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How to Target Striking Distance Keywords in Healthcare Search (Updated for 2024)


Originally posted November 3, 2016. Updated February 21, 2024.

At Wheelhouse, we’re quite fond of striking distance SEO. For many healthcare marketers, it’s an art that’s been lost in the daily cacophony of tricks, hot takes, and algorithm updates — but at the end of the day, it’s a reliable way to drive real value with pages on the brink of success.

What exactly is the goal of striking distance optimization in healthcare? In essence, it’s about elevating high-performing pages into the top 4 positions in organic search results — the spots most likely to be clicked. This strategy is key to maximizing online leads and, crucially, increasing patient appointment bookings.

Search Engine Land has a great overview of the expected traffic increases from rank movement. The TLDR: There’s a sweet spot for rank movement. Moving from the second page to the middle of the first, or from the bottom of the first page to the middle/top, can really move the needle on traffic.

In the world of 2024 SEO, this sweet spot is a bit more nuanced. Pages are often vying for the top position on a SERP by intent – particularly for high-volume, fractured-intent keywords.

Six Steps for Targeting Striking Distance Keywords

Below, we’ll break down six steps for targeting striking distance keywords – a handy rubric for identifying and capturing quick, low-hanging SEO wins for your healthcare site.

1. Identify keywords within striking distance

The fertile ground for on-page content optimization is a keyword ranking between roughly position 5 and 15. It may even be as high as position 4, depending on the keyword and page in question. It’s not an exact science, and it’s largely dependent on your SERP competition. But we’ve found that even small optimizations can influence upward rank movement in this range.

Pay attention to search results for your striking distance keyword. Are they grouped by search intent? Are there articles, informational results, or reviews? Where are your direct competitors? Are there actually 10 spots up for grabs on the first page? For many door-buster, high-volume queries (where search intention can be a bit more varied), Google likes to cover its bases with a mix of results (informational, local, etc.).

Let’s use a healthcare provider as an example. Suppose your clinic specializes in sports medicine, and you’re within striking distance of the first page for the term “sports injury clinic”.

Your clinic’s webpage specifically addressing sports injuries aligns with transactional intent – people looking for treatment options. However, Google might only be displaying a few transactional organic results at the top, perhaps mixed with local listings and informational articles about sports medicine.

If your page is currently at the lower end of page 1 as a transactional result, your real competition is only those few spots at the top. The organic results below may be more oriented towards educational content, such as articles on injury prevention or treatment options, addressing a different search intent: information and research.

Therefore, if your page is ranked around positions 9 or 10, aiming for positions 3-5 might not be realistic since Google has designated those spots for different types of content that your page does not offer.

When selecting targets for striking distance in the healthcare sector, this type of SERP analysis is crucial to assess the opportunity accurately. Do you want to optimize your sports injury treatment page to compete with the top results? Or should you pivot to enhancing an educational article about sports injury prevention or rehabilitation to target those middle positions? These strategic decisions will help you target realistically and effectively, ensuring your efforts align with achievable goals.

2. Ensure there’s enough demand

The primary goal of striking distance optimization is not to increase position ranking — it’s to increase organic revenue or leads. It’s all too easy to get caught up in position movement, but if it doesn’t increase your bottom line, it’s just a game.

And that brings us to demand. In most cases, you don’t want to spend time precision-optimizing a keyword with 140 searches a month. At that range, moving from position 8 to position 4 is not going to drive significant revenue.

Instead, it’s better focus on topics rather than individual keywords. Keyword research can maximize your opportunity by surfacing both high-volume door-buster opportunities and the long-tail. You should, in the end, be targeting a group of keywords that share a competitive set of results – and your optimizations should drive movement across the entire group and not just one keyword.

3. Choose pages that are not already optimized to death

Consider a scenario where your cardiology clinic’s website ranks at position 11 for “heart health checkups.” The page in this rank is dedicated to outlining your clinic’s heart health checkup services. Everything from the title tag, meta description, H1, to the URL, and the body content, repeatedly emphasizes “heart health checkups.” Moreover, a significant number of internal links within your site direct users to this page with the anchor text “heart health checkups.”

In this situation, further traditional SEO enhancements for “heart health checkups” on this page may not yield additional benefits. There’s a saturation point for optimization, and it’s likely that you’ve already reached it for this page.

Instead, focus on enhancing pages that may be underdeveloped or only partially addressing the search intent of your potential patients. For example, updating older articles related to cardiac health, heart disease prevention, or the latest advancements in cardiology with more comprehensive and current information can improve their effectiveness. Another approach is to revamp generic SEO content on service description pages, possibly written years ago, with rich, detailed content or patient FAQs on cardiology services. These changes will not only add value for your website visitors but also better align with contemporary SEO practices in the healthcare field.

4. Leveraging Local SEO:

Local SEO is a game-changer for healthcare providers. Many patients look for services within their vicinity. Thus, ensure your striking distance optimization includes local keywords and phrases. This could involve optimizing Google My Business listings, garnering positive local reviews, and targeting location-specific keywords. By doing so, you can increase your visibility for those who are most likely to convert into actual patients.

5. Be on the hunt for quick, low-hanging wins

Efficiency is one major advantage to striking distance optimization. Be on the lookout for quick wins: an underwhelming title tag, an article that could use just one or two more paragraphs for depth, or a featured snippet that’s within range. In 2024, being intentional and thoughtful about your optimizations – even with these quick and easy tactics – can drive meaningful performance.

6. Pay attention to page relevance

If you’re already on the first or second page for a high-volume query, there’s a good chance your page is somewhat relevant. But there’s a lot of subtlety here. Pay close attention to CTR, especially at a keyword-specific level. Look at the top search results — does your page fit in? Are you in the top position for your specific intent? Or is there a competitor with a similar page type that’s beating you?

And remember, relevance is a spectrum – if you’re not quite as relevant as your competition, there’s always room for improvement.

7. Don’t lose sight of your conversion rates! 

All the above strategies lose their significance if your page can’t convert visitors into patients. It’s an issue that higher rankings alone won’t resolve—in fact, they might even exacerbate it. When scouting for striking distance opportunities in the healthcare field, prioritize pages that have a proven track record of converting online inquiries into patient appointments. If none of your pages are effectively converting visitors, it might be time to prioritize Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) over striking distance SEO for healthcare. And that’s a post for another day.

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