For doctors, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important foundational marketing strategies. Yet many medical practices struggle to turn SEO results into more patients. That’s because traditional SEO approaches don’t always work for medical practices.
In this guide, we’ll walk through the key SEO strategies that are needed to truly make an impact on getting new patients through the door.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Local SEO
- Keyword Research
- Medical Practice Content Strategy
- Medical Practice Website Optimization
- Link Building
- How to Get Started
Local SEO: The Foundation of SEO for DoctorsLocal SEO is the most important aspect of search engine optimization for doctors. Why? Because it’s your local practice listings and physician listings that patients are relying on the most to research their choice of doctors. One of the biggest mistakes we see practices make is partnering with an SEO agency that doesn’t understand that rankings do not equal patient leads. You can rank #1 for a search like “what are symptoms of a herniated disc?”, but if that person searching doesn’t live in the same city as your practice, they won’t become a patient. Before you go creating blog content, you’ve got to get your local SEO house in order. Here’s how:
Step 1: Claim Your Practice and Physician ListingsThis means starting with your Google Business Profile listings. Your GBP listings are the first listings you should create. You need to claim listings for both your practice, as well as your physicians. The exception is if you are a single location, single provider clinic. In that case, Google recommends only creating a single GBP listing.
Step 2: Build Out Your ListingsIt’s not enough to have the listings, you have to build them out. This means filling them out as completely as possible – services you offer, insurance accepted, etc. In addition, you want to make sure you have a good number of photos, and that you’re using sometimes overlooked features like posts. Research has shown that the more built out your profile is, the better job it will do converting new patients.
Step 3: Distribute To Relevant DirectoriesOnce you’ve built out a fairly complete listing, you need to make sure those listings are created across the many business directories and healthcare directories where patients might be researching doctors. Of course this means standard directories like Google Business Profile, but also high traffic directories like Yelp and Apple Maps. But it also means making sure you have practice or physician listings on healthcare-specific directories such as WebMD, Vitals.com and CareDash.
Step 4: Get Patient ReviewsOnce you have your listings on all the directories you want, you need to get reviews. As a doctor, you want to have a large number of reviews that are as close to 5 stars as possible. These reviews are often the most important factor in how a new patient selects a physician. In order to maximize the number of high quality reviews you get, you need to implement an automated way to both screen and ask for reviews. In a recent post, we explored the right way to grow your patient reviews.
Keyword ResearchWith a solid local SEO strategy in place, as you expand into other SEO efforts it’s important to have a solid keyword research strategy in place, so you know which focus keywords to go after for your medical practice. Simply put – not all keywords are going to drive patients. Our extensive medical practice marketing experience has taught us what works the best.
Step 1: Understand Patient IntentUnderstanding patient intent is the “secret sauce” for making both SEO and Google Search Ads work. This means you must understand the difference between “high intent” searches – when patients are close to making a decision about a doctor and “low intent” searches – where patients are just looking for information. Here’s what we’ve learned are “high intent” searches – those ready to book an appointment right now.
- Practice or Doctor Name Searches: These are your most likely searches for patients to book an appointment. They have heard or you, maybe even gotten a referral.
- Near Me Searches: When a patient searches for “spine surgeon near me” or “nerve pain specialist near me” they are essentially in the latest stages of decision before booking an appointment.
- Treatment Searches: These patients are almost high-intent. Often, when people are searching for treatments, they’re already past researching their medical condition, and are now looking at solutions. A patient searching for “lumbar discectomy” has likely been indicated for this treatment and is doing research to help them make a final decision. Building trust with these patients will often result in an appointment.
- Condition Searches: These are searches that signal a patient has some type of diagnosis. For example – a patient searching for “herniated disc” or “endometriosis” have already had some type of diagnostic testing and have received a diagnosis. They may not yet understand treatment options, so they have less intent than treatment searches.
- Symptom Searches: These patients often don’t yet have a diagnosis or understand treatment options. We see many medical practices waste time and effort targeting these “low intent” keywords.
