Key Healthcare SEO Trends for 2020
Healthcare is a fascinating and active space within the search landscape — and for good reason! Google maintains its dominance in search due to its ability to consistently deliver relevant results. As algorithm updates have continuously raised the bar on quality, expertise, proximity, and relevance, healthcare sites — maybe more than any other vertical — have had to do real work to maintain visibility.
So now that 2020 is upon us, let’s go through a few key trends in search and their implications for healthcare search visibility.
Local search should be your number one focus.
By this point, local is not a new trend. But the expanding slate of Google My Business features and the increasing dominance of healthcare SERPs by local map packs and listings should keep every healthcare organization on its toes. It’s not enough to simply claim and manage your listings. You need to be actively optimizing, generating and responding to reviews, curating local content, expanding your listing footprint, and as whole treating local listings as the front door of your healthcare system. Here are a few tactics to keep in mind this year:
Systematically generate reviews.
In search, it’s always been about staying ahead of the competition. As more and more organizations have woken up to the importance and ubiquity of local listings, it’s not longer enough to just claim and optimize your locations. Two of the greatest levers of visibility are quantity and quality of reviews. Many newer players in the healthcare space — particularly the retail urgent care clinics — have gained significant visibility in search and maps by consistently soliciting online reviews from their patients. These clinics run a tight ship when it comes to marketing strategy and technology, a distinct advantage against larger, glacial-paced healthcare systems that are more or less decentralized. But if you’ve put it off, now is the time to develop a systematic and fine-tuned review generation strategy — whether through in-office kiosks, text message marketing, or post-visit emails.
Creatively leverage Google My Business features.
Google My Business offers a variety of features that can help improve the visibility and engagement of your local listings. We’ve had
success developing and scheduling out GMB Posts — particularly when we’re aligned with seasonality (flu shots, back to school, etc.). If you’re managing multiple locations, you can get more visibility by using a tool like DBA Platform to bulk post across multiple listings.
GMB Products and Services are both great features for conveying your core services. Services are straight-forward lists that can be created in the GMB dashboard (for now they only appear on mobile devices). GMB Products is still in beta and may have some limited availability depending on your listings’ primary categories. We’ve listed services as “products” and were able to add some nice visuals and descriptions to really stand out.
Expand the granularity of your listings.
One big missed opportunity for larger healthcare systems is granularity. A single hospital could and should have a listing for each major department. The default state for most hospitals is some sort of messy combination of user-generated and Google-generated listings and nested relationships. Few organizations are creating and nesting optimized listings for each department within a hospital or large clinic — and they’re missing out on significant non-brand visibility.
For example: If you’re managing a three-floor medical clinic that includes a primary care clinic on the first floor, a dermatologist on the second floor, and a gastroenterologist office on floor three — but you’re marketing it as a single “medical clinic” local listing, you’re missing out. Create a listing for each floor/specialty and mark them as departments of the parent clinic. You’ll see much stronger non-brand visibility for those services.
In an ideal state, each major department and clinic would have its own optimized listing, and would link to a parallel location/department page on your site that includes medical clinic structured data. It’s no easy task, but it’s an essential step in mapping your real-world ecosystem with your digital ecosystem.
Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness (EAT)
If you’re even half paying attention to SEO over the past year, you’ve probably heard of EAT. It sort of stands out, as acronyms go. But unlike many historical SEO buzz words and concepts, EAT is delightfully straight forward: When you’re writing about health, medicine, finances, and other important topics, you should know what you’re talking about. Even more than that, you should be able to prove you know what you’re talking about.
Healthcare sites that spend any time on content marketing are now more-or-less required by Google to demonstrate their expertise, authority and trustworthiness to readers. Gone are the days of “Staff” bylines (or no bylines!) — All content related to the health and wellbeing of a reader must be written or reviewed by medical professionals in order to achieve significant search visibility. Look at any top health advice search result these days, and you’ll see this dynamic at play:
Even WebMD, despite their domain authority and long dominance of online health content, is conveying authorship and displaying sources:
So what should you do about it? There’s no one-size-fits-all-approach. But if you’re investing a significant amount of time and budget into health content creation and you’re not demonstrating these EAT signals in a highly visible way, you’re wasting your time. Ideally, you’re already relying on medical professionals to create this content. If so, ensure your author bylines are front and center. Display the author’s credentials, and link to an author/doctor profile page that clearly conveys their expertise (physician/author schema is another great way to reinforce this with search engines).
If you’re relying on professional copywriters rather than medical professionals, it’s a bit tougher. At the bare minimum, pull together a medical review team to edit and approve all published content (see Verywell Health for a best-in-class example of this technique). Ensure this team is visible on each article, and link to a page that explains the role of this review board for users.
But the big elephant in the room: should you even be investing in high-funnel health content? There’s no doubt that the search landscape around this content has long been cornered by big sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and new players like Verywell Health that have out-EAT-en the competition. Plus you can’t search for a condition or treatment without Google’s own Knowledge Graph taking up significant above-the-fold real estate.
If you’re not already enjoying this search visibility, the barrier of entry is almost unattainably high. But if you move down funnel a bit, you’ll have a much different playing field. Procedure and treatment keyword phrases in particular can be a foot in the door for qualified local traffic. At some point in the last few years Google started serving map packs for high-volume procedure terms like “colonoscopy”:
Investing in high-quality content around procedures that effectively links to relevant locations and physicians is a great way to gain impressions and clicks from local users — rather than the less-qualified national audience we see for higher funnel keyword phrases.
In summary, healthcare organizations should be hyper-focused on local optimization and granularity. Invest in the look and feel of your local listings and ensure your real-world ecosystem of clinics, departments, and physicians matches your online presence.
On the content side, demonstrate expertise, authority, and trustworthiness — front and center, and above the fold. If you’ve been banging your head against high-funnel health content to no avail, move a bit down funnel to procedure/treatment content and ensure there’s an actual qualified local search audience for the content you’re creating.
And most importantly: pay attention. The healthcare space, with its life-or-death implications, is much more susceptible to recent search fluctuations. Keep up with the trends, and never take your eye off overall site quality and content quality. Good luck out there!