This is the first installment in the series What You Need to Know About Medical SEO.
When it comes to marketing your medical practice on the internet, terms get thrown around left and right. In fact, the world of internet marketing has just about as many acronyms as the world of medicine. One of the more common – and important – terms is SEO.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to the steps you can take to help get your site to rank at the top of the results in Google and Bing. Over the next couple of months, I’m going to be sharing information to help you build SEO into your medical content marketing. Today I want to provide an overview of important medical SEO concepts.
Nuts and Bolts of Search Engines
Think about companies like Google and Bing. What exactly do they do?
Put very simply, they send “bots” out to “crawl” websites. This means they have robots that travel through the internet, following links and indexing content.
Then when you search for something, they offer SERPs – search engine results pages – with suggested webpages for you to visit.
Since the internet is big, search engines have tons of indexed data. They’ve gotten good at understanding what you are looking for and matching it to useful webpages for you.
Notice I Said Useful
Back in the day the search algorithms matched exact phrases. In the internet dark ages you would often be sent to sites that had your search term repeated over and over on mostly unreadable pages. That’s called keyword stuffing and it’s one of the first games people used to try to outsmart search engines.
But search engines got wise to that and started penalizing sites stuffed with keywords. Then the same thing happened with purchased links and then with duplicate content. Every time the SEO industry tried to game the search engines, the search engines changed things up and the dirty players got hurt.
But the websites that were building genuinely useful content for their users and optimizing in a meaningful way did just fine.
Moral of the story: Don’t try to game search engines. Spend that time and energy on being useful instead.
Levels of SEO
I like to think of SEO in four levels – site wide, on-page, off-site and local.
Sitewide SEO is how your website is set up to direct the search engine bots when they come to visit. These are settings your webmaster should put in place. It helps search engines understand how to handle things like duplicate content.
On-Page SEO refers to the things you do on a page of content to help it make sense to a search engine. You might include well-researched keywords in a natural way, or tag something as a title to indicate that it is important.
Off-Site SEO refers to building up the value of your site through other websites. Link-building has a nasty reputation. But if high quality sites think your site is also high quality, they may share it with their users. In this case, off-site linking offers significant value.
Local SEO is of utmost importance to medical practices. In fact, some people say that medical SEO is local SEO. While I wouldn’t go quite so far, consider this: Ranking number one for “knee replacements” is crazy difficult because of the massive amount of competition for that term. But if you are a Kansas City orthopedic surgeon, you can rank for “Kansas City knee replacements.” There are smart ways to be found locally by verifying your location and using local directories.
One Final Note on Terminology
The term “Search Engine Marketing” or SEM is becoming more popular. This shift in terminology from SEO to SEM reflects the idea that you should use search engines to reach people. You aren’t optimizing for search engines – you are optimizing so the people who want your info can find you. It’s a semantic difference, but it helps us keep our priorities straight.
Whether you say SEO or SEM, everything you do online should be to bring value to your users. If you keep that principle in mind, you will do better than the vast majority of medical practices out there.
Over the next couple of months, I will be expanding on this information to help you incorporate smart medical SEO into your content marketing plan. Be prepared for a common theme as we go forward: Content marketing is a long game. For physicians and healthcare providers, evidence and value must always trump making a search engine temporarily happy. SEO is a lot like saving – a little discipline now pays off in big ways later.
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