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Say Hello To Google, the NEW Yellow Pages

Face it, the way patients are interacting with physicians is changing, and the way a medical practice markets to them is changing as well. More people are seeking information on the internet, including healthcare information.

Traditionally, patients have always tried to answer their health concerns at home. Still today, people continue to make personal choices about whether and when to consult their doctor. The internet has become an extra tool in their personal health toolkit; helping them better understand what might be ailing them.

"72% of internet users look online for health information information within the past year." - Pew Research, 2013

Today, 1 in every 20 searches on Google is about health information (Google, 2015). But it's bigger than that, as at least 75% of all health inquiries begin on a search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. In fact, greater than 50% of those searches are done on a mobile device. (Pew, 2013)

Physicians, hospitals, multi-specialty groups and medical practices not only need a website, they need to establish an online presence. Despite this reliance on Google searches, most patients still seek their physician's opinion when they have a serious health concern. Practice that have a digital marketing strategy can educate, engage and inform current and prospective patients during their hearing journey.

The Basics

Digital marketing efforts need to align with a practice's overall strategic goal and other print or broadcast media efforts, as well. Because patients continue to have different media preferences, they are consuming both offline and online media before making a decision. Medical practices must make sure that their offline and online approaches are complementary. 

But how does a business evaluate its online, mobile and social success?

To begin, managers should concentrate on 3 main areas; a quality, informative website with content marketing including social media (Mayo Clinic does it, so why can't you?) as well as search engine optimization.

1. Not your Dad's website

"There is nothing more frustrating than trying to look at an old school website on a phone." - Everyone

Mobile Responsive Design n. A website that's designed to adapt to whichever device someone uses from a desktop computer to smartphones. 

Patient experience today is as important as online user experience has ever been. Practices need to provide easy to navigate sites that deliver the information that their potential or current patients need, this step hands the "we're open" sign out there on the BIG world wide web. The magic happens when businesses update your website regularly with relevant information, and tie its content in with point of care materials, direct mail or broadcast campaigns. For example, when a medical practice snail mails or e-blasts their patient base a quarterly newsletter, the information and services should be expanded upon with a landing page for your website, or at minimum highlighted on your home page. This type of layered engagement should be a standard in a practice's marketing plan.

2. Breakout the Typewriter

In practice, a physician's knowledge and experience are a few of the top reasons patients schedule an appointment to visit a medical practice. Content marketing allows physicians and practitioners to take a thought-leader position online, not just in the office.

Content marketing includes blogging, social media, info graphics, videos, webinars and other forms of educational content. Creating informative, valuable content to attract and educate your target patient is what will ultimately draw them to your practice in an online search. Writing for the web is different than writing print materials, mostly because people that visit websites prefer to skim the text. They have millions of choices and quickly scan content to find results. If practices don't serve up content the way patients want it, they will quickly bounce from your website.

The Nielson Norman Group recently found that the average viewer lingers about 10 to 20 seconds on a website before leaving. So focusing on content will help make your website sticky, driving potential patients to stay long enough to see what the practice has to offer.

One tip to consolidate content is to create and inset box. Here is an example below of how this may look. 

How to Create Engaging Content:

  • Keep it concise for quick review
  • Stay on topic to make finding answers easy
  • Write assertively as no one knows your practice like you
  • Know your audience and focus on connecting with them
  • Use images as they can speak 1,000 words

3. Be the Authority That You Are

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complement to a practice's content marketing efforts. Historically, the recommendations around SEO have been focused on keywords. Content marketing that naturally uses strong keywords will help increase your visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs) but they, however, are only a part of a strong SEO strategy.

Search engines are good at helping people find what they're looking for online. This may mean, for example, that a prospective patient might search "ear specialist near me" and the search engine will provide a list of the most 'authorative ear specialist' in their area. So what is authority and how does your medical website practice become authoritative?

Google ranks websites and pages based on two main metrics:

- Authority, the measure of how many people share or link back to a website's content

- Relevancy, the measure of how well aligned the content is to the common search terms of key audiences.

Practice websites that provide relevant, consistently updated content get found by internet users and when that information gets shared across the web, it is deemed as authoritative.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM), conversely, is a form of internet marketing that involves paid promotion of website content to increase their visibility in search results. SEM will include SEO tactics, but relies most heavily on ad bidding strategies. Such services include Google AdWords, Bing Ads or other pay-per-click platforms. 

Challenge Your View

As the patient acquisition model continues to change, medical practitioners must eliminate outdated ideas in order to remain viable. Digital marketing can be overwhelming, but what it shouldn't be is ignored.

Many practices would like to take on the digital landscape and become part of the Google 'First Page Club'. Do to so, it takes a consistent and coordinated effort with constant keyword research to stay on top of consumer search trends in your market area around the products and services your practice offers. A practice may be unable to undertake the planning and execution internally with a few dedicated and specialized employees OR they may find that having a partner to help develop their strategy, create content and maintain the online presence is less expensive and makes more sense. Whichever way you may choose for your practice to approach a digital marketing plan- they key is to have one.