Step 2: Create A Target Keyword ListYour next step is to create a targeted keyword list specifically for your medical practice speciality. We recommend using a keyword research tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs. Starting with a “seed” keyword list made of your brand name, treatments you offer and conditions you target, you can plug these terms into the keyword tool to generate a large list of keywords and keyword phrases to analyze. Once you have this larger list, you’ll want to identify focus terms by looking at the following:
- Traffic: Which terms have a significant amount of monthly traffic? They must have enough traffic to be worth your while.
- Difficulty: Most of these SEO tools will measure how “competitive” a keyword is – meaning how difficult it is to rank for that term in the top 10 results.
Medical Practice Content StrategyArmed with your list of focus keywords, it’s time to begin creating content to target those terms and begin to grow organic traffic.
Website ContentOne of the most important types of content your practice will create are the pages on your website. The site itself must be optimized for SEO – including fast loading pages that display well on mobile. We also recommend practices have individual pages for each treatment you provide and condition you target – separate pages allow you to focus specifically on those keywords. You must also create pages for each of your locations. These should be fully built out pages that include contact information, maps and any other relevant information. Lastly, make sure that each individual doctor in your practice has a dedicated page. This is important since patients often search for physicians by name.
Blog postsCreating relevant, targeted blog posts are another important content strategy. Here’s how we recommend medical practices approach blogging:
- Identify 3-5 Topics: Using your focus keywords, pick a few areas of concentration. Make sure to use those terms in your blog titles and copy.
- Create a Calendar: We always plan a quarterly calendar, so we know what’s coming next.
- Post Bi-Weekly: Simply put, monthly generally isn’t frequently enough to post. Posting bi-weekly will speed up how quickly you can understand what works.
- See What Sticks: After a few months, you should begin to see some traffic come in from SEO. Some blog posts will perform better than others. IMPORTANT NOTE: Once you see a blog post that’s getting traffic from SEO, continue to add and build on that page before you create a new blog post. Content updating is one of the most overlooked SEO opportunities.
VideoVideo is emerging as an extremely important aspect of content strategy that many medical practices overlook. Why video? Because now around 1/3 of all searches on Google include video in the results – this means video is now showing up prominently in the search results. In addition, when video is on pages on your site, because people spend time watching videos, it increases something called “dwell time” on your pages, which are an important SEO signal that your page is engaging. Lastly, we’ve also seen video increases the % of patients who become leads. Simply put – video is much better way to educate potential patients than text. The types of video we recommend all medical practices create are the following:
- Practice Overview: Introduce the practice, let patients know about your philosophy of care and what makes you different.
- Patient Testimonials: Perhaps the most important videos you can create – the social proof that other patients provide will drive more new patients to your practice. Put them on key conversion pages like “request appointment” pages.
- Condition/Treatment Education: Another extremely important type of video – these will help educate your patients and move them closer to taking action.
- Physician Bios: These videos are important and build trust because they bring your doctors to life – patients get a much better understanding of who your docs are, their bedside manner, etc. Don’t make these a video resume – build in some empathy as well.
Social MediaSocial media is an important content marketing channel for medical practices for one key reason – it’s where your patients spend the majority of their time online. It’s important for SEO because social posts are also being pulled into search engine results when people search for key topics. But the organic social content you post isn’t going to bring in a flood of patients overnight. That’s what paid advertising is for. For SEO purposes, we recommend that medical practices post around twice a week on Facebook and Instagram, around the conditions and treatments they’re focusing on. Growth-minded practices may also wish to become active on Youtube, or on emerging platforms like TikTok – where large audiences can be built through organic posting alone.
Medical Practice Website SEO OptimizationA critical component of SEO for any medical practice is how well the website is optimized. There are several key elements we see as most important for medical SEO.
Core Web VitalsCore Web Vitals is a series of measurements that Google created to judge how user friendly a website experience is. It contains 3 key elements:
- Largest Contentful Pain (LCP) – how long it takes for the most significant element on the page to load – usually a header image.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – how much do elements of the page “shift” or move when when viewed on mobile.
- First Input Delay (FID) – how much time passes when loading before a visitor is able to interact or click on elements within the site.