to creative that resonates, their keywords that focused on helping them find that didn’t get to from intent to completion, but really also gather that data. The front door doesn’t have to be– It’s not the only door in. Once someone comes in the front door, how are you informing them, how are you giving them the information they need to almost self-identify?

When they come back, they might Google search a much more specific set of keywords and come in through a side door. That front door doesn’t have to be all things. I think that’s a mistake a lot of organizations make is they try to make the front door, it’s our careers page, it’s our provider page, it’s our portal page, it’s this, it’s that, it’s the other thing. It doesn’t have to be all those things. It can just be that first impression page that helps someone really get to understand and know you.

Alex: I love that. A lot of educational content there. Then how does patient experience and access play into how people should be thinking about SEO and content and website structure going into this year?

Rob: Patient experience should be central to how you’re constructing your site. I think that’s where you need to understand what is that journey that your site can give a potential patient? Sometimes it’s so simple, looking at things like your content, doing a content audit and understanding here are the types of journeys that patients are going across our website. Where do we have content? Where do we have too much content? Where do we have no content? How are we servicing them through this? Are there gaps? Are there opportunities? Where are we really good?

Maybe some companies who are really, really strong at informational. They own certain topical keywords. They can tell you the pollen count in the area, but they don’t have anything that connects you to an allergy approach or care. Everyone’s got-

Alex: [crosstalk] They educate, but don’t convert.

Rob: –different challenges. Exactly. Other clients are going to be the opposite. They’ll have all this stuff focused on like, “Find a location, find a location, find a location,” but they never actually sold themselves. All they’re doing is capturing people who are already in agreement.

Alex: Yes, before educating.

Rob: They need to start something. They’re not actually helping connect them to their care network or their approach to care. They’re not educating them at all, they’re just basically hoping they got a referral and making their site a conversion rate optimization machine, but then they’re losing the actual machine. It’s an asset that they’re not taking advantage of. Their site’s not fun.

Alex: Your team, when you’re looking at a client site and experience, you’re saying, “Not only do we need to put keywords in the right places, but we have to convert a patient when they come,” so making sure the right call to actions, but the right ability to book appointments. Are we also looking at the UX of websites? Does how much of that plays in or do we just focus drive leads drive through rankings?

Rob: Yes, we certainly look at the user experience. Usually the first problem to tackle is are we getting visibility? Are we getting traffic? The second piece is now that we have it on the site, is it doing what we hope? Is it driving to an increased conversion? Once you hit a certain threshold of traffic, a couple of percentage points in conversion rate, or improve UI/Ux can make a much bigger difference in patients and pay how many patients you care for, than trying to drive, the net net of traffic. You got to match the intent. That’s the first piece.

When people, someone clicks, they come to a site, you got to make sure you’re taking care of that intent. You want to make it familiar. You want to make it natural. Everyone knows what the internet looks and feels like now. People can go to a site and even if you’re not UI/Ux expert, you can tell right away like, “Oh, I understand this well. I can navigate this well.” It’s a lot of ways to lose someone on a website. It takes care.

Alex: It all starts with an audit to evaluate what kinds of content that you have, whether it’s educational or it’s bottom of the funnel conversion, and then make sure the educational leads them to the next step, make sure the conversion type stuff actually can convert. You guys look at the layouts of websites, evaluate whether the UX is productive, whether it’s going to work or not. What are some of the favorite tools our team loves using? Is it the tried and true?

Rob: It’s a lot of the tried and true. You’re going to have all your first party data. That’s a key place to start. Your search console, your analytics platform, definitely a compliant one. You have the screaming frogs, the AA traps, the SEM rushes of the general, which give you additional information and keyword good competitor information there. Again, I think that there’s only so much that the Googles of the world provide in SEO. It’s not so much getting the wrong information. It’s how you’re looking at it, how granular you’re getting, how specific you’re getting and what insights are you driving from that data.

Alex: What we’ve seen a lot of over the last year is that through COVID it was really exciting. “Just run lots more media, run more media,” because patients were plentiful, interest rates were low, so investment and money was also plentiful. Then things have started to change over the last year and now we’re more cost conscious and SEO is back in vogue. How have you found that SEO plays really well into a company’s paid media campaigns or effectiveness?

Rob: It’s night and day between companies that have shown a long-term commitment to SEO and companies that have not. We work with certain organizations that come in and they dominate certain keywords by such a broad margin that they’re actually selling leads to other competitors in different regions because they can’t service all the volume they’re getting in through certain keywords, but what it can do is create a very, very scalable from a cost per acquisition, scalable approach, where you only have to invest a kind of consistent heartbeat of investment month over month and you can grow it over time.

Even with the same investment, you could go from getting a 100 new patients, then again, keeping your investment flat after a few good quarters, even a couple of good years of SEO, suddenly you’re still paying that same rate, but you’re acquiring thousands of new patients with the same investment. That’s not possible in other channels, like there’s diminished returns. You can do paid media amazing, but there’s still always going to be a diminished return, there’s always going to be a cap there.

You see a lot of companies who come in, they’re PE backed. They’re like, “Man, we got to hit this number tomorrow,” and they kick the SEO can down the road, and put all the money towards the paid, then the next quarter, “Oh, now they’re asking for 10% more. Kick the can down the road.” “Oh, there’s still room, there’s still room. Keep dumping and paid search.” Then suddenly, “Oh, no, we’re there.” Now, the incremental cost of this next paid lead is painful. It’s $1,000, $2,000 where it was $400, $200.

Alex: We love SEO now. Let’s do SEO.

