Gone are the days when looking for a business meant flipping through the white pages — or simply “asking around.” In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a phone book — let alone used one. That’s because I — like most modern consumers — typically begin my search for, well, pretty much anything with a visit to the Internet’s Grand Central Station for search: Google.
And Google’s online search dominance isn’t limited to the market for traditional goods and services; in fact, its influence has permeated virtually every industry, health care included. Case in point: According to this Physicians Practice resource, “more than 40% of people begin the search for a doctor online.”
So, to attract new patients, doctors must make themselves visible to a growing audience of online healthcare seekers. How? By optimizing their websites and online profiles for search. Yes, I’m talking about search engine optimization (SEO).
Unfortunately, many business — and healthcare practice — owners fall victim to a host of common SEO mistakes without even realizing the error of their ways. Here, I’ve summarized some of the most pervasive SEO mishaps and offered up a few key pieces of advice on how to fix them — or, even better, avoid them in the first place.
1) Failing to identify and use keywords
The term “keywords” refers to the words, phrases, or questions that someone uses to search for something online. For example, if a potential patient were looking for a primary care physician in Denver, Colorado, he or she might enter the keywords “Denver primary care physicians” into the Google search field. So, if you are a primary care provider in Denver — and your website doesn’t include those words — then there’s a good chance your site won’t show up in the search results (at least not on the first page).
Now, that doesn’t mean you should go crazy with your use of this phrase; in fact, blatant overuse of keywords — a practice known as “keyword stuffing” — can actually have a negative impact on your SEO. Furthermore, keep in mind that you shouldn’t limit your SEO efforts to only one keyword. After all, patients may search for any number of terms — from “Denver family doctors” to “annual physicals in Denver” to “scheduling an annual health check-up in Denver.”
Try to put yourself in your patients’ shoes as you think about how they might find their way to your office. Why are they coming to you? What can you help them with? What services are they interested in?
Once you’ve identified your top keywords, try to work them in throughout your site in the most natural way possible. That way, you’ll give Google plenty of opportunities to match a user’s search with your site — thus increasing your visibility to that person.
2) Putting your keywords in the wrong places
Okay, there’s really no “wrong” place to put a keyword. But, to get more keyword bang for your buck, you’ll want to focus on placing them in places where they are more likely
to be seen. Think of it as a reverse game of hide-and-seek — one where you actually want to be found. So, instead of burying your keywords in the darkest corners of your website, you’ll want to display them front-and-center: specifically, in your URLs, titles, and internal links.
You know those annoyingly long web addresses with a bunch of random letters and numbers? Well, you’re not the only one who finds them annoying. Google prefers clean, easy-to-scan URLs. So, make sure your URL for each page is made of real words — ahem, keywords — that speak to the content contained on that page.
This includes your main website title as well as the titles and subtitles (i.e., subheads) contained on each individual page. The words in these areas appear more prominent to Google than the rest of the text on the page — which means they have a bigger impact on SEO.
These include the navigation options listed across the top (or side) of your website — which allow your web visitors to move around to different sections of your site — as well as any on-page links that direct users to other pages on your site. As the previously cited Physicians Practice document explains, these links create “site structure ... also known as an information hierarchy.” For example, if your homepage describes the three major specialties available within your office, it should link to a separate page for each.
Those subpages should then link “to a series of pages for each physician or other professional within that specialty,” the Physicians Practice resource continues. “These links give your site a clear organization and makes it easier for Google to know which pages to link in search engine ratings.”
3. Creating a poor user experience
You can keyword and link until the cows come home, but if you can’t keep people on your site, all that effort will be in vain. After all, Google’s main objective is to give searchers what they want — and what they want certainly is not a site that is confusing, slow, and difficult to use. So, if you’re guilty of any of the following, there’s a good chance Google is sweeping your website under the proverbial rug.
Lack of Organization
This goes hand-in-hand with the information hierarchy I discussed above. Google prioritizes well-designed, easy-to-navigate sites over those with a hodge-podge of poorly connected pages. So, if navigating your website is more difficult than putting together a table from IKEA, then it’s probably time to do some serious decluttering (i.e., removing unnecessary or outdated pages and reorganizing the relevant ones).
The term “responsive design” refers to a site’s ability to adapt to the device on which it is being viewed. If you’ve ever tried to look at a website that isn’t optimized for mobile — that is, there’s no version of the site created specifically for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets — then you know how tedious it is to continually zoom and scroll as you browse that site’s content.
That’s why, in 2015, Google announced that non-responsive websites “will be penalized in search engine rankings,” meaning that “responsive design has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have.”
Slow Load Time
As noted in this blog post, “47 percent of visitors expect a website to load in less than 2 seconds, and 40 percent of visitors will leave the website if the loading process takes more than 3 seconds.” That doesn’t leave much of a margin for error. It’s also part of the reason why Google considers load time as a factor in page ranking. To test your load speed — and get tips on how to improve it—head over to this Google Developers page.
The Internet is a crowded place — and with upwards of 500 new websites being created every 60 seconds, it’s only going to get more crowded. So, to cut through the noise and maintain visibility with your target audience, you’ve got to make sure your site is in tip-top SEO shape.
That way, you can make sure potential patients hop aboard the search engine train that takes them right to your site — and your office.