For a busy medical practice looking to attract new patients and build its base through a healthcare blog, the concept of keywords may seem to only relate to advertising using the pay-per-click model.
You can get a lot of mileage out of smart keyword usage, but you need to know what they are and why they matter to your medical marketing strategy first.
What are keywords?
These are the words that Internet users choose when they launch a search in Google or other search engine in order to find medical information they need to solve a problem.
These words and phrases may or may not be precisely matched to the actual words used in the industry (such as CPAP versus CPAK), and they may be individual words (transfusion) or phrases (blood transfusion) or even full-on queries (what is a blood transfusion?).
When a search engine user enters these words into the search bar at Google, they receive results (millions of them!) which the search engine has determined are the best matches for their interests and intentions. Local search (local SEO) is also a strong determinant (and one that medical practices should mine for all the benefits it can offer).
Search engines are in the business of providing users with the best, most effective user experience possible. As a result, they prioritize content relevance highly when ranking websites to match the keyword inquiries they've been given by users.
How do they achieve the ability to assign relevance? By using special prediction algorithms (which often change to keep up with shifting user behaviors) and by "crawling" the Internet by way of "spiders" for content that qualifies as the kind of fresh and valid information that their users demand.
Why are keywords critical to healthcare marketing?
The art of "getting found"
For the medical practice, intelligent use of keywords is foundational to strong SEO, which is composed of the strategies used to "get found" by search engines.
When your Internet presence (website, blog landing pages, social network presence, and shareable images, videos, and audio content) is built on strong keywords, it's more likely to achieve higher rankings in places like Google.
What are rankings?
Simply put, if you can land your website (through any digital means) on Page One of Google, it is likely because you are using strong keywords that have resulted in higher keyword ranking and, therefore, page positioning.
If your content ranks on Page Three, then you know your content has been found, but still... Internet users are less likely to (or may never) find it because they have probably already located what they wanted on Page One.
If and when your content earns a place on Page One, it then becomes difficult not to be found by patients and their families when they go looking for help on the Internet. Kudos to you!
Even better: If you can achieve a rank "above the fold" (an antiquated newspaper term meaning "to appear at the top of the screen before a scroll down is necessary"), you are poised to grab the lion's share of traffic.
And if you are ranked Number One on Page One, congratulations! That is an amazing feat, made possible by a combination of tactics which absolutely must include the strategic use of keywords.
Why ranking matters
According to data published last June by MDConnect, nearly one in 20 of Google’s two trillion annual searches are related to healthcare concerns, with 43 percent of patients reporting a reliance on the web as their go-to destination for medical advice and healthcare information.
As a medical practice, your need to rank in search engines has never been more critical to your medical inbound marketing strategy. Google reports that 77 percent of all patients used search prior to booking a doctor's appointment... convincing evidence that you need to prioritize the importance of keywords as part of your inbound medical marketing plan.
How to discover the best keywords
You need to regularly research the ones that patients and healthcare providers use. The attraction of one keyword over another (in example, cardiologist versus heart doctor) can change for any number of reasons, such as the influence of current events, media attention, shifting patient demographics, or medical trends you can't predict.
These healthcare industry buzzwords can be located by using any of the various keyword tools. Popular ones in 2016 include:
Google-related products: Google Correlate, Google Keyword Planner, Google Places, Google Trends, Google Suggest
Paid services: Answer The Public, Keyword Spy, LongTailPro, Market Samurai, SEM Rush, SEOChat, SEOStack, SpyFu, WordTracker
Free tools: HyperSuggest, Keyword Discovery, Keyword Tool Dominator, KeywordTool.io, KWFinder, Übersuggest, and Wordstream
Related utilities: Wikipedia (which can be a go-to source for inspiration if you're blanking on the keywords most aligned with your medical niche); Wordle (which visually condenses the most popular keywords for a single post or an entire blog into a word cloud); WordNet (which discovers keywords using semantics technology); and Xenu Link Sleuth (which can be used to discover your competitor's best keywords). Also, check out Healthcare Success's "31 Amazing Words You Can Use in Healthcare Marketing."
Another tried but true method: Crowdsourcing.
Ask your staff (anyone who has a patient encounter, which could mean the nurses, the lab techs, the reception desk, the social workers, etc.) to identify the words and phrases most commonly used by patients (even if they're not technically correct).
Ask your friends and your family (if they aren't involved in the healthcare field) to see what their first responses might be. This "man on the street" approach may be equally illuminating and easy to execute.
Use a blend of "long tail" and "short tail" keywords
These are explained in more depth here, but suffice it to say: you can lure readers to your website by using two different classifications of keywords:
"Short tail" keywords are hot properties which might give you a quick bump in your traffic. They are often high-priced in the pay-per-click realm of advertising and can be difficult to rank for, but they may inspire a lot of visits to your website, even if they don't lead to conversions.
"Long tail" keywords are so specifically targeted that you'll get fewer hits using them, but the odds they are conversion rich are much higher over the long haul.
MDConnect suggests that, "Although this might seem a bit counter-intuitive, the more specific you can be with your keyword selection, the better. While short, more general keyword-phrases, such as heart pain or swollen ankle are important for boosting online visibility, they typically have lower conversion rates than long-tail keywords like non-chemical treatment options for acne or outpatient vein reduction procedures near me."
How to best apply keywords
They need to be relevant to your medical practice and used in every place where you publish content, such as:
your static website pages
your blog posts (in the content and headers, and also in the tags and metadata sections)
your social media posts
your tweets (using hashtags)
your landing pages
your calls to action
your graphics and audio-visual content, including slideshows, videos, livestreaming, and podcasts
Keep a list of favorites and find out if you are ranking for any (these should be consistently used to keep your website "top of mind" in search engines).
You may need to be flexible and repeat this process on a regular basis, as search engines change their algorithms, and keyword "values" fluctuate like the stock market.
Generally speaking, you should choose keywords that get between 200 and 10,000 monthly searches.
How to track keywords and trends
If you use a platform like HubSpot, you gain a valuable built-in keyword tracking utility that helps you aggregate information about monthly searches, rankings in search engines, and the difficulty you might have in getting conversions from certain keywords, as well as the going rate for pay-per-click properties.
You can also use HubSpot to track keywords related to specific campaigns and search for alternatives that might be more effective in breaking into Page One ranks in Google.
Some keyword tools, like SEM Rush, highlight trends, which might be useful when deciding between one keyword or another for, say, the text in a blog headline.
Keywords and the Patient's Journey
If you understand the arc of the Patient's Journey, it makes sense to be cognizant of the value of using keywords for connecting your medical practice to prospective patients while on their problem-solving path.
The Patient's Journey, Stages 1 and 2—Awareness and Consideration
The larger, more generalized group of keywords ("short tail" keywords) may lure casual interest that doesn't result in new patient leads initially...
...but if your website frequently rewards them with advice and support they can trust, they may progress more quickly down that path, beyond awareness and consideration of their problem, to arrive at their own Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).
You will want to "be there" for them during this crucial decision-making time, because this is when they will eventually pick up the phone to call you (or send you an email inquiry).
The Patient's Journey, Stage 3—Decision
The smaller, more targeted group of keywords ("long tail" keywords) are better for connecting you with those patients who are already actively seeking to make a decision and take action.
A final thought about mobile access, keywords, and the Patient's Journey
Google's own research suggests that 44 percent of all patients who research hospitals on mobile devices make the decision to schedule an appointment.
No matter how many spot-on keywords you use, if your potential patients can't access your web presence (website, blog, social media content, digital media) on a mobile device, they will go to your competitor instead.
Make sure you optimize every aspect of your web presence to include mobile if you wish to ensure that your medical practice is in the best position to reap the benefits of using precise keywords to attract new patients.
Click on the image below to get our free infographic checklist on How to Choose Your First Blog Topics:
Answer The Public
The Daily Egg
Xenu Link Sleuth