Rob: Yes, let’s do SEO. When could it make an impact? Probably a year and a half ago. That’s probably why it could have made an impact. [chuckles]

Alex: It helps blend and make for an acceptable cost to an acquirer, a patient, and shouldn’t be neglected because it’s really– If you think about paid media, all of the clicks on a GoogleServe is only like 15%. That means 85% don’t go through BBC, they go through other channels, and they’ll click on the organic listings or maps.

Rob: Oh, yes.

Alex: Just so unpaid media loan that really doesn’t work and too many of our type of client shuns away from SEO. SEO as we heard earlier. It’s not just rankings on Google, it’s looking at the whole experience. It’s like any SEO partner in-house or agency should be really looking at patient experience access, how do we present ourselves, are we convincing, are we educating through our content, are we allowing the patient to make a decision and find care in a quick manner? That’s how you’re telling me SEO should look this year. Stop looking at just keyword stuff in the ringing and look at the whole patient experience.

Rob: Yes, make it a competitive advantage. It’s not just there to capture your brand search. Take a look, dude, one quick thing. Pull up SEM rush, pull up a screen brought, pull up one of those tools. Look at the keywords you rank for today. If it’s 80%, 90 plus percent, brand keywords or just provider names, SEO’s not hunting for you. It’s just a net. It’s just a capture tool and it’s not growing your business business.

Alex: Do you see Google search demand continuing to increase? Has it flattened out or less people are using Google, even SEO clicks or doubt across the board? What have we seen?

Rob: No, search is still huge. I don’t have the stat on the top of my head, but I did pull some numbers around when ChatGPT was going through its heyday. Is there a migration of searching going from Google to ChatGPT? It was such a small percentage of the total ChatGPT volume, was 2% of the total Google volume and Google also didn’t see a 2% dip. Google held serve, it was still growing. You’ve seen some changes, you see some of the AI results in Google are popping up more. You see more what they call no-click searches. People Google a question, and it’s the answer pops right up.

Alex: That we generated, but we’ll get no credit for it.

Rob: Correct. You won’t get a click on it, but if you google, clinic near me, and the map shows up, someone might just feel the need to drive to that clinic instead and might be considered a zero-click, or maybe they’ll call right off the number ever actually clicks. Those are more prominent so it’s changing some of the measurement structures there, but the fundamentals don’t change. Even with some of the AI results, people are worried about that, but no, AI still has to glean this information from somewhere and it’s going to pull from the people who have the authority, who have the good content, who have the good perspectives.

Again, Google rewards you for positive engagements. People are reading your content, and they’re absorbing it, and they like it, and they’re sharing it, and people are linking to it, then that’s what AI is going to value when it fits out its results.

Alex: That’s right. Link building still matters?

Rob: Yes, it still matters.

Alex: It does matter, harder to gain, but the influential links. Think about, how else does Google find out if your content is better than anyone else on your website? Link building still matters. I don’t care what Google says, but we get lots of links to even the Cardinal site. You see the rankings go up the next week.

Rob: It’s a bit hit-and-miss. It’s almost like a home run derby. You might hit a bunch of singles, and every now and then, you get a really solid link, and it can make a huge difference, and local, especially local. You connect to a couple of those local community–

Alex: [crosstalk] Sponsoring a high school team.

Rob: Yes, local community groups can be a huge factor for local rankings and things like that.

Alex: Yes, I see. It was fun. There’s just as much demand coming to organic clicks as ever. It’s so weird to me that it got diminished. It’s been dying since I started Cardinal 15 years ago in the news, and like still not dead. I love it, and we’re hearing from all of our paid media clients. “Hey, we need to look at an organic program now because the CAC, you’re renting the runway instead of owning the dress.” Then you just get tired of paying the lease on it every day.

Rob: Of course, you don’t.

Alex: Paid, unless you spend more on paid, you don’t get more leads. With organic, invest the same amount into it, over time, it becomes an exponential return, so Rob–

Rob: It’s easier to defend too against some competition. I talked about it’s hard–

Alex: Because it’s harder for them to come up.

Rob: It’s so easy for someone to just dump money on the same keywords as you and pay and drive your efficiencies down, so I like that. I like the fear approach where you tell someone like, “You’re going to go into the meeting with your PE firm. You tell them, look, we’re getting leads at $200 a click, we can scale that up.” Suddenly, a big competitor enter the market dumps a paid search budget on you, and suddenly it’s $300, and your entire forecast just went through the floor, you’re in trouble, you don’t have the money, you need 30% more to hit the same expectation. Not as easy to do if you have a really solid long-running firm SEO program.

Competitors can’t just swing the door open but in bonky on the head. It takes time and it’s easier to defend that. It’s an asset.

Alex: That’s a great point because PPCs now been around for 15 years, and healthcare marketers are catching up, and healthcare in general catching up to realizing that with the retail application, we all have to advertise. Advertisers have gotten smarter, which means you can’t hit your acceptable cost without doing organic. Generally, what we find you are going lose money on the first patient encounter if you’re just running PPC. In a lot of instances, you have to have a great retention, a reactivation program, and you have to blend SEO.

We’re not taking lots of clients that just want to hammer PPC all day long and aren’t willing to invest in own media over time because we know we will fail if you just want to grow through paid media. It’s just not scalable at a certain point. We love our advertising division though, don’t get me wrong. You just got to do both. Hey, all right. You know the best part of SEO this year, you don’t have to worry about pixels and hip. There you go, that’s fun. You don’t, right?

Rob: You take it through?

Alex: Yes. SEO can’t get you soon, so there you go. That’s fun as long as Google Analytics, I guess, probably, maybe a little bit. Rob, thank you for joining us on Ignite. It’s been fun. We should title this, the business of SEO in 2024, the business of SEO. That’s what we talked about today, why it matters and how to change it, not just from rankings into something that actually educates patients and converts them to coming into your locations. Thanks for listening to this last crazy 12 minutes. Adios.


Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.

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