With SEO for medical practices, there’s often a common misconception that SEO is something technical we do on the website. It is that too and the big win is usually in publishing articles and building backlinks on an ongoing basis.
Imagine if it was only the technical aspect of the website – the ranking system in Google wouldn’t work since we’d all eventually have the same techniques to optimize our website. So everyone would be evenly optimized and it would be impossible to judge which page is the more relevant one for the keywords we search for. There have to be other factors as well.
There are many benefits to using SEO for medical practices. The biggest are:
- More patient bookings and qualified leads
- Increase targeted traffic to your website
- More patient reviews
And the best part is that where the fun of paid ads stops when we stop paying, with SEO the benefits continue month after month and tend to drive more predictable growth because it feels more slow and steady at first.
SEO for medical practices and venture-backed startups: the role it plays in your growth
The role SEO plays when you are working to grow a healthcare startup is a little different than for other businesses since the game is usually about growth at all costs. That means there’s no time to wait for SEO’s slow impact at first.
I’ve found it to work best to begin with paid ads and then add SEO in the background as another marketing channel. It works well to begin creating organic content based on the keywords that convert with the ads.
Working with a venture-backed startup, there’s often pressure to show growth every month, so the important thing with SEO is to start the work before you need it. In a project I was working on, we forecasted growth for the year and realized that we would likely not be able to grow any further with the paid ads about six months down the road, so we had to start the SEO work then and there so it had a chance to catch up before we needed it.
SEO’s role is to help scale direct patient bookings where a patient is looking for the right physician, clinic, or exam and books on the spot. When you are ready to put extra energy into scaling disproportionately, it can also help drive patient leads to the other stages of the sales funnel. For example, patients that don’t know they need help from a physician, which one to go to or simply need to figure out which medicine to buy at the pharmacy.
The latter is a bigger project but the gains are better too since it can help us better predict demand throughout the year, which can help save labor costs as it’s easier to plan the number of physicians needed each day.
The two key approaches to SEO for medical practices
There are two main approaches to SEO for medical practices: one for if you purely intend to have a blog with articles and content to drive traffic to the business, and another if you have a complex website with that and perhaps an ecommerce store or pages with other elements that need to rank but isn’t a standard article.
Each of those types of pages tends to require different tweaks to rank high – for example, the approach to ranking a page with an article might not be the same as ranking a product page with a ‘buy now’-button.
On top of that, most healthcare startups with a medical practice as part of the businesses have a particular service area, and any leads coming outside of that area can’t be monetized since we can’t service them. That means that global SEO isn’t as relevant compared to local SEO and shows up for users searching for something near their location.
I’ve found that oftentimes projects appear to have a particular challenge on the surface but once we dive in, it’s something totally different that makes or breaks the project. With SEO, I’ve found that often appears to be the technical optimization of the website. In reality, the more important part is a strong workflow and team of writers to produce content month after month, along with relationships with key websites to drive backlinks that competitors might not have access to.
The first (and simpler) approach has us focus more on writing articles and getting featured on other sites for backlinks with minimal on-page optimization. That approach tends to work better for a small team or medical practice ready to invest time rather than money, and might not be able to handle a serious influx in patient demand even if it comes overnight – they might only be able to see a limited number of patients.
The second and more complex approach is having an army of writers, another team to build backlinks, and yet another person or team with energy put into the right on-page optimization. This is ideally more of a well-oiled machine and is a better fit for the startup looking for serious scale and is willing to invest with a flexible budget and the ability to handle almost any demand coming in the door.
When is SEO the right fit for your medical practice
The big question, of course, is how do we know it’s the right time to invest in SEO and how much?
A good way to figure it out is with simple growth forecasting. It doesn’t have to be perfect but a decent estimate can go a long way because you can compare it to the opportunities (and opportunity cost) of your other marketing channels.
For example, search marketing is perhaps the best digital marketing channel for healthcare startups since it carries demand and we can plug right into that, whereas other channels can’t help us target based on that demand and instead we have to guess.
I haven’t had the opportunity to build a growth forecasting template but if you are interested in one, please leave a comment at the end of this article and I might put one together if there’s enough demand.
Executing SEO successfully: with contractors vs. in-house
To turn SEO into a serious growth channel long-term, we need to throw resources and energy at three core areas:
- Onpage optimization
Content writing is somewhat straightforward to outsource as long as you can find writers with the right background since we always give them a document with guidelines to tweak their articles for SEO. The tricky bit is getting enough high-quality content, at the right price and at scale. It becomes a whole other challenge when instead of getting a writer, we need ten or more and we need to replace some if they transition out of the project.
One approach can be to start with freelance writers and then hire in-house once the project is in motion since it can take time to find writers that are willing to join full-time to write articles and has the background or expertise you are looking for.
Backlinks are trickier since they are not created evenly. Some are more relevant than others, some are from better quality sites (thus carry more weight in Google’s eyes) and then there is the quantity of them – many agencies unfortunately, secretly, buy them from backlink agencies. I say ‘unfortunately’ because while it works, it’s breaking Google’s terms so you might get in trouble if you get caught.
A better long-term approach for startups is hiring a person to do outreach and build (or better yet, already have) relationships with relevant sites as that can be a competitive advantage. In some cases that can also be the PR person.
Onpage SEO optimization: this is often not that crazy if you have a standard healthcare business like a practice and want to drive traffic based on articles – but you likely need more in-depth work if you are an ecommerce business in the healthcare industry.
The pros and cons of working with a contractor vs in-house
There are different benefits to working with contractors compared to an in-house team when it comes to SEO for medical practices and startups. Both can be a good fit and often it’s more a matter of at which stage you are considering to pursue the SEO channel as a meaningful part of your growth engine.
In this short section, we’ll look at the pros and cons of working with writers in-house vs. contractors.
The pros of having an in-house writing team
- The workflow can be easier and you can move faster with changes if you are sitting in the same room
- It will likely be better suited for a long-term plan to publish more content as you can help the writers develop their careers
- Good if you have a predictable plan of publishing for the coming months and years
- The writers will get a better understanding of the brand, company and products
- They tend to be more committed to the business
The cons of having an in-house writing team
- Limited by their skillset and ability to write
- Writing productivity tends to be lower day-to-day
- It can be hard to find what you are looking for in your location
The pros of having writing contractors
- Will often be ready to try your new crazy ideas
- Can generally produce more content month over month since their productivity dictates how much they will earn
- It’s easy to increase, decrease or change the number of articles written per week (or the entire plan)
- We can work with writers anywhere in the world
- It’s easier to let a writer go if they aren’t producing what you expected
The cons of having writing contractors
- They can leave the project easily and are less committed to the brand
- May have a conflict of interest with similar brands or competitors
The problem with contractors is that they are all touting their own horn, so it’s challenging to figure out which one is the better fit and how to pick between so many different ones that look the same and say the same things. Not to mention that many of them say they specialize in medical practices and healthcare but looking at their website, they cater to many industries.
Next, let’s look at some tips to consider when hiring an SEO expert for your team. This is the person who might be training the writers in the technical aspects of making the articles ready for search engines and executing the technical optimizations of your website.
6 tips on what to look for when hiring an SEO expert contractor
- They don’t need to have experience from your local market but has to have a general sense of the regulations for promoting healthcare and medical practices
- It’s useful if they can forecast estimates of results, cost and timeline
- They go beyond the classic “it takes time to deliver results” and have a way to measure the initial results of the relationship e.g. with a small starter project that isn’t related to the search rankings themselves (since long-term SEO does take time to execute)
- Doesn’t promise fast results or guarantee anything (we don’t own any search engines so promising results wouldn’t be truthful – just like fast results can’t be promised, but it is possible to get lucky sometimes)
- They focus on predictable and steady long-term growth – not small hacks
- They understand the patient journey and the challenge of cyclical/seasonal patient demand (if you work with on-demand care) and has ideas for how to make it more predictable or perhaps even solve it altogether
- Knows local area SEO well (unless you don’t cater to a specific, local, service area but can get patients from anywhere in the world)
- SEO isn’t the first marketing channel I’d begin with if you work for a venture-backed startup where time and fast growth is essential
- The approach to SEO for healthcare businesses varies depending on if you are able to monetize an international audience or have a local service area, and if you have a complex website with e.g. an ecommerce store or only need articles and information to drive visitors
- One of the most important aspects of a long-term SEO play is producing a lot of content. There are pros and cons to hiring writingers in-house compared contractors, and in general you might want to start with contractors to build a good workflow and make it easier to find ones with relevant